Herbal Demon Repellent. No, really!

February 9, 2012

Italian 15 c manuscript image of St Johns Wort

A friend recently passed along a fabulous blog called BibliOdyssey, as well as a post with illustrated manuscript belonging to a 15th c. herbal text titled the  Codex Sloane 4016. Like other early manuscripts focusing on herbs, these treatises documented accumulated knowledge about medicinal plants from the oral tradition. In the image above you will immediately recognize St. John’s Wort as the medieval “ypericon”, known now by the latin hypericum perforatum. With the myriad uses for the invaluable St. John’s Wort, SSRI action, anti-viral activity, and vulnerary for nervous system-related symptoms among them, what I did not know was that St John’s Wort was also considered a demon repellent. And what a cute little demon we have here in this medieval illustration, not unlike the many forms of hybrid creatures found on the column lintels that would have surrounded monastic herb gardens of that period. I am sure every monastery had its St. John’s Wort patch for this reason, among the many other uses.  Do pop back to this post to see the other lovely illustrated manuscripts from the Codex, as well as information about its facsimile at the British Library and even more delightful tidbits from their blog. And while you are at it, this wonderful collection of downloadable manuscripts, the Codex (Tractatus de Herbis) among them. Ahhh, if I were to go back to working towards a PhD again….I’d be sorely tempted.


CALM your skin: what the ingredients actually do

February 12, 2010
Red Tea

Red Tea, courtesy of Mountain Rose Herbs

 

In product descriptions in my Etsy shop, I often write about ingredients that act to “calm” the skin. What does that mean, exactly? For one thing, someone might turn to ingredients that calm the skin because she experiences redness, puffiness, dark circles, potentially inflammatory conditions such as rosacea or acne, and needs the harmonizing power of doubly calming & regenerative ingredients for more mature skin. 

Some of the ingredients used in the skin care industry include those that contain ANTI-OXIDANTSESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS (ESFs), and ANTI-INFLAMMATORY compounds.  In fact, many of these ingredients contain all three qualities, as anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids both work to reduce inflammation, and certain extracts or oils contain both anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids. 

Cinnamon

Cinnamon

 

We can get these compounds in our diets, and certainly that is the best way to bring these nutrients to your skin, that great filtering organ that can benefit –or suffer from–whatever we put into our bodies. Antioxidants are found in colored fruits, leafy greens, and colorful vegetables, as well as green, white, and black tea, red (rooibos) tea, cinnamon, coffee, and black pepper. Essential Fatty Acids include Omega 3,6, & 9’s are found in fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts, among other sources. Dietwise, we get plenty of Omega 6 & 9’s regardless, so what you want to focus on are getting those Omega 3’s from good, fresh sources (i.e. keep your walnuts in the freezer to prevent rancidity). Anti-inflammatory qualities are found in superfruits like blueberry, mangosteen, goji berry (or chinese wolf berry/lyciium fruit), acai, and powerhouse herbs such as turmeric, lavender and chamomile.  You can get a great solid blueberry extract at Herbalist & Alchemist. The benefit of these superfruits is that they contain both antioxidants AND anti-inflammatory compounds, as these qualities often come from the same source. 

  

Blueberries

Blueberries

 

Anti-oxidants reduce free-radical damage and help repair the skin and protect it from long-term damage. In your skincare products, when you see extracts or oils from fruits & vegetables such as blueberry, carrot, or kelp, you know you’re getting something that is high in anti-oxidants. Extracts are usually alcohol “tinctures” which act to chemical extract these active compounds. You might see CO2 extracts, which can closely resemble the original plant, or alcohol extracts. It is preferable to have extracts made from grain alcohol instead of ethyl alcohol. Another type of extract can be created from glycerin, which adds additional moisture content to the product.  Oils used in bath & beauty products can also be high in antioxidants, including carrot, coconut, and meadowfoam seed oil. These high anti-oxidant oils not only protect your skin but they prevent further damage. There are many herbs that are rich in anti-oxidants as well, including Tea leaf (black, white and green), Rooibos, Cinnamon, and Rosehips. 

