A UTI Tincture Starring Uva Ursi

A close-up of Uva Ursi and one of its red berries. Found at Mount Falcon Western Trailhead. The leaves of this specimen are less-than-ideal. I am using it to show the berry. Use only vibrant green leaves with no brown spots and minimal insect damage.

I love finding an herb spontaneously. Just as I was getting used to the sad thought that I shall have to wait until Spring to collect any more herbs, I came across one I’d been looking for all summer but had yet to find. I took my son and my momma’s little dog for a hike to Mount Falcon Trail last week and came upon some Uva ursi growing happily and abundantly on the rocks.

Uva Ursi is a woody, ground-covering shrub that likes to cling to rocks in mountainous regions. It is a lovely plant for beginners, since both its location (clinging to rocks in the mountains) and appearance (waxy, oblong leaves, round, bright red berries, evergreen nature) make it easy to spot. The name translates to “grape of the bear,” which describes its red berries. It is known commonly as bearberry; here in Colorado and other parts of the West, we also call it “kinnikinnick,” which is Algonquin for “mixture.” This is due to the fact that the leaves of the shrub feature prominently in many Native American smoking mixtures.

Uva Ursi’s medicinal offering has to do with the urinary tract. It has been used for centuries to cure and soothe bladder infections, and there is abundant clinical documentation to support its use in this domain. In particular, the therapeutic use of U. ursi  has been shown to “exert a prophylactic effect on recurrent cystitis” (B. Larson et al, 1993). “Cystitis” is another word that describes an infection of the urinary tract. The results of the study indicated that women who had more than three infections per year showed a marked decrease in instances of sickness when taking the herb as a supplement for one month. There were no side effects.

For those of us who suffer from UTIs, that last sentence is particularly intriguing. The typical treatment for cystitis is antibiotics, which brings its own set of uncomfortable side-effects (diarrhea, nausea, YEAST). Sometimes, these side effects are even worse than the bladder infection! So a natural remedy that you can take that is effective and poses no side effects seems almost too good to be true.

At this point, I should like to remind you that UTIs, though common, can be very dangerous. I encourage you to try this natural remedy as both a preventive measure and to treat an infection that is coming on. However, if you have had symptoms for more than a couple of days or are experiencing signs of severe infection (fever, chills, nausea, blood in urine, pain in mid-back), don’t skip the Western medicine. In this case, the infection has spread to your kidneys and will need to be treated with antibiotics.

Now, on to the remedy! This tincture is a combined extract. That is, it includes our star U. ursi as well as a few other herbs that are used in UTIs. These are: corn silk, horsetail, yarrow, and echinacea. Here’s a grief breakdown of what each does:

corn silk (Zea mays)-a mild diuretic shown in small studies to alleviate symptoms of patients with UTI symptoms (Sahib et al, 2012)

horsetail (Equisetum arvense)-a strong diuretic which helps to irrigate the urinary tract

yarrow (Achillea millefolium)-a wonderful multi-purpose herb whose constituents include proazulenes (anti-inflammatory) and essential oils (antimicrobial)

echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)an herb famous for its use in fighting infections. It is an established immuno-modulator, causing an increase in white blood cell production and enhancing the body’s capacity for phagocytosis, a process involving the cellular ingestion of bacteria (from The American Botanical Council: The Complete German Commission E Monographs Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines; Blumenthal et al, 1998).

You can purchase all of the above herbs here.

UTI TinctureIMG_1034.JPG


1 large jar
Dried corn silk
Dried horsetail herb
Dried yarrow herb
Dried Echinacea purpurea herb (as you can see, mine is from Mountain Rose Herbs)
Dried Uva ursi leaves
Mortar and pestle (optional)
80 proof ethanol (Vodka)


The amount of each herb will depend on the size of your jar. You want to fill it approximately halfway with your dried herbs, with each herb in equal amounts. It’s a little like making sand art. If it helps, you can draw a line at the halfway mark of your jar, and then divide that into five sections. But it’s really just as easy to eyeball it. Here is what mine looked like before adding the alcohol:

The layered herbs before adding the vodka. The herbs, starting from the bottom, are the U. ursi, horsetail, cornsilk, echinacea, and yarrow. But you can layer them however you like.

I like to grind the herbs a bit in my mortar and pestle before putting them in to tincture, but that is optional. Next, fill the jar to the very top with your alcohol. I prefer to use Vodka. It is cheap, tasteless, and extracts beautifully. Label your jar with its contents and that day’s date, as well as a date six weeks from the day you made the tincture. Store your brew in a cool, dark place. When your six-week date has arrived, strain the herbs through cheesecloth into tinted glass dropper bottles, like these.

