I always love to make gifts when I can and especially love to receive handmade ones, too, as do many people I know. If you do as well, or are wondering what to give someone, here are a couple of holiday herbal treats you can easily make that are not only tasty but also healthy – fruit leather and trail mix. Now before you turn up your nose at these seemingly prosaic ideas, read on for they are not made with “normal” ingredients and are extremely nutritious and medicinal.


What could be easier than stirring together three items and pouring into a bag? All that’s left is the wrapping! This herbal blend can be eaten anywhere, anytime, even as an afternoon office snack or a dessert. As well, you can add the mix to cereals, soups or cookies. Together this mix replenishes energy and nourishes blood. It is especially good for teachers, students, sales folks, or those who study and/or talk a lot.


  • Goji berries (lycii berries)
  • Longan berries (long yan rou)
  • Walnuts

Mix together in desired ratio. For an especially tasty mix, first blanch the walnuts for five minutes in boiling water, strain, cool and dry. Then add to mix.

Goji (Lycii) berries

This small, red, sweet berry tonifies Blood, treating anemia, dizziness, poor eyesight, night blindness, blurred vision, sore back, knees and legs, impotence, seminal and nocturnal emission, tuberculosis and peri/menopausal complaints. Very high in beta-carotene, lycii promotes regeneration of liver cells, inhibits fat deposits in liver cells, lowers cholesterol, prevents atherosclerosis, and enhances immunity.

Longan Berries (Euphoria longan)

These delicious berries quickly tonify Heart Blood like no other herb I know, alleviating palpitations, anxiety, forgetfulness, and insomnia, particularly due to overwork or from excessive thinking, studying, reading, or talking (all of which use a lot of Heart Blood and blood sugar in the brain). These berries are high in glucose and sucrose, which quickly replenish blood sugar.


The Chinese use walnuts to strengthen the Kidneys for alleviating low back and knee pain and frequent urination. They also warm the Lungs, treating chronic cough or wheezing (the type that occurs when it’s harder to inhale than exhale, there’s dribbling of urine upon sneezing, or there are accompanying symptoms of low back ache, frequent urination and/or night-time urination).

Walnuts also act as a mild laxative, particularly in the elderly, anemic or those who feel cold. Constipation that doesn’t respond to normal herbal laxatives in people who are tired, anemic, cold, have clear, frequent urination, low back pain, low sex drive, lowered metabolism and/or edema of the legs usually respond to walnuts since they lubricate the intestines and provide enough heat and energy to move the stools.


While fruit leathers can be made from all sorts of fruit, this one is made with a fruit that is also quite medicinal and good for you: jujube dates (Zizyphus sativa, da zao). These plump red dates (or shriveled if they’re dried) are high in vitamins A, B2, C, calcium, phosphorous, and iron, and are great for quick energy.

They tonify both energy and Blood, treating poor digestion, weakness, low energy, nervous exhaustion, insomnia, clear watery diarrhea, and poor appetite, digestion and memory. Nourishing to the Spirit, they calm and stabilize emotions when feeling irritable, sad or crying for no reason. They are added like licorice to sweeten and harmonize other herbs in a formula. After cooking the dates in a tea or soup, eat them for their full medicinal value (remove pits first). They help weight gain and help malnourished children thrive.


  • Jujube dates
  • Water (or desired herbal tea)


Cook dates with water, covered, over low heat for 20 minutes. Cool. Remove pits from dates. Puree mix. Cook down again if needed to thick pudding consistency. Spread over parchment paper on oven or dehydrator trays about ¼- ½” thick. Slowly dry in oven at 140 degrees for about 12 hours or in food dehydrator for about 8 hours. The fruit leather is ready when it’s smooth and no longer sticky.

For sweeter fruit leather, add honey to taste. If desired, use a strained herbal tea for the water, such as astragalus, to give more energy and boost immunity.

Purchasing ingredients:

Goji berries and walnuts are easy to find as most health food stores carry them now. As well, many health food stores carry jujube dates and longan berries. If not, you can usually find them quickly by going to your local acupuncturist or they may be ordered from the following places:

Ron Teeguarden's Dragon Herbs




While I’ve had many favorite herbs over the years with which I’ve experienced many wonderful healings, these four are my current favorites.


teasel dipsacusTeasel (Dipsacus)

I’ve long used the Japanese variety of teasel (Dipsacus asperoides; xu duan), however one of my new favorite herbs is the Western variety (Dipsacus fullonum). Even the latest AHG Journal highlighted this herb on its cover! I first learned of western Dipsacus in the early '90s while traveling through Scotland. There I witnessed huge machines combing wool that were comprised of hundreds of dried teasel heads on a giant spinning drum. (Dried teasel flowerheads are very hard and bristly.)

Although this herb originated in Europe, this invasive weed now grows in many places. Today, teasel has made a wildly popular resurgence as an herb to treat joint, muscle and bone injuries and pain, symptoms associated with Lyme disease, and (from what I hear because I don’t have experience with this) chronic fatigue as well. However, I’ve seen it work for other conditions and I believe its application could spread even more.

I recently experienced my own miraculous healing with this herb. After a skiing accident decades ago, one of my hips can go out of alignment. This just happened occurred again. Several chiropractic adjustments worked but didn’t hold. One dose of teasel not only put my bones back into alignment but also kept me there! Nothing else I’ve seen has worked this well.

I also used it with my elderly bedridden mother for back/coccyx pain. One dose of three drops and she was pain-free. Another woman I gave it to had such terrible back and hip pain that she cried every morning when she had to get out of bed. One dose of Dipsacus and she immediately felt better. Several doses later, not only was her back pain minimal but also her swollen ankles were normalized so she could eliminate her medication for this. I wasn’t surprised at this response as the Chinese variety of Dipsacus is a Kidney Yang tonic, treating such conditions as the back pain and swollen ankles mentioned above.

An interesting part of using western teasel is that only a few drops of the tincture are needed – typically 3-5 drops, one to three times per day are sufficient. However NOTE: This tincture is best taken on a full stomach. I’ve seen several people get stomach upset or nausea when they’ve taken Dipsacus on an empty stomach.


Hawthorn (Crataegus  spp.)

We’ve all known and loved hawthorn for years but now there are some new fun ways to take it that are also quite effective.

Hawthorn paste

Hawthorn berries may be made into a thick paste with honey. This electuary is quickly assimilated and quite tasty. As such, I’ve seen as small as ¼ teaspoon quickly regulate the heart rhythm and strengthen its function.

Hawthorn wine

I’ve been one of the wine tasters here for Michael’s latest brew of hawthorn wine. It’s such a delicious – and sweet – wine that not much is needed (at least for me!) and it has a beautiful dark rosy color. Get all the benefits of hawthorn (heart tonic, blood pressure, circulation, and digestive support) while enjoying it at a dinner party or as an after dinner treat! You can make the wine at home by mashing the berries, mixing with sugar and letting them ferment. When done, strain, bottle and "cap" with balloons to allow for further fermentation. When the balloons are flat, you can cork normally.


"Dragon Eyes" – Longan Berries (Euphoria longan; long yan rou)

When I first learned about longan berries in the early '80s, they were called by their ancient name, "dragon eyes" (long mu) When I recently found this herb in Hawaiian markets, I learned why. Raw, these delicious fruits look like whole eyes with small black pupils! They are easy to peel, and slimy and sweet to taste, making them a perfect yin tonic for the Heart and Mind.

Longan berries nourish Blood, tonify Qi and calm the Spirit. As such, they are used for palpitations, forgetfulness, dizziness, insomnia and overwork, all due to Heart and Spleen deficiency. I know one acupuncturist/herbalist who would always eat a handful of longan berries after her clinic to replenish her Heart Blood and Spleen Qi. This method is also specific for students after long hours of reading or studying!


Salvia miltiorrhiza by Raffi KojianRed Sage Root (Salvia miltiorrhiza)

There are hundreds of varieties of sage. Red sage root is one the Chinese have long used to regulate the blood. It is such a valuable herb for this that it "should" be taken by all "older" people to ensure a healthy heart and circulation and prevent heart conditions, treating blood clots, angina pectoris, coronary heart disease, and palpitations. Red sage root is also fantastic for pain due to Blood Stasis treating such conditions as chest or epigastric pain, painful menstruation, amenorrhea, and endometriosis. It also breaks up Blood Stasis, making it useful for abdominal masses, fibroids and cysts. As well, it calms the Spirit, treating irritability and helping sleep! This is truly a medicine kit in a bottle!

