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Archive for the ‘Health Conditions’ Category

We’ve all heard the saying…”an Apple a Day keeps the doctor away”…right.  The reason behind that may be that apples contain a host of vitamins and minerals, are a good source of dietary fiber as well as vitamin C.  There is also research to indicate that apples may help prevent a host of diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer.  With this said we have to ask ourselves… is an apple food or is it medicine?  Actually, I see them as one in the same, food is medicine.

What about Garlic?  We all know that Garlic is wonderful to cook with, but it also contains a host of nutrients as well as other constituents which benefit the cardiovascular system, are antimicrobial, may help to prevent cancer and improve metabolism of iron.

Culinary herbs and spices added to foods not only help to improve the taste of dishes, but also allow us to incorporate their numerous medicinal benefits to all of our meals.  Cinnamon, fennel, rosemary, thyme or most any culinary herb you can think of has been used as both food and medicine since the beginning of time.   I’ve always had a passion for cooking and as a herbalist I try to get the most out of every meal by adding foods that I know to be healing as well as incorporating as many herbs and spices to my dishes as I can. 

Sometimes it can be really challenging coming up with new recipes that are both tasty and healthy.   Fortunately, I just found out about a class that John Gallagher at Learningherbs.com is hosting on Culinary Herbalism  .  The class will be given by K.P. Khalsa who has over 30 years of experience as a herbalist, is the President of the American Herbalists Guild and the author of several books on natural health.  K.P. Khalsa is presenting this class to teach people how to use herbs as food and to use food as medicine.  This class will also include various meal preparations using therapeutic herbs, over 19 recipes, and lots of information on using herbs to improve and benefit various health conditions. 

One thing I really like about this class is that it is a self paced so you can do it online and at your own pace.  John at Learningherbs.com does such a great job on hosting these events and they are definitely an organization worth supporting.  I’m looking forward to the class and hope you will check it out to see what you think.  Just go to CulinaryHerbalism.com and John has posted a video about the course and more information on K.P. Khalsa.  John is really great at giving away free information and has posted several recipes that will be included in the class.  This class opens tomorrow April 19th and will only be offered through April 23rd so the sooner you get registered the better.

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Some of the best remedies we have for acute ailments can be found right in our own kitchen cabinets.  For me it is extremely convient to reach for something in the pantry or spice cabinet when I’m in need of a quick remedy.  Long before mail order and online shopping people had to rely on what they had around the house or in the yard to treat illnesses which would arise.

One particular application called a “Poultice” has a plethora of benefits and can be made up using things that you may already have in your kitchen.  A Poultice or Cataplasm as it is also refered to is basically a moistened mass of plant or food materials that are applied to various areas of the body in order to impart it’s medicinal benefits and to provide relief.  The word “Poultice” derives from the latin word “porridge” suggesting a consistancy much like that of porridge.
 

Making and Using a Poultice:

Depending on what you are using as your poulticed material will determine how the material is prepared.  When using fresh plant material you can either chew it up, crush it in a mortor with a pestle  or even chop in a blender until you have made a gooey blob (always ensure you have positively identified a plant prior to chewing or ingesting).  This mass of plant material is then applied directly to the effected area, wrapped with plastic wrap to retain moisture and then secured in place with a gauze or bandage .  When using dry material hot water can be added to hydrate the material and then applied to the affected area.   Warm or cold applications can be applied on top of the dressing to provide additional relief as indicated.  Depending on the type of condition you can apply a light layer of oil, such as olive, to the skin to keep the poulticed material from sticking to the skin once it has dried out (never apply oil based applications to open wounds).  Egg whites can also be added to dry plant material to help add moisture and flour can also be added to help the material adhere to areas such as the top of the ear.  Poultices are effective for various conditions to include inflammations, ulcerations, boils, burns, bites, stings, sprains, bruises, skin conditions and so on.

