Category Archives: Herbs

Giving you gut some extra help…

I am currently on industrial strength antibiotics to deal with an armpit cyst.  I know.  Glamorous, right?!  I am supposed to take 2000mg per day – but I can’t fit that in, so for the past week (and for the next week as well) I am taking 1500mg per day instead.  The cyst is responding to the antibiotics, though it isn’t completely gone, but my gut and I are not feeling very happy with all those bacteria killers flying about my system.

antibiotics

I decided to have a look around on line for some ideas to help my gut feel better during and after this course of treatment.  It appears I stumbled onto something, because there is a large amount of information out there for people who are troubled with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Disease, Colitis and all sorts of other stuff.  I have distilled the information into just four things we can use to give our gut some help.

dandelion

The first thing is dandelion.  Yes, the dandelion which throws gardeners into a froth and often brings out the homicidal tendencies in them… oh… just me then?  Actually, all parts of the dandelion are excellent digestive aids.  You can use the root, the leaves, the stalks (though be careful with them) and the flowers.  You can use them in teas, tinctures, vinegars, honey, oil or even just in a salad.  If you take some before meals you can stop heartburn.  If you take it after meals it can help with gall bladder pain and improve digestion.  Taking dandelion morning and night can alleviate gut pain and even tone your liver.

slippery elm

Next is something called Slippery Elm.  Sounds rather disgusting if you ask me, but apparently it is fabulous for assisting a digestive tract in crisis.  It is actually the bark from the slippery elm tree which is used to make the remedies (available in health food shops I understand) and it can help to restore balance to an irritated system (IBS/IBD) or a system under attack from Lupus or Crohn’s.  Even people undergoing chemotherapy with deeply distressed guts have found improvements with taking Slippery Elm.  Something to consider if you are in deep discomfort.  Apparently it acts as a counter to food poisoning, can quell acid refluxes and even helps with diarrhoea or constipation.

fennel seeds

Next are the aromatic seeds.  These are caraway, coriander, cumin, dill and fennel seeds – I have several of these hiding at the back of my pantry cupboard. Take 1 teaspoon of any of these seeds, put in a cup with boiling water and leave it to steep.  Drink it while it is still warm, sweetened or not, depending on your taste, and there you have it.  It is great for alleviating gas pains and for speeding up digestion.  It can also help to counteract the digestion effects of heavy painkillers.

yogurt

Finally, an ever present item in my house is yogurt.  Plain and unsweetened is best,  or you can make your own with real (unpasteurised) milk.  It is of great use to people with colitis and can also help gut pain, gas pain, stomach pain, nausea and even bad breath.  Also, if you have Bioactive yogurt, then you can help to recolonise the good bacteria in your gut once any antibiotics have done their stuff.  Yes… bioactive yogurt features high on my shopping list this week!

I hope, if you are in the same boat as me, with a distressed digestive tract, that these remedies might offer some relief to you.

Advertisements

Healing traditions and where I want to be …

While I was doing some reading at the weekend as research for my blog posts (oh, yeah, I do research!  This blog isn’t just thrown together you know!) I came across an article which began by listing the three healing traditions in the world.  I thought it was an interesting topic for the blog, and a nice way to start the week.

healing

The three traditions are the Scientific, the Heroic and the Wise Woman.  I am okay with the first one, but the other two names seem a little “hippy dippy” to me, but I will use them for ease.  Effectively, these three names are the filters through which herbal medicine can be seen and used.

scientific

So, the scientific tradition sees herbs and other plants as the source of drugs.  In this day and age, they are generally whipped into a laboratory and synthesised into usable medicines, usually with unpronounceable names, and then patented so that the Chemical company can make a heap of money from them.  Seeing as you can’t patent a naturally occurring substance, synthesis is paramount.  I would like to point out that I am not trying to wag a finger at the Capitalist economic model and nor do I think that chemical medicines inspired by herbs and naturally occurring substances are a bad thing.  Capitalism may not be perfect, but it is the best we have at the moment, and as for chemical medicines, I am all for them in the right place.  I am on strong antibiotics myself at the moment, and they are dealing with the issue I had.  Herbal cures just weren’t cutting it.  They reduced the issue, but I needed the chemical help to really kick it into touch.