Essential Fatty Acids (ESFs) are usually found in oils that are rich in Omega 3, 6 & 9’s. Some of these oils include sunflower seed, safflower seed, rosehip seed, borage, evening primrose, camellia seed, sweet almond, and walnut oils among others. Borage oil is a fabulous source of the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), and as the GLA of borage oil is 24% , it  is actually the richest known source in the world. Amazingly, GLA is needed by the body to produce the anti-inflammatory protaglandins believed to strengthen cell membranes & combat diseases such as eczema, arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions.  Essential Fatty Acids are superior moisture-grabbers. Research suggests that some of those with eczema or severely dry skin may have an ESF deficiency and would benefit from ESF-rich diet and skin care attention. Therefore, it is important for anyone with dry skin issues, especially dry, flaky and reddened skin to make sure they use products rich in ESFs both externally and internally. 

lavender

Lavender

 

Some favorite anti-inflammatory herbs are Turmeric and Chamomile. Turmeric is the anti-inflammatory herb of choice in Ayurvedic medicine and is also high in anti-oxidants. Chamomile is another favorite anti-inflammatory that I often use in the treatment of skin conditions such as eczema, as it seems to have clinically proven benefits as great as that of topical steroids. Holy Basil, or Tulsi, my ‘herb of choice’ for 2010, also has mild anti-inflammatory qualities. Essential oils and distillates/ hydrosols, the by-product of steam distillation, can also contain potent anti-inflammatory qualities in skin care products. Helichrysum hydrosol and essential oil, for example, is a strong anti-inflammatory often called ‘Imortelle’ or ‘Everlasting’ because of its wonderful anti-inflammatory and regenerative properties. Lavender is another herb that is wonderful to use as an essential oil, distillate, or extract for its anti-inflammatory compounds, and its calming activity on the skin has been seen in individuals with rosacea and acne. 

I hope that helps clear up a few questions! Are there ingredients that you’ve noted lately and have wondered about? If so, let me know!


Holy Basil: the Divine herb for 2010

January 7, 2010
Tulsi, or Holy Basil

Tulsi / Holy Basil

Ocimum sanctum. The very name seems hallowed and sacred somehow., don’t you think? Well, Tulsi, or Holy Basil, gets my vote for the numero uno herb for 2010. After 2009, we all need it! But you judge for yourself.

From the Lamiaceae family, and called Tulsi (Hindi), surasa (Sanskrit), and sacred or holy basil, this wonderful herb has so much to offer us. A prized medicinal in Ayurveda, the 5,000 year old traditional medical system of India, we are all fortunate that holy basil has now found its way into the Western herbal reperatoire. And how can it be ignored? It’s an adaptogen, antibacterial, antidepressant, antioxidant, antiviral, carminative, diuretic, expectorant, galactagogue (promotes the flow of mother’s milk), and immunomodulator. But those are scientific terms to describe what Ayurveda has been attesting for perhaps 3,000 years: namely that this herb is a rasayana, a herb that nourishes a person’s growth to perfect health and promotes long life.

Tulsi’s uses in Ayurvedic history are myriad. Sacred to the Hindu god, Vishnu, holy basil is used in morning prayers in India to insure personal health, spiritual purity, and family well-being. Beads made from the tightly rolled plant stems are used in meditation for clarity and protection. The daily use of this herb is thought to support the balance of chakras (energy centers) of the body. It is thought to possess sattva (energy of purity) and as being capable of bringing on goodness, virtue, and joy in humans.

Holy Basil From Indian Medicinal Plants by B.D. Basu, 1918

From Indian Medicinal Plants by B.D. Basu, 1918

In terms of application to bodily disharmony or dis-ease, holy basil has many uses, including for nasal congestion, as an expectorant for bronchial infections, for upset stomach, for digestive issues, for soothing the urinary tract when urination is difficult and painful, and even to lower malarial fevers. Today this versatile plant is primarily seen as an adaptogen with antioxidant, neuroprotective, stress reducing, and radioprotective effects. It has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels, and can be a useful adjunct therapy for a diabetic. One of the primary reasons why I love the herb are for its stress reducing, anti-depressive effects. Clinical studies have shown significant anti-stress activity when the herb is taken as an alcohol extract, as it seems to prevent increased corticosterone levels that indicate elevated stress.

Holy Basil is used to enhance cerebral circulation and memory, even to help alleviate the “mental fog” caused by chronic cannabis smoking. David Winston also advocates the use of Holy Basil in situations of ‘stagnant depression’, a classification of depression that he coined to describe a type of situational depression. As he describes it, “In this case, some type of traumatic event occurred in a person’s life, and because he is unable to move on, his live comes to revolve around the trauma. In addition to therapy, herbs such as holy basil, damiana, rosemary, and lavender are especially useful for treating this condition” (Winston & Maimes 2007).

