'Tis the Season: Frankincense and Myrrh

'Tis the Season. And with this season we are reminded of the birth of Jesus and the gifts bestowed on him by the Three Wise Men; Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.

We all know the value of gold, but what do we know about frankincense and myrrh?

What are Frankincense and Myrrh?

Frankincense and Myrrh

Frankincense and Myrrh

Frankincense and Myrrh are the gummy sap product of the Boswellia and Commiphora trees, respectively, grown in dry climates such as India, Oman, Ethiopia, Somalia, Yemen and Saudi. The trees are cut allowing the gummy sap to ooze out. Once the sap hardens the resulting tear shaped resin is scrapped off the trees. Frankincense has a sweet, citrus aroma while Myrrh has a piney, bitter aroma. The resin of both are edible, can be burned as an incense either separate, together or with herbs, or steamed to produce essential oils.  

Early uses of Frankincense and Myrrh

Historically Frankincense and Myrrh have been used for their spiritual properties. Frankincense is a symbol of holiness. Myrrh is a symbol of bitterness, anguish and affliction. In addition to their use in spiritual ceremonies, Frankincense and Myrrh have been used in personal hygiene and beauty products and medical treatments for more than 5000 years. Early uses:

  • Frankincense was used hide body odor between baths by burning the resin and floating it near the clothing

  • Women mixed Frankincense into their eye shadow to improve the texture and used Myrrh on their face to rejuvenate the skin

  • Myrrh is thought to have been an early dental product

  • Medical practitioners, such as Hippocrates, wrote about their antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties and it has been reported that they were used to cure hemlock poisoning, snakebites, diarrhea, the plague, scurvy and a host of other diseases

  • Both were burned as an insect repellent

  • Both were used in the embalming process

  • Both were used in prayer, various rituals and cremations. The Egyptians used them to prepare human mummies. Others included them in incense burned during offering ceremonies.

Frankincense branches

Frankincense branches

Current day uses of Frankincense and Myrrh

Today Frankincense and Myrrh are still used in personal hygiene and beauty, medical treatments and spiritual ceremonies, but in a different way than in the early uses. Current day uses:

  • Both are used in Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, and aromatherapy

  • Both are used in toothpastes and mouthwashes, but have also been used for abscesses, toothaches, gingivitis and bad breath.

  • Both can be used to aid digestion when chewed like gum

  • When used together, either as an essential oil or ground dried resin, they support wound healing due to their antiseptic,  astringent, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal and analgesic properties

  • Both have been investigated as possible support for cancer patients due to their antitumoral, cellular rejuvenation and antioxidant properties

  • Frankincense has also been studied as possible support to people suffering from Crohn’s disease and ulceative colitis

  • Both are used to reduce scars, blemishes and on chronic skin conditions

  • When both are used in meditation practices they have been reported to improve focus, reduce anxiety, fear, grief and loneliness, reduce mental distractions, promote creativity and reduce irritability

  • Both are still used in prayer and various ritual ceremonies

NOTE: It is advised that Frankincense and Myrrh should not be used during pregnancy. As with any product you should consult your physician before using.

Written by Becky Wilson, Bridget's Botanicals

Rainforest Remedies!

During my trek through Belize in August I was introduced to the fascinating plant Jackass Bitters, what more or less seems like a cure-all in the Mayan rainforest. Sure enough as it's name indicates, this plant is quite bitter, and contains a potent anti-parasitic bitter compound called sesquiterpene dialdehyde. During my adventure, I was fortunate enough to meet with a Mayan healer, Aurora Garcia, who walked me through a medicinal plant trail and taught me about a variety of herbs including this one. She shared that their culture has used Jackass Bitters as a tonic at the start of every year to ensure good health. "For 7 days drink a freshly prepared cup of tea made from 1 leaf." It has been used in Mayan medicine internally for parasites, digestion, diabetes, malaria, and high blood pressure; externally as an insect repellent by rubbing the leaves all over exposed skin. I gave this a go since I forgot my bug spray on on of our hikes, and sure enough it seemed to work! Meeting with Aurora was so centering and amazing, as I read a book about her great Uncle, Don Elijio Panti, a famous Mayan Healer. Learning about healing traditions through oral teaching and stories is incredibly powerful, especially knowing that it is knowledge that has been passed on for centuries...the mysteries of the forest medicine are revealed to those those who work with it day in and day out. 

I look forward to returning to the lush forest filled with medicinal plants, beautiful Mayan culture, and the solid, centering rocks of the rivers. I first read about Belize in the book Sastun, my first exposure to medicinal plants of Belize back in 2010 before my first trip. I was excited to finally meet this plant, as I have heard about it for quite some time, yet did not encounter it on my first visit to Ix Chel Farm. Cheers to the many more adventures yet to come, plants to meet, and culture to soak in!

