Easy, Wheezy! Decongestant Salve

Even though it’s officially spring, both the weather and my lungs are holding on tight to winter. It’s all kinds of rainy and cold outside, and I can’t quite shake the stuffy nose I picked up last week.

Easy, Wheezy! Decongestant Salve - MamootDIY.com

I whipped up a little homemade VapoRub (Viva Peru!) to get me through the next few days of this cold, and – BONUS – to help me take on the spring allergies I know are coming as soon as everything starts blooming.

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En Lo Pequeño Radica La Fuerza: Herbalism for Quiet(er) Revolutionaries

For as long as it’s existed, A-Camp has been one of my favorite places. It’s also been a place that turns the worry knob in my brain up to full blast. I worry that I’m too small or maybe pretending to be big but what if I’m too big and then everyone can see right through me and what if seeing through turns into looking past and and and and and.

So this year, after a winter that was more cold than cozy, I wrote a love letter to myself in my application and planned to lead nothing but arts and crafts for four days. Y’all! We made tiny grills, sewed coptic-bound books, and made jewelry out of recycled beer cans, but my favorite activity was the herbalism knowledge share I hosted. We were a ragtag group of queers and damn if every single person there didn’t have something to teach me.

I came home from camp with a low humming calm that my body had known before but forgot the year it first knew blood. I’m not saying I came back perfect or fixed, but I stopped confusing devastation with depth and started to feel the whole way around things. Like maybe the earth is a warm place. Like maybe I make it warmer.

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Sore Muscle Salve

Last February — fed up with the stress and meanness of law school — I started playing capoeira as a way to work out all my negative energy.

Now, seven months later, I’m hooked and am helping my group plan for our annual batizado. We’re flying in mestres and profesors from all over, hiring samba teachers, and trying to convince our friends and family to come watch the event. Everyone in my small but mighty little group is doing our part to raise money so, naturally, I decided to whip up something crafty and sell it at the event.

Chilly Pepper Salve - Mamoot

I’ve been wanting to play with cayenne pepper for a long time, but hadn’t gotten around to it between making wintery salves for runny noses and summery bug sprays. But now I’ve got dozens of capoeristas to appeal to and it seems like the perfect time to tackle the pain-relieving powers of cayenne.

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Things I Learned In Summer Herbalism Class

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been taking herbalism classes at the Neighborhood Farm Initiative’s urban farm in Washington, D.C. I got to talk to other plant nerds, ate all kinds of weeds, and learned LOADS. I loved it so much that I’m already planning to sneak back down to D.C. in October to get my season’s worth of herbal info in the autumn classes.

Things I Learned In Summer Herbalism Class

This one is fennel. You might have eaten it as a spice or had the bulb as a vegetable. It’s a member of the carrot family and can help stimulate the production of breast milk. Fascinating, right?

Since it’s summer (and, as everyone in New York reminded me before I can here: summers in D.C. are brutal. (although I hate to burst your collective bubbles, NYC people, but here in D.C. we have air conditioning and trees and sky which makes summertime nine-hundred percent more bearable)), we talked about and touched and smelled and ate cooling herbs – the little guys that help with heat-related ailments like sunburn, bug bites, agitation, nerves, and insomnia. The classes were taught by Holly Poole-Kavana, an herbalist who, in my book, is the perfect balance of woo and evidence-based practices.

This plant is called cheeses. Yep, just like the dairy product. It's got little pods that look (but don't taste) a lot like cheese wheels. It's related to marshmallow, okra, and hibiscus and can help with dry eyes, mouth, and skin.

This plant is called cheeses. Yep, just like the dairy product. It’s got little pods that look (but don’t taste) a lot like cheese wheels. It’s related to marshmallow, okra, and hibiscus and can help with dry eyes, mouth, and skin.

How much is there really to say about plants? Ohmylord, SO MUCH. I took notes and I know that I still missed gobs. Here are my six favorite things that I learned.

