Researchers are connecting leaky gut syndrome (also known as intestinal permeability) to greater severity of Covid-19 symptoms. Below is a link to an excellent article on it as well as my healthy gut powder recipe.
What is leaky gut syndrome? Roughly 80% of our immune system is in our intestines and it is constantly protecting us by sampling foreign and endogenous molecules to see if they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. However, through the overuse of antibiotics, ibuprofen and/or poor diet, the immune system can be impaired. This impairment happens at a place called the gap junctions where there is a naturally bit of ‘leakiness’ so that the immune system can continuously sample molecules. However, when these gap junctions become damaged, bigger ‘holes’ occur so that macromolecules, like proteins, can leak out of the small intestines. The body creates antigens in response. This is thought to be the basis of many autoimmune diseases. The symptoms of leaky gut are long including, constipation/diarrhea, gas, bloating and autoimmune issues. (1)
Protecting our gut is one of the most important things we can do.
Here is my “Gut-healing” powder formula:
Echinacea root powder (E. angustifolia) 20%
Golden Seal root powder(Hydrastis canadensis) 20%
Gotu kola leaf powder(Centella asiatica) 15%
Frankincense resin powder(Boswellia serrata) 15%
Burdock root powder (Arctium lappa) 10%
Licorice root powder (Glycyrrhiza glabra) 05%
I have found for best results to take 5 grams per day.
People infected with COVID-19 experience a wide range of symptoms and severity, including high fevers and respiratory problems. However, new research shows that when the virus attacks the gastrointestinal tract, it may increase the severity of the viral infection. Continue reading:
According to the NY Times(1), many people have gained weight during the pandemic. And now the holidays! If this is you, don’t beat yourself up, the weight will come off. Here are some practical steps for getting started.
1. Picture yourself–and tell yourself–that you are at your ideal weight. Our brain focuses on what we tell it. If we tell ourselves that we’re fat, then losing weight will be so much harder.
2. Go s-l-o-w-l-y. Going too quickly can result in excess (sagging) skin.
3. Exercise is a must. You need to keep your body toned and build muscle while you are adjusting your eating habits for weight reduction.
4. Get rid of ALL junk food in the house. Why keep temptation around to sabotage your goals? Ask other household members to support you in your goals by also not having junk food around.
5. Portion size. Follow the “pyramid” for the amount of food you eat. This means, largest meal is breakfast, smallest is dinner, lunch is in between.
6. Do not eat after 7pm. Your body needs to digest properly so give it the time it needs to do so.
7. Chew slowly and savor each bite. Eating quickly actually puts stress on your body but eating slowly and mindfully sends a signal to the brain that everything is okay. Overtime, you will feel fuller with less food if you train yourself to eat slowly and mindfully.
8. Use a much smaller plate. Studies have shown that a small plate filled with food makes the brain think that there’s a lot of food on the plate and can trick the brain into thinking that it’s full. (2)
9. Snack on fruit. Yes, nuts are great but it’s hard to have more than 4 or 5 at a time, so if you can’t keep to eating that number of nuts as a snack, fruit (or veggies) is a better option.
10. Make your own soups. Soups are really filling and are often low in calorie. Make your own if you can because there is way too much sodium in store bought ones. I make my own broth then add lots of tomatoes, carrots, celery, kale, lentils or other beans, whatever frozen veggies I have, and either chicken sausage, chicken or tofu for protein. Experiment to see what you like.
11. Drink lots of water (or herbal tea). This helps to give your body a sense of fullness and you’ll be less likely to be opening the fridge door.
…next up, Part II the best herbs to take while adjusting your eating habits.
We’ve had the first snow of the season here in Maryland and it was a wet, icy, bone chilling snow that got me reaching for my favorite chai blend to keep warm. One of my favorite things about chai blends is their accessibility. Most of the ingredients are probably already in your kitchen, or at least at your local grocery store.
We appreciate the pungent and aromatic spices that are typically included in chai blends for their pleasant taste and warming effects, but they have many benefits and a daily cup (or two) of a chai blend is a great way support and enhance your health through the winter season. A cup before meals will aid digestion, but if you have any issues with gastritis, reflux, or ulcers have your chai with your meal or after.
Chai actually translates to tea and refers to the preparation and masala means spice, so you’ll hear the term masala chai, or spiced tea to describe chai blends. Traditionally, chai blends include black tea, but it can be omitted according one’s preference. And there really is no “one” correct chai blend, I think of it more like a menu of spices to choose from.
Some typical Chai herbs
Aromatic and pungent herbs exert their warming effects through stimulating circulation, interacting with thermoregulatory receptors and other physiologic mechanisms. They also have digestive and respiratory benefits. Ginger (Zingiber officinalis), for instance, stimulates digestive secretions and intestinal motility, and relieves nausea. Ginger’s antispasmodic activity can relieve digestive cramping and calm spastic coughs, while encouraging productive ones. Ginger also has potent anti-inflammatory activity.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and cardamom (Elletaria cardamomum) have carminative action and can dispel gas and relieve bloating. Cinnamon and fennel are warming and soothing to the respiratory system and help keep mucus thin and loose.
