Local Magic

Posted December 7, 2010 by CatLane
Categories: EarthSongs

Yes, this is a repost from  the EarthSong blog, but I felt it belonged on both spots. Those of you who read both – my apologies, but many read one or the other, and this has a foot in both worlds.


First let me say I can’t believe it’s been over ten days since I posted last – I have three drafts saved and no time to get back to them, but always time to start another. Life is funny that way; at least, I’M funny that way. a burst of inspiration, a few in-spirited lines, and then interruption – delay – loss of impetus.

Well, this morning a lovely synchronicity prompted me to share, even if I really should be working.

As many of my friends and readers know, I have just wrapped up the coursework for my Chartered Herbalist diploma from Dominion College, studying over 200 herbs and learning all kinds of new and useful plants, methods and ways of thinking – and so far, so good. but the big news for me is that all 100% of my final mark is based on the exam – which is coming up soon! So, a big study phase for me, before I get to move on to study with Paul Bergner at the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism (first course already on order). I am well and truly immersed in this study and finding the roots and tendrils of it affecting so many aspects of my daily life. Lately my animal family and partner have been presenting me with minor but important health issues as case studies and I hope they are as grateful for me as I am to them for the opportunity and trust.

But, reading Michael Moore and Kiva Rose and others I follow in the warmer climates, sometimes I feel deprived – no Larrea, for example, growing wild around here. While I am no fan of hot weather, humid OR dry, I occasionally feel the wonderful and exotic plant species “down there” might be worth enduring the heat if only for a year or two of study. And then, I get these epiphanies.

This morning I stood watching the black capped chickadees, bright eyed little spirits of good cheer that they are, flitting anxiously around the place on our trembling aspen where the feeder usually is…we had taken it in last night due to the strong winds. The snow is about a foot out back and the wee birds very concerned about the bare branch, and too much snow for them to grab any fallen seeds. the suet holders are totally monopolized by Hairy Woodpeckers; the goldfinches amuse and nourish themselves on standing stalks of sunflower, nettle, coneflower. The Grosbeaks all bet a hasty retreat the second a feeder is empty; only the black caps remain here; flying up to the house and peering in as if to say, “Wassup? You ok? Where’s our breakfast?”. Or so, I imagine it anyway.:)
So trundling out in a bathrobe much too large for me and Alex’s enormous snowboots, I brought the feeder out to the aspen, and the birds. And standing there – looking no doubt like an Abominable SnowWoman – I just drank it in…LOOK at my property, my “too small, ordinary” bit of the Gatineau. While it is true I can’t wait to find out permanent home and land, THIS is where I am right now, this moment, this sacred, wondrous moment. And look at it! Starting in the East, with the aspen, I took inventory; balsam poplars, Eastern white cedar, chokecherry, Elder, several types of Willow, the magnificent White Oak out front; my darling White Pine, a balsam fir, white spruce, American elm, an apple tree (two) the little hawthorn, not to mention the mullein, plantain, self heal, eyebright, newly transplanted comfrey and glorious stands of stinging nettle that dot the property. And that’s just this plot of land! Walk across the street and start following the twisting little stream that winds from Lac Mahon around the western border of our house and down to the Gatineau, widening and rushing through all kinds of enchanted woodland as it goes…. the plant species are varied and plentiful. Agrimony, Gravelroot, Wild carrot, Bethroot, Violets galore – on and on. I stood looking areund me and thought…nope, the magic in my soul and the healing I require is ALL RIGHT HERE.

There is nothing “ordinary” in these ancient hills, in the trembling aspen, the black capped chickadees, the snowy silence. I took my coffee and headed to open my first and much anticipated issue of the Plant healer magazine and what did I see first but this:

Jesse Wolf Hardin, writing in the Plant Healer Ezine

So, a little confirmation from far, far away…perhaps even a synchronicity, but call it what you will, the resonance was strong and true. we are all in places of beauty, healing and magic and the big mistake is to take for granted, to not look deeper because we think we already know a thing simply because it is familiar.
Knowing is a lifetime of intimacy, study and communion. While I *know* the names and uses of many of these local plant beings, there was always a dimension I failed to comprehend, JUST LIKE people who are not “animal oriented fail to see deeply into the sacred consciousness of other species. I was learning plants by rote, by use. There is so very much more.