The tincture is especially effective for pain as it quickly enters the bloodstream. It works best to take one tablespoon of the tincture every 15 minutes and reduce as pain subsides.

Numen: The Nature of Plants

A film about the healing power of plants


This is the most beautiful film yet produced on what we herbalists are all about. It runs 75 minutes long and features many of our herbal teachers as spokespersons. I especially appreciate the extended eloquent presentations of Dr. William Mitchell, naturopath of Bastyr College, and one of the finest herbalists of our generation. This film is a real feast for the eye and soul and the only regret I have is that somehow I was not one of the numerous herbalists featured. 

I echo Dr. Tieraona Lowdog MD’s description of the film:

"From the use of plants as medicine to the impact of environmental toxins on human reproduction—Numen is a beautiful and thought-provoking film that explores the deep relationship that exists between nature and human health. Weaving history, ecology, and modern pharmacy with the very essence of what it means to heal, this visually stunning film should be part of all medical, nursing and pharmacy training programs and/or libraries."

You can purchase your own copy of the DVD and purchase the rights to have a showing in your community.

Botanica Poetica – Herbs in Verse

by Sylvia Seroussi Chatroux, M.D.

Published by Poetica Press toll free 1-877-POETICA


This is a wonderful book that every herbalist should have in their library. Chatroux offers a short poem for 111 herbs, from aloe to yerba santa. Each one describes most of the properties and uses for each herb in a fun and memorable way. I believe that it is important for healers to maintain their aesthetic sensitivity through the arts, be it music, writing, painting, sculpture, or poetry. Inspiration and creativity is always in play when we are working with patients. While we may be inspired when encountering herbs in nature, a lot of that is dulled by hours of research, study and computer work. This book offers the opportunity to combine both learning and artistic inspiration. True "poetry" may be too eloquent a description of what is contained in this book; I think they could be better described as "useful doggerel."

Here’s a sample:


If you go out to the Battlefield

As in the days of old

Put Yarrow in your knapsack

It’s worth weight in gold

Yarrow for your bleeding wound

A poultice for your knee

Or for a painless hemorrhage

You’ll want to drink the tea

For diaphoresis it’s the King

The stem, the leaf, the flower

Reduce your fever, sweat full fling

We’re talking Yarrow power!

Achillea Millefolium

An astringent disinfectant

A urinary healer

Hemostatic and protectant

It’s an aromatic bitter

If you lose your appetite

Have spasmodic ailments

Or your tummy is uptight

If it’s good enough for Achilles

Of Greek mythology

To stop his bleeding wounds

Why, it’s good enough for me!

Doesn’t that say nearly all? Think of a Western herb and you quite likely will find it in this little book. At only $18 plus $3 postage it will make a wonderful stocking stuffer for yourself or for that herbalist among your friends and family.

Incidentally, Chinese doctors trained in the old ways were known as "singing doctors" and learned their material medica via songs and poetry. I always liked that idea and here it is created for Western herbalists by Sylvia Seroussi Chatroux, M.D, physician-herbalist, mother of two daughter and with a family medical practice in Ashland, Oregon. Chatroux also has written books in a similar vein: Medica Poetica: Malady in Verse and Materia Poetica: Homeopathy in Verse. I like them all very much.

Grace of Necessity

by Samuel Green

Carnegie Mellon University Press

Toll Free: 1-800-421-1561

I first heard of poet Sam Green when Lesley and I visited the composer Alex Shapiro on San Juan Island. Another truly great composer and resident of both Waldron and San Juan islands off the coast of Washington State, Morten Lauridsen is the composer of one of the greatest choral works of our time, the sublime Lux Aeterna (Eternal Light). At a public screening of a film about Lauridsen and his music, he gave a talk describing his love of poetry and mentioned Washington state poet laureate Sam Green who happens to be his friend and neighbor. I became curious about Sam’s poetry and upon reading it, some of it clicked very profoundly as a poem should, when you find the words echoing deep in your heart.

My favorite book of Green’s is his most recent one, entitled The Grace of Necessity published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. Inevitably, most of us arrive at that time in one’s life when we become more acutely aware of death, first of parents’, our own, and others’. I think it is within our imagination to sometimes be able to make of death something of beauty. The first group of poems in this beautiful collection is entitled "In the Dark’" and I think more times than not, it does capture the poignant beauty of the final passing. The second group is Sam’s wonderful "Postcard Poems" which is a challenge he made to compose a poem each day, with no editing, on a postcard which he then sent to a friend. Here is Sam Green reading some of his postcard poems:


Here is one of my favorite poems in the book:


Miserere: That We Might Keep Her Present Among Us

For Taryn Hoover


Now, when the apples she might have picked against winter

are falling, let us recall her, let us pick them & eat.


Let us recall her as the leaves start their turning,

as seed pods of maples spin & drift in the fickle wind.


As long vowels of rain spill from the sky’s dark sack,

let us bring her back – not as a burden,


no knapsack of grief that will bend us –

But a velvet presence come from the spun cocoon of pain.


Let us recall her because we can, it is easy, the memory

collective, each story shared like bread, elemental as salt.


Let the stories gather as tiny birds

add themselves one & one to the flock,


their small throats gathering the One

Great Song that is more than themselves alone.


Now in the shortening days when light unbraids

too early, let us astonish each other


with love, as though, through us, we channel her desire.

Let us summon her here that she be present


among us, because the true burden is absence

because joy, O my neighbors,


can be grafted to loss and bring fruit everbearing.


                                                            so that


though there is grieving,

there is never true separation, never a leaving.


You can also buy Grace of Necessity on Amazon.




My son turned me onto this app, and many of you undoubtedly must use it already. Spotify makes the music of the world available to everyone either for free or with a modest monthly subscription.


If you feel a bit melancholy and want to resonate with a piece of music, get a copy of the translation of Goethe’s poem Aber Abseits Wer Ist’s? and follow it as you listen to the comforting angelic voice of the late but unforgettable Kathleen Ferrier as she sings Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7S162WFNI8

You might also enjoy Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde also sung by Kathleen Ferrier: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUgEd2oTs80

Premio-10 Electro-Moxa

I’m a great advocate of moxibustion in my clinic. While acupuncture with needles basically moves existing Qi in the body, moxa  which uses heat from the burning fluff of the mugwort plant not only moves Qi but puts energy into the meridians. Because it doesn’t puncture the body, it is a technique that herbalists can learn to administer to their clients directly, usually providing more immediate and sustaining results than can be expected from herbs alone. The two modalities together are highly complementary and will greatly enhance one’s practice.

Premio-10 is an electro-moxa tool that generates the same far infrared heat as moxa herb without any of the negative aspects associated with its use. 

At $1200, Premio-10 is a wonderful business expense that will greatly enhance your clinical practice.

It is available from LHASA Oriental Medical Supplies at http://www.lhasaoms.com/Premio-10-Moxa.html

You may need to find a licensed acupuncturist to purchase it for you.

I decided it was high time again to introduce you to a few of my favorite things (I can’t believe it’s been five years since the last time I did this!). As I tend to focus on healing and not just herbs, you’ll find all sorts of items here, however tune in on Dec. 15 for my latest four favorite herbs. Enjoy!


Drinks by Zenergy Naturals

Someone really got the right idea going when they created these drinks. Made of both Western and Chinese herbs, these products are tasty substitutes for coffee and caffeine in general. The best way to purchase them is via email at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This is a small company, so give them time to respond! You can set up automatic monthly delivery as well. For more information go to: http://www.zenergynaturals.com/Home.html

Original Zen

My favorite, Original Zen, is not only good for you, but delicious as well. It is comprised of U.S. grown cordyceps plus astragalus, eleuthero, dandelion root, chicory root, barley extract, and rye extract. It increases immunity, energy, stamina, memory, focus, and athletic performance. You can make it into all sorts of drinks just by adding protein powder, milk or cream, vanilla, or other flavorings.