Tulsi is an adaptogen that helps the body alleviate stress, but certainly at the time of a traumatic event, and will also help lift spirits, provide clarity when it is most needed, and hopefully help prevent the formation of the stagnant depression as described above. There’s no question that in simplest terms, an herbal tea made with holy basil, rose petals, lavender, and perhaps a few other nutritive herbs would be a wonderful blend for someone recovering from loss. For long term therapeutic use, however, tincture form is probably preferred.

Holy Basil

Holy Basil

Tincture: 40-100 drops 3 x a day
Tea: Add 1 tsp dried leaf to 8 oz hot water, steep, covered, 5-10 min. Take 4 oz up to 3 x a day.
Safety Issues: There have been contradictory animal studies showing that holy basil might be toxic to embryos. Until conclusive information exists, avoid using it during pregnancy. Holy Basil is also reported to have an antifertility effect and should be avoided if a woman is trying to get pregnant. It is perfect for after birth, however, as it helps increase milk production.
Drug Interactions: Preliminary studies indicate that holy basil might enhance CYP-450 activity, thus speeding up the elimination of some medications.

I prefer making a tincture from the fresh herb, which I purchase from Pacific Botanicals, an organic herb farm in Oregon. You can buy the dried herb from Pacific Botanicals, Mountain Rose Herbs, and other reputable companies. However, make sure the herb is green and aromatic, whether dried or fresh. You can purchase the tincture from me via Etsy or from Herbalist & Alchemist.

REF: Winston, David and Steven Maimes (2007) Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press


Are herbal medicines useful against MRSA?

December 6, 2009
holy basil

Holy Basil

Yes, but let me tell you how. MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is a bacterial infection that is highly resistant to some antibiotics. Staph infections cause redness, inflammation, tenderness, sometimes oozing pus, possible skin abscess, and fever. MRSA has appeared often in the news recently because of a significant increase in the numbers of MRSA infections. Because severe MRSA infections can even lead to death, it’s very important to take MRSA infections seriously and to use whatever antibiotics are available. That said, stubborn MRSA infections may need the addition of helpful herbs to do several things: 1) potentiate (increase the efficacy of) the conventional antibiotics, 2) concurrently fight infection by immune system stimulation or antibiotic action, and 3) preventing the formation of biofilms.

In a nutshell, all organisms have ways of eliminating toxins. For bacteria and cancer cells, cellular efflux pumps help reduce cellular concentrations of antibiotics, chemotherapeutic agents, or environmental poisons. Some efflux pumps are known as multiple drug resistant (MDR) pumps, which reduce cellular concentrations of the very “medicines” we use to fight them (by way of chemo or antibiotics), and thus reduce their efficacy. Bacteria can “learn” resistance, which can be passed down to later generations, and resistant bacteria include MRSA, Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium, and others. (Thank you, David Winston). In recent history, most MRSA infections have been transmitted via healthcare settings, but recently this trend appears to be changing. For one thing, the prophylactic and over-use of antibiotics contributes to the development of multi-drug resistant bacterial strains, as does the common practice of patients’ not completing a full cycle of antibiotics, allowing bacteria the ability to mutate, change, and become resistant to many conventional antibiotics.

Earlier I referred to biofilms. Biofilms are another survival strategy that help some (Persister) bacteria survive toxic medications. In this case, the resistance traits are not passed on to further generations, but persisters create bacterial colonies that produce biofilms, or slimy films that form a protective barrier against toxins. A few studies have demonstrated that some herbs, such as catnip, have the ability to break down biofilms, thus allowing the antibiotics to work better against the infection.

Honey and clay, as mentioned in earlier posts, have a long history of topical use for skin infections. French green clay has been shown to have specific activity against MRSA (Williams 2007), and Manuka honey from New Zealand has been found to be an effective topical remedy for MRSA (AP, 2007).

There are many herbs that can be used against MRSA, and I have chosen a selection of those herbs for this post.  If you have questions about where to find extracts or how to create a formula, please let me know! As for the herbal remedies, it is important to note that some herbs A) inhibit the MDR pumps, discussed above, some B) inhibit or kill MRSA and other antibiotic resistant bacteria, and some C) enhance antibiotic activity in one way or another. It would be wise, therefore, to create a formula drawing from these three different groups, so as to best supplement conventional antibiotics. Even better would be to consult with a trained herbalist who can take into consideration the full spectrum of your health, potential for drug interactions or contraindications, depending on what pharmaceutical drugs you may be on or additional health conditions you may have. One can additionally create topical salves with antibiotic, vulnerary herbs and essential oils to further treat a skin infection, and these generally have no containdications except for allergic reactions (albeit rarely).