Behind the delicate tenacity of chickweed, the sweet, steady reassurance of white pine and the thrusting,”PAY ATTENTION!” insistence of mullein, there is spirit. And these three have been my first real teachers of this level, even as so many humans have taught me the names, affinities and usefulness of them all.
Oh, how blessed to be midway through life’s journey and find a door open to a whole new way of seeing, knowing, moving beyond.




Winter Recipes

Posted November 24, 2010 by CatLane
Categories: Herbs for humans

Even after doing this work for over a decade I am still amazed how easily a day gets away from me. Yesterday was a maelstrom of client work, finishing an assignment for my course, making Tina’s new food, answering email. I often wonder if I *really* suffer from adrenal exhaustion or just plain overwork…but in all likelihood it’s both, and the cure for the former is the management of the latter. Still, I plan to post an entry on adrenal support soon; along with rest, there’s much one can do dietarily and with herbs.

But today, I am finishing this entry! as promised, here are the recipes for my personal arsenal of cold/flu/general respiratory malaise fighters.

1) Mullein Infusion: Mullein  is an herb I’ve used in ear oil (for dogs) for over twenty years, but only recently have I started to use it for myself, for it’s superb respiratory support (the leaf, although Susun Weed recommends cutting the whole plant down and using stalk as well as leaf). In acute discomfort I might combine it with slippery elm (see below) for some demulcent relief, if the cough is constricted and non-productive. Mullein is an expectorant and  so helps loosen the chest; often a second agent with demulcent properties is needed as well, to soothe the irritated lung and bronchial tissue. While I often choose Marshmallow for stomach or bladder upset, lately I have been feeling cold all over – low thyroid, sleepy – so I’m steering clear of cooling herbs.

Kiva Rose is always an inspiration to me. Here, in her usual poetic style she says this about Mullein:

Mullein makes a very appropriate first herbal ally for many children or beginners in herbcraft. Its safe, wise and grounding presence helps take us deeper into not just this its own medicine, but into all herbal medicines. This plant provides itself as a guiding light and guardian for all healers who live within its range. Simultaneously a towering torch herb and fluffy comforter once called Our Lady’s Flannel, it has a long history as a benevolent and nurturing sentinel to healers, children and all those who ask for its assistance”.

Isn’t that lovely? I found it poetically wonderful that a large, stately and comforting mullein plant grew to about 5 feet in an old  rusted barrel in my back yard this summer – it felt like the plant was asserting in a loud colourful voice “YOU NEED ME!!” And while I did take many flowers from her and made my usual batch of ear-oil for the dogs, I could not bring myself to cut her down. Silly, perhaps, but I am definitely encouraging more of them to grow around here next summer. The Mullein I am using is from my local herb store, La Foret.

I have certainly asked this plant for assistance, and for someone as sensitive as I am to ingest  almost a liter of infusion a day with no side effects but plenty of healing, is amazing. So for those new to herbalism, mullein is a wonderful place to start!  I plan to use the infusion ( 1-2 cups per day) all winter, whether I have a flare up or not.

Simple instructions here from Susun Weed.

“To brew mullein infusion, I fill a quart canning jar about half full of cut and crushed mullein leaf and stalk pieces. (If using commercial herb, I use one ounce by weight.) I fill the jar to the top with boiling water, cap tightly, and let it sit at room temperature for four hours, or overnight.

Mullein leaves are fuzzy, and mullein infusion can be too. To protect my throat, I always strain my mullein infusion through tightly-woven cloth (like a handkerchief) before drinking. The dose of mullein infusion is 1-4 cups a day.

Mullein infusion will last for 5-6 days refrigerated. “

Here is Susun herself talking about the many uses and preparation of Mullein. Enjoy!

2) Elderberry (tea, syrup, elixir)

Another safe, multi-talented and highly effective herb great for those new to herbs and fabulous for winter issues. I’ve been experimenting this year with variations on the plain Elderberry Elixir I found on Kiva Rose’s blog a couple of years back – some of these experiments involve making the potion with ginger and rose hips, with thyme, cinnamon, cardamom and osha; but any way I make this elixir it’s become a staple of my winter healing cabinet.

