Judson Carroll

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Recent posts by Judson Carroll

Michael Helmersson wrote:We have a gallon of Birch Beer and a gallon of Birch Wine fermenting right now. It took a week to collect 165 liters of sap from 6 paper birch trees and about 11 days to simmer it down to the 2 gallons for fermenting and about 200ml of syrup.

3 days ago

Birch Trees, Medicinal, Tasty and Refreshing

Birch is one of the many trees that is also a useful medicinal herb.  As I have stated before, I am using the general term, “herb” to refer to any plant that is medicinally useful, not just plants that are categorized as herbaceous.  It is my opinion that confusion over that term has caused many very useful plants, plants that can even save a life when used as first aid, to fall out of common use by many herbalists.  Just as people often ask me what the difference is between the herbs you cook with and medicinal herbs, and I answer, “Culinary herbs are simply medicinal herbs that also taste good,” people are often surprised when I recommend oak or pine for a medicinal use.  Simply put, not all medicinal herbs are little green things.  Some are tall trees.  

Sixteen varieties of Birch are used medicinally:  Betula alleghaniensis – Yellow Birch, Betula alnoides, Betula ermanii - Gold Birch, Betula glandulosa - Scrub Birch, Betula kenaica - Kenai Birch, Betula lenta - Cherry Birch, Betula nana - Dwarf Birch, Betula nigra - River Birch, Betula occidentalis - Water Birch, Betula papyrifera - Paper Birch, Betula pendula - Silver Birch, Betula platyphylla - White Birch, Betula populifolia - Grey Birch, Betula pubescens - White Birch, Betula schmidtii, Betula utilis - Indian Paper

Of these, four varieties grow in my aera: Betula alleghaniensis (Yellow Birch), Betula cordifolia (Mountain Paper Birch), Betula lenta (Sweet Birch, Black Birch, Cherry Birch), Betula nigra (River Birch)

Birch has long use both in herbal medicine and as a beverage.  The tips of birch twigs and the bark can be gathered in the spring and used to make Birch Beer, that was very popular in early America.  It has a wintergreen-like flavor.  Birch can also be tapped like Maple, to gather the sweet sap as it rises.  This quality, made Birch a veritable beer plant, as it supplied its own water, sugar and flavoring.  All that was needed to turn it into beer was yeast, and wild yeasts are not only in the air, but would be on the birch twigs themselves.  In a time when clean, drinkable water was scarce, such low alcohol beers and wines were essential to survival.

Bark, leaves, twigs, buds and shoots of Birch are used medicinally.  Birch is anti-inflammatory and helps break a fever.  It stimulates bile.  The bark is astringent.  The sap is diuretic.  The shoots are laxative.  Birch has been used for fevers and colds, as an aid in digestion, for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, rheumatism and arthritis, gout, fluid retention, kidney stones, wounds and sores.

Mrs. Grieves tells us:

Various parts of the tree have been applied to medicinal uses. The young shoots and leaves secrete a resinous substance having acid properties, which, combined with alkalies, is said to be a tonic laxative. The leaves have a peculiar, aromatic, agreeable odour and a bitter taste, and have been employed in the form of infusion (Birch Tea) in gout, rheumatism and dropsy, and recommended as a reliable solvent of stone in the kidneys. With the bark they resolve and resist putrefaction. A decoction of them is good for bathing skin eruptions, and is serviceable in dropsy.

The oil is astringent, and is mainly employed for its curative effects in skin affections, especially eczema, but is also used for some Internal maladies.

The inner bark is bitter and astringent, and has been used in intermittent fevers.

The vernal sap is diuretic.

Moxa is made from the yellow, fungous excrescences of the wood, which sometimes swell out from the fissures

Gerard wrote of Birch:

Concerning the medicinable use of the Birch tree, or his parts, there is nothing extant either in the old or new writers.

This tree, saith Pliny in his 16th book, 18th chapter, Mirabili candore & tenuitate terribilis magistratum virgis:["Wonderfully white, and striking fear as the flogging-canes of the magistrates"] for in times past the magistrates' rods were made hereof: and in our time also the schoolmasters and parents do terrify their children with rods made of Birch.

