Rattle Those Bones!

driftwood

 To listen to a radio broadcast of The Herbal Highway on this topic click on the following link: http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/88126

Osteoporosis is a growing concern in our country as we get older as a nation. Before you decide this isn’t an important topic for you personally, consider that good bone health is important for everyone, even if you aren’t in a high risk category. And, from a holistic perspective we are always looking at prevention.  Prevention ideally starts in childhood, however, you can start in at any time.

What is osteoporosis?

Our bones are living tissue and they are in a constant flow of change called resorption and reformation. Resorption is the process where the body pulls minerals from the bones to be used elsewhere in the body, or if something is out of balance that causes the leaching of minerals. Reformation is the process where the body adds minerals to the bones.

In osteoporosis the natural process of bone resorption and reformation is out of balance and the resorption is faster than the reformation. In other words, the bones are losing more than they are gaining and lose density.

Some people have osteopenia which is also low bone density but not low enough to be considered osteoporosis.

Who gets it? What is the prevalence?

You have a higher risk of getting osteoporosis if any of the categories below are true for you:

  • Born female
  • Caucasian,  Asian 2nd highest racial group
  • Post-menopausal woman
  • Older adult
  • Small in body size
  • Eat a diet low in calcium
  • Physically inactive
  • Family history of osteoporosis

Please remember, being in a higher risk group does not mean that is your destiny, it means that you need to take better care of your bones because the likelihood is higher.

Here are some statistics, for you number lovers, from the Center for Disease Control (2004):

  •  1 in 2 women are likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis in her lifetime
  • Eight out of 100 (or 7.94%) adult women reported being diagnosed with osteoporosis
  • Twenty out of 100 (or 19.8%) adult women said that they have a family history of osteoporosis
  • Women with a family history of osteoporosis were 2.4 times more likely to have osteoporosis than women without such history

What are bones anyway?

Many of us think of bone as inert, when actually it is living tissue in a constant state of resorption and reformation. Bones are made up of minerals embedded with living cells and collagen (which provides flexibility). These living cells of our bones need food and oxygen, like all cells in our body.

Our skeleton is also designed to protect our internal organs and allow movement. It is rather interesting that one of the hardest, most solid structures in our body is what allows us to move. Our muscles would be useless without our bones to pull against and give shape.

Density of bone is important as is flexibility. The big concern is breaking bones, especially later in life.  So, that flexibility also helps protect us from breakage, not just the density alone.

Bone formation is determined by hormones, diet and stress on a bone. Stress on a bone causes it to grow; part of how anthropologists determine the occupation of skeletons that they find. Greater levels of testosterone mean greater bone density. So men are less prone to osteoporosis, but not immune. And diet, as always, you are what you eat…and how well your body assimilates what you eat.

Peak bone mass refers to the genetic potential for bone density. By the age of 20, the average woman has acquired most of her skeletal mass; men a little later. As we age, we lose bone mass which increases our risk of osteoporosis. For women this occurs around the time of menopause.

It is important for young girls to reach their peak bone mass in order to maintain bone health throughout life. A person with high bone mass as a young adult will be more likely to have a higher bone mass later in life. Inadequate calcium in the diet and not enough physical activity early in life can affect someone’s ability to reach their peak bone mass as an adult.

Move your body!

Yes, exercise is beneficial for just about everything.  Lack of exercise is a huge factor in osteoporosis. We need weight bearing and muscle strengthening exercise; including activities that improve posture, balance, and flexibility.

The experts recommend at least 30 minutes most days of moderate activity. Children need at least 60 minutes of moderate activity most days. Examples of weight bearing exercise include walking, running, weight training and aerobics. Exercise such as the following help with strengthening and flexibility: stretching, yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gong and swimming.

What to avoid

So, we don’t have control over a lot of the risk factors (except exercise and proper nutrition) but there things we can do. Not surprisingly, the list of what to avoid to help prevent osteoporosis is the same list of what we want to avoid for many other health issues.

Things to avoid:

  • Diets high animal protein, sodium or sugar
  • Artificial carbonation
  • Smoking, alcohol, caffeine
  • Many pharmaceuticals

Many pharmaceuticals have bone loss as a potential side effect. So when it is necessary to take a drug, and sometimes it is, stay in contact with your doctor about your lowest effective dose and when, or if, you can come off of it. They include many common drugs such as; antacids containing aluminum,  some types of chemotherapy, lithium, PPIs (like Prilosec), SSRIs (such as Zoloft and Prozac), some steroids and excess thyroid hormones, just to name a few.

It is important for you to know the potential side effects of any medication that you are taking and know how often you need to get tested (either for blood levels or organ function). Most drugs are metabolized in your liver, kidneys or both; so those two organs are working harder, under more stress. You can find this info on your drug insert, from your pharmacist, doctor or online on websites such as, www.rxlist.com . (I don’t particularly endorse this site, it is just one example of many.)

What to eat

Obviously you want to eat a good, healthy diet in general. More specific to osteoporosis you want to eat a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables; with a focus on calcium and anti-oxidants.

Foods that are high in calcium include:

  • sesame, sunflower, pumpkin seeds, almonds, brazil nuts (make sure all of these are good quality and not rancid since they are high in fat)
  • Dark green leafy veggies (eaten with lemon or vinegar to aid assimilation) such as: spinach, kale, dandelion greens watercress, parsley, collard greens, broccoli , bok choy
  •  Whole grains
  • Legumes, especially: black eyed peas,  kidney and black beans
  • Black strap molasses: use in moderation and make sure it is not from GMO beets
  • Seaweed; careful about source especially post Fukushima
  • Dairy; fermented, organic.  Skim milk is devoid of fat and enzymes necessary for proper calcium absorption. It is best not to rely heavily on dairy as your calcium source because too much animal protein leaches calcium from the body.
  • Canned salmon and sardines with bones. Balance your intake of canned fish with the issues of mercury levels and BPA in cans in mind.
  • Bone broth made with vinegar. Consider the quality of your meat sources if you do this.

