Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Vanilla Rose Herbal Chai

Vanilla Bean & Rose Petals      ©Trisha McCaul

  Wintertime is here. For many of us, it brings that wonderful hybernation-rich, yin & scarf-wearing energy. The cool weather always inspires me to explore the alchemy of tea making. I love hunkering down in my kitchen, blending handfuls of loose herbs into delicious warming beverages. Working with plants in the winter sustains me and serves as a reminder that the spring isn't too far off and the green verdant plant life will return once again.
   I was pondering the nuances of chai tea recently, and wanted to experiment with it. Chai tea is originally from India, and it traditionally contains black tea, milk, aromatic spices and a sweetener like sugar or honey. The popularity of chai has spread globally, and there are several variations on this recipe. Chai teas are very nice in the winter, because they are rich in aromatic spices that increase circulation and help warm the body. The recipe below is the result of my experiment with adding vanilla bean and rose petals to an aromatic, chai-type tea. It is very delicious and the spicy, and its enticing scent filled my house. It is caffeine-free, but black tea can easily be added for a more traditional version.

Cinnamon & Cloves       ©Trisha McCaul  

All of the herbs I used in this tea were in dried form. Most health food stores and herb shops carry them.

Ingredients (measured by weight)
1 ounce ginger root (I used the dried, cut & sifted root)
1 ounce fennel seed
1/2 ounce whole cloves
1/2 ounce anise seed
1/2 ounce cardamom seeds
1/2 ounce cinnamon chips (I used whole cinnamon sticks, broken up by hand into chips)

Small handful rose petals (per serving)
1" piece of vanilla bean, minced (per serving)

Mix together the ginger, fennel, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. This is the base for the tea. The measurements above provide enough of this mixture for seven servings. If you aren't going to use it all, it can be stored for later use. The vanilla and rose will be added later in the process of brewing the tea.

To make one serving:
Put 1/2 ounce of above spice mixture into a saucepan with 16 ounces of water. Cover. This is very important because these aromatic spices contain volatile oils which will easily evaporate from an uncovered pot.
Heat until just boiling, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the rose petals and vanilla bean. Cover & let sit for another 10 minutes. Strain out the herbs from the tea. If you wish, add milk or honey. Enjoy.

This recipe is very forgiving, so don't worry if your amounts aren't exact. Play around with it. The vanilla and rose notes are not over-powering. If you want them stronger, simply add more to your tea.

©Trisha McCaul

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Yerba Mansa

Latin Name: Anemposis californica

Plant Family: Saururaceae (Lizard Tail)

Common names: Apache beads, Bavisa, Lizard Tail, Manso, Raiz del Manso, Swamp Root, 
Yerba del Manso, Yerba Mansa

Taste: Astringent, Spicy, Aromatic, Acrid

Energetics: Warming & Drying

Actions:  Antibacterial, Anti-emetic, Antifungal, Anti-inflammatory, Astringent, Carminative, Diuretic, Vulnerary

Parts used: Root & Leaf

   Yerba mansa is a perennial plant which grows throughout the American southwest and northern Mexico. It grows in stands in wet, boggy, alkaline locations. Yerba mansa has a rich ethnobotanical history of usage amongst native cultures including the Pima, Mayo, Yaqui, Mexican, Chumash and Shoshone peoples. It is an old, and powerful medicine. I feel particularly attached to this plant because it drastically altered my quality of life.

   Yerba mansa has an affinity for the mucous membranes of the body. Mucous membranes are found in the mouth, sinuses, lungs, and the digestive and genitourinary tracts. In particular, yerba mansa seems most effective in treating slow-healing, chronic conditions effecting these areas of the body. It's an astringent that it tonifies the mucous membranes, helps remove matter that inhibits proper tissue repair, while improving the transport of fluids.


Yerba mansa is a fantastic herb for conditions where the sinuses are in a state of subacute congestion, with plentiful (and seemingly endless) mucous discharge. It makes a nice substitute for goldenseal for this purpose. Think of it when there's a head cold that's past the hot, acute stage, or in cases of chronic sinus irritation due to sensitivity to allergens and the like.

