This week we dive into the world of herbs with renowned clinical herbalist Guido Masé who shares his profound passion for plants and wild medicine. We discuss some easy-to-find and safe herbal remedies for common complaints, how digestive bitters can drastically improve your digestion and assimilation of nutrients, and why he considers himself a plant-person matchmaker.
Guido Masé is a clinical herbalist specializing in holistic Western herbalism. He's the founder of the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, a non-profit herbal medicine clinic and school that provides comprehensive services focused on whole plants and whole foods. He also serves as an herbalist and senior scientist at Traditional Medicinals, where he works on research, development, formulation, and education for herbal teas, supplements, and Urban Moonshine bitters and tonics. Guido is the author of The Wild Medicine Solution and DIY Bitters.
Maria Marlowe: [00:00:34] Herbalism is a fascinating and multifaceted topic that I think is important to know and learn about, especially if you’re interested in learning about food as medicine and health and wellness. I think herbs play a big part in that. So today I brought on an expert in herbalism. His name is Guido Masé. He is a clinical herbalist and herbal educator, and garden steward who specializes in holistic Western herbalism. Now, I feel like a lot of us have heard about herbalism, but we don’t or we may not actually know exactly what an herbalist does. Or I would imagine most of us haven’t worked with an herbalist before. I know even I haven’t even though I love herbs and I’ve used a lot of herbs.
Maria Marlowe: [00:01:26] I have not specifically worked with an herbalist, which is something after this conversation, I would like to try because, as Guido explains, herbalists are sort of like plant and human matchmakers and they can really help you choose the herbs that will work best specifically for you. There are a lot of cool and popular herbs. Every year there’s sort of something. This year it’s Ashwagandha. This year it’s turmeric. You know, there’s always a popular herb that’s used in foods, but by working with an herbalist, you can really figure out what’s the best herb for you.
Maria Marlowe: [00:02:04] So in this episode, we’ll talk about some common herbs that you can use, some herbs you probably have never heard of, but are pretty readily available that could be beneficial. We’ll talk about adaptogens. We’ll talk about health tonics, which help you just maintain your health. So a lot of times when we think about food as medicine or herbs, and I think when people think about herbs, they think about supplements, it’s usually in a reactive way. So once we’ve come down with something, we’re looking for an herb to reverse that. But we’ll talk about tonics, which are herbs you will take on a regular daily basis for a long period of time that help support and strengthen your body to prevent those ailments and things from happening or to help avoid those things. And we’ll talk about maybe why you want to work with an herbalist, how to find a good herbalist, and pretty much everything, herbalism, and herbs in this episode. Guido will also be sharing tips from his two books, The Wild Medicine Solution and DIY Bitters.
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Maria Marlowe: [00:03:50] Guido, thanks so much for being here.
Guido Masé: [00:03:53] It’s my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.
Maria Marlowe: [00:03:55] So I feel whenever I see an article about herbalism online, whether it’s Well & Good or any of these other news outlets, I always see your name. You’re always quoted. So, yeah. So I’d love for you to share a little bit more about what it means to be an herbalist. What exactly is an herbalist and what does an herbalist do?
Guido Masé: [00:04:15] Well, the field of herbalism is really wide and there’s a lot of pieces to it that you can choose to pursue, but I think at its core, herbalists are folks who work with plants and mushrooms and kind of act as matchmakers, I guess helping plants and mushrooms find the right people and helping people find the allies from the biosphere that can sort of help us live, more inspired to a certain extent, more comfortable and certainly more engaged lives. And ultimately, I think that’s how I see myself, as sort of a catalyst of engagement between humans and the natural world.
Guido Masé: [00:04:57] Now, being an herbalist means that you need to be familiar with the trails and the roads of the natural world and the stories around plants and mushrooms. And those stories can be folklore and fairy tale as much as they can be chemistry and biochemistry. And being able to pull the right threads of story just as much as being able to find the right mushrooms and plants is important for connecting the folks who might need those herbal remedies to the right ones and to be able to provide that meaning and context for them. So they feel like they’re on this path. They feel like they are making those connections and then they can see the results once they bring those plants and mushrooms into their cup of tea, into their life, onto their kitchen counter, you name it.
Maria Marlowe: [00:05:43] I love how you explain that, that it’s connecting people to plants. I’ve never heard that before and I really like that. That paints a very good picture of what an herbalist is doing. So I do think obviously we’ve all heard of herbalists and we have a general sense in that regard. But I think very few people have actually been to an herbalist. I know even myself who is very interested in herbs and loves learning about them and reading about them, I realized I’ve never actually been to an herbalist. So why may someone seek out an herbalist and what can they expect?
Guido Masé: [00:06:21] Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question. So on our store shelves or now on the Internet, there’s a wide range of all sorts of dietary supplements and foods that are available. And a big chunk of those are herbs and mushrooms. And of course, there are thousands and thousands of medicinal species that are available on the planet, many of which most folks have not even dreamed of or heard anything about. So what an herbalist can do for you is help you refine your selections and act as sort of a sieve for that incredible variety of medicinal plants and mushrooms that are out there in the world and distill out what might be most relevant for you.
Guido Masé: [00:07:04] And also for folks who might be dealing with more challenging health concerns or who might, for example, be taking certain medications to support their health or deal with chronic disease, you name it, it’s important to work with someone who understands the potential for things like herb-drug interactions and ultimately has an eye to the safe and responsible use of herbs. Finally, one thing that a professional herbalist can provide, or an herbalist who has enough experience, let’s say, to be able to work with some of the more drug-like or intense plants is the safe use of some botanicals, like even doTERRA or Belladonna, for example, that perhaps the general public might think of as poisonous, but which, when used in the right dose and with an eye to safety, can really help turn the corner for something like chronic disease, for example, or provide support with sometimes fewer side effects than what a conventional pharmaceutical might be able to provide.