Anti-oxidant rich foods improve bone health as well. To get the most antioxidants, eat a diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Variety is important so include a mix of colors, especially the dark green, orange, red and blue fruits and vegetables. Hawthorne berries and rosehips are also high in antioxidants and taste great in tea blends.

 Tune in to the next installment of this article where I’ll go over herbs to physically support your bones as well as a look at the emotional patterns connected to bone health.

 

Be well!

Sarah

 

 

Stomach Grumbles

herbal medicine

 

To listen to a radio broadcast on this topic, click on this link, http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/85965

I am often talking about how important digestion is; as are many alternative health care practitioners. Good food, good eating habits and a healthy digestive system are the foundations of good health. Our food provides vital nutrients for our bodies to function properly. So we need the good food going in and the body working well to assimilate that food. Not a new concept but so important  to remember.

Today I want to focus on the stomach, as digestion is a big topic and so many people have stomach issues. Starting with looking at the function of the body as metaphor, what does the stomach do? The stomach is where we take in nourishment; so it has to do with issues of receiving, nourishment, nurturing. Because of this, stomach issues can also be related to mother or father issues. If you have stomach issues and any of these topics are also issues for you, you might consider that they are interrelated and that both the physical and emotional need to be addressed to get deeper healing/balance.

Look at common expressions regarding the stomach: Can’t stomach it, tough to swallow. These expressions give a picture into our culture of how we view the stomach. The stomach is located near the third chakra so you can consider issues around personal power and will as well.

Many essences deal with these issues, here are just a few examples to consider:

Mother Temple  (Bali Essences, http://janebellessences.com/) sense of home, comfort and security of belonging, safety, celebrating connections, love, opens the heart to trust and be nourished by or connection to the seen and unseen that we share life with

Monkeypod Tree (Hawaiian Essences, http://janebellessences.com/) healthy male nurturing energy that shelters us from outside influences that could confuse or distract us from living authentically with purpose; being sheltered in a big safe canopy of nurturing care while we discover who we are and why we’re here

Moon (Planetary Essences, http://stargazerli.com/essences/planetary-essences) comforting, nourishing, gentle

Covellite (Alaskan Essences, http://www.alaskanessences.com/products/gems_1.html) feeling unprotected and vulnerable, too easily stimulated by the energies of others, unsure of boundaries and unable to claim one’s own space; brings: strength, clarity and definition to your energy field, protective filter that allows you to relax energetically, enhances our ability to receive love and support from the environment

Maybe you think your stomach is working just fine but you have digestive issue further down the track, like your intestines or liver. Supporting your stomach to work optimally will help the related organs that are impacted; especially important if they are under stress.

Getting started

Remember what you do before the food gets to your stomach plays a role in how well your stomach handles the food. Are you relaxed, chewing slowly and carefully? It is also important not to drink too much liquid during your meal, this dilutes the digestive enzymes in your stomach and you won’t digest your food as efficiently.

Of course you need to consider what foods you are eating, when you are eating, how they are prepared, etc. For the sake of this article, I’m not going to go over those specifics. While there are many schools of thought on food combining, most agree that fruit should be eaten by itself. Ideally two hours apart from other types of food.

If you are nervous do you get a dry mouth? If so, it is especially important for you to relax when you eat, because that saliva drying up in your mouth means that your stomach is secreting less gastric enzymes.

Consider taking bitters 10-20 minutes before meals. There are many wonderful herbal products on the market called bitters, or you can make your own blend, or you can take a simple, one bitter such as gentian.

 Stress and anxiety

So, it is important to note that it isn’t just about what you eat or just how well your digestive system is working but it is also about what you are doing the rest of the day. Your lifestyle. There is no magic pill or food or herb. In order to fully participate in our health we have to look at our whole life. It is all connected. Even the scientists will tell you that; at least the physicists. A couple of herbs that really work on the physical/emotional connection of the digestive system are:

Chamomile – warming, relieves gas, colic, strengthens appetite, decreases inflammation, heartburn, emotional tension held in stomach, anti-anxiety

 Lemon balm – cooling, flatulence with spasms, colic, stomach tension when worried, has a gentle emotional uplift

Herbs

Many of these you will recognize as culinary herbs, this is no coincidence. Most culinary herbs either support digestion, inhibit unwanted microbes/germs or both. All of the herbs below work on many other issues as well, but I’m focusing here on digestive support.

 Basil – cooling, aids digestions, carminative (stimulates the digestive tract to work correctly and with ease – soothes smooth muscles of the gut), nervine, slightly sedating, colic (gut spasoming)

 Thyme – warming, carminative, antiseptic, antispasmodic

 Oregano – Indigestion, cough, headache, emenagogue, poultice for painful swelling, EO for toothache

 Ginger – hot and stimulating, stimulates appetite, nausea, with peppermint for motion sickness, increases pelvic circulation

 Cinnamon – astringent, carminative, antibacterial, antimicrobial, helps dispel gas, helps diarrhea

 Cardamom – flatulence, indigestion, sweetens breath, takes edge off adrenal stress from caffeine

 Cayenne – hot, anti-microbial, carminative, promotes stomach secretions, stimulates peripheral circulation,

 Fennel – warming, flatulence, indigestion

 Coriander – seeds soothe upset stomach, aid digestion (tea or chew on seeds)

 Black pepper – stimulating, increases flow of gastric enzymes, helps prevent constipation

Stepping away from the spice rack:

Gentian – cold, great bitter, stimulates saliva, gastric secretions and bile, stimulates appetite, sluggish digestion (gas, indigestion); contraindications: debilitated state, acute GI inflammation, w/ care in pregnancy

 GERD/reflux :

Note that most pharmaceutical and over the counter ant-acids exacerbate the problem. They reduce the stomach acid, the body gets a message that there isn’t enough acid and produces more. So a vicious cycle is in place without the healing happening.