My favorite chai blend
½ tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 tablespoon cinnamon chips or 1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon dried orange peel
½ tablespoon fennel seed
½ teaspoon peppercorns
½ teaspoon cloves
Simmer gently in 4-6 cups of water for 30 minutes. Add honey and the milk of your choice you like and enjoy!
Check out the resources page on my website for trusted sources of herbs and herbal products.
Renata is a clinical herbalist, scientist, gardener, and woodland wanderer who helps women create profound transformation in their lives through the healing power of herbal medicine and the practice of devoted self-care. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health.
The good news is that many vaccines are looking promising; the bad news is that the virus is still spreading—maybe worse than ever, and we won’t know how long it will take to get the vaccines to everyone. The upshot is that this virus will be here longer than most of us anticipated.
Therefore, we are going to offer continued insights into staying well. We will cover herbs to use to stay healthy, to use in case one comes down with the virus (or the flu), as well as herbs to take during convalescence. In addition, we will mention other easy things for you to do to take care of yourself. However, this information is meant to be helpful and is no way a substitute for seeing your doctor.
Human body overview.
What do we have to work with in dealing with this virus? In examining the human body and its defenses, we have many. First are the barriers to entry. This includes our skin and mucous membranes, both in the mouth and nose as well as in the gut. Next we have defensive secretions such as tears, saliva, mucus, stomach acid (so important!). In addition, there are two components to our immune system that we need to make sure are working properly: the innate and the adaptive systems. Finally, we need to keep our stress levels down. High stress levels can negatively impact our immune system. We will talk more in depth about this as well when we get into specific herbs. Bottom line, to stay healthy, we need support and maintain ALL of the above.
Skin. Our skin has natural antimicrobial defenses on it, especially our hands. Still, it is important to keep our hands clean and our skin safe from injury. Thus, tending to open wounds is very important because we don’t want our immune system to have to muster all its strength to tend to a gash in our knee during an epidemic. Rather, we need our immune system to be on “stand by” in case we get struck by this virus or any other virus or bacterial infection.
Mucous membranes in the nasal passage. It is important to keep our nostrils moist to prevent the inhalation airborne disease. To do this, apply sesame, olive or some other natural oil to the nostrils several times a day. This will create a much stronger barrier. Also, avoid mouth breathing and try to keep your tongue on the top of beginning part of the roof of your mouth (just above the front teeth). This tongue position puts the body into parasympathetic mode (think relaxation) and the mouth being closed will prevent airborne pathogens from entering. Finally, to support our defense system in the gut (brush borders, etc.), think probiotics and prebiotics. There is a lot of information on both so I won’t add any but I will say that it is important to take both.
Secretions. Saliva is very antimicrobial and thus we can support it by drinking lots ofclean water and keeping our bodies alkaline.
Stomach acid. Hydrochloric acid helps the body to break down, digest, and absorb nutrients such as proteins. Its low pH helps to eliminate bacteria and viruses in the stomach, protecting your body from infection. Thus, keeping it strong is important. Many people suffer from hypochlorhydria or too low of stomach acid. Taking an HCL supplement can help to rebalance stomach acid.
When we talk about prevention, I really want to stress how herbs can work with the body’s vital force–it’s vital energy–to improve one’s health and stamina. However, there are times, for instance when one has an infection, where herbs can and should be used as a pharmaceutical substitute. I will cover this in another part of this series , but for now, let’s talk about herbs that can work with the body to keep you healthy.
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia), root (radix)
Echinacea is the most popular herb sold in this country and is one of the best studied herbs. Both Kevin Spelman, PhD and Kerry Bone, PhD, have done tremendous work on this amazing plant and I encourage you to google them for more information. Traditionally, it is the root of Echinacea angustifolia that has been used in this country, although in Germany, they use the leaves. Echinacea purpurea is also used, but it does not have as much research on it.
Therefore, I will write only on Echinacea angustifolia root, but if you only have Echinacea purpurea, use it. You can buy echinacea in capsules, but it’s much less expensive to buy it in bulk “tea” form, which is what I recommend. If you can’t find it, or want me to blend a tea for you, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Finally, because it is a root, it should be made into a decoction (see below on tea making).
This herb was once classified as an immune stimulant but research over the past decade has shown it to be amphoteric, meaning that it has an ability to help balance out the immune system. So, if one has an overactive immune system, or if one has an underactive immune system, echinacea has been clinically proven to help the immune system both return to balance and strengthen itself (1,2). Overactive immune systems would include almost any auto-immune issue and underactive ones would include people who are prone to catch colds, flus, etc. This by the way, is often due to the body’s inability to handle stress and constants stress can elevate inflammatory markers such as TNF-a, IL-1B, IL-6 and C-reactive protein. So it’s really one big negative chain of events. (If you don’t understand any terms, please google them, thanks.).
