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.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Elderberry Syrup

Deutschlands Flora in Abbildungen (1796)

   Fall is here, and though I bemoan the loss of the vibrant green plant life in the forest and the city, I also enjoy the fall as the time of year for preparing my wintertime medicines. One of my favorites is elderberry syrup. Elderberry syrup is very easy to make and tastes delicious. First we'll look at its benefits, then at a recipe you can use to make your own.
   Elder belongs to the Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle) family of plants, and there are over 30 species globally. Common species are Sambucus nigra, an old world native and Sambucus canadensis, which is indigenous to North & Central America. My local elder is Sambucus mexicana, or Mexican Elder, which matures at between 15- 35 feet in height, given enough rain and mild winters temperatures. Sadly, we've had two rough winters (by desert standards), and two years of drought, which has taken a toll on our local elder trees.

   Early European peasants and Native Americans used and revered elder, and it's still a widely used herbal medicine. Rightly so, as the plant is a trove of medicine. The flowers, leaves and berries are the parts used. In this post, we'll be looking at the medicinal properties of the berry. Note: When using elder medicinally, use only the varieties that produce the blue and black berries. Species that produce red berries (like Sambucus racemosa and S. pubens) are potentially toxic. It's also important to only eat elderberries that have been cooked first, as they cause digestive upset when consumed in raw form. The raw seeds are potentially toxic as well.

   Elderberry is first and foremost known as a superb herb for preventing and treating colds, flu and coughs. It has been used for this purpose for thousands of years. It is also great for sore throats and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. Elderberry is an excellent antiviral, having a particular affinity for inhibiting the viruses that are responsible for the common cold and influenza. How does it do this? These viruses have surface "spikes" called hemagglutinins, that the viruses use to attach to and infect healthy cells. These viral "spikes"  are also coated in an enzyme called neuraminidase, which helps the virus penetrate the membrane of the healthy cell. It's thought that elderberry works by both disarming both the "spikes" and the enzyme. Modern research has confirmed that elderberry is effective against many different strains of influenza, and has been proven to shorten the duration of this illness.
  Elderberries contain beta-carotene, B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, and flavonoids (like rutin and anthocyanins). They are also high in iron, and were once used in the treatment of anemia.

Making Elderberry Syrup
1/2 cup dried elderberries (or 1 cup fresh elderberries)
3 cups water
1 cup honey (I prefer local raw honey)
Yield: Approximately 28 ounces

*Note- I usually make larger batches because I like to give some to friends and family. In the photos below, I quadrupled the recipe, which yielded approximately 116 ounces of syrup.

1) Put the elderberries and the water in a pot or saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes.

2)  Remove from heat. Mash the berries. A potato masher works well for this.

3) After the mixture has cooled enough to handle comfortably, strain the mixture. I line a wire mesh strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl. Be sure that your straining system is fine enough to strain the seeds from the liquid. You do not want them in your syrup. After I've poured the syrup through the strainer into the bowl, all the the elderberries are resting on the cheesecloth, which can be picked up and given a good squeeze to extract more out of the elderberries. Compost the elderberries when done.

4) Add the honey to the syrup, stirring until dissolved.

5) Pour your syrup into jars or bottles. Be sure to label it and date it.


6) Refrigerate the syrup. It will keep for 2-3 months.

To use: Take 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon twice daily as needed. Elderberry syrup can be taken as preventive medicine throughout the cold and flu season, as well as during these illnesses.
Some folks like elderberry syrup on ice cream, pancakes or other desserts.


Cech, Richo. Making Plant Medicine. Williams: Horizon Herbs, 2000.

Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Recipes For Vibrant Health. North Adams: Storey, 2008.

Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 2003.

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

Skenderi, Gazmend. Herbal Vade Mecum. Rutherford: Herbacy Press, 2009.

Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide To Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2008


Sunday, September 30, 2012

New website on the harvest moon!

Greetings! I've been in submersed in technology for a few weeks, putting the finishing touches on the Mother McCaul's website. Mother McCaul's is a tremendous labor of love for me, and this website is an extension of that. To make safe, healthy, organic and effective topical creations is part of my calling. I consider it a tremendous blessing to be able to work with plants, and the affirmation I have received from those who use my creations inspires me further.
So, last night, in the light of the harvest moon rising over the mountains, I launched my website:


Please visit and spread the word.

Coming soon will be my botanical perfume & incense site, Emma Purple Aromatics.