Meadowsweet – cooling, anti-inflammatory, antacid, demulcent; contraindications: allergic to salicylates, on blood thinners, pre-surgery, animals

Calamus – carminative, calms stomach, relieves heartburn, ulcers, bitter, wasting syndrome, IBS;  contraindications: pregnancy, bleeding disorders, MAO inhibitors

 Stomach and duodenal ulcers:

 St. John’s Wort oil -  one tsp twice daily

 Marshmallow root – cooling, demulcent, healing to mucous membranes, anti-inflammatory; cold infusion best

 Comfrey – cooling, anti-inflammatory, demulcent, wound healing, promotes cell growth, stimulates mucous membranes contraindications: do not use root internally with severe liver issues

So consider what ails your stomach, why is it grumbling at you and see what you can do to not just relieve symptoms but get to the heart (or stomach) of the matter.

Some good books to consider:

Digestive Wellness by Elizabeth Lipski

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill by Udo Erasmus

Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz

 

Be Well!

Sarah

Some Like it Hot

herbal medicine

 

Hot enough for you? So many places across the country are experiencing extended heat waves this summer. Acknowledging this trend I wanted to share some ideas about how to cope with the heat and embrace it.

Food

This is the time to eat more raw and therefore cooling foods. Of course, how much raw food is comfortable to your digestive system varies for each of us. Always listen to your body. Lettuce, cucumbers (don’t forget cool slices on your eyes, not just for the fancy salons) and most fruit (especially watermelon and grapes).

Spicy foods cool you down by making you sweat and bringing your body’s heat to the surface where it can be released.

Drink lots of water; add some lemon, lime, cucumber or even a pinch of sea salt

herbal medicine

Flower essences in keeping with the ‘hot’ theme:

Sun (Keeping Time Essences from http://stargazerli.com/ ) “warm, uplifting, radiant”

Lava (Hawaiian Essences from http://janebellessences.com/) “Holds the wild creative potential to flow with change rather than resist it. Owning our power as creators to potently manifest our intentions into form. Getting unstuck!”

Caldera (Hawaiian Essences from http://janebellessences.com/) “A bubbling pot of co-creativity which empowers us to self generate transformation from within. Knowing we have the power to shape and remold physical ‘reality’. Great for writer’s block!”

Fig (Greek Tree Essences from http://melissaassilem.com/) “The sacral or sexual chakra, about sexual prowess and production of creativity. The rising sap of the tree in spring. For those who don’t know when sexual opening is safe. It brings safety and sensuality, therefore a female aphrodisiac as well as a reproductive strengthener.”

Golden Sunburst (Greek Tree Essences from http://melissaassilem.com/) “The solar plexus chakra; expressing personality to the world. A place of great suppression. It relates to the bark of the tree. For attention seekers who feel empty inside. Needing constant appreciation for their outward appearance. Deeply affected by lack of sun, it can bring deep personal joy.”

 

Embrace sweating. Stay hydrated and let the water cycle through you. A luke-warm bath or shower can do wonders as well. So let yourself melt a bit and know that a cool breeze is on its way.

Be well!

Sarah

Dealing with Environmental Toxins

To listen to a radio broadcast on this topic go to the following link: http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/83183 .

herbal medicine

Cascade Falls, Colorado

I consider this post a collaborative effort of several herbalists. Much of this information was gathered by Dixie Pauline, https://www.facebook.com/notes/dixie-pauline/herbal-advice-concerning-radiation-in-the-atmosphere/10150109089498412

Information was also contributed by:

Karen Rae Ferreira at Gaia Sophia Center, karen@gaiasophia.com

Greta Montagne of Gentle Strength Botanicals and Massage Therapy, 707.834.0617

Karyn Sanders of Blue Otter School of Herbal Medicine (you are already on this website)

Claire Bohman, http://www.clairebohman.net/

And, of course, my own two cents.

Many thanks to all involved for getting this information out to the public in a timely manner!

For those of you not living in Northern California, this article was written in response to a leak of toxic gas and the subsequent fire that resulted from a Chevron refinery in Richmond, California last week. Many of you live in areas where you could be impacted by similar environmental toxins so do read on.

In such toxic releases the first strategy is to limit your toxic exposure as much as possible. Get inside, close your windows and doors, change your clothes, take off your shoes. Taking off your shoes in your home is a good idea all of the time. So many toxins and germs get tracked into your home via your shoes. This is especially important in households with children, pets and anyone else who sits on the floor. Bring your pets and plants inside if possible.

Also, check out the Center for Disease Control’s  information on responses to toxic contamination, http://www.bt.cdc.gov/ . You can look up specific toxic substances and how they impact the body, depending upon what type of environmental toxin you are dealing with.

Anytime we are dealing with environmental issues it is important that we give special care to the more vulnerable members of our community; children, elders, people with chronic illness and our animals.

plant medicine

Food is Medicine

Remember to eat good quality foods. Now is a good time to motivate toward cleaning up your diet. Avoid the usual culprits; artificial anything, sugar, long names that you couldn’t begin to pronounce, high fats, alcohol, MSG, smoking. Rely on simple, whole foods; clean, nutritious and delicious. Eat organic as much as you can.

