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!


Calm Child Formula: a recipe to calm the little ones

January 22, 2010

I currently study herbal medicine under the tutelage of Michael and Leslie Tierra and their East West School of Planetary Herbology. My focus in much of my work in herbal medicine has been maternal and child health, which you may note from many of my posts. One of the things I love about the world of herbal medicine is that the masters — our masters in this current time — are always intersecting in one way or another. The most respected herbalists of the United States are usually connected to the American Herbalists Guild (AHG), the closest thing to a regulating body that we have. It’s not easy to get AHG after your name, either!

I was looking through Naturally Healthy Babies and Children, a great resource by Dr. Aviva Jill Romm, mostly in thoughts of preparing for a course I have been dreaming about since last spring — and nodded to in a earlier post — and I came across this wonderful formula for a “Calm Child Formula“. Aviva Romm writes about it. Michael Tierra came up with it. And probably hundreds of children have been happily subjected to its calming effects. How wonderful to have a formula sanctioned by our modern masters and certainly born of a long herbal tradition of empirical evidence and experience.

The formula is a nervine, which means it has a calming effect on the nervous system, and digestive calmer, helping to bring a sense of tranquility to a child, even during times of sickness. It can be used as a tonic for active children or even during long car trips. Tierra’s company, Planetary Herbs, sells it in their formulas, or you can prepare it at home as a water-infusion or a syrup. (Ref: Romm 2003) The recipe below is for a syrup. An alternative way to make  a syrup would be to use all the same herbs and to prepare it as I describe in this post for the Herb Companion last year.

chamomile

chamomile

Calm Child Formula

1 oz. catnip tincture
1 oz. chamomile tincture
1 oz. lemon balm tincture (fresh lemon balm is superior)
1 oz. valerian root tincture (stinky!)
1/2 oz. lady’s slipper tincture
1/2 oz. hawthorn tincture
1/2 oz. vegetable glycerin

To Prepare: Combine all ingredients in a dark amber jar.
To Use: Dosage is 1/2 to 1 tsp as needed. Shake well before using.

REF: Aviva Jill Romm (2003) Naturally Healthy Babies and Children: A commonsense guide to Herbal Remedies, Nutrition, and Health. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press


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


Herbal Remedies Tip #8 – Herbal Hangover Relief

January 7, 2010

You might have needed this post most on New Year’s Day (though I actually went to bed at 11:50 if that tells you how exciting the eve of 2010 was for me this year), but hey – better late than never. Now, my love of nutrition and care of the body prompts me to admonish, “look now, people – metabolic toxins (i.e. alcohol) is not good for the body, and you know it!”, but let’s be fair. There are times when I get into a really good bottle of wine and can’t be stopped. I also lived in Ireland off and on for at least a year and a half, so I have sympathy for the human experience of the fabled hangover.

Hangovers, as most know, feel like a combination of headache, sometimes nausea, fuzzy head, maybe a bit of depression, certainly a lot of lethargy. Most of these are connected to an ‘overloaded’ liver, the organ responsible for processing the metabolic toxins from alcohol. Helping a hangover usually includes helping your liver. Bitter herbs stimulate the liver to release bile, aiding digestion and helping to detoxify the poor, overtaxed organ. You might try drinking some water with freshly squeezed lemon before bed and when you wake up in the morning to help the liver.

Morning-After Tea (no, not morning after *that*, just morning after lots of drink
1 part Vervain (bitter herb)
1 part Lavender (relaxing, calming, aids digesting, analgesic (pain relief)
1/2 part white willow bark (analgesic w/ similar compounds to asprin)
1/2 part burdock root (bitter root, liver tonic, nutritive)
* each “part” can be a tsp or 1 oz depending on how much of a blend you want to make. Try it as a cup first, though
Add 1 pint (2.5 cups) boiling water to a 2 tsp and steep (covered!) for a minimum of 10 min. Strain and sweeten with honey and/or add lemon if desired. Sip throughout the day until you start to feel better. It is a little bitter, but hey – you did it to your liver, after all, and this is what you need now!


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


Herbal Remedies Tip#7 – Turmeric for Inflammation

November 9, 2009
turmeric

Turmeric

Turmeric is the Indian spice that gives curry its distinctive yellow color, but this commonly used spice contains potent therapeutic activity. Indeed, it is a key ingredient in Kicharee, a therapeutic food from Ayurvedic medicine made up of mung beans, rice, ghee and spices turmeric, cumin, and coriander.

Probably considered one of the ‘favorite’  herbs by nearly all practicing herbalists, turmeric is a powerhouse from Ayurvedic (east Indian) medicine, and part of a 3-5,000 year old tradition. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory that can be used for internal inflammation,  as well as topically for muscle strain. Because of its potent anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is a fabulous remedy for arthritis and chronic health issues rooted in excess inflammation. Because turmeric is antibacterial, it may be used topically in powder or paste form by applying it directly to a wound or sore.

