Ask the Bartender, Ask the Plants, Ask Karoline #66

I've been back from tour (What Happens Next? in Japan and Citizen Fish in the states) for about two weeks now and finally feel fairly settled again.  It's winterish out here (rainy, 40's, dark by 5pm) in  Oakland...although considering what the rest of the country has been going through weather-wise, i'm not going to complain!  I started drinking coffee again during my travels and am now kicking myself for it...I love the aroma, taste and hyperness but I can definitely feel the toll it has taken on my immune system's preparedness for winter. I'm diving back into my herb books for inspiration and getting ready to cut the coffee cord. Quarts of nettle, oatstraw and red raspberry (with a little hibiscus for taste and glorious color!) teas will be my daily staples again.
Resting, Being, Listening...
Spent yesterday rereading Judith Berger's Herbal Rituals and getting super excited by not only her selections of monthly herbs, but also by her writing on the seasons and how to make the most of them.  Winter is such an awesome time to slow down and really pay attention to what your body is telling you.  Depression during the winter is totally  normal and instead of letting it completely overwhelm us, we've got to listen to our bodies and find out what will nourish us (and I'm not just talking food here...I'm talking positive mental stimulation!) through the short days and long dark nights. I've found that candles or a fire can help (to a degree) combat the lack of sun. Making a new soup full of garlic, onions, spices and dark green veggies can warm you up from the inside out. Get enough rest and don't feel bad if you want to take an afternoon nap sometimes! Little lifts can be found in a book that you've never read, keeping a journal, writing letters, and even venturing out into whatever winter has in store for you.  Bundle up and throw some snowballs or stomp through some puddles...enjoy the changes in your daily landscapes. Winter will end (it always does) and we will all return to our hectic schedules. In the meantime, it can't hurt to try and get to know yourself a little bit better.
The Confession...
I'm cheating a bit this time, and I'm going to share some of the recipes and wisdom of the aforementioned Judith Berger. In her chapter on January, she talks about Sage and Thyme.  Here's (an abbreviated version of) her lowdown on some of the healing properties of each plant and two concoctions (sage vinegar and thyme honey) that are tasty and incredibly easy to make.
The Herbs...
Garden Sage (Salvia officianalis). Affects the brain, the nervous and  digestive system, the joints, the mouth and one's mood and is an especially beneficial herb for women entering the menopausal years. Sage contains high levels of calcium, critical to the strength and health of the bones and teeth, the functioning of the heart and other muscles and the maintenance of metabolism and the flow of nerve impulses. Consistent use of sage tea or vinegar can supply a steady, easily assimilable source of calcium and can help prevent osteoporosis. Sage can help ease joint pain. The astringent, disinfectant and antiseptic properties of sage can help to tighten and heal infected and unhealthy gums (take a fresh leaf and massage your gums with it). Sage can also keep the blood flowing freely in the brain, easing headaches and allowing maximum absorption of all nutrients in the bloodstream. Essential oils in sage encourage the production of digestive enzymes and stomach acids, allying nausea, indigestion, and gas. Simply inhaling the scent of crushed leaves can stimulate the brain and chase away a sluggish mood. As a facial steam bath or hot infusion, sage opens pores and induces sweating, sweeping away grime and bringing down fevers. Conversely, the drying quality of sage closes pores and tightens tissues and membranes, relieving fever and cold/hot flash sweats. This same drying ability absorbs excess mucus congesting the throat, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract and reduces the swelling of sores and stings. DO NOT USE SAGE DURING PREGNANCY OR LACTATION. Sage stimulates the muscles of the uterus and should be avoided during pregnancy...it also dries up milk flow in lactating mothers.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris). The benefits of thyme are felt in the digestive tract, lungs, blood and nervous system. Thyme eases gas in the digestive tract. A tea made from thyme relieves indigestion, inflammation of the liver, and bad breath. In the lungs, thyme used with plantain (plantango major) can assist those with asthma, pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. The antispasmodic properties of thyme can stop spasmed coughing and if taken as a steam, can help with sinus congestion. Thyme's expectorant and astringent qualities dissolve mucus and clear phlegm from the lungs. Regular use of the tea can strengthen lungs which have been weakened by coughing, smoking and infection. The antiseptic, antibacterial and biotic qualities of thyme  strengthens the immune system and makes thyme suitable for poulticing wounds, sores and external inflammations. Thyme taken with rosemary can ease migraine headaches. Thyme is a calming tonic to the nervous system. Nervous children or feverish children can greatly benefit from a thyme bath. Drops of essential thyme oil diluted in olive oil and applied externally brings blood to the surface of the skin and eases sore muscles and rheumatism.
Worth The Wait...
Unfortunately, the following recipes are not for immediate use. You will be waiting for 6 weeks before you can taste the fruits of your labor...but believe me, it's worth it!  I made the thyme honey last spring and am still enjoying it on a daily basis.  I've got my sage and apple cider vinegar brewing as I type and will get to crack it open in two more weeks. Remember, projects are a good thing in the winter! Ready?! Here we go!

Judith Berger's Sage Vinegar
organic apple cider or balsamic vinegar
fresh organic sage leaves
glass jar, preferably with plastic lid

Fill jar with fresh sage leaves to the top. Pour vinegar over the leaves. Press down sage leaves with a chopstick. Make sure vinegar comes to the very top of the jar. Cap the jar and put your label (with ingredients and date started) on it. If you are using a metal lid, place a piece of waxed paper between the lid and the jar, as the vinegar will rust the lid. The sage needs to steep for six weeks in the vinegar to allow all of the nutrients to move into it. When ready, you can drink the vinegar, a teaspoon a day in water for one fourth of your daily calcium needs. You can also add to soups or mix into your favorite salad dressing.

Judith Berger's Thyme Honey
1 empty glass jar with a wide lid (use a large jar; you'll want lots of honey)
enough fresh organic thyme to fill the jar
raw clover honey (local honey, grown in your area, no preservatives added is the best)

Fill the jar almost to the top with fresh, organic thyme leaves and pour honey over it. As the honey rises, so will the thyme. Keep a chopstick nearby and keep pressing the thyme down, causing air bubbles to rise. When the bubbles are all popped, fill the jar to the very top with honey and cap it. Honey will drip down the side, so keep a tray or saucer under the jar. Make sure to label the ingredients and starting date. You may dip into the honey during the six weeks, but be sure to replace the honey so the jar is always full. Remember, full potency won't be ready for six weeks. It is not necessary to remove the thyme from the honey after the six weeks are up. Thyme is antiseptic and so is honey; there is no danger of either spoiling and can be stored in the cupboard indefinitely.
Endnotes...
Please keep in mind that I am not an herbalist, although I have studied with some amazing people out here in the bay area. Now that I'm done touring for awhile, I plan to continue taking classes in herbal medicine. Anyone who is interested in getting the full chapter on January from Judith Berger's book can write to me and I will photocopy it for them (please send me a stamp)...although I highly recommend getting the whole darn book! Herbal Rituals is published by St. Martin's Griffin and can probably be found in most bookstores...or you can order it from the amazing slug & lettuce book distro! I promise that next time I will not borrow so heavily from someone else's work...but then again, that's a lot of what herbal healing is...healing techniques passed from person to person. Okay, I'm just babbling now. Feel free to write, I tend to be a little slow with the responses but you will get one! To those who wrote while I was on tour, you will be getting mail from me real soon. Take care of yourselves...karoline