As a healthcare practitioner I am enamored with mushrooms.
For thousands of years they have provided nourishment and medicine around the world. As a general rule, mushrooms are rich sources of trace minerals such as copper, zinc, potassium and phosphorous. They also are rich in something called “ergothioneines,” which has antioxidant activity.
Nerve growth stimulators in mushrooms such as lion’s mane, Hericium erinaceus, boost brain function and nerve healing. Many mushrooms also sport antimicrobial compounds which assist our defense against viruses.
Mushrooms also offer a generous serving of protein. The oyster mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, has one of the most digestible vegan sources of protein as well as one of the richest vegetarian sources of B-vitamins.
While medicinal mushrooms have been used in Japan and China for close to seven thousand years, their medicinal powers came into the international limelight when the scientific community discovered the presence of beta-glucans, triple helix polysaccharides which activate the immune system. Maitake, Grifola frondosa, was one of the first mushrooms studied for anti-cancer activity, and the water-soluble polysaccharides, 1,3 beta D-glucans, have been found to stimulate cytokine production by macrophages as will as tumor-necrosis factors. Both of these immune enhancements implicate that maitake, as well as other mushrooms such as turkey tail and shiitake, could play a potent role in cancer treatment and prevention.
Paul Stamets recently wrote about using mushrooms as a dietary source of vitamin D. In a recent blog post he describes how to make your own homemade vitamin D supplement by exposing mushrooms to sunlight. Mushrooms such as shiitake and maitake provide the vitamin D precursor ergosterol, which converts to ergocalciferols, also called provitamin D2 when exposed to UV light. Drying shiitake mushrooms, gills up, in the summer sun for two days can pump up the vitamin D stores in this delicious food. Sun-treated shiitakes can be stored and used during the fall winter and spring to boost dietary vitamin D2. While vitamin D supplements offer vitamin D3, which can last longer in the blood stream, vitamin D2, if consumed regularly, boosts immunity equally. Store-bought vitamin D supplements are derived from sheep or pig skins, or cold water fish. Mushrooms offer a more sustainable vegan alternative. Additionally, since mushrooms provide so many nutrients, it makes sense that this might be better way to supplement vitamin D.
I admit it.
I get peckish in the afternoon. In other words, I like snacks!
When a person has decided to limit gluten and dairy, snack options become both limited and expensive. Of course whole foods, like nuts, seeds, vegetable sticks and fresh fruit are always an option, but how do you satisfy that craving for “munch” and “crunch” without choosing less healthy favorites like chips, or highly refined carbohydrate crackers and cookies?
Recent trends by paleo enthusiasts and by enlightened eaters who want to increase their fiber intake and limit their gastric exposure to gluten and grains have led to a surge in some super tasty products such as Paleo Thin Crackers or KitchFix Granola. This is great to see and super handy for the traveler or over-busy-person in general.
Nevertheless, due to the high quality ingredients and the specialization required to certify gluten-free, these products come at a hefty price. $10 for a box of crackers, that disappear all to quickly if you have kids who like them, is not easy on the pocket book.
That's why I have been inspired to apply my own culinary skills and see what I could make at home. I came up with something between a cracker and a cookie. A little crumbly but tasty, I did find that it came together quickly but the fact that I still had to roll it out and cut it into shapes took more time than I typically can spare. Still I hope you will try it and tweak the ingredients to suit your tastes. And I hope to save you a buck or two since it definitely costs a fraction of a store bought similar product. The only real drawback is that a fresh-out-of-oven treat disappears ten times faster than something out of a box. Sigh!
Blueberry-Cranberry Seed Crackers
1 cup unsalted raw sunflower seeds
1 cup raw unsalted pepitas, or shelled pumpkin seeds
3/4 cup coconut flour
1/2 tsp salt
1-2 TBS rapadura sugar (optional)
1/4 - 1/3 cup butter, ghee, or lard
1/2 tsp vanilla
2-3 TBS ice water
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried wild blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Pulse seeds in a food processor or blender until ground.
Measure 1 1/4 cups of seeds and set aside any extra for a future recipe.
Add coconut flour and blend quickly in food processor.
Add salt and sugar. Pulse quickly to blend.
Chop butter into pieces and add to food processor. Pulse until just blended.
Pulse in vanilla.
Carefully add a bit of ice water and pulse until moist and dough holds together, but is not too sticky. If you go overboard try kneading in some gluten-free flour.
Remove from processor and place on board coated with gluten-free flour. Knead in berries. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Roll to the thickness of a silver dollar and cut into shapes. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake until lightly brown. Remove from tray gently and cool before storing.
