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Four Herbs & Fungi for the New Year

People make a wide variety of New Year’s resolutions, but I think the ultimate motivation behind most of them is similar—we want to make choices that will lead to greater health and vitality, and therefore to greater happiness. Health truly is the greatest wealth. With that in mind, I’ve chosen some of my favorite medicinal herbs and fungi to talk about here, gifts from the Earth that can help us achieve the health and vitality we all want and deserve. Please be sure to check with your health care professional before taking any new herb.

“Nettles are so eminently nutritious that without their chemical protection, they would be quickly annihilated by hungry herbivores,” writes wild foods expert Samuel Thayer in his book The Forager’s Harvest. The “chemical protection” he refers to is their stinging property, the result of formic acid stingers on the leaves. Fortunately, the stinging property is easily removed by drying or brief cooking of the leaves. Thayer notes that nettles are high in vitamin C, very high in vitamin A, high in protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and iron.  

Nettle has other beneficial aspects in addition to its nutritional profile. According to the Therapeutic Herb Manual by Ed Smith, nettle is “Anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory, [and it] moderates allergic response.” Smith also includes arthritis and gout in his list of stinging nettles’ uses. In her book Healing Wise, Susun S. Weed writes, “Kidneys, lungs, intestines, and arteries are tonified, strengthened, and gradually altered to optimum functioning with consistent use of nettle, freshly cooked or infused.” Nettle has a reputation for promoting lustrous hair, whether from drinking nettle tea regularly and/or using it as a hair rinse.  

Here in the Health and Wellness department, we carry nettle leaf in the bulk herbs, tincture, and capsules. Stinging nettle is also a common plant in Wisconsin, for those of you who enjoy foraging. Making an infusion of the dried leaves, and leaving it to steep overnight (to extract the most nutrition), is a tasty and easily assimilable way to take advantage of nettle’s nourishing properties. To make an infusion, pour freshly boiled water over the nettle leaf, cover and let steep. The result is a golden-green brew that, as Thayer describes it, “feels more like a food than a beverage.”

Ashwaganda is one of the most revered herbs in Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system of India. When one starts to do some reading about the amazing properties of this herb, it is easy to see why. According to David Winston and Steven Maimes in their book, Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief, ashwaganda (root) has the following properties: “Adaptogen, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune amphoteric, antitumor, nervine, antispasmodic, mild astringent, and diuretic.” Ashwaganda is classified as an adaptogen by herbalists, which Winston and Maimes describe as “[Herbs] that help the human body adapt to stress, support normal metabolic processes, and restore balance. They increase the body’s resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors and promote normal physiologic function.” Although many who take this herb on a consistent basis experience improved energy levels, it also has a calming effect. Winston and Maimes write that, “Ashwaganda is very effective for anxiety, fatigue, cloudy thinking, stress-induced insomnia, and neurasthenia (nervous exhaustion).” Furthermore, “it enhances endocrine function, especially helping to re-regulate the thyroid, testes, and adrenal glands.” It is indeed a root that can help us deal with many of the stress-related ailments we experience in these modern times.

The Willy Street Co-op offers ashwaganda in capsules and tincture. We also carry the locally made Four Elements’ Chi Charge tincture, which is a blend of Wisconsin ginseng root, organic ashwaganda and organic green and gold ginkgo leaf.

Reishi mushroom
Reishi mushroom has been used medicinally in China since ancient times, where it is known as Ling zhi, or “spirit plant.” The beneficial properties of reishi mushroom are too numerous to describe in this short article, so I will just list a portion of them, excerpted from Mycomedicinals, a book written by renowned mushroom expert Paul Stamets: antioxidant, antiviral, cholesterol reducer, immune enhancer, kidney tonic, liver tonic, nerve tonic, stress reducer. Reishi also aids respiration, Stamets notes, “as this species enhances the oxygen-absorbing capacity of thelungs, thereby enhancing stamina.” My personal favorite quality of reishi is its ability to help me feel calm and centered. The Chinese, too, valued this quality of reishi. Winston and Maimes write that, “In traditional Chinese medicine, this mushroom is used to nourish the Chinese heart, which stores shen. [Shen is]…a person’s mind/consciousness and emotional balance.”
The Health and Wellness department offers reishi in both tincture and capsules. The capsules are reishi mycelium capsules from Host Defense, a medicinal mushroom company run by the aforementioned Paul Stamets. Mycelium is a fungi’s underground network of thread-like cells, which for most mushrooms is more potent than the fruiting bodies that appear above ground. Stamets’ mushroom products are organically grown in the United States.

California Poppy
Last but not least, I wanted to include California poppy because it is an herb we recently brought in, and one that I think may be of help to many. Insomnia is a common malady in this country, and many sufferers have tried different remedies with little lasting success. For those who have not tried this herb, it may be worth considering. Smith describes the following actions of the herb: “Contains sedative alkaloids similar to the Opium Poppy alkaloids, yet are very safe and non-addictive. Antispasmodic, analgesic (quiets pain), and soporific (induces sleep).” He states that California poppy can be used for “anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia.” The co-op offers a tincture of this herb in the Herb Pharm brand.

Need more help?
I hope this article has been helpful to you as you embark on your path into the new year. There are so many amazing herbs with impressive health benefits that I would have liked to include in this article if I had only had room. Therefore, please don’t hesitate to ask the Wellness staff if you have wellness-related questions that I didn’t cover here. I wish you a joyous and healthy new year!

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