garlic

Garlic

Category A: herbs that appear to inhibit MDR pumps

Barberry Root & leaf (berberis spp.), Coptis Root (coptis chinensis), Goldenseal Root (hydrastis canadensis), and Oregon Grape Root (mahonia aquifolium, M. repens)  ~ berberine containing herbs can work together with berberine extract to both reduce biofilms, inhibit MRSA, and inhibit MDR pumps. It does appear that a standardized berberine extract should be used along with alcohol extract of the whole herb, and both are less effective when used alone. (Stermitz, et al, 2000)

Thyme (thymus vulgaris): baicalein (also see Baical scullcap, below), a flavone found in the leaves of this herb, is believed to inhibit several different MDR pumps as well as possibly damage the integrity of bacterial cell walls. When used with antibiotics, this flavonoid increased the efficacy of the drugs needed to kill MRSA (Stavri et al 2007).  Thyme’s essential oils are also considered antibiotic, and thymol, in particular, is a well-known disinfectant, antibacterial, antibiotic, and antiviral agent that makes thyme oil a wonderful addition to topical salves used to treat MRSA.

Garlic bulb (allium sativum) ~ ah yes, beloved garlic; creates inhibitory synergy with antibiotics; effective (in-vitro) for many resistant bacterial infections.  (Abascal & Yarnell, 2002)

Category B: Inhibit or kill MRSA and other resistant bacteria

Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata): in vitro research indicates that water extracts (infusion/decoction) have significant inhibitory activity towards MRSA. Traditionally used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medical systems for treating viral and bacterial infections, this herb has a long track record of use against flus and bacterial infections.

Catnip (nepata cataria): this common mint inhibited MRSA and reduced bacterial adherence by helping prevent the formation of biofilm in studies (Nostro, A. et al 2001)

Elecampane root (inula helenium): in vitro studies indicate that elecampane strongly inhibits over 300 strains of S. aureus, including MRSA (O’Shea 2007). I learn from David Winston, master herbalist, that the eclectics (nineteenth century Western herbalists) used Inula to treat tuberculosis, along with Echinacea, and it has been effective in treating antibiotic resistant pneumonia and viral or bacterial bronchitis.

Holy Basil/ Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum): an aromatic adaptogen that has shown signficant in-vitro inhibitatory activity against three strains of MRSA (Aqil, et al, 2005). Long used in Ayurvedic medicine for its antibacterial essential oils to treat bacterial and viral diseases.  Microbial endocrinology also shows us that reducing cortisol (stress hormone) levels can also help prevent and resolve illness, as well. Tulsi is an amazing herb that will be highlighted in an upcoming post — my readers simply have to know more about this herb!

St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum): long noted for its antidepressant effects, SJW’s powerful antibacterial activity is often overlooked. The alcohol extract of fresh flowering tops can be used internally to treat viral and bacterial conditions, and in this case, has shown activity against MRSA (Abascal & Yarnell 2002). Additionally, an infused oil is used topically for painful infections and nerve pain.

Tea Tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) essential oil:  this powerful essential oil, used to treat all manner of skin conditions, has also shown to inhibit MRSA (LaPlante 2007) and was superior to chlorhexidine or silver sulfadiazine at clearing topical MRSA infections (Dryden et al 2004). Tea tree is already widely used for treating topical infections, burns, boils, etc, and makes a fabulous addition to handmade medicinal salves.

Scutellaria lateriflora

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)

Category C: Enhance activity of conventional antibiotic medicines

Baical Scullcap/ Huang Qin root (scutellaria baicalensis) or other scutellaria species, including S. lateriflora and S. galericulata: appears to assist antibiotics in their efficacy by enhancing bacteriocidal activity. This herb is commonly used in Chinese medicine for damp/heat infections such as infectious hepatitis, dysentery, tonsilitis, and bacterial infections with high fevers, and thus has a long use (Huang Qin) of use against such infectious conditions.  Studies have shown it  improves activity of 4 different antibiotics against 4 different strains of MRSA (Yang et al, 2005)

Sage (Salvia officinalis): sage extracts strongly potentiate gentamicin and other aminoglycosides in treating resistant strains (Horluchi et al 2007). Sage tea is effective for treating sore throats and is used for gastric ulcers.