There are numerous items around the home and in the yard that can be applied as a Poultice.  As a matter of fact I have used plane ole baking soda time and time again to give relief for bee or wasp stings.  Simply add water to baking soda a few drops at a time until you get a thick paste.  Apply the paste to the affected area.  Once the powder is dry I simply wash it off with tap water and we are usually good to go.
 
Various Poultice Applications:

Honey or Molasses – may be mixed with flour  to make a paste or applied on it’s own for burns or scalds.

Baking Soda or Clay – prepare as mentioned above for bug bites and stings.

Cabbage Leaves (raw) – Crushed or mashed and applied for inflammations, ulcers, boils, arthitis and infections.

Potato (raw/grated) – inflammations and boils.

Bread and Milk – combine the bread and milk and apply to boils and abcesses.

Corn Meal – mixed with boiling water to make a paste an applied to the chest for plueral inflammation.

Onion – lightly sautee a chopped onion until it is soft and warm and place between a gauze or other cloth.  Grease the chest and apply the poultice to the area.  Very effective for respiratory conditons.

Elm (Ulmus fulva, U. spp.) – Mix the powdered elm bark with warm water and apply to inflammations, swellings and ulcerations.

Mallow or Malva spp. – Chew or crush the leaves and apply as a very effective emollient.

Plantain (P. lancealota, P. major) – Chew or crush leaves and apply to area.  Fabulous for helping to draw things out of the skin such as stingers, splinters or glass.

Although I may not have mentioned them all there are an endless number of herbs and foods which can be poulticed.  This application is one of the easiest methods for dealing with acute conditions.  So the next time the need arises try yourself a poultice from the kitchen or the yard.

Skin Condition

Apply oil to skin

Apply poultice material

Apply plastic wrap

Secure poultice

Skin Condition Resolved!!

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If your like me it doesn’t matter how hard you try to make the holiday season relaxing and stress free sometimes “stuff” happens.  However, there are a number of ways to help prevent, manage and combat the effects of stress.

 

What is Stress?

Any demand placed on the body, whether it is physical or emotional initiates a physiological response. The adrenal glands handle the physiological responses to stress by preparing the body for, “fight or flight”. The hormones that are released will then trigger responses in the body such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, constriction of blood vessels, and release of glucose into the blood stream for energy.

Consider the burden placed on the body when we are exposed to constant stress. These physiological reactions occur over and over again putting a huge strain on vital organs and the body as a whole.

Physical symptoms associated with stress:

Headaches.

Digestive problems.

Muscle tension and pain.

Sleep disturbances.

Fatigue.

Chest pain, irregular heartbeat.

High blood pressure.

Weight gain or loss.

Asthma or shortness of breath.

Skin problems.

Decreased sex drive

 

Emotional symptoms associated with stress:

Moody and hypersensitive.

Restlessness and anxiety.

Depression.

Anger and resentment.

Easily irritated and “on edge”.

Sense of being overwhelmed.

Lack of confidence.

Apathy.

Urge to laugh or cry at inappropriate times.

 

Other symptoms associated with stress:

Memory problems.

Difficulty making decisions.

Inability to concentrate.

Confusion.

Seeing only the negative.

Repetitive or racing thoughts.

Poor judgment.

Loss of objectivity.

Desire to escape or run away.

Eating more or less.

Sleeping too much or too little.

Isolating yourself from others.

Neglecting your responsibilities.

Increasing alcohol and drug use.

Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing).

Teeth grinding or jaw clenching.

Overdoing activities such as exercising or shopping.

Losing your temper.

Overreacting to unexpected problems.

 

Tips for dealing with stress:

Well balanced diet

Avoid tobacco

Limit alcohol use

Regular exercise

Practice stress management techniques

Quality sleep

Commit to leisure time

 

Nourish the Body:

When under stress the body is depleted of certain nutrients.  In particular the water soluble vitamins B and C are the first to be depleted.  The B vitamins are essential for nourishing the nervous system.  When deficient we are more prone to the effects of stress.  Vitamin C is essential to immune health.  When under stress and depleted of this essential nutrient we set the stage for immune deficiency which makes us more vulnerable to a host of conditions.

