Simple sesame oil can soothe your dry skin…and more.
Since I was kid, I’ve been fighting sleep. When everyone else was snoring in their beds on Saturday morning, the 12-year old Mo was awake, buzzing around, making homemade cinnamon rolls from a box of Bisquick baking mix. I’d be drizzling the drippy icing over fresh-from-the-oven steamy rolls long before anyone in my family woke up.
It’s been a source of frustration and a blessing to be an early riser, but it didn’t bother me nearly so much then as it does now. I mean, waking at 3:30 am some mornings and not falling back to sleep, or always getting up before my alarm is downright annoying.
So last night, I trotted out an Ayurvedic solution I’d forgotten about, and wouldn’t you know, I slept like a log. All I really wanted was something to soothe my dry winter skin, so I took a long bath and then slathered on sesame oil…all over. Voila! Finally, 8 straight hours of sleep. I slept so hard my neck has a crick in it – you know that feeling?
What is it about oil on dry skin that calms the mind? The Ayurvedics know this particular healing method well. It’s a big component of what’s known as panchakarma therapy. But you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars at an ashram or Ayurvedic clinic to get the benefits of a simple sesame oil rubdown. Just open your cupboard and pour it on.
What are YOUR home remedies? I’ll post your comments on favorite tried-and-true healing therapies over the next few weeks.
Deer Antler Spray gets a Super Bowl slap on the wrist.
I couldn’t care less about the Super Bowl. And I don’t care much about over-paid athletes and performance enhancing drugs either. But this week, the two crossed paths with my passion, herbal healing, when one of this year’s Super Bowl athletes was reported to have used Deer Antler Spray to speed his recovery from a torn triceps that sidelined him for 10 games.
The problem with Deer Antler Spray is that it doesn’t make an athlete run faster or jump higher. I remember when Converse tennis could do that. But, according to the National Football League, the spray works in the same way as Human Growth Hormone to aid in the recovery time of an athlete. And like HGH, Deer Antler Spray appears on the NFL’s banned substance list.
I don’t know much about sports injuries, but as an herbalist, I do know a little something about Deer Antler. And it’s not an herb for everyone. When I was studying to be an herbalist, one of the first things I learned was that everything has an energy, or nature, including people. Some people are hot and some are cold. Same with every food, drink and herb we take in. Some are stimulating and produce warmth in the body, and some cool and calm.
When deer antler velvet is administered as intended, it’s a valuable tonic for people with Kidney Yang deficiency. These kind of people have a fundamental weakness that impairs their body’s warmth and ability to heal. Ray Lewis may or may not be one of these types. But it’s this yang-enhancing property that gives deer antler velvet a reputation for enhancing tissue repair. It might very well be useful for a certain athlete to get back on the field, eventually. Eventually being the operative word.
The basic warmth that antler velvet generates makes it a popular herbal supplement choice for impaired libido, infertility and injury recovery. From what I hear, Mr. Lewis is no slouch in the libido/fertility arena, making him a poor candidate for herbs like deer antler velvet.
And here’s where the big misunderstanding comes in…on both sides of this issue.
Over the long-term, deer antler velvet can strengthen the Kidney Yang and Jing, and help heal weakened or injured tissues. Over an extended period of time…..in measured amounts……in specific types of people, like those with a fundamental internal coldness. Yang tonics are meant to be taken over a long period of time, not in short bursts and large amounts. Using them this way is mistaking them for stimulants.
So, there’s really no unfair advantage to taking deer antler velvet. Over time, it can actually deplete an athlete’s natural Kidney Yang, causing a reverse effect.
For the right person, antler velvet, like ephedra and red ginseng, all can be powerful and useful herbs. It’s the misuse that gives these herbs a bad name.
So the moral of this Super Bowl story is don’t prohibit or take an herb without understanding how nature meant it to be used.
This sensuous herb pops up in everything from shampoo to perfume to your Aunt Edna’s closet sachet. But did you know it also tastes delicious? In fact, it’s a reliable herb for sweetening up all kinds of things, including people.
Last weekend, at a girlfriend’s birthday party, I stood by the wine table and offered everyone a couple drops of a syrupy Lavender glycerite on the tongue. A few scrunched up their faces with skepticism but some opened their mouths like a baby bird hungry for a worm. No one expected the minty, cool flavor, which won over the skeptics immediately.
