Commonwealth Podcast For Holistic Herbalism



Conversations and Q&A with clinical herbalists Katja Swift & Ryn Midura of the CommonWealth Center for Holistic Herbalism.


  • Saw Palmetto Doesnt Discriminate On Gender

    Saw Palmetto Doesn't Discriminate On Gender

    19/04/2021 Duration: 01h35min

    Have you heard that black cohosh is “for menopause”? Or that red clover is a “natural estrogen replacement”? Or that saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is “for men” or “for BPH”?Herbs are not gendered, and they’re not “for” conditions. They have qualities and actions, and they act in context – the context of each individual body. Herbs act on particular types of tissue, and it turns out that in the reproductive system, the various forms and functions mask a deeper similarity, a more fundamental identity. Saw palmetto doesn’t check your chromosomes or your estrogen/testosterone ratio before it goes to work in your system: it acts on the pelvic floor organs, regardless of their shape.In this episode we deconstruct saw palmetto’s famous ability to help out with BPH, widening our scope to consider other patterns of pelvic stagnation and atrophy this herb can help us correct. We even look outside the reproductive system entirely, noting historical precedent for this herb as a digestive tonic and respiratory expectorant

  • Ground Ivy: Sometimes Its Hard To Hear

    Ground Ivy: Sometimes It's Hard To Hear

    04/04/2021 Duration: 41min

    Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), also known as alehoof, creeping charlie, and gill-over-the-ground, is one of our favorite herbs to gather in early spring. We like to prepare a tincture of it in brandy, and we work with it for troubles in the ear-nose-throat. It helps a lot with tinnitus and with difficulty hearing that comes from stagnant fluid in the ears.Here are just a few comments on this ability of ground ivy, over a 300-year span:Botanologia, or The English Herbal, written by William Salmon in 1710, says about ground ivy that “It is bitter, cleansing and opening the Obstructions of the Viscera: put into the Ears, it helps the Noise in them, as also their Ringing and Deafness.”Health from British Wild Herbs, written by Richard Lawrence Hool in 1918, noted that “The expressed juice of Ground Ivy is a specific for deafness.”Writing in 2012, Henriette Kress in her post Herb of the Week: Ground Ivy writes that “It’s one of the few herbs that can touch noise-induced tinnitus. A lot of people read my first bo

  • Herb of the Month - An Essential Herbalism Learning Method

    Herb of the Month - An Essential Herbalism Learning Method

    28/03/2021 Duration: 01h02min

    Herb of the Month is one of our most powerful learning methods for students of herbalism – and honestly, it’s great for experienced practitioners too! It’s deceptively simple: just choose an herb and work with it extensively every day for a month, in as many ways as you can come up with. At the same time, research the herb as far and wide as you can. In this way you can foreground your own direct experience with the plant, while also exploring the variety of possibilities the herb presents to you.Some of our most important herbal allies are developed through an Herb of the Month practice! Very frequently, there are aspects of an herb’s qualities, actions, and nuances that can only be appreciated through visceral exposure. Just reading the words on paper, or hearing them in a recording (or classroom), doesn’t set up the same kind of sense-memory. Herbalism starts, after all, with the plants – not with their names, or lists of their chemicals, or their precise categorization according to an ancient schema. Herb

  • Equinox Thoughts On Balance  Amphoteric Herbs

    Equinox Thoughts On Balance & Amphoteric Herbs

    20/03/2021 Duration: 01h07min

    We’re discussing the notion of amphoteric herbs today, because it’s the Spring equinox and we’re thinking about balance. The term amphoteric is orginally a chemistry term meaning “having characteristics of both an acid and a base”. Herbalists use the word to mean an herb that has a balancing activity, one that is capable of acting in ways that seem opposite, depending on the context in which it’s taken.But to understand how amphoteric herbs could be balancers in this way, first we need to investigate the concept of balance a little bit. What does it mean to find balance, or stay balanced? What does it mean that we’re all seeking balance? How can the experience of building physical balance skills teach us about finding mental & emotional balance? And of course: how can herbs help us find it, and maintain it?Herbs discussed include: tulsi, bladderwrack, nettle, chamomile, solomon’s seal, ashwagandha, licorice, calamus, hawthorn.We’ve been thinking about balance a lot lately – not just because of equinox, bu