Guido Masé: [00:08:03] So for all those reasons, I’d say sort of distilling the wide variety down to something that’s really relevant to you, being able to do that in a responsible and safe way, that pays attention to the relevant clinical research, as well as the potential for herb-drug interactions or safety issues and be able to sort of pull out some of the more interesting and powerful plants and use them judiciously. Those are all reasons to work with an herbalist. And I just want to add in the end that while I’m a professional member of this organization of herbalists called the American Herbalists Guild, we are a very diverse group of folks. And there’s no one right way to be an herbalist. Some folks have just been working in a rural setting or in a folk practice setting for 40 years, have an incredible experience, really know their local plants, and can give you some really wise and astute advice.
Guido Masé: [00:08:57] Other folks have trained in physiology, chemistry and biochemistry and can talk about the use of plants in a much more sort of scientific context. Neither is the end-all, be-all. And you can find an herbalist that meets your language and meets you where you are which I think is another incredibly beautiful thing about our practice, right? You get to kind of get to know your herbalist and be able to find the one that speaks to you and can contextualize this practice for you more specifically.
Maria Marlowe: [00:09:26] And where would you even begin to look for an herbalist? How would you go about finding someone to even start that process with?
Guido Masé: [00:09:35] That’s another great question, and I’ll preface it by saying you should go into it with sort of your eyes and your heart wide open and expect that it’s going to be a little bit of work. It’s not like going to find a medical doctor, which sort of there’s this, if you have an M.D. or a D.O behind your name, you can be pretty assured about what the experience of that person and the training that that person is bringing to the table looks like. Someone who may call themselves an herbalist, you’re not necessarily as clear that they’ve gone through the same kind of training or have that sort of experience. So expect to have a little bit of give and take and getting to know process.
Guido Masé: [00:10:12] But a great place to start is again at the American Herbalist Guild website, which is just americanherbalistsguild.com. You can list herbalists by state and kind of get a first overview of who the registered professional herbalists in your area might be. And then it’s a question of reaching out to them and maybe checking out what their practice philosophy looks like, what kind of plants they’re into, and what their experiences are and having a conversation. But keep in mind that there are herbalists everywhere in all our local communities and many of them are not professionally registered. That doesn’t mean that they’re not incredible and that they couldn’t be just the ticket for your particular needs.
Guido Masé: [00:10:51] So one place you could go is to a farmer’s market or sometimes even to a local herb shop. Many places around the country have herb shops, believe it or not, now, which is not what we could say maybe 20 years ago and kind of say is there anyone who is doing clinical practice? What does that practice look like? Is it in an office setting or is it in a garden? And begin that work of sort of conversing to find the herbalist that might be the right match for you.
Maria Marlowe: [00:11:18] So you also talk about the plant’s perspective. Can you share a little bit more about that? So when you’re finding the right plant for the person, where does this plant’s perspective fit in?
Guido Masé: [00:11:32] I think that… I don’t know if it’s the bulk, but it’s at least for me, a huge part of my personal development work as an herbalist, and that is taking the time to try and understand what the plant’s perspective might be and the process of relationship building with plants or with mushrooms can take a lot of different forms. It can involve wild harvesting, spending time in the forest, looking at where these plants grow, and how their populations change year to year. It can involve gardening and starting the little babies from seed and watching the coddling leaves unfurl, the plant takes shape, and how many years you have to follow it before you can harvest its root. It can involve reading and studying, you know, for the thousands of years of historical records that humans have documented in terms of their interaction and relationship with plants.
Guido Masé: [00:12:26] But as an herbalist and also as a person who uses plants for their well-being, building your own personal relationships that look at that plant’s perspective is going to be really important. So what that means for me is that when I’m trying to be that matchmaker to make that connection between the person and the plant, I need to have a pretty good sense. Just as if I were saying, you know, I want a couple of my good friends to meet each other. It would make sense for me to know what my friends’ personalities are or what their interests are, what they like to do, because I don’t want to pair someone who’s really an introvert and likes to be indoors and reading with someone who loves extreme sports and is outside and doing intense things all the time. It might just not work out very well.
Guido Masé: [00:14:18] The bottom line for me is that it makes me more receptive, open and relaxed to take Hawthorn berry on a daily basis. And the perspective of the Hawthorn tree, I think, is that all that the chemistry that it produces and that puts in the berry is in part a signal, an overture and an ongoing relationship for the animals in the world around that tree. And ultimately, that’s what I mean by the plant’s perspective. Medicinal herbs and mushrooms make chemistry that they put out into the world, in part to influence us, in part to change our minds, in part to strengthen those bonds between us and the world around us. And in that sense, taking herbal medicine is an act of giving yourself up to that perspective a little bit and saying, I take these polyphenols, these flavonoids from Hawthorn into my life daily so that I can relinquish a measure of my own free will to the Hawthorn plant. And I can begin to act, at least in part, as an emissary of Hawthorn’s thoughts through the animal world, through the rest of the biosphere.
Guido Masé: [00:15:31] And my firm belief, Maria, is that if more people did this, it would change individual minds and hearts and that would start to change communities, society, and culture and fill some of the gaps and perhaps even some of the emptiness that some folks in this culture that is so full and rich still feel.
Maria Marlowe: [00:15:51] Wow, you’re making me want to take Hawthorn berry. Are there any other herbs that should be on our radar? I’ve heard of Hawthorn berry, but I don’t feel it’s a popular one. There are certain herbs that I think we do hear about all the time and get all the sort of media attention and become the go-to or above the year. But other than that, there are so many hundreds, thousands of other herbs that we have no idea about. So, yeah, maybe what are three, five herbs that you think we should know about and maybe add to our medicine cabinet?
Guido Masé: [00:16:29] Well, I mean, I think that the place that I would start would be herbs that are gentlest and safest and the ones that are good for long-term daily use. And we tend to call these herbs, tonics. And that doesn’t mean that they’re not very powerful. It just means that they are safe and gentle and appropriate for long-term use. And Hawthorn berry certainly falls into that category. But there’s this whole family of herbs that we might call colorful berry superfood-type herbs. These would include herbs like Goji Berry, also known as Wolfberry, the Lycium fruit. It would certainly include Aronia berries or, you know, the chokeberries. Blueberries as well.