Try not to eat them all before storing them.
If you spend time in the woods, most likely you have wandered past Turkey Tail, Trametes versicolor, a colorful fungus that grows on dead hardwood trees and is found almost everywhere trees grow and fall.
It grows so abundantly that it thrives around the world and is native throughout North America. Also known as Coriolus versicolor, Polyporus versicolor, Yun Zhi, and Kawaratake this mushroom is a “polypore” or bracket fungus which clasps around tree trunk like decorative shelves or fans.
This mushroom is emerging as a star among those interested in natural and herbal medicines. Like many mushrooms it is rich in beta-glucans known to enhance immune function by boosting natural killer cell and macrophage activity. As early as 1368, Turkey Tail was boiled and used by the Ming Dynasty for health improvement. Check the entire medicinal history of this mushroom here.
The commercial anti-cancer drug, Krestin, is manufactured from the protein bound “Polysaccharide K,” (PSK) of the CM-101 strain of Trametes. This drug, developed in Japan, is an approved cancer drug in Asia, and used widely in Japan for various types of cancer including breast and prostate. "PSP” is similar to PSK and is a polysaccharopeptide isolated from COV-1 strain of trametes developed in China. It has a strong antiviral effect against HIV (in vitro), induces gamma interferon and interleukin 2.
The natural killer cell-promoting activity of turkey tail additionally has an antiviral effect. Antiviral compounds are excreted by the mushroom which destroys human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis C virus (HEP-C). These viruses are known to cause cancer. Mycologist Paul Stamets encourages research on the mushroom-antiviral-cancer connection: "The current thinking amongst many researchers is that turkey tails and other medicinal mushrooms lessen the odds of getting cancer by reducing causal co-factors such as oncoviruses."
The drug Cimetidine (Tagamet), approved for use in GERD and peptic ulcers, has also been researched for it’s immunomodulatory activity against plantar warts in children. Thinking about that and about the known antiviral activity of Trametes against HPV, I have extrapolated the potential success of turkey tail as a treatment for plantar warts. One patient, a 9 year old girl, with an intractable case of warts on both feet had a complete resolution of the warts after using Host Defense Turkey Tail for one month.
Have you used turkey tail for a health condition? I’d love to hear your story!
Read a great book by Christopher Hobbs: Medicinal Mushrooms
Learn more about this and other medicinal plants and fungi on GingerJuice VIP. More than 20 archived videos are available on a wide variety of natural medicinal topics.
Up next join us live: Reishi Mushroom, Thursday January 18, 7PM EST.
Buy Host Defense Turkey Tail and use coupon FREESHIP for free shipping until February 1.
I cannot remember the first time I met Rosemary Gladstar, or heard her speak. For certain it happened when I attended the New England Women’s Herbal Conference, some August long ago. At that time, the world of herbs felt like a haven to my young heart and fed my love of natural medicine. I remember camping in the central meadow of the conference. A garden of tents sheltered plant-loving women, some snoring loudly, others giggling and drinking herbal cordials, some with babies cooing or little ones chasing fireflies in the dark. I quickly learned that herbal conferences have little to do with sleep and more to do with breaking down my barriers, opening the heart and tempting life purpose to manifest.
On one of those sleepless nights, I had a dream about Rosemary, obviously after I had finally succumbed to exhaustion. The dream was potent, and remains a sweet reminder of the magnanimous nature of this amazing woman. In the dream, all was finally quiet in the meadow. The women slept. The children slept. Everyone had entered a hypnotic restorative rest, much needed after three days of learning and revelry. Like a moonlit goddess, or a maybe a firefly fairy, Rosemary came gliding amongst the tents, sprinkling good dreams, blessings and golden dust over every sleeper. The love emanating from her filled my heart with joy; I felt lucky to be awake, even though I wasn’t. Or was I?
Now, many years later, she is preparing to celebrate the 30th Annual New England WHC, and I am preparing to host the 7th MidAtlantic Women’s Herbal Conference. Rosemary will be the keynote speaker at my conference, and my daughter and I will be one of 800 attendees at hers.
Recently, I had the pleasure of hosting her on the online forum for women, GingerJuice, where she shared her age-old wisdom about women’s health. Focusing on the nervous system and the state of angst which so many women wrestle with, she offered gentle advice, not to be found in any books, except maybe her own. I have been an herbalist for over two decades, and in one hour she taught me things I had never heard before.