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Materia Medica: Burdock

Background

Names
  • Botanical Name: Arctium lappa
  • Other Names: Arctium (from Greek arktos, bear), Bardana (Portuguese and Spanish), Beggar’s buttons,  Clot-bur (bur comes from Latin, burra, a sheep’s wool, which refers to how sheep’s wool became entangled as sheep passed by the plant), Cockleburr, Cockle buttons, Fox’s clote, Gobo (Japanese), Happy major, Hardock, Hareburr, Lappa (from Greek lappa, to seize, Celtic llap, hand), Love leaves, Orelha-de-gigante (refers to how to leaves look like giant ears), Niu Bang Zi (Chinese), Personata, Philanthropium, Poor man’s potatoes, Thorny burr

Burdock, Lesser. (Arctium minus) Grace Road Sapcote SP 4915 9359 (taken 5.7.2006)

Growth
  • Appearance: Burdock is a large plant with gigantic leaves that can grow up to a yard long. The leaves are soft underneath and are oval- or heart-shaped. The plant flowers through the summer and the prickly seed pods mature in the fall.
  • Cultivation: Burdock is considered by many to be a weed and is harder to stop growing than grow. You name it, burdock can grow in it: poor soil, rich soil, hot weather, cold weather, drought, flood. To keep burdock from spreading, cut off the seed pods before they ripen in the fall. Burdock roots and leaves should be dug in July.
  • Parts used: Leaves, root

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History
  • Innovation: Burdock’s prickly burrs were the inspiration for velcro. After the inventor came home from a hunting trip in the Alps, he wondered how all the burrs managed to stick to his pants and went to his microscope to investigate.
  • Traditional uses: Both traditional Chinese medicine and European medicine have used it as a blood purifier

velcro

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Medicinal and Practical Uses

*I write about uses for plants as a novice herbalist, not a doctor or scientist; this isn’t medical advice. If you want to use plant-based remedies, find a doctor you trust and respect who also trusts and respects you so that you can work together to make sure you’re the healthiest version of you.

  • Safety: Contact with the green, above-ground potion may cause contact dermatitis
  • Characteristics: Cool, permanent
  • Primary actions (Secondary actions): Alterative, diaphoretic, diuretic, tonic, (anti-inflammatory, nutritive)
  • Constituents: Inulin
Circulation
  • Wound healing: Applying a poultice of burdock leaves to bruises and wounds may help speed healing.
Digestion
  • Indigestion relief: Burdock root can be used to help with “hot” conditions like indigestion.
  • Diuretic: Burdock is a diuretic; it rids the body of excess water by increasing urine.
Immune system
  • Lymph nodes: Drinking burdock root tea can calm swollen lymph nodes.
Skin and Hair
  • Rash relief: Burdock can be used internally and externally to treat eczema, psoriasis, rashes, and other skin conditions. It’s anti-inflammatory properties ease itching while it’s other properties speed healing. Burdock root can be taken as a tea or applied topically as a salve.
  • Acne: Burdock leaves can help with acne when applied as a poultice or drank as a tea.

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Cooking

  • Vegetable: The taproot is used as a root vegetable in many Asian cuisines
  • Tea: Dandelion and Burdock is a British soft drink that has been around since the Middle Ages
  • Beer: Burdock was used by European brewers before hops became popular

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Sources

Materia Medica: Rosemary

Background

Naming
  • Botanical Name: Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Other Names: Rose of Mary, Rosmarine, Incensier
  • Etymology: The name “rosemary” comes from Latin ros (dew) and marinus (“sea”), or “dew of the sea.” Rosemary was said to have been draped around Aphrodite’s neck when she rose from the sea.e93b43b3e5c34e92545788fe81a11a11
Growth
  • Appearance: Native to the Mediterranean and Asia, Rosemary is a perennial evergreen. Its leaves are approximately 1 inch long and needle-like. Its flowers range from white to pink to blue. Rosemary is easy to grow and pest-resistant.
  • Cultivation: Rosemary prefers fertile soil and full sun, but some shade is alright. It should be watered thoroughly and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out between waterings, but it shouldn’t be given so much water that its roots sit in a pool. Rosemary Gladstar suggests misting Rosemary leaves with a diluted sea weed spray weekly. Despite its evergreen-like appearance, the plant will die in temperatures below 40ºF and must be brought inside or covered. Rosemary is used to the breezy Mediterranean and will need a fan and a humidifier if it’s being grown indoors.
  • Parts used: Leaves, oil
History
  • Mythology: When the Virgin Mary lay her coat over a white rosemary bush to rest, the flowers turned blue
  • Symbolism: remembrance, female power, love, fidelity
  • Traditional Uses: memory loss, hair loss, weddings, love, divination, repelling nightmares, repelling witches

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Medicinal and Practical Uses