Turmeric root (curcuma longa): extracts of turmeric have demonstrated ability to decrease MRSA effectiveness, acts as an antibacterial agent, and enhanced the effectiveness of beta-lactam antibiotics against MRSA (Kim et al 2005).  Curcumin extracted from Turmeric strongly inhibits virulence factors, including biofilm production (Rudrappa & Bais 2008). Turmeric is used in Ayurvedic medicine for treating gastric conditions, infectious hepatitis, and topically for infected lacerations. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and quite possibly one of the top 25 herbs that no herbalist should be without. Because I live in an urban environment and can’t grow my own, I have fresh turmeric shipped to me from an organic farm in Oregon, Pacific Botanicals, so I can make my own alcohol tinctured extracts.

Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) : corilagin, a polyphenol isolated from uva ursi, has had significant ability to enhance antibiotics by reducing the MIC (minimum inhibitory concentration) of beta-lactam antibiotics needed to treat MRSA (Shiota et al 2004). This is a herb frequently used for urinary tract issues and should not be taken continuously for long-term use, but is perfectly safe when taken in 2 week intervals.

Keep in mind that the above represents just a few choice herbs and that a larger range of herbs have been studied for effectiveness against drug resistant bacterium.  These herbs, however, are readily available and commonly used for similar conditions, so they should be easy to find.  A reputable source, and my first choice, for alcohol extracts is Herbalist & Alchemistwww.herbalist-alchemist.com), the company connected to herbalist David Winston, from whom I learned about most of these important studies.

References (full refs available upon request):
AP, 2007
Abascal & Yarnell, 2002
Dryden et al 2004
Horluchi et al 2007
Kim et al 2005
LaPlante 2007
Nostro, A. et al 2001
O’Shea 2007
Shiota et al 2004
Stermitz, et al 2000
Stavri et al 2007
Williams, 2007
Yang, et al 2005


Ingredients 101: Chemicals are bad, aren’t they?

October 14, 2009
Lotions require preservatives

Lotions require preservatives

Yes, parabens have been shown to cause some dermatological reactions, including allergic ones, but they might not be quite as bad as we all seem to think. That said, they are on the ‘Ingredients to Avoid’ list in most cases, along with Imidazolidinyl Urea and Diazolidinyl Urea, the most commonly used preservatives after parabens, well-established as the primary cause of contact dermatitis (American Academy of Dermatology), and also formaldehyde precursors. Indeed, there is a lot of fear around the use of chemicals of any kind in our products, including ones that purport to be ‘natural’. However, many chemicals, as I’ve learned from Cosmetics Unmasked: Your family Guide to safe cosmetics and allergy-free toiletries, are not as terrible as we might think.

At the end of the day, however, we absolutely must have chemical preservatives in our natural products. A top ingredient supplier, Essential Wholesale, outlines their philosophy about the need for preservatives. But this isn’t really about philosophy, belief, or hope, but rather, the science. Essential Wholesale makes some bulk bases for suppliers and has increasingly tried to create the most natural and organic formulations possible, but even products rated 98 percent organic still contain a chemical preservative, namely, phenoxylethanol, often with Tetrasodium EDTA. Essential wholesale knows, as all formulators do, that you cannot sell a product without a preservative. The shelf life is minimal and the product, potentially harmful. Anything that contains water is instantly susceptible to mold, bacterial, and fungal growth in a matter of days, even if created in sterile conditions. A great blog by natural skin care company, Sterling Minerals, has fabulous posts about the chemical side of things, including fillers for mineral make-up and the absolute necessity of chemical preservatives in creams and other hydrous (water-containing) products. By the way, her post on Mineral Make-up contains a brilliant expose of the so-called ‘natural’ (ha-ha) company, Arbonne, and her incredible quest to finally confirm the presence of silicone in their mineral make-up.

Orange Rosewood Facial Cream

Orange Rosewood Facial Cream

Back to preservatives…many of you know that my relationship with preservatives has certainly evolved over time. I just have to say that it is incredibly difficult to find the prefect choice of preservative systems, and at first I mistakenly thought — like many do –that mere refrigeration would do the trick. Even using preservatives like potassium sorbate, I found that the preservative system wasn’t complete, and the product was still susceptible. Not only did I have to recall creams earlier on in my still very small endeavor, but I’ve since had to help customers who had used unpreserved products (made by other businesses) that had had terrible consequences for their skin.  The need for not only a system, but a full-spectrum system, is critical. One preservative might have good action against molds and fungi, but not bacteria. So that preservative has to be combined with another one effective against bacteria. Then you have to find a level that will be perfect in terms of preservation but at the lowest possible percentage in your formulation so as not to cause any irritation. It’s an incredibly difficult task in some respects, especially as you try to find the most gentle chemical preservative system possible.  After use of different systems, I’ve basically come around to Essential Wholesale’s recommended pairing of phenoxylethanol and Tetrasodium EDTA. Caprylyl Glycol is another component of my system that is simply an emollient base for the preservative. The phenoxylethanol basically covers the yeast and bacteria, while Tetrasoidum EDTA binds to components that enable mold to grow. Together, they act as a broad spectrum preservative system.