Here is a glimpse of what she shared, edited by me:
The nature of plants, in their very essence, is to restore one's nervous system. Simply sitting and communing with a plant for five minutes can start the grounding and healing process for someone who is struggling with nervous stress or exhaustion. Always try a cup of chamomile tea to help calm a worried, over-active mind. Chamomile is often overlooked and forgotten, but is an ally for high anxiety with a nervous stomach. As a gentle slow tonic, it will not make you sleepy, but instead helps you feel graced.
If you are overwhelmed and over-tired, the worst thing you can do is turn to stimulants like caffeine, or sugar.
These things deplete the adrenals, when what is truly needed are restorative plants, especially those high in calcium, protein and B vitamins. Chamomile, skullcap, valerian, milky green oats, and mucilaginous herbs can all be soothing and strengthening to the frayed nervous system. Mucilaginous plants are usually used by herbalists to calm a fiery digestive tract, or inflamed skin condition. Rosemary states that the same properties that soothe epithelial tissues, also soothe an inflamed nervous system. Is that rooted in science? Maybe, maybe not. It is rooted however, in an ancient plant wisdom that wise healers draw on intuitively.
Herbs have a way of embracing us, especially when we open our hearts to them.
Simply spending time with plants, live, growing them, tending to them, or being near them, can melt away feelings of irritability and overwhelm, and begin healing, a little at a time.
A magic lies within nature and can be found easily when out of doors, away from concrete and things man-made.
Here, a fresh perspective helps us remember how small we are, and that many of our worries and fears are simply temporary, often more a habit than a helpful way of being.
If plants could speak, and some say they can, they might share with us the secrets of being true allies for one another. They might sing to us about open hearts and generous spirits. They might comfort us the way a gentle grandmother soothes a worried child.
And perhaps we might then know that we are both very grand and incredibly small and that everything is just as it should be.
Listen to Rosemary's entire one hour class, Herbs for Women, plus have access to herbal teachings from other renowned teachers on GingerJuice. $18 for a one month subscription.
By Kerry Smith, Guest Contributor
It’s spring! A time for new beginnings and house cleaning! Traditionally this has been a time for cleansing the body as well, because it is what the body needs after a winter of longer nights, indoor, sedentary time, and rich, warming comfort foods. There are thousands of reasons for doing a cleanse. I’d like to highlight five, four of which are aspects of the first one.
1. Stop suffering with a cleanse. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking that a cleanse by definition is suffering, and yes, there are certain aspects of a cleanse that may cause some feelings of discomfort. However, one of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali lists four main causes of suffering, and a cleanse addresses them all, head on. What exactly is a Yoga Sutra of Patanjali you may ask? In brief the Yoga Sutras are a series of distillations of ancient yogic texts that wisely explain life, suffering and how to transcend the aspects of ourselves that keep us from expanding into our genius. They are attributed to a man named Patanjali. By doing a cleanse, you undermines the main causes of your suffering. When suffering decreases, bliss increases. Why else for millennia would people the world over subject themselves to this practice?
The bottom line, cleanses eliminate a lot more suffering than they cause.
2. By doing a cleanse you reverse and prevent adverse changes in your mental and physical health. The first cause of suffering is change. Change that adversely affects one’s circumstances creates suffering. Examples include: job loss, natural disasters, illness, loss of a loved one.
A cleanse means a change in the way one eats and does things, right? And even the thought of limiting or eliminating certain foods or drinks that we love often results in suffering. But by not doing a periodic cleanse the body begins to change in ways that may adversely affect you. Inflammation, sugar imbalances, hormonal imbalances, mood imbalances, weight imbalances begin to change the body for the worse, and lead to the "dis-eases" that currently are plaguing our society. A good cleanse keeps the body functioning as it was designed to.
3. Attachments and longings lose their power during a cleanse. Longing is the second cause of suffering according to the sutras. This is a desire for things to be other than they are. When we long for something that is currently unattainable,we suffer. Examples include longing for promotion, recognition, perfection, altered appearance, intelligence, youth, a Ferrari, more time, etc.
How does a cleanse remove longing? Toxins get stored in the fat when the liver and other systems become overwhelmed. According to Dr John Douillard, stored along with these toxins are molecules of emotion from traumas or intensely emotional times. Unprocessed negative emotions become the desires, longings, and attachments that cause us suffering. As the toxins clear out so do they, and suffering lessens. For more on that go here.
4. Change your habits by cleansing. Yes, the third Sutra reason for suffering is habit. We are habitual people and our habits lead to discomfort. For example: the habit of eating too fast may cause indigestion; staying up late may disrupt important cycles and physiological processes in the body, leaving us with low energy, stressed, and not functioning well; skipping lunch may cause blood sugar crashes that wreak havoc on oneself (not to mention those nearby); the perpetual use of coffee or caffeine as an external source of energy may deplete internal sources of energy, etc.