Increase you intake of anti-oxidents, green tea, lots of fresh veggies and fruit (try for all colors of produce), cilantro, miso, seaweed, Celtic and Himalayan salt. Cook with burdock root and medicinal mushrooms such as shitake and oyster.

Generally speaking

You want to limit the toxins in your environment that you do have control over and especially what you take into your body. Besides your food this includes: soaps, shampoo, lotion, cosmetics, household cleaning products, laundry detergent; you get the idea.

Sweat, whether from exercise or a sauna. Epsom salt and baking soda baths will also help pull toxins out of your body. Since I brought up sweating, don’t forget to drink lots of water. Nettles tea will also help replace lost minerals and alkalize the body.

The main areas of the body that we want to focus on for this particular toxic event are three Ls; liver, lungs and lymph. I’ll address each of these below.

Exposure to toxins generally heats someone up. For this reason, I’ve stayed away from recommending many herbs that are warming and sticking to those that are cooling to neutral.

Liver

Our liver has many important jobs and one of them is dealing with toxins; both in storing or excreting them as well as cleaning the blood. So, when you have had a toxic exposure you want to support your liver. In addition to cutting out the bad stuff, see above, add in some supportive herbs.

burdock root – neutral in temperature, good as tea or tincture, supports the liver, cleans the blood and pulls toxic waste from the intestines; increases peristolsis (it is important not to be constipated when you are trying to detox

dandelion root – cold in temperature and more stimulating to the liver; increases peristolsis, mildly laxative, cleans the blood; good as tea or tincture

 milk thistle seed – warming but I included it here because it is so good at protecting the liver and helping it to regenerate; tincture or grind over food

Lungs

Many people’s lungs took a hard hit from exposure to this toxic fire. The many people with asthma to start with are especially vulnerable.

mullein leaf – great lung tonic; good for wet or dry cough; tea or tincture

 licorice root – moistens the lungs and good adrenal support; contraindicated with high blood pressure; tea or tincture

marshmallow root – very moistening and soothing to irritated mucous membranes; best as cold infusion; this is gloppy, so you may need to mix with juice, yogurt, oatmeal…

elecampane – warming and drying to help with a wet cough; tea or tincture

passionflower – a wonderful aid to the nervous system that also opens the bronchi, making it easier to breath

botanical medicine school

Cascade Falls, Colorado

Lymph

Our lymphatic system plays another key role in cleansing our blood and detoxifying the system. Cleavers and red clover are both good, gentle lymph cleansers and can be taken as tea or tincture.

You also want to further support your deep immunity with the medicinal mushrooms, astragalus and chlorella. I’d avoid the other blue-green algaes for now as they are more heating than chlorella and you want to cool your system down.

 

Last, but not least, remember all of the good self care that you already do. Keep it up and encourage your loved ones to do the same. It is a wonderful way to express your love to someone to support their self care…without nagging, that only creates stress.  Remember that your self care includes how you take  care of yourself emotionally and spiritually, in addition to the physical.

Be well!

Sarah

 

Food for Thought…and your Body

To listen to a radio broadcast of The Herbal Highway on this topic click on this link, http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/79617 .

 

a peek in the spice cupboard

I often talk about the importance of good digestion; as do many alternative health care practitioners. Good food, good eating habits and a healthy digestive system are the foundations of good health. Our food provides vital nutrients for our bodies to function properly. So we need the good food going in and the body working well to assimilate that food. Not new concepts but so important.

It is also important to realize that not only do the digestive and nervous systems interrelate; the digestive system has its own nervous system, the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system keeps track of a lot of what is going on. It isn’t just about the brain. Indeed, the brain is left out of a lot of the process.

In an article I read on a friend’s blog,  http://nightingaleacupuncture.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/gut-health-brain-health/ , I learned a new fun fact about the digestive systems’ nervous system capacity. The small intestine alone has as many neurons, nerve cells, as the spinal cord. To me that is amazing to consider! The spinal cord, along with the brain, is called the central nervous system. Command central. Or so we thought.

We are learning that the heart has far more neurotransmitters than we thought and we are learning more about the complexity of the digestive systems’ nervous system. Another reason not to over-think things since the brain doesn’t have all of the information.

On an energetic level, and even a scientific one for those of you more comfortable in that realm, we really need to listen to our bodies and not let the brain have the final word in everything since it doesn’t have all of the information.

The health of your gut, or intestines, is not only important for your digestion, but studies are showing that gut health can also impact; bone formation, learning and memory, allergies, links to Parkinson’s Disease and inflammatory processes. This last one is really important because many major illnesses are rooted in inflammatory processes.

The Bugs: Good vs. Bad

Imbalances in the gut flora are also linked to anxiety, depression, autism and how the body responds to stress. It is important to note the studies aren’t saying this is necessarily the only factor, but an important one.

The beneficial bacteria that we have in our gut helps us to process our foods and can get out of balance for a number of reasons. One of the big ones is from taking antibiotics. Antibiotics are designed to kill micro-organisms in the body. They don’t discriminate and leave the beneficial bacteria alone. If you don’t make this up after taking antibiotics or over-use antibiotics, you can be setting yourself up for poor digestion at the least and potentially more serious, chronic illness.

Another reason our beneficial bacteria can get out of balance is a poor diet and from our digestive enzymes getting out of balance, which can happen for any number of reasons, stress being one of them.

Intestinal bacteria need to eat, and mounting evidence indicates that beneficial bacteria prefer nutrients called prebiotics, which are primarily found in high-fiber foods including onions, garlic, bananas, artichokes, and many greens.