It serveth well to the decking up of houses, and banquetting rooms, for places of pleasure, and beautifying of streets in the cross or gang week, and such like.

Culpepper, in his unique style said:

Government and virtues. It is a tree of Venus, the juice of the leaves, while they are young, or the distilled water of them, or the water that comes from the tree being bored with an auger, and distilled afterwards; any of these being drank for some days together, is available to break the stone in the kidneys and bladder and is good also to wash sore mouths.

Plants for A Future lists Birch as:

Anti-inflammatory, cholagogue, diaphoretic. The bark is diuretic and laxative. An oil obtained from the inner bark is astringent and is used in the treatment of various skin afflictions, especially eczema and psoriasis. The bark is usually obtained from trees that have been felled for timber and can be distilled at any time of the year. The inner bark is bitter and astringent, it is used in treating intermittent fevers. The vernal sap is diuretic. The buds are balsamic. The young shoots and leaves secrete a resinous substance which has acid properties, when combined with alkalis it is a tonic laxative. The leaves are anticholesterolemic and diuretic. They also contain phytosides, which are effective germicides. An infusion of the leaves is used in the treatment of gout, dropsy and rheumatism, and is recommended as a reliable solvent of kidney stones. The young leaves and leaf buds are harvested in the spring and dried for later use. A decoction of the leaves and bark is used for bathing skin eruptions.

Euell Gibbons gives us a recipe for Birch Beer in his classic work, Stalking The Wild Asparagus:

Measure 4 quarts of finely cut twigs of sweet birch into the bottom of a 5 gallon pot.  In a large kettle stir in one gallon of honey into 4 gallons of birch sap and boil this mixture for 1o minutes, then pour over the chopped twigs.  When cool, strain to remove the now expended twigs and return the liquid to the crock.  Spread 1 cake of soft yeast on a slice of toasted rye bread and float this on top of the beer.  Cover with a cloth and let it ferment until the cloudiness just starts to settle.  This will usually take about a week, but it depends somewhat on the temperature.  Bottle the beer abd cap it tightly.  Store in a dark place, and serve it cold before meals after the weather gets hot.  It has a reputation for stimulating the appetite.  More than a glass or two at a time is likely to stimulate other things, for this beer has a kick like a mule.

Gibbons’ Birch beer is a traditional and rustic recipe.  You may wish to experiment with more modern brewing techniques such as specific yeasts and fermentation air locks to ensure the beer does not spoil.  Traditional “soft drink” techniques can also be used to make a naturally fermented carbonated beverage that has only tiny amounts of alcohol.  However, the higher alcohol, traditional Birch beer may be stronger medicinally.  Either way, it is a very pleasant way to take your medicinal herbs and a fine reason to toast, “To your health!”

Author: Judson Carroll.  Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His weekly articles may be read at http://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/

His weekly podcast may be heard at: Southern Appalachian Herbs (spreaker.com)

He offers free, weekly herb classes: Herbal Medicine 101 (rumble.com)

Judson is the co-author of an important new book based on the 1937 edition of Herbs and Weeds by Fr. Johannes Künzle. This new translation, entitled The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle, with commentary by modern herbalists explores and expands on the work of one of the most important herbalists of the 20th century.  Click here to read more about The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle: Southern Appalachian Herbs: Announcing a New Book, The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle

To buy The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle, click here: https://py.pl/V0HDe

4 days ago

In this lesson, I discuss the medicinal uses of Honeysuckle. This common "weed" will surprise you!

And, if you like this sort of thing, be sure to check out my new book: The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle.
Click this link to buy the book now: https://py.pl/V0HDe

Click here to read about the book: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/05/announcing-new-book-herbs-and-weeds-of.html
5 days ago

In this episode, I discuss the Thistles and their many uses as food and medicine.  Too often thought of as weeds, they are easily found and very good for health.... tasty, too!

6 days ago

Marisa Lee wrote:Great post as always, I think I have some podcast episodes to catch up on, too! It's that busy spring time. I have a couple wild species of agrimony up here, A. gryposepala and A. striata. Maybe others, but those are the two I know are around. Our wild agrimony has been used in traditional medicine for a quite a range of things, usually as a root tea but sometimes using the seed heads. I haven't used it myself. Also: my cat is named Agrimony.