Active constituents. The alkyl amides in echinacea have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory affect (reducing the aforementioned markers). They also can bind to certain receptors called cannabinoid receptors (CB2) which causes a subtle modulation of the immune function. They can upregulate dendritic cell maturation which basically. Think of dendritic cells as the sentinel guards for your immune system. Once they are alerted by a virus, bacteria, etc., they can spring into action both on the humoral as well as the innate side of our immune system. Thus, they need to be strong. For a greater explanation on dendritic cells, please see (3). Alkyl amides can also increase white cell phagocytic activity as well as stimulate NK (natural killer) cells which are key parts of our innate immune system. (4).
Dosing. Echinacea has been shown to be safe and efficacious taken daily which disputes a study purporting that it should only be taken short-term (cite) and it refutes another study that said that it should not be taken by those who have an auto-immune disease (cite). In tea form, about 5 grams of tea per day is standard dose. It can be less if mixed with other immune supporting herbs.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Astragalus in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is thought to protect the energy layer just outside our body and was/is used to tonify the blood and spleen. In modern medicine, astragalus is used as an immune stimulant, but it is also known for being a cardiotonic as well as being hepatoprotective.
Astragalus contains flavonoids, amino acids, choline, betaine, saponins, triterpenoids, polysaccharides, fatty acids and trace minerals. With all these great constituents, it’s no wonder it’s been used for thousands of years to support the immune system. Astragalus is thought to be a tonifer (think kidney astringent), and an immune enhancer while the flavonoids and amino acids are thought to offer both restorative as well as liver protection (5).
Astragalus sticks (they look like tongue depressors) can be thrown into soup stocks anytime to give your soup a boost of immune power.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Licorice root is considered to be anarenal tonic or an adaptogen. The way we think it works is that the GAs (see below) in licorice inhibit an enzyme, which catalyzes the conversion of cortisol into its inactive metabolite, cortisone. This results in delayed excretion and prolonged activity of cortisol and thus helping the body adapt to stress.
This mechanism of action also makes it useful as an anti-inflammatory.
Licorice root has been found to be mucoprotective meaning that it increases mucosal blood flow and mucous production in the kidneys, bladder, lungs and digestive tract.
Other noted qualities:
· Expectorant (due to above mucus producing ability in the lungs)
· Anti-bacterial (phenolic compounds have an antibacterial affect on MRSA)
· Anti-viral (studies have shown the GL to inhibit SARS in one study and others in
· Anti-ulcer (do it the mucogenic and anti-bacterial properties)
· Hepatoprotective—studies have shown that licorice protects hepatocytes by inhibiting lipid peroxidation.
Active Constituents. Triterpenoid saponins–especially GL (glycyrrhizin) in the form of potassium and calcium salts, GAs — glycyrrhizic acid or glycyrrhizinic acid (GA) is about 50 times sweeter than sucrose (common sugar) is the saponins, which are the sweetness.
Due to its immense sweetness, I recommend that licorice root be used in smaller quantities when making a formula—say 10%. Finally, if you are at all concerned about using it with hypertension (even though this dose is quite low), you might want to skip it.
Making a tea.
If you make a tea using all three herbs, make a decoction out of them. This means gently simmering the herbs on the stove for about ten minutes. If you want to add other herbs, add them at the end and then cover and let steep another ten minutes. I like 4 parts of echinacea and astragalus each, 1 part licorice root.
1) Immunomodulators Inspired by Nature: A Review on Curcumin and Echinacea, Published online 2018 Oct 26. doi: 10.3390/molecules23112778
2) Neri PG, Stagni E, Filippello M, Camillieri G, Giovannini A, Leggio GM, Drago F. Oral Echinacea purpurea extract in low-grade, steroid-dependent, autoimmune idiopathic uveitis: a pilot study. J Ocul Pharmacol Ther. 2006 Dec;22(6):431-6. doi: 10.1089/jop.2006.22.431. PMID: 17238809.
4) Sun LZ-Y, Currier N., Miller SC, J Altern Complementary Med 1999; F:437-446
5) Holmes, Peter, The Energetics of Western Herbs, Vol I.
Jayne Tamburello has a master’s degree in Herbal Medicine from Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) and is the founder of Invibe Herbal, your one stop shop for healthy, organic herbal tea blends. Please visit our website at: www.invibeherbal.com. Jayne is also a licensed nutritionist (LDN), a certified nutritionist (CNS) and a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild, RH(AHG). She can be reached email@example.com.