This is Kiva’s version, and I base mine on hers, but I never can add a full pint of brandy, more like a cup works for me – but the basic method is great.  Try the variations too!


The elixir is wonderful but as you can see, it needs to be started several weeks before flu season, and if you haven’t got a batch ready to go, the infusion and the syrup are great. To make infusion, just follow the standard method; put about a half cup of dried Elder berry into a one quart canning jar, cover with water that has just reached the boil, cover and let infuse 4 hours to overnight. Strain and add a little raw local honey if desired. I take a small cup several times throughout the day, alternating with  super hot ginger-lemon tea.

Lastly (there are so many uses for Elder but you will have to wait for the monograph!) I love to make a syrup from the decocted berries, this is fabulous for really acute illness when you are too sick to get up and need a direct shot of something healing. All I do is make the aforementioned decoction, and  then place the strained liquid into an enameled cast iron saucepan and reduce it to about one cup. (Make sure you don’t boil it, just gently heat and stir often). I then add a Tbsps of brandy and honey to taste and thicken it further. Pour into a sterile glass jar and voila. Elderberry syrup – take a teaspoon or so as needed, every few hours.

3) Fire Cider: I’ve never been entirely certain whose basic recipe this is; many say Rosemary Gladstar, but I’ve found versions all over the Internet and tried several, all of which have been effective but some much more to my liking than others. Here is the basic version – and man it is FIERY!!


Herbalist Jennifer Adams writes:

Fire Cider is a classic herbal remedy for use at the first sign of a cold or flu.
It is also an excellent external liniment for use on the chest for congestion, or to ease the pain of sore muscles. The vinegar is a preservative so you don’t need to refrigerate this after you press it out. It is a long lasting remedy.

Get organic ingredients if you can, and, the most potent, freshest cayenne that you can find.

Onion – chopped: 1/2C
Ginger – Grated: 1/2C
Horseradish Root grated: 1/4C
Garlic – chopped: 1/8 C
Cayenne: 1 Teaspoon
Apple Cider Vinegar: 1 Quart

Place the above ingredients in a Quart jar and cover with Apple Cider Vinegar. Use wax paper with a rubber band on top of jar as the vinegar will eat through metal lids.

Leave to steep for 4-8 weeks. Shake daily for best results. I prefer to steep a full two months but it can be used anytime before that if you need to.

Use a strainer to separate herbs from vinegar. Then, take the remaining herbs and put in a thin cloth and squeeze that last vinegar out.

Pour into a clean container. Store in a cool dark place.

At the first sign of a cold take a shot or a half of shot a few times a day”.

Well, I start with a TEASPOON and often mix this one with some raw honey – or use as a compress. It’s very effective but not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure! A little article here including contraindications:


Kive Rose has a wonderful version using somewhat harder to find ingredients (I’ve still never found the fresh turmeric so my version is a little different) and it’s gentler then the originals, for sure. Have a look –


Some more recipes from the  legendary Rosemary Gladstar; I don’t jump to echinacea for colds, myself – and I am very careful with Goldenseal, but the curried onions can’t be beat!


4) Ginger lemon tea – well it can’t get easier, more effective or more comforting than this. All I do is simmer a BIG chunk (not very scientific, maybe six inched long of a thick piece?) peeled chopped ginger in about 4 cups of spring water; simmer till strong and pour a cupful. I add a good 1/3 of a lemon (juice) and a little local honey amazing! I keep simmering the decoction all day adding water from time to time – and drink at least 3 cups of it daily. I do take VitaminC in the form of acerola, and I take it with the ginger tea. It’s almost worth getting sick just to have this and the elderberry syrup – no wait, I can have them preventively as well.

My take on the classic, but I do like mine strong!

I see it is 9 am here and I have a whole day of stuff to do ahead – the poultices and slippery elm will need to wait till tomorrow. But this is a great start I hope for anyone else suffering from colds, flus, asthma, COPD- pleurisy – and don’t forget the resting in bed with a warm blanket and a hot water bottle!


Learningherbs.com is a great site for beginners and intermediate home herbalists;  here is a page on ginger tea and a whole lot of other safe and effective cold remedies. http://www.learningherbs.com/flu_home_remedy_tea.html

I’m just sharing the ones that work for me, that have helped me most so far. Experiment and have fun!