  • Enhancing Herbal Salves with Tinctures

    Enhancing Herbal Salves with Tinctures

    13/03/2021 Duration: 35min

    In this episode we share a simple technique for enhancing herbal salves with tinctures. Lots of herbalists like to put essential oils in their salves, and we’re no exception – but we also want to have other methods for increasing potency. Essential oils can be costly, and they have sustainability issues in a lot of cases.Combining alcohol extracts (herbal tinctures) with oil extracts is a great way to maximize constituent availability in your finished product. We have two methods for you today. One method involves combining pre-made salves & tinctures to bring their powers together. The other method is a two-step extraction process to make sure you get the full range of constituents from a given herb. Both are easy and can be done right at home!You’ll find a mini crockpot super helpful for this work. They’re handy and not too expensive.Herbs discussed include: cayenne, solomon’s seal, kava, st john’s wort.Not feeling confident about your basic herbal salve-making abilities, let alone powered-up salves lik

  • Grow Your Own Calendula This Year

    Grow Your Own Calendula This Year

    06/03/2021 Duration: 46min

    We’re lucky that nowadays there are a lot of herb suppliers, so it’s convenient to purchase the majority of your herbs – especially if you live in a place where you don’t really have space to grow a garden. But there’s something really special about working with herbs that you’ve grown yourself. And, some herbs are really quite easy to grow – like calendula. So now that spring is on the way, let’s make a plan to grow your own calendula this year!Calendula is easy to grow from seed, so it’s a great choice for new gardeners. The herb isn’t too picky about growing conditions, though it does want to get a good amount of sunlight every day. A large pot or a bucket of soil on the porch, or a window box, will do just fine for growing calendula.It’s a very productive plant. You can harvest flower heads every day, and every day the plant will make new ones! So even from a small patch, you can gather enough medicine to be useful.Once you’ve grown it, you can make some herbal remedies with calendula. It’s an excellent l

  • Flexible Formulation for Herbal Cold Sore Remedies

    Flexible Formulation for Herbal Cold Sore Remedies

    01/03/2021 Duration: 39min

    This week we’re sharing a formula for an herbal cold sore remedy – a soft salve or balm that can be applied right on the sores. It’s going to serve as a jumping-off point for discussing flexible formulation. That’s the answer to the question “what can I do if I don’t have one – or any! – of the herbs in the formula as written?” If you can answer this question, you’ll be much more adaptable when you run out of herbs or when you’re away from your home apothecary.We start out with the formula we published in our book Herbal Medicine for Beginners, then we break it down from the perspective of herbal actions. After identifying the herbs that contribute vulnerary, antimicrobial, lymphatic, and nervine actions to the remedy, we can come up with substitutions that would fill similar roles.Here’s the formula as we presented it in our book, for comparison:Cold Sore BalmMakes 5 ounces (about a 3-month supply)This gentle salve is very soothing to irritated cold sores, and helps reduce inflammation while making your body

  • How Herbs Are Different From Supplements

    How Herbs Are Different From Supplements

    20/02/2021 Duration: 01h03min

    When you go to the store and buy an herbal supplement, what are you getting? It might be a capsule of powdered herb, but this is less and less common nowadays. An herbal supplement is usually some type of extract from the plant – and we herbalists make lots of extracts ourselves, like teas, tinctures, salves, etc. The difference is in the methods and materials used to make the extract, which can be quite enormous.These extracts may also be concentrated in a variety of ways. Again, this is something herbalists can do at home: cooking down a decoction or evaporating some alcohol off of a tincture are both forms of concentration. Many commercial extracts are also standardized to deliver a defined amount of a particular constituent (or group). And on the far end, some herbal supplements are actually isolated constituents, single chemicals which originated in the plant but are now being taken on their own. This is closer to pharmaceutical medicine than herbalism, if you ask us!Each of these types of preparation wi

