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

Chai, Chai, Chai!!!

herbal medicine

chai basics: cinnamon, clove, cardamom

Chai is such a wonderful cold weather tea that I wanted to share with you how I make it. Chai, or masala chai, means ‘mixed spice tea’ and originates in India.

Usually chai is made with a base of black tea, which you are welcome to do. However, I encourage you to make a caffeine-free version without the black tea; save your body the stress. Instead of black tea, I include burdock or dandelion root and add a touch of peppermint at the very end of the steeping process.

     So, gather up these basics. If you truly don’t like any of these herbs, by all means,  leave them out. This is your chai!

cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, clove, ginger, black pepper

burdock or dandelion root (I like to put one or both of these in to give the chai a nice earthy base note, plus it is good for your liver.)

peppermint, or chocolate mint, at the very end

     Some other spices I put in, depending upon my mood;

fennel, orange peel, carob, chicory

Personally I like to go heavy on the cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and black pepper and light on the clove and star anise.

Select the herbs you want to use, leaving out the peppermint for now. I like to simmer my teas in a glass pot, avoiding any metallic taste or interaction.  Put a good three to four handfuls of your herb mix in the pot and fill with water. Cover and simmer for at least one hour.

Taste it and see where the flavor is; you’ll want it to be strong. I generally simmer my chai for at least two hours, plus it makes your home smell amazing!

Once your chai has reached the desired strength, turn off the heat, add in a couple of tablespoons of peppermint and cover it again. Let the peppermint sit for about ten minutes then take out the peppermint. The peppermint really does take over quickly, so be careful on this step.

Now the base of your chai is done.

At this point you can either make up your chai by the cup or use a smaller pot. Put chai in your favorite mug and add milk and honey to taste. I usually like about two-thirds chai to one-third milk; almond or hazelnut milks are my favorites with chai. You can use any kind of milk; cow, goat, soy, oat, nut, etc.

If you aren’t drinking your whole pot of chai in the first day, strain out the herbs and store the chai base in your frig. You can even freeze some of it. Those chai herbs you strained out can be used again for a total of two to three times; store them covered in the frig since they are now wet.

Now take that aromatic steaming mug, sit back, look out the window and enjoy your delicious chai.

Be well!

Sarah

Adjusting to Winter – Part Two

herb school

Juniper

In part one of this two part series, “Adjusting to Winter”, I focused on the physical aspects of working with the season change. In this second part, I am focusing on the emotional and spiritual aspects of adjusting to winter.

 In winter we are, most of us, dealing with gray days, less light and colder weather. We know that spring is coming, but winter has just begun. Since winter is a time of rest and introspection, if you are challenged by slowing down winter may be a difficult season for you energetically.

Many traditions decorate with evergreens during this time, symbolizing the continuity of life. And bonfires were thought to help the sun burn more brightly. While Fall is the time of the harvest, abundance and manifestation. Winter is about the seed, going into dormancy, hibernating, going within. That dormant state, seemingly dead, but not dead, just resting in its potential. Being in harmony with the season is about being in harmony with nature, being in harmony with self. So let yourself slow down, sleep more, dream and reconnect with self.

Like in the myths of Inanna and Persephone take this time to go to the underworld and explore what is hiding in the shadows. Often we hide not just what we are ashamed of but also our gifts. What part of yourself are you not allowing to shine in the world? Winter can be a time of self-discovery and growth. Think of winter as the time to do that internal exploration in preparation for the new growth of spring. Get rid of what is weighing you down.

Many of us during the holidays 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. For others, the holidays are a difficult time, highlighting 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.

As much as you possibly can, continue your self-care even when you are busy. Sometimes the time crunch is a reality and letting some things slide is simply necessary. Consider that you are taxing your adrenals, just pushing and doing too much. So, take a break when you can, moderation can be key and remember that this pace is not forever, there is, hopefully, an end in sight. You have worked hard over the years to develop those good habits. So, if you do need to let go of them for a short time, try not to let that be the new norm. Avoid the all-or-nothing trap.

What follows are some essences to support you during this time. I suggest you read through them and see what resonates for you. Then pare down your list to one or two. There is a universal quality to some of these, so for some, the list of what resonates can get quite long.

 Returning of the light. If the cloudy weather and having less sun impacts your mood, there is some help for you:

herbal medicine

flowers at rest

 

 Solstice Sun (Alaskan Essences, www.alaskanessences.com ) energy of the sun; affects the movement of energy through our physical bodies; SADD, 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, www.stargazerli.com ) warm, uplifting, radiant; literally the energy of the sun

 Yellow Rose (Rose Chakra Essences, www.lunafina.com ) – bringing in your own sun

 If you need support in slowing down, nurturing and restoring your reserves, consider the following:

 Deep Rest Combination (Hawaiian Essences, www.janebellessences.com ) get beneath the stress to retune, recharge and reconnect in deep embodied peace

 Moon (Keeping Time, www.stargazerli.com ) Comforting, nourishing, gentle

 Perhaps you want to deepen your connection with your dreams this winter, if so, consider the following:

 Neptune  (Keeping Time, www.stargazerli.com ) infinite, dreamy, waves

 Mugwort – brings clarity, clears negativity, enhances dreams; can be stimulating to some people

 Other good support during this time:

 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

 Aleppo Pine (Greek Tree Essences, www.melissaassilem.com ) for those who hold onto everything too tightly and hoard until they are bloated with ‘stuff’. This tree will help you to donate some of the old to make room for the new. Eliminates the overload. detoxifies

 Chamomile – takes to deeper state of relaxation in meditation, opens heart to psychic possibilities

 Chalice Well  (Alaskan Essences, www.alaskanessences.com )unconditional love and support; connects us to support that we may not be aware of; challenges the belief systems and emotional blockages that stand in the way of a stronger connection to the Universal love and support

 Labrador Tea (Alaskan Essences, www.alaskanessences.com ) balancing extreme states, addictions, lack of unity between physical, emotional and mental – difficulty coming back to center after trauma helps center, energize and integrate and unifies

 Buffalo Gourd (Desert Alchemy, www.desert-alchemy.com ) out of balance, overextended, mood swings, depleted, maintaining deep inner place of healing and calm while participating in activities; balance of inner and outer, soothes nervous system

 Essences can be used one at a time or in groups. However, if you are new to essences or very sensitive energetically, I recommend that you start with just one essence and slowly add in additional ones. That way you can ‘get to know’ each essence individually and connect with its energy.

 This season I invite you to let yourself sink into the dark, into the dreamtime, into self. Find the gifts of self that are there.

 Be well!

Sarah

 

 

Adjusting to Winter – Part One

Welcome to winter! Winter Solstice is the transition point between fall and winter and also marks the shortest day of the year. In the language of astronomy this is the time when the tilt of the earth is at its greatest distance from the sun. The word ‘solstice’ in and of itself means the sun standing still.

Even as this is the shortest day, the good news is Winter Solstice also marks the time when the amount of daylight begins to increase. A good metaphor that even in the dark there is light and not just light, but increasing light. Conversely at Summer Solstice we have the longest day and the beginning of the retreat of the sun. For me, this is a very important aspect of this season. Many people have a difficult time emotionally and spiritually during winter, but this can be tempered, like many things, with the balance of perspective. The Romans called winter solstice the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.

As much as you can, try and slow down the pace of your life during winter. Everything has a season, a cycle, a rhythm and winter’s pace is to slow down. Try walking more slowly, doing less ‘running around’. After all, how productive are you really when you spend an afternoon running around? It is important to keep up our self-care during this busy time. Remind and support your loved ones to do this as well. For many in this country, this is a gift giving season and really, what better gift can we give ourselves and our loved ones than good health.

 On a physical level looking at food and digestion during this season is key; as during the whole year. Eat seasonally as well as you can. We tend to eat heavier and fattier foods as the weather turns colder to help keep up our energy and body temperature

 Don’t go overboard on this, though, having a varied diet is good in all seasons, just consider warmer foods, root vegetables, foods that are cooked longer. Think stews, congee, pots of beans, etc. It’s not so much about increasing caloric intake as it is making sure your food is deeply nourishing.  Drink warm beverages; herbal teas, make your own chai; I’ll post a blog with my chai recipe after the New Year.

 Digestive support

On that physical level digestion is really a cornerstone of good health. Both the quality of foods we put into our bodies and how well our body is able to make use of those foods are important. At this time of year, you might be challenging your body by eating richer foods than you are used to. Those overindulgences, especially the older we get, can throw our systems off.

 Peppermint and ginger are wonderful for settling an upset stomach. Peppermint is cold and a little stimulating and ginger is hot and stimulating, so consider your constitution. Also a ginger foot bath will really warm you up if you are feeling chilled

 If you know you will be eating rich food, have some bitters on hand. Five drops of gentian tincture 10-15 minutes before you eat will help your digestive system be ready for food and therefore process it better. You can take bitters after a meal as well, to help settle things down. If you find yourself with a headache later from a meal rich in fats, consider red root.

 Be kind to your liver as well. Burdock root or dandelion root can be really nice as tea to take throughout the season. Sometimes, supporting/fine-tuning the liver is all you really need to get your digestion back on track. Make sure your liver is in good working order, but now is not the time for a cleanse. A cleanse can be too depleting in the winter when you need to be building and nourishing your body.

 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. 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 get out of balance. Ideally, we are resilient, which to me means that we can stay in balance in the face of challenges and changes; 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.

 For example, how many days of not enough sleep or eating poorly can you handle before you feel awful? Chances are, if you are 25 your answer is different than if you are 55. Now, I’m not endorsing pushing yourself this way, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should or that it is good for you.

 Look at the entire life span with a goal of being healthy and vital for many decades. There is no reason we can’t be healthy and vital as we age and I think it is important to distinguish those concepts. Aging is normal and it is also possible to be healthy and vital as you age. Old does not automatically mean unhealthy. This is the choice each of us has; aside from considerations of genetics and serious illness, of course.