Sometimes I wonder when major newspapers have nothing to write that day, that they don’t just go to their archives and dig up. The NY Times never writes on herbalism so when they do, I take notice–hopefully others will, too. The writer speaks of the ‘theory’ of herbal medicine–never mind that that this ‘theory’ has been in practice for over five thousand years. But to us who literally live and breathe it we know it is true. We know that we are all deeply interconnected and that plants, fungi and other living things are here to help us.
Here is an excerpt with the full article attached by Amanda Fortini.
Revisiting an Ancient Theory of Herbalism
HOW, I HAVE often wondered, did people first discover the highly specific applications of particular plants and herbs? That ginseng improves energy, say, or that ginger alleviates nausea, or that horsetail, which contains silica, might help hair to grow? One theory, possibly apocryphal and certainly much maligned by modern medicine, is that the physical characteristics of plants themselves provided clues as to how they might be used. This notion, known among scholars of ethnobotany and practitioners of herbal medicine as the doctrine of signatures, holds that plants have a “signature” — color, texture, shape, scent, even the environment in which they grow — that resembles the body parts and diseases they heal. Thus bloodroot, or Sanguinaria canadensis, whose roots and rhizomes secrete a red sap when cut, was once thought to heal blood disorders and hasten wound healing. And eyebright, or euphrasia, whose flowers resemble the human eye (or rather, with its yellow dots and purple stripes, a jaundiced, bloodshot one), has for centuries been used to treat ocular ailments, like conjunctivitis. (In German, eyebright is called Augentrost, or “consolation of the eyes.”) Signatures, in other words, made it easy to divine a plant’s medicinal properties. Form reveals function; function echoes form.
An ATH reader asks about using magnetic stirrers, rock tumblers, and lab vibrators instead of periodic shaking to prepare herbal glycerites. Before we get to mixing, let’s back up and discuss what herbal glycerites are, why you might choose a glycerite rather than an alcohol extract, and some tips for preparing them.
Herbal glycerites are herbal extracts prepared with glycerin or a glycerin/water mixture, typically prepared in a 1:8 or 1:10 plant to solvent ratio, while herbal tinctures are extracts typically prepared in 1:3 or 1:5 plant to solvent ratio using a mixture of ethanol and water as the solvent, also called the menstruum. Glycerin is the commercial name for 95% glycerol.
Advantages of using glycerin rather than ethanol
· The final extract is alcohol free, which is an important health requirement and/or a strong preference for some people.
· Glycerin has a sweet taste, which can increase compliance, especially for children.
Disadvantages of glycerin include
· It is a weaker solvent than ethanol
· Glycerites are necessarily less concentrated than alcohol tinctures.
· It is a less effective preservative than ethanol, so extracts have a shorter shelf life
Preparing herbal glycerites
I’ll touch on some basic principle here. For detailed guidance on preparing herbal medicines, including glycerites. I highly recommend
The final percentage of glycerin in an extract should be at least 60% for it to be helf stable.
When calculating amounts of water and glycerin proportions for your menstruum, be sure to account for the 5% water in the glycerin.
Fresh flowers with delicate structures and aromatic constituents are well suited to extraction with glycerin. Think fresh rose petals or chamomile flowers, for example.
If you want to use dried plant material, make sure it is very recently dried.
James Green’s favorite glycerite herbs
(You’ll find that he is more flexible about which plants and whether they’re fresh or dried)
Burdock root & seed, fresh or dry
Chamomile flowers, fresh or dry
Echinacea root, fresh or recently dried
Elder flowers & berries, fresh
Ginger root, fresh or dry
Goldenseal root, fresh or dry; leaf dry
Hawthorn leaf, flowers, berries
Mullein flowers, fresh or dry
Nettle herb, fresh or dry; root dry
Oat seed, fresh; plant, dry
Peppermint fresh or dry
Skullcap, fresh or dry
Eleuthero root, powdered
Uva Ursi leaf
Valeriean root fresh or recently dried
Richo Cech’s favorite glycerite herbs
American ginseng root, fresh
Dandelion plant, fresh
Echinacea root, fresh
Fennel seed, green
Mint leaf, fresh
Mullein flowers, fresh
Stevia leaf, fresh
Valerian root, fresh
For the home herbalist, glycerites are typically prepared by maceration.
Prepare your menstruum by mixing your water and glycerin, 100% glycerin is a good choice for most fresh plants
Place your plant material in a clean jar
Add your menstruum, making sure that the level of glycerin exceeds the level of plant material by at least ¼ inch.
Place the jar in a dark place and shake the jar a few times a day for four to six weeks.
OK, back to mixing.
As a chemist who has worked on analyzing botanicals for many years, I have done a fair amount of method development work and mixing always shortens extraction time and improves extraction efficiency. In the lab it is never a question whether to mix, the question is which mixing technique to use.
Since glycerin is thicker and more viscous than water and alcohol, mixing could be particularly useful For medicine making in the home kitchen a magnetic stirrer would be the simplest set up, and relatively inexpensive options are available. You can learn about magnetic stirrers here. Some home medicine makers use rock tumblers to agitate the herb solvent mixture. It’s hard to say how quickly the extraction would proceed compared to traditional maceration, since there does not appear to be any data on the subject.