Meanwhile, now that I'm back to the "real world", I'll be writing and posting more about herbs.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Grindelia squarrosa



Latin names: Grindelia aphanactis, G. arizonica, G. camporum, G. hirsuta, G. humilis, G. integrifolia, G. nana, G. nuda, G. robusta, G. squarrosa, G. stricta

Common names: Gumweed, Field Gumweed, Gum Plant, Great Valley Gumweed, Rosinweed, Tarweed, Yerba del Buey

Plant Family: Asteraceae (Compositae)

Energetics/Taste: Warming, Stimulating, Resin-rich, Bitter

Actions: Expectorant, Antibacterial, Anti-inflammatory, Bronchial antispasmodic

There are several species of grindelia, which grow primarily from the Mississippi River, westward. Thus far, I've been able to meet two of them, Grindelia squarrosa and G. aphanactis. Grindelia generally grows at elevations of 3,000 to 8,000 feet. I did find a vibrant stand at Emory Pass in the Gila National Forest, which stands at just over 8,200 feet. It prefers alkaline soils, and is often found in gravel on roadsides.
   The Latin name Grindelia comes from the name of a German botanist, David H. Grindel, whom it was named after. Its common name, gumweed, refers to the sticky resin which coats all green parts of the plant, but is concentrated in the flower buds. These buds have been chewed as a gum.  The resin is very sticky, and sticks to the teeth. Below is a timeline of what the flowers of Grindelia squarrosa look like from bud to blossom.
Young bud of Grindelia squarrosa, ©Trisha McCaul

A lovely pool of medicinal sap, ©Trisha McCaul

Ray flowers coming up, ©Trisha McCaul

Blossom, lovely & sappy,   © Trisha McCaul

Mature flower, ©Trisha McCaul

Respiratory Remedy
   Like many resin-rich plants, Grindelia is an expectorant. It is useful for bronchial congestion, particularly with dry and stuck phlegm. Its anti-bacterial properties make it useful for respiratory infections and it soothes spasms and inflammation in the respiratory tract. It can be useful for spasmodic coughs, bronchitis, allergies and asthma. Being a warming expectorant, it is ideal for phlegm that lingers after the acute state of a respiratory infection. It also seems to be of value in sleep apnea.
   When I go on hikes on high-altitude hikes, I like to have some osha tincture with me, because it helps the respiratory system acclimate to the altitude so well. Recently, I went up into the mountains, but neglected to bring the osha. Luckily, there was grindelia growing everywhere. Chewing on a flower head, I immediately felt my bronchi and lungs open up. It wasn't as pronounced as the effects of osha, but it is helpful in a pinch.

Digestive Remedy

   Grindelia is a mildly bitter herb. When we taste a bitter herb this activates the bitter taste receptors on the tongue, and the central nervous system communicates this information to various areas in the body, causing a cascade of physiological changes. The most immediately noticeable are the effects on the digestive system. The mouth secretes more saliva, which contains enzymes (like salivary amylase) that begin to break down foods. The stomach, duodenum, pancreas and liver secrete more digestive juices (which also contain enzymes). Peristalsis (the muscle movement that moves food through the digestive tract) is stimulated. Appetite also noticeably increases.
   Due to these actions, herbal bitters can be beneficial for those with sluggish digestion and poor appetite. Because they increase the overall health and function of the digestive system, they can also prove beneficial in health conditions that seem completely unconnected to the digestive system (though in bodily ecology, everything is ultimately connected to everything else).
   Herbal "bitters" are traditionally taken 15-20 minutes before meals. It is important that the bitterness is tasted, so a tea or tincture are the preferred forms to ingest it.
    I have to admit, before I began to really learn about grindelia I didn't think of it as a bitter. Because it is mildly bitter, I don't think its action on the digestive system would be as pronounced as, say, gentian. It will make an interesting organoleptic comparative study. I will write more about bitters and their actions in a future post.

Topical uses

   Herbalist Michael Moore said that Grindelia is on par with Calendula as a healing agent for the skin. It stems the growth of unwanted microbes, brings down inflammation, and stimulates regeneration of epithelial tissue. It is also an effective remedy for poison oak. Topically, I frequently use calendula in my formulas, so I'm looking forward to playing with grindelia in a salve or an oil.

Historical uses

   The Eclectic medical literature contains much information on grindelia. Briefly, the Eclectics were, in effect, medical doctors who used primarily herbs in their treatments. They were in practice roughly from the 1820's until the 1930's, when the last Eclectic medical college closed its doors. Eclecticism grew out of previous medical schools, including the Thomsonian system. Much of what these medical systems knew about the native plants grew from what they were taught by the Native Americans. King's American Dispensatory, the compendium (and some say culmination) of the Eclectic medical establishment, says the following about the uses of grindelia:
"Grindelia squarrosa has been highly eulogized as an efficient remedy in intermittent fever, and in other malarial affections, also to remove splenic enlargement which so frequently follows those disorders...Webster, however, asserts that the remedy has a special action upon the splenic circulation, and points out as the case for it one of splenic congestion associated with sluggish hepatic action and dyspepsia. Dull pain in the left hypochondrium, sallow skin, debility and indigestion are the symptoms pointing to its selection. The same author recommends it in chronic dyspepsia due to prolonged malarial influence, gastric pain when the spleen is seemingly involved, and in the splenic congestion of malarial cachexia. As a local application, the fluid extract is stated to be of value in the painful eczematous inflammation and vesicular eruption resulting from contact with the poison vine or the poison oak."
 Following are the  Eclectic specific indications for Grindelia robusta and G. squarrosa:
   "Grindelia robusta: Asthmatic breathing, with soreness and raw feeling in the chest; cough, harsh and dry; breathing labored, with a dusky coloration of the face in plethoric individuals. Locally, old atonic ulcers; full tissues; rhus poisoning.
   Grindelia squarrosa: Splenic congestion, especially when dependent on malarial cachexia; fullness and dull pain in left hypochondrium , with indigestion, pallid, sallow countenance, and general debility; gastric pains associated with splenic congestion."