 Or maybe physically you can ‘get away’ with a lot but emotionally you get thrown off of your center very easily. I’ll explore more herbal options for supporting ourselves emotionally and spiritually during winter in my next posting, so stay tuned.

 Immunity is an aspect of our vitality as well as an area that gets tested during this time. The seasonal changes and not eating well and traveling and being under stress can all challenge your immune system. An immune tonic during this time of year is a great idea. Medicinal mushrooms and astragalus are deep immune builders. You can eat your medicine by cooking astragalus or medicinal mushrooms into your stews or beans, anything with a sauce that you cook for a long period of time (at least one hour).

 Remember, whenever you are trying a new plant think about who you are. Do you tend to be sensitive to new things? Does a little go a long way? Do you have a chronic health condition? If any of these are true, then start on a low end of a dose and listen to your body. If you are hardy as a bull usually, still start near the low end and work your way up over a few days. And always, listen to your body, even bulls can break down given enough pushing.

 If your energy is feeling a little low and/or your nerves are frazzles try a nice tea of nettles and oat straw to support your nervous system and adrenals. See my post from January 20, 2011 for a refresher on how to make herbal teas.

 If you are going to be traveling around a lot of people, like on a plane, train or bus, consider taking vitamin C, zinc, or echinacea as a preventative. At least have it on hand to take if you are feeling a hint of anything coming on. To use echinacea tincture as a preventative take 10-15 drops 1-2 times/day. If you are feeling like you are getting sick take up to 20 drops 4 times/day. Remember, echinacea is not a tonic, so it should not be taken long term unless you are working with an herbalist around a specific issue; there are some exceptions. Also, do not take Echinacea without professional support if you have an auto-immune disease.

 As much as you possibly can, continue your self-care even when you are busy. During busy times it is that much more important to take extra care with ourselves and our loved ones and, unfortunately, those things are often the things that get let go of first during a time crunch. Sometimes the time crunch is a reality and letting some things slide is simply necessary; so remember that this pace is not forever. You have worked hard over the years to develop those good habits, so if you do need to let go of them for a short time, do not to let that be the new norm. Avoid the all-or-nothing trap.

Being in harmony with the season is about being in harmony with nature, being in harmony with self. Find your time to replenish, relax and dream.

 Stay warm and be well!

Sarah

  

Mountain Springtime

herbal medicine

early spring bloom of bloodroot

Spring is such a lovely time of year. Here in the mountains the weather can be unpredictable and that lends another interesting layer to the season. As we move to sunny days in the 60′s to snow flurries to gentle rain to night time temps in the 20′s I get to feel that slow move to spring. This year, and last, we don’t have that full steam ahead breakthrough into the warm sunny weather and I find that I appreciate all of it even more having the contrast.

herb school

evidence of Stella's morning foray

 Working in the garden feeling the sun on my bare arms and then getting cozy by the fire later that night makes for a nice combination.

Most of our plants have been very slow to venture above ground so far. This last week has encouraged a few to make the push. The bloodroot has bloomed however, that can happen even in the snow. Everyone else is biding their time.

We keep the dead, aerial (above ground) portion of the plants in place through the winter for the birds to use and into the spring to protect the new shoots from the freeze. At this point, the blend of old and new that some of the plants have create these amazing sculptures; the ghost of last year blending with the fresh green of this year.

herb school

comfrey

I’m always reminding  my clients and students, and thus myself, to look to nature as their guide. So when I look at these ‘sculptures’ it reminds me to not be too hasty in throwing out the old, to temper that spring rush with some slowness of winter to make sure that I keep anything still of value before discarding that which no longer serves me.

Sometimes in our rush to make change, we can dismiss what value there is in what was. So on my cold spring nights and the days where clouds hover with a few last snowflakes, I try to take that time to reflect. Then the sun comes out and I can shed some layers of clothing and allow all of that energy rising in the earth to move through me and get me going.

herbal medicine

lemon balm

Spring is a time of renewal, rebirth, new beginnings. This is a good time to start a project, make some changes, and, of course, clean out those closets. Eat lighter, add in more raw foods, drink lots of water and start, slowly, moving your body more.

Enjoy the season and be well!

Sarah

Natural Support for Radiation Exposure

alternative medicine

My heart has been, and continues to be, heavy with thoughts of the devastation in Japan. My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan, and their loved ones throughout the world, during this time of crisis. I also want to urge each of you to stop reading right now, close your eyes and take a deep breath. We all need to be in a calm and grounded place. There are so many unknowns at this point. We don’t know how much radiation has been or will be released, we don’t know how far it will travel, where it will drop, or who will be affected and to what extent.

 Whether or not radiation exposure becomes a big crisis or a small issue in the US, our ability to address what we need to do will be best served by being calm and grounded. I am heartened to read and hear about people coming together around this issue. We are all interconnected on this planet and at times like this it becomes more obvious, more visceral. 