That said, I’m intrigued by the use of colloidal silver as a preservative, though this preservative requires a number of other chemical buffers, etc, a fact that is usually masked by labeling that purports to have a proprietary colloidal silver ‘formula’. Ah yes, but it looks so natural!  Be aware also that some ‘natural’ companies are able to mask their use of chemical preservatives under the INCI name of ‘fragrance’, which is as sneaky as it gets. For a long time, I would look at Burt’s Bees ingredients list and think, “How on earth do they do it?” Well, they don’t. Now I know.

So readers, what do you want to know more about? The chemicals that are harmful and should be avoided or the ones that appear in our products, sound “unnatural” and yet are perfectly fine, even helpful? I’m all ears. Let’s start a Lilith Round Table!


What to do about H1N1 flu? 5 Tips

September 29, 2009
Winter Spirit Immuni-Tea

Winter Spirit Immuni-Tea

The “novel H1N1 Flu” (aka “swine flu’) is a new strain of H1N1 virus that is affecting communities all over the world, thus, it is labeled as a ‘pandemic’. That label does not mean it is particularly dangerous or threatening, as was once feared. On the contrary, H1N1 is a bit on the wimpy side so far. (That doesn’t mean it will stay that way, but for the time being…). I was listening to a physician-vaccine expert on NPR this morning and he was referring to all important public health measures for flu prevention, but neglected to mention anything related to nutrition or herbal supports in our arsenal against flu, both in terms of prevention and treatment.

First of all, it is worth noting that unlike colds, considered in Traditional Chinese Medicine to be energetically cold in origin and thus requiring ‘warming’ treatments and herbs such as the use of diaphoretics to increase sweating (elder flower, ginger) and the use of sweating therapy to help our bodies fight viruses, flus are considered in TCM to be energetically hot. This is significant in that we would thus not use diaphoretics, but other potent anti-virals that will help reduce fevers, lessen severity and shorten severity. Herbal treatments in this camp would include boneset, a potent anti-viral; echinacea, an immune stimulant; and herbs used in Chinese medicine in flu-fighting formulas, such as forsythia, honeysuckle, and red clover. Astragalus is often mentioned as an immune booster, and it certainly is, but we use astragalus for preventative means and not for treatment of acute infection. In addition, there was an intriguing comment on a previous post about the use of medicinal mushrooms being contraindicated with the treatment of flu because of the possibility of some strains of flus causing excess immune response in the form of ‘cytokine storms’.

Shiitake: Fungi MB

Shiitake: Fungi MB

Master herbalist Michael Tierra,  clinical herbalist, educator, and a founder of the American Herbalists’ Guild (AHG),  recently addressed this possible misconception in a seminar about the use of herbs to treat H1N1.  It appears that cytokine storms, or the theory of an overly strong immune response of some healthy adults, is not so much to blame in flu-related deaths, but rather, bacterial co-infection. Indeed, cytokine storms may not really be responsible at all. And just today there were reports that one third of H1N1 deaths to date were not a result of the flu itself but of bacterial co-infection. For this reason, I am not convinced that medicinal mushrooms such as shiitake, reishi, and maitake should be put aside in the therapeutic treatment of flu– and at the very least, they certainly offer immune-boosting potential. You might check out a lovely recipe posted by the latest Herb Companion issue that utilizes shiitake, astragalus, and garlic in an immune-boosting winter soup.

Atragalus: Mountain Rose Herbs

Astragalus: Mountain Rose Herbs

TIPS TO PREVENT & TREAT THE FLU

1. Follow public health measures: wash your hands, cough into your inner elbow, and use anti-bacterial hand sanitizer in public places whenever necessary. Whether or not to get the vaccine is up to you. That said, vaccine manufacturers don’t claim that the vaccine will actually prevent flu, per se, but will just shortens the flu’s duration by 1/2-2 days and may decrease severity. Make an informed choice and it will be the right choice for you.  