Thanks!  I'm having trouble keeping up, too, with spring here!
1 week ago
I remember that luthier!  He made some sweet tenor guitars, too.  If I recall, he used antique woods, often from old pianos.  That is a quality, hand made instrument, even though it is "no frills".
1 week ago
Announcing a New Book, The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle

In the 1911, Fr. Johannes Künzle published what would become one of the most important books written on Herbal Medicine in the 20th Century.  This bold and outspoken Swiss priest wrote what was little more than a pamphlet on herbs and their use.  His brief booklet, of fewer than 40 pages, sought to educate the common people of central Europe about the flowers, weeds and trees that grew in abundance, and how they may be used to treat common illnesses.  Like his predecessor, Fr. Kneipp, his vision was of kitchen medicine, folk medicine, and a firm faith that God had provided all an individual of family could need for general health in the “Herbs and Weeds”.  His little book became a best seller.  This led to fame that he generally did not desire, and to clashes with the medical establishment.  He challenged that establishment and won court battles, proving that his herbs were sometimes even more effective than their medicine.  This made Fr. Künzle an international figure.

Fr. Künzle revitalized the tradition of “German Folk Medicine”, and his booklet was likely to be found in any German speaking home.  Unfortunately, then came the World Wars.  Much of the world was at war with Germany and its allies.  Books written in the German language were not to be seen in homes in America, England or France (etc.).  Fr. Künzle’s little booklet was never translated into English during his lifetime; only one such effort was made decades later, and that disappeared quickly.  By the 2,000s, only scarce reference was found of Fr. Künzle, even online.  I only became aware of his work through Maria Treben, the great Austrian herbalist who once more brought German Folk Medicine to the collective consciousness of the modern world.  Made curious by brief mentions of Fr. Künzle in her books, I began a fruitless search for an English translation of his book either to purchase or in libraries.  Fortunately, I had an Austrian friend.

Jolanta Wittib and I met on The Grow Network Forums.  I quickly recognized her as a skilled and experienced herbalist, in the tradition to which I was being drawn.  So, I asked her if she would be interesting in collaborating on this book.  To my surprise, she did… and, we have spent days and months enjoying and discussing this great work.  All credit for the translation and the photos goes to Jolanta.

What became evident to us early on was that the simple translation of the work was not sufficient.  The brief booklet assumed a regional knowledge of plants.  Some plants and many terms would be unfamiliar to English readers.  Moreover, much has been learned about herbs and illnesses since Fr. Künzle’s time.  We decided to write our own commentary on his work, and expand on many points, as professional herbalists.  The result was an entirely new work of more than 150 pages!  Do not fear though, Fr. Künzle’s words are still there, intact.  His wisdom and delightful character shine through.

We hope you will enjoy our book, and that it will find a valued place in your library.  For now, it is an eBook only, in .pdf format.  Should we be able to offer it in print one day, those who purchase the eBook will receive an email offering a substantial discount on the printed version.  Until then, you may wish to print out a paper copy on your home printer – we’ve made every attempt to format the book so that it will print well on a home printer, and can be spiral or clip bound on the left side.

Please click the button/link below to purchase our eBook.  You will receive an email with the file attached once payment has processed.  Any updates to the book will be available at no additional cost.

1 week ago
The Legendary Bay Laurel

Many of us think of Bay as merely a culinary herb, often used in soups and Mediterranean cooking.  However, it is a very useful medicinal herb with a fascinating history.  First though, we must ensure that we are discussing the proper Bay.  Laurus nobilis is the “Bay Leaf” used in cooking.  This is the Bay Laurel.  The Myrica family is also commonly referred to as Bay - these include Wax Myrtle, Bayberry and Bog Myrtle also have medicinal uses, but can be toxic if used improperly.  The Bay Laurel is the almost mystical tree of ancient Greek mythology and Roman tradition, as well as, the Bay Leaf used culinarily.