herbal hero

Next category is Heroic.  This type of healer believes that herbs are safe drugs and generally these people are highly trained therapists who know how to use combinations of herbs, usually in the forms of pills or capsules and who make little distinction between herbal supplements and synthetic nutrient supplements.  These therapists tend to have really strict rules about eating with a focus on balance and being clean.  I suspect it is this type of healer that the course I am following is trying to create.  Personally speaking, I think eating clean is a great idea – but practically impossible to do correctly, all the time.  I am also happy to use herbal supplements, but I feel a bit uncomfortable about the synthetic nutrition supplements.  I like to make sure my food gives me the nutrients I need, without using supplements if I can avoid it.

granny weatherwax

The final category, and the one that feels like a good fit to me, is the Wise Woman one.  You can think Shaman, or Old Crone living on her own in a cottage in a wood with a cat.  In Scotland, they call them a Spey Wife.  In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, they are Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.  They might have been called witches in the past.  I am happy with Herbalist.  (Actually, when I am old and grey, if I get called Granny Weatherwax, I will have achieved everything I have ever wanted to!  She is AWESOME!)  These types of healers, use the natural herbs – fresh or dried – to support and nourish well being.

If I was going to get all hippy and crunchy I would mutter something about all living things being connected and supporting each other through the cycle of life, but that is just waffle.  I prefer to use the herbs I grow or can obtain fresh.  Just because I know they haven’t been monkeyed about with. One of my aims this year is to grow my own herbs and make some of my own remedies from the stuff that comes from my garden.  I can’t tell you how cool that is going to be!

Getting prepared for anything…

The weather is in the process of turning from deep winter into early spring.  In the UK that means we have heavy frosts at night and lovely clear days.  All that means I am out in the garden trying to steal a march on those jobs that (hopefully) I am not going to have time for come the summer.  Like weeding the borders thoroughly.  And pruning the perennial shrubs.  I also pruned the apple tree yesterday.  Thankfully I had a bough lopper that I could use, but my neck is a little sore from all that looking upwards!

1st aid

As I was mentally compiling the list of things that have to be done in the garden, I was also thinking of what I want to get sorted inside.  One of the major things I want to put together is a herbal first aid kit – something that I can turn to when the baby (I am not losing hope of a match yet!) or my husband or I come down with something.  Luckily, my trusty book “Herbs for Vibrant Health” by Rosemary Gladstar, has a list of things to include in such a first aid kit.  First aid is actually something very close to my family’s heart, especially as my sister is a freelance First Aid Trainer.  Check out her website at http://beavertraining-technical.webs.com for what she can offer (yes, yes, shameless plug… but she is my sister!!)

The essentials in your first aid kit can be divided into gels and salves, Tinctures, Essential and other Oils and then powders, capsules and other essences.

salve

First the gels and salves.  Ms Gladstar suggests having two separate salves – one which is all purpose and one which is specifically anti-fungal.  However, I think that it makes sense to have one which covers all the bases, and as they both treat the same things (cuts, wounds, burns and sunburns) a little research should yield a recipe which covers all of these areas.  Ms Gladstar also suggests having aloe vera gel in the kit for use on burns and cuts and wounds.  I like using aloe vera gel, but you have to remember that it can make skin photosensitive, so be careful on the areas you use it, just in case you begin to react to light in an adverse way.

tincture

Next some the tinctures.  A Tincture is a concentrated liquid extract of herbs, usually using alcohol as the main solvent, though they can be made with glycerin or apple cider vinegar as well.  The tinctures you can make and include in your kit are Echinacea – great for colds, flus, infections and boosting a weak immune system; a Liquorice tincture which will sort out sore throats, bronchial inflammation and even the herpes simplex virus (cold sores, mostly); a tincture of St John’s Wort which can help burns, pain, nerve damage, depression and anxiety; and a tincture of Valerian which can help pain, insomnia, stress and nervous tension and achy muscles.