Remember that fear is harmful to your body as well. I’m not naïve enough to believe that if you just think positive you won’t be harmed by excessive radiation exposure. What I am saying is, if you are concerned about your health, it is important to do everything we can to be healthy and whole. This includes not taxing our bodies unnecessarily by extreme, self-imposed stress.

So again, there is a lot we don’t know, and isn’t this always true in life? There are also many opinions out there and I know some of you are frustrated with all of the conflicting information you are getting. I encourage each of you to do your own research and make your own informed decision about what you are and are not going to take based on knowledge, not fear. I’m going to share what I do know and also highlight some of the valuable resources that are being made available by knowledgeable people.

Radiation

I want to put radiation in some context for a minute. This will be simple, I’m not a scientist. But I do think it is important to remember that there is naturally occurring radiation that we are exposed to all of the time; from the earth itself, the sun, certain rocks, even the elevation you live at varies your radiation exposure.

Then there are man-made exposures to radiation that are a part of our normal lives; microwave ovens, x-rays, flying in airplanes,etc.  And then there is the radiation exposure that communities around the world live with where there has been nuclear bombing, testing, plant melt downs and deposits of nuclear waste. Usually it is our poorer communities that live by/in these radioactive areas and when we talk about our poorer communities we need to remember that a large number of people in our poor communities are children (21% of children in the US live in poverty and every second child in the world). And, as I’m sure you know, children are even more vulnerable to radiation exposure than us adults. The point I want to make here is that radiation exposure is an ongoing issue not just a potentially current crisis.

Obviously, there are different levels of radiation exposure and that level of exposure is what needs to determine the choices we make to protect ourselves. I’m encouraging people to take this time as a wake up call to clean up your act. Clean up your diet even more, take more toxins out of your home environment, and overall, take better care of yourself. Because, truly, we don’t know what is coming down the road and we can be responsible in our own health care by making choices and taking control over what we have the knowledge and resources to change. 

Potassium iodide

So here is the big question on peoples’ minds and it is flying off the shelves all over the west coast of the US. What is potassium iodide? It’s a form of iodine, stronger than regular iodine. According to Medline, http://www.nlm.gov/medlineplus , potassium iodide only protects the thyroid from the uptake of Iodine 131 and there are 200 other radioactive chemicals in radiation releases. What that tells me, or I should say reminds me, is that there is no magic pill. If you still believe in a magic pill, for anything, now would be a good time to abandon that concept.

 I am not encouraging people in the US to take potassium iodide at this time.  Instead I am encouraging people to take more natural forms of iodine that won’t harm you and to strengthen your body overall. Those specifics I’ve outlined below. There is potential harm that you can do by taking potassium iodide and you have to weigh the benefit versus the harm.You, of course, must make your own educated decision based upon your personal health and beliefs. I just ask that you make an informed decision.

In deciding to use a medicine, any medicine, the risks of taking the medicine must be weighed against the good it will do. Some of the common side effects of potassium iodide include (this from http://www.drugs.com ): acne, diarrhea, loss of appetite, nausea, upset stomach, vomiting. These are the common ones.

The more severe side effects include: severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); black, tarry stools; confusion; fever; irregular heartbeat; metallic taste in the mouth; mouth sores; numbness or tingling of the hands or feet; skin rash; stomach pains; swelling in the neck or throat; unusual tiredness; weakness.This is not a complete list of all side effects that may occur.

The LA Times  reported last week  (3/16/11) that potassium iodide supplements are flying off drug-store shelves in the United States, according to a number of reports. I encourage any of your purchasing potassium iodide not to hoard it. The Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com , recomends only taking it for ten days.  Allow everyone who wants to take it access to it. If you have the money, buy a case and ship it to Japan. We are all in this together.

Even the more mainstream medical sources say that large amounts of potassium iodide and/or long term use are ‘possibly unsafe’. More is not always better; especially with children, frail elders, pregnant and breastfeeding women. This can also cause thyroid problems as well as potentially worsening pre-existing thyroid conditions.

There are also very serious contra-indications with common pharmacuetucals that you may already be taking. Consult with your physician and do your own research as well on the above mentioned websites.  Those are the basics that I’ve gleaned about potassium iodide. Don’t just listen to me,  make sure you make an informed decision. You are trying to protect your health, not harm it. Potassium iodide is being given in Japan to people with known high exposure to radiation, where the benefit  most likely outweighs the potential harm.

alternative medicine

selfheal

 Now I want to devote the rest of this space to what I do recommend.

Food to eat

Edible Medicinal Mushrooms: such as shitake and oyster mushrooms offer the benefits of being anti-cancer (potential long-term consequence of radiation exposure), deep immune building, support your vital organs, just to list a few benefits. 

Cilantro: chelates and helps pull heavy metals ( plutonium and cesium are examples) out of the body; eat lots of it, chop it up into salads, make a pesto out of it, sprinkle it on your veggies, rice, etc.