I sincerely hope, from one UTI-sufferer to another, that this remedy helps you. Take it as a prophylactic or at the soonest possibly moment you feel an infection coming on. An effective dose will be 1-2 dropperfuls three to four times per day, while drinking plenty of water (at least one full glass every hour). Please remember, though, to seek medical treatment if you are not getting better fairly quickly. These infections are no joke!

Winter Prep: Homemade Cough Drops



White Horehound is an odd-looking plant with an odd-sounding name. It is a member of the mint family, along with many other familiar herbs such as thyme, lavender, basil, and marjoram. Its signature look and unique smell make it another ideal herb for a beginner to forage.

Horehound, a.k.a. Marrubiam vulgare, has an ancient tradition as a remedy for respiratory ailments. A record of its use exists as early as 1 B.C. in the encyclopedia De Medecina by the Roman Aulus Cornelius Celsus. This, by the way, makes for fascinating reading and is available for to read in translation by Bill Thayer here.

Horehound grows wild here in Colorado. I found some hiking this summer with my son in an open space near Chatfield reservoir. It really is unmistakable–it has a Dr. Seuss-y quality, with its clusters of flowers hanging onto the stem like little green puff balls. Here is a picture I took for your reference:

Marrubiam vulgare, found in South Valley near Chatfield, Colorado. Those green balls are the flower heads, which become sticky like burs when they’ve gone to seed.
Horehound has traditionally been made into a candy or lozenge for medicinal use. It has also been used in teas and even in beer. It is an acquired taste-bitter and, yes, medicinal. It is what gives a certain famous herbal cough drop its peculiar and recognizable taste.

If you were to reference any herbal, you would find a long list of herbs dedicated to something called respiratory catarrh. That is fancy, herbalist jargon for mucus build-up associated with a chest cold, cough, phlegm, inflammation, or basically whatever ails your respiratory tract. That being said, there are very few herbs actually proven to help catarrh. Horehound, incidentally, has been proven to show “potent antimicrobial activity against some Gram (+) pathogenic behavior” (Zarai et al, 2011). In the realm of respiratory infections, this would be particularly useful in a case of bacterial pneumonia, which is typically caused by the gram positive bacterium streptococcus pneumonia.

We are going to make our very own herbal cough drops. You can certainly make these with just the horehound-it is the star, after all. However, there are plenty of other herbs you can add that have proven actions against cold and flu symptoms. Here is a short list:

Herbs for Chest Colds

  1. Sage-antibacterial, treats inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose and throat
  2. Eucalpytus-expectorant and antispasmodic, excellent for chest colds
  3. Mullein flower-expectorant and anti-irritant, ideal for dry or unproductive coughs
  4. Peppermint-cooling, antispasmodic, decongestant
  5. Plantain-astringent, antibacterial
  6. Thyme-bronchoantispasmodic, expectorant, antibacterial, ideal relief of bronchitis
  7. Elder flower-increases bronchial secretion, good for dry cough

Now on to our recipe, without further ado! I have used bee balm in place of thyme, since it actually contains more of the active ingredient thymol. You can read about this wonderful herb in my previous post Colorado’s Own Oregano: A Recipe for Bee Balm Mouthwash. I have also added some lemon balm for taste and for its calming properties. Once again, you can add any herbs you like. We are just going for about 1.5 cups of dry herbs total. You can find a great selection of organic herbs here.

Homemade Herbal Cough Drops

Makes about 4 dozen lozenges fullsizerender-1


1/2 cup dried horehound
1/2 cup dried mullein leaf and flower
1/8 cup dried peppermint
1/8 cup dried bee balm
1/8 cup dried lemon balm
1/8 cup dried sage


First, prepare a small baking pan (I used a square, 8×8 stainless steel pan) with butter or anti-stick spray. You will want to have this ready because your sugar mixture is HOT and time-sensitive.

Next, add all ingredients to a saucepan and cover with 1.5 cups water. Bring to a boil then remove from heat and steep for twenty minutes. Strain out herbs. Reserve one cup of your herb tea (the extra half cup is to accommodate for any boil-off or absorption by the herbs, FYI). Return the one cup of liquid to a LARGE pot* (such as a stock pot) and stir in the 2.5 cups of brown sugar. Bring to a boil and boil until sugar mixture has reached 300 degrees Fahrenheit (hard-crack stage on a candy thermometer). Immediately pour the mixture into your prepared baking pan. Let cool for about 15 minutes, or until edges hold their shape.

Now, you have some options for shaping. You can simply cut the candy into squares with a knife, which is the fastest and most convenient way. If you want them to be a more traditional shape, however, you will need a friend. This candy hardens fast. Have him or her help portion out small pieces while you mold the portions into the shapes you want. Place them on a clean, cool surface to dry completely.

When the candy has completely cooled, dust the pieces with powdered sugar. This will help keep the lozenges from sticking to one another in their storage container**. Alternately, you could wrap each on in a piece of wax paper. But…who has time for that?!

