As a nurse and herbalist/aromatherapist, I’ve given considerable time and thought to the direction of this blog. Coming through a season of grief and healing I was unsure how I wanted to proceed. Thoughts running through my head were a) should I focus on writing about herbal and aromatic health support and focus on anyone who wants to learn or should I b) focus on nurses as a way to bring attention to a plant supportive heritage and then provide encouragement/support as those nurses reach out to their communities and peers with this exciting rebirth of the holistic healer?
I chose to focus on empowering nurses to reclaim their heritage as holistic healers. (although anyone interested in herbal/oil education will benefit from reading) We as nurses really do have a heritage of plant relationship in regard to healing. We use this relationship everyday, even though we may not make that connection. Have you ever told a patient with nausea to sip on ginger ale, or try a piece of ginger or peppermint candy? What about encouraging a patient to drink a little chamomile tea as a support for sleep difficulties?
Choosing the word “roots” happened after sharing a concept of “Reclaiming Our Heritage as Holistic Health Healers”, and someone didn’t understand what I meant by “heritage”. It dawned on me in today’s focus on western medicine pharmaceutical based paradigm; most nurses probably don’t know we have a heritage in herbalism. I need to read through a Nursing 101 textbook to see if anything about herbalism is even mentioned as our nurses are trained. I certainly don’t remember anything about it and I’ve been a nurse almost 30 years.
Connecting With Mentors
I’ve been interested in herbal medicine since my early 20’s. The library in my home is overrun with herbal and aromatic resource books collected for 40 years. For so many years I didn’t understand the words nurse and natural health could be used together. An inner desire to practice herbal and aromatic support in the community felt at a conflict with my nursing career. My longing created a deep chasm and internal conflict as I didn’t see how nursing and a concentration on herbal education could work harmoniously. I wanted a thriving natural health business so I could leave nursing.
Then I met Dr. Martha Libster. Or at least I heard her speak. My inner light began to flicker. I heard her speak to a group of nurses in Greenville, NC. She was a speaker in a room I had just given a talk on aromatherapy to the holistic nurses union at East Carolina University. I stayed and listened to her and my light grew brighter. Her story was intriguing and inspiring. Dr. Libster is the author of The Nurse-Herbalist, Herbal Diplomats, Dell’s Integrative Herb Guide for Nurses, Enlightened Charity, Science of Energy Flow, Demonstrating Care, and Perspectives on Cultural Diplomacy. I have all but the last book, as it is fairly new. Dr. Libster has courses for nurses and I’ve enrolled in two of them in the past, one being the Nurse-Herbalist course. She is fascinating and I highly recommend her work and programs.
The other mentor who has changed my life is Madeleine Kerkhof. Madeleine is a registered nurse and massage therapist. She lives in the Netherlands and has done amazing work there to educate facilities and nurses in the benefits of integrating aromatic compounds in palliative care, pain, grief, transitioning, wound-care, and mouth-care just to name a few. She has two published textbooks, and I have both of them. One is Complementary Nursing in End of Life Care, and her new one is CO2 Extracts in Aromatherapy. (when Madeleine is out of her country teaching, she places the books unavailable until she returns)
Making the trip to Europe, I was the first nurse from the continental United States to receive a Certificate in Aromatic Palliative Care in 2016. Madeleine was using CO2 extracts at that time as well, and went on to write the textbook CO2 Extracts in Aromatherapy. The trip was life changing and the experiences gained there was a factor in my healing journey after losing my son to suicide in 2017. Madeleine and her husband Kees are now very dear friends and I am planning to see them next year when they come to the United States again to teach classes. Since my trip to Europe in 2016, Madeleine is now gaining popularity in the United States and is becoming a much sought after aromatherapy educator here. I highly suggest you consider taking a trip to the Netherlands and learn from Madeleine. The experiences and field trips there will show you how being committed to a vision will open doors in facilities to utilize integrative care.
I began to realize…I could combine my knowledge as a nurse with my passion for herbalism.
Connecting With My Roots
As a child, my summers were spent in Appalachia! My family was all from Eastern Kentucky. My parents had moved to Columbus, Ohio, where I was born and raised. Summers and holidays were spent in and around Louisa Kentucky. Our vacations centered around mountainous areas like Gatlinburg, and the Great Smokies. Summers in Kentucky were spent in the woods and by the creek bank. My grandparents had a huge garden and so did my parents. I learned about the pawpaw tree (the fruit tastes like bananas and it’s so yummy). My grandfather would blow smoke from his tobacco pipe into my hurting ear and it would feel better. My grandmother would speak of home remedies. She used black salve to draw out infection from a cut. They had salves for pain and breathing issues. I remember playing in the woods and never wanting to come inside. Exploring and connecting with nature started as a very young child. Then I got married, and somehow life became busy, and I was no longer in the woods connecting with nature. There was a void.
I’ve been told my great-grandmother was 1/2 Cherokee Indian. (my mother’s paternal grandmother) I’ve seen pictures of her and her features certainly look like she could be. Very high cheekbones. I have those same cheekbones. I didn’t know her but I’ve wondered where my deep connection to herbal medicine comes from. How cool some of my memories are. There is something I really miss about those days.