Guido Masé: [00:17:10] And all of them are kind of like Hawthorn in the face, speak to our heart and cardiovascular system and to the lining of our blood vessels and act as sort of longevity tonics for those all-important tissues. And beyond that, one other major category that we hear a lot about, of course, are the adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms, everything from Eleuthero, also known as Siberian ginseng to ginseng itself, and particularly American ginseng roots, certified organic American ginseng roots in terms of the ones that I will use in my work, but also adaptogens like Schisandra Berry, which crosses the line between Hawthorn and the adaptogens and of course, Ashwagandha, which comes to us from the Ayurvedic tradition.
Guido Masé: [00:17:54] All of these adaptogenic herbs have this incredible ability to do things that I think you see in most living systems, and we think of a human being, we have an ability to sort of balance ourselves right within our normal physiological ranges. If all is going well, we have periods when we’re awake, we have periods when we’re sleeping. We have periods of activity, we have periods of rest. And of course, we have a more objective physiologic balance in our body in terms of our electrolyte balance in our bloodstream, in terms of our cardiovascular balance and the balance of neurotransmitters that course through our nervous system.
Guido Masé: [00:18:29] All of these areas respond to the world in sort of very profound ways. And one of the most profound ways is, of course, our stress response and our stress response is important. It helps us get things done. It helps us navigate life with sort of zest and purpose. But chronic stress, especially at increased levels, we all know can throw us for a loop and over time wear us down. So what adaptogens seem to do is put sort of a kind of like a hug around the stress response, an upper and lower limit, so that we don’t overreact in response to stressors. And so we don’t crash too hard after prolonged stress or in response to an intense stressor like an intense physical or mental performance task. And as a result, we’re able to weather stressors more effectively over time and our energy reserves keep going for longer.
Guido Masé: [00:19:24] What’s really neat is when I suggest an adaptogen like Ashwagandha or Eleuthero to someone in the clinic, I’ll suggest that sometimes for folks who are sort of hyper-stimulated and always on and who you might call classic type A personalities and adaptogens chill them out a little bit, not to the point where you feel sedated at all, which is a beautiful thing. But you’re able to navigate with a more balanced energy level and a little bit less of these sort of bursts of over intensity that you sometimes see. But I can give the exact same adaptogen to someone who’s feeling burnt out, sluggish, uninspired, and fatigued all the time, and it will bring their energy level and mood up. So the same herbs in two different circumstances can have very different results. And it makes sense again if you think about the firm’s perspective, which is one of balancing the way we manage our energy levels.
Guido Masé: [00:20:18] So one more time, I’ll bring it back out to the ecology again. If you think about the human being as this organ that’s able to handle stress and handle life pretty well, adaptogens are sort of a guiding hand that comes to us from the outside world, from the plant world around us and says, that’s great. I will help guide your stress response so that you can navigate the world with more grace. You can have greater energy for longer periods of time. You can sleep more deeply and feel more refreshed. So, of course, beyond those sour, deeply pigmented berry tonics like Hawthorn, the adaptogens are a key and important tonic that I think most folks in today’s culture should get to know.
Guido Masé: [00:20:57] But there’s one more that I want to bring out, and these are sort of our…kind of like superfoods. And they include herbs like nettle, for instance, and gentle herbs like chamomile tea.
Maria Marlowe: [00:21:13] I have some nettle tea here.
Guido Masé: [00:21:13] That’s fantastic. And if you think about the continuum between food and herbs, nettle is sort of somewhere in between. We haven’t bred it like we have carrots to become a carotenoid-rich orange vegetable, which is very different from the wild carrot. But at the same time, it’s not actively medicinal, the way, for example, thyme tea might be when you feel chest congestion to sort of open up your lungs and breathe more easily. It’s something that you can take daily that provides a great source of proteins and crucially all important trace minerals that we think might be a little bit absent maybe from today’s diet and from most of the stuff that we get, even the good stuff like vegetables.
Guido Masé: [00:21:55] So because nettle isn’t grown in the sort of conventional agricultural ways and because no one has hybridized it or bred it to be tastier or less bitter, it’s still conserves a lot of that same wildness that all medicinal plants have and that our produce lacks a little bit. So nettle in that sense is almost the ultimate heirloom. And that’s the idea, that these tonic herbs provide the stream of chemistry that is very old and with which the human species has had a very long-standing relationship. And by reintroducing that stream of chemistry, we see things like our immune system work better. We see things like our detoxification systems work better. Both our skin, but also our liver and also our urinary system in the case of nettles.
Guido Masé: [00:22:42] And my ultimate argument, Maria, isn’t that we’re somehow messed up right now, despite the craziness of our modern life, despite the weirdness of the standard American diet, we’re still strong human beings. What these tonic herbs like nettle, the adaptogens or the berries can do is not sort of improve who we are, but really bring us back to our baseline, our birthright and the natural experience of being a human on this planet. And they do it by introducing the stream of wild chemistry. And so as a result, I feel they’re best consumed on the regular and just put into your cup of tea like you did today with your nettles. It’s close to us. It’s intimate. It’s an experience that we share with the natural world every day. And again, slowly, little by little, especially with these gentle tonics, not only do we see individual wellness improve, but my firm belief is that family, community and cultural wellness also begins to shift in more positive ways.
Maria Marlowe: [00:23:39] I just want to add everything to my teacup now. And I know that there are many different ways that we can get herbs, so tea being one of them. That’s one of my preferred ways, just because I find it so easy to use. But what are some of the different ways that you can take any of these herbs like tinctures? And I know there are many different ways. If you can explain those different ways, that we can get the herbs and is there any sort of hierarchy and is one better than the other?