Apply the powdered herb paste or extract of the fresh turmeric rhizome externally, but be warned that it may turn the skin yellow (temporarily), or take  300 mg of turmeric internally twice daily as a capsule, or 40-60 drops twice daily of the alcohol extract of the fresh rhizome.  Add liberally to food, as it is a perfect ingredient for soups, curries, egg, and vegetable dishes. 

As part of my work as an herbalist, I  make liver tonic tinctures that include turmeric for supporting liver function and livers under strain from diseases like Hepatitis.  I also use turmeric in my Botanical Assist Pain Relief cream for arthritis and/or menstrual relief. Check out my etsy shop for other Therapeutic offerings.


A little autumn magic…

October 5, 2009

Ishtar-320piWith the arrival of October, I welcome Autumn, the end of the summer harvest, the real advent of cooler, crisp breezes and sparkling fall days. While springtime seems to be my most productive and invigorating time of year, full of creative new projects, products, and inspiring concoctions, I also find this time of year poignant in many ways. Though it is more a time of retreat and reflection for me, it is also a time of gentle, creative magic and quiet meditation. I often think about the Sumerian goddess, Ishtar, and her decent to the underworld for renewal. She is seen by some scholars as the ‘sacred whore’ but for me, her story is more about our need for retreat, our need for reflection, and perhaps even a need to descend into a time of darkness so that we may find healing and strength. Carl Jung writes of Ishtar as signifying “earth, nature, fertility, everything that flourishes under the damp light of the moon and also the natural life-urge”. (“Adam and Eve”, Mysterium Coniunctionis). Thus, Ishtar might stand, for us, as a return to the earth, and that like the roots of the forest that place their energy now in the roots rather than blossoms and berries, we must now ground ourselves and soak up the nutrients that in decay now cover the forest floor…leaves, nuts, fruits, and other organic matter.

Ishtar_tea_1

Ishtar Root Tea Decoction

Back in 2005 or 2006, I created my Ishtar Root Blend with this myth in mind, and still find this blend ideal for autumn reflection and healing. Ashwaghanda, an ancient Ayurvedic tonic herb, is an adaptogen that brings balance, immune-building, and calming harmony to our nervous system. Shatavari, the ancient Ayurvedic fertility tonic for women brings fertile ground for our bodies, spirits, and reproductive system; it is indeed but another adaptogen with moistening energetics, soothing vata and providing an ideal tonic following childbirth, sickness, or as a vitality tonic for any time of year. Dandelion and Burdock roots attend to the needs of the liver, providing nourishment and nutrients to this oft’ overworked organ, the very organ responsible for processing hormones, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, environmental toxins, and fats & sugars from the food we eat. Cinnamon provides a warming energetic and catalyst to spark the other herbs into action, soothe one’s belly, and provide that delicious taste craved by many this time of year. In sum, I find it a lovely, nourishing accompaniment to autumn’s necessary moments of reflection and building of inner strength and peace. Namaste.

astarte

Directions for preparing a root decoction:
1. Measure 2 Tbsp of root blend and place in a pot with 1 quart of water to simmer.
2. Simmer roots for at least 15-20 minutes. Add milk and simmer a little longer if desired.
(*in Ayurveda, a Shatavari root tea is often simmered with milk and cinnamon and then honey and ghee, or clarified butter, would be added before drinking)
3. Steep 10-15 min longer with the pot covered.
4. Strain and drink as much as desired, or, in 1 cup increments 2-3x a day
5. Decoction will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.
6. Drink with honey and/or ghee if desired!

mandrake_family

@ ciderandfaun.blogspot.com

By the way, for other magical connections to the earth around us, you might check out these additional delights:
Lady Lavona’s Cabinet of Curiosities
Cider and Faun
Violet Folklore
For Strange Women
Swan Bones Theatre
Totus Mel’s Wunderkammer


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.


Want to know more about Natural Insect Repellents?

July 9, 2009

eucalyptus_citriodoraHappily, there are lots of natural repellents in the form of essential, or volitile, oils derived from many aromatic botanicals. Essential oils are used in very small amounts when mixed with neutral carrier oils such as sweet almond or grapeseed oils. Other repellent oils, such as Neem and Karanja, are cold pressed oils that can be used directly as insecticides and/or repellents when mixed in a formula, such as a lotion or salve.