Feel better soon – I am starting to.

Some recipes for winter ailments

Posted November 23, 2010 by CatLane
Categories: Herbs for humans

First let me say I really appreciate the many views and emails about the Milk Thistle monograph – I can see a few ways to tidy it up, and there are still things to add – but hey it’s my first, so I just kind of plowed all the info in there. I have been dealing with Tina’s illness, the last weeks of my herbal diploma (the Dominion one, I will be working with Paul Bergner and Susun Weed for some time to come) and to top it off, the heavy workload/extra  stress/damp weather (and probably my haphazard vegetarian diet) has landed me in an earlier-than-usual bout of lung irritation and malaise. I am very allergic to dust and mold and live in the country with 12 cats, 4 dogs, and a host of other beings – when the house gets sealed up and the dampness seeps in, I have very hard times. This year it’s earlier and worse than in years past, and I know that stress, nutrient issues and too much work are not helping. So, I am doing my best to slow down (and for those of you who are waiting on more work from me, my apologies, we WILL get there) sleep more, balance my diet, and of course, add some healing plants to my coping/healing strategy.

As many people suffer from flus, sinus infections, worsened dust allergies and all things respiratory during the winter months, I thought it might be a good time to start compiling some of my own favourite winter remedies. We’ll be looking at herbs for dogs again soon I promise – starting with renal and hepatic healers, as this is what I am dealing with for Tina right now. I’m also planning a mullein monograph, and a subsection on my own midlife/adrenal exhaustion recovery, which will include mind/body work, diet, and of course, herbal support.

but for now – here are a few of my favorite  remedies – not that I “made them up”, in fact all are borrowed from other sources, some used as printed and some adapted for my own system – and I hope they are as useful for others as they have been for me.

Let’s start with what everyone wants first – symptom relief! But these remedies do much more – from soothing the sore tissues to easing inflammation and drying up or loosening mucus as needed – all are both relief-oriented and healing.

I use:

Mullein infusion

Elderberry (in a wide variety of ways)

Fire Cider – the traditional recipe and a couple of variations

Ginger/lemon tea with local honey

A variety of compresses and poultices

Steam inhalations

Slippery elm with cayenne

Recipes, weblinks and pictures to follow. 🙂

Our Lady’s Thistle: Silybum Marianum, or Milk Thistle

Posted November 7, 2010 by CatLane
Categories: Herbal Monographs

Milk thistle has become, over the last decade, one of the most commonly used herbs in  natural veterinary medicine, addressing a whole host of issues most often related to active liver disease, or  in hopes of slowing the likelihood of liver problems associated with longterm use of phenobarbitol in epileptic dogs. For humans too, milk thistle is a very popular remedy, used to offset the ill effects of alcohol abuse and acetaminophen. Its antioxidant properties make it a good herb to consider in both cancer therapy and prevention; there are multiple uses such as helping to control blood sugar spikes that are not popularly associated with it but well worth investigation. As with even the safest of plants, some caution should be exercised with sensitive individuals; there are also interactions with certain drugs that should be borne in mind. Many researchers feel  that longterm use of milk thistle can actually weaken liver function so recommend staggering the dose – 3- 6 weeks on, 1 – 3 weeks off > I’ve heard argument both for and against this practise and cannot find conclusive evidence, so my tendency is to err on the side of caution; I stagger the dose with all dogs in my care. But Silymarin is one of the best researched herbs we have,  its safety and efficacy are well documented. below, a few aspects of this wonderful plant – history, how and when to use, and more.

Family: Asteraceae (Daisy, Sunflower family, sometimes called Compositae)

Distribution: widespread; indigenous to Southern and Western Europe, naturalized to North and South America

Common Names: Holy Thistle, Marian Thistle, St. Mary’s Thistle, Chardon-Marie, Mariendistel. In Chinese Medicine known as  shu fei ji.

Not to be confused with Blessed Thistle, Cnicus Benedictus.

Energetics: Various descriptions; primarly bitter, warming.

Constituents: Silymarin, a flavonoid complex comprised of silibinin, silidianin and silichristine. Most benefits of milk thistle derive from these three, probably primarily silibinin. Other constituents include sterols, lignans, mucilage, biogenic amines and other flavonoids.

