with Kirsten Grohovsky ...
Growing up around the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, I saw people taking a pharmacy of medications every day. This was not something I wanted for myself. Although I tried my hand at many professions, from artist to photographer to social worker, I finally landed on herbalist in 2006. Herbalism was a way that I could help myself and others take control of their health choices while being a steward to the environment. After graduating from Evergreen State college in 2012 with a degree in Holistic Health focused in Western Herbal Medicine and Reproductive Health, I began to think about the best way to share my knowledge to empower people with their health.
As a holistic health professional, I am passionate about teaching people from all walks of life about the basics of holistic health philosophies. That’s what my sustainably minded body care company, Apothicare, is about. I love to see people share in my passion and take steps to improve their health.
Through Apothicare, I have been able to bring quality sustainable products to the marketplace in Minnesota through elderberry syrup, unique tea blends, deodorant, lip balm, and more. I feel like I have truly found my calling; this was the career I was hunting for, where I cannot only help myself but help others.
When given the to opportunity to talk to my customers, I realize that the majority of people aren’t aware or knowledgeable about herbal medicine, so I like to take a little time to educate people about my products. Then this may inspire them to dig deeper into their health and start blending teas for themselves or make their own deodorant. This builds skills and reduces waste. Don’t get me wrong—I love making products for people, but I also love helping them to help themselves. It would make me very happy to know I had inspired someone to make their own tea for gut health.
This brings us to what I’d like to talk about here—the basics of wildcrafting, buying, and blending your own teas.
Sourcing and Wildcrafting
In terms of sourcing, the more hands-on option is wildcrafting. This is the term used in herbalism for harvesting herbs from the wild. Wildcrafting holds a special place in my heart. As an herbalist, it offers me the opportunity to deepen my relationship with nature. When I set out to wildcraft, I end up simply sitting with the plant for the first few times. It allows me time to build a relationship with the plant and that time spent has also saved me from harvesting the wrong plant. I enjoy being out in nature and really listening for the more subtle things that otherwise go unnoticed by someone just passing through.
When wildcrafting, the two most important things to know are the sustainability of harvesting the herbs and proper plant identification. Before you wildcraft, do your research to find out if the plant you hope to harvest can truly be sustainably harvested from the wild. The next step is to build a relationship with the plant and take note of the environment in which it grows. Are there environmental toxins nearby? Is anyone else harvesting from this plant? As a general rule of thumb you never want to harvest more than ten percent of the population that you see. This is to allow the plant the opportunity to re-propagate and leave some for other animals or birds that may visit the plant.
This research is incredibly important, as many plants have been over harvested from the wild when they become popular—a great example is goldenseal. It has become a very popular plant used in herbal body products, tinctures and teas. Goldenseal has a very specific niche where it grows successfully and it takes time to rebuild a healthy wild population. The best thing we can do is to allow the wild population time to re-establish itself and buy organic. Buying organic ensures that it was cultivated and is not further diminishing our wild populations. This then brings the cost of the wildcrafted goldenseal down so there is less incentive for wildcrafting the herb.
The second of the two key aspects to wildcrafting is ensuring proper identification of the plants that you are harvesting and for this you need to gain an eye for botany. What is the structure of the flower? If and when is it in bloom? What is the structure of the leaves? Are they toothed or lobed? Are they divided and how many times? These are just some of the basic questions you need to be able to answer when you start to identify plants. Improper identification of plants can lead to more harm than good if you come upon a lookalike plant. Next you want to know what part of the plant is used; different parts of a plant will contain different chemical compounds—some of those compounds maybe inert or harmful.
Really, it takes years of knowledge and practice to become a confident and knowledgeable wildcrafter. The best way to learn is from someone that has experience wildcrafting and identifying plants. If that is not possible, some great resources to start learning are the books, Botany in a Day and Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.
Wildcrafting can be more than you bargained for as a beginning tea blender or even to keep up with as an herbalist, so I suggest to start by finding a few resources for sourcing your herbs.
There are many options to buy quality herbs from local shops. In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, some of my favorite shops where you can by herbs in the exact quantity you need are Magus Books over in Dinkytown, Present Moment in the Lyndale Neighborhood or Tao Foods in Uptown. Local Co-ops sell herbs in bulk to varying degrees and health foods stores like Mastel’s in St. Paul sell them in bulk pre-portioned bags.