  • You Dont Have To Be Perfect

    You Don't Have To Be Perfect

    13/02/2021 Duration: 43min

    The “wellness” space online is saturated with One Weird Tricks and Simple Easy Solutions that promise to make you perfect. Perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect body fat percentage – all this and more for 5 easy payments of $39.99… it’s a trick. Even when it’s sincere, when people really believe they’ve found the one thing that’ll work for everyone, it’s still misleading.None of us are perfect, nor can we be. Recognizing this helps us avoid scams and cults, but also helps us be more compassionate with others and offer more helpful advice. There are many ways to be healthy and many ways to get there. Don’t accept someone else’s standards of health, beauty, or fulfillment – explore, experiment, and develop your own.Does that sound hard, that mental & emotional shift? Don’t worry: it is hard! And that’s ok! It’s hard for everyone. You don’t have to be perfect in your comfort-with-imperfection, either.

  • Our Top Topical Herbs for Acne

    Our Top Topical Herbs for Acne

    06/02/2021 Duration: 38min

    When you’re dealing with a skin problem, it’s good to come at it from both directions: internal and external. Today we’re focusing on the external remedies, highlighting some of our favorite ways to work with topical herbs for acne.Steam is a great way to deliver aromatic herbal constituents to the whole surface of the face, and as the warmth opens the pores, these can get deeper in to the skin. A simple rosewater toner is great to tighten up the pores afterwards. Clay masks are good on their own, but even better if you mix herbal powders in to contribute anti-inflammatory activity. Echinacea and turmeric aren’t well-known for it, but they’re actually both fantastic herbs for acne – the trick is to apply them topically, not just ingest them.So even if you already take herbs for acne by tea or tincture, or as supplements – and those can help in a lot of cases – don’t neglect the topicals!Herbs discussed include: chamomile, yarrow, thyme, lavender, rose, echinacea, turmeric.Our Integumentary Health course cover

  • 5 Herbs We Got At The Grocery Store This Week

    5 Herbs We Got At The Grocery Store This Week

    31/01/2021 Duration: 50min

    When you think about where to find excellent herbs, where does your mind go first – the forest? The farmer’s market? Ye Olde Herbe Shoppe, perhaps? Let us make a suggestion: you can find a bunch of great herbs at the supermarket! Grocery store herbs are nothing to sneeze at (but if you can’t stop sneezing, consider a basil steam). You can find herbs in the produce section, the tea aisle, and the spice rack – not just among the supplements.This week alone, we brought home fresh basil leaves for pesto & cranberry relish; fresh ginger root for meals, tea, and poultices; mandarin oranges to collect and dry the peels for tea and bitters blends; blueberries for syrup and hot cereal; and shiitake mushrooms for broth.Keep an eye on the seasonal items and you’ll have different herbs to play with in every season. Knowing your grocery store herbs will serve you well, no matter where you travel or how far away you are from your home apothecary!Mentioned in this episode:The Holistic Herbalism Podcast, episode 1: I’ll

  • 4 Herbs We Give To Our Dog

    4 Herbs We Give To Our Dog

    24/01/2021 Duration: 32min

    An herbalist’s dog is going to get some herbs in her dinner every now and then. Our dog Elsie sure does! Choosing herbs for dogs doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult, and there are a lot of them that can help a pup feel her best. In this episode we highlight four herbs we give to our own puppa:Seaweeds for nourishment, joint support, and immune resilience-building.Solomon’s seal for protecting joints & connective tissues, and reducing inflammation there.Pumpkin seed was a quick solution to a tapeworm problem Elsie had when we first adopted her.Chamomile is a go-to herb when she’s feeling anxious or unsettled.We also briefly discuss nettle, Japanese knotweed, teasel, and catnip for related intentions.Working with herbs for dogs effectively depends on knowing the herb’s basic qualities, actions, and affinities – these are all very similar whether it’s a human or a canine taking the herb. In our Holistic Herbalism Materia Medica course, you’ll get the deep-dive info on 90 amazing herbs. Then you’ll be