Guido Masé: [00:24:07] We could we could talk for a while about herbal preparations and plant pharmacology and pharmacy and how to make medicine out of plants. But certainly the oldest way is to just put that plant right in your mouth. And if you’re lucky enough to be in a place that’s safe for wild harvesting or if you’re in your own organic garden, then that’s a great luxury and privilege and, you know, nibbling on some lemon balm leaf when it’s fresh in the garden and getting that burst of citrus is just a great experience in and of itself. But for many of us, that’s just not practical. And certainly, many of us live in a place where six months out of the year, we don’t have a lot of these herbs growing outside.
Guido Masé: [00:24:46] So tea is one of the most traditional ways of consuming these plants. And there’s two ways to do it. One is what’s typically called an infusion, which just involves putting the herbs either in a tea bag or in a tea ball or just loose in a cup and steeping them in hot water for anywhere from 15 minutes to sometimes even overnight, even eight hours. If you really want to extract minerals from herbs like oats or nettles an overnight infusion is great. You steep it covered to retain the chemistry. For tougher things like roots and barks sometimes we’ll do what’s called a decoction. So we’ll start with cold water like you’re making soup stock. And if you think about herbs like garlic, very often you put them in cold water with carrots and onions, which are also food like but herb like too, and then you slowly bring that water up to a simmer and you simmer for a while, maybe with your bones if you’re making a bone broth.
Guido Masé: [00:25:38] So this is actually a great opportunity to introduce adaptogenic mushrooms like Reishi or immune-enhancing roots like Astragalus into something like a simmered broth. And then you can just freeze that broth if you want and you can have a cup of it every day. You’re getting the benefits of the vegetables, but also enhanced by the immunologic benefits, say, of the Astragalus root you put in there. So those infusions and the decoctions of simmered stock are very, very traditional. But ever since Europeans got hold of spirits by distilling things like wine and beer, which was really not that long ago, maybe five, six hundred years ago at most, we started steeping plants in alcohol. And alchemists did a lot of this work, at least in Europe. And what alcohol does is it draws out a little more intensely than water does. It’s able to penetrate through that plant material a little more effectively. And it also draws out a range of chemistry a little more effectively. The plant that I often bring out as an example is the peppermint leaf.
Guido Masé: [00:26:40] You can make a strong cup of tea from good peppermint and it’s menthol-y. And if you breathe it in, it’s almost so strong that it burns your eyes, right? Well, with a tincture, with that same amount of peppermint leaf, if you put it in almost pure alcohol, which is usually what’s used for tincture making you get two to three times the amount of menthol pulled out of the peppermint leaf, then you would from just water. And that’s because alcohol is a little better at dissolving some of those oily compounds. So, again, if you’re comparing tea to tincture, I don’t know that I can really do a universal hierarchy. For many plants, tea is very, very appropriate. For some plants, it totally doesn’t work. Like propolis resin from bees, which you might use as an antiseptic for respiratory infections, doesn’t dissolve in water at all, but it dissolves in pure alcohol.
Guido Masé: [00:27:30] Similarly, some plants that we might use for things like joint health in osteoarthritis, Devil’s Claw tuber. That doesn’t extract in tea very well and it tastes awful. So using it in alcohol is a great and convenient solution. It draws out the chemistry and you only have to take a tiny bit. And that’s the other convenience with tinctures. You can pop it in your pocket, you can put it in your backpack. It’s relatively easy to travel with as long as it’s two ounces in your liquids bag and it allows you to take those herbs with you in a lot of different situations. You can mix usually somewhere between 15 drops and all the way up to maybe even ninety drops of a tincture in two to three fingers of water in the bottom of a glass and you’re good to go. It’s just as if you had brewed a full mug of tea.
Guido Masé: [00:28:16] There are other ways that you can consume medicinal plants too. Ground-up into powders is very common, and that is a great way to consume roots like adaptogenic roots like Ashwagandha for instance, or Eleuthero. Even ginseng to a certain extent, because you are getting actually one hundred percent of the plant material. Whether you’re making a tea or tincture, you’re at a certain point straining the herbs out. And the hope is that most of everything that’s good has gone into your tea water or into your alcohol for your tincture. But in practice, something stays behind. Right? When you’re consuming a powder, you’re swallowing all of that, putting that all into your body, which is really great, especially for these rich and valuable adaptogenic roots that we love so much.
Guido Masé: [00:29:03] Finally, and this is something that I see as a practitioner, we have access to certain concentrated extracts. They’re usually connected to maybe a marker compound that we have found is linked to some of the medicinal activity of that plant. So, for example, a milk thistle seed extract that might be used for liver health or support or even for some folks after a night where you’ve gone out with your friends and maybe had a little too much to drink, milk thistle seed extract is fantastic. It helps improve liver health, drop those liver enzyme counts that happen when the liver is inflamed, but it’s not very soluble in water. And if you were to eat it whole, you’d have to eat multiple tablespoons a day of ground, bitter seed. So this extract concentrates this marker compound or family of compounds called Silymarin into a convenient capsule.
Guido Masé: [00:29:52] And for certain applications, we will use capsules of turmeric that are concentrated for curcuminoids or capsules of milk thistle that are concentrated in Silymarin or even, believe it or not, when working with heart disease, concentrated extracts of the Hawthorn berry put into a capsule that are connected to a certain strength of marker compounds. For most folks, that’s probably not necessary. And I really encourage you to get to know the food-like forms and the tea forms of plants, because it’s much more pleasant to drink a warm cup of tea, in my opinion, than to swallow a capsule.
Guido Masé: [00:30:27] But for sake of convenience, tinctures and extract capsules can be really important. For therapeutic activity at high dose ranges, capsules are sometimes really necessary to concentrate the medicinal power of those plants. But by and large, the application of tea versus tincture or powder, it’s hard to put them in a hierarchy. It depends a little bit on the plants. Again, adaptogenic herbs and roots that wouldn’t extract really well in water, I love as powders. When I’m traveling or for aromatic plants that I really want all those volatile, essential oils that they contain, often tinctures are really great because they capture that brightness in a way that is really, really unique and more powerful than a tea.