essential oils

Now we move onto the essential essential oils to have in your arsenal.  I don’t think it will be any surprise that Lavender is in the list.  It deals with all sorts of things from headaches, minor burns and sunburns, insect bites and congestion.  It also helps to relax you.  Eucalyptus essential oil is in there too to help with congestion, achy muscles, repelling insects, cuts and abrasion, warts and cold sores.  There is also a recommendation for Peppermint essential oil which will help with digestive problems, burns, act as a mouthwash or as a general stimulant.  There is also tea tree essential oil to be considered.  This can be added to steams to help with congestion, but it is also good for achy muscles, repelling insects, cuts and abrasions, warts, cold sores and toothache.

You can also make some flavoured and scented oils to include in the kit.  Garlic infused oil is great for ear infections and parasites as well as colds.  St John’s Wort infused oils can help with burns, swellings, pain, bruises, sunburn and achy muscles.

green clay powder

Finally, we have the odd bits and pieces which can help.  The Bach Rescue Remedy has got to be in there.  It is brilliant for trauma and shock and can be used on animals, children and adults.  You can also include some green clay powder to make poultices to extract splinters as well as acting as a wound disinfectant and as a treatment for poison oak or poison ivy rashes.  Lets not forget about those winter essentials – the cold care capsules.  If you have succumbed to a cold, there is nothing better to give it a kick in the pants than one of those.

I am looking forward to making, storing and using all of these ideas.  If you use these already, or have some other suggestions, then please, let me know!

I need a little pick me up…

Today is Groundhog day…. not the irritating 80s movie… but rather the day when a furry rodent peeps out of his burrow and, the superstition says, if he sees his shadow, we get 6 weeks more of winter, and if he doesn’t then Spring is on its way.  The way I am feeling about the weather at the moment, Puxatawny Phil had better not see his shadow, or I am goin’ Groundhog huntin’.

Groundhog

The winter months are long and difficult for everyone, I know, but we are the lucky ones.  We can do stuff inside that makes us feel a little bit better.  It could be reading a deliciously decadent book, or drinking a lovely cup of tea while your toes toast on the fire, or having a long hot bath, even stripping an engine and putting it back together if that is what makes you smile.  Whatever your choice of pampering, February is a jolly good time to do it.

pampering

In that spirit, I thought I would go back to my Christmas present book, “Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health”.  There is a recipe in here for a salt scrub which gives the skin an incredible glow.  Once you have used it, your skin is all soft, and feels renewed, relaxed and refreshed.  Sounds flipping perfect for a cold and dour February day, doesn’t it?

So, the ingredients are pretty simple.  You take 2 cups of fine sea salt (available in any supermarket), 4 cups of grapeseed, apricot or almond oil (but lets face it, Olive oil will do the trick just as well, and be a lot less expensive!) and 25 drops of the essential oil of your choice.  I think I would choose cinnamon leaf, but then I am a cinnamon addict, but Lavender, Lemon or Neroli would all work well too.

salt scrub

You put the salt into a wide mouthed jar and cover with the oil.  Scent it with the essential oil and store it in a cool area (so in my house, that is any of the North Facing windowsills… brrrrrr!).  To use it, you dampen your entire body, use your hands or a bath mitt (I crochet my own out of twine) vigorously but gently massage the salt and oil mixture into your skin.  Start at the feet and work upwards in a circular motion.  You need to be careful to avoid any scratched or wounded areas (because the salt will get in the wound and you will require scraping off the ceiling!) and when you are done, rinse off with warm water.  You can finish the process with a dry towel rub.

spring flowers

Your skin will be glowing, you will feel a whole heap better about life until Spring, and if you combine it with a face mask and a hair conditioning treatment… what a fabulous and frugal pampering session!!