Seaweed: here is the big one to be eating, or you  may want to consider taking capsules of it (guidelines for that below); you want the brown (one way seaweeds are classified is by color) seaweeds, especially kombu, bladderwrack, and wakame; full of bio-available iodine so helps block the uptake of radioactive iodine (note: if you have thyroid issues, consult a professional before taking any significant quantity of seaweed); helps the body remove radiation;  so seaweed helps to prevent absorption of radiation as well as detoxify if absorbed; it is  important that your seaweed be from a clean water source, I’ll list some companies I trust in a minute; if you are new to eating seaweed, know that you may have some digestive upset as your body gets used to metabolizing it;  also rich in minerals and vitamins for strengthening during times of such stress. On that note, your nettles tea is also a good idea. 

Seaweed resources:

Wild Dev Ocean, http://www.wilddevocean.com , 707-684-0759

Rising Tide Sea Vegetables, http://www.loveseaweed.com , 707-964-5663 

Mama Ocean,  707-223-4318 

Ocean Harvest  707-937-1923 

Island Herbs, http://ryandrum.com  , also has excellent articles on seaweed as medicine

miso soup : highly protective; “Kazumitsu Watanabe, professor of cancer and radiation research a Hiroshima University’s atomic bomb research center, reports that when miso soup, a soy product, is eaten regularly, people may be more resistant to the aftermath of radiation.” ; helps eliminate toxins from the body; if you have high blood pressure or on a low sodium diet for other reasons use sparingly as miso is high in sodium. Also make sure that all soy products you ingest are organic, commercially grown soy beans are a highly sprayed crop.

chlorophyll-containing foods such as blue green algae or chlorella:  helps the body to detox; nutrient rich; protective

A lot of the foods that we know to be anti-cancer are protective and beneficial here:  fermented foods, cruciferous vegetables (brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.), high fiber diets. And lastly, don’t forget to drink lots of water, at least a half-gallon (about 64 oz.) per day. 

Herbs to take

If you are going to take therapuetic doses of herbs, do consult with a practitioner before mixing with pharmaceuticals and/or if you have a serious illness. Many herbs are quite safe but you want to be mindful of potential contraindications and consider your particular circumstances. That being said, below are some herbs to consider.

Medicinal Mushroomssuch as shitake, oyster, reishi are wonderful medicine that support our deep immunity and aid in protecting us from cancer. If you aren’t eating them you can take a mushroom tincture or capsules (go for the high quality freeze-dried caps if you go this route).

Lymphatic support is vital in helping our bodies to cleanse and get rid of toxins.

  • red clover : cleasnses the blood and lymph, gently stimulates the lymph, great as a tea
  • red root : more strongly stimulates the lymph and provides some liver support as well
  • cleavers : nice gentle lymph cleanser, is coming up now in many parts of the country

Liver protection is another important aspect of protecting ourselves from radiation as it helps our body to eliminate toxins, so we want it to be functioning optimally.

  • milk thistle : strongly hepato-protective (protects the liver), helps the liver to regenerate and function better; good as tincture or grind the seeds fresh onto your food
  • burdock : supports the liver, aids digestion, helps remove heavy metals from the intestines, blood cleanser; this is one you can eat as well as make a palatable tea or take tincture
  • chaparral : strongly stimulates the liver, can be too much for some people, do not use if debilitated without a practitioner’s care

What to avoid

For those of you who listen to The Herbal Highway (archives on http://www.kpfa.org ), you have heard Karyn and myself numerous times talk about the idea of lessening the toxic load. There are things that we have control over, and if we can lessen the amount of toxins that we take into our bodies and have in our environment, then our bodies have more resources to deal with the toxins we don’t have control over. Samuel Epsteins work, Safe Shoppers Bible, and check out his website: http://www.preventcancer.com . Remember that everything you know about cancer prevention is useful now.

What else to do:

Baking soda and epsom salt baths help pull radiation and other toxins out of the  body. Soak for 20 minutes then rinse off with cool water.

Drink water with sea salt, this from Margi Flint, helps to detoxify. Again watch/avoid if you are restricting sodium for other health reasons.

High doses of vit C and other anti-oxidents, help with free radical scavenging.

Cook using coconut oil, it is protective of the thyroid; also from Margi Flint.

Matthew Wood  came across this interesting tidbit. A native wildflower, spiderwort or Tradescantia virginiana, is a radioactive sensitive plant. This lovely blue flower, pictured below, will turn pink if exposed to radioactivity and is used by NASA because it is so sensitive. I think this is so amazing and such a good reminder that nature holds the answers to everything we need, even those things that we humans have taken out of their natural balance.

herbal medicine

Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA NRCS. 1995. Northeast wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. Northeast National Technical Center, Chester.

Homeopathy

 I had a brief discussion with homeopath Melissa Assilem regarding homeopathic remedies to use with radiation exposure. She was living in Britain during the time of Chernobyl and so had some good first hand experience to share.