Guido Masé: [00:31:07] But for most folks, tea is a fantastic entry and start point that I think is actually really, really powerful, even though it seems kind of commonplace and mundane. Don’t estimate the power of a cup of tea, especially when it’s part of a daily habit.
Maria Marlowe: [00:31:21] I’m glad that you brought up the steeping time because I feel most of us don’t steep it long enough. And I know sometimes it’ll say on there eight to ten minutes, which kind of feels like a long time. I feel most of us stick the teabag in, wait three to five minutes, and then start drinking it. So that’s a good thing to know with the nettle. I’ll definitely start making a bigger batch and let that steep overnight. What about looseleaf teas verses like the ones in the bags? Is there any difference there? Or even at the farmer’s market, I can get fresh lemon balm. So is there any preference there, hierarchy there, or again is it just kind of like get whatever you can get?
Guido Masé: [00:32:04] Yeah. And again, to take the plant’s perspective, if you feel an attraction to a plant like nettle or a plant like lemon balm, my encouragement would be to try it in a few different forms and just experience it in those different ways. And again, it will resonate with you in a way that’s very different than it would for me or than it would for someone else who’s trying that plant. For some herbs, I would say fresh is ideal. And I’d say those herbs are very few and far between will use fresh extract of this very intense, medicinally active plant called pokeweed that is actually toxic. And I don’t suggest your listeners go out and experiment with this without supervision. But the fresh tincture can be used at doses of just two or three drops and achieves remarkable effects for things like lymphoedema, for example. But for most applications, especially tonic applications, drying the plants and using freshly dried plant material is a great way to go.
Guido Masé: [00:33:03] One of the things that I like about fresh plant material, it’s kind of like fresh fish. You know, you get to really see what it’s like and how healthy it is and how vibrant it is. So you can make your own decisions. Sometimes with plants that have been dried, it’s hard to tell how long they’ve been dried and how they’ve been stored. So when you’re moving to either choose a tea bag or to choose some looseleaf herbs, I do encourage you to use your senses before you even steep that cup, to maybe even open up the tea bag and take a look at the plant material. Does it have color to it or is it kind of uniformly brown? Does it have a smell to it? Does it have a strong flavor to it? You know, all these things should be relatively noticeable in herbal material from chamomile To nettle. Nettle with its sort of salty mineral, chlorophyll, sort of rich taste. If nettle sits around for a long time, it loses all of that. Chamomile loses that buttery floral quality that is so characteristic of those flowers.
Guido Masé: [00:34:00] So once you get to know a good supplier that you trust, whether it’s your local herb shop or an online retailer, you’ll be able to confidently go back and continue to brew great tea from that source. But it takes a little while to get to know at first and really just using your senses. You’ll be surprised at the variety of quality that you see on the market in terms of herbal medicine. And this is another reason to maybe have a conversation with your local herbalist who might be able to point you towards some of the more high-quality sauces. But you can see incredibly high-quality plant material going into tea bags for sure. And you can see poor-quality material going into tea bags. And you really can tell the difference by just smelling and tasting.
Guido Masé: [00:34:47] And similarly, with material that you might get in bulk at an herb shop, you can see really high-quality material there but for some places where maybe those herbs aren’t turning over and they’ve been sitting in the sun, some of that material is not as good as it could be. So being able to use your senses and being able to get to know over time what those herbs taste and feel and smell like to you, I think is a really important skill, not just for an herbalist, but for a human being who wants to get to know herbs. Because there is a big variety of them out there. Again, maybe a good entry point would be your local herbalist to kind of say like, hey, where do you get your plants or do you have any recommendations for where I can get some of the best nettles around here? And because there is kind of working that web, if they don’t know right off the bat, they’ll be able to point you towards someone who does.
Maria Marlowe: [00:35:35] So you’ve mentioned the adaptogens quite a bit, and I feel like they are becoming more and more popular and you’re seeing as Ashwagandha in chocolate and drinks and this, that. And the other thing, is it possible to get too much of these things or is it okay if we’re mixing Ashwagandha with other adaptogens? Is there any guidance there?
Guido Masé: [00:35:58] Yeah, I think that, of course, with anything, it’s always possible to get too much, clearly. Even water you can overhydrate in certain situations and it can be really dangerous. Of course, I’m saying that a little bit tongue in cheek. But of all the classes of plants that we use in herbal medicine, I would say the ones we’ve talked about today, you can feel sort of the least concern around overdosing. It’s, let’s say, almost as likely that you would overdose on a gentle adaptogen again, like, for example, Ashwaganda, then you would a carrot. And that said, I think it’s still important to stay within the recommended dose ranges for your adaptogens and to be careful kind of blending, too many of them all at the same time.
Guido Masé: [00:36:47] Most of them, I would say, are safe to use even at high food-like doses. That’s one of the defining characteristics of adaptogens but some of them do have some potential things to watch out for that are included with their use. Eleuthero, Siberian ginseng, for example, for folks who already have high blood pressure, it’s worth kind of paying attention after a couple of weeks of taking it just to see if it’s impacted your blood pressure in any way. Not so with other adaptogens, like Schisandra or Ashwagandha. But the only thing I will say that I’ve consistently seen with adaptogens is that it’s good to take a break every once in a while. This is something that you’ll find both in the official recommendations around the use of adaptogens like Eleuthero or Ashwagandha but it also connects back to the way that these adaptogens seem to be working.
Guido Masé: [00:37:34] We talked about, kind of, putting this upper and lower limit on our stress response. We think one of the ways that adaptogens are doing that is almost by irritating the stress response a little bit. And let me see if I can explain that a little better. When a human being takes adaptogens, the body responds similarly to… When the body and the tissues cells respond in a way that is similar to, for example, heat stress or heat shock, or heavy-duty exercise, or things like caloric restriction. The body responds to the chemistry in adaptogens similarly to the way it responds when it’s under these stressors. So adaptogens are almost like a chemical version of exercise. Again, I say this very much tongue in cheek, because in no way can adaptogens replace physical activity and exercise, but they do elicit some of the same responses in the body that stressors like physical activity elicit. And as a result, the tissue changes, the cell changes its behavior.