What’s so special about Lavender? There’s more to this plant than meets the eye…or nose, or tongue. Lavender has a chemical constituent called linalool, just one of over 160, that’s been studied extensively for its effects in treating depression and anxiety disorders.
When you add it to hot tea, or a bath, or put a little Lavender essential oil on your pillow, your brain tells your body to let go a little, the cobwebs clear out of your head and you feel relaxed and fresh.
The Eclectic physicians of the past used Lavender as a sort of ‘smelling salt’ for debilitated, weak patients. It proved its worth as a remedy to relieve headaches, revive those with a tendency to faint, and calm agitated children.
Does it sound like lavender is an herb for you? Sweeten up your life by enjoying it in an herbal tea, like Honey Lavender Stress Relief tea from Yogi teas. Or experiment with lavender essential oil on the temples for a mild headache. Just think ‘mental vacation’ for a few moments, and let your mind unwind….
Avena Sativa or Milky Oat Seed may reflect your personality type.
Are you a mint person, cool, kinda sweet and lifting spirits everywhere you go? Or maybe you’re a cinnamon girl, warm and spicy, and full of good taste.
Maybe it sounds silly, but spices and their medicinal sisters, herbs, seem to match well with certain personality types. I see this all the time in the clinic – someone walks in and almost right away, before they open their mouth, I’m picturing an herb or plant they need.
So, it got me thinking about something I learned in herb school called the Doctrine of Signatures. It simply means that plants sometimes have a ‘signature’ or identifying feature that tells us how to use them. Then I started wondering, “If this patient were a plant, what plant would they be?”
Since I’ve been teaching about herbs for stress lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the personality traits of different types of stressed out people. You’ve got the guy whose troubles always go to the stomach, or the teenager who’s pressured by exams and gets headaches several times a week, or the woman whose hair is falling out in clumps since her divorce. They’re each experiencing their own kind of stress response, and they each need a separate kind of herb or herbs.
You know those people who are always frazzled and on their last nerve? The ones that are forever tired and undernourished but zoom at 100 miles an hour through life. When my patient looks and acts like this, there’s a good chance they’re getting milky oat seed in their formula. Because oat is rich in calcium and magnesium, it’s like a warm, soothing compress for the nervous system. Think of how taking a bath in oatmeal (another soothing part of the oat plant) coats your skin with slimy goo, soothing itchy, irritated areas. In a way, Oat, or Avena sativa, does that with your frayed nerves.
In Ayurvedic medicine, this jittery personality type is referred to as having a Vata predominance or imbalance. [ Take a short Dosha test]. My friend, Dean Campbell, an Ayurvedic physician, explains that “Vata is said to rule movement, and is therefore closely connected to our nervous systems. When we are going through times of stress, it naturally puts pressure on Vata dosha, which makes it increase. When Vata is high, we experience more of it’s active, dry and rough qualities. We can calm high Vata dosha by doing a simple self-massage of warm oil to our body before a shower or bath. Our skin is our largest organ, and when we apply a thin coat of warm oil to it, we not only soothe our skin, we also give a tremendous calming support to our entire nervous system.”
How cool! High-strung, restless people have their own special herbs and oils and even have a ‘dosha’ to describe their style and body type.
Doesn’t it get you thinking, “Hmm, I wonder if there’s a plant out there to help with MY kind of stress?” Probably. Finding just the right match for you is a little piece of what we do at Four Winds. I think this is why my brother calls me the ‘herb nerd’….:)
Call or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re wondering about herbs for your dosha or personality type.
Rosehips herbal tonic is an example of natural healing.
Lately, I’m getting better quality and more hours of sleep consecutively. Hardly any midday energy slumps anymore. In fact, last weekend I stood on a cold, hard cement floor for 6 hours taking people’s pulses and talking up herbal medicine. If anything exhausts me, it’s standing up all day long without a break. I was a little weary the next day, but I stayed up much later than usual, and still got my tree trimmed, went to the Hot Shops open house, walking around on MORE cement floors. Busy, busy, busy, and I feel darn good today.
I’m going on 2 1/2 months of my ‘tonic’ formula to recover from an exhausting Summer. That’s 10 weeks, and that’s about how long it can take to really notice change with herbal tonics. Change in energy, change in sleep, change in lots of unexpected ways. Slow change, but real change.