With that said, I personally don’t use any special equipment mixing techniques when making medicine at home. I just do it the old fashioned way and I’m always happy with the medicine.
I would like to leave you with some interesting finds from the scientific literature related glycerol as a solvent for herbal extractions.
The first study compared extracts of licorice dried root using glycerol and water, or ethanol and water. Here’s an overview of what the researchers found. (If you would like to read the article and get into the details look for the citation at the end of this post)
85% glycerol was optimal to extract glabridin and isoliquirtigenin
20-30 % glycerol gave the optimum amount of total phenolic compounds.
The phenolic compounds were heat stable.
(Ciganović et al., 2019)
It is important to note a few things here:
The extracts were done at a temperature of 70 °C (158°F)
They used ultrasound assisted extraction which moves and mixes things at the molecular level, not a good option for home extraction.
The usefulness of total phenolics measurements is debatable because the inherent variability of the methods is high, so there could be a significant uncertainty in the result.
Another study used the folk method of maceration with daily shaking for six weeks to compare ethanol/water, ethanol/glycerol/water, and glycerol/water extraction of triterpene saponins from American ginseng dried roots. Here is what they found:
The levels of total saponins in the ethanol/water extract and ethanol/glycerol/water extract were similar.
Saponin levels were roughly 15% lower in 65% glycerol than in 50% ethanol. That is a reasonable yield for glycerol, in my opinion.
Individual saponins responded differently to different solvents.
Levels of some individual saponins were similar in all extracts.
Some saponins were found in roughly half the amount in the glycerol/water extract as in the ethanol/water extract.
Levels of two saponins, ginsenoside f2 and XVll, were 70-85% higher in the glycerol/water extract than in the ethanol/water extract.
(Gafner et al., 2004)
I think the main takeaways from these studies are:
Glycerin is likely a good choice in many circumstances
It is impossible to optimize one extraction for all phytochemicals present. We (usually) make the best compromise in terms of solvent composition to the greatest variety of constituents.
Cech, R. (2016). Making Plant Medicine. Herbal Reads LLC.
Ciganović, P., Jakimiuk, K., Tomczyk, M., & Zovko Končić, M. (2019). Glycerolic Licorice Extracts as Active Cosmeceutical Ingredients: Extraction Optimization, Chemical Characterization, and Biological Activity. Antioxidants, 8(10). https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox8100445
Gafner, S., Bergeron, C., McCollom, M. M., Cooper, L. M., McPhail, K. L., Gerwick, W. H., & Angerhofer, C. K. (2004). Evaluation of the Efficiency of Three Different Solvent Systems to Extract Triterpene Saponins from Roots of Panax quinquefolius Using High-Performance Liquid Chromatography. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 52(6), 1546–1550. https://doi.org/10.1021/jf0307503
Green, J. (2000). The Herbal Medicine-makers’ Handbook: A Home Manual. Crossing Press.
Renata is a clinical herbalist, scientist, gardener, and woodland wanderer who helps women create profound transformation in their lives through the healing power of herbal medicine and the practice of devoted self-care. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health.
The trick is to plant them in the fall in a dry or hot climate (unlike the English countryside where they are amazing). Last summer I planted the seeds in early September. They sprouted in a couple of weeks and I kept them watered and well-fed until the first rains, this year not until December. They steadily grew until by march they were getting quite robust and tall, full of buds. By mid-late April they were taller than the eves on my roof! They were magnificent. On about May 1st the first flowers appeared–pink with white flushes, then dark purple, and finally pure white. They really are a joy.
Did you know that the hollyhock roots (Alcea rosea) can be used in the same ways as marshmallow root (Althea officinalis) In fact many commercial sources of bulk herbs and products likely contain hollyhock roots because they are big and robust and contain the same mucilage (about 50%) so abundant in marshmallow roots. The confectionary, marshmallows were first made by mashing the slimy roots, adding sugar and flour and baking until cakes were made. The first marshmallows were considered medicinal and given to kids and adults alike for soothing sore throats, reducing inflammation in the upper respiratory tract, inflammation and irritation in the digestive tract, diarrhea, and even soothing the urinary tract for various urinary symptoms such as burning and difficult urination. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians, and more modern herbalists have extolled their virtues from more than 2,000 years.
Digging Hollyhocks and using them, food medicine.