Guido Masé: [00:38:38] It begins to modulate the way it uses energy and the way that the nervous system and the stress response in the human being writ large behave in the world, but we want to kind of take that out of the physiology for a week or so, typically every six to eight weeks, to let the body kind of come back and settle down to baseline and recover. And generally, this is something you see in exercise physiology and exercise medicine. We work out for a while, then we kind of take a recovery week and then we start ramping up again and then we kind of take a recovery week again. If we didn’t do that and we just kept pushing and pushing and pushing, eventually we’d reach a plateau and we would stop seeing benefits and we’d stop seeing improvement. So similarly with the adaptogens, just as with an exercise program, we want to take a little bit of a break once in a while to let the body come back down to baseline and do the recovery and repair processes.
Guido Masé: [00:39:31] During this time, I actually love to shift to mineralizing tonics like nettle and oats that sort of gives the body the building blocks. You know, really great fatty acids from flaxseed and chia seed. Sort of these nutritive tonics during that week of recovery. And then you can go back to another six to eight-week cycle of using your adaptogens every day. And if you do that, you’ll find that you continue to see the benefits. And then if you’re using it in concert with exercise and with things like mood and mindfulness training, you will find that you continue to improve and you continue to progress. So the analogy of adaptogens as sort of exercise like I think is a real good one.
Guido Masé: [00:40:11] We need to have periods of rest during our training and the same is true with adaptogens. But if you’re willing to go into little cycles like that, then I don’t think that on a daily basis concern around overdose is something that’s too intense or something that I worry too much about. Stick within what’s normal and reasonable. If you double up the dose one day because you were having a particularly demanding task list ahead of you, that’s fine. If you miss a day or two every once in a while, that’s fine as well. So because they’re tonics, we don’t have to have the same sort of dose obsession that we would with pharmaceutical drugs.
Maria Marlowe: [00:40:47] And it’s interesting because, with the pharmaceuticals, you’re typically taking one pharmaceutical for one specific reason, whereas with these adaptogens it’s more about bringing your body back into balance. If you’re too high in something it can bring you down. If you’re too low, it can bring you up. So, yeah, that’s something that’s pretty unique to these plants. So I know you are also a proponent of bitters. I know you work with bitters. You even wrote a book, DIY Bitters. So can you share a little bit about bitters and where they fit into a healthy lifestyle?
Guido Masé: [00:41:25] Oh, yeah. Maria, bitters are a great entry point into herbal medicine for a lot of reasons. First of all, they’re the sort of great analogy and sort of literal representation of what being an engaged human being is like. Sometimes it’s intense and tastes bitter and we don’t want to do it. And this is true of exercise sometimes too, right? The bitter flavor if left to our own devices, we would never consume it. And in fact, agriculture has systematically removed a lot of the bitterness from the fruits and vegetables that we eat, partly because they taste better without those bitter components. But there’s a couple of things that we lose out on.
Guido Masé: [00:42:04] First of all, those bitter components are usually those polyphenols that we talk about helping with longevity and sort of cellular lifespan and cardiovascular health and resilience. Second of all, the bitter flavor itself has an incredible activating quality for the digestive tract and the digestive process as a whole. You can notice it right away when you taste something bitter on your tongue. And, you know, most folks, I would say that the quickest way to get something better is to go to the grocery store and buy ahead of radicchio or endive. Both of these vegetables are actually chicory plants which grow wild by the side of the highway and are just starting to bloom right around the time of the summer solstice. But you can taste it. It’s juicy like lettuce. And then this bitterness comes that, you know, I would say is kind of pleasant. Maybe not if you’re not used to it.
Guido Masé: [00:42:52] But what happens right away and you’ll notice is you’ll start to produce more saliva. And that’s actually just the tip of the iceberg. Further down your digestive tract, you’re also going to see the production of digestive enzymes and you see this sort of regulatory effect on the muscle of the GI tract too. Two things happen. One is the stomach sort of closes off on both ends and the food inside it sits in there and gets completely digested or the protein is at least broken down really effectively.
Guido Masé: [00:43:26] A lot of time, especially for eating a lot of carbohydrates clients will complain to me that they’ll have something starchy to eat and 20, 30 minutes later, they’ll get very bloated or they’ll feel really uncomfortable, really right under their sternum, right in that tough part of their belly. And in large part, this is due to the fermentation of carbohydrates from incomplete digestion but also the carbs just move right through the stomach and don’t sit there for any appreciable length of time so that they can be broken down by our own digestive enzymes. So bitters help counteract that while at the same time flooding the digestive system with our own enzymes and all of the juices that are necessary for proper digestion. So as a result, you see less bloating, less spasm, less of that drama that’s associated with sort of poor digestive function.
Guido Masé: [00:44:14] But the other thing that I think is really unique and interesting about bitters is that flavor of bitterness is actually the flavor of the wild. Almost all plants that we would have consumed twenty thousand years ago as Hunter-Gatherer humans would have had a measure of bitterness associated with them. Partly because that’s how plants to a certain extent protect themselves from burrowing mammals who might chew on the roots or insects who might browse on the leaves. Over the course of our evolutionary history, we’ve evolved incredible detoxification machinery in our liver, in our small intestine, even in our saliva, to help break down some of those constituents that might be toxic to a grasshopper in overdose. But our detoxification and digestive systems don’t activate in the same way if there’s no bitterness in our diet and no exposure to that flavor on a daily basis.