By eating an abundance of nutrient rich foods we help protect our bodies from the detriments of stress.  Leafy green vegetables and grass-fed meats provide our bodies with essential nutrients.  Foods which are processed/refined and loaded with sugar and refined oils deplete our bodies of essential nutrients.

Foods such as grains, dairy, some fruits and nuts may initiate an immune response which puts a strain on not only the digestive and nervous system, but the system as a whole.  By eliminating foods which are not tolerated it can be beneficial in re-establishing a healthy internal environment and thus reduce the additional stress placed on the system. 

Because we don’t always eat the way we know we should there are times when we may need to supplement the diet.  However, keep in mind that nutritional supplements do not take the place of a healthy diet and are exactly what they say, “supplements”.

Vitamins and Minerals – all are important, especially B-complex, vitamins A, C, D & E

Phytonutrients – coenzyme Q10, DHEA

Amino Acids – all, especially essential amino acids

Essential Fatty Acids – DHA and omega-3

Antioxidants – vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, selenium

 

Herbs:

Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.) is an herb that calms the nerves and helps promote sound sleep.

Milky Oat Seed (Avena sativa) is an herb that will nourish and tonify your nervous system.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis, Valerianaceae) is used for sleeping disorders, restlessness and anxiety.

Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) also called Siberian ginseng is an adaptogenic herb and is often used medicinally to combat fatigue and stress.

Kava Kava (Piper methystiam) Recent clinical studies have shown that the herb kava is a safe non-addictive anti-anxiety medicine, and is as effective as prescription anxiety agents containing benzodiazepines such as valium.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is used for insomnia and anxiety and helps to relax and tone the nervous system.

Passion Flower (Passifora incarnate) has a sedating effect on the central nervous system and helps to promote restful sleep.

Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa) helps to calm an overactive nervous system, is an antispasmodic, and helps with insomnia and restlessness.

Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) is a tonic for the nervous system and helps to promote restful sleep.

Wood Betony (Stacyhs officinalis) indicated for stress and tension associated with overthinking.

Peach Leaf (Prunus persica ) Nervous stomach and overstimulation.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) an adaptogenic herb which may help to increase stress tolerance and decrease nervous irritability and exhaustion. 

Bitter Herbs (Dandelion greens, gentian, chamomile) indicated for irritability, Stimulate digestion, decrease sluggishness, and have a “grounding effect”

 

Additional Tips:

 

Breathing Exercises

Exhale deeply, contracting the belly. 

Inhale slowly as you expand the abdomen.

Continue inhaling as you expand the chest.

Continue inhaling as you raise the shoulders up towards your ears.

Hold for a few comfortable seconds

Exhale in reverse pattern, slowly. Release shoulders, relax chest, and contract the belly.

Repeat.

 

Progressive Muscular Relaxation

Progressive Muscular Relaxation is useful for relaxing your body when your muscles are tense. First, tense up a group of muscles so that they are as tightly contracted as possible. Hold them in a state of extreme tension for a few seconds. Then, relax the muscles normally. Then, consciously relax the muscles even further so that you are as relaxed as possible.

 

Yoga Asanas

Asana is defined as “posture;” its literal meaning is “seat.” Yoga asanas are a technique for retraining the muscles to be able to relax. Many asanas or poses are aimed at improving the blood circulation and functioning of specific organs in your body.

 

Guided Imagery

In this technique, the goal is to visualize yourself in a peaceful setting.

Lie on your back with your eyes closed.

Imagine yourself in a favorite, peaceful place. The place may be on a sunny beach with the ocean breezes caressing you, swinging in a hammock in the mountains or in your own backyard. Any place that you find peaceful and relaxing is OK.