The homeopathic remedies to look into include:  Radium (there are several remedies made from various forms of radiation), Sol (a remedy made from the sun, a huge source of radiation),  Iodine (you could consider taking a homeopathic form of iodine rather than a pharmacuetical dose),  Aconite (made from the plant aconite; great for  fear).

Flower essences:

Yarrow from Flower Essence Society – boundaries which are good in dealing with toxins, and specifically helps protect from radiation.

Orange rose  from Luna Fina – overcome known fears

Rainbow shower tree from Jane Bell’s Hawaiian Essences – helps us to feel showered with safety and angelic grace when we feel vulnerable to allow our full beauty and potential to shine through. It also encourages group harmony by weaving angelic grace into the fabric of family and community. I do find that many of us, when we are in a state of fear, contract and close off not just from others but from self; and it is in times of stress that we most need to pull together.

Petrified sequoia from Melissa Assilem’s Greek Tree Essences – addresses issues of the root chakra, survival of the earth, survival fears and physical health

So, instead of worrying yourself into a stress state, consider your energy might be better spent on the following:

  • cooking good food (as much organic as you can afford) and not using the microwave
  • spending quality time with your loved ones and creating stronger community
  • political activism to end the use of nuclear energy
  • raising awareness about cleaning up nuclear waste that is harming the communities living near it

I encourage each of you to use this time as a wake-up call to clean up your diet and other habits. Any positive changes you make will make you stronger overall and more resilient if you are indeed exposed to elevated radiation levels. Make informed choices about what you take and do not take into your body. You don’t want to harm yourself in an effort to protect yourself. Save irony for your reading material, not the expense of your health.

And remember that nature is an amazing teacher, we can look to the plants and the earth to see how they have survived and seek their support, their lessons and their medicine.

Be well,

Sarah

Tea Time!

herbal medicine

gorgeous ceramics by Kevan Miller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To listen to a related radio broadcast, go to http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/66958 . This program aired live on January 20, 2011 and will be archived for two weeks.

If you don’t already make herbal teas for yourself, now is a good time to start. Since we are supposed to slowing down during winter, taking the time to make some tea, that is not only warming but good medicine, is a great way to get in the mood of winter. Then when the different seasons roll around, you have your tea making skills down and all you need to do is make seasonal adjustments for the herbs you are using.

Making herbal tea is making medicine. You’ll hear about herbal infusions and herbal decoctions, more about that later. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just refer to all of them as tea. I’m not talking about throwing an old chamomile tea bag in some hot water for five minutes. This time-honored method makes a lovely beverage, but it is not medicine. I’m talking about using good quality, loose, dried herbs and giving them hours to steep in water.

Some hints about selecting and storing your herbs:

Once herbs are dried they lose their stability after one to two years – this varies from plant to plant. When buying loose, dried herbs check for freshness. They should have some color to them, some smell. Old dried out herbs have no life. Even if you don’t know what the plant is supposed to look or smell like, you can get a sense of whether the herb has some vitality to it. Think about selecting produce.

If you are going to use your herbs in a timely manner – within a couple months – store them in a covered glass jar in your cupboard. If you buy a large quantity and/or do not use them often, put them in a plastic freezer bag and store in your freezer. Storing herbs in your freezer will help them to maintain their freshness.

herbal medicine

orange peel, rosehips and ginger

So, let’s get started:

you will need a clean, empty quart-sized glass jar with a lid  (mason jar or large mayo jar; a wide-mouth jar is easiest to work with)

put 1 to 2 handfuls of dry herb in the jar (or about two to three inches deep, this will vary depending upon the fluffiness of the herb)

heat water on stove to hot, just before a boil

pour water into jar filling it, covering the dry herb, cover with the lid to the jar (do not tighten it however, or it will be difficult to unscrew once it cools)

allow to steep (sit covered) for a minimum of 8 hours to overnight

once the tea has steeped, strain out plant matter (if you are able, it is nice to put the plant matter, called the mark, in your garden under a tree or plant, so that it can return to the earth; when I didn’t have a yard and lived in the city, I liked to take the mark out and put it under one of the city trees surrounded by concrete.)

drink and enjoy your tea; drink at room temperature or gently warm on the stove (do not boil and do not microwave)

store tea in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days; if you haven’t finished it by this time pour it out, it will start to grow things

if you want to make a smaller amount of tea, use  about one table spoon dry herb to 8 ounces of water and follow the previous steps.

 
 
 

herbal medicine

sometimes the healing is in the color as well

Additional tips:

If you are making a tea combining several herbs, it is easiest to mix the dry herbs together in a large bowl and store them already mixed. Then you can simply grab a handful of the mix and make your tea.

If you like to make your own blend each time, still follow the above guidelines for herb to water proportions. In other words, if you are combining three herbs into one tea, do not put two handfuls of each herb in the jar. Also, it is easier to brew them together, rather than having three separate jars going if you are planning to drink them together anyway.

Whether you are making teas for health for pleasure or both, enjoy them. Take time to enjoy the ritual of making the tea, appreciate the colors, aromas and tastes.