I’ve been studying herbalism most all my married life. I wasn’t connecting with the plants though. I learned about herbs and used dried herbs that were encapsulated and in a bottle. About 4 months after my son died in 2017 I had opportunity to go to Wellspring Mountain in Low Gap NC to get trained as an aromatherapy teacher with Jade Shutes, another mentor. I experienced a re-connection with nature and with the plants. This was very healing for me and I realized I had to get back to the plants. I’ve stopped studying healing plants/herbs in a book sense, and have started experiencing them.
My healing journey has brought me back to the plants. I didn’t realize it, but Wellspring Mountain is actually the home of Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine. I’m now a student there, as well as with Juliet Blankespoor in her Herbal Immersion program.
Community Classes and Outreach
I realize connecting with plants is very healing but it doesn’t make a hospital system money. Instead of using my time petitioning to get aromatherapy or more plant based healing integrated into the medical systems, I’m now reaching out to the community and teaching classes on aromatherapy, herbal simples, and connecting with plants as a nurse. Somewhere along the way, other nurses will decide it’s time to reclaim our roots and find ways to connect with the healing power of the plants and then share that in their communities.
My son was a military vet with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury) from his time in Iraq. He was prescribed drug after drug that altered his mind. At the time of his death, he was legally taking 5 psychotropic drugs all with suicidal ideation as a side effect. He was taking two new ones I was unaware of. All the drugs were prescribed for off label uses related to his PTSD. He wanted to get back to nature. He desired to go on the outdoor camping and connecting to nature trips that are being done for the military vets. He never created that opportunity form himself.
As a nurse, I would never suggest to someone they get off their medications. However… what if we can provide experiences for vets to connect with nature and feel the healing energy associated with the plants? What if we create healing experiences for cancer survivors? What if we create opportunities for those grieving to connect to nature like I did? What if we can create healing experiences and someone begins to feel whole again? What if we begin to provide solutions that do not involve medications? What if…
My questions to you as a nurse or holistic caregiver… 1) Are you interested in exploring your “roots” as a holistic healer for your own wellness journey? 2) Are you interested in learning how to share this type of knowledge with people in your community? Connect with me by signing up for my newsletter just for health care professionals and holistic healers. You can leave your information here:
*This is a post sharing my heart. While I have data to support ideas here, this is an information/introductory post, and not a clinically based data post*
I’ve tried several, but with my own tweaking, I’ve come up with what I feel is the best dried elderberry syrup recipe. If you have fresh elderberries, I’ll share how to use those too. I don’t have an elderberry bush nearby, so I rely on dried elderberries. You can find dried elderberries at Mountain Rose Herbs, Starwest Herbs, and Frontier. It takes almost two weeks to get an order from Mountain Rose Herbs, but I recently found that Frontier has most of their products on Amazon. I’ve got Prime, so it takes only two days to get what I’m needing! (the last time I checked a few days ago in 2018, Mountain Rose Herbs was out of Elderberries!)
NOW is the time to start buying your stock of Elderberry though. When it’s gone for the season, it’s very hard to find quality Elderberry.
The Best Dried Elderberry Syrup Recipe
I buy my herbs in bulk for projects like this. These were purchased at Mountain Rose Herbs, but I also buy from Amazon. I’m very picky about my herbs though. They need to be organic, but I also have to trust the company. I’ve been burned before buying things from Amazon that were less than quality, related to herbs.
You will need dried elderberries (unless you are blessed to have access to fresh elderberry); cinnamon sticks, bark, or chips; and cloves. From the grocery you will need fresh garlic, fresh ginger, and bottled water. I purchase my honey raw from a local grower, but you can also find that on Amazon.
I measured and added the dried elderberries, cinnamon chips (is what I had), and cloves to my stainless steel pot. (do not use aluminum) I chopped up the garlic and fresh ginger, then added in my water.
This is then brought to a boil, and reduced to a gentle simmer. I let it simmer until the mixture has reduced by about 1/2. This is called a decoction.
I then use this potato ricer to make sure I’m getting all the juicy goodness out.
Next you add the honey, and stir well. I add this mixture to a large mason jar, and keep it stored in my fridge. I drink a “shot” (about an oz) daily, or more if I have cold symptoms. Sometimes it turns into a loose jellied type of mixture. I just shake it well.
1 Cup Dried Elderberries (2 cups fresh)
5-6 Whole cloves (you can crush those a little if you like, because you will be straining this out)
Fresh Garlic (I love a lot , but you can start with 3-4 cloves)
Fresh Ginger (I love a lot of this, but start with about a fingers length, chopped or cut up)
4-5 cups bottled water
Raw Honey (around 2 cups)
Place all in a stainless steel pot. Bring to boil, and then reduce heat to moderate, to a simmer. Let this cook down about 1/2. Mash the mixture a little bit with a fork or other kitchen utensil after the berries start getting soft.