The ancient Greek name for Bay Laurel is Daphne, named after a mythical nymph.  According to Wiki:

In the myth of Apollo and Daphne, the god Apollo fell in love with Daphne, a priestess of Gaia (Mother Earth), and when he tried to seduce her she pled for help to Gaia, who transported her to Crete. In Daphne's place Gaia left a laurel tree, from which Apollo fashioned wreaths to console himself Other versions of the myth, including that of the Roman poet Ovid, state that Daphne was transformed directly into a laurel tree

Bay laurel was used to fashion the laurel wreath of ancient Greece, a symbol of highest status. A wreath of bay laurels was given as the prize at the Pythian Games because the games were in honor of Apollo, and the laurel was one of his symbols. According to the poet Lucian, the priestess of Apollo known as the Pythia reputedly chewed laurel leaves from a sacred tree growing inside the temple to induce the enthusiasmos (trance) from which she uttered the oracular prophecies for which she was famous Some accounts starting in the fourth century BC describe her as shaking a laurel branch while delivering her prophecies. Those who received promising omens from the Pythia were crowned with laurel wreaths as a symbol of Apollo's favor

The symbolism carried over to Roman culture, which held the laurel as a symbol of victory. It was also associated with immortality, with ritual purification, prosperity and health. It is also the source of the words baccalaureate and poet laureate, as well as the expressions "assume the laurel" and "resting on one's laurels".

Pliny the Elder stated that the Laurel was not permitted for "profane" uses – lighting it on fire at altars "for the propitiation of divinities" was strictly forbidden, because "...it is very evident that the laurel protests against such usage by crackling as it does in the fire, thus, in a manner, giving expression to its abhorrence of such treatment."

The medicinal use of Bay was written of by Dioscorides:

Some daphne [laurus] is found with a smaller leaf, some a broader. Both are warming and softening, as a result a decoction of them is good as a hip bath for disorders of the vulva and bladder. The green leaves are somewhat astringent. Pounded into small pieces and applied they are good for wasp and bee stings. Applied with barley flour and bread they are able to lessen any inflammation. Taken as a drink they make the stomach tender and provoke vomit, but the bay berries heat more than the leaves. They are good therefore taken in a linctus [syrup] (after they are pounded into small pieces) with honey or passum [raisin wine] for consumption [wasting disease], asthma and dripping mucus around the chest. They are also taken as a drink with wine against scorpion stings, and they remove vitiligines [form of leprosy]. The juice of the berries helps earache and hardness of hearing dropped into the ears with old wine and rosaceum . It is mixed with recipes for medicines to remove fatigue, with hot ointments, and with those which disperse. The bark of the root breaks stones [kidney, urinary], is an abortifacient, and is good for liver disorders — half a teaspoon taken as a drink with fragrant wine. It is also called danaben, stephanos (as we should say a crown), daphnos, mythracice, mithrios, or hypoglossion.

Gerard gave much history and praise of Bay:

A. The berries and leaves of the Bay tree, saith Galen, are hot and very dry, and yet the berries more than the leaves.

B. The bark is not biting and hot, but more bitter, and it hath also a certain astrictive or binding quality.

C. Bay berries with honey or cute, are good in a licking medicine, saith Dioscorides, against the pthisic or consumption of the lungs, difficulty of breathing, and all kind of fluxes or rheums about the chest.

D. Bay berries taken in wine, are good against the bitings and stingings of any venomous beast, and against all venom and poison: they cleanse away the morphew: the juice pressed out hereof is a remedy for pain of the ears, and deafness, if it be dropped in with old wine and oil of roses: this is also mixed with ointments that are good against wearisomness, and that heat and discuss or waste away humours.

E. Bay berries are put into mithridate, treacle, and such-like medicines that are made to refresh such people as are grown sluggish and dull by means of taking opiate medicines, or such as have any venomous or poisoned quality in them.

F. They are good also against cramps and drawing together of sinews.

G. We in our time do not use the berries for the infirmities of the lungs, or chest, but minister them against the diseases of the stomach, liver, spleen, and bladder: they warm a cold stomach, cause concoction of raw humours, stir up a decayed appetite, take away the loathing of meat, open the stopping of the liver and spleen, provoke urine, bring down the menses, and drive forth the secondine.