Clinical Actions: Hepatoprotective, demulcent, antioxidant, cholagogue, galactagogue

Parts Used:

Seed collected in late summer. Historically the leaves were eaten (in Europe) as a vegetable and the fruit a delicacy like artichoke.History and Traditional Usage:

Milk thistle has a history of use that spans two millennia (as far as we know). Often thought of as simply a “liver herb” – and it is unparalleled in that regard – there is a great deal more to this herb than  the protective and regenerative support it offers the liver.Mrs. Grieves tell us this:

“Westmacott, writing in 1694, says of this Thistle: ‘It is a Friend to the Liver and Blood: the prickles cut off, they were formerly used to be boiled in the Spring and eaten with other herbs; but as the World decays, so doth the Use of good old things and others more delicate and less virtuous brought in.’ “

The use of Milk Thistle dates further back than Westacott. The first references I know of are from  circa 25 AD, from the Roman naturalist  Pliny the Elder, who tells us that “the juices will carry the bile”- the famed Roman Physician Dioscorides used the seeds “for infants, and against snakebite”. Gerard used milk thistle and considered it “ the best remedy for all melancholy diseases” which physicians at the time considered a liver complaint. Culpepper, the famous British herbalist who practised half a century later, used the name Our Lady’s thistle instead of Milk thistle.  He recommended its use in the treatment of disorders affecting the liver and spleen, the kidney’s in provoking the flow of urine, to break and expel stones and also to treat dropsy.

By the 19th century Milk thistle was commonly used by German physicians for the treatment of liver and blood problems, as well as for intestinal cleansing.  Again the seeds  were found to contain the active principle that has the specific effect on the liver.

No mention of the plant exists in Native American herbology

Modern Application

Published research provides us with the following:

Silymarin  has the following effects and can be used for any or all of the following:

–   Antioxidant effect

–   inhibition of lipid peroxidation in hepatoctye plasma membranes, this inhibiting the action of multiple toxic agents

–    chelates iron and decreases glutathione destruction in iron overload conditions

–    stabilizes mast cells

–   slows calcium metabolism

–   decreases activity of tumor-promoting factors


Liver disease: Useful in a wide range of hepatic disorders, including toxin and drug induced as well as viral hepatitis, alcoholic liver disease, and cirrhosis. Milk thistle decreases aminotransferase activity and improves clinical parameters consistently with all of these pathologies. Use in all acute and chronic cases with dosage appropriate to condition and duration of use.

Kidney disease: In vitro, oxidative damage to kidney cells were reduced by silymarin. Worth adding to a renal protocol for human or canine.

Pancreatitis: Induced pancreatitis in rats was significantly ameliorated with silymarin (Soto, 1998). Should be used in cases of cyclosporine  use,to protect pancreas from damage.

Cancer: May have value in prevention, especially prostate cancer. Use as a rotated antioxidant with ellagic acid, alpha-lipoic acid and COQ10.

Hyperlipidemia: Susan Wynn writes that “Animal studies have suggested that silymarin can help control blood lipid levels possibly by modulating absorption of cholesterol”. This response has not been noted in humans but it suggests an application for dogs with hyperlipidemia, such as miniature schnauzers and any diabetic dog.

Specific Canine Applications:

I use Milk Thistle in a variety of ways, both proactively (twice a year, a 6 week round of the standardized extract) and therapeutically, in all liver disorders, and with pancreatitis, cancer (according to type) and renal dysfunction. As always the herb should not be expected to compensate for a diet inappropriate for the condition so, adjustment of fats,carbohydrate and/or protein ,plus an emphasis on specific kinds of these nutrients, is always the bottom line of therapy. I never expect herbs to work optimally if the diet is working against the goals of the individual. Irrespective of diet I do however use MT in all cases of liver toxicity, poisoning,  for hepatitis, and post-  or during chemotherapy. My own diabetic dog is on 250 mgs of standardized extract TID and will remain so for the next three months, when we re-test. For me, milk thistle is indispensable for epileptic dogs on phenobarbitol as well.