  • Safety: Avoid using rosemary essential oil while pregnant, if epileptic, or with high blood pressure.
  • Characteristics: Hot, dry, diffusive
  • Primary actions (Secondary actions): Adaptogen, aromatic, astringent, tonic nervine, (analgesic, carminative, deodorant, mild emmenagogue, hypertensive, stomachic)
  • Constituents: Rosmaricine 
Circulation
  • Increased blood pressure: Rosemary can increase blood pressure and circulation. Use with caution if you already have high blood pressure.
  • Varicose veins: Increased blood pressure may help decrease the appearance of varicose veins, which are caused by blood pooling when veins lose elasticity.
Digestion
  • Indigestion relief: Rosemary can provide relief for indigestion and its symptoms (bloating, constipation, diarrhea, flatulence). When consumed, rosemary acts as an appetite stimulant and aids in digestion.
Mind/Body
  • Mental stimulant: Rosemary’s ties to remembrance aren’t purely symbolic. It can act as a mental stimulant, potentially helping you remember better or at least feel uplifted. Rosemary should be used a few hours before bed as its stimulating properties can delay sleep.
  • Sore muscle and pain relief: When rosemary essential oil is applied topically as part of an oil or salve, it may increase circulation and alleviate pain associated with arthritis and sore muscles, including menstrual cramps.
  • Stress relief: Rosemary can help alleviate stress when applied topically, used in aromatherapy, or consumed.
Non-Body
  • Preservative: Rosemary can be used to extend the shelf life of perishable items.
  • Pest repellant: There are very few bugs or animals that like the smell of rosemary. Grow it in your garden, keep a few springs in your kitchen, or use essential oil in your bug sprays to keep pests away.
  • Air freshener: Fresh rosemary, rosemary incense, or a few drops of rosemary essential oil in boiling water can get rid of bad smells.honeybee-rosemary03-lg
Respiratory system
  • Respiratory relief: Rosemary may provide many types of respiratory relief. Rosemary essential oil may be used in aromatherapy to help ease asthma, congestion, and allergies.
Skin and Hair
  • Hair loss and dandruff: Rosemary stimulates hair follicles, which leads to healthy hair growth. It may delay hair loss, promote hair growth, or ease dandruff. Add a few drops of essential oil to shampoo or create an infusion to use as a rinse.
  • Soft skin: Rosemary oil rarely causes adverse reactions when applied topically. It can help soften skin.
  • Acne: Rosemary essential oil’s tendency to tone skin and tighten pores may help clear up acne more quickly.

*I write about uses for plants as a novice herbalist, not a doctor or scientist; this isn’t medical advice. If you want to use plant-based remedies, find a doctor you trust and respect who also trusts and respects you so that you can work together to make sure you’re the healthiest version of you.

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Cooking

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  • Flavor: Rosemary grows year-round but is milder when its picked in the winter than the summer.
  • Cuisines: Rosemary is widely used in Mediterranean and other Western European cuisines, specifically Italian and French.
  • Soup: Rosemary is a key ingredient in boquet garni, a bundle of herbs that’s used to prepare soup. Fun fact: it used to be called a “faggot” since it’s a bundle of sticks, but that went out of fashion, for obvious reasons.
  • Compliments: Rosemary goes especially well with garlic and onions, meats, olive oil, and potatoes.

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Perfumery

Aroma: Strong, fresh, camphor-like and with a woody-balsamic undertone

Note: Middle

Blends Well With: Basil, bergamot, black pepper, cedarwood, cinnamon, citronella, clary sage, elemi, eucalyptus , frankincense, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemon, litsea cubeba, mandarin, marjoram, niaouli, oregano, peppermint, petitgrain, pine, ravensara, tea tree, thyme

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Sources

Soothing and Healing Eczema Balm

Once upon a time, I was a very little girl with eczema. My mom took me to the doctor, who told her that she shouldn’t let me sleep with socks on. I now realize that the no sock rule was instituted because socks would make me too hot and I would sweat all the moisture out of my tiny, eczema-covered, raisin-y body. However at the time I was sure that sleeping with socks on would cause my toes to grow together and I’d be stuck with two flippers for feet.

I think I was about 9 when I finally realized that my fear of webbed toes was entirely unfounded.

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All this is to say: I’ve had eczema since I was a wee lass. It miraculously cleared up when I was about 17 and I had 7 glorious, eczema-free years before it came back with a vengeance when I moved to New York.

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