*You want a larger pan than you think you might need because the sugar mixture will EXPAND when boiling and can easily spill over and THEORETICALLY burn on your stovetop and THEORETICALLY catch fire and HYPOTHETICALLY turn your house into a smoke-filled inferno while you hustle your one-year-old out the door and fan odd, burnt-herby-smelling smoke out the open windows and sob because you have to start all over. Again, hypothetically.

**Store your candy in the fridge for longevity and for an added cooling effect when it comes time to use them.



Immunity Boost: Spiced Rosehip Tea

Rosehips are the fruit of the rose bush. If you’re like me, you are probably surprised to hear that roses even produce fruit. But indeed, they do. Also known as “haws” and “heps,” rose hips are orange-red, somewhat oblong, and about the size of a grape. 

Rosehips ripen in late summer through autumn. They can be consumed fresh, but have traditionally been used dried for teas. The fruit is one of nature’s highest sources of Vitamin C, though the C content can vary extensively from species to species. Nevertheless, the presence of Vitamin C and antioxidants make rosehips a delightful way to boost immunity during cold and flu season.

The hips I have were foraged from Deer Creek Canyon, with the help of my husband and brother. They are “wild rose hips,” also known as Rosa woodsii. This species is incredibly fragrant, smelling very much like sweet apples. I will say these are another good herb for beginners. The fruits themselves are easy to identify, given their color and fragrance. And the shrubs themselves have the tell-tale thorns on the stems and the leaflets have little teeth. Here is a botanical as compared to the actual rosehips for your reference:

It takes a little grunt work to prepare the hips for drying, since each is filled with furry little seeds. After rinsing them, you’ll need to cut each hip in half, scoop out the seeds, and then let the hips dry flat for a few days in a warm, sunny spot. Alternatively, you can purchase rose hips here

Anyway, it occurs to me than an an apple-flavored herbal tea is begging for some spice. So the recipe calls for a bit of cinnamon, as well as a little hibiscus for added antioxidants and honey for sweetness. It tastes like a lovely, mellow apple cider. 

Spiced Rosehip Tea

Makes 1 serving


     1 tsp dried rosehips

     2-3 cinnamon chips

     1 small dried hibiscus         petal

     8 oz boiling water

     Honey to taste


     Steep all ingredients in boiling water for ten minutes. Strain. Add honey to taste. 

Recipe: All-Purpose Skin Salve


Dried Calendula officinalis from my garden


Today is the day for making salve. In my previous post about plantain oil, I mentioned my plans for turning the oil into a salve with calendula. I am sure you have all been waiting with baited breath to see how that turned out!

First, a little bit about calendula. Calendula officinalis is what I like to call a bread-and-butter herb. It is an absolute staple in the natural first aid kit, due to its skin-healing properties. Among other things, the flowerheads and petals of the calendula plant are known to be antimicrobial and vulnerary, meaning wound-healing. (If you like, here is a study evaluating aqueous extracts of calendula and other herbs and their efficacy in treating psoriasis). This makes any ointment containing calendula ideal for:

-minor cuts/scrapes
-minor burns
-insect bites/stings
-diaper rash
-chicken pox

The plant is also known as “pot marigold,” but is not actually a marigold, so we will stick to calling it calendula. My lame mnemonic device for remembering that name is “Calendula…a use for every day of the year!” Because it kind of sounds like “calendar.” I grew it in my garden this year with great success. You can purchase seeds or the dried flowerheads here. Anyway, back to the salve.

I’m going to call this salve “All-Purpose” because it really can be used effectively on any minor skin irritation. Of course, if you have a wound that covers a large area or is bleeding a lot, DO see a doctor. But otherwise, for those everyday “ouchies,” this salve is a must. It includes plantain oil and calendula oil. Plantain, you will remember, also contains wound-healing properties. The plantain oil was made using the solar method, while the calendula oil was made using the heat method (see how to do both methods here). Both are effective means of making an infused herbal oil; however, the heat method does require some attention so as not to “cook” the herbs. Without further ado, here is how to make my All-Purpose Skin Salve:

All-Purpose Skin Salve

Weighing out an ounce of beeswax…looks a bit like sliced cheese


1 oz beeswax (purchase here)
4 oz calendula oil
4 oz plantain oil
10 drops essential oil (I used peppermint
but orange, lavender or rose would be
Plastic/glass/tin containers


Measure out your beeswax. This will come in a solid bar or in pellets. If you have a solid bar of beeswax, it is easy enough to slice off what you need with a sharp knife and a cutting board. You could also try grating it-this is time consuming, but it will melt faster.

Prepare your containers: set them out with lids off for easy and quick pouring.  Place the 1 oz of beeswax, the 4 oz of calendula oil, and the 4 oz of plantain oil over a double boiler until the wax is fully melted. Add in your 10 drops of essential oil and stir. Quickly pour the mixture into your tins. TIP: Transfer the melted mixture into a Pyrex liquid measuring cup with a spout for easy pouring.