Most of the researchers I have  looked at, including Susan Wynn DVM, Barbara Fougeres, co-author of the comprehensive Veterinary Herbal Medicine, Gregory Tilford and Mary Wulff-Tilford, authors of the classic Herbs for Pets and all related independent studies, suggest that milk thistle should not be used on a daily basis, despite it’s marvelous healing properties. The Tilfords write that “milk thistle is a medicine that is best reserved for situations where the liver is under abnormal stress”.

I can’t say I agree 100% with this; I have used MT in cancer cases; as a regenerative tonic twice a year with my healthy dogs, and am currently using 250 mgs. Standardized extract TID with my diabetic senior Ridgeback. I would say that dosage and duration depends on multiple factors and while I would use high doses for any acute case of poisoning or other acute liver distress, I have used it longer-term for a variety of conditions – with the qualifier I do give a “rest” every2-3 months for several weeks in these cases.

Toxicology: Relatively non-toxic and safe – if any reaction occurs it is most often allergic or gastrointestinal. For this reason I always recommend small initial doses and a build up to therapeutic levels. Susan Wynn has noted two cases in which supplemental milk thistle was associated with an elevation in ALT levels; given the very small number of cases in which this occurred it is believed to have been an allergic reaction.

Since silymarin stimulates liver and gallbladder activity, increasing bile secretion, it may have a mild, transient (2-3 days) laxative effect in some individuals.  Allergic reaction is rare; however, it should not be used by people with hypersensitivity to it or other plants in the Asteraceae family (e.g. ragweed).

Other rare associated effects include GI upset, headache, rash,  insomnia and malaise.

Drug Interactions: Milk thistle may reduce the insulin requirement for diabetic dogs due to it’s capacity to lower blood sugar levels: it has also been shown to protect organs when the patient is taking cisplatin, acetaminophen, butyrophenones, halothane, phenothiazines, tacrine and vincristine.People using antipsychotic medications, yohimbine, or male hormones such as testosterone should not take milk thistle.

J.P. Haas, MD tells us this:

Indinavir – There have been reports that milk thistle interferes with the disposition of the HIV protease inhibitor indinavir.  However, Piscitelli et al. (2002) determined that 175 mg doses of milk thistle taken three times daily did not significantly interfere with indinavir levels.

Cytochrome p450 – Some studies have suggested possible interaction with certain medications due to milk thistle’s utilization of cytochrome p450 pathways.  Milk thistle was studied in relation to known cytochrome p450 inducers (rifampin) and inhibitors (clarithromycin) and was found not to have a significant effect of CYP3A (Gurley et al. 2006).


A variety of methods are useful for this herb, although this writer prefers dried standardized extract for the canine. Alcohol tincture may also be used; glycverite is usually easier to get the canine to accept but it is more difficult to extract the active constituents in glycerin or  low alcohol. as dogs dislike the taste of the alcohol tincture so much I generally use a standardized powder extract. It’s important to note  in cases of acute liver disease adding alcohol might not be wise!

Dosage: Of the standardized extract (powder)  I use 2- 5 mgs. per lb BW, 2 – 3 times daily. If using an alcohol tincture I like 1-2 drops per lb BW, twice daily with food

Also Consider: Depending on the condition and individual (dog or human) consider licorice, dandelion, Oregon grape, burdock, yellow dock or turmeric.

Resources/Further Reading:

Manual of Natural Veterinary Medicine, Susan Wynn DVM and Steve Marsden DVM

Veterinary Herbal Medicine, Susan Wynn DVM and Barbara Fougeres

Herbs for Pets, MaryL. Wulff-Tilford and Gregory L. Tilford

Botanical Medicines; the Desk Reference for Herbal Supplements; McKenna, Jones, Hughes, Humphrey

The Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats, Shawn Messonnier DVM

Top Ten Herbs for Dogs

Posted October 25, 2010 by CatLane
Categories: Just for dogs

Since every good herbal blog needs a top ten indispensable list, I thought I’d share my own here, top ten can’t-live-without herbs–  for dogs, that is.

Slippery Elm
Milk Thistle
Devil’s Claw

I had previously listed calendula, but it’s really a runner up, given how much I use astragalus.