Bad bacteria, on the other hand, prefer the sugars and fats found in processed foods. There is also evidence that a low-fiber, high-fat creates an environment for that helps the unhelpful bacteria to thrive.

There are many probiotic supplements that you can take these days. Some good products are out there and some not so good products. Like usual, I like to promote eating your medicine. Including foods in your diet that contain beneficial bacteria/probiotics is a great way to go. The main creatures you are looking for are lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium.

You can find organic dairy products containing these cultures; such as yogurt, kefir and sour cream. You can also look into fermented foods such as:  pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, soy sauce and vinegar. Not all pickles are equal. You want to look into the more natural versions of these foods.

 

Or, better yet, start making your own. The following books are good resources to get you started:

 

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, http://www.newtrendspublishing.com/SallyFallon/

Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz, http://www.wildfermentation.com/

Continue to experiment in your cooking and try new foods. This will keep you interested and it is healthy for you to maintain a variety to your diet. Eat with conscious attention and gratitude and cook your food with love. You take this into your body as well.

The Stress Factor

Okay, now it is really time to get real. Our gut flora, if out of balance, can lessen our ability to handle stress. Conversely, being in a stressed state, fight or flight, lessens our body’s ability to digest well.

Many of you when you feel anxious get digestive disturbances and likewise, as I mentioned earlier, an imbalance in gut flora can cause anxiety and depression. So you can see what a vicious cycle you can get into with anxiety and stress.

So, it isn’t just what you eat and just how well your digestive system is working but it is also about what you are doing the rest of the day. Your lifestyle. There is no magic pill or magic food or magic herb. In order to fully participate in our health we have to look at our whole life. It is all connected. Even the scientists will tell you that; at least the physicists will.

The Herbs

I’m going to focus on a few herbs that are typically used in cooking. That means that you may already have them handy and if you don’t they are easy to find.

Talking about culinary herbs also highlights the important concept of eating our medicine. Most culinary herbs, around the world, either support digestion or help protect the body from unwanted microbes.

If you are cooking with dried herbs, soak them in a liquid medium before adding them to the food you are preparing. For instance, if your recipe calls for olive oil, broth, melted butter, lemon juice, etc., pour a little into a small bowl and let your dry herbs soak in that medium until you need it. This will help bring out the flavor of the herb as well as the medicinal qualities. Fresh herbs are often added in later in the cooking process to maintain the vibrancy of their flavor.

You can also make herbal vinegars and have these on hand to use in your cooking or as salad dressing. Making an herbal vinegar is quite simple and I’ll go over that process in an upcoming post.

Basil – carminative (stimulates the digestive tract to work correctly and with ease, soothes smooth muscles of the gut), nervine (supports the nervous system), helps with colic (gut spasoming)

Cardamom – flatulence, indigestion, sweetens breath, takes edge off adrenal stress from caffeine

Cayenne – antimicrobial, carminative, promotes stomach secretions, stimulates peripheral circulation, opens bronchi, strengthens heart, capillaries and arteries

Cinnamon – astringent, carminative, antimicrobial, helps dispel gas, diarrhea

Fennel – flatulence, indigestion, intestinal seasoning

Ginger – stimulates appetite, nausea, increases pelvic circulation, motion sickness with peppermint

Oregano – indigestion, cough, headache, poultice for painful swelling, emenagogue

Rosemary – circulatory and liver tonic, digestive aid, emenagogue, headache (make an infusion, soak a cloth and put on head, warm or cold depending upon the headache), antiseptic, skin toner, hair rinse for dark hair

Thyme – carminative, antiseptic, antispasmodic, works on lungs for shortness of breath

Turmeric – analgesic, astringent, anti-inflammatory, emenagogue, liver support, aids digestion

So get into that kitchen, put on your favorite music, cook up some medicine and share it with someone you love.

Be well!

Sarah

Allergies – Part Two: Symptom Relief

herbal medicine

apothecary rose, photo by Madeline Ryan

To listen to a radio broadcast of The Herbal Highway on this topic, follow this link, http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/78737

Welcome to allergy season! If you haven’t read the first part of this series, back up and read it. I don’t recommend going straight to symptomatic relief before doing preventive work. That is not holistic care.  Going straight to the symptoms is simply taking an herb in place of a pill. You’re not using the plant respectfully nor are you fully participating in your own health. Okay, lecture over.

So, you have prepared for the allergy season as best you can and you are still experiencing allergy symptoms. That happens and this is when we look at symptomatic relief. That being said, if you are allergic to something you are allergic to something.

With allergy prevention I’m looking at reducing your reactivity, not ‘curing’ you of your allergy. You will likely find, however, that if you are taking good care of yourself and doing the preventive work, you may find yourself not just less reactive, but non-reactive to things that aren’t truly allergies but you are sensitive to.

The first two herbs that I think of for symptomatic relief of allergies are ambrosia and eyebright.

Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisifolia – anti-histamine for allergy and hayfever symptoms; reduces mucus secretions

Eyebright, Euphrasia – anti-histamine, anti-inflammatory, allergies with sinus and eye component; itchy eustachion tubes, dry, itchy, red eyes

 Sometimes you need to dry or moisten your mucous membranes to feel more comfortable. If you do this, make sure that you don’t use the wrong herb. In other words, if you have too much mucus, use a drying herb. If your mucous membranes are dry, use a moistening herb. If you reverse that, you will make yourself more uncomfortable. Trust me on that.