Formulating and Blending
When formulating for a larger market, you can’t get too specific for one individual, so you look for herbs that are more general and tonifying. Normally I try to approach the system that the teas are being formulated to support in two to three ways. For example, my Tummy Tea is peppermint, orange peel, burdock, ginger and clove. All of these herbs have multiple qualities to them but to put it simply, peppermint is a great carminative and is warming, orange peel is a bitter that can help aid in the digestive process, burdock is very tonifying and nourishing to the digestive tract, ginger is warming and a carminative as well, then clove is another warming carminative that is also know for it’s anti-microbial properties. If someone has a hot inflamed digestive tract I would not recommend this tea to them, but I feel like more people in our culture have a depressed, cold digestive tract. Beyond that, it is a tasty tea that will help settle an upset belly.
When formulating for an individual, you ask very specific questions based around their concerns and what symptoms they are experiencing. There are lots of conversations about snot color, duration, type of cough, etc., to figure out what the tissue state of the system is that you are trying to support.
Learning how to formulate well is a skill, but there are some basic remedies that people can pick up on for common home use.
When formulating teas for the general public, I like to think about some of the common issues that people in our culture face combined with what tastes good, because trust me—some herbs are absolutely revolting, but make great medicine. One thing I have noticed in myself and many others in our culture is how commonplace is it to suffer from chronic stress. Stress is something that we have grown accustomed to and we are rewarded financially and through positive acknowledgment. We also deal with a lot of grief and trauma without much support from society. Some people have built good practices into their lives to help activate the parasympathetic nervous system when needed, but the vast majority of us have not or do not engage often enough. Thus, I formulated the Stress Less Tea to help support people in our modern culture.
Stress Less Tea was formulated with herbs to help support multiple systems that play a more immediate role in the stress response. Oatstraw, being the primary herb in this blend, feels like a nourishing relief to an overworked nervous system. While supporting the musculoskeletal system, it lifts a melancholy mood if taken over a period of time. This herb contains calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, E, and amino acids. I would love for us all to drink this rejuvenating tonic on a regular basis.
The second herb in my Stress Less blend falls in to a group of herbs called adaptogens. This group assists the body with stressful situations over the long term by stimulating and/or relaxing the body, supporting normal immune function, improving mental clarity and normalizing unbalanced physiological processes without becoming addictive. Eleuthero, in specific, is known to help support mental clarity and emotional stamina during times of stress while improving physical endurance for the individuals that can’t take a break quite yet. When people are chronically stressed, they tend to experience a weakened immune system, Eleuthero, like other adaptogens, will be your ally to help you through if taken regularly.
Next in the lineup you will find Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil. Tulsi is an important Ayurvedic, a traditional Indian practice of medicine. It is known to support overall vitality, stress reduction and support normal immune function. Someone once told me that Tulsi is light in the darkness, I find this is true because of its tendency to lift the mood. Brushing up against this plant in the summer garden will bring about a delightful mood-lifting aroma.
Rose is a cooling astringent that makes a lovely reproductive and sexual tonic for both men and women. Tonifying the reproductive organs and strengthening the cardiovascular system, this herb can be used in so many different ways. It has been used by aromatherapists to easy anxiety and depression, thus it makes a great addition to a stress tea blend with a particular affinity to the heart. Rose and chamomile can work together to easy the symptoms of tension headaches.
Chamomile is a classic; as a child I remember my mother making me a cup of chamomile tea when I couldn’t sleep. This relaxing nervine is also a carminative and an antispasmodic, which makes it a great remedy for the gut while calming the mental chatter.
Lemon Balm is my sunshine plant, rubbing a leaf and sniffing the lemony bliss that arises from this aromatic nervine can produce nothing but happiness and tranquility. The beautiful taste and highly aromatic smell make it a good addition to any tea blend or by itself to uplift the spirit and calm the nerves.
Last, but not least, I have added Cinnamon to this blend as a stimulating aromatic. This herb brings everything together. It has been used to sooth irritated inflamed conditions, which can be common among people dealing with chronic stress. It is warming, but I feel like the cooling quality of the other herbs balances it out. Cinnamon has more recently become popular for its ability to decrease insulin resistance, which is thought to be a problem for people dealing with chronic stress. This tasty, sweet and warming herb really helps complete the tea.
To blend at home, your herbal knowledge doesn’t have to be as in-depth as that of an herbalist. These are just some of the things that your herbalist is thinking about when they formulate a tea for you. We think about what organ system the herb is working on and the qualities of the herbs so we’re not exacerbating any situation. Tea blending can be as simple as grabbing a handful of oatstraw, nettles and raspberry leaf and throwing them in a tea strainer because that is what you feel like in the moment.
For the curious person that would like to take their tea blending to the next step, Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health is a great resource. There are also many online blogs that can help give you new ideas or more specifics on herbs that you are interested in using. There are tens of thousands of herbs that are used in herbal medicine today. You will always have something new to explore, but the important thing is that you start. Only you can take control over your health and what a better way then to start blending delightful nourishing teas.