Here are some herbs you might want to try. Making tea blends is a lot like cooking, from a flavor standpoint. And sometimes, you aren’t as concerned about the flavor and just want to get the medicinal properties into your body. I didn’t include any herbs below that most people might consider ‘bad’ tasting, just to ease you in to the whole tea thing.

mullein leaves - wonderful respiratory tonic, especially to the lungs (This one I like to strain through a cloth or coffee filter so the little hairs on the leaves don’t irritate your throat.)

chamomile flowers – calming, helps with anxiety, especially when felt in stomach area, good digestive aid as well

burdock root -  good liver and digestive support

hawthorne berries- wonderful heart tonic, high in bioflavinoids and help lower cholesterol

elder berries – strongly anti-viral specific to the respiratory system, good medicine for the cold and flu season

So, about infusions and decoctions. An infusion is what is described above in your tea making process. Infusions are great for leaves and flowers. When making tea from denser plant matter such as roots and berries, herbalists often make a decoction. For a decoction you would first lightly simmer the herbs, covered, for 20 minutes to several hours. Then you let it steep as described above in a covered jar. That being said, sometimes you are mixing leaves and roots, for instance. In that case you can separate them and add the decocted roots into you infusing leaves, or you can keep is simple and just infuse the whole blend.

Herbal teas are a lovely way to introduce people, including yourself, to herbal medicine. You can work with different blends, like you blend flavors when you cook. Sometimes, I like to just make a tea of one herb to really enjoy the taste and energy of that one plant and its medicine. Here is enough information to get you started. Heat up some water and get your jar out, get your hands in some herbs and before you know it, you’ll be sitting with a nice warm cup of medicine watching the winter sunset.

Be well,

Sarah

winter thoughts

mt. shasta herbal energetics

sunrise from school

wow- what an amazingly cold morning! when i was outside at sunrise, it was 16 degrees out.  it has been a very cold winter so far. waking up everyday with frost encrusted trees. for some reason though, the cold is bringing in the bald eagles. spotted 2 in our field the other day and a pair are living on the upper part of the property.  i have been checking pretty regularly on the plants and adding some extra mulch here and there because of the hard freezes.  the creek is flowing really strong and the plants down there look ok.  the spikenards are happy with the water higher and the spice bush looks happy despite the hard cold.  i have been feeding the birds lots of seed and fat to keep them alive. the little birds will die from these cold nights and the frost. i don’t want to lose any of the birds- not only for their sweet song, but for all the bug eating and pollinating they do.  have been making a-lot of medicine and doing meditations with them.  it’s nice not to have so much constant work in the gardens. just get to stroll around the land and check on everyone.

Winter Health

Welcome to Winter!

herb school

winter sculpture

And quite a dramatic solstice we had last week with the beautiful lunar eclipse. We were fortunate to have the clouds part from moonrise until after the eclipse so we were able to see the beauty of the event. 

Today, I want to write about winter, the energy of the season, strategies for being in harmony with the season and staying healthy. Around each season change there is a two week period during which the energy is shifting from one season to the next. Since the energy is less stable because it is transitioning, it is good to be aware of this and not only keep up our self care but give some extra care. Remind and support your loved ones to do this as well. 

Season changes are naturally times of re-organization, increasing self awareness and looking at priorities, which often shift to reflect the season. So, on the emotional level we can feel a little out of sorts or find ourselves reflecting on our lives. This is natural and good to do. Just remember to be gentle with yourself while you are doing it. 

Winter is that time of going within, hibernating, slowing down. A time to replenish, relax, dream. In the plant cycle, winter is represented by the seed. That dormant state, seemingly dead, but not dead, just resting in its potential. Being in harmony with the season is about being in harmony with nature, being in harmony with self. So let yourself slow down, sleep more, dream, reconnect with self. Allow yourself to be more inward, less outward. 

Many of us are also dealing with gray days, less light and colder weather. We know that spring is coming, but winter has just begun. Since winter is a time of rest and introspection, if you are challenged by slowing down winter may be a difficult season for you energetically. 

It is always important to exercise, whatever form moving your body takes, and as the weather is not always as pleasant, exercise can be challenging in the winter months. So, your exercise may be more indoors than usual which you can use to your advantage. Consider slowing down your exercise to activities that are more gentle, more meditative, do more stretching. Keep your body moving, you’ll feel better, but save the vigorousness for spring and summer. Short bursts of vigorous exercise is fine if you really love this, just make sure you are doing the slow stuff too.

 You may have gotten out of your routines during this past holiday season, so work to get back on track. You have worked hard over the years to develop those good habits. So, if you let go of them for a short time, try not to let that be the new norm. Avoid the all-or-nothing trap.

 On a physical level, I’m going to focus on plants that help our digestion as well as our deep immunity and vitality. I so often focus on digestion because, while it can get easily thrown off, it can also often get back track pretty easily. At this time of year, you might be challenging your body by eating richer foods than you are used to. Those overindulgences, especially the older we get, can throw our systems off.