2. Get some REST: Putting America’s obsession with business aside is a tough task for most, but realize that the less sleep and relaxation you get, the more vulnerable you’ll be! If you actually do get the flu, make sure you rest and don’t try to work through it. You’ll only end up more sick and vulnerable to nasty bacterial co-infections.

3. Plan to Stay at Home if you do get flu. Check out resources for sheltering-in-place and have some herbal and nutritional supplies stocked up ahead of time (maybe some extra soup frozen, some herbal syrups made, some tinctures all tinctured up, some herbal blends made both for tea and facial steams).  Vitamin C is better as a flu preventative than a treatment, but raw garlic is a powerful anti-viral remedy to take as soon as symptoms start to appear. Check out some earlier posts about such herbal remedies and recipes.

4. Take Astragalus syrups, formulas, soups, or capsules as a preventative measure. Along with immune-boosting soups, stews (both of which you can add astragalus root to), take astragalus or Jade Windscreen (TCM formula containing Astragalus) to help prevent the onset of flu. Stop taking if acute infection shows up. Tierra’s Planetary Herbalsmakes an alcohol-free glycerite of the Jade Windscreen for children.

5.  Fight Flu with Nutrition and Herbs: Use non-diaphoretic, immune boosting, anti-viral herbs to shorten the duration and decrease severity of flu symptoms, as mentioned above. Eat therapeutic foods such as kicharee, soupy grains, and easy to digest foods. Raw foods, particularly vegetables, are eliminating and difficult to digest, and thus are not recommended to fight flu. Tierra believes that fruit juices have the wrong energy for fighting flu, and thus recommends warm stocks and broths, kicharee and herbal teas and decoctions. Miso soup with onion and garlic (added at the end) is another great choice, as the miso provides assistance with digestion and keeps gut flora up to snuff.


What’s all the fuss about Seaweeds?

August 11, 2009

048seaweed_468x313Thalassotherapy, from the Greek word “thalassa”, meaning “sea”,  involves the medical use of beneficial aspects of the marine biosystem, including seaweeds, mud, sand, and sea water.  Long used by Mediterranean peoples, thalassotherapy has been enjoying more global attention in recent years, and indeed, seaweed wraps, dead sea clay masks and scrubs, and sea mineral soaks have been popping up in spas everywhere. Many Americans are a little more leary of actually eating seaweed, though its nutritional benefits are tremendous. It’s well worth acclimating oneself to the taste and texture of seaweed, which is actually quite subtle and lovely, especially when made in ways traditional to Mediterranean or Asian cultures who have long experimented with in local cusine.

Nutritionally, seaweeds are an exceptional source of bioavailable, essential minerals necessary for proper functioning and optimum health. It is well understood that the peoples who consume high rates of seaweeds, such as the Japanese, have high amounts of seaweed in their diet. Indeed, I have heard more than once that Japan’s great health secret is not soy, increasingly found as a controversial food that actually blocks the update of vital minerals, but rather, seaweeds. Gail Faith Edwards, in her lovely Herb Quarterly article, “Seaweed:  Herb of the Ocean,” writes that Kelp (brown algae; Luminariales family) contains the broadest range of minerals of any food: “the same minerals found in the ocean and in human blood, such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron.” (Edwards, 2007:29)  Luminaria longicruris is one variety of kelp to be found on the NE coast; it has lovely long golden fronds and exceedingly high levels of these minerals, as well as being an unparalleled source of other essential trace nutrients, including iodine. Kelp apparently has a normalizing effect on the thyroid and parathyroid, which help the body absorb all of these minerals, and this leads to a reduction in the risk of hypertension and high blood pressure (Edwards, 2007:29). Other research suggests that kelp destroys cancer cells and stimulates immune function, as well as an intriguing finding that kelp even has the ability to bind with radioactive isotypes in the body, alllowing them to be safely excreted. This leads one to believe that consuming kelp during radiation treatment may protect you from some of the nasty side effects many fighting cancer endure. Indeed, herbalist Susun Weed writes about kelp’s protective, anti-cancer, anti-radiation, anti-tumor, anti-oxidant, anti-toxic, anti-rheumatic, antibiotic, antibacterial, and alterative properties in her well-known book, Healing Wise (Weed, 1989:222).

Dulse (Palmaria palmate) is a deep, red algae with a very high protein content of more than 22% of the daily recommended allowance. Dulse is a better source of protein than chick peas (gram), almonds, or whole sesame seeds, and is also high in iron, potassium, fiber, and vitamins B6 & B12. I often use dulse flakes sprinkled liberally over my rice, vegetable stir fries, or other savory dishes. You don’t need to use much to gain tremendous nutritional benefit. You can rinse it a bit to tenderize it before adding it to salads and other foods where the steam of cooking won’t soften it a bit. But otherwise, no cooking necessary for this useful supplement. It is interesting to note that adding seaweed to cooking beans actually helsp tenderize the beans, shortening cooking time and aiding in their digestion.