Zenopause is the same idea as Original Zen but made specifically for menopausal symptoms. It contains lycii (goji) berries, rehmannia, white peony, dioscorea, ophiopogon, cordyceps, eleuthero, astragalus, dandelion root, and barley extract. It not only enhances immunity, but prevents hot flashes and night sweats, and supports memory, vision, and libido.


Earth From Space DVD

This is an enthralling two-hour long DVD that gives you an overview of the entire planet. You’ll learn amazing facts about the interconnection of various continents and climates and how they work together to sustain life on earth. For instance, I was stunned to learn our oxygen source didn’t come from the forests in the Amazon, but start with the desert dust from Africa that fertilize the Amazon basin and in turn lead to plankton blooms in the ocean. Learn the roles of lightning and the underwater "waterfall" off Antarctica in sustaining our planet. A NOVA special on PBS, you can purchase several places on the web, including shoppbs.org.


Swimmer's Eardrops

I’ve been a swimmer my whole life and learned first hand the pain of ear infections. I learned about these natural eardrops from a colleague and have used them ever since. Mix equal parts rubbing alcohol with white vinegar. Use after swimming by inserting 5 drops into each ear, allowing the liquid to settle in the ear for 30-60 seconds.


Glass Tea Tumbler

This is the perfect make-tea-and-go tumbler. Made of double-layered thick glass, it keeps tea warm for a long time without burning your hands. Because it’s glass you can see inside to make your desired strength – or leave all day. AND there’s a strainer at the top so you can drink without getting herb bits in your mouth. The only drawback is that it is ultimately breakable, but I prefer to drink from glass rather than plastic. You can find different models of this on Amazon.com, for all under $20.


Herb Grinder

Finding a strong and adequate grinder to process herbs can be challenging. This one is the most powerful herb grinder I’ve used. It quickly minces most all herbs, even the hard ones, although it’s best to break those up first with a Chinese "bonger" or a hammer. Well, the grinder info is in Chinese so google industrial strength herb grinders – but be careful because many of them are for the "weed" type of herb!!! This one looks just like ours: http://www.alibaba.com/product-gs/1286184312/HR_16B_800g_110V_220V_Multi.html






The Japanese always seem to improve other people’s devices. This is true with moxa. Choseikyu moxa is a little moxa "candle" (as I call it) that easily sticks onto the body and thoroughly warms the desired area or point. It is easy to use, hands-free, not as messy as other methods, and yet creates the intended heat without burning (caution on people with sensitive skin!). Moxa "candles" do cause the normal smoke and smell and build up ashes, but the latter are conveniently contained on their sticky base. If this moxa feels too hot, you can lightly run your fingers along the skin on either side of the "candle" to disperse this sensation. Choseikyu moxa can be purchased online at Chinese medical suppliers.





Atlas of Chinese Tongue Diagnosis by Barbara Kirschbaum (Eastland Press, Seattle, 1998)

Atlas of Chinese Tongue Diagnosis Volume 2 by Barbara Kirschbaum (Eastland Press, Seattle, 2002)

I have long loved tongue diagnosis for its effective and detailed reflection of the body’s health. These books include detailed teaching, photos and case examples. I am always learning more here! I give them my highest recommendation for learning tongue diagnosis, beginning to advanced!




A Kid's Herb Book by Lesley Tierra (RD Reed, 2000)

What can I say? This is still a favorite book of mine and apparently of many others around the world, for it is now also published in Japan and Estonia! This book grew out of a vision I had in the early '90s when our son was young to introduce the next generation to herbs and keep the herbal fervor alive. It is also great for adults as a simple and fun introduction to using herbs. It highlights 17 herbs and includes tons of recipes, preparations, stories and songs. There is also information on planning a tea party, kitchen medicine, a first aid kit, and plant ecology along with much more.



Metaphor-phosis: Transform Your Stories from Pain to Power by Lesley Tierra (Balboa Press, 2013)

This is my latest book and addresses the power we have to heal ourselves. I’ve learned from over 30 years of clinical experience that most people’s health problems stem from deeper emotional, mental or spiritual sources. Metaphor-phosis helps you to dig deep into the root cause of your health conditions and heal them through the multiple tools and techniques included. This, with my Healing with the Herbs of Life, comprise a complete healing system.

The holidays are fast approaching and before you know it, you might need to start cooking up a storm. But what if you’re tired of the same old recipes or you want to try something new? Look no further. I’ve got several ideas here to spice up your holiday eating as well as expand your culinary herbal horizons. And at the very end I’ve included several after-dinner digestive aids to prevent that awful sluggishness most of us feel after over-eating holiday meals.


Traditional Meal

Many of us love the traditional meals we serve at holiday time so I won’t mess with those plans. However, here are some ways you can sneak spices into your dishes so they are more interesting and healthy ones, too.

Creamed onions: Add cardamom, one of the best spices to help digestion and eliminate the dampening nature of dairy.

Winter squash: Cut in half and baked with a drizzling of ghee and generous sprinkle of cinnamon, this delish dish not only makes your kitchen (and house) smell divine, but the cinnamon also helps balance blood sugar and warms your inner metabolic and Kidney Yang fires.

Stuffing: By adding sage, thyme, bay and rosemary to your stuffing mix, you’ll aid digestion and help protect everyone from the nasty colds and flu so common at this time of year.

Pumpkin pie: Spices are sure to be in your pies, but know that together cloves, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and cardamom all help digestion, eliminate dampness, warm the metabolism and balance blood sugar.


Add a Little Adventure to Your Meal

Side Dishes

Try these two vegetable dishes to expand your flavors and increase your meal’s health benefits.

Brussels sprouts with lemon and garlic: The garlic in this dish helps treat and prevent colds and flu. As well, lemon juice helps clear some Liver Heat that increases from all the tasty wine you might drink.

String beans with lycii berries (gou ji zi) and walnuts: This preparation is not only unusual in taste but also color and texture. Traditionally, Chinese long beans are used but I’ve made it with regular string beans just fine. Blanch the walnuts and soak the lycii berries before adding. Include the lycii juice, too. Lycii not only nourishes the body’s essence, it also helps eyesight and supports the Liver and Kidney energy. Walnuts tonify Kidney Yang and so treat low back pain, lowered metabolism, edema in the legs and mild constipation in those who are tired and cold.


Main Dishes

Calendula Quiche: Calendula flowers are anti-fungal and move circulation. They are used for skin complains, red and irritated eyes and liver cleansing. They add a beautiful visual touch to your meal as well.

  • 1 pie crust
  • ¼-1/3 lb. cheese (Monterey Jack, Cheddar and Swiss cheese
  • are good choices.)
  • 1 cup onions
  • calendula petals from 8-10 calendulas
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk

Grate the cheese and put in piecrust. Sauté onions and mix with calendula petals. Pour over cheese. Beat together eggs and milk. Pour over top of pie mixture. Bake 35-40 minutes at 375 degrees. Let cool. Cut into 6-8 pie wedges. Top each with a calendula flower.


Basil Pesto: Used as an appetizer or part of the main meal, basil helps digestion, treats colds, is anti-inflammatory and supports heart health. Garlic cures everything except what it causes: bad breath!

  • 3 packed cups fresh basil leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • ¾ cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • ½-¾ cup olive oil
  • ½ packed cup parsley

Puree everything together in a blender or food processor. Pour into a container and cover with 2 tablespoons oil to keep it from darkening.



Flowered Salad will surprise everyone and provide a spicy-sweet flavor, interesting texture and gentle fragrance to your meal. As well, colored flowers are striking against the green leaves in a flower salad. Flowers have been eaten for thousands of years – why not bring them back again?

Wash and dry edible flowers such as chives, nasturtiums, violets, borage, pansies, wild radish, Johnny-jump-ups, and rose and calendula petals. Add to salad greens right before serving. Lightly sprinkle on your favorite dressing (see below) and toss.


And Don’t Forget the Dressing!

Make one (or all!) of these vinegar dressings ahead of time and enliven your salads even more.

Spiced vinegar: Add 2-4 garlic cloves, 4-6 ginger slices and 1-2 whole cayenne peppers to apple cider vinegar.

