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

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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

 

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

  

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

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