Herbs for dogs are different; why?  Because dogs are different. Dogs are carnivores, and their nutrient needs are different from our; their ability to metabolize nutrient from plant sources is inefficient at best, and their sensitivity to anti nutrient factors such as phytate, oxalate and fiber is greater than ours. Dogs are preferential carnivores, and they do best with a diet geared to that reality. That said,the fact also remains that  domestic dogs are nothing like their wild cousins, the wolves, coyotes and dingos of the noble Canidae clan. We breed them into all kinds of unnatural shapes and sizes (drop ears, flat faces,  chondroplastic types  – dachshunds, PBGVs- and the size extremes – toy dogs and giants)  which simply would not have evolved in the wild. we have shaped these dogs for their functionality, temperaments and cosmetic appeal; with these changes, and the demands of their particular functions (withstanding extreme cold/mushing, log hours tracking through rough terrain, lack of exercise as in the toy breeds and other companion types – the list goes on) come new metabolic types, often very different from that of a wolf. It’s certainly true that the overall digestive TRACT is similar, but there are far more variations in dog breeds than ever you will see with a wolf or coyote. In addition to this, we have bombarded the domestic dog with stressors no wolf ever had to face; yearly vaccinations, constant overuse of veterinary drugs for minor conditions, TERRIBLE, health-destroying food. constant exposure to chemicals in carpets, household cleaners, lawn chemicals and so on. Not least among these stressors is the way in which humans train dogs using harsh methods, expecting THEM to understand US, while we have (as a species) so little understanding about them.

So while I support a “species-appropriate diet” I also consider that species to be canis familiaris, not canis lupus. I consider individual variants every bit as important as species-wide or breed-wide generalities. and all that said, diet is THE foundation of the pyramid. It’s what males or breaks all the rest. Herbs are marvelous gifts of healing and knowledge and can prevent illness as much as they can ease and even halt it’s progress. but there is no replacement for correct diet. I want all students to understand that diet is the make-or-break factor here; diet is what will build, nourish, support and prolong health and life, or else it will contribute to dis-ease, – and diet is multi-factorial. Diet is not just about crunching the numbers, though that is essential. It is not just about selecting the right foods energetically for the individual as well as overall for the species, but this too is integral. An artful diet is one that takes into consideration all the factors in the specific case – the breed, the individual, the food sources and energetics, and of course strives first to supply the necessary nutrients of life in optimal amounts. Learning to do this well for an individual takes time; to do it well for any individual, any condition or combination of conditions is the work of a lifetime, whether it’s a human or canine being. This is not to intimidate at all but to make clear there are levels with nutrition, you can simply learn a few guidelines and work with them or you can explore a massive, dynamic and fascinating field of information on many levels. What I wish to impress is that herbs for dogs should not be considered “cures” and we must always take into consideration  what the diet consists of. A Bichon rise with arthritis and a history of crystals should not have parsley, although many who use an automated approach for  herbs – THIS herb for THAT condition – might jump to it, because “parsley is “good for arthritis”. Yes, and it’s loaded with oxalate, and BFs are very prone to calcium oxalate stones. Combine parsley with a diet too high in calcium and you have a painful and expensive condition just waiting to happen. With all the natural anti inflammatories and joint support herbs and nutraceuticals  out there, why take chances? One quick example of so many.

Now all of this said, the ten herbs I’m listing here have pretty well stood the test of my last 12 years practise and  apprenticeship with Eddie Beltran, with my various teachers (Susun Weed, Gregory and Mary Tilford, Dominion Herbal College and above all, my cases both personal and professional) so I feel we can monograph and explore their uses safely and with optimal benefit for the student. This is a basic Materia Medica for dogs; I had a hard time deciding on just ten but I took breed disposition into account as well as how broadly an herb can be applied, the maximum benefit/safety with fewest contraindications. So without further adieu, let’s start looking at each one beginning with one herb pretty much every dog lover knows and has used or will at some point: Milk Thistle, Silybum Marianum.