Italian vinegar: Use a whole stem each of rosemary, oregano and thyme and 4-6 leaves of basil apple cider vinegar.

Dandelion vinegar: Use a handful of dandelion leaves and flowers in apple cider vinegar.



Try some new drinks this year! How about mulled cider, chai, or cinnamon milk? You might even make some herbal beers or wines, although those recipes aren’t included here.

Chai is a delicious spicy tea is regularly drunk in India. Chai helps relieve indigestion, gas and colds with strong chills and a low fever. It also makes a great winter brew to warm the body and metabolism, especially if you easily feel cold. Orange and tangerine peels are great digestive aids, alleviating gas, nausea and vomiting and clearing white to clear-colored mucus. Lemon peel is a traditional after-dinner tea in Italy to help digestion, while grapefruit peel lowers fevers and treats colds and flu.

  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger or ¼ teaspoon ginger powder
  • 7 peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves
  • 15 cardamom seeds
  • 1 peel from a whole orange (dry or fresh), tangerine, lemon or grapefruit
  • 1 pint water
  • ½ cup milk

Combine all the ingredients except milk in a pot. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add milk and simmer covered another 10 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey, if desired. You may brew this with black tea or other herbal teas such as rooibos.  You can also make it more or less spicy by adjusting the amount of milk used.


Ginger Ale Fizz tastes very much like old-fashioned ginger ale but is much healthier and is a great digestive aid and cold/flu preventer.

  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root, or ½ teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup carbonated water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (raw or brown sugar is preferable) or honey

Bring ginger and water to a boil. Turn down heat to low and simmer covered for no more than 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes. Strain. Add carbonated water. Stir in sugar or honey. Let cool.


Cinnamon Milk is just one of many herbal milks you can make. Often used in India, cinnamon milk especially helps to firm loose or runny bowels, warms the body and aids digestion. This is a great drink for children or to help sleep after a long busy holiday.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Heat milk in a pan to scalding. Add powdered cinnamon and honey and stir well.



Cinnamon Halvah

Halvah is a wonderful candy made from sesame seeds and honey. Sesame seeds are high in calcium, a mineral that strengthens bones, teeth and nerves while honey is warming and helps clear white mucus. When cinnamon is added, it warms you up on a blustery day and aids digestion, too.

  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon powder
  • ½ cup honey

Lightly toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet, stirring constantly until the seeds start popping and turn brown. Cool. Grind sesame seeds in a nut and seed or coffee grinder, blender or food processor until they form a paste. Mix with cinnamon powder and honey. Spread mixture thinly on a sheet of aluminum foil and wrap up to cover. Refrigerate several hours. Cut into bite-sized pieces and eat.


Candied flowers have traditionally been eaten for centuries. They are a beautiful and delicate treat. Many different types of flowers may be used, but try violets, rose petals, borage, honeysuckle, or jasmine for starters.

  • A handful or two of flowers
  • 2/3 cup unrefined granulated cane sugar
  • ½ cup water

Gently rinse flowers in water and set to dry on a towel. Boil sugar and water 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until light syrup forms. Using a fork or tongs, dip each flower into the syrup and gently shake off the excess. Set flowers on a cookie sheet covered with waxed paper. With a toothpick, straighten out any folded or bent petals. Let dry in a warm place out of the sun. Store in a tin until ready to eat.


After-Dinner Digestive Aids

How do you prevent the awful stomach bloating or food stagnation that arises after over-eating a delicious meal? Here are three choices that not only help digestion, but also taste fabulous, too.

Fennel Candy is a regular after-dinner treat to aid digestion.

  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon unrefined sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon water

In a pan mix together the fennel seeds, sugar and water. Heat gently on the stove until the sugar dissolves and coats the seeds. Pour into a bowl. Add 2 more teaspoons fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons sugar. Mix together well and let cool.


Candied Ginger is typically eaten in China to aid digestion.

  • ¼ pound fresh ginger root (about 1 cup sliced ginger)
  • ½ cup sugar (raw sugar is best)
  • 1 cup water

Peel off outer skin of ginger. Slice ginger into paper-thin rounds. Bring the water and ginger to a boil and simmer 10 minutes covered. Remove and set aside the ginger slices. Add ½ cup sugar to the ginger water and stir until dissolved. Return pan to the heat and cover. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking until a syrupy consistency is reached, about 5-10 minutes. Add ginger to the syrup and stir well to coat the ginger. Remove the ginger slices from the liquid and place into a bowl. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons extra sugar over them and roll in the sugar to coat the slices. Then place ginger pieces on waxed paper spaced apart. Let dry overnight. Store carefully in a sealed jar in the refrigerator.

Hawthorn berries not only help heart function, but also help the digestion of meat and fats. In China hawthorn is made into thin wafers and eaten as candy after meals for just his purpose. Place a bowl of fresh or dried hawthorn berries on the table and let people eat as desired, or make into a paste that can be licked off spoons by grinding the berries and mixing with honey.

SHARE YOUR FAVORITE HERBAL HOLIDAY RECIPES IN THE COMMENTS SECTION and I’ll post them for everyone to use over the December holidays!

I don’t know what it is about the holidays and me, but when this time of year comes around I think about spices. It’s probably because of the season – winter, colder weather, Kidney time – and spicing up meals enhances all three of these. So once again I give you something about spices, although this time with a different twist -- I’ve found a perfect book not only for your kitchen, but as a lovely gift option as well.

Titled, Healing Spice: How to Use 50 Everyday and Exotic Spices to Boost Health and Beat Diseases, this fabulous book by Bharat B. Aggarwai with Debora Yost (Sterling, 2011) does exactly what it says: presents 50 spices along with their health uses, science, how to buy and use them, and my favorite part – recipes!

I was so inspired by this book that I completely restocked our spice cabinet, throwing out a lot of old stuff, cleaning up the mess and bringing in just those spices we wanted and would use. Now when I open the spice cabinet I can easily grab the ones I want. It has become a delight to use them rather than a burden to find them. As well, this book inspired me to create my own spice blends (another great gift idea, by the way).

How often do we think of spices as medicine? How many people know that our "lowly" kitchen spices are some of our most potent healing herbs? According to Aggarwai, "(W)orldwide scientific research has linked spices to the prevention and treatment of more than 150 health problems, including heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s."

Many people know that ginger aids digestion and treats motion sickness, and turmeric is good for pain and arthritis. But how many know that caraway is a folk remedy to prevent and control blood sugar problems and that its daily intake for two weeks normalized blood sugar in rats? How many cooks know that a compound in star anise is used as the "starter ingredient" for Tamiflu, the most commonly prescribed drug for flu? How many realize that a vanillin-derived drug significantly reduced the percentage of sickle cells in rats, becoming a potential new agent for those with sickle cell anemia?

Do you cook with fennel, fenugreek, asafetida, juniper berry, ajowan or tamarind? All of these highly flavorful herbs also have tremendous health benefits. Many of these spices aid digestion, improving appetite and eliminating gas and bloating. Of course just a dash of spice won’t heal your arthritis, but continued use of these spices does have beneficial effects on health and prevents disease.

So go ahead – spice up your life this holiday and help others to do so, too! Here’s a spice recipe I love that you may enjoy, too. I made this so often recently that I decided to combine all the spices in one large batch for easy use in the future. However, if you choose to do so, keep the seeds separate from the powders; they brown at different rates. 



  • 1-2 Tbsp ghee or coconut oil or sesame oil
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp fenugreek seeds
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground clove
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 onion thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 Tblsp chopped fresh parsley, for garnish


1) Heat ghee or oil in a large pan and add fennel and fenugreek seeds. After heating for a few seconds, add the remaining spices. Cook for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring, until browned.

2) Mix in onion and garlic and sauté on medium heat until onion is near translucent.

3) Place yogurt and salt (and red pepper if desired) in blender. Cool spice/onion/garlic mix and then blend with yogurt/salt until smooth. Add yogurt to thin as needed.

4) Stir into or pour over warm, cooked meat (chicken, beef, lamb), and vegetables (I like to use one carrot, halved and sliced, 1 cup cauliflower florets, 1 cup fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces and/or one red bell pepper cut into pieces). Garnish with parsley.