This is an experience I had with yerba mansa:
  I rarely suffered from allergies or hayfever before I moved to the desert southwest. However, the dryness, dust and exotic pollen took a toll on my sinuses, which became chronically irritated. The whole affair culminated in a very nasty sinus and ear infection, and I ended up taking a round of antibiotics to deal with it.  However, after the antibiotics my sinus irritation returned to the state of chronic irritation and I developed a rather intense case of tinnitus on top of it. The tinnitus was very nerve-wracking. I enjoy being able to sit in silence, but with the constant ringing in my ears this joy was taken away from me. It took at least a year for this to subside to a somewhat manageable level. So, I lived for several years with sinuses that would run or stuff up with the slightest provocation (with dust and synthetic fragrances being the biggest culprits). After I'd started learning about herbs, I decided to try some yerba mansa root tincture.
   The results were nothing less than amazing. I took 2 or 3 doses a day for two days, and my sinus issues significantly subsided. My nose simply stopped running, my sinuses felt normal. And the effects lasted long after I stopped taking the tincture. This healing experience helped me to look deeper for the underlying organic cause of this weakness, enabling me to address the issues and further correct the problem.
   My experience, coupled with other observations gathered over the years, leads me to believe that yerba mansa is much more than a drying herb for drippy sinuses. In my experience, yerba mansa is an herb that acts as a tonic that strengthens the sinus tissues themselves, allaying organic weakness in the structures.

Mouth, Throat, Digestive & Urinary Tract

  Yerba mansa is helpful for chronic gum problems. The diluted tincture can be used as a healing mouthwash for oral sores or receding and inflamed gums. It can also be used as a gargle for sore throats and throat sores (heh heh). 
   In the digestive system, yerba mansa's anti-inflammatory and astringent properties make it useful for diarrhea and other digestive problems. It is also a healing agent for stomach and duodenal ulcers. I've heard that it can kill giardia, but I can't vouch for its efficacy with personal experience.
   Yerba mansa's affinity for mucous membranes also extends to the urinary tract, where it can be helpful for chronic urinary tract infections.

Joint Issues

  Yerba mansa was used by native peoples as a remedy for arthritis. It calms inflammation and facilitates the excretion of nitrogenous acids (like uric acid), which contribute to joint issues like arthritis and gout. For this purpose, it is most often taken as a tea, added to a bath or applied as a poultice.

Topical Uses
   As a salve or a poultice, yerba mansa is invaluable in treating slow-healing wounds, cuts, sprains, bruises, staph infections and skin ulcers. Because it has antifungal properties, it also helps with fungal issues like ringworm and athlete's foot. The root can be ground up for use as a healing body powder.

Historical Uses
   King's American Dispensatory has the following to say about yerba mansa:
"Dr. W.H. George...states that the natives esteem it a panacea far excelling the Yerba Santa, and successfully employ it in all malarial fevers, in diarrhoea, and in dysentery. In a letter to Prof. King, he observes that the natives frequently carry the root with them, chewing it and swallowing the juice, and consider it a certain remedy for cough and pulmonary affections. They likewise employ a strong infusion of it an an efficacious local application to saddle and collar sores on horses. Dr. George considers it a stimulant tonic, astringent, carminative and anti-emetic..."

   I usually use yerba mansa in tincture form. The taste is spicy, slightly acrid, with a very noticeable astringent effect. It can also be made into a tea. Topically, it can be made into a salve, powder or a poultice.

Yerba Mansa  © Trisha McCaul



Felter, Harvey Wickes and John Uri Lloyd. King's American Dispensatory Vol. II. Sandy: Eclectic Medical: Publications, 1997.

Mars, Brigitte. The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine. Laguna Beach: Basic Health Publications, 2007.

Moore, Michael. Los Remedios: Traditional Herbal Remedies of the Southwest. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1990.

Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1989.

Skenderi, Gazmend. Herbal Vade Mecum. Rutherford: Herbacy Press, 2003.

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2009.