Ecological Considerations

   Michael Moore lists Grindelia arizonica as at-risk in New Mexico. Grindelia fraxinipratensis (Ash Meadows Gumweed) is listed as threatened in California and Nevada. Grindelia hallii (San Diego Gumplant) and Grindelia hirsutula var. maritima (San Francisco Gumplant) are threatened in California. I do not know if the last three species are medicinally interchangeable with the other Grindelia species listed above. Quite frankly, it doesn't matter. They need to be cared for and rehabilitated, so do this and avoid harvesting them in the wild.
  One of my fundamental beliefs about herbalism (and well-being in general), is that anyone who works with or uses plants inherently takes on a role of stewardship for these plants, and the ecosystems they inhabit. Just as herbalism is a manifestation of self-responsibility for our own well-being, we must also care for the well-being of our green friends. If we take without giving back, we perpetuate the unsustainable ideas that are a hallmark of the path that we've been on for far too long. Herbs are not man-made concoctions manufactured from dead substances in a laboratory. They are living medicine. Healthy and respected plants yield good medicine.


   Grindelia leaves and flowers are often prepared as a tea. It can also be made into a tincture, the flowering tips being the preferred part for this preparation. Topically, it can be prepared as a poultice, compress, salve, oil, and the tincture can be used as well.
   Recently I harvested some Grindelia squarrosa for the first time. I didn't pick a lot, as I'm a bit of an overly-cautious wild-crafter (this is okay). The leaves that I harvested were very sticky and resinous, so I decided to use both the leaves and flowers in my tincture.

Grindelia squarrosa flowers and leaves  ©Trisha McCaul

Beautiful medicine  ©Trisha McCaul

Add some grain alcohol, and the transmutation begins   ©Trisha McCaul

   After a couple of weeks, I strained the tincture and gave it a taste. It was definitely warm and stimulating. It felt like a fire went down into my lungs and opened everything up. After a few minutes, my respiratory system and my entire body was in a state of relaxed well-being. I'm guessing this is due to its cardiac relaxant and mild sedative properties, or because of the actions that bitter herbs have on the nervous system (more on this in a future post). It turned out quite nicely.


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. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003.

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.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


  This blog is dedicated to all things herbal (with perhaps a few field trips to other ideas as well). I will be posting herbal monographs, photos, recipes, and related musings.
    I am Trish McCaul, an herbalist and botanical perfumer now living in the high desert of Southern New Mexico. I've always had a love and fascination for the wild plants and places of Earth. Some of my earliest and fondest memories include chewing on the sassafras my grandfather picked for me, and climbing conifers while getting my hands coated in aromatic sap. I delighted in opening the wonderful milky Asclepias syriaca (Milkweed) pods and spreading their fluffy seeds about, or sniffing violets and lilacs until I was dizzy. I love the sensory relationship to plants... the wonderfully complex array of tastes, aromas, textures and visual delights.
   This love of plants came full circle when I began to study herbalism 7 years ago. I immersed myself in this study, and it quickly became clear to me that herbalism was my calling. The bulk of my learning has come from rigorous self-study and experimentation. I have also studied with Deborah Brandt AHG and taken intensives and classes with Matthew Wood, Paul Bergner, Howie Brounstein and Margi Flint.
     I was fascinated with infusing aromatic & healing herbs into balms for topical use. I enjoyed making healthy organic products. And I'll that admit that part of my motivation grew from realizing that many body care companies define themselves as "natural", yet base a product formula on synthetic and often toxic ingredients, add a few token herbs, and present their products as holistic forms of nourishment. Weary of the green-washed marketplace, I started Mother McCaul's several years ago, with an offering of balms, salves and other body care products containing only organic and ethically wild-harvested ingredients with superior healing benefits. I trusted the herbs and the knowing that clean & simple ingredients would be effective. The response to these herbal products has been enormously affirming. 
  Just over two years ago, and with the same commitment to clean, simple, genuine products, I started developing select perfumes and incense as Emma Purple Aromatics. I named the company after Emma Purple McCaul, my Cherokee and Irish great-great grandmother.
    For me, herbalism is rich in primeval mystery, like roots digging down into hidden Earth. And yet, it is completely accessible. It is simple medicine for common (and not so common) folk.
So, as an introduction, I've shared parts of my journey as it's unfolding thus far. There's more to come, for myself and for all of us who share in this process. Welcome to Mother McCaul's Herbal.