In a properly guided cleanse one is given a break from trigger foods while rebuilding a good intestinal environment. Good food habits that are supportive of proper physiological function can be established, allowing your energy to rise mentally and emotionally, and compromising habits can be more easily spotted and eliminated.
5. Bring the body, mind and spirit into balance with a cleanse. The fourth reason for suffering listed in the sutras is imbalance in three main energies that flow through the body and mind called the gunas. They often get referred to as the "Three Goons" by my yoga students. An imbalance in the gunas occurs when one has experienced this anytime you find yourself completely lethargic and unable to move or think, or conversely, when you can’t slow down in body or mind. For more on these energies go here.
The body is an amazing vehicle for the soul. It is designed to function magnificently, and it will if given a chance to rebalance itself. So much of our food today throws us out of balance on all levels. Even if we eat an all organic diet with no refined sugars or flours we still can be overpowered and unbalanced by the myriad of environmental toxins and stressors that modern life holds. A cleanse will help bring one into balance. A balanced body will achieve stable weight, strengthened immune function, and the muddled mind will clear while energy increases and suffering leaves.
Now is the time to cleanse. Put a halt to the cycle of adverse changes happening in your body, release painful attachments, replace detrimental habits, and bring yourself into balance so that suffering is replaced with bliss.
Do you have fears about cleansing? Have you had a positive experience to share? We'd love to hear from you!
Want to cleanse with a supportive (and fun) group? Join the Healing Earth Studio 30 Day Month of May Yoga and Juice Feast Challenge
Every year the first days of spring hold magic for me.
When the earth begins to thaw, it’s fragrance beckons me to withstand it’s icy chill and plunge my hands into it. Pulling back leaves, searching for new life, both green and insect, never fails to delight me. It seems that all worries fall aside when one’s nose is close to the earth, eyes wide and watching. What can be more wonderful than the push of crocuses and daffodils, as they spear through earth, fallen leaves and last year’s debris? A child that checks on these babies on a warm spring morning will be amazed and satisfied at their progress by the end of the day.
Plants have held my heart captive for decades. With joy I watch them emerge. With tenderness I care for them, whether planted intentionally or volunteering along our woodland path.
Earlier this week I interviewed Susan Leopold, PhD, executive director of United Plant Savers. Susan also talked about her early childhood passion for plants, tenderly caring for a patch of Lady Slippers in her back yard. While listening to her, the thought struck me that children intuitively know what adults often forget to value: that plants are a connection to the sacredness of life.
Somehow the magic potential of new beginnings held within a seed calls us to remember our own beginnings, and begs us to remember why we are here.
Protection of these plants, especially over-harvested at-risk plants should be a routine part of our existence. To do this we must tap into our childlike wonder and affection for new life and the miracle of the seasons. Spending time with our noses close to the ground, our fingers in the earth and our senses awake reconnects us with the beauty that is the cycle of life.
Ready to get started? Here are three simple steps you can take to become a Plant Ally:
1. Plant something. If space permits, a garden provides a sanctuary of healing for you and the plants that thrive there. Even a potted plant, carefully tended on your windowsill can help you develop an intimate relationship with the plant world. Learn the latin names of your plants, and if used for medicine learn how they are used. If you take herbs as medicine, grow at least one of these plants so you can “know” it better. Skip the gloves, let your hand get dirty when you work with the soil and plants.
2. Never harvest anything from the woods without a clear knowledge of what it is, and whether the plant is at-risk. Instead, if a wild plant intrigues you, sit with it, observe it, draw it and journal about it.
3. Use common herbs for medicine that are easily grown in your geographical region, even if you do not have a garden. While plants from distant lands are often touted as the ideal cure, often the remedy you need is growing in your backyard.
And finally, support the work of United Plant Savers. This organization works hard to safe-keep medicinal plants and is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to learn more about plants. Even a small donation of $5 will help them spread their work world wide and prevent extinction of threatened species.
Susan will share stories of her adventures with plants far and wide as the Opening Keynote Speaker at the MidAtlantic Women’s Herbal Conference, September 30-October 1. She will also be teaching a class on plant medicine on GingerJuice VIP, April 25.
Watch Susan’s interview and get inspired!