Drying herbs

Yerba santa, Eriodictyon; leaf and flower – slightly stimulating to lungs; best for constant cough with lots of uninfected (white) phlegm; tones down inflammation in lungs, sinuses and bronchi; sinus congestion with mucous; works well in combination for hayfever

Yerba mansa, Anemopsis; root – cold, damp respiratory ailments; better for chronic than acute; laryngitis, rhinitis, sinusitis; contraindications: pregnancy

Horehound, Marrubium;  leaf – expectorant,  basic lung cold, moist hot bronchitis, asthma; mildly stimulates cardio function and mucus secretions; gagging w/ cough

Moistening herbs

herb school
mullein, photo by Claire Bohman

Marshmallow, Althea officinalis; root – demulscent, good for irritation and inflammation in respiratory system; coughs; use as cold infusion

Licorice, Glycrrhiza; root – dry cough, dry bronchial conditions; contraindications: hypothyroid,  high blood pressure

Break-up and move out the mucus

 Elder and mullein do this, see part one of this article for details on those plants.

Opening the lungs

 Mullein yet again! Passionflower also opens the lungs by relaxing the bronchi.

Cayenne, Capsicum; fruit – anti-catarrhal (inflamed mucus membranes, excess secretions and congestion); staves off colds and debility; gargle for laryngitis; opens blood flow to the bronchials; contraindications: acute renal failure or acute GI inflammation

Working with allergies energetically

I’ve talked a lot about the physical considerations when working with allergies herbally.  Now I want to talk about the energetics of allergies and how we approach improve our balance in that way. With allergies you’ll remember, we are talking about an over-reactive immune system. Our immune system is about boundaries and protection on a physical and metaphoric level. So consider any issues you might have with those topics and work on them. Here are some essences that may help you out.

Yarrow in bloom. Photo by Madeline Ryan

Yarrow- of course, yarrow, many of you already know about how yarrow helps you from merging with others; many flower essence companies have a yarrow FE, or you may just carry the plant

 From Alaskan Essences, www.alaskanessences.com

Black Tourmaline  – helps to release toxins held in the physical and spirit bodies; helps clean and clear the energy to create a space for positive energy in our environment

Covellite – when you feel unprotected, vulnerable and too easily stimulated by others; brings strength, clarity and definition to the auric field; acts as a protective filter so you can relax and be in your heart

Hematite – emotionally co-dependent; difficulty containing your emotional energy, especially in groups; promotes emotional independence; compassionate detachment; be clear with your energy

 From Greek Tree Essences, www.melissaassilem.com

Turpentine Tree – support where auto-immunity is an issue; recognize what is one’s self and what is not; blood cleanser

From Jane Bell Essences, www.janebellessences.com

Ancient Power – connection to earth and ones’ own authority; being present and moving forward with core strength; balanced masculine energy; safe and gentle containment

 Sea Turtle – learning how to share space with others so you feel nourished rather than depleted by connection; increases appreciation for interdependent relationship with nature and other beings; helps move with grace and peace in any environment

 From Desert Alchemy, www.desert-alchemy.com

Bright Star – encourages healthy boundaries so your individuality can shine; feeling safe and secure in yourself so that you can offer all of your actions from the heart and not become entangled in others and in situations 

Canyon Grapevine – see obstacles as opportunities; giving without fear of enmeshment; appreciating others because independent from you, not enmeshed; harmonizes issues of alienation

So, let’s use this last bit of winter energy to try clear up what is stuck, stagnant and get ready for the cleansing, new beginning energy of spring …without too much sneezing.

Be well!

Sarah

Allergies – Part One: Prevention

 

herb school

apothecary rose bud, photo by Madeline Ryan

To listen to a radio broadcast of The Herbal Highway on this topic, follow this link, http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/78737

Allergy season is just around the corner with the arrival of spring, and for some of you, it is already here. For people living in more temperate places the allergy season can be almost year round. And for many areas, having had such a mild winter, the allergy season is likely to be extended. In this first of a two part series I will cover strategies for preventing or reducing the impact of allergens as well as how to support your system longer term. In part two I’ll cover symptomatic relief and addressing the energetics of allergies with the use of flower essences.

The respiratory system is where most allergy symptoms manifest; sneezing, nasal congestion, mucus in the lungs. Remember that lungs are not fully developed until the teen years, usually by age 18. So, if you are considering a younger person, the respiratory support is that much more important.

Also keep in mind, besides actually being sick or having allergies, other things can irritate the respiratory system. Smoking is an obvious one. Besides paralyzing the cilia, smoking stimulates mucus production and usually leads to thicker mucus accumulating. Accumulation of thicker mucus increases your chance of a lung infection. Especially if the cilia are not working, that thick mucus just sits there not moving, providing a breeding ground for microbes. If you do smoke or live with someone who does, I’d encourage you to take a lung tonic such as mullein. The specific properties of mullein are outlined below.

Living in areas with air pollution, near the freeway or environments that contain a lot of allergens such as dust, dust mites, rodents, cockroaches, pets, molds, etc. can also impair people’s breathing. So, as much as you have control over your environment, keeping it clear of these things can help take some stress off of your lungs during allergy season.

If you have allergies, be mindful of environmental impacts, besides the pollen, that can further irritate your respiratory system; and avoid what you can when you are under the additional stress of allergy season.

As winter is winding down and spring is winding up, it can be difficult sometimes to tell if you are getting sick or your allergies are starting; especially in the first couple days of symptoms. If your symptoms include any of the following chances are you’ve caught a bug, not allergies; fever, fatigue, malaise, chills. If there is a possibility that you have a cold or flu, take one of the following herbs for 2-5 days; 10 drops of tincture 2-4 times/day.  If your symptoms don’t clear up in that time, you are likely having allergy symptoms.

