Wednesday’s Weed Walk: Do Re Mi…

Singer’s Tea…no, that’s not actually a legitimate product, that I know of, but that’s what I call one of my favorite herbal tea blends.

I don’t sing professionally anymore. Or even semi-pro. While the vocal chords may get a bit of a workout on the weekends when I’m enclosed in my home office and working on the mural that is currently consuming me, rare do I get on a stage–or even in the choir loft at church–to sing. Some of it is time constraint. As a full-time (online) student, minister, herbalist, homesteader, writer, artist, holistic healthcare practitioner and part-time photographer/receptionist most evenings, I have a pretty full plate. But many years ago I fronted metal bands, both lead guitar and lead vocals. I didn’t know about this tea then; I learned about it years’ later. It might have helped in the metal years; however, no matter what genre you sing in–even if it’s only the shower–taking care of one’s vocal chords is important.

In 2007 I took Apollo Herbs’ “Herbal Apprentice” course with Michael Ford and Joanne Pacheco. It was during one of our weekend workshops that Mike mentioned this combination, primarily for sore throats, but he also mentioned that a student from one of his previous classes used this combination religiously. She was a singer, like me, and fronting a local band. I was singing regularly with the Folk Group at Our Lady of LaSalette Catholic Church in Brooklyn, CT at the time so I gave it a whirl.

The blend is equal parts of Echinacea purpurea (Echinacea, Purple Coneflower are common names) and Ulmus fulva, or Slippery Elm. “Equal parts” is just what it suggests. If you measure a teaspoon of Echinacea, you also measure 1 teaspoon of Slippery Elm; a tablespoon of Slippery Elm, a tablespoon of Echinacea, and so on. The combination has a pleasant flavor so it is also palatable rather than tasting “medicinal”. I typically use the dried herbs, purchased from a local and reliable herb shop (organic; responsibly harvested) but you may also use fresh herbs if you have them in your garden or from another reliable source (i.e. one without pesticides). As we are brewing roots and bark here, a standard infusion doesn’t quite cut it. You will need a decoction of the herbs. And how we do that is preferably through the use of a double boiler but a makeshift of setting a slightly smaller sauce pan inside a larger one that has at least an inch or so of water in it will do in a pinch. No non-stick pans for this. The coating may leach into your herbal tea; I don’t recommend non-stick pans for any purpose. Cast-iron will also leach into the herbs and affect the outcome. Stainless steel, or enamel, is preferable. Place the herbs in the smaller pan, cover them with water (about an inch higher than the herbs) and place a lid on the pan with the herbs in it. The idea is to simmer them, not boil them. And you will want to watch that the water is not evaporating too much as you don’t want the herbs to scorch. If you see the water level lowering too rapidly, you may add a little warm water and lower the heat a bit. This takes approximately 45 minutes on low heat. I always add honey to mine, which also acts as a mucilage to the throat but it is optional.

So how does it work?

Slippery Elm** (Ulmus fulva) is the inner bark of the slippery elm tree. This dried bark is rather stringy and may range from a light tan to a light beige in color. It has a sweet, spicy scent and it is a well-known demulcent. “Demulcent” means that it soothes and moistens, usually via mucilage. This particular demulcent is specific for sore throats, cough, bronchitis and for relieving the inflammation of the respiratory tract, including the mouth and throat (L. Tierra, 121). It is also good for soothing the intestinal tract, and relieving the pain and irritation from indigestion and colitis, but it is the respiratory tract that we are most concerned with here, for obvious reasons.

Echinacea** (Echinacea purpurea) is also good for relieving sore throats; all infections and inflammations, and swollen glands. A known sialagogue, it increases the flow of saliva in the mouth. It is also an immune enhancer, helping to prevent and cure colds and flus (Tierra 78-79),; for singers, it makes it a wonderful combination with Slippery Elm. Back in the metal years, it seemed I always came down with a cold and/or upper respiratory complaint whenever there was something important coming up in music. It is a singer’s nightmare. It could be because I tend to be a perfectionist and so pushed myself harder, practicing longer, and depriving myself of much-needed sleep in preparation for whatever I was doing but, regardless, whatever “bug” was lurking around always found its way to me. Again, I wish I’d had this tea in my arsenal then.

One last thought, as both of these herbs are now on the endangered list, please use only the cultivated herbs from a reliable and responsibly-harvested source. For more information about sustainable harvesting, please visit http://www.unitedplantsavers.org.

May God bless you & keep you!

**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This article has been presented for educational purposes only; it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.”

Works Cited

Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life. Ten Speed Press, California: 2003.

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