With spring seedlings now popping through the soil, Colorado gardeners everywhere anticipate the growing season of flowers, vegetables and herbs, all of which can be used for a variety of health benefits, experts say.
Plants are rich in minerals and vitamins that can greatly benefit an individual’s body, mind and soul, said Dani Otteson, a community herbalist at Milkweed Herbarium in Littleton.
“Medicinal herbs are very versatile,” Otteson said. “I think a lot of times in society we don’t think as much about what we can do to support our health. People think about what medicine they need when they are sick, but we need to take care of ourselves and support our wellness.”
Community herbalists sell medicinal herbs to the public, but they are not to be confused with a medical professional, Otteson said. Before using a plant as medicine, it is always wise to talk to a medical professional about any health problems and the intended use of a plant to ensure safety.
"If you have a broken arm, you should definitely go to the hospital,” Otteson said. "There are so many ways herbs can support us in our lives, whether it is health challenges or every-day wellness. What it comes down to is people finding help that resonates with them and that they feel comfortable with.”
Barbara Marshall, a resident of unincorporated Douglas County, said she believes natural medicine is better received by a body. Marshall said that her daughter, who is a nurse, recently had twins and uses a tea to help her body produce enough milk for her infants.
“I believe using plants are safer because typically organic and natural items are used,” Marshall said. “Because they are natural items and they are not manufactured in a lab, your body is going to absorb them better.”
For the mind
Otteson started Milkweed Herbarium a year ago. At her business, she sells herbal teas and teaches classes.
Otteson, a Littleton resident, primarily teaches people how to use medicinal plants, explaining how to blend teas, make syrups and create infused oils or honey.
Since entering the world of medicinal plants, Otteson has experienced a positive change.
“One of the biggest differences is that now I am more aware of how I feel,” Otteson said. “It has gotten me really used to checking in and figuring out why I don’t feel good and where don’t I feel good. At that point, I can find the best thing to help.”
Her class on nurturing grief and broken hearts is Otteson’s favorite class to teach. She teaches people strategies for dealing with grief, such as prayer, exercise and writing.
“There is no one thing that can be an answer, but there are a lot of different strategies I suggest people try,” Otteson said.
She also demonstrates how to make teas that she says help with the grieving process.
Otteson believes that minerals in certain teas can calm and nurture a person. She suggests people drink tea three to four times a day to benefit from minerals in the tea blend.
“In general, minerals are one of the more difficult ingredients for people to get, especially in the standard American diet,” Otteson said.
The teas Otteson blends are all inspired by different punk rock songs and albums.
Otteson’s uplifting, mood-boosting tea blend, for example, is called “Rise Above,” named after a song by the punk band Black Flag.
Otteson said that she creates teas for people dealing with sleep issues and stress. She said it is important to deal with any underlying issues with a psychologist, but she also suggests a soothing tea blend.
Otteson’s most popular tea blend recommended for calming a mind is called “I Want to be Sedated,” named after a song by The Ramones. In that tea, she puts catnip, chamomile and passion flower.
“Sleep and stress are two of the biggest challenges for people,” Otteson said. "The tea is calming; you can give it to kids, too.”
For the body
Dating back to ancient Egypt, the aloe plant has a long history of medicinal use, according to healthline.com. The plant is a common household succulent often used for sunburn relief.
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Aloeplant.info, a website serving as a wellness resource to using aloe for health, suggests creating a honey and aloe face mask. The honey’s antibacterial abilities and aloe’s anti-inflammatory properties combined reduce redness, fight acne and moisturize the skin.
To make the mask, combine one tablespoon of pure aloe vera gel and one tablespoon of raw, unpasteurized honey. Apply to the face, neck or back and leave it on for 20 minutes before rinsing the mask off with warm water.
For the soul
Rachel Sorrell, owner of Sorrell’s Healing Arts in Evergreen, studied the Mayan approach to medicinal plants in Guatemala.
“I think there is a lot out there that is about fitness and lifestyle, but a lot of the time people forget about self-care,” Sorrell said.
Sorrell works with cacao, which she said is the purest form of chocolate. She mixes two tablespoons of cacao powder in hot water with chili powder and cinnamon — the same way the Mayans consumed the plant.
“In cacao, there are three main ingredients that allow a really beautiful thing to happen within a person,” Sorrell said. “The scientific name for cacao is theobroma. It translates to `food of the gods.’ ”
The first ingredient in cacao is theobromine, which is similar to caffeine. Theobromine boosts energy and focus but has less of a “crash” than caffeine, Sorrell said.
The second ingredient in cacao is anandamide, or the “bliss chemical.”
“As humans, we naturally release anandamide when we are feeling pure joy or pure bliss,” Sorrell said.
The third ingredient, phenethylamine, is known as the love chemical. Sorrell said it is naturally produced in the human brain when falling in love.
“These three chemicals together allow people to enter a higher state of consciousness,” Sorrell said. “Cacao is a facilitator that works within a person’s body to reach a higher state of feeling bliss, love and focus.”
Sorrell leads cacao meditations, in which clients consume a cacao beverage with four to six tablespoons of cacao, more than Sorrell’s recommendation of two tablespoons.
After drinking the cacao drink, the meditation starts with some movement and ends in a sitting meditation.
“When people cry, it makes me so happy,” Sorrell said. “It is not that I like to see people cry, it is just very moving. I can see people work through things with the help of cacao.”