My patients know I am a big fan of fat, eating it, that is. Even with the recent publicity about the benefits of eating fat and the detrimental effects of avoiding it completely, many people still reach for low fat items in the grocery aisle. David Ludwig, MD, PhD at Harvard University writes about the connection between obesity, cravings and dietary consumption of fat. His book, Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells and Lose Weight Permanently, highlights the important role dietary fat plays in our feelings of satisfaction.
Dr. Ludwig points to insulin as a type of “Miracle Grow for your fat cells.” When we eat too many refined carbohydrates, a habit that often results when we are avoiding fat, our pancreas releases a rush of insulin. Insulin is a good thing. It acts like an usher escorting glucose molecules out of the blood, where it can wreak havoc, into the cells of the body where it is needed for energy production. Too much sugar intake is handily stored as fat, a sort of storage unit to be used when food later becomes scarce. But when our carb intake rises, insulin does too, and persistent levels of insulin create a myriad of problems which ultimately leads to Type II and Type III diabetes. Chronic high levels of insulin not only strain the pancreas, but also keep us feeling hungry, never satiated, and make it impossible for us to burn the fat we are so busy stockpiling.
Dr. Ludwig states that the simplest way to reduce chronically high insulin is to eat more fat. Ironically his research indicates that a healthy intake of fat reduces our cravings for sugary foods, helps us feel full and helps us maintain healthy blood sugar and insulin levels. There is evidence that periodic fasting is also helpful, since it helps to make the cells more responsive to insulin, potentially decreasing the need for higher and higher levels of insulin to clear the blood stream of glucose.
I wish to high heaven this meant we could eat ice cream for breakfast, and potato chips for lunch. By now, most of my dedicated readers know without a doubt that there is a difference between healthy and not so healthy fats. Naturally, one can only achieve good health at the hands of healthy fats - foods like avocados that contain raw, unadulterated nourishment. Cold water fish like salmon, raw nuts and seeds, eggs from chickens that eat vegetation and insects regularly, grass-fed and finished meats are a few examples.
This same principle can be applied to healthy brain function as well. A diet rich in certain fats is essential to maintain a youthful, high-functioning brain. Join my free webinar, Eat Fat and Stay Smart, December 14, 7 PM EST, to explain why this is and exactly which fats are most beneficial to your brain function. Learn what you CAN eat to support your memory and brain balance. Register now and join me live, or watch the replay later. This information is so important, please share!
My family knows I read everything I can get my hands on about the brain. Recently, at the grocery store, my six-year-old daughter plucked a magazine from the rack and tossed it in the cart. "You need to read that Mommy," she ordered. The magazine was the BBC Science Focus edition of The Amazing Brain. $14 is more than I usually shell out for a magazine, but the moment was so adorable and the topic was the brain after all!
Thumbing through the pages I stumbled on a brief paragraph about a phenomenon called “blindsight.” When visual information strikes the retina of the eye it is transported via the optic nerve to the brain for processing. The occipital lobe, which lies at the back of your head, right where you might lay your hand when cradling a baby’s head, transforms these electrical messages into sight. Injury to this lobe can result in distortions in how one sees the world - things might appear too short, or too fat, blurry or double for example. If the occipital lobe did not function at all, blindness would result.
But does that mean a person with a non-functioning occipital lobe cannot see at all?
The phenomenon of blindsight provides an alternate method of “seeing.” While most of the fibers of the optic nerve arrive at the occipital lobe, they first pass through a way-station called the thalamus. The thalamus sends most of these signals on to the visual cortex of the occipital lobe, but a small portion are diverted to the parietal lobe. This lobe helps you discern objects by touch alone. It also subconsciously orients you towards a target - for example a speeding baseball or tennis ball. When the visual fibers arrive here, a person is able to “see” without actually seeing.
A blindsighter can know where an object is, without actually seeing it. Some blindsighters can even recognize faces, discern colors and point to objects in a room.
People with normal vision can also benefit from blindsight, although their use of this hidden talent may be entirely subconscious. While someone who is visually impaired might learn to develop these neural pathways more consciously than other people, I have an idea that everyone could benefit from developing the art of seeing without seeing.
I wonder if blindsight explains the phenomenon of intuition to some degree. Wikipedia describes intuition as "the ability to acquire knowledge without proof, evidence, or conscious reasoning, or without understanding how the knowledge was acquired.” (emphasis mine). Defined by Sophy Burnham as, “a subtle knowing without ever having any idea why you know it.” It makes perfect sense that we might learn to draw on parts of our subconscious brain in a similar way that a blindsighter does.
The idea that intuition can be explained does not lessen it’s impact. A highly developed intuition is deemed invaluable for success in many endeavors. Read Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and you will find this intriguing quote:
"The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and the intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world… Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work."