Label your containers and store them in a cool, dark place. This recipe makes a lot, so you’ll have plenty to give to family and friends. Also, make sure to stash one in your purse/diaper bag.


Voilà! An all-purpose, all-natural, non-toxic skin ointment. The finished product has a green tinge, likely from the plantain oil. Oh, and a special shout-out to my sister-in-law who had the idea to use individual paint pots for the salve. Such a bargain! You can purchase them here, if you want.

Have fun salve-ing, everyone! Here’s to happy skin!




Colorado’s Own Oregano: A Recipe for Bee Balm Mouthwash


A couple weeks ago, I had an allergic reaction to a toothpaste. I won’t say which toothpaste, because that’s not classy, but I will tell you that it was SUPPOSEDLY for people with sensitive gums. Not these sensitive gums, apparently. I broke out in tiny, painful canker sores all over my mouth. If you get canker sores, then you know even ONE can be an all-encompassing, painful nightmare. Having them in every corner of your mouth leaves one positively LOONY with discomfort.

The usual cavalry for canker sores was, unfortunately, not much help. First of all, most of the over-the-counter remedies are designed for one or two canker sores, not a blanket of them. The number of sores I had would have meant drinking a bottle of Anbesol or Orajel, which you’re not supposed to do. It says so on the label.

For my situation, a mouthwash was in order; but the mere thought of rinsing my poor, poor mouth with something that had alcohol or fluoride in it (and many commercial mouthwashes do) made me so very sad. Plus, I no longer felt like leaving the house in case I had to talk or use my mouth in any way. I needed something I could make at home without any painful, burning stuff in it. In my festering fugue, I thought I remembered reading something about oregano being a good oral antiseptic, so I web-searched it.

It turns out, oregano is an effective remedy for mouth sores, gingivitis, and sore throats. In fact, it’s a useful remedy for a LOT of things due to a high content of an organic compound known as thymol.

The antimicrobial actions of thymol and its isomer, carvacrol, are well-established in the academic realm. Quick chemistry lesson (you can totally skip this part if you want): isomers are compounds with the same molecular formula, but a different chemical structure. The fact that they have the same molecular formula means they have a lot of properties in common, but that different chemical structure gives each its own unique features. Isomers are a bit like fraternal twins: they are biologically similar, but physically distinct. Here is a study that found that thymol and carvacrol isolated from a verbena species “exhibited potent antimicrobial activity against the organisms tested” (Bothelo et al, 2007).

But wait, this post is about Bee Balm. Sorry, allow me to get back on topic. Thymol is not just found in oregano. It is also found in species of thyme (hence the name), eyebright (more on that herb later), verbena, and Bee Balm, the star of this show.

Bee balm is native to North America. It has been used for centuries as a cure-all by Native American Tribes. It is also known as Horsemint and and Wild Bergamot. I was lucky enough to come across some at the beginning of this month. It was growing happily by the creek my son and I like to walk to. Here it is:


This particular species of Bee Balm is called Monarda fistulosa, and it is a great herb to pluck if you are a novice because it is not only unmistakable appearance-wise, it is unmistakable smell-wise. It absolutely reeks of oregano. There was a lot of it, so I took the liberty of taking a little handful home and hang-drying it. At the time, I was unaware of its potent oral antiseptic properties. I was told it makes a nice tea for chest colds and tasted great in salads (both of which are true, by the way).

Bee balm hang-drying in my kitchen

After researching oregano and remembering how strongly the Bee Balm smelled of it, I was curious if it contained any amount of thymol. In fact it does. A lot of it. And the isomer carvetrol. HOORAY. I grabbed my little jar of the dried Bee Balm and set about making a mouthwash for my poor, poor mouth.
This stuff was great. It had a clean, warm taste with a slightly numbing sensation (probably from the carvetrol). I used it every day twice a day for one week. By the second day, the sores were already noticeably better and less angry. I have since learned that a mouthwash such as this can be used to prevent mouth ulcers, not just treat them. The antiseptic properties also help keep your breath fresh. Think I’ll just keep some on-hand.


I also have plans to make an Oxymel of Bee Balm for the coming winter months. Stay tuned for that posting!

Without further ado, here is the mouthwash recipe:



1/8 oz dried bee balm (about 2-3 tbsp flowers and leaves)

8 oz boiling water

2 tsp salt


Place dried bee balm and 2 tsp salt into a heat-proof bowl/container. Pour boiling water over the top and allow to steep for twenty minutes. Strain the liquid into a sterilized container with a lid or seal. Let it chill in the fridge for an extra soothing treatment. Use as often as needed or at least twice per day for acute sores.

Feel better!