  • Herbs Help Us Feel Our Way Through Difficult Times

    Herbs Help Us Feel Our Way Through Difficult Times

    17/01/2021 Duration: 01h12min

    It has been a rough few… weeks? Years? Well, a while, anyway! In the last month more than ever, people have been asking us how to get some space, how to find ways to feel grounded, how to find some calm. So we thought, maybe it would be good to share the things that we are doing to get through the days.Being an herbalist doesn’t mean you never get sick, and it doesn’t mean you never have emotional issues either – emotional exhaustion, despair, uncertainty, panic sometimes – all the things we’re all feeling lately. Herbalists catch colds and turn ankles just like anyone else, and the same is true with emotional health troubles. Sure, we have all these herbs and we work with them every da -, but sometimes we also just want to hide under a giant pile of blankets and pretend the world isn’t out there. So if you’ve been feeling that way, you’re not alone.In this episode we offer up some of our favorite comforts and soothing strategies – things we turn to again and again when we need them. Whether it’s herbs to pro

  • An Herbalists Guide to Successful Self-Experimentation

    An Herbalist's Guide to Successful Self-Experimentation

    21/12/2020 Duration: 01h14min

    In this episode we explore the skills and disciplines necessary to conduct a successful self-experiment. Self-experimentation in this context might mean making changes to dietary, lifestyle, & movement habits; developing stress management skills; or trying out herbal medicines.First we address why and how self-experimentation can fall into self-justification, and how to avoid this. Then we highlight the skills of perception, reflection, and connection which are the bones of a good n=1 experiment, and share some key methods for developing them. Finally we talk about the practicalities that make this work go more smoothly, and share a few thoughts on how this all applies to clinical practice work as distinct from individual efforts.This is at the root of our work as herbalists, so we hope you’ll listen in! Plus, you just might have some intention-setting and some self-experimentation to embark on sometime soon, what with New Year’s resolutions and all.

  • COVID Revisited

    COVID Revisited

    11/12/2020 Duration: 01h04min

    This week we take another look at COVID-19 and its long-term effects.First, we check in on what have been our top 5 herbal interventions for COVID:Herbal steams – with aromatic herbs, to fight infection and stimulate local immune activity in the respiratory tractGarlic & thyme tea – for a strong immune-stimulating and lung-warming effectElecampane decoction – an ounce or two every hour during acute illness, or when lungs are phlegmyGinger (& chamomile) tea – for anti-inflammatory and circulatory warming actionsMarshmallow root cold infusion – to maintain hydration and healthy mucous production in the respiratory tractThose all still hold up! They continue to be important in acute, recovery, and long-haul cases. We go on to discuss those long recovery periods and lingering symptoms, and describe how we approach them as holistic herbalists.Herbs discussed include: thyme, oregano, monarda, rosemary, sage, lavender, peppermint pine, spruce, garlic, elecampane, ginger, marshmallow, reishi, lobelia, pleuris

  • A Case Study: Herbs and Nightmares

    A Case Study: Herbs and Nightmares

    20/11/2020 Duration: 01h19min

    Dreaming matters: it’s a critical part of our identity-building and experience-processing work, and vital to our ability to regulate our emotions. But not all dreams are good. When nightmares happen, especially if they happen chronically, they can make dreaming itself feel unsafe. But never fear: when we need help we can always turn to herbs, and nightmares are no exception.In this episode we present a very personal case study about working with herbs and nightmares to improve one’s relationship with dreaming.This is katja’s story, and it’s a story involving trauma from assault, which led to nightmares for more than a decade. It was exacerbated by an abusive living situation – as Katja puts it, “like microdosing the original traumatic experience”. The work she engaged in, with the help of plants, was about building agency in dreams. This effort paralleled work she did in waking life, building healthier boundaries and developing her own empowerment. These efforts supported each other – each one helped the othe