Perhaps knowledge of the physiology of this inner knowing can provide us with more concrete training to develop this potent tool for success.
Intuition is generally regarded as a right brained activity involving the frontal lobe. We know that impaired firing of the frontal cortex can lead to depression, whereas increased firing of the right frontal lobe increases creativity and emotions, such as hunches.
While I am convinced that intuition is far more complex, and likely involves multiple regions of the brain, I have a hunch that people who develop intuitive skills are not only successful but also happier.
Understand your brain better and develop your own program of natural brain care in my 6-week brain training online course, Keeping Your Brain Brilliant. Use the coupon code BRILLIANT to receive $20 off. Classes are live, beginning Oct 22.
The key to using natural remedies against common winter-time illnesses is catching initial symptoms and having the right remedy at arm’s length. Recognizing symptoms early is essential. Responding to symptoms with just the right remedy, can keep the sniffles at bay, or keep a head cold from becoming a more serious bronchial infection. Stocking your own medicine chest with an armament of botanicals means that what you need is at hand the moment you need it. Here are a few things I find indispensable in my personal medicine cabinet. Remember of course that you should rely on the expertise of a qualified health professional before using herbs or natural remedies to treat any health condition.
Echinacea: best used as an immune booster to prevent the common cold, this can come in handy when you are feeling over stressed, run down or vulnerable to illness. I like to give it to my kids around holidays that offer lots of sugary treats.
Elderberry: often taken as a delicious tonic or syrup, this follows in the same category as echinacea. It is a useful immune builder and best used as a preventive tool. It is thought that it helps one resist the flu, but is less effective during the flu. Its immune boosting properties might even exacerbate symptoms of the flu if taken once the disease has taken hold.
Elderflower: I don’t know how anyone can stand a head cold or sinus infection without this handy herb. Medicine or tea made from the flowers of the elder shrub helps relieve sinus and nasal congestion and brings on a good sweat.
Lavender: this plant once called a “gentle grandmother,” by one of my teachers is both versatile and incredibly useful. It soothes headaches, anxious minds and chest congestion. It is perfect for children who are suffering from nightmares or worries at bedtime. A dab of the essential oil on a pillow can do the trick, as can steams, tea or glycerite taken orally.
Wild Yam: Dioscorea villosa is my remedy of choice for belly aches of all types. Indigestion and heartburn benefit from its soapy bitter flavor. Nausea can be immediately quelled, whether from carsickness, nervousness, or a little bug. Intestinal cramping that often accompany diarrhea will most likely respond well to the spasmolytic qualities of this root. If you often suffer from urgent bowel movements or intestinal cramping, carrying a little bottle of this wherever you go can be a life-saver.
Herbal Cough Syrup: forget that nasty over the counter stuff and find a high quality, well-formulated product. Look for a product that includes wild cherry bark, thyme, yerba santa and elecampane.
Healing salve: herbs such as calendula, self heal, lavender, and St. John’s wort are often used in a salve, a thick cream or paste with beeswax as the base. Use salve on minor burns, insect bites or mild abrasions. The right formula will speed healing and ward off infection.
If you would like to take a peek inside my own personal apothecary, join us live here, Saturday October 29, 11am EST.
This delicate, bright and cheerful plant is not often thought of when one thinks of herbal medicine. Even so its medicine is both gentle and effective. Useful for anxiety and insomnia, it is appropriate that the plant has a gentle, nourishing approach, as people who suffer from these conditions are often quite sensitive and a harsher medicine can be upsetting to their more fragile constitution. Indeed if you have seen this plant, it’s tender stalk and leaves and delicate flower petals are a delight. All parts of the plant are used, including the seeds, which are calming but lack the opium found in its distant cousin, opium poppy.
Eschscholzia californica is native to California and can be found along the entire Western coastline of that state. One of my favorite uses of this plant is for spasmodic headaches, the kind that throb when you run up a flight of stairs. It combines well with lavender, feverfew and kava for this purpose, and this same combination can also help with IBS, or spasmodic colon, an uncomfortable digestive condition that is often accompanied by headache.
Since the plant is so gentle, it is perfect for use with children. It can help children who are anxious and can’t sleep at night, or who are unfocused and restless. The root is loaded with analgesic properties which help not only with headaches, but also tooth pain. Is it a coincidence that this plant can be used aptly for the same conditions in the elderly? What a perfect botanical option since the plant not only helps one relax and sleep, but also sharpens the intellect and focus. Beautiful!