5) Enjoy!

christmasheartWhen people study herbs and natural medicine they tend to focus solely on physical health. And yet the health of one's spirit is just as important to one's well-being. After all, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spirits having a human experience!

This is one of the times of year when people in the West pay attention to their spiritual health. While emphasis is placed on love, peace, generosity, and in general, thinking of others, this can easily be interpreted commercially. TCM has long recognized the importance of the spirit to health. Spirit, or Shen, is linked to the Heart, and reflects the entire physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health of the body. It includes the capacity to think and act coherently and appropriately, the personality's magnetic force, and the joy to live life.

Shen is distinguished by the sparkle in the eyes, an overall vivaciousness, and a will to live. It is our enthusiasm, innate vitality, and charisma. Spiritually, it is the dynamic faith, vitality and force of our personalities that are able to surmount obstacles and make things happen. Thinking, long-term memory, sleeping and dreaming are all included here as well.

There are no disharmonies of Shen in and of itself. Yet, because they are connected with the Heart, Deficient Heart Qi or Blood can weaken Shen. This appears as a lack of joy or enthusiasm in life, dull eyes, dislike of talking, muddled thinking, forgetfulness, insomnia, lack of vitality, depression, unhappiness, confused speech, or excessive dreaming. In extreme, a Shen disharmony results in irrational behavior, incoherent speech, hysteria, delirium, unconsciousness, inappropriate responses to people or the environment, or violent madness.

We are not only in the Kidney time of year, but through December we are also opposite the Heart time of year. This means the Kidneys should flourish in energy now while Heart energy is at its weakest. Perhaps having major holidays this time of year is no accident to help feed our spirits and the weaker Heart energies. It also means that heart attacks often occur this time of year. Many people believe this is due to holiday blues for one reason or another, and this can definitely be true, but it can also be due to a Heart-Kidney connection issue.

According to Chinese Five-Phase theory, a Kidney disharmony may adversely affect its grandchild, the Heart. For example, if the Kidneys are Deficient in Yin with symptoms of low back pain, tiredness, scanty, dark urination, night sweats and malar flush, it may cause Deficient Heart Yin, as depleted Kidneys may be unable to care for their grandchild. The consequence is palpitations, anxiety, mental restlessness, forgetfulness (especially long-term) and insomnia (can't stay asleep). As well, a "hyper" Heart (Excess Heart Heat, for instance) can overtake the Kidneys (its grandparent), causing low back pain, scanty, dark urination, exhaustion, dry mouth at night, mental restlessness, insomnia and dream-disturbed sleep.

Take care of your Spirit this season with:

Herbs that nourish the Shen:

  • zizyphus seeds
  • biota seeds
  • polygala
  • longan berries

Other Shen Remedies:

The true remedy for Shen problems is addressing emotional and spiritual issues using counseling, prayer, affirmation, meditation, play, changing jobs, taking holidays and whatever else is needed to nourish the Spirit and Heart. And the very best ways to boost the Spirit and Heart are gratitude and giving to others. So be sure to rest now, laugh with friends and find en-joy-ment in the holiday season.



I have written several blogs in the past about how to harmonize with the Winter season, including the Kidneys, so I won't go in to that now. Instead, here are a couple of herbal gift ideas you can make and give and even do with that someone special! May they put a smile on your face and laughter in your heart so they nourish your spirit as well as your body!

Herb Gathering Bags

Why not sew your own bags to put your herbs in when you wildcraft or harvest them? As well, you can gift them to your clients, friends, herbal mates and so on. Anyone can sew these bags, men and women and children alike. All you need is your desired fabric or cloth, a needle, thread, and string. You can make a simple bag from the directions below, or decorate it further as desired. Here are the directions.

Take a long rectangular piece of fabric you like and fold it in half inside out. Sew around the two long edges within 2" of the top. Fold the top down 1/4" and sew. Fold this top down the other 1 3/4" and sew down along the two edges, leaving it open at the side seams. Turn the bag right side out. Slip a cord through the open seams at the top and tie its ends together. Voila! You now have an herb gathering bag!

Salt Rub

I have long loved salt rubs. Salt not only exfoliates skin, but it "kills" any bacteria by absorbing their fluids so they "blow up." After rubbing salt on my skin and hair and rinsing it out, both feel silky smooth and lustrous. Adding olive oil and a drop of your favorite essential oil will turn anyone into a Tahitian god or goddess within minutes! In fact, that is why this is sometimes called a salt "glow" because the oil also moistens the skin.

A salt rub is very simple to make and quite inexpensive. You can get quite expressive and creative, including the jars and labels you choose. The following is one simple recipe. Keep in mind that the amount of salt used will vary according to its grind and there are tons of different salts from which to choose!

  • 3/4 - 1 cup salt
  • 1/3 cup oil - try olive oil since it is so good for the skin
  • Oil from 2-3 Vitamin E capsules
  • 1-3 drops essential oil
  • Mix all together and put in jar.

To use, rub or massage salt mixture into desired skin area. Rinse off. Leave on for 20 minutes if disinfecting the skin.

For a good 'romp in the hay' this Valentine's Day, be sure the hay is oat straw!

Wild oat straw and its seeds foster the right balance of relaxation and enhanced libido for both men and women.

milkyoatbyanne_de_courtenaySowing your Wild Oats

For their aphrodisiac effect, it's the milky sap of the green unripe grain (shown at right) that gives the most 'bang for the buck,' so to speak. Wild oats have been known to act as a noticeable sexual stimulant for horses and other animals, which seems to suggest that they have the same effect on humans of both sexes. Avena sativa extract contains an amorphous alkaloid which acts as a stimulant to the nervous ganglia producing an increase of 'ready to go' excitability of the muscles in horses and humans.

Testosterone means increased sex drive

One of the main effects of testosterone is increased libido. While often associated with males, testosterone is also produced in women's ovaries. Studies show that a low libido in either sex is most likely caused by low testosterone.

Let's get something straight here: no herb contains identical human hormones. Claims that wild yam, dang gui  or black cohosh contain estrogen are false. Similarly, wild oats contain no human testosterone. Considering that only 2% of human testosterone is in a free state, the remaining 98% is in a state bound to protein molecules. It is thought that Avena sativa acts to increase libido by freeing bound testosterone.

Because Avena sativa is a restorative, (as opposed to Viagra which is contraindicated by men who are at risk for cardiovascular disease) it is an effective and safer alternative to male-female virility drugs. Besides, not accounting for the placebo effect which is likely to be considerable with any intended sex drug, Viagra has been found to work on only 42% of the men who take it, according to published studies.

For more chronic sexual debility, one may need to take Avena extract on a daily basis over the course of several days to weeks. Over long term use, the benefit is more systemic, with oats being beneficial for lowering cholesterol (especially true of the high fiber cereal), restoring a burned out nervous system, and promoting an overall feeling of health and well being.

Avena sativa may even help your love life by getting rid of bad smoker's breath!

Bad breath is an instant turn-off and desire diminisher. This could be due to hyper-acidic Stomach Heat (as the condition is patterned in Traditional Chinese Medicine) or, very commonly, from smoking.

In the case of the latter, an effective remedy to help break the tobacco habit is Avena sativa extract. Simply take a dose of 20 to 30 drops of the liquid extract whenever you feel the urge for tobacco.

Planetary Herbal Formulas for Increasing Libido

I developed two special Planetary Herbals formulas, Avena Sativa Oat Complex for Men and Avena Sativa Oat Complex for Women.

Herbalists know that when taken in formula, herbs become more than a sum of any of its corresponding parts. When a formula is carefully blended, the sum combination of all the herbs working on different systems of the body, bringing into play hundreds of biochemical constituents, is stronger than a single herb taken alone.

Avena Sativa Oat Complex For Men has additional benefit for the prostate and the buildup of seminal fluid. It combines milky oat tops extract with saw palmetto berry, stinging nettle root, damiana, epimedium ('horny goat weed'), Asian ginseng, sarsaparilla, rosehip, cinnamon bark and ginkgo leaf extract.