On that physical level digestion is really a cornerstone of good health. Both the quality of foods we put into our bodies and how well our body is able to make use of those foods are important.

 During winter we want to focus on foods that produce more heat (like garlic, ginger and cayenne), more fats and carbs and, as always, to eat seasonally. Eat more well-cooked foods, your digestion slows during this season and we also tend to have less physical activity. It’s not so much about increasing caloric intake as it is making sure your food is deeply nourishing. If you spend a lot of time outdoors in the cold weather, you will need to increase your calories in order to maintain your body heat.

Before I start mentioning specific herbs, remember before taking anything consider who you are and if you have a chronic illness, are pregnant or on pharmaceuticals consult a professional before taking anything.

Peppermint and/or ginger are wonderful for settling an upset stomach. Peppermint is cold and stimulating and ginger is hot and stimulating, so consider your constitution. If you are feeling really chilled a footbath can warm you right up; and if it is a ginger foot bath you will be toasty in no time.

 If you know you will be eating rich food, have some bitters on hand. Five drops of gentian tincture 10-15 minutes before you eat will help your digestive system be ready for food and therefore process it better. You can take bitters after a meal as well, to help settle things down.

 Be nice to your liver as well; burdock root and dandelion root can be really nice as tea to take throughout the season. They even work well as a base for herbal chai. What I mean by herbal chai is chai without black tea (because, of course, all chai has herbs in it). Burdock or dandelion and a touch of peppermint help give some depth and round out the usual chai spices if you want a caffeine-free version. Sometimes, supporting/fine-tuning the liver is all you really need to get your digestion back on track.

When I talk about health I’m talking about being in balance  and resiliency.  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 and a sign of your health. Maybe physically you can ‘get away’ with a lot, but emotionall, you get through off of your center very easily. This is a part of your health as well. An important part. 

A part of our resiliency, or ability to stay in balance, is connected to vitality and deep immunity. Medicinal mushrooms and astragalus are adaptogens and help us maintain our deep immunity and vitality. You can eat your medicine by cooking astragalus or medicinal mushrooms into your stews or beans, anything with a sauce that you cook for a long period of time. If cooking isn’t your thing, you can always take a tincture of astragalus or shitake or another medicinal mushroom. If you are taking one of these tinctures as a tonic, take 10-15 drops once a day. You can do this for a couple of months if you like and then give yourself about a week long break if you want to continue. It is good to give your body a break from herbs so that you do not become dependent upon them, physically or emotionally.

herbal medicine school

frosted leaves

Because our mind, body and spirit are all interconnected I enjoy using flower and gem essences as well to work on physical conditions and well as the deeper emotional and spiritual concerns. Rarely is anything strictly physical. Here are some essences that I consider useful for this time of year.

Brazilian quartz (from Alaskan Essences, www.alaskanessences.com ) brings a cleansing white light, stimulates healing on all levels; cleanses, energizes and synchronizes the subtle bodies, chakras and physical body to the earth’s natural vibration

Buffalo Gourd (Desert Alchemy, www.desert-alchemy.com ) out of balance, overextended, mood swings, depleted, maintaining deep inner place of healing and calm while participating in activities; balance of inner and outer, soothes nervous system

Fireweed (Alaskan Essences) 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, frees from limitations of the past

 If the cloudy weather and diminished sunlight  impacts your mood, there is some help for you:

Solstice Sun (Alaskan Essences) energy of the sun; affects the movement of energy through our physical bodies; opens heart and energy pathways in body so we 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; direct energy of the sun

Yellow Rose  (Rose Chakra Essences, www.lunafina.com  ) bringing in your own sun

Additional essences helpful this time of year:

Deep Rest Combination (Hawaiian Essences, www.janebellessences.com ) get beneath the stress to retune, recharge and reconnect in deep embodied peace

Moon Milk  (Keeping Time Essences) comforting, nourishing, gentle

Persian Lilac (Essences of Greece, www.melissaassilem.net ) 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

Bristlecone Pine (Ancient Forest Essences, www.woodlandessence.com ) sense of eternity, letting go of momentary drama, helps choose love over fear, clarity and persistence; ability to thrive amidst constantly changing conditions

Aleppo Pine (Greek Essences) for those who hold onto everything too tightly and hoard until they are bloated with ‘stuff’;  helps you to donate some of the old to make room for the new; eliminates the overload, detoxifies

Chalice Well   (Alaskan Essences) unconditional love and support; the well of flowing water that never stops – connects us to support that we may not be aware of , a message that we are never alone; challenges the belief systems and emotional blockages that stand in the way of a stronger connection to the Universal love and support

As you can see, the essences can be very specific while still having a universal appeal. If you want to try some, I suggest one at a time. That way you can get to know that essence and feel it in your body, before adding in another one; like meeting someone one-on-one as opposed to meeting someone with a big group.

I encourage you to feel the season, allow yourself to slow down and enjoy the gifts of the dark.

Sarah