If you are growing marshmallow or hollyhocks, after flowering you can dig some of the roots, slice them, and dry thoroughly, making sure they are fully dried inside by snapping a few of the thin slices. Store in canning or other jars in a cool, dark place for use throughout the rest of the year. Once dried, I like to grind the slices to a fine powder in an electric coffee grinder, storing for use as an addition for thickening soups, stews, and for infusions to take with my usual herbs for winter respiratory tract wellenss–elecampane, licorice, ginger all finely powdered and stored in jars. I use 2-3 grams of each, place in a 4-cup pyrex measuring cup, add boiling water, and let steep for 30 minutes or more to drink throughout the day. This really cuts the mucus, and reduces inflammation, brings healing blood and immune effector cells to the whole area to help prevent colds, flu, and the viruses we all know so well–coronaviruses.
I wonder if you have every loved hollyhocks and used them for medicine?
Reprinted with full permission.
DR. CHRISTOPHER HOBBS is a fourth-generation, internationally renowned herbalist, licensed acupuncturist, author, clinician, botanist, mycologist, and research scientist with over 35 years of experience with herbal medicine. Christopher has a doctorate from UC Berkeley in phylogenetics, evolutionary biology and phytochemistry. He is also a founding member of the American Herbalists Guild.
Medicinally, cinnamon boasts a long list of health benefits, from anti-microbial (cinnamon is sometimes used in breads as a preservative), a digestive stimulant, and even some early evidence of inhibiting melanoma (cancer) cells in animal trials (Braun and Cohen, 2015). What I want to focus on in this article is the growing evidence of cinnamon’s ability to help regulate blood sugar.
With the prevalence of Type 2, or insulin-resistant, diabetes in the United States today (34.2 million, or 10.5% of the US population per the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, 2020), there is quite the interest in studying cinnamon’s traditional use to lower blood sugar. Allen, et al (2013) completed a meta-analysis of 10 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with a total of 543 adults with Type 2 diabetes. They concluded that taking cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) at doses ranging from 120mg up to 6g daily for 4-18 weeks reduced fasting blood glucose by an average of 25 mg/dL. As a bonus, improvements in cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels were also reported. What’s not to love?
Unfortunately, the review further concluded that cinnamon did NOT have a significant impact on HbA1c – the blood marker that characterizes the long term (3-4 month) picture of glucose present in the blood. Allen, et al (2013) suggest that this may be because many of the trials included lasted less than 12 weeks, which may not have been enough time to influence the A1c.
Cinnamon is so tasty, though, so what do you have to lose by shaking some on your oatmeal in the morning?
Please do prepare your cinnamon shaker, but continue reading for some additional clarifications and caveats.
I mentioned above that the meta-analysis was for a particular species of cinnamon – Cinnamomum cassia, also known as cassia cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is readily available on the market, but it does come with a slight warning that it contains a small amount of coumarin – a natural blood thinner – that, in high doses, can cause liver damage. Please read my Green Haven Living blog post on this topic for more details about cinnamon and coumarin.
C. verum, also known as true cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon, contains only negligible amounts of coumarin. However, in terms of blood sugar regulation, the evidence is not as strong for Ceylon cinnamon as it is for cassia cinnamon. Natural Medicines (2020), a subscription-based database of ‘just about any medicinal herb you can think of’ summarizes that the clinical research currently does not support efficacy of Ceylon cinnamon to significantly lower blood glucose. Still, Natural Medicines reports fewer studies using Ceylon cinnamon as compared to cassia cinnamon, so this may just be a case of lack of evidence.
Nevertheless, warming cinnamon is a safe herb for culinary use. For general health I recommend adding it liberally to flavor foods from baked goods to your breakfast cereal to vegetables (it’s particularly good sprinkled on winter squash or carrots before roasting).
If you are looking to use cinnamon for a specific medicinal purpose, it is also generally safe to use at appropriate therapeutic doses. Please consult with your local herbalist if you have any concerns or questions about how much to take (and what kind) for your particular situation and need.
Allen, R., Schwartzman, E., Baker, W., Coleman, C., & Phung, O. (2013). Cinnamon Use in Type 2 Diabetes: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. The Annals of Family Medicine. 11(5) 452-459. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1370/afm.1517
Braun, L. & Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs and Natural Supplements: An Evidence-Based Guide. 4th Ed. Elsevier.
Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.
Donna is currently doing virtual consultations from her home office in Maryland.Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at www.greenhavenherbalist.com, or contact her directly here.
Near the end of this blog is an audio description of how tinnitus works, but basically, tinnitus is a symptom that patients report to their doctor, and usually the doctor cannot hear it, which is why the most common type is called “subjective tinnitus.” Tinnitus sounds range from the more common “ringing” that most people have experienced after going to a loud concert or after having a firecracker set off nearby, but it also may occur as buzzes, clicks, hisses, roaring, and humming.
There are two types of tinnitus. The first is known as “objective tinnitus”, which is where the doctor can actually hear what the patient hears on close examination. This type can be due to blood vessel, middle ear bone, or even muscle contraction issues.