H. The oil pressed out of these, or drawn forth by decoction, doth in short time take away scabs and such like filth of the skin.

I. It cureth them that are beaten black and blue, and that be bruised by squats and falls, it removeth black and blue spots and congealed blood, and digesteth and wasteth away the humours gathered about the grieved part.

J. Dioscorides saith, that the leaves are good for the diseases of the mother and bladder, if a bath be made thereof to bathe and sit in: that the green leaves do gently bind, that being applied, they are good against the stingings of wasps and bees; that with barley meal parched and bread, they assuage all kind of inflammations, and that being taken in drink they mitigate the pain of the stomach, but procure vomit.

L. The berries of the Bay tree stamped with a little Scammony and Saffron, and laboured in a mortar with vinegar and oil of roses to the form of a liniment, and applied to the temples and forepart of the head, do greatly cease the pain of the migraine.

M. It is reported that common drunkards were accustomed to eat in the morning fasting two leaves thereof against drunkenness.

N. The later physicians do oftentimes use to boil the leaves of Laurel with divers meats, especially fishes, and by so doing there happeneth no desire of vomiting: but the meat seasoned herewith becometh more savoury and better for the stomach.

O. The bark of the root of the Bay tree, as Galen writeth, drunken in wine provoketh urine, breaks the stone, and driveth forth gravel: it openeth the stoppings of the liver, the spleen, and all other stoppings of the inward, parts: which thing also Dioscorides affirmeth, who likewise addeth that it killeth the child in the mother's womb.

N. It helpeth the dropsy and the jaundice, and procureth unto women their desired sickness.

Culpepper was also fond of Bay, stating:

This is so well known, that it needs no description; I shall therefore only write the virtues thereof, which are many.  I shall but only add a word or two to what my friend has written, viz. That it is a tree of the Sun, and under the celestial sign Leo, and resisteth witchcraft very potently, as also all the evils old Saturn can do to the body of man, and they are not a few, for it is the speech of one, and I am mistaken if it were not Mizaldus, that neither witch nor devil, thunder nor lightning, will hurt a man in the place where a bay-tree is. Galen saith, that the leaves or bark do dry and heal very much, and the berries more than the leaves. The bark of the root is less sharp and hot, but more bitter, and hath some astriction withal, whereby it is effectual to break the stone, and good to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and other inward parts, which bring the dropsy, jaundice, &c. The berries are very effectual against the poison of venomous creatures, and the stings of wasps and bees, as also against the pestilence, or other infectious diseases, and therefore is put into sundry treacles for that purpose; they likewise procure women's courses: and seven of them given to a woman in sore travail of child-birth do cause a speedy delivery, and expel the after-birth, and therefore not to be taken but by such as have gone out their time, lest they procure abortion, or cause labour too soon; they wonderfully help all cold and rheumatic distillations from the brain to the eyes, lungs, or other parts; and being made into an electuary with honey, do help the consumption, old coughs, shortness of breath, and thin rheums; as also the megrim; they mightily expel wind, and provoke urine, help the mother, and kill the worms; the leaves also work the like effects. A bath of the decoction of the leaves and berries, is singularly good for women to sit in, that are troubled with the mother, or the diseases thereof, or the stoppings of their courses, or for the diseases of the bladder, pains in the bowels by wind, and stopping of urine. A decoction likewise of equal parts of bay-berries, cummin-seed, hyssop, origanum, and euphobium, with some honey, and the head bathed therewith, doth wonderfully help distillation and rheums, and settleth the palate of the mouth into its place. The oil made of the berries is very comfortable in all cold griefs of the joints, nerves, arteries, stomach, belly, or womb; and helpeth palsies, convulsions, cramps, aches, trembling and numbness in any part, also weariness, and pains that come by sore travelling: all grief and pains likewise proceeding from wind, either in the head, stomach, back, belly, or womb, by anointing the parts affected therewith; and pains in the ears are also cured by dropping in some of the oil, or by receiving into the ears the warm fume of the decoction of the berries through a funnel. The oil takes away the marks of the skin and flesh by bruises, falls, &c. and dissolveth the congealed blood in them; it helpeth also the itch, scabs, and wheals, in the skin.