Enjoy everyone… and lets hope that Groundhog doesn’t see his shadow!!

The health benefits of a jolly good cuppa…

It is snowing where I live today.  In the UK, snow is either greeted with unadulterated glee or with unadulterated dread.  I am not that bothered by the white stuff myself, but I will confess to loathing attempting to get around in this weather.  I am a capable driver.  It’s the other idiots on the road that I worry about.

snowflakes

Anyway, with this cold and snowy weather, I love making steaming hot cups of tea.  I love tea.  I love coffee as well, but I do feel that tea is somehow encoded in my DNA.  My Mother’s family were tea planters, and some of their knowledge has been passed down to us.  We know a lot less than they did, of course, but I find the best cup of tea is without milk, possibly with a slice of lemon.  Obviously, you make it in a pot, preferably with leaves rather than bags, and you always warm the pot before pouring the hot water over the leaves and leaving it to steep.  If you have to put milk in tea, then put it in after the tea has been poured.

tea and lemon

A few years ago, my husband and I made a deal with one another.  If we were going to drink more tea and coffee than we strictly ought to, then we needed to make it the absolute best quality we could.  That is what we have done.  We get fabulous tea from a supplier in Canada (yes, I am serious!).  It is my best friend’s favourite tea shop, and when we were visiting there last year, we went in and bought stocks of my favourite blend.  Seriously this tea (The Baroness, by The Tea Girl) is the most restorative cuppa I think I have ever had the delight of tasting.  It takes me from utter exhaustion to back up on my feet and raring to go.

It got me thinking though.  We all know that tea is an antioxidant and it doesn’t deliver as much caffeine as coffee does, but does it help with anything else?  Turns out yes.  Black tea reduces the risk of kidney stones and artheroclorsis, osteoporosis and helps to raise low blood pressure.  Oolong tea is great for mental alertness and Green tea… well, this might be the biggest super food out there.  People have claimed it has cancer prevention properties, but that might be accounted for by the fact it is an antioxidant., but it also lowers high cholesterol and helps with the old mental alertness.  I really don’t like green tea.  I don’t like the taste of it.

oolong tea

Then I looked into  Tisanes.  Well, first of all what is a tisane is any hot drink made of something not from a camellia bush.  Yes, really.  Tea is the only hot drink that comes from the camellia bush.  Any other infusion is strictly a tisane.  (My tea planter Uncle, a mild mannered man, was extremely vociferous on this topic).  Herbally, we know that chamomile calms and peppermint is great for soothing stomach pain.  But a Thyme tisane is great for coughs.  And Ginger infusion is brilliant for nausea, dizziness and menstrual cramps.

snowy

I think, in this cold and snowy weather, hot drinks are a must.  And if they do you good, then so much the better!  Keep safe and warm!

Eating right and feeling calmer…

Can you tell that managing stress is really up there for me at the moment?

stressed comic

I know it seems like I keep harping on about it, but I am really aware that January is a stressful month for many people.  In my life at the moment, I am desperately attempting to get organised so I can cope if I go back to work, plus I am preparing for a job interview and I am painting the hallway in the new house.  I need as much help as I can get in managing those stress levels right now.

Getting stressed and anxious is less about what is happening outside, but more about the reaction inside.  But managing the stress levels and anxiety is not just regulating your reaction; what you eat can have a major impact on how you feel when confronted with those ARGH moments that we all get from time to time.

no sugar

The bad news is that the things you might think would work a treat (sugar, chocolate, chips) are precisely the things you should avoid.  They actually stress your nervous system and therefore should be avoided at all costs.  The good stuff though, the stuff which supports your nervous system, is the stuff you know you should be eating.  Ideally you should be eating alkalizing foods like fresh sprouts, high quality protein, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, root vegetables and cultured milk products such as yogurt, kefir or buttermilk.  Lemons are good as well as grapefruit, nuts and seeds.  If you want to have a healthy nervous system, then you need energy, and these foods will provide that.