Rosemary Gladstar includes poppy in a handy recipe for migraines in her book, Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide. Partnering poppy with lavender and feverfew she notes that you can substitute poppy seeds for California poppy if you are in a pinch. A half teaspoon of this tincture (check out her book for the how-to) taken every day can help prevent chronic headaches and migraines.
California Poppy is my Herb of the Month for July, and is also the featured herb for October’s MidAtlantic Women’s Herbal Conference. The conference tagline, “Be Naturally Brilliant,” highlights the special message that comes from this plant: "Live gently on this earth, slow down, relax, and shine brightly each day."
Interested in learning to make your own plant medicine? Join GingerJuice VIP for upcoming classes!
Look carefully as you drive along rural meadows next to wooded stream beds and you might spot the first of the elder blossoms. Deb Soule insists that this plant is magical, and I have to agree withher. In fact, after a little digging I found plenty of lore surrounding the mystical qualities of this shrub. Planted near wells and the doors of just-married, much superstition surrounded this plant in European history. Witches that spring out if you cut it down, were also warded off by the shrub itself. In Germanic societies elder became the symbol of life and death, as well as luck and protection.
I had my own magical experience with elder many years ago. The perfectly ripe flowers at my grandfather's farm were ready for harvest, but I was so exhausted I had trouble motivating myself to get them. Since flowers don't last long, I forced myself and soon was immersed in the tall spindly branches loaded with ivory flower clusters. Quite suddenly I felt the sensation of gentle hands on my back and shoulders and a great happiness filled me. By the time I had finished my task, my energy and spirit were restored. Perhaps just the act of getting outdoors and doing something I love helped me feel better, but I feel convinced there was a bit of magic in the air about those bushes.
Traditionally the flowers of this plant have been used for nasal and sinus congestion. Steeping the fresh or dried blossoms makes a refreshing tea that helps alleviate inflamed mucus membranes. This is my go-to tea for head colds and sinus infections. However the flowers have many wonderful culinary uses, originating in northern Europe. From batter-fried umbels (that’s what the flower clusters are called) to cake imbued with a cordial of the blossoms, the taste is unique and possibly acquired. These days I have less time to make medicine, or even forage for wild foods, but I never fail to pick the elder blossom and make my favorite Scandinavian specialty: Elderflower Salt. This traditional recipe can be adapted to suit modern tastes. I simply toss the separated flower clusters with celtic sea salt, garlic scapes, lemon rind and a bit of red pepper flakes. After curing in the sun, I store this salt in pretty jars, perfect for spontaneous gifts to herbal friends. It makes a marvelous rub for grilled meat, fish or veggies.
The berries of Sambucus nigra have also been used by herbalists for centuries to ward off flu. All kinds of delicious concoctions can be created from the berries, but always they are cooked before ingesting, as the raw berries are somewhat toxic. Two of my favorite elderberry tonics are Elderberry Elixir by Avena Botanicals and Elderberry Syrup by Tooth of the Lion Apothecary. While the first is sweet and delightful to the palate of a child, the second is an artful combination of yarrow, goldenrod, elderberry and ginger. It makes a delightful before-bed-aperitif.
I am gathering a collection of recipes using elder flowers and berries and would love to feature yours. Feel free to email me, or make a comment here, and toot your horn a little if you have a product to sell. I will be posting all recipes on my online forum, GingerJuice.
The moment I began watching Amikaeyla Gaston speak on the TEDx Gramercy 2014 video, I knew she would be the next keynote speaker for the 2016 MidAtlantic Women’s Conference. Her magical voice enraptures the imagination and pulls the listener into her stories. Her stories touch the core of pain, healing, redemption and love.Read More
"Bacteria," "dirty," "microbes," these words might conjur up feelings of disgust and images of illness. Recent research is teaching us just the opposite is true.
As we tend to our herbal gardens the soil at our feet is teeming with life, microbia of all sorts. Similarly, the human body harbors up to ten times as many microbial cells as human cells. What are these microbes doing? Can they give us information about the condition of our health? While our human genome records traces of our evolutionary history, our microbial genomes may give us clues to what we have eaten, where we have lived, and who we have been in contact with.
My daughter drew my attention to this subject. As a young toddler she consumed more dirt on our organic farm than I thought humanly possible. At first, like any concerned Mom, I tried to dissuade her. When nothing dire happened, and when she stubbornly persisted I began to wonder if she was craving something she needed. Adopted at birth, she was never breast-fed, except once. I made her a formula from raw goat’s milk and additional nutrients, but the formula was low in iron, something that bottle fed babies often lack. Our soil is very high in iron. Was this driving her craving for dirt? Then, I began to notice that she never got sick - and I mean never! With her first teeth she had one fever for about 3 hours and that was it - until she weaned off her formula...and dirt. I began to wonder if she innately knew something I did not.