Avena Sativa Oat Complex for Women combines milky oat tops with dong quai root, white peony root, ligusticum root, circuligo orchid, ginger, alfalfa, vitex seed, jujube fruit and cinnamon bark.

Remember, a healthy libido is a life-affirming indication of overall health and well-being. It is usually accompanied with a general zest and interest for life. Rather than simply trying to treat a problem such as erectile dysfunction, pain or lack of feeling during intercourse, or low libido, it is wiser to look to the cause in terms of diet, stress, emotional and other aspects that directly or indirectly contribute to our nature as vital sexual beings. Herbs such as Avena sativa can be considered a 'special food,' first for our nervous system overall and specifically for increasing sexual desire.

The third copy of
When the little bluebird
Who has never said a word
Starts to sing Spring
When the little bluebell
At the bottom of the dell
Starts to ring Ding dong Ding dong
When the little blue clerk
In the middle of his work
Starts a tune to the moon up above
It is nature that is all
Simply telling us to fall in love.

And that's why birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let's do it, let's fall in love!

--  from "Let's Do It" by Cole Porter

The lyrics above and sprinkled throughout this text are from the wonderful collection of tastefully uninhibited Cole Porter songs performed by some of the greatest artists of bygone years, entitled "The Cole Porter Songbook."

If love and romance were meant only for Valentine's Day, all our babies would be born in November. Luckily, amore is in season all year long!
Sex, like eating, is a primal urge that should provide some of the greatest satisfaction and joy that life has to offer.

No one knows the true origin of Valentine's Day. Legend has it that St. Valentine was a third-century priest imprisoned by the Romans for secretly marrying young men who would otherwise have been prime candidates for military conscription under the reign of Emperor Claudius II. As for the Valentine's Day cards we exchange, another legend was that when St. Valentine was imprisoned he became enamored with his jailer's daughter and sent her love notes.

Alternatively, Valentine's Day could simply be the product of the church conveniently designating a holiday to coincide with a Roman fertility festival honoring Faunus, the Roman God of agriculture (February 15). Whatever the origin, by the Middle Ages, Valentine's Day was one of the most popular celebrations throughout Europe.

Let's Do It! (Or Maybe Not?): Sexual Taboos

Have you ever wondered why throughout civilization there have been so many sexual taboos? Could it be that the many creative expressions of humanity happen, more or less as a result of sexual repression?

If truth be known, most of us have had reason to lament the fact that just as we try to restrain, twist and contort our gustatory inclinations to deny ourselves the occasional banana split or chocolate sundae, we also try in vain to repress our eroticism. No wonder so many of us are depressed.

When grandmama whose age is eighty, in night clubs is getting matey with gigolos, anything goes!
-- from "Anything Goes" sung by Ella Fitzgerald

"Old" age is just one supposed restriction to enjoying sex.

Not so for the 70,000 residents living in some 40,000 homes who are spending their '˜golden years' at a retirement community called "The Villages" at Lady Lake, Fla. According to a recent article in Fox News, these folks are not wasting any more of their precious time in erotic self-denial. With a female to male ratio of 10 to one, it is a virtual widower's paradise where inhibitions are shed at the slightest inclination. It's not unusual to stumble upon a casual amorous encounter happening on a golf cart. Rumor has it that there is a very active black market in Viagra both for men and women at The Villages. Why not? With families raised, no need for contraception, and obligations and responsibilities to a significant other a thing of the past, I think these people are just making up for lost time.

Do we ever get too old to partake of the joy of sex? For most of us, the answer is NO. Armed with little more than some lubricant (or, in the case of folks at The Villages, an occasional half tab of black market Viagra), most of us remain good to go all the way to the end of our days. So long as we have an appetite for food, we should have an appetite for sex.

We're all alone, no chaperone
can get our number
The world's in slumber
Let's misbehave!!

-- from "Let's Misbehave" sung by Eartha Kitt

Unsurprisingly, religion and spiritual practice present sexual taboos as well.

As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I've had various opportunities to consider the Chinese Taoist teaching that is the bane of women married to too-serious martial artists: that the male should never ejaculate for fear of losing some precious life essence. In my opinion, this is just another form of invasion of the bedroom by a restrictive society. We see evidence in some species that male energy spent as ejaculation is a prelude to death, but for humans, current scientific research shows that sex promotes health.

Let's face it: we only live once. As an herbalist, I suggest that the best aphrodisiac is when we reserve sex as the last frontier of our essential wildness. As long as it's between consenting adults, let's get the government, along with the clerics, hypocritical moralists, and ascetic martial artists out of our bedrooms - or wherever else you choose to "misbehave."

Causes for Low Libido

Just as decreased appetite is an indication of disease or impending illness, so also is a sagging libido. Nowadays, doctors not only don't inquire about a patient's appetite, but they wouldn't dare ask about one's libido. For most of us, a good appetite in all departments is a sign of wellbeing. So if that's you, perhaps you have something to rejoice about.

There are some physiological reasons for low libido. Certainly as we get on in years (despite what you might hear about some of the residents at The Villages), we can expect things to slow down as our hormones diminish. In Chinese medicine these hormones are all encompassed by the concept of Kidney Yang and Kidney Yin with herbs specifically indicated for each. Specifically, the Kidney Yang herbs support the production of all those hormones that increase our motivation in all ways, including sexual appetite. These include testosterone, estrogen, and the androgynous hormones that are necessary and present in varying degrees in both men and women.

One Kidney Yang herb used in Chinese medicine is Epimedium, aptly known as Horny Goatweed. Lesley describes this herb in her blog. I would only add that this is a common ornamental that can be purchased at most nurseries. One can periodically harvest the leaves; make tea or an alcoholic extract by macerating a good amount in a little vodka. This can then be taken in teaspoon doses once or twice a day.

The fact is, unless there are other physical disabilities such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, there is no age limit for the world's number one pastime.

Side-effects of prescription drugs

Drugs are a major factor causing loss of libido. For example, the popular drug Proscar is commonly prescribed for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) - swollen prostate in common parlance. BPH usually does not occur before the age of 40, but approximately 50% of men in their 60s and 90% of men in their 90s develop this condition. It is characterized by the frequent urge to urinate, which can result in arising several times throughout the night.

Proscar and related pharmaceuticals treat BPH by altering testosterone metabolism, which in turn shrinks the swollen prostate. The drug's effect on testosterone metabolism, however, can cause diminished libido and erectile dysfunction. You could try having a "drug holiday" on weekends - that is, taking a break from your BPH drug for a couple of days - but it isn't clear if this would restore a man's sex drive. An option would be to ask your doctor whether a lower dose might solve the libido problem and still manage the prostate swelling.

So it seems that if you're suffering from BPH, you have to choose between frequent urination with normal erectile function, or a normal-sized prostate with problems getting going in the sack. What kind of a choice is that? The good news is, there are some natural alternatives to prescription drugs for BPH:

  • Saw Palmetto Berries: Extensive European research on saw palmetto, a common berry found growing in abundance in southeast United States shows that saw palmetto is equally effective to Proscar but is not known to diminish libido, cause erectile dysfunction or any other side effects associated with the drug. Just as Proscar needs to be taken over a period of two to three months to effectively shrink the prostate, so too does saw palmetto need to be taken over time (usually not nearly as long as Proscar) to achieve similar positive results. Saw palmetto comes in the form of a standardized extract of 80- 90% fatty acids and is taken at the dose of 160 mg twice a day or 320 mg daily.
  • Pumpkin Seeds: Eating a handful of shelled pumpkin seeds three times a week, or better yet daily, is an old time remedy for treating BPH. These contain protective compounds called phytosterols which may be responsible for shrinking the prostate. Like all prostate drugs and herbs these work by preventing the transformation of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). High levels of DHT are associated with enlarged prostate. Pumpkin seeds have this action as well, but with no danger of loss of libido.
  • Other approaches such as a low-fat diet, zinc supplements, and essential fatty acids (from sources such as fish or flax oil) and another herb, Pygeum africanum, are also useful for treating BPH.

Statin drugs and loss of libido

Millions of people in North America are presently on statin drugs making it the number one cash cow for pharmaceutical companies, but few read the small print of adverse side effects, one of which can be loss of libido. This is because statins interfere with our body's ability to create cholesterol and can cause a decrease of sex hormones with a concomitant dampening of Eros.