Plants for A Future catches us up to modern times in terms of how Bay may be used medicinally:

The bay tree has a long history of folk use in the treatment of many ailments, particularly as an aid to digestion and in the treatment of bronchitis and influenza. It has also been used to treat various types of cancer. The fruits and leaves are not usually administered internally, other than as a stimulant in veterinary practice, but were formerly employed in the treatment of hysteria, amenorrhoea, flatulent colic etc. Another report says that the leaves are used mainly to treat upper respiratory tract disorders and to ease arthritic aches and pains. It is settling to the stomach and has a tonic effect, stimulating the appetite and the secretion of digestive juices. The leaves are antiseptic, aromatic, astringent, carminative, diaphoretic, digestive, diuretic, emetic in large doses, emmenagogue, narcotic, parasiticide, stimulant and stomachic. The fruit is antiseptic, aromatic, digestive, narcotic and stimulant. An infusion has been used to improve the appetite and as an emmenagogue. The fruit has also been used in making carminative medicines and was used in the past to promote abortion. A fixed oil from the fruit is used externally to treat sprains, bruises etc, and is sometimes used as ear drops to relieve pain. The essential oil from the leaves has narcotic, antibacterial and fungicidal properties.

“The Spruce” has a very good article on the culinary use of Bay Leaves, and the differences between the two most commonly available, Turkish and California Bay (https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-a-bay-leaf-995576):

There are two main varieties of culinary bay leaves: Turkish (or Mediterranean) bay leaves and California bay leaves. The Turkish variety is the most common, with a more subtle flavor compared to California bay leaves, which have more potency and a slightly mint taste.

What Do They Taste Like?
Since bay leaves aren't eaten, the flavor is more about what they bring to a recipe—and that is up for much debate. Many cooks believe that bay leaves don't contribute any taste at all while others find the herb adds a subtle depth of flavor. So, while bay leaves do not add overwhelming and distinct flavors to any dish, they can be thought of as a "supporting actor," in that they help coax out other flavors and spices in whatever dish you are making.

One may wonder how such a widely used and highly valued medicinal herb fell out of modern use.  I can only speculate that it had to do with the rise of “modern medicine” in Europe and its antagonism toward herbalism and “folk medicine”.  Perhaps the culinary use of Bay continued, while its medicinal use was gradually forgotten.  Immigrants to North America found the Myricas and a great many uses for them, both as herbs and in commerce.  Several early American recipes I have read seem to indicate that the leaves of myrica were used as a substitute for Bay Laurel… perhaps their difference was not even recognized.  Labrador Tea, a member of the rhododendron family was also sometimes referred to as Bay.  It was likely very confusing to new immigrants.  While all of these plants have their uses, it is important that we not forget that the humble Bay Leaf was once anything but humble; it was not only an essential culinary herb, but a valued medicinal herb and a symbol of nobility, and the highest achievements. It is also mighty good in soups… but, be sure to pluck the leaves out before serving!

Author: Judson Carroll.  Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His weekly articles may be read at http://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/

His weekly podcast may be heard at: Southern Appalachian Herbs (spreaker.com)

He offers free, weekly herb classes: Herbal Medicine 101 (rumble.com)

Judson is the co-author of an important new book based on the 1937 edition of Herbs and Weeds by Fr. Johannes Künzle. This new translation, entitled The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle, with commentary by modern herbalists explores and expands on the work of one of the most important herbalists of the 20th century.  Click here to read more about The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle: Southern Appalachian Herbs: Announcing a New Book, The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle

To buy The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle, click here: https://py.pl/V0HDe

1 week ago

In this lesson, I discuss the herbal use of roses and why the old fashioned and wild roses are best. I also announce my new book, co-authored with Jolanta Wittib, The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle.
Click this link to buy the book now: https://py.pl/V0HDe

Click here to read about the book: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/05/announcing-new-book-herbs-and-weeds-of.html
1 week ago