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.
a sauerkraut crock
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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
- 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.
apartment buildings in Thailand
A dear friend of mine emailed this photo to me. I have to say it really moved me in several ways. The sheer beauty of these buildings makes me smile. The architecture is interesting to start with but the addition of so many plants just takes it over the top. In a good way.
Imagine if all of our homes so beautifully reflected and showcased nature? Most of us don’t live outside anymore, but we can bring the natural into our everyday lives. I encourage you to do this, even in small ways. Bring some plants into your home, put potted plants on your balcony. Think your house is too small or crowded for plants? Consider a hanging basket.
Don’t have any outdoor space that is yours? Check with the city about the parkway near your house or a corner you walk by everyday. I’ve seen some really beautiful and simple landscaping that people have done in cities in these public places. Creating a bit of natural beauty in the midst of the urban concrete is a big gift to everyone who sees it.
Some traditions believe that flowers absorb negative energy. Imagine all the good vibrations in these apartment complexes.
Maybe you do have a yard. Consider adding plants with flowers and if you already have some, plant some more that bloom at different times. When I take the time, which I try to do often, to stop and really look at a flower, I am amazed over and over again. The variety of shapes and colors and color combinations is endless.
So, don’t just stop and smell the roses, but stop and really look at them, touch them. Let yourself experience your spirit lifting just from taking a moment to be present with the beauty.
rose in bloom. Photo by Claire Bohman
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!