There is considerable controversy regarding the relation of elevated cholesterol and cardiovascular disease (CVD) because there has been no study demonstrating that high cholesterol causes CVD. In fact, studies show that nearly as many people with so-called normal to low cholesterol die of CVD as those with high cholesterol.

Cholesterol is a hormone precursor that has a strong genetic factor; some people naturally make more or less cholesterol. It is also a substance that the body manufactures as a result of stress. Be that as it may, if one wants to lower cholesterol, instead of taking statin drugs, try red yeast rice which is a more natural alternative with similar chemistry and results. Better yet, it is a far cheaper alternative to statin drugs and will not affect libido. I would still recommend taking a dose of Co Q10 along with the red yeast rice since statins are known to diminish this vital heart nutrient.

If you work out, you're more likely to make out

Finally, it seems like a no-brainer, but I have to mention that lack of physical fitness is another big factor in sexual dysfunction. It's been found that men who exercise regularly (especially with some strength training) rarely have performance problems. That's because exercise generates natural hormones that keep you youthful and able to enjoy sexual health.

What about a natural alternative to Viagra?

Viagra works by enhancing circulation to the penis enabling its erection, and may work in women similarly, by increasing blood flow to the clitoris. L-arginine is an amino acid which in itself is not a cure for impotence or sexual dysfunction, but is used by the body as a vaso-dilator, benefitting circulation and endothelial function. Endothelial cells line the inner surface of blood vessels. Erectile dysfunction and endothelial dysfunction both share the common problem of impaired circulation, for which L-arginine is effective. As such, it is a good supplement to add to an herbal program to enhance sex. The difference is that while Viagra increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, L-arginine decreases these risks and costs just pennies compared to the current market price of $15 a pill for Viagra.

Foods and herbs for enhanced sexual performance

  • Oysters: These are high in zinc which is a necessary nutrient for fertility and male prostate and sexual health. You needn't be too concerned with the fact that oysters have the peculiar ability to change sex many times during their lifespan. They have a high reputation as a sexually nourishing food.
  • Asparagus root: Asparagus, rich in hormone promoting steroidal glycosides, has a high reputation as an aphrodisiac. Both in China and India, the root of Asparagus racemosa is used to increase sperm count and nourish the ovum. Chinese herbalists believe that the Yin-nourishing qualities of asparagus root induce feelings of peace, compassion and love. Traditionally, Chinese herbalists would reserve the sweetest roots for their personal consumption. In India Asparagus root is known as shatavari, which literally means "she who possesses 100 husbands."
  • Oregano: Whether it's used as a spice on pizza or in pasta sauce, oregano leaves may help to spice up one's love life. Homeopathic preparations of oregano are claimed to sexual excitability.
  • Ashwagandha: Withania somnifera is considered the most important single herb in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. It is recommended as a rejuvenative tonic for general debility, brain fatigue, nervous exhaustion, impotence, general aphrodisiac purposes, low sperm count and lack of motility, infertility, and to prevent and treat habitual miscarriage. It works by normalizing male and female hormones. The powder can be taken in capsules, as a tablet, or as an alcoholic extract. One Ayurvedic aphrodisiac formula combines one part ashwagandha to 10 parts milk and one part ghee (clarified butter). You boil the mixture down until only ghee remains. This end product is called Ashwagandha Ghrita. The ancient texts recommend taking a heaping tablespoon of this mixture morning and evening. Eventually, one will experience a significant boost in vitality, libido and sexual stamina.
  • Maca: Lepidium meyenii is an annual plant which produces a radish-like root. The root of maca is typically dried and stored, and will easily keep for seven years. The plant is cultivated in Peru's Central Highlands, and was highly revered by the Inca. Sometimes known as Peruvian ginseng, maca's sexual boosting properties for both men and women properties are legendary. When Kris Kilham, an ethnobotanist known as "the medicine hunter" asked a native Peruvian woman why she used maca, she smiled and replied, "Well, for sex of course." Maca is a food-grade herb and the Peruvians would consume 3,000-5,000 mg of maca a day or more. For the average consumer, 4 to 5 capsules a day (1,800-2,250 mg each) is an effective dose. I recommend purchasing maca powder by the pound to take in capsules, sprinkle on food or in blend into smoothies. 

A word about consumer expectations of herbs vs. drugs

Most of us are used to the promise of fast-acting drugs. While a drug like Viagra can produce a lasting erection within an hour or so, we have to be realistic when we consider our expectations of herbs and other natural supplements. Herbs bring harmony and health to the body over time. As a result, herbs' actions are accomplished more slowly but are generally longer lasting. Keep this in mind when treating any condition, but especially sexual dysfunction, with herbs.

In the heavens, stars are dancing and the mounting moon is new,
What a rare night for romancing, mind if I make love to you?

-- from "Mind if I Make Love to You" sung by Frank Sinatra

Sexual energy is a reflection of an overall state of health and well-being. A healthy sexual appetite is as natural as an appetite for food. Drugs often interfere with libido and whenever possible we are better off looking for nutritional and herbal substitutes for drugs, not only to treat sexual dysfunction, but also to treat the conditions that may cause loss of libido in the first place! With this approach, may you enjoy your lover in health and happiness not only on Valentine's Day but year-round.

With the big hype surrounding St. Valentine's Day already in full swing, many of us turn our thoughts to romance and, perhaps, aphrodisiacs. Now, I don't tend to work with the western concept of aphrodisiacs -- i.e., "Take this herb and you'll have a good sex drive." Rather, I approach the topic energetically -- i.e., "What imbalance needs correcting in the body so the sex drive can increase?"

Come On Baby, Light My Fire: The Role of Kidney Yang in Libido

In most cases of flagging sex drive, the imbalance is what traditional Chinese medicine calls "Kidney Yang deficiency." Kidney Yang is the heating/energizing aspect of the body. It encompasses both Qi -- the circulating, transforming, holding, sustaining, enduring power -- along with dryness, warmth and stimulation, as in the spark that "lights your fires," if you will.

Physiologically speaking, Yang represents the body's functions and organic processes such as warmth, libido, appetite, digestion and assimilation. Emotionally, it is the active, stimulating and outward expression of life. Because of this broad spectrum of functions, tonifying Kidney Yang not only increases sex drive and endurance, but has other benefits as well, such as reducing night time urination, coldness, cold and sore lower back and knees, white vaginal discharge, loose stools or diarrhea, infertility, impotence and frigidity.

While it might be nice to improve some of the above symptoms, what you probably really want to know about now is the impotence/frigidity part - i.e., "How can I get it on for Feb. 14?" So on to the herbs.

Herbs for Libido (with other added benefits)

There are some specific herbs that improve libido and decrease impotence and frigidity. In China, regular tonics are administered for sex drive, including "Doctrine of Signatures"-type medicinals such as male seal sexual parts (hai gou shen - now there's fodder for pillow talk!). These kinds of medicinals come with their own set of ethical and compliance considerations; luckily, there are several simple herbs which may be used instead.

Be forewarned, however: just one shot of these herbs doesn't always do the trick! Instead, you may need to take the herb for one to two weeks or more to experience results.

Contraindications for these herbs: Because these herbs are heating, they should not be taken if the person experiences any of the following:

Deficient Yin signs: night sweats, malar flush (redness and burning heat along the cheeks and nose), burning sensation in the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and in the chest, afternoon fever or feelings of heat, restless sleep, dry throat or thirst at night, agitation, mental restlessness, dry cough, dry stools, hyper-sexuality, wet dreams and/or scanty dark urine

Excess heat signs: high fever, thirst, red face, aversion to heat, restlessness, irritability, burning sensations, scanty dark urine, yellow discharges and phlegm, strong body odors and discharges, rapid pulse, hypertension, constipation, possible blood in the stool, urine, vomit, or nose, irritable and aggressive temperament, loud, commanding voice, strong appetite, heavy coarse breathing, yellow or reddish colored eyes, dry and cracked lips, heavy menses which may be early and long lasting, hot, yellowish diarrhea

Discontinue use during the summer months (May through September) unless you live in cold northern climates (then it's June through August).