Guido Masé: [00:45:07] So, again, bitter is the flavor of the wild. It indicates phytonutrient density, especially polyphenol density. But in some cases, the bitterness is intense enough to sort of activate saliva and all of those digestive juices to break our food down properly and completely. So in that sense, it brings our digestive system to the table. It doesn’t do any work for the digestive system the way our digestive enzyme pill might or the way like a Pepto Bismol or antacid might. In fact, the exact opposite, like an adaptogen does for our stress response, bitter tonics balance our digestive function. And if digestive function is sort of overactive and everything’s moving through really quickly and there’s a lot of bloating and irritation, bitters, cool that down and slow it down.
Guido Masé: [00:45:52] Conversely, in usually older folks whose digestive fire might be a little bit dampened compared to when maybe they were in their 20s, bitters can sort of stimulate those juices and get things back online so you can digest your food completely. There are some great simple examples of herbal bitters. If you just start with dandelion root by itself, you’ve got a fantastic bitter tonic to take 10, 15 minutes before meals. You can brew it as tea if you want. You can also chop up dandelions that grow in your backyard and roast them in a cast iron pan until a little bit of nuttiness comes up off the pan, then dry that. You can use that in a drip coffee maker just as you would ground coffee and make a really nice brew.
Guido Masé: [00:46:33] But often the alcohol-based tincture is what folks use because, you know, 15 to 30 drops 10 minutes before you eat, wakes up the digestion, gets you ready to consume your meal completely. I often use bitters in my practice to help folks normalize their digestive function, but also to help them transition off of things like digestive enzymes, which can over time become almost habit-forming. It’s difficult to break things down without them. So if someone has that experience, bitters are a great complement to kind of bring your digestion back to the table again. And I would say what we’re finding now is that herbal bitters go beyond just digestive function. They also activate an immunologic protective response, not only in the GI tract but also in the respiratory passages. And this is a very interesting and sort of very ancient prehuman mechanism that we see all throughout the animal kingdom.
Guido Masé: [00:47:27] When we are exposed to bitter-tasting substances, we activate defensins and simple immunologic proteins that are stored in our cells and tissues that immediately help us neutralize potential pathogens, especially bacteria. And we think this is in part because bacteria secrete molecules that are very similar, believe it or not, to some of the bitter-tasting compounds like in dandelion root. And as a result, when we consume dandelion root, our body says, hey, wait, something’s happening, something’s going on. It might be a poison, it might be an infection. But I need to activate all my detox machinery, all my digestive machinery, and even a little bit of my immunologic response in order to be able to rise to this challenge.
Guido Masé: [00:48:12] It’s really an amazing gift. But again, like all of herbal medicine, it’s our birthright. And part of the reason that we might be seeing appetite dysregulation and digestive disturbance and the “obesity epidemic” in modern American culture today isn’t just the ubiquitous presence of sugar and processed food. It’s also the wholesale absence and removal of this flavor of the wild, the bitterness. And Maria, I’ll just conclude by saying one of the most exciting things for me about bitterness, and I started to see this in clients who would come into our clinic trying to restrict or reduce the amount of carbohydrates that they were eating, either to work on a sort of a ketogenic diet or just because they have a real intense sweet tooth and they want to try and get a handle on that.
Guido Masé: [00:49:00] It’s like asking a smoker to quit smoking by taking them back to 1920 and putting them in a salon in Paris where everyone was smoking tobacco all the time. Our culture is pushing sugar and refined carbohydrates 24/7 through all media channels and every gas station at every moment. It’s very, very different than the environment in which we evolved. And it’s almost impossible to get a handle on that on your own because it’s very addictive to consume refined carbohydrates. What the bitter flavor can do is interrupt that cycle of craving and consumption that you see in many folks today. So I tell them, don’t beat yourself up. The food industry is trying to keep you hooked on carbs. When you feel the desire for carbohydrates, try something bitter. And what you’ll find is that it will take the hangry feeling away that you might be experiencing and it will activate your digestion.
Guido Masé: [00:49:55] You’ll get control over your mind again and you can make a choice like, wow, maybe I should have some avocados or maybe I should have some almonds or something that might actually be a better nutritive choice than those chips or cookies that are right front and center at the grocery store when you walk in and you’re hungry. And this translates to not just reduced cravings for sugars and sweets, but also to decreased overall caloric consumption. And there have been a couple of interesting clinical trials associated with this. What they basically do is they’ll provide some folks with something bitter and other folks with just an inert solution to taste. And then they’ll put them in front of an all-you-can-eat buffet and say, hey, just eat as much as you want. And when you’re done, come back and check in with us.
Guido Masé: [00:50:40] And the folks who consume something bitter before eating on average consume 20 to 30 percent fewer calories from the all-you-can-eat buffet. And it’s not because they’re starving themselves. It’s not because they’re beating themselves up for eating. It’s simply because the digestion is operating correctly now because that bitter signal that would normally always have been present with our food is there. Again, you can do it easily with liquid bitters, sort of our Urban Moonshine liquid bitters, which is one of the brands that I’ve sort of worked with, and some of the formulas that I helped develop are a good choice. But there are so many other ones out there. And even something as simple as Angostura, you know the old school bitters that bartenders still use as a remedy for an upset stomach are going to be okay as well if that’s all you can find.
Maria Marlowe: [00:51:28] So I love Urban Moonshine as well. That’s another way I saw that you’ve made some of those formulas. And digested bitters are something I also recommend all the time to anyone who has digestive issues, and I do think they are far superior to an enzyme which I feel people know more about, or you hear more about enzymes, typically. But I like that bitters don’t replace what you need, but they help your body do what it’s supposed to do. So I keep a little travel… I like the little travel spray bottles because I find that just easy to keep in your purse and take with you. Or if you’re out and you don’t have bitters, you can just order the bitter salad. So maybe if there’s something on the menu with radicchio or endive like you said earlier, that can also be a bitter taste. So I know we don’t have too much time left, but so maybe we could do a quick rapid-fire with some of the common ailments or complaints, and what are your top one to three herbs for them and then we’ll end with one last question. So. All right. So anxiety and stress.
Guido Masé: [00:52:36] I love the aromatic plants. And you can pick the ones you would like, whether it’s lemon balm or chamomile, or lavender. All these plants that have strong aromas speak to our heart and can help untangle tension. And they do it in a gentle and safe way. But we have stronger plants like Kava Kava for example, for anxiety and stress. And it is amazing for that purpose. It really does have some important safety concerns associated with it. And you should be careful before using it, depending on what your life looks like and what your medications look like.
Maria Marlowe: [00:53:07] Okay, what about glowing skin, clear glowing skin? What should we have.?
Guido Masé: [00:53:13] This is a place where I usually turn to two main classes of plants. One are what we might call lymphatics or more broadly herbalists would call alterative herbs. And they include red clover, for instance, which has a history of traditional use in tea or skin health, but also herbs like cleavers and to a certain extent, nettles. Then I will also recommend gentle bitters, and there’s a couple that are at the top of the list if skin concerns are what you’re trying to work with. And I try to usually differentiate them a little bit based on what the dominant skin type might be that a person is experiencing. So, for example, if the skin tends to be a little dry and maybe irritated at times or if there’s some inflammation associated with eczema, I turn to burdock root. Burdock root is fantastic, and it can be used as a powder or even as food. You can slice up burdock root and use them in a stir-fry.
Guido Masé: [00:54:05] If the skin, on the other hand, is a little more oily we turn to members of the Berberidaceae, and that includes plants like Oregon, grape root, and Barberry. These are typically best taken as tinctures because they’re just so bitter. But they’re fantastic for oily skin patterns. And we usually use them for modulating sebaceous glands, sebum production so that it’s less thick and there’s less of a chance of blocking pores. Finally, one plant that I think should be on hand for skin and as part of almost, let’s say, a cleansing ritual that you might get into on a daily basis is camomile. Even camomile tea bags for things like puffiness around the eyes but just as an overall skin tonic that is slightly astringent and can be used like roses topically for skin health.
Maria Marlowe: [00:54:51] What about nice, beautiful, strong, shiny hair and strong nails?
Guido Masé: [00:54:56] So a lot of the time we’ll turn to herbs that are good and supportive for connective tissue and minerals and mineralizing. So right at the top of the list for that comes nettles. Nettles have been used as a sort of hair, skin, and nail tonic for a very long time. Some herbalists will also use Horsetail as a silica source and mineralizing agent. I haven’t had incredible results with that plant, so I can’t speak personally from experience there. But nettle definitely, definitely helpful. And then there are topical strategies, particularly for the hair. A lot of times herbalists will make infusions of not just plants like chamomile, which is great, especially for any kind of scalp irritation or anything like that but also rosemary, as a great sort of enlivening tonic for the scalp and also sort of a gentle degreaser for the hair, especially if hair tends to get a little more oily.
Guido Masé: [00:55:52] Finally, I will say that for hair, skin, and nails in general, I really ask folks to pay attention to their essential fatty acid consumption. Things like your omega-three fats, for instance. And I do like food sources like chia seeds or flax seeds as a way to get some of those precursors for essential fatty acids. But clearly, good wild fish like salmon can be useful there as well if you do eat animal flesh. And also remembering that we have to be careful with that during pregnancy because of the potential mercury load.
Maria Marlowe: [00:56:25] And what about immune health? How can we boost our immune system or support our immune system?
Guido Masé: [00:56:31] So I want to make the distinction here between sort of long-term immune tonics, which adaptogens are to a certain extent because stress is so intense for the immune system to handle. Right? But also long-term immune tonics like Astragalus Root and Reishi Mushroom, which I think are two of my favorites. These are herbs you can take all year long, without even any interruption. You can put them in your soup stock. You can take them forever. But they’re especially useful to take a few weeks to maybe even a few months before the seasonal transition of fall, especially if you’re concerned with getting a lot of viral respiratory infections during the course of the winter season, or if you’re in high exposure situation like working in a retail setting or having young kids in daycare or things like that.
Guido Masé: [00:57:17] So those tonics are really important. And they don’t just help with keeping your immune system strong. They also help buffer overreactive immune systems. So we use them in autoimmune disease. We also use them in allergies and hypersensitivity. But then, if you’re dealing with allergies, for instance, herbs like Goldenrod or Fresh Stinging Nettle extract can help in the moment, help you feel less congested, and deal with your symptoms. Similarly, if you know you’re getting on a plane or you’ve just had an exposure to something, someone coughed all over you, you’ll want to turn to herbs like Echinacea root, for example, and maybe even circulatory enhancers like ginger to give you a little bit of a boost in the moment.
Guido Masé: [00:57:56] And so that’s what I usually reserve. Echinacea and also elderberry for, maybe with a little bit of ginger spice for when I need it most, when I feel like I just got exposed to something. But I try to keep those tonics like Astragalus and Reishi in the background, sort of working and helping my immune system stay active and engaged. I work with those every day.
Maria Marlowe: [00:58:16] All right, well, thank you so much. This has been so informative to close, I have one last question that I ask all my guests. If there’s just one tip that you can leave our guests with on how they can live a happier and healthier life, what would that be?
Guido Masé: [00:58:32] My tip would be if you are walking around outside in a park or even in a city and a plant catches your eye, whether it’s out of the corner of your eye, you see a burst of color or there’s an intriguing leaf pattern or something happens that a plant catches your eye, don’t just walk by. Every once in a while, if you can do it once a day, that’s great, if you can do it once a week, that’s great, take a moment and literally stop and smell the roses. Take a moment to follow that call and see where it leads you. Sometimes it might not be anywhere special, but other times it might be actually life-changing. So open your heart, open your eyes and follow through on signals from the natural world and start with something simple like that. Just take 30 seconds and connect with the plant that called you out of the corner of your eye.
Maria Marlowe: [00:59:26] Thank you so much. If you guys want to learn more from Guido, you can check out his books on Amazon – Wild Medicine Solution and DIY Bitters. Thank you so much.
Guido Masé: [00:59:37] Maria, thank you. Thank you!