Worried about the salts in seaweed? Unlike sodium chloride (table salt), which is made up of sugar, aluminum salts, and several other agents along with sodium chloride and may cause cardiac stress, sodium itself is not to blame for high blood pressure. The naturally-occurring sodium in seaweeds relieves tension in blood vessels. Real, evaporated sea salt is pinkish in color, so be sure you know what you are using! (Weed 1989:225).  Seaweed is a heart-healthy food that can help correct cardiac problems (Kosuge, et al 1983: 683-685).

Finally, seaweed appears to be a wonderful endocrine regulator, providing optimum nourishment for hormonal, lymphatic, urinary, and nervous systems.  In other words, you can’t go wrong by incorporating this superfood into your diet. For daily supplemental use of seaweed, try a teaspoonful (5 g) of seaweed daily, combined with other nourishing herbal infusions as needed. This is a wonderful adjunct therapy for addressing problems with thyroid malfunction, goiter, impotence, infertility, obesity, anorexia, prostate enlargement, lack of ovulation, menopausal distress, allergic reactions, and hives.

Dead Sea clay facial mask

Dead Sea clay facial mask

Japanese beauty customs have long incorporated seaweed into rituals. The electorlytic magnetic action of seaweed is said to release excess body fluid from congested cells and disolves fatty waste, replacing it with depleted minerals. A regular seaweed bath may even help insure more well-balanced hormones, due to high levels of vitamin K, which helps regulate adrenal function. You can easily make your own bath tea using mineral rich dead sea salts and dried seaweed (see recipe below).  Create a seaweed infusion for your hair to help remove dirt and excess oil, while nourishing hair with necessary nutrients for beautiful locks. Just add 2 -3 Tbsp of seaweed to hot water and infuse for 30 minutes before using as a hair rinse at the end of a shower or bath. I  also love using dead sea clay along with seaweeds (kelp, Irish moss, and dulse)  and medicinal mushrooms in a balancing, deep cleansing, and mineral rich facial mask, such as my dead sea clay facial mask, pictured above.

seaweedRECIPES:

 
(Sunomono) Wakame & Cucumber Salad:
1 small cucumber
1/2 tsp salt
(.5 oz) 1 cup wakame seaweed (softened in cool water for 10-15 min & sliced)
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 lb. small cooked shrimp (optional)
toasted sesame seeds (optional)
Preparation:
Cut softened wakame seaweed into about 2inch-long pieces. Slice cucumber into very thin rounds. Put salt over cucumber slices and set aside for 20 minutes. Squeeze cucumber slices to remove the liquid. Mix vinegar, tamari, & sesame oil in a bowl. Add wakame seaweed and cucumber slices in the bowl and mix well. Add optional cooked shrimp if desired.
 
Thalassotherapy Seaweed Bath Soak:
1 cup (.5 oz) dried seaweed (wakame, kelp, etc)
1 cup dead sea salts or other mineral -rich bath salt
2 Tbsp dead sea clay or other cosmetic clay
1 large muslin bag or cheesecloth
Preparation: 
Blend the above ingredients (dry) and use it to fill a large muslin bag or fold into a square of cheesecloth and tie. Of course, you don’t have to enclose the ingredients if you don’t mind the loose blend in the tub! Fill a bath tub with warm water (not scalding) and add the seaweed bundle. Allow the seaweed & salts to infuse into the bath water and soak in the tub for thirty minutes or so.

References:
Edwards, Gail Faith (2007) “Seaweed: Herb of the Ocean,” The Herb Quarterly. Fall 2007: 28-31.
Kosuge, T, H. Nukaya, T. Yamamoto, & K. Tsuji (1983). “isolation and Further Identification of Cardiac principles from laminaria,” Yakugaku Zasshi, 103(6), 683-685.
Madlener, Judith C. The Sea Vegetable Book. 1977. Potter Pub. (nearly 200 recipes! Look in Used Book sites)
Weed, Susun (1989). Healing Wise. Ash Tree Publishing: NY.

Sources of locally-sourced US seaweed:
Maine Coast Seaweed
Pacific Botanicals
Mendocino Sea Vegetable Company (including Sea Vegetable Gourmet cookbook)


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