Echinacea, Echinacea agustofolia or purpurea; root and flower

herbal medicine
mountain forest, photo by Madeline Ryan

for acute immune support; anti-microbial (means bacterial and viral), reduces phlegm; most effective in upper respiratory tract; not a long-term tonic, use for situation specific prevention and in early stages of being sick; contraindications: do not use past two weeks without professional advice, if causes gagging, take in a small amount of warm water

Elder, Sambucus canadensis; berry and flower

Flowers make a good steam for head cold congestion; berries: clear lungs of mucous, nausea; both: anti-microbial, reduce fevers, sore muscles and joints (as bath), getting in and clearing up deep lung issues; contraindications: use only Black Elder not Red, use only ripe berries

Using a netti pot or a good old-fashioned steam can also soothe irritated mucous membranes and help clear out excess mucus. If you are doing a steam add 1-2 drops of any of the following essential oils to the water; eucalyptus, thyme, oregano, peppermint. Be sure and close your eyes in the steam, otherwise the essential oils can irritate your eyes.

With allergies, we are talking about an overly reactive immune system. So that means we are working with an immune system that needs strengthening. The other strategy is to make sure the digestion and liver are working well. Many folks with allergies also have some digestive issues.

Deal with your digestion now, before your allergies really start. Clean up your diet. Think about your liver during allergy season. Be kind to it. That means avoiding toxins including excess poor quality fats/oils, alcohol, the usual suspects. A little liver support such as dandelion root or burdock root tea or tincture can go a long way toward alleviating the symptoms of allergies.

To support your deep immunity consider the following:

Astragalus, Astragalus vetch; root – alterative, anti-microbial, immune modulator, stimulates white blood cell production

Medicinal mushrooms are great for deep immune building; both if prone to cold/flu and if you have allergies which are an immune system deficiency. Consider; shitake, maitake, turkey tails, reishi (also anti-histamine).

Tonic tea to drink

Mix these three plants in equal parts, or a little less of the red clover since it is more expensive, and drink 6-8 ounces/day. This is a good tea to reduce your histamine response, support your respiratory system and clean up your blood.

Mullein, Verbascum; leaf – opens lungs and bronchi, increasing air flow; tonic to respiratory system; any type of cough; steam to clear lung and sinus congestion; mucilaginous so toning and soothing to lining of lungs, intestines and stomach

Nettles, Urtica dioica; leaf – good tonic for allergies; astringent, diuretic, alkalizes blood; anti-histamine, very nutritive

Red Clover, Trifolium; flower -  anti-histamine, blood cleanser, high in minerals

While preparing for the allergy season, consider the above herbs and get your body ready for the additional stress of the season. You may just sail through the allergy season. Check back in for Part Two of this series and I’ll cover symptomatic relief and essences to support you emotionally as well.

Be well!

Sarah

 

Fabulous Flowers

herbal medicine

apartment buildings in Thailand

A dear friend of mine emailed this photo to me. I have to say it really moved me in several ways. The sheer beauty of these buildings makes me smile. The architecture is interesting to start with but the addition of so many plants just takes it over the top. In a good way.

Imagine if  all of our homes  so beautifully reflected and showcased nature? Most of us don’t live outside anymore, but we can bring the natural into our everyday lives. I encourage you to do this, even in small ways. Bring some plants into your home, put potted plants on your balcony. Think your house is too small or crowded for plants? Consider a hanging basket.

Colombia

Colombian balcony

Don’t have any outdoor space that is yours? Check with the city about the parkway near your house or a corner you walk by everyday. I’ve seen some really beautiful and simple landscaping that people have done in cities in these public places. Creating a bit of natural beauty in the midst of the urban concrete is a big gift to everyone who sees it.

Some traditions believe that flowers absorb negative energy. Imagine all the good vibrations in these apartment complexes.

Maybe you do have a yard. Consider adding plants with flowers and if you already have some, plant some more that bloom at different times. When I take the time, which I try to do often, to stop and really look at a flower, I am amazed over and over again. The variety of shapes and colors and color combinations is endless.
So, don’t just stop and smell the roses, but stop and really look at them, touch them. Let yourself experience your spirit lifting just from taking a moment to be present with the beauty.
herbal medicine

rose in bloom. Photo by Claire Bohman

Be well!
Sarah

Get Out of that Winter Slump!

herbal medicine

Now that we are past most of the major winter holidays, it is a good time to regroup and get back into your good self care patterns that might have slipped during this time, or, a time to establish new patterns.

Many of us during the holiday season find our schedules and routines disrupted. This can be a great way to relax and enjoy loved ones, but can also wreak havoc on our habits of eating, exercise and other self care.  For some the holidays are a joyful time of friends and family and celebration and now we have to move into the more mundane aspects of our lives. For others, the holidays are a very difficult time, highlighting what we don’t have or what is missing from our lives. And for many, the holidays are a mix of the two. Whatever is true for you, it is often not your usual rhythm and flow so some adjustment is needed.

On a physical level, now is a good time to focus on our digestion as well as our deep immunity and vitality. Digestion, I often focus on because, while it can get easily thrown off, it can also often get back on track pretty easily. At this time of year, you might be recovering from holiday indulgences and still finding your footing getting back into your healthy eating habits. Those overindulgences, especially the older we get, can throw our systems off.

Some help with Digestion

On that physical level digestion is really a cornerstone of good health; the quality of foods we put into our bodies and how well our body is able to make use of those foods. A really important component of good digestion is the health of your liver. Some herbs that support our livers include: dandelion root, burdock root, yellow dock and Oregon mountain grape.

Sometimes, supporting or fine-tuning the liver is all you really need. If you feel like you need more digestive support than just the liver consider ingesting a bitter like gentian or artichoke leaf, 10 – 20 minutes prior to eating. 