After the liquid has reduced, then carefully start straining the mixture. I love to use the potato ricer because it gets all the juice out. Be very careful with it though. You can let the mixture cool just a little, but not all the way. You want the honey to mix well.
After you get this all strained, measure, and add equal amounts of honey. This should make about 4 cups of Elderberry syrup. Store in a large mason jar, and keep in your refrigerator.
This is awesome to use as pancake syrup too! It goes along with my philosophy of letting food be your medicine!
Benefits of Elderberry Syrup
I will just share as a nurse, I’m pretty sure there are not any double blinded studies related to the benefits of elderberry syrup. Elderberry syrup has been used for years by herbalists as a way to nurture the body with ingredients full of anti-oxidants and immune support.
Benefits of using elderberries may include being supportive for the immune system, help with inflammation issues, reduce symptoms and time to heal after contracting a cold or flu, supportive for sinus issues, allergies, and constipation. (this does not take the place of consulting your medical doctor, and is in no way attempting to diagnosis or provide treatment guidelines)
The Sloan Kettering Memorial Site which provides wonderful information on all types of herbal use shares there have been limited studies to suggest elderberries may reduce flu and cold symptoms.
Safety issues are to never use elderberries uncooked as they contain compounds that may promote cyanide toxicity. So you ALWAYS need to cook your elderberries. Other cautions are to avoid if you have autoimmune issues, are on antidiabetic medications, or are on a diuretic or laxative (as the elderberries may increase the action of those medications). Also a caution that pregnant or lactating women have a potential for a gastrointestinal distress.
Of course you also need to look for any allergic reaction when introducing a new food into your system. There was a case reported of 11 people getting nausea and vomiting from a juice made with the elderberries, but they had juiced and injected RAW elderberries and leaves. So, do not make juice from raw berries and drink it. Must be cooked.
All in all, this is an awesome way to add nourishment through food!
It’s one of my favorites, and I always have it made up in my fridge! I keep this on hand year round. Buying the supplies as I listed, (getting the elderberries in bulk), you will have enough supplies to last all fall and winter. I make another batch up as soon as we are out!
I thought long and hard about this name, Apothecary Nurse™. I’ve studied about herbal remedies for over 30 years. It’s only been within the past 12 years I’ve really studied aromatherapy. Years ago an apothecary was a place where medicines were compounded from plant material and sold to physicians, surgeons and patients. The word apothecary has roots in Greek and Latin.
I really liked the name as I thought about my personal philosophy of health and healing. I’ve been a Registered Nurse for 27 years now. It is nice to have knowledge and roots in Modern Medicine as well as a passion to understand how man has used plants since the beginning of time for health and healing.
Why I call Myself Apothecary Nurse™
I don’t make “medications” for anyone. That would be out of my scope of practice as a nurse. When I think of the term “Apothecary”, I think of an old timey pharmacy where remedies were compounded by the pharmacist, and many used raw plant material. Some modern-day pharmacies who compound medication, have the word “apothecary” in their store name.
Since modern medicine in the Western world as we know it appeared and really escalated in the early 1900’s; plant remedies began to take a backseat in the United States. There have been great discoveries no doubt with modern medicine. I also believe food is our medicine. That can go both ways. Food can also be our poison.
I’m very intrigued with the study of plant medicine. The study and philosophy of herbalism is much different from med school or nursing school. What disturbs me is the study of herbalism is often disregarded by physicians or even nurses who think it holds no place in our modern society.
The Apothecary Nurse™ name fits me. My goal is to provide education for nurses and people who would like to be more integrative in their approach to health and healing. In today’s society, many patients use herbal and aromatic support. Even if health care professionals aren’t personally interested in using such integrative support, it’s a good idea to understand what your patient/client is using.
Ezekiel 47:12 says: “And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” Herbalism is basically using food as our medicine.
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. — Hippocrates, father of medicine, 431 B.C
My goal is two-fold: 1) to provide education to those who want to learn how plants, herbal remedies and aromatic support can be integrated into care, and 2) provide education for nurses who want to know more about what their patients are using. I do not diagnose, treat, give medical advice, or prescribe medical treatments. I do not take the place of your medical practitioner.
Herbalism is the study of plants and their support of the body. Many civilizations today still strictly practice herbalism. Herbalism approaches illness more as an imbalance and not a collection of symptoms. Symptoms aren’t a disease. Symptoms are a tip-off that something isn’t right in the body.
So, as Apothecary Nurse™, I’ll be sharing case studies, historical use, recipes, remedies, some scientific data, and most importantly: I want you to fall in love with the plants and learn how to safely integrate care!
I will also incorporate other nourishing teachings like Aromatic Healing, Food as Medicine, Nursing without Medicine, Nourishing Traditions concepts, and Plant-Based Eating. Influential medical healers in my life include physicians like Aviva Romm, MD, and Tieraona Low Dog, MD. Both realize the importance of plants, food, and holistic principles related to whole person health and healing.
Joyce Harrell, RN, OCN
Apothecary Nurse (TM)