Imagine holding a human brain in your hands. It weighs three pounds! Now imagine instead you are holding a teeming pile of microbes. That is the amount of bacteria that colonize your gut! Exactly how “human” are we? With ten times the number of bacterial cells to human cells in our body we might be considered to be 10% human and 90% bug. Take it a step further and compare the number of human genes to microbial genes and we might be considered only .1-1% human. Rob Knight, professor of microbiology at UCSD, teases that maybe we are actually our microbiome's human, rather than the other way around.
We know that trillions of these microbes reside in and on humans, and in and on the soil at our feet. We receive messages all the time from these little critters that cohabit with us, what and when to eat and when to store energy as fat, to name a few. Bacteria in the gut, and their little bug genes (collectively called the microbiome) are now known to play a key role in immunity, in metabolism and obesity, in inflammatory and auto-immune disorders. What does that mean? It means that understanding our human microbiome, may help us crack the code for the development of diabetes, heart disease, MS, arthritis and even certain cancers. Microbiologists today can predict with 90% accuracy whether a person is obese or lean by looking only at her poop.
Antibiotic resistant genes have been isolated from the bacteria in the human gut. What does this mean for our long term health? Anne M. Estes, PhD, in her recent post Entering the Natural Antibiotic Arms Race gives a lively description of just how antibiotic resistance occurs. Overuse of antibiotics, both in livestock and in human health care, drives antibiotic resistance according to Estes. Constant exposure to antibiotics through the medicines we take and the meat we eat, has encouraged our gut microbes to adapt. If our gut lining, full of immune-protecting bacteria is now full of antibiotic resistant genes, are we vulnerable?
Science now gives credence to the hygiene hypothesis, which declares that we have gone over the deep end with our cleaning habits. Because kids spend most of their times indoors, parents too, they don’t interact with essential microbes in nature. Why is this important? Regular exposure to a variety of bacteria helps the immune system better sort out friend vs. foe. In turn it will be less likely to mount an attack against the benign, such as tree pollen, cat dander, our own thyroid tissue, milk protein. An immune system that has little exercise is like an overly anxious mother bear, ready to strike at anything she perceives might be a danger. An over-reactive immune system means inflammation. Inflammation means joint pain, foggy brain, allergies, autoimmune issues, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Know anyone with any of those problems?
Exposure to healthy soil, can even boost the diversity of the beneficial bugs in your gut. This, according to Rob Knight and his team, is critical for protection against pathogens and immune balance. So next time your little one is digging in the garden, resist the urge to whip out the antiseptic soap. Let him pull a carrot and nibble it. Better yet, get in there with him, get your hands and feet dirty. And stay that way for a good long time. Even science says you and he will be happier and healthier for it!
I clearly remember the first time I intentionally used a plant as medicine. During the late 80s I was a first year teacher in a small elementary school. Regularly assaulted in the classroom by germs of every shape and size, spewed by the little darlings I called students, I was sick. Not sick a little. Sick a lot. Wretched sore throats spilled down into my chest, leading to debilitating attacks of bronchitis. A visit to the family doc, another prescription for an antibiotic, and the entire cycle would repeat. Frustrated, I sensed there had to be a better way.
My mother, teacher in the same noxious elementary school, sagely suggested that I visit a chiropractor. “It’s not my back!” I sneered, as young females often do to their devoted mothers. Nevertheless, the promise of a little back rub enticed me, so I went. Soon after I was experiencing the tongue-numbing sensation of Echinacea tincture with its earthy, bitter-sweet flavors. Curious and dubious at the same time I meticulously downed the “witch’s” brew until the miracle began to happen. Not only did my current infection abate a full week before its usual antibiotic-assisted routine, but soon I became infection-free for years.
In the aftermath of this initial brave venture into the world of natural healing I quit my job, packed up my little VW Fox and drove to Texas. There, I began training for my new career as a chiropractor and natural healer. This decision has brought me immeasurable gifts and as I write and reflect on them, I am truly wowed by how many I can trace back to that first draft of Echinacea. Of course I also credit my mother with steering me in the right direction and the snog-nosed kids for knocking me out of my comfort zone. Life is full of intersecting trajectories.
The moral of the story? Take your herbs. Listen to your Mom. And most of all walk your path with an open heart. "Nature never did betray the heart that loved her." William Wordsworth