Imagine you are there. See and feel your surroundings, hear the peaceful sounds, smell the flowers or the barbecue feel the warmth of the sun and any other sensations that you find. Relax and enjoy it.

You can return to this place any night you need to. As you use this place more and more you will find it easier to fall asleep as this imagery becomes a sleep conditioner.

Hydrotherapy

Soaking in a neutral bath (96 – 98 deg F) for 30 – 60 minutes may help to decrease nervousness, depression and agitation.

Massage Therapy

Studies suggest that, “even a simple 5-min hand or foot massage, can be useful in lowering a patient’s perceived level of stress”, and that massage can help to lower blood pressure and physical strain.

 
Disclaimer: The information presented in this is for informational, reference and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a health care professional. Although, the information presented herein is based on material provided by researchers and sources deemed reliable, we do not presume to give medical advice.
Anyone wishing to use this information should share it with his or her health care provider before embarking on any therapeutic program. It is your responsibility to discuss any alternative or natural remedy with your health care provider before using it as it may harm rather than benefit. Many medical doctors are not acquainted with alternative remedies and natural healing methods. Share this information with them so they may learn, too, or find a practitioner who is familiar with them.

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I recently watched this National Geographic Documentary entitled, “Stress, Portrait of a Killer”.  It is a fascinating look at the physiological and emotional effects of stress and the long-term ramifications.  This documentary explores how stress can lead to obesity, heart disease and various other maladies and how our social standing in life can contribute to stress. 

If you are intersted in having a hard copy of this documentary you can purchase it at:  http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=3325754 .  By purchasing a copy you will support PBS who strives to bring you  editorial integrity, quality, diversity, and local station autonomy.

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I found myself under the weather about a month ago intially dealing with a sore throat and then having it move into my chest presenting with an irritable dry cough.  Depsite the fact that I try to keep my immune system strong there are occassions when even herbalists become their own patients.

When I encounter a dry and irritable cough I know that its time to reach for a demulcent.  A demulcent helps to soothe irritated tissue and moisten the mucus membranes.   A demulcent is indicated when there is a dry irritable cough with little expectoration.  I was also looking for an herbal expectorant.  Expectorants  increase the flow of mucus and help expel thick excess mucus from the lungs.   The last thing I want to do is suppress a cough and have it move into a more severe condition. 

I love using remedies that are inexpensive and readily available.  A wonderful demulcent that quite a few people might already have at the house are flaxseeds.  Flaxseeds not only fit the bill as a wonderful demulcent, but they are also an expectorant.  So for my cough I prepared myself a tea using 2 tbsp of flaxseed to one cup of water.  I boiled the water and poured it over the flax and let it sit for about 10-15 mins or until it got real slimy and thick.  I then strained off the seeds and for an extra boost I added some elderberry syrup.  The elderberry syrup added a nice flavor as well as an immune boost.  If you don’t have elderberry syrup around you can add some fresh lemon juice and honey.  I took a tablespoon of the mixture as often as I felt like I needed.  It really helped with both the sore throat and the irritable cough.  By helping to relax and soothe the underlying reflex without completely suppressing the cough it allowed my body to get some rest from the irritation of the cough.

Demulcents help to lubricate or moisten all mucus membranes to include those of the bowels.  Because of their moistening effect Flaxseeds can also be a wonderful aid for constipation and Irritable bowel conditions.    Some other benefits of Flaxseeds is that they are high in the good Omega-3 fatty acids, high in fiber and manganese.  Flaxseeds are also a good source of magnesium as well as antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals.  

Besides making them into a tea Flaxseeds can be ground up and sprinkled on food or used when cooking muffins or breads.  Flax seeds can be found at most grocery stores or health foods stores and are an inexpensive and a beneficial addition to any medicine/kitchen cabinet.