Deep immunity and vitality

Our deep immunity and vitality are, in some senses, the same thing. I’m talking about resiliency. I really like that word within this context. When I talk about health, I’m not talking about being a perfect human specimen, which is an oxymoron since we are inherently imperfect…so try and let go of that one.

Rather, when I talk about health I’m talking about being in balance; and resiliency comes into that concept when we look at how easily  we fall out of balance. Ideally, we are resilient, which to me means that we can stay in balance in the face of challenges; physical, emotional and spiritual. How big of  a challenge can you handle without falling out of balance is a measure of how resilient you are.

Our resiliency is connected to vitality and deep immunity in this way. Maybe physically you can ‘get away’ with a lot, but emotionally, you get thrown off of your center very easily.  So a good place to start are the medicinal mushrooms such as shitake, oyster, maitake.

Also, consider the adaptogens. Adaptogens are a class of herbs that, briefly speaking, help you deal with stress better. Adaptogens help the body produce a non-specific response to stress and help normalize functions in the body. Adaptogens can achieve this through various means such as, building deep immunity, supporting endocrine and nervous system function. Most of the medicinal mushrooms are adaptogens. Other plants in this category include: astragalus and Siberian ginseng.

Lending a hand with emotional and spiritual support

What are your issues? They may be more present for you as you become more introspective, if they aren’t already stirred up from the holidays. So, be prepared for them and get the support you need to do your work.

 Here are some essences to support some common themes:

Banyan Tree (Hawaiian Essences, www.janebellessences.com ) helps you to be grounded and present during time of change and expansion; soothes nervous system when tired and wired

 Orange Rose (Rose Chakra Essences, www.lunafina.com ) overcoming known fears and phobias

 Blue/Mauve Rose (Rose Chakra Essences) trust in self and intuition

Saturn Sipper (Keeping Time, www.stargazerli.com ) clarifying, strengthening, resolve

Persian Lilac (Greek Tree Essences, www.melissaassilem.com ) relates to crown chakra, recognizing our wings to take flight into the realms of the spirit world; when you cannot see the beauty of your life; helps keep your heart in your perspective

Pluto Potion (Keeping Time Essences, www.stargazerli.com ) deep, spacious, transformative

Northern Lights (www.alaskanessences.com ) when poised on the edge of a breakthrough in consciousness but lack the energy to complete the process; taps into universal energy to gather the energy we need to make the transition from the old to the new; helps re-pattern the heart

LairdHot Springs  (www.alaskanessences.com ) release and wash away layers of guilt and self blame and restore our essential innocence and purity; helps release old patterns that hold us in negative self-image

Fireweed  (www.alaskanessences.com ) indicated when there is energy stagnation on any level, feeling burnt out, carrying the past into the future; stimulates renewal of energy on all levels, catalyst for growth and transformation that encourages release of anything that is no longer appropriate or useful

Solstice Sun (www.alaskanessences.com ) energy of the sun; affects the movement of energy through our physical bodies; open hearts and energy pathways in body so are able to receive more light and make more efficient use of the energy within that light; also works with integration helpful during life changing times

Sun (Keeping Time Essences, www.stargazerli.com ) warm, uplifting, radiant

Dolphin Blessings (Hawaiian Essences, www.janebellessences.com ) cultivating affections for the resting cycle and an awareness of restoration through connectedness; importance of rest, play, love and joy in moving our nervous system towards greater health

PeaceBeach (Hawaiian Essences, www.janebellessences.com ) changing habit of constant motion to deep interconnected relaxation; allowing body to rest on a deep level so you can experience peace and vitality

Look at the issues in your life and see which way you need to move on the continuum to be more in balance. There is a quote I came across from Goethe which says, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” Treat your health and well being as one of the ‘things’ which matters most.

Be well!

Sarah

Botanica Erotica

Tune into www.kpfa.org on Thursday, 2/09/12, 1-2PM, PST for a live radio interview with Diana De Luca, author of Botanica Erotica.  Or, if you miss the broadcast, listen to the archived program at, http://www.kpfa.org/herbal-highway.

 Just when the dreariness of winter is getting to you, along comes a book that can rekindle your passion. Botanica Erotica; Arousing Body, Mind and Spirit, is just such a book. While it came out a few years ago, the information is always useful and inspiring. Botanica Erotica is a good reminder to put some energy into the sensuous in your life; whether or not you have a partner.

Author, Diana De Luca, fills the pages of her book with mouth-watering recipes, stories, herbal information, delightful quotations and lovely graphics. Most importantly, Diana fills the book with her enthusiasm for the subject, inviting readers to explore and appreciate their sexual selves.

So, I won’t bore you with cute little cupid references because I do take this topic quite seriously, in a fun way of course. Our sexual health is a vital part of our overall health. Like all aspects of our being, we are not complete without all of ourselves. How you choose to express or not express your sexuality is up to you, but the bottom line remains important. Sensuality is part of what keeps us enlivened and connected to nature and connected to our bodies. In our dominant culture here, there is so little focus put on being in your body, truly inhabiting your physical form. All of the focus on the physical is the exterior; how your body looks, not if you are healthy or if anyone is home.

luscious food photo from Botanica Erotica

De Luca also emphasizes the importance of good overall health in the pursuit of feeling sexy. Her book contains reminders about how the simple things in life can bring us pleasure. Take this quote by Dr. Hans Balzi, for example, “After a perfect meal we are more susceptible to the ecstasy of love than at any other time.” Food recipes as well as  recipes for herbal tonics, elixirs and libations fill the pages.

Botanica Erotica also gives us a glimpse into the past with stories of the love goddesses and gods as well as entertaining lore of plants and foods that were believed to inspire passion.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, perhaps you will be inspired to cook up a little something special to share, or to celebrate your fabulous self.

Be well!

Sarah