The second, and more common type is known as “subjective tinnitus”, and is the type that only the patient can hear. It’s not a disease, per se, and yet can be triggered by a variety of diseases. If you are over 60 and have hearing loss, your tinnitus will likely be attributed to hearing loss if nothing else is found. This type can be due to issues in any of the three parts of the ear – outer, middle, or inner and it can be due to problems along the nerve pathways to the parts of the brain that interpret sound or an issue in the brain itself. For a longer differential diagnosis, please see https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tinnitus/symptoms-causes/syc-20350156
Medications can also be a cause of tinnitus, so be sure to give your doctor a list of ALL medications — including supplements and herbs, as some of these may either cause or aggravate your tinnitus.
How common is tinnitus?
According to the ATA (American Tinnitus Association) over 50 million Americans, or roughly 15% of the population, experience some form of tinnitus. Within this group about 20 million people suffer from chronic tinnitus, while another 2 million have extreme and debilitating cases of it.
How is tinnitus acquired?
The causes of tinnitus include age related hearing loss, chronic ear damage, circulatory/microvascular issues, and rarely, a tumor of the auditory nerve sheath around the nerve that conducts the signal of a sound from the inner ear to the brain. It can be localized to one ear or involve both, and it can vary from hour to hour or from day to day. The characteristics of the sound can also change during the day.
Are there herbs to help?
Before I get into the only herb that has shown in clinical studies for efficacy, I will mention two supplements.
Magnesium. Magnesium has been used with success in mild cases of tinnitus. The most bioavailable form is magnesium glycinate. Given that most of us are very low on magnesium anyway, this may be an excellent place to start.
Vitamin B12. One study showed that people who were deficient in B12 and had tinnitus, and had improvements in symptoms related to tinnitus when given additional B12. (Herbs & Natural Supplements, p.652).
Unfortunately, only one herb has been studied and that is Ginkgo biloba, and even here only in an extract form*. If we look at ginkgo extract, both studies and empirical uses have shown it to be a circulatory enhancer that can cross the blood brain barrier. This would support its use in tinnitus due to circulatory issues.
Re: Ginkgo Extract is Comparable to Pentoxifylline for Treatment of Chronic Tinnitus and Causes Fewer Side Effects.Date: 08-15-2018 HC# 071831-598.
In this double-blind, placebo study, significant improvement was shown in all measures by both groups. In the EGb 761 group (the ginkgo extract), improvements were seen on the Mini-TQ (PThe dose here was one 120 mg tablet of the EGb 761 twice a day, or one extended-release pentoxifylline tablet (600 mg), or a placebo.
Re: Review of Ginkgo in the Treatment of Tinnitus; Mahmoudian-Sani MR, Hashemzadeh-Chaleshtori M, Asadi-Samani M, Yang Q. Ginkgo biloba in the treatment of tinnitus:
An updated literature review. Int Tinnitus J. 2017;21(1):58-62.
This is a review article of multiple studies on ginkgo extract used in tinnitus. Although the review does recommend the use of ginkgo, per se, the authors do conclude that “ginkgo ‘can be considered as a promising option to improve tinnitus … .’ They point out that tinnitus is a multifactorial condition, and even in the trials which reported no statistically significant difference compared to controls, ginkgo treatment was beneficial for some patients. In addition, the doses used in the clinical trials varied widely (the negative trials used doses
This study also has a table listing other herbal supplements for the treatment of tinnitus. Two herbs that have been used traditionally for tinnitus which were mentioned are:
1). Garlic bulb (Allium sativum). Garlic has shown to be anti-inflammatory as well as enhancing microcirculation activity (Herbs & Natural Supplements, p.331).
2). Black cohosh root (Actaearacemosa, syn. Cimicifuga racemosa) has some literature regarding its vasoactivities and it has long been used to reduce symptoms of congestive menses as well as heavy bruising. This vasoactivity correlation might be helpful in the use of tinnitus if the tinnitus is due to microvascular issues. (Wichtl sites several studies which I have noted below.)
Inflammation. To the extent that there is inflammation associated with the tinnitus, anti-inflammatory herbs and spices such as the following may be helpful.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Homeopathy. Homeopathic remedies (in dilutions of 9C or lower), have shown to help with tinnitus:
a) G. Kusano, et al. Biol. Pharma. Bull 21, 997-999 (1998)
b) M. Noguchi, et al. Biol. Pharma. Bull 21, 1163-1168 (1998)
Pharmacognosy, Trease & Evans
Herbs & Natural Supplements, Braun & Cohen
* Mediherb (Standard Process) sells a Gingko biloba extract in pill form which is one of the best that I have found to help with tinnitus.
Special thanks to Dr. David Durand for his knowledge and input on tinnitus.
David Durand, M.D., 941-554-4064
Jayne Tamburello has a master’s degree in Herbal Medicine from Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) and is the founder of Invibe Herbal, THE one-stop shop for healthy, organic herbal tea blends. Please visit our website at: ,www.invibeherbal.com. Jayne is also a licensed nutritionist (LDN), a certified nutritionist specialist (CNS) and a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild RH(AHG), and has a private practice: ,www.providencehealthandhealing.comRH(AHG).