Essential oils such as lemon eucalyptus, eucalyptus globulus, lemongrass, lavender, pennyroyal (do NOT use if pregnant), citronella, mints, thyme, sage, and rosemary are all useful repellents, and these can be used in dried herb sachets tied to ankles and wrists (perhaps spiked with a few essential oils).  My prefernce, however, is to use the pure and very potent essential oils (try just a few drops at a time) in water-based spray solutions, oils, and/or balms. Such preparations utilizing repellent essential oils need to be re-applied more frequently than chemical deterants (such as Deet), but I would much rather surround myself with a cloud of essential oil-scented solution every hour or two than apply a chemical that poses health risks, especially when it comes to children. (It’s pretty incredible to me, actually, that something with potentially harmful neurological effects would appear in bug sprays made specifically for children!) For infants, try to stick to a solution with extra gentle essential oils such as lavender, perhaps with a tiny bit of spearmint or rosemary.

Try the recipe below for your own insect repellent oil spray. This will last for a long time, as water based formulas are always more susceptible to problems than oils. Vitamin E and Rosemary Oil extract are anti-oxidants that help protect the oil against rancidity.

porta_bidet_250DIY (oil based) Insect Repellent Spray
1. measure 30 drops of any of the above e.o.s
2. add to 2 oz. carrier oil, such as olive, grapeseed, or sweet almond
3. add a few drops Rosemary Oil Extract or vit E (optional)
4. Store in 2 oz. spritzer bottle

Neem (Azadirachta indica) is an Ayurvedic herb well known for its insecticidal effects, mostly by targeting the reproductive system of pesky wee critters. Unlike the volitile essential oils used in the herbs above, neem oil is a coldpressed oil derived from the pressed kernals of the neem fruit. Snowdrift farm features insecticidal recipes for a salve, lotion, and massage oil using Neem & Karanja oils for treating mange and mites in pets.

There’s a fascinating folk remedy called “vinegar of the four thieves” that I’ve recently come across. It is tied to a story about perfumers during the Black Plague who utilzed the antiseptic properties of several herbs to create a protective infused vinegar. Using wormwood, lavender, rosemary, mint, and sage, one can create an infusion that can then be sprayed on cutting boards, diaper pails, or anywhere else that some anti-septic, and insect repellent action is necessary. It can also be applied to clothing and exposed skin, it is supposed to be effective against chiggers, ticks, and fleas.

DIY Infused Vinegar:
1. Measure 1 oz of dried herbs, including lavender, wormwood (or rue), sage, rosemary, and mint
2. Put herbs in a mason jar and cover with cider vinegar
3. Steep 1-6 weeks in a cool, dark place
4. Strain into a spritzer bottle and use liberally wherever an anti-septic or insect repellent is needed.
(This will keep indefinately, as vinegar is a natural preservative)

Herbs of wormwood and garlic also have insecticidal properties, and these herbs can be used even as protection for house or garden plants. The spray below is easy to make and the materials are cheap, though I’ve never tried it. You can try subsituting beeswax for the paraffin and see how that works (and let me know how it goes!).

DIY Houseplant insecticide using Garlic:
1. chop 90g raw garlic
2. soak in 2 Tbsp paraffin oil for 24 hrs
3. slowly add 600ml water with 7g soap dissolved in it.
4. Stir well and strain through cheesecloth or muslin.
5. Store it in a glass container (do not use a metal).

Have some home remedies or recipes? Let me know about them so I can share them with my readers!

bug_bite_soother_250FYI: My own Lilith’s Apothecary “Shoo Bug!” Insect Repellent and cooling peppermint Bug Bite Soother can be found in my etsy shop!


Rose Infused Vodka: Now what would you like to try?

June 17, 2009

infused_rose_2I’ve been having fun lately infusing fresh herbs into various liquors, though I tend to lean towards the fresh, neutral taste of vodka, which takes on the aromatic qualities of various herbs just beautifully.

This photo depicts vodka infused with organic rose petals. I think I’ll take this with me to Montreal this week for a little bit of cocktail experimenting. Maybe a bit of egg white, muddled lavender, and a hint of citrus (lemon? orange?).

In light of recent posts about Herbal Cocktails and how to infuse your own liquors, what infusions would you like to try or what results have you found?

Here are some other ideas.

1. Plum & rose petal in white wine or vodka
2. Fresh lemongrass & ginger root in Sake
3. Chamomile & Lemon Balm in Gin, Vodka, or unoaked Brandy
4. Lemon Verbena in Vodka or Gin
5. Lavender (a pinch) in Vodka, Gin, or unoaked Brandy
6. Try lavender w/ Lime or Orange
7. Peach & Lemon Balm in Vodka

Keep in mind that if you include fresh fruit like raspberry, cherries, peach, apricot, or plums, the infused liquor may not keep as long, and you might want to keep the (strained) liquor in the fridge for a longer shelf life. Try adding a splash of flavored liquors such as orange liqueur (Cointreau) or raspberry flavored liqueur (Chambord) for additional flavor and complexity. Now you just have to let me know how your experiments turn out!

P.S. here’s a fun post about various liquors by the Cordoroy Ninja


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