EPIMEDIUM - Epimedium grandiflorum; yin yang huo

I just have to list epimidium first. After all, when you learn of its common name - horny goat weed - what more needs to be said?

Part used: aerial parts

Energy, taste and Organs affected: warm; acrid, sweet; Kidney, Liver

Actions: tonify Yang - warms the fires at the gate of vitality (ming men - Gate of Life fires)

Properties: Yang tonic, aphrodisiac, antirheumatic, antitussive, expectorant, anti-asthmatic

Dosage: 6-15 gms, infusion; steep in wine to enhance its properties

Precautions: Do not take for prolonged periods as it can damage the Yin, causing dizziness, vomiting, dry mouth, thirst and nosebleed.

Other: This genus is composed of about 25 species and is often grown as an ornamental ground cover for shady borders. Also known as "licentious (or horny) goat wort (weed)," it is commonly available from nurseries. Grow in a shaded, moist environment.

Indications: impotence, frigidity, spermatorrhea, premature ejaculation, frequent urination, forgetfulness, withdrawal, painful cold lower back and knees, dizziness, headache, hypertension, menstrual irregularity, arthritis, rheumatism, spasms or cramps in the hands and feet, joint pain, numbness in the extremities, high blood pressure, chronic bronchitis

Uses: Although epimedium has been used by the Chinese for quite a long time, it is hitting the Western market now as a sexual tonic and aphrodisiac, just as its name, horny goat weed, implies. Indeed, epimedium is used in China to stimulate sexual activity and sperm production, treating symptoms of impotence, frigidity, spermatorrhea, involuntary and premature ejaculation, frequent urination, forgetfulness, withdrawal and painful cold lower back and knees.

Now, as with most Kidney Yang tonics (and tonics in general), results take awhile to appear, so don't expect any immediate miracles like some prescription pills. At the same time, be sure to eliminate all cold/cooling foods and drinks, such as iced drinks, ice cream, raw foods, fruit juices and soy milk, as well as sugar, caffeine and alcohol, as these foods cause all the symptoms for which you want to take epimidium in the first place (sounding harder now?).

Epimidium tonifies Yin along with Yang and harnesses ascendant Liver Yang due to underlying Kidney and Liver Deficiency. All this means that it's useful for lower back pain, dizziness, menstrual irregularity, peri/menopausal symptoms, headaches and hypertension. As well, this versatile herb expels Wind-Damp-Cold, treating arthritis, rheumatism, spasms or cramps in the hands and feet, joint pain and numbness in the extremities.

Epimidium further strengthens the bones (the Kidneys rule the bones), lowers blood pressure and treats chronic bronchitis, especially when there is Coldness (white phlegm) and difficulty on inhalation. I always include it in any peri/menopausal formula along with Yin tonics.

Epimidum is traditionally said to be good taken extracted in wine (Dan Bensky, Steven Clavey, Erich Stoger with Andrew Gamble, Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, Third Edition, 2004, Eastland Press, Inc., p. 713).

For impotence, take with cooked rehmannia (Rehmanniae Radix preparata - shu di huang), schisandra (Schisandra Fructus - wu wei zi) and astragalus seeds (Astragali complanati Semen - sha yuan zi).

DEER ANTLER - Cornu cervi parvum; lu rong

I have a friend who once complained about no sex drive. She missed intimacy with her husband AND she missed him desiring her as well. Deer antler was administered and bingo! In about two weeks she walked around simply beaming.

Deer antler velvet is regarded as "an intense tonic for the Liver and Kidneys that embodies the youthful male growth of the stag" (Ibid., p. 765).

Part Used: velvet of young deer antler

Energy, taste and Organs affected: warm; salty, sweet; Kidney, Liver

Actions: tonifies Yang - warms the fires at the Gate of Vitality (ming men - Gate of Life fires)

Properties: tonic, stimulant

Dose: 3-4.5 gm, decocted; 1-3 gm powder divided into 2-3 doses. NOTE: It is very important to start off with low doses and gradually work up; otherwise symptoms of dizziness or red eyes can occur.

Precautions: Do not use if you have any of the following: bleeding gums, bad breath, mouth sores and headaches across the forehead (Stomach Heat), blood in the sputum, stools, urine or vomit, coughing up of blood, bloody nose, excessive menses, or red and hot skin eruptions (Heat in the Blood).

Indications: fatigue, infertility, low sex drive, impotence, frigidity, cold extremities, lightheadedness, ringing in the ears, sore and weak lower back and knees, frequent, copious, clear urination; children's physical and/or mental developmental disorders, failure to thrive, mental retardation, learning disabilities, insufficient growth or skeletal deformities; vaginal discharge, uterine bleeding, chronic ulcerations or boils, peri/menopause

Other: When deer antler is cooked a long time, a residue collects. This is powdered into a different medicinal called antler glue (lu jiao shuang), which is used to nourish Blood, stop bleeding and tonify Kidney Yang. This powerful Yang tonic also supports Yin and Essence and tonifies Qi and Blood, thus making it very beneficial for many conditions.

CHINESE GINSENG - Panax ginseng; Ren Shen

Panax ginseng is a premier Qi tonic - building staying and holding power (get my drift?). After all, its nickname is "man root" because the shape of the root actually resembles a man.

Because ginseng tonifies the primal Qi which "underlies and supports all the Qi activities of the body, this herb is used in a wide variety of situations where a stronger primal Qi will indirectly aid in their resolution" (Ibid., p. 711).

Generally, though, ginseng has to be taken for a while to build the sex drive and sexual power. In fact, ginseng increases adrenal cortex function and stimulates the pituitary gland to produce more sex hormones. Traditionally it is taken regularly by men age 40 and over, although women may take it, too.

I remember a Chinese pharmacist once showing me a selection of very old and large ginseng roots, valued from $1,000 to $10,000 each (all truly looking like a man!). According to Michael, who studied with him, this Taoist herb teacher claimed certain wealthy Chinese and American celebrities visited him once a year for his rejuvenation technique: a week of avoiding all greasy and fried foods along with drinking the Yin tonic formula Liu Wei Di Huang Wan two to three times a day. Afterward, they'd purchase an expensive ginseng root (costing thousands), cook and eat it along with drinking the tea to rejuvenate their physical and sexual energy. It must have worked, for they returned year after year for this expensive protocol.

The most potent variety of panax ginseng is the red Korean ginseng, which has a warmer in energy, as it's prepared by steaming and then sun-dried or dried by heating.

Part Used: aged Chinese ginseng root

Energy, taste and Organs affected: slightly warm; sweet, slightly bitter; Lung, Spleen

Actions: tonify Qi

Properties: stomachic, stimulant, nutritive, rejuvenative, demulcent, adaptogen

Dose: 1-9 gms, up to 30 gms for hemorrhage shock; decoct 1 tsp./cup water; 20-60 drops tincture, 1-4 times/day; freeze-drying may increase potency

Precautions: according to Sharol Tilgner in Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth, concurrent use with the drug phenezine has resulted in manic-like symptoms

Indications: all Deficiency diseases, chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, lethargy, lack of appetite, chest and abdominal distention, chronic diarrhea, prolapse of stomach, uterus or rectum, palpitations with anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness, restlessness, excellent for convalescence, debility and weakness in old age, debility, weakness, tiredness, poor appetite and digestion, emaciation, shock

Uses: As a primary herb for Deficiencies, ginseng revitalizes the body and mind, strengthening weakness, low energy and vitality, shock, collapse due to loss of blood, chronic fevers, heart weakness, debility, convalescence and weakness in old age. It promotes weight and tissue growth and increases longevity and resistance to disease.

Ginseng particularly benefits digestion and Lung function, treating lethargy, lack of appetite, abdominal and chest distention, chronic diarrhea, prolapse of stomach, uterus or rectum, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, wheezing, tuberculosis and restlessness. As a cardiac tonic, ginseng relieves palpitations with anxiety, insomnia and forgetfulness.

Ginseng may be used when the root is four years old, but it's best to harvest when it is at least seven years old, as the older the root, the more potent its medicine (and unfortunately, the more expensive it becomes as well).

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