Birch Syrup, at last

Posted October 22, 2010 by CatLane
Categories: Eat Wild

Around about last June, I was visiting the Outpost (yup that’s the real name of my local depanneur) for basic supplies, when I saw an interesting looking tray of small bottles near the cash – bottles shaped like your standard maple syrup type but with a thicker looking, blackish liquid inside. Of course, I had to find our what they were – and to my delight, they contained pure, local birch syrup – made by one of my cousins! Now I had never tasted birch syrup, but I’m a total sucker for our glorious fresh maple stuff – in cakes, over pancakes, flavouring baked winter squashes and a whole variety of confections and cookies. But birch?  This is the land of the beautiful paper birch – along with less conspicuous but equally lovely (and healing)  yellow variety. yet, in my 20 years living in the Outouais, I have never seen nor tasted birch syrup.

So of course, along with my Santrapol coffee and locally made beeswax soap, I bought the syrup. I love anything that connects me ever deeper with this magical forested land I am blessed to live in. I was excited to get home ad taste the new find, in it’s humble little bottle, with all it’s  spiritual connection to this area.

Well, a few things. First, the syrup is an acquired taste, and it isn’t a good idea to just use it as a replacement for maple. I love the stuff now, but it took a while. The syrup is made by boiling the sap of the tree early in spring, exactly as maple syrup is made, but for the birch version  it takes 120 litres of sap to get one litre of syrup. With maple,  only 40 litres of fresh are required. The taste of birch syrup is distinctive, rich, somewhat like a blend of molasses and caramel, and a little goes a long way. I liked it best over  buckwheat and currant cakes, but even so I still prefer ample. Where birch syrup shines in this household is in various condiments; I made all the recipes that came with it and every one is a keeper. Below is a sauce I developed and was a real hit with white fish and scallops; non vegetarians could use it with fowl as well.  I think I will try some baking as well, although one thing holds me back from a show of real enthusiasm; birch syrup is predominantly composed of fructose. That does give me pause, although the hype says “more easily digested than sucrose” there are concerns about fructose:



Mind you, the small amount ingested in sauces and vinaigrettes isn’t making me lose sleep over this.I don’t drink fruit juice or otherwise inhale sugar in any form, so I can live with this. All foods have pros and cons, and birch syrup IS higher in Vitamin C, calcium and manganese than maple.  As with all things – moderation is key. but, it’s something to be wary of.
Birch Syrup Sauce a la Chez Rupert
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup birch syrup
1/4 cup Tamari
1/3 cup white wine (I used Canadian Riesling)
1/4 cup lime juice
2-3 cloves garlic (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
Whisk together well, then brush on fish before, during and  even after cooking. You can marinate in it for an hour in the fridge, but with delicate fish like sole this can get overpowering.
Just one idea of many; I found this unique blend on a blog about native foods – interesting, no?

“As I type this I have a good dose of birch syrup mixed with of small handful of shallots, dab of butter, another dab of whole grain dijon mustard, a splash of chicken stock, a gush of orange-banana-strawberry juice, a sprinkle of chilies, a pinch of S&P, and a glug of smokey Laphroaig scotch whiskey, thickening in preparation for glazing my pan roasted pork tenderloin.

Smells and tastes like heaven I tells ya.” Maybe I’ll try that one day, but not soon.

But, this site has a whole bunch more stuff I need to try:

All in all, a marvelous find,and I won’t let the worries about fructose bother me muchly. It’s used in small quantities, and it’s a marvelous product. Breathe in the Boreal!  Bake, glaze, drink while you cook! Food for the soul, from a magical tree.

Basil Galore

Posted August 21, 2010 by CatLane
Categories: Herbs for humans, Uncategorized

Many people are not aware of the great benefits common culinary herbs can offer. For example; basil. Our everyday garden-variety version is ever popular in soups, sauces (pesto!) and added to a wide variety of pasta dishes. Varieties abound, too, I often plant several of these:

my own favorites include sweet, cinnamon, dark opal, spicyglobe and Holy basil. I love to make pesto, which of course means the ingestion of large amounts of PASTA, and what’s a pasta feast without wine?

But just look at the health benefits of basil as well:

Last spring when we were planting, I asked my partner Alex to get me four basil plants – regular sweet basil. He thought I meant four FLATS, so I wound up with – you got it sixteen basil plants. It’s a good thing we have such a large garden space – and equally interesting to see the specific properties of basil, which I admit I have long regarded more as a culinary herb than medicinal. I am taking it well chopped up in my salads, steamed veggies and soups these days. God knows I have enough of it.