Of course, the daily meditation is helping. Whenever you combine two or more healing therapies or methods, there’s usually an effect that neither one alone can achieve. Cut out sweets AND start exercising. Meditate AND take an herbal tonic. Get massage AND apply a daily muscle liniment. That’s how this holistic thing works.
Whenever I see a patient who’s using more than one healing ‘modality’ (massage, accupuncture, yoga, diet, prayer, meditation, etc) at a time, I can usually expect a better result when herbs are added into the mix.
So the tonic herbs and the meditation (and a little less nite-time snacking) are working together to give me more energy. Energy for the stuff I love, like hanging out with my family this holiday, teaching and making herbal formulas, and…blogging, of course.
Candleberry offers IBS sufferers relief
When I learned about bayberry bark, it was from the old Jethro Kloss herbal tome Back to Eden. J. Kloss put bayberry bark in his Composition Powder formula to help normalize the excess mucus that shows up with colds and flus and also to bring on a sweat to help cool fevers. So, it makes good sense to use it for other conditions where mucus abounds, especially where inflammation seems to be a reason and an astringent herb (one that dries, tightens or tones) might be in order. I’ve seen this in IBS sufferers. So, when a friend confirmed that it calmed the symptoms of IBS for him, it was a light bulb moment for us both.
Sure enough, I looked back through my school texts and other wise herbals and there it was. Dr. Christopher observed that bayberry was excellent at “thoroughly cleansing and restoring the mucous secretions to normal function.” [“Dr. John Christopher’s School of Natural Healing”, first printed in 1971]. Since then, I reserve this herb for people with ‘boggy’ membranes that overproduce mucus.
And where are the mucus membranes in your body? In the eyes, nose, mouth, lungs, and digestive tract, including the large intestine (bowel). People with IBS often complain of mucus discharge in their stools and alternating constipation and diarrhea, not to mention a good deal of pain. And, surprise, many of them have similar ‘gooey’ problems in their respiratory tracts and noses! Usually, the excess watery secretions are a response to some kind of stress, whether that’s a specific food or drink, emotional episode or even environmental change. In fact, it’s well-known, but not well-understood, that depression and anxiety often co-exist with irritable bowel symptoms, and that improving one condition improves the other.
Scientists don’t know why IBS symptoms exist, and medications merely control episodes. Stop the medicine and symptoms often return. Not so with herbal remedies. Used over a few months or longer, tonic herbs like bayberry can actually help tone up the overproducing mucus membranes, restoring strength and ‘collecting’ tissue together.
Bayberry bark (actually the root bark, to be specific) isn’t a remedy for everyone with a runny nose or extra phlegm. Those can be signs that call for different herbal properties with less astringing action or a gentler touch. Taking it as a ‘simple’ remedy, by itself, can be tricky business for the unschooled. Dosing is everything in herbal medicine. Herbalist Matthew Wood is well-known for his very effective use of 3 drops of herb several times a day. And that’s a good place to start with any unknown herb. Or better yet, see a qualified professional herbalist for a combination of plant medicines best suited for you.
Making a tonic syrup with an old favorite - blackstrap molasses
Lately, I’ve been putting in long hours growing my herb practice, taking an Anatomy and Physiology class and visiting my mom, who’s been in and out of so many nursing homes and hospitals over the past 10 weeks, I’ve lost count. I finally had to admit to a close friend that it’s been exhausting and I’m just plain tired. “Well, what would you tell a client who felt like you do?” she asked.
“Take tonic herbs!” The concept of tonic herbs is virtually unknown to Western herbalists, but it’s common in Traditional Chinese Medicine [TCM]. The idea that the body recovers not only from rest, good food and good air, but also by taking in strengthening and nourishing herbs over an extended period of time, say 3-6 months or more, is central to TCM healing practices. I should know, since I’ve benefitted from tonics during other stressful, depleting times in my life. So, I spent practically the whole day making a wonderful tonic syrup out of Chinese herbs and one of my favorite old-fashioned syrup bases – blackstrap molasses.
I love the rich, earthy taste of blackstrap, but I learned to really appreciate it a few years ago when I discovered it has a significant iron content but doesