Herbal Tips for Managing Without Caffeine

The Lowdown:

  • Chronic, long-term Caffeine users should consider a gradual taper as opposed to cold-turkey if practical
  • The Carminative effects of Peppermint are at least partially responsible for increased feelings of alertness and well-being
  • 1.5 grams of dried Lemon Balm (3 grams if fresh) or a 300mg extract can reduce brain-fog and increase cognition, as well as feelings of wellbeing
  • Rhodiola Root is a great Caffeine alternative
  • Properly prepared Chaga may prove to be quite stimulating in less than a week
  • When preparing aromatic teas at home, always cover after infusing with boiled water to prevent the medicinal volatile oils from escaping via steam, and rewarm to inhale the vapours for maximum therapeutic effects
  • Strain your teas loose if possible for maximum extraction efficiency

If Caffeine is consumed habitually, tolerance to most of its effects develop. This may be problematic if one uses Caffeine from botanical sources to improve athletic performance or in an attempt to improve energy levels and productivity. I myself have been noticing the effects of Caffeine tolerance for a small while. What is more, according to EXAMINE.COM and Lore of Running (Tim Noakes, p.726), increasing doses of Caffeine will not make up for this tolerance by a great deal, it may just cause more side effects like jitteriness, increased urination, insomnia and other conditions. This makes sense based on the theories I pulled out explaining how Caffeine really works in prior entries. A quick recap–it’s an adenosine-mimic and adenosine itself is responsible for slowing the body down. However, there’s only so much space on a brain’s neuron and only so many adenosine receptors, so eventually increasing Caffeine will not be able to act as adenosine mimics since there is no room left.

If one wants to reestablish Caffeine sensitivity, or if one is considering foregoing Caffeine altogether, a gradual taper is recommended, particularly for chronic consumers. A cold-turkey approach is doable but can result in more withdrawal symptoms such as headache and low energy even with the help of the alternative herbs I will be covering. Once the taper is complete, I recommend a full 11 days of zero Caffeine and most other CNS stimulants. Other herbs can help with this tapering process and will likely be effective when Caffeine has been completely cut out of the diet.

There are several herbal options, but the two categories I want to focus on are the aromatic mints and the adaptogens.

Of the aromatic mints, let me discuss the functional, cognitive and stimulating benefits of two: Peppermint (Mentha Piperita) Leaf and Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinalis).

I have already covered the adaptogens and some individual ones somewhat in depth and while Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea) Root is definitely a good energetic Caffeine alternative, this time I’d like to profile Chaga (Inonotus obliquus). Remember that these are hardly complete profiles of the botanicals in question but rather on how they can improve energy.

MINTS

Peppermint

Rosemary Gladstar has described Peppermint as a “blast of green energy” (Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide, p.184) and I quite agree. Although completely Caffeine-free, Peppermint can be surprisingly stimulating. There are probably several reasons for this, and I have theories as to when it is most effective in combating fatigue. It’s common knowledge that Peppermint helps with digestion and as such is frequently taken after meals as a digestif. In fact, as I mentioned in my very first post, depending on one’s constitution certain foods can be hard to digest and can contribute significantly to tiredness. Peppermint works fast to speed digestion after all sorts of meals, not just the heavy ones. By lightening the stomach, one is able to combat a functional fatigue that results from a hard-working digestive system. In addition to this, Peppermint simply has an invigorating, powerful scent. I recommend taking the time to really inhale those vapours from the tisane and then savour its intense invigorating flavour. The flavour and vapours alert the mind, although I admit I’m not entirely certain as to why this is. It might have something to do with the oil’s apparent vasoconstricting effects, which is why the pure essential oil is effective at reducing migraines when applied directly to the forehead as a compress. However, it’s important to use enough Peppermint to achieve the maximum benefits. Unless one has a serious allergy to members of the Mint family, it is non-toxic and has GRAS (Generally Recommended as Safe) status in the US. High doses are diaphoretic (sweat-inducing) but this is harmless. I reccomend using 2.5grams of dried Peppermint leaf per 250ml cup steeped and covered in just-boiled water for at least 20 minutes, and you can use more if you’re feeling bold. Double this amount for the fresh leaf. It’s important to keep the infusion covered as the volatile oils will otherwise escape and these oils are so important for Peppermint’s alerting and carminative effects.

Lemon Balm

This herb is a little tricky as a Caffeine substitute but should definitely not be overlooked. The tricky aspect here is that high doses may be too sedating for daytime use. Lower doses, on the other hand, while not stimulating per se, have been shown in studies to increase cognitive function, and isn’t that a major reason why people commune with the caffeinated members of the plant kingdom? In fact, Lemon Balm has been studied as an adjunct for Alzheimer’s treatment and it’s also used as a herbal option for ADD. In other words, this is a useful herb for combatting the “brain fog” that may be apparent when withdrawing from Caffeine. The trick is not to take too much during the day, as this will likely decrease alertness and may contribute to fatigue. There are standardised extracts that one can buy of 300mg, which for New Chapter is the crude equivalent of 1.5g of the herb. This 300mg extract, and perhaps by extension this 1.5g dose steeped as a tisane, is the dose that has been observed for improved cognition (55 Most Common Medicinal Herbs: 2nd ed, Heather Boon and Michael Smith, p.291). If steeping as a herbal tisane, again remember to cover it to prevent the valuable volatile oils from escaping and to use about 8 ounces of boiled water per dose for at least 20 minutes before straining. Also try and remember to inhale the vapours while drinking! 

I mention straining, and this applies to Peppermint and all other medicinal herbs as well, because most teabags make for poor extractors into the menstruum (the liquid used for extracting the herb, which in these cases would be boiled water). There are exceptions, of course, but these exceptions aren’t typically found in the bagged tisanes found in grocery aisles. In fact, a big part of herbal medicine’s potency is the strength and quality of the herbal product that is used, as well as its age. A bagged brand from Tetley’s or President’s Choice is likely especially cheap for a reason; I suspect these herbs are the leftovers of harvest that were deemed insufficient for higher-end use. Thus some good rules of thumb when buying herbs for home-use are to buy and prepare them loose and to ensure that they are no more than a few months old at the very most in order to ensure maximum potency. If your supplier is not sure of the age of his or her herbs and is unwilling to find out, shop elsewhere. Of course, fresh mints from someone’s garden don’t have an issue with age; just remember to double the dose.

Adaptogens

Chaga

Here is an excellent in-depth article on Chaga. For now, I’m not going to focus on the scientific evidence myself, but rather how I feel it is of personal benefit to me. After about a week of the rough equivalent of consuming 10 grams Chaga via strong decoction, I’m finding a pronounced energizing effect. When prepared correctly it tastes remarkably like a strong cup of Coffee, and I feel it tastes especially heavenly with the addition of warmed soy, so Coffee-lovers seeking to take a break from their Caffeine-fix take note! However, it’s important to prepare Chaga correctly as the Chitin protecting it is very poorly digested by humans so a minimum of a very strong decoction is needed to reap this fungus’ benefits. A slow-cooker is a useful tool for an overnight or while-you’re at-work decoction. For me, decocting chaga is still an art and not yet a science but I’m getting better at it.

Here are my own personal notes on this:

  • This delicious brew seems to have come out at just the right strength when starting with 1.5 litres of water and simmered with the cover on for about 3 hours and then with the cover off for about5 hours. There are some problems with this arrangement though, namely that it only produces about 2 cups after evaporation. Consider using multiple pots on the stove for greater efficiency. It’s of course very dangerous to leave your home with the stove on so always mark the start and stop times when leaving the apartment—don’t forget! Of course, leaving it to soak in the pot during off hours may affect the resultant brew; if you find this to be the case you can always strain the mycelium out while you’re away. ~5.5 hours decocting time seems to be the sweet spot but you’ll still need to play around to figure out what works best. Slow-cooking, for instance, is a whole other option with a whole other set of variables, or sometimes both stovetop and slowcooker methods can be combined. Grinding the Chaga theoretically should shorten the decoction time whilst retaining the same flavour profile and beneficial compounds, or it may be tried this way in the slow-cooker after the stovetop method. Be observant yet flexible until you find out what works best—i.e.—don’t be afraid to play around as long as you remember what you do. It’s important to extract as much as you can from this fungus—it might be very healthy for you!

 

  • A bold brew that tastes heavenly with the addition of warmed soy was the result of adding one partially decocted chunk from your “largest pot mistake”—extracted for about 2 hours—into an already simmering decoction of another chunk with a total steeping time of roughly 5.5 hours. You kept the lid on for a lot longer with that small pot—not the ceramic one. Still, you reduced from 6 cups to 3. But the real key to flavour is likely the weight of the Chaga and since you were not consistent here you can only surmise that the combined weight was roughly an ounce. It’s also possible that more Chaga compensates for less concentration. In any event, you’re making more cups this way. Continue your observations.

 

  • ~36gram chunk from ~15 cups water reduced to roughly half in the slow-cooker on “high” for the majority of the time leads to another heavenly Coffee-rich brew when warmed up with soy. Weight definitely factors in.
  • Slow cooker coarsely ground Chaga at “high” for ~6hours then at “low” for ~2.5hours reduces 6 cups to about 3 resulting in a strong yet palatable brew when warmed soy is added, the only major drawback being the annoying powdery residue left at the bottom of cups.

 

 

  • Slow cooker whole Chaga 14.56grams High setting for ~8.5hours reduces 6 cups to 3 when covered. The result is a pleasant, smooth-tasting beverage that is often enjoyed straight.

Chaga can be quite potent so remember to dose carefully. Do this by weighing the amount used and dividing it per portion based on the amount of water left. A rooky decocting mistake is to assume that less liquid makes for a weaker remedy; it assuredly isn’t as you’re getting the same amount of the marc (plant or mushroom used as extraction source) in a more concentrated form. This applies even if there is only a small amount of menstruum remaining (there may be exceptions involving plants with high volatile oil content whereby the oils are destroyed in the decocting process but this assuredly isn’t the case here and those types of plants generally shouldn’t be simmered for long periods of time to begin with.) 

Of course, thre are several other caffeine alternatives that I haven’t even bothered to mention, such as Sage, Rosemary and others. I’m really only scratching the surface here on what I think may be most helpful to those seeking to reduce or eliminate caffeine from their diets and I hope this is a good start.

Remember to email me at thewholeherb@gmail.com for your own ideas on this matter, and catch you next time!

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About Eric

Interests: Books, news, politics, parrots, video-games, movies running, and of course, HERBALISM! Favorite Books: Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION series, I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE, Arthur C. Clarke's RAMA series, THE KITE RUNNER Favorite Herbs: Rhodiola Rosea, Tea (Camelia Sinensis), Cacao (Theobroma Cacao)
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