Frequently in my posts here at Ask The Herbalists I suggest herbs or herbal formulas. Sometimes, these herbs might not be readily available and may need to be ordered. I want to talk about purchasing herbs safely in light of a recent tragedy in which an infant died of an infection caused by contaminated goldenseal powder that was applied to their umbilical cord stump.
To be clear, I’m not here to judge or criticize, and I encourage compassion for the family and caregivers. Rather, I’m here to talk about safely purchasing herbs.
So, what happened?
FDA testing revealed that the goldenseal powder applied to infant’s umbilical cord was contaminated with Enterobacter cloacae,Cronobacter sakazakii, Cronobacter dublinensis. Cronobacter sakazakii is a known cause of infant meningitis. See the FDA recall notice here.
The goldenseal powder was purchased from a third-party seller who had purchased it in bulk from a larger, reputable herb supplier; repackaged it for retail sale and sold it on Amazon over a period of five years.
The origin of the Cronobacter in this case is not known. Historically it has been found in soil samples, powdered milk substitutes – including infant formulas, processed cheeses, meats, herbs and in some spices. Storage could be an important factor, since Cronobacter can develop over time in stored material.
There are several ways in which herbs (and other products) can become contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms. They can be in the soil or elsewhere in the environment. Microbial contamination can also result from improper processing, handling, and storage.
How can you know if the herbs you purchase are safe?
Nothing is a 100% guarantee: The same is true of the food we purchase, and sometimes bad things happen despite honest and best efforts. And honestly, these kinds of incidents are rare. I think the best that one can do is make sure that the business/es that one purchases from are doing their due diligence.
Here are some factors to consider:
Make sure that the source you buy from has robust quality assurance procedures (more on that below). Avoid purchasing herbs or supplements from third party sellers on large distribution platforms as there is no way to know if they are handled and stored appropriately or even if they were adulterated.
Larger companies often have testing programs in place that test for moisture (an important factor in microbial growth), organic and inorganic foreign material; and microbial, heavy metal, mold, and pesticide contamination. Information about testing and other quality assurance procedures should be available on a company’s website or by request. Testing programs are expensive though and often are not an option for small, local businesses.
If testing isn’t available, it does not necessarily mean that product quality is inferior, as long as appropriate guidelines are consistently followed.
Botanical growers, wild crafters, wholesalers, manufacturers, retailers, formulators and dispensaries should follow current best practices. The American Herbal Products Association provides detailed guidance and assessment tools related to best practices and compliance with FDA regulations, these include:
Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (GACP) and Good Manufacturing Practices
For growers, collectors, and processors of botanical materials. Includes extensive guidance on:
· Botanical identity and quality
· Wild collection
· Post-harvest handling
· Additional processing and handling
· Farm and facility standards
· Record keeping
Good Compounding and Dispensing Practices
For dispensaries and apothecaries. Includes extensive guidance on
· General practices – including ingredients and quality control
· Herbal compounding practices
· Packaging and labeling
· Records – including compounding and dispensing records
· Complaints and recalls
Every individual and organization in the supply chain for botanicals and botanical products should follow the guidelines appropriate to their role and keep records.
These guidelines are freely available on the AHPA website in the resources section.
Relationships are important in the botanical supply chain. Larger companies often have long standing relationships with herb farmers and collectors who have established histories of providing quality botanicals.
Our small local herb farmers, wildcrafters, herb shops, and apothecaries are treasures and I advocate supporting them as much as possible. They usually possess intimate knowledge of their plants and the land. These folks might not have the resources for testing that the larger companies do, but usually they care deeply and passionately about their communities and their work. If they consistently follow the guidelines mentioned above that are appropriate to their role then, in all likelihood, their product will be of superior quality.
Your Role in Product Quality
Remember that storage of your herbs is important, and this includes storage at home.
· Purchase herbs in smaller quantities that can be used within six months.
· Store your herbs in a cool, dry place that is out of direct sunlight and not subject to extreme temperature fluctuations.
· Wash your hand before handling your herbs and make sure that any utensils that you use, like scoops or spoons, are clean and dry.
To sum up my recommendations
· Avoid purchasing herbs (and supplements) from third party sellers on Amazon or similar high-volume distributors.
· Check the quality assurance and testing procedures of any company you consider purchasing from. If these are not available on the company website, or if you have questions call customer service.
· If you purchase from a small, local business have a conversation. Ask them about their quality assurance procedures. Odds are they’ll be happy to chat with you about it.
· Remember your role in herb safety. Follow the home storage guidelines given above.
Renata is a clinical herbalist with a private practice in Greenbelt, MD. She helps women build a solid foundation of wellness while working together to address their unique health concerns so they can live life with vibrance and vitality. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health.