A Taste of Tobago

Though a small island, the rainforest of Tobago is packed with medicinal plants, gorgeous birds, and stunning waterfalls. Check out more pictures from our trip! ...My favorite plant in Tobago was called Christmas bush. Fitting for the fact that the holidays had just passed. The fresh leaves of this plant are boiled and made into a tea, mixed with a bit of salt and a few tablespoons taken before bed, used for the common cold (I wish I had some now!). A trick that I use for the common cold is lots of echinacea, tea tree oil nasal steams, veggie broth, nourish me tea, and lots of sleep. Christmas bush grows commonly near the roadside or fields rather than in the forest. In fact every plant that our guide showed us that was bush medicine used by the locals, himself included, were easily spotted from the road.
...The forests of Tobago are surrounded by the beautiful ocean. It's ebb and flow of the always brings me to a place of comfort, listening to its predictable, gorgeous, soothing flow and rhythms. Such a beautiful place on Earth. I'd go back in a heart beat, as long as I booked a flight from Trinidad to Tobago instead of taking the long and sea-sickening ferry ride!

Christmas Bush

Pumpkin Delights

It is time for pumpkins! Recently I went for my annual walk in the Littleton Historical Museum's pumpkin patch. While pumpkin pie is a well known tasty treat, this happy round vegetable can also be made into a delicious coconut-curry-pumpkin stew. Additionally, do not underestimate the power of seeds. Pumpkin seeds are a wonderful source of omega-3 oils. Omega-3’s support brain function, reduce inflammation, and help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, arthritis, and cancer. Toasted pumpkin seeds tossed lightly in: salt, cinnamon and sugar, tamari, or Braggs. This is a delicious treat that I look forward to each Fall. Alternatively, raw pumpkin seeds can be sprinkled year round on top of a salad, or mixed in with some freshly made steel cut oats with cranberries, chia seeds, and walnuts. So even if you are not one to carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns around Halloween and Dia de los Muertos, harvest those pumpkin seeds – they are great for your health!

Back to School Boost!

It's that time of the year again for school to start! Whether you are sending off your little ones, taking college courses, or gathering for a late summer conference, tucking some natural preventative health tips in your pocket will certainly benefit you. While I was directing the 9-12 science program at a local Denver high school, I know from first hand experience how rapidly a simple cough can spread, and morph into a slew of other sicknesses. Don't be caught in the storm! 

There are good germs and there are bad germs. We in fact host more microbes (tiny living organisms) in and on our body than there are cells that make up our body! Our friendly microbes are super important for keeping the not so friendly microbes in check, especially those that may be newly introduced to us from other people. Maintaining a healthy body is a major key to not getting sick.

Here's a story about how our bodies are like a pond that I learned from one of my herbal teachers:

A pond can be healthy and clean with a continual flow bringing new fresh water in, and releasing any old unneeded waste. The pond stays clear, unpolluted, and has a healthy balance of life. One day, the pond became stagnant, and algae overtook the clear waters. The pond started to attract mosquitoes and other unwanted bugs, and started to get that swampy icky smell.

Just like the pond, if we make our body a clean and healthy environment, it is less likely that the menacing microbes will want to hang out in your body, whereas if your body is like an unhealthy stagnant pond, the menacing microbes are more likely to settle in and make you sick.

Taking this analogy into consideration, we can think about ways to keep our body (the pond) healthy and clean. While practicing the following tips will be helpful, sometimes we can catch something that is stronger than what our healthy body can handle, and in those times remember that your community herbalist is just a call away with a bagful of natural remedies to support you. Enjoy and practice some of the following health tips, so that your school year is productive, healthy, and fun! Back to school kits are also available for order.

  • Wash your hands after every class: Touching desks, door handles, and sharing classroom materials during activities or laboratories exposes you to millions of germs in a short period of time. Using soap with, or adding some drops of lavender and rosemary essential oils will add a natural antibacterial effect.
  • Keep your hands and cuticles moisturized. Often times people will pick at or put their fingers in their mouth forgetting about everything they've touched, introducing the germs into their mouth. 
  • Drink a glass of water or a full water bottle every hour or two to stay hydrated. Maintaining flow and movement within your body will help to keep tissues and cells functioning at their optimum, will promote a health flow through your body, and will assist your blood and lymph in transporting toxins and immune cells to where they need to go to. Infuse your water with a sprig of fresh peppermint or spearmint to help enhance your concentration and settle your stomach from the anxiety of starting something new.
  • Sleep!!! I can never emphasize this enough. A solid 8 hours helps your body to carry out necessary functions and repair during your sleep so that when you are awake you can spend your energy on the tasks at hand. This helps to not overburden or stress out your body.  A spritz of water mixed with a few drops of lavender essential oil can help to calm your mind and move your brain into a state of deeper relaxation.