The other things you need to do is to add calcium to your diet.  You need calcium to have healthy nerve function, and this is what we are aiming for.  If you have too little calcium in your blood, then you might be nervous, irritable, get muscle spasms, get muscle cramping, be hyperactive and probably not sleep very well.  Thankfully getting calcium in the diet is fairly simple.

green leafies

Obviously dairy products helps.  It helps more if they are cultured.  Plain milk has surprisingly little calcium in it, so choose yoghurt instead.  You can also eat lots of green leafy vegetables such as spinach. chard, broccoli, turnips greens, kale, beet greens and parsley.  Surprisingly large amounts of dietary calcium can be found in seaweed as well.  To be honest, taking in calcium rich foods is going to have very little effect unless you also have adequate levels of Vitamin D.  Either get out into the sunshine, no matter how cold or watery it is at this time of year, or take a supplement.  I take a supplement with added calcium in it.

If you are feeling like things are all getting on top of you and you are struggling to cope, then you might want to consider making a high quality calcium tea.  You take 1 part horsetail, 1 part nettle and 1 part oats.  Combine the herbs, pour boiling water over them and leave to steep for 5-15 minutes, depending on how strong you like it.  Strain the herbs and add honey to taste and then drink it all up.  If that doesn’t sound appetising (and to me, it really doesn’t!) consider taking some herbs with high quality calcium in them.  Chickweed, Amaranth and Dandelion Greens are good sources, must so are Mustard Greens, Horsetail, Nettle, Oats and watercress.  A lot of those will be easier to get hold of come the spring!

Still, there are a lot of lovely foods to choose from.

Using the essence of flowers

Many people who are interested in herbal medicine have already discovered flower essences.  They are a fascinating branch of herbal remedies, and I am certainly a fan of them.  So, it turns out, is Rosemary Gladstar, in her book “Herbal Remedies for Vibrant Health”.

Bach flower remedies

Most Flower Essence users will use the ones produced via the teachings of Dr Edward Bach.  Dr Bach was around in the early 20th century, and having become rather disenchanted with conventional methods of healing, he decided to go back to basics and look at plants in a new light.  Using a remarkably simple system of healing, he treated all manner of illnesses using the flower essences.  The most amazing part of this healing method is that it doesn’t treat the illness, but rather the emotions behind the problem.  I know some of my readers will be a little sceptical about how flowers can sort out emotions, or even how emotions can cause illness, but I am a devotee of the treatments.  I have seen a hysterically crying child, with more shock than anything actually wrong with him (he had fallen off a trampoline) be calmed immediately by using three drops of the world famous Rescue Remedy.  That same remedy basically kept me on my feet when we moved house.  I also use Rescue Remedy Night to help me get a decent night’s sleep.  And somewhere I have a Bach Flower Essence Emotional Eating toolkit, though I will confess to not having used that so much.  I think perhaps I should.

Bach kits

There are lots of different flower remedies out there, and more are being discovered all the time.  Ms Gladstar thinks that finding flower essences which are local to your area or continent is probably a good idea and might be more efficacious than relying on just the Bach flower remedies.  I am happy enough to stick with Dr Bach and his expertise I think, but then, his remedies are European, so that is fairly local for me!

So, what sort of flower essences are there?  You have to remember that the essence treats the emotions behind an illness, rather than the illness itself.  For example, if you are fearful of the unknown, have vague anxiety and apprehension, hidden fears and nightmares, then you need to use Aspen flower essence.  If you are impatient, irritable, tense and intolerant, then you need Impatiens flower essence.  Olive is apparently excellent for complete exhaustion after a long struggle.  If you have been trying too hard to achieve something are suffering nervous exhaustion, then you need the Vervain flower essence.  You can get them from any good health shop, and I would suggest you have a go with them.

health shop

Let me know if they help you at all.