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I have to admit I have become a compulsive label reader.  So… just out of curiosity I read the label of a children’s pain reliever and fever reducer.  I won’t mention the name, but I will tell you that it rhymes with Mylenol.  I was absolutely blown away by what was in this over the counter drug that is given to millions of children each year.

Anhydrous citric acid, butylparaben, FD&C Red#40, flavors, glycerin, high fructose corn syrup, microcrystalline cellulose and carboxymethyl cellulose sodium, propylene glycol, purified water, sodium benzoate, sorbitol solution, sucralose, xanthan gum.

Just looking at these ingredients makes me cringe….what are we feeding our children?  According to the FDA, “Most drugs prescribed for children have not been tested in children.”  The FDA also goes on to say that, “…only about 20 percent of drugs approved by the FDA were labeled for pediatric use. By necessity, doctors have routinely given drugs to children “off label,” which means the drug has not been approved for use in children…”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel real comfortable with those facts.  With that said I’m here to tell you that there are a lot of wonderful herbs that can be used with kids in lieu of over the counter or prescription drugs and they are much safer and very effective.  Even many of the spices you may have in your kitchen cabinet can be very effective when it comes to treating acute conditions.

Some wonderful herbs and spices to have around the kitchen include:

  • Garlic –  This herb is one of the most valuable herbs you will ever have around the house.  Often called, “Poor Man’s Penicillin”, garlic is by far much more effective and safer than any antibiotic on the market.  Garlic is highly effective against both viral and bacterial infections and can be your first line of defense against antibiotic resistant infections. 

Remedies using Garlic:

Asthma (acute) – Simmer two cloves of garlic for 20 minutes and drink a glass once the mixture is cool.

Congestion – Soak a 1 pound of garlic in a quart of boiling water for 10 or 12 hours. Strain out the garlic and mix the liquid with 4 pounds of honey and bottle. Take 1 teaspoon for congestion.

Ear Infection – Chop up several cloves of garlic and soak them in olive oil for a minimum of 30 minutes or overnight. Strain out the garlic and warm the oil to body temperature. Place several drops in the infected ear. Also treat the none infected ear.

  • Ginger – Not only is ginger a very effective antibacterial herb, but it is also a very good expectorant, pain reliever, circulatory stimulant, immune stimulant and diaphoretic (increases circulation to skin).  Ginger is often used for motion sickness as well as nausea associated with chemotherapy or morning sickness.

Remedies using Ginger:

Cough/Cold/Flu –  Add a thumb size piece of ginger root to one quart of water and bring to a boil.  Simmer with lid on at low heat for 30 minutes.  Let the mixture cool.  Strain and drink ½ – 1 cup as desired.  May sweeten with honey.  (Do not use for a dry unproductive cough)

 

  • Honey – This sweet treat is loaded with vitamins and minerals and is like a first aid kit all rolled up into one remedy.  Honey is extremely effective taken as a preventative or during the course of colds, flu and respiratory infections.  Honey is also a very effective wound healer if applied topically to burns, ulcers and various other skin afflictions. Caution:  Do not give to children under 1 year of age.
  • Sage –  Often found in most kitchen cabinets this culinary herb is a wonderful antiseptic/antibacterial herb and can be applied topically for infected wounds or taken internally as a tea for various conditions such as sore throats, respiratory infections and dysentery.
  • Cayenne – This hot and spicy herb can be used topically to stop bleeding, to reduce inflammation and as a counter-irritant which may help relieve pain.  Internally Cayenne is taken as a digestive aid, anticoagulant and circulatory stimulant.
  • Cinnamon – There is some research to indicate that cinnamon may be effective in helping to regulate blood sugar and is a wonder addition to any diet.  As a carminative (alleviates gas/bloating) Cinnamon may be useful for colic, cramping, nausea, flatulence and vomiting.  Cinnamon is also astringent and may be effective in acute cases of diarrhea.
  • Anise – Not only good for the digestive system, but anise has also been used as an expectorant for chest congestion and mucus.

