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The old and new of herbs and tea

Local potter Alison Flegel speaks about the tradition of the Japanese Tea Ceremony during the Green Bank Herb Fair Saturday at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Flegel became interested in the history of tea ceremonies when she studied the art of making Japanese tea bowls. S. Stewart photo
Local potter Alison Flegel speaks about the tradition of the Japanese Tea Ceremony during the Green Bank Herb Fair Saturday at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Flegel became interested in the history of tea ceremonies when she studied the art of making Japanese tea bowls. S. Stewart photo

The Green Bank Herb Fair, held at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Saturday, had a wide range of classes offered for those looking to enhance their diets and gardens, or just looking to update their knowledge on plants and their uses.

While most classes focused on the use of herbs and plants by humans, presenter Monica Chapman, DVM proved herbs are useful for our four-legged friends, as well.

Chapman is a veterinarian and over the years she found herself disillusioned with the medicines she continued to give to animals only to have them return year after year with the same ailments. As she continued to offer medical treatment for animals, Chapman pursued other avenues and took an herbal course.

“It was a life changing, life-altering experience to take a course in herbal medicine,” Chapman said. “I’ve started incorporating the use of herbs in the shelter animals, in my surgery patients and seeing just a small number of client-owned animals on the side.”

Chapman actually began using herbal medicine on animals a month into the class when her own dog had a medical emergency.

“One of my dogs had what looked like lyme disease,” she said. “He had a fever and he was limping on one leg. The next morning it was obvious it was a brown recluse spider bite. I said to my husband, ‘this is it. This is where I make the decision which way I’m going to go.’ So I made the decision to treat him entirely with western herbs and he survived the experience. He’s a thirty-nine pound dog and he was profoundly systemically ill from the toxin of the bite, but he is running around today and he has all four of his legs. He survived the experience and I’m convinced it was because I used western herbs.”

Chapman said that if she treated her dog according to modern veterinarian medicine, she would have amputated his leg.

“I realized how powerful these plants are and it’s really where we need to be turning,” she said. “Herbs can be used by everyone, including dogs and cats.”

Chapman suggests simple ways to integrate herbs into a pet’s diet – adding herbs with a shaker to their food, brewing an herbal tea to add to food or by using a spritzer bottle and spraying the pet with herbal water. The latter will work topically and internally because the dog or cat will lick their fur and ingest the herbs.

Chapman does give warning when using the spritzer bottle method.

“Cats don’t like to be sprayed or get wet, so be cautious if you try that with your cats,” she said. “Also, don’t use spritzer bottles if you use one to control behavior.”

If your dog or cat is sick, it is important to get a diagnosis from a veterinarian in order to find out what herbs to use. Chapman recommends the books “Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Dog Care” and “Dr. Kidd’s Guide to Herbal Cat Care.” The books are divided in chapter according to the organ systems.

“You go to your book and turn to your organ system and you’re going to see a list of herbs that you can use for that organ system,” Chapman said. “Realize when you choose to use herbal medicine or any other alternative medicine, you’re probably not going to get much support from your veterinarian. We’re just not trained in it so we don’t trust it. Veterinarians are like human doctors. They don’t think there’s any science behind herbal medicine which as we know, is absolutely not true.”

No matter what diagnosis the vet gives, it is important to include a liver helper in all herbal prescriptions according to Chapman.

“The liver is going to eliminate toxins,” she said. “In nearly every disease process, the liver is going to need help eliminating toxins whether its inflammation or the liver is not functioning and we have blood toxins building up. Include liver helper herbs in every single herbal prescription that you give your pet.”

When it comes to dosing, Chapman said it is best to start small until the pet is used to the new flavor in their food. It may take up to 30 days before the herbs begin to work on their systems and doses should go according to the response of your pet. The pet should not see it as a punishment. Instead, they should enjoy the enhancement of their food, so if they are finicky, the dose needs to start out small.

Herbs like cayenne, turmeric and black pepper are easy to start with because dogs seem to enjoy the taste.

For arthritis and muscular skeletal problems, Chapman said it is good to use turmeric, alfalfa, yucca root, devil’s claw and frankincense.

If your dog is anxious or nervous, Chapman recommends oats, valerian, kava kava, camomile and lavender.

Other helpful herbs include cardamom, coriander, fennel and peppermint. It isn’t necessary to use all the herbs at one time – try different combinations until you find one your dog likes and stick to it.

Tea Time

It’s impossible to have an herb fair and not have a discussion about tea, the most commonly ingested herb and second popular beverage in the world.

Eva Ristl, a tea expert, explained that although there are dozens of types and flavors of tea, there is only one plant.

“Tea has been around for more than five hundred thousand years,” she said. “There is only one tea plant but you have tremendous amounts of teas. You’ve got green tea, black tea, oolong tea, darjeling tea. They all come from the same tea plant. The only difference is how it’s processed, when it’s picked, where it’s grown and how it’s fermented or left to dry.”

While all tea was grown in China at one time, it is now an international plant and drink. America was the first place the drink was put on ice, creating a new and coveted beverage.

“In 1904, at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, there was a man there selling hot tea,” Ristl explained. “No one was buying it, so he got frustrated and poured it over ice. The iced tea phenomenon was born. Now, eighty percent of the tea [consumed] in America is iced.”

Ristl also revealed that America did have its own tea plant, although it was never used in the same fashion.

“It’s called Franklinia alatamaha,” she said. “It was discovered in 1765 by William and John Bartram on an expedition in Georgia for Benjamin Franklin. By 2007, it became extinct in the wild but you are able to purchase it. I planted my own four years ago.”

Adding to the history lesson on tea, local potter Alison Flegel shared her insight on the Japanese tea ceremony.

Flegel had a display of her Japanese tea bowls. She explained that the tea ceremony was a very spiritual and respectful experience.

“Everything was choreographed,” she said. “The whole thing was an artistic, theater event. They had a saying where they would ‘eat with the eyes first and then the palette,’ so they really experienced everything involved with the ceremony.”

The tradition began in China and became a part of the Japanese culture in the 16th century. It takes a lot of training to become a tea master due to the detail of every movement put into performing the ceremony.

Other classes at the fair were:

• Elderberry: Essential in the garden and medicine cabinet – Eugene Breza

• Better with Bitters: help with cholesterol – Kathleen Maier

• Healthy Herbs: Research supported medicinal uses for popular plants – Joan Beardinski and Barbara Greenwood

• Artemisias: Fragrant and useful perennials – Geo Derick

• Nosegays: Aromatherapy from garden to gift – Melissa Dennison

• Family Herbs: Tasty and easy remedies – Andrea Lay

• Plant for Bugs: Friends in the garden – Daniel Frank

• Tinctures to Homeopathy: Get the most from your herbs – Bonnie Buchman

• Emergency Medicine: From the garden and woods – June Taylor

• Ginseng: Treasured and endangered native plant worth saving and using for our health needs – Susan Leopold

• Herb Gardens: Small to large – Sarah Collins

• Salves and lotions: Easy from garden to jar – Marcia Laska

• Milkweed and monarch: Valuable partners – Heather Toklas

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at

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