  • 4 Medicinal Mushrooms: Shiitake, Maitake, Reishi, Lions Mane

    4 Medicinal Mushrooms: Shiitake, Maitake, Reishi, Lion's Mane

    06/11/2020 Duration: 01h16min

    Yes, they are herbs too! Medicinal mushrooms are an important part of our herbal practice, but it looks like we haven’t profiled them on the podcast before today – so it’s time to correct that lapse. In this episode we’ll look at some of the key activities of four of our favorite fungi: shiitake (Lentinula edodes), maitake (Grifola frondosa), reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), and lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus).Essentially all medicinal mushrooms share some features of interest to the herbalist. Famously, they can modulate immune responses – boosting immune surveillance and efficiency, while reducing excessive inflammatory or autoimmune expressions. Some mushrooms can also have adaptogenic activity, improving our endurance, resilience, and fluidity of response to stressors. And some mushrooms (more than you might expect, actually) can even help regenerate damaged or diseased nerve tissue, and protect the nervous system. Sounds pretty good, right? Listen in for the full story.Mentioned in this episode:Herbal Revolu

  • Herbs and Grief, at the Death of the Year

    Herbs and Grief, at the Death of the Year

    01/11/2020 Duration: 01h16min

    Samhain, Halloween, the death of the year – this is a good time to talk about grieving, and about how herbs and grief can go together. It’s a universal human experience, but one we don’t often allow ourselves to experience and explore, because it is painful and difficult. It can often seem like there are only a few ‘approved’ ways to move through a grieving process, but everyone grieves in their own way. Learning how to respond, rather than react, to our grief is something we must each navigate.A Halloween that is only about sugar and sweets doesn’t teach us these skills. But the plants are there to remind us: this is a time to die back, to go underground, to process the deep dark parts of ourselves. This is what allows transformation, new growth. When we work with herbs and grief rituals, the focus is on letting go of what’s no longer serving us: allowing death to what has run its course. That includes our own ideas of ourselves which are no longer serving us, too.There are a lot of places where herbs and gr

  • Herbs As Mantra - Mental Reset  Redirection

    Herbs As Mantra - Mental Reset & Redirection

    24/10/2020 Duration: 50min

    This week we listened to a talk by a Buddhist teacher about mantra chanting practices, and one particular facet of their purpose: to be a mental reset or redirection, a way to get a hold of your mind when it’s spun up & agitated. It inspired us to think about herbs as mantras, as mind tools – which herbs are, just as much as they’re physical supports. Herbs can help us introduce new mental patterns and change the way we relate to our minds.People have been working with mantra and other meditative practices for a long time. That means people have been seeking ways to calm and direct mental patterns for a long time – it’s not new! If you feel this way sometimes, you can rest assured that it’s not just you; it’s everyone. You might say that it’s a natural consequence of having a brain that can do all the complex & amazing things our brains can do. Sometimes that complex computer gets stuck or spinning, and you need a reboot.That’s where meditation comes in, traditionally – and that’s also where herbs as

  • Six Herbs for Cognitive Decline Prevention

    Six Herbs for Cognitive Decline Prevention

    17/10/2020 Duration: 58min

    Maintaining a sharp & healthy mind has always been one of the things people ask us about most often. Whether it’s a nagging difficulty recalling words, or a tendency to forget why you walked into a room – or more seriously, a relative showing early signs of dementia – lots of folks are wondering if there are herbs for cognitive decline prevention. And here’s the good news: there are!When we’re trying to diminish the risk of dementia, herbs can help in a few different ways. For one, they can improve circulation to the brain, bringing in fresh oxygen and nutrients to keep the nerve cells well-fed. They can also protect those nerves and thus stave off senility, by reducing inflammation and improving nerve communications (both chemical and electrical).But keeping your mind agile and avoiding Alzheimer’s isn’t something you can accomplish just by taking some supplements or drinking some tea – even with the best herbs in the world. You’ve got to feed your brain – get those omega-3s! And perhaps most importantly

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