Anise may be used in the following applications:

–   Seeds may be chewed to help relieve indigestion or as a breath freshener.

–   A compress made from the tea can be used topically to help relieve pain.

–   The seeds can be used to make a syrup or tea which may be beneficial for coughs.

–   A tea made with Anise may help to stimulate the flow of mother’s milk.

–   Taken as a tea it may help to remedy colic, flatulence, cramp/griping, bloating and indigestion.

–   A nice addition to herbal recipes to enhance flavor.

  • Clove – Because of its pain relieving action, Clove has traditionally been used as a popular folk remedy for toothaches. Clove is also known to naturally relieve inflammation and is antifungal therefore making it potentially beneficial for parasitic infections.

CAUTIONS: Do not give to children under 5 and always dilute clove oil in water or oil.

  • Basil – An herb used for centuries in both culinary and medicinal applications, Basil is said to be both cooling and heating in its actions. Traditionally, it has been used in instances of melancholy (depression), indigestion, and for insomnia related to nervous tension. Basil is also used for conditions ranging from colds, fevers, kidney and lung troubles.

Remedies using Basil include:

–   Make a tea using basil for headaches, indigestion, fevers, colds, flu, menstrual

cramps, nausea, and vomiting.

–   Apply as a poultice for bacterial infections and burns.

–   Crush leaves and apply the juice topically to help with the itch of insect bites and inflammation of the skin.

–   Use as a steam for head colds.

–   Mix the juice of the leaves with honey for coughs.

The list of beneficial herbs found in the spice cabinet are endless.  Just about all culinary herbs can be used for various conditions which range from digestive issues to respiratory ailments.  Why rely on over the counter drugs which are loaded with various synthetic chemicals when you can use natural alternatives which are very safe and effective and have been used for centuries.

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My son recently had an encounter with a nettle plant.  After the initial sting had passed I really didn’t think too much about it as he never belabored over the pain or even mentioned any more about it.  However, the next day after returning home from school he showed me his ankle which had become quite swollen, was very red and radiating intense heat.  It appeared as though he had developed cellulitis in the area of the sting.

For those of you who may not be familiar with cellulitis it is an infection of the skin caused by bacteria (usually strep or staph).  The area affected becomes extremely inflamed, red, and warm to the touch.  Cellulitis can be potentially dangerous as the infection can move into the blood and lymph rather quickly.

Although over twenty-four hours had passed before I realized that my sons brush with nettles had developed into cellulitis there was no indication that it had spread beyond the area.  Because of the heat and inflammation the first thing that popped into my mind was to apply something cool to the area.  I am a firm believer in the healing power of hydrotherapy and use it often for various conditions. 

I ran a long sock under cold tap water, rang it out and applied it to his leg.  I also applied a dry cloth over the wet cloth and secured it around his ankle.  As a preventative I gave him a dose of Echinacea tincture and had him lay down on the couch for a rest.  With in no time the wet cloth was extremely warm so I removed it and reapplied the cool water application.  We continued the process for the rest of the evening and by morning it was at least 50% improved.  By the end of the next day the swelling had almost gone, most of the heat had dissipated and it was almost back to normal.  I did continue with the Echinacea, but my instincts tell me it was the hydrotherapy applications that did the trick.

I absolutely love the fact that something you can do at home which doesn’t cost you a dime can be such a wonderful healing tool.  Although I have used and been exposed to numerous exotic and imported herbs I am always humbled by what I find in my own back yard or kitchen cabinet.

Now granted I may have just caught the cellulitis early before it had the opportunity to spread.  Although there is the possibility that the cellulitis may have subsided on its own without any treatment what so ever.  However, it is my impression that the hydrotherapy helped facilitate the healing process.

This information is merely observational and should not be construed as giving medical advice.  Like I mentioned before, cellutlits can be potentially dangerous and may need to be attended to by a professional health care practitioner. 

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