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Herbs 101 with Dr. Sunyatta Amen

by mmcgowan

Want the tea on tea? What about tinctures and tonics? Before you delve into those potions, you have to learn the basics. Luckily, Dr. Sunyatta Amen shared some of her wisdom on herbs and their many uses. Amen is a naturopathic doctor, fifth-generation herbalist, and owner of Calabash Tea and Tonic located in Washington, D.C.

1. Spices are more than just flavor.

Dr. Sunyatta Amen is a strong believer that food is medicine and we need to be mindful not only of the food we eat, but the spices as well. Spices are just important as the food itself. "With the Standard American diet, majority of the flavors in food is just salt, pepper and vinegar. You don’t taste the whole spectrum. Spices and health are connected,” she said. For example, turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. The earthy spice normally found in curries contains curcumin, which studies have found can ease symptoms of arthritis, block tumor growth and protect against certain skin diseases. “Dusting turmeric with black pepper can help more curcumin come into your system,” says Amen. This leads to the second lesson.

2. Think of taking herbs as a formula.

Taking one herb is good but taking a team of herbs is even better. “My great grandmother once told me that a good herbal formula is like a village," Amen says, "It needs a village elder. It needs a king and a queen. It needs support staff like people who draw water from the well. You don’t take just one herb singularly. It can work but not effectively.” For example, balancing the heavy hitters such as lavender, chamomile or oat straw with smaller herbs will have you get a better formula for rest and relaxation.

3. Taste can tell you what herbs can do for you.

Not all herbs are tasty. Some are bitter, pungent, or have some heat to them. But just because you aren’t fond of the taste, shouldn’t stop you from healing. “How something taste(s) is very important to know what it does for you," she says, "But the idea of it being tasty is holding us back. I honestly never tasted anything worse than pain."

4. Just like a jug of milk, herbs have an expiration date.

According to Amen, “Herbs have a season and a reason.” If you have them for more than three months, it’s time to clean out your pantry. A great tip is to write the expiration date on their containers.

5. Don’t think about just taking herbs, it’s all about lifestyle.

Herbs can help you but they aren't the whole solution. "Lifestyle is a huge part of what I do,” she says. Incorporating healthy eating, exercise and stress-reducing practices along with herbs can help you gain a better quality of life.

6. If you want to get into herbalism, it will take a minimum of 10 years. But if you don’t have the time, here are some ways to be a bit more well-versed.

To find out more about Dr. Sunyatta Amen, check out calabashdc.com

Photo: Facebook.com/calabashtea Photo: Facebook.com/calabashtea