These simple, age-old preventative back-to-school health tips truly are effective and can make a world of difference for your health. I hope that you take them to heart and integrate them into your daily habits!

Herb Farms & Plant Treasures

Herb farms are little gems! This past weekend I visited Desert Canyon Herb Farm in Canyon City, CO with a group of my herbal friends, relished in the beautiful weather, and picnicked by the river. While emptying my wallet from splurging on over 30 different species of medicinal plants was my plan all along, what I didn't think of was turning my patio into a teaching garden for the summer!!! As the pots and baskets are still under way of being put together, I can feel the magic of the plant's medicine radiating throughout the space. The shades of green and their abundance makes me feel like I am walking into a miniature jungle pharmacy. This is one piece of summer that I treasure. 

My Top 5 Health & Wellness Tips

  1. Introduce yourself to the botanical world of herbal medicine. By being an agent for your health through preventative healthcare and well-being, you can save yourself a significant amount of time and money when you are aware of what herbs you can take at the first signs of sickness.
  2. Drink a cup of tea a day. Teas are an easy and powerful way to nourish your body. A 1 cup overnight herbal infusion of nettle tea has magnesium, calcium, and a slew of other vitamins and minerals that are easy for the body to absorb. This is an excellent herb for women to introduce into their life in a tea blend for optimal nourishment, especially if you find it difficult to cook yourself nourishing meals!
  3. To get your day off to the right start, spritz your face with a mixture of water and a few drops of lavender essential oil. Aromatherapy directly impacts the nervous system and allows us to feel more relaxed, grounded, and ready to deal with what the day brings you.
  4. Peppermint essential oil is a wonderful remedy to carry with you at all times. Reduce muscle tension or your children’s bellyaches by rolling on a diluted mixture of peppermint oil in a carrier oil directly onto tense muscles to help relax them, or your child’s stomach to decrease stomach cramps/spasms. This remedy is also amazing for relieving headaches and itchy bug bites.
  5. Take a walk outside! Surrounding yourself with nature through frequent walks will help you to clear your mind and make you more effective in your work, get a better sleep, and connect with your true self. Get to know your local plants while you’re at it as a fun activity to do by yourself or with your children. Check out your local Parks and Recreation website to find trails near you.



Holiday Peppermint

Peppermint Pic from Wiki.jpg

Candy canes, hot chocolate, fires, snow, cookies, medicine making....the holidays have arrived and the turn of winter is upon us. As we start to turn inwards into the dark of winter, we can wind down, cozy in, and remember to take a moment for ourselves, to restore and refresh. As I peer into the night's darkness, the sparkling glow of holiday lights across the street glimmer through my office window. The comforting, dark, rich, scent of peppermint hot chocolate swirls through the air as I inhale deeply. Peppermint. An incredible aromatic plant in the mint family, versatile in medicinal uses, and a dedicated friend of the garden.  Peppermint tea, essential oil, tinctures, extracts, and fresh peppermint are excellent for the nervous system, and specifically useful for:

  • Upset stomachs - Check out our Happy Tummy Tea with peppermint!
  • GI tract & IBS
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Candy cane sugar scrub - check out my FB post sharing a great recipe for this!
  • Muddling into cocktails (of course!)

Some science behind all of this? Here is a nifty resource for those interested in some more science! Peppermint is among one of my favorites! Due to its stimulating effect on the nervous system, spearmint is a nice alternative that is a bit more mellow if you are someone who experiences anxiety and are using peppermint in the tea form.

Happy Holidays to everyone, and next time you have a candy cane, remember peppermint!


Elderberry Delight!

Yesterday I was lucky enough to harvested a bounty of fresh elderberries at a family friends house. The only way that I have seen or handled elderberries in my years as an herbalist has been dried, sourced from elsewhere. The dark juice stained my fingers a beautiful deep purple....my mind filled with excitement in anticipation of making some fresh elderberry syrup!  Two summers ago in Iowa visiting my Grandpa's old farm I discovered multiple beautiful towering elderberry shrubs (more like trees!). They were bursting with white, delicate, sweetly scented elderflower umbells.  Both the elderberry and elderflower are excellent for staying healthy and fighting off the flu virus. Coming up in November at the "Elderberries for Health and Cocktails" class, attendees will learn more about the health benefits of elderberries and will sample various forms of elderflower and elderberry....just not the ripe raw berries, since those are toxic! Don't worry though, cooking them destroys the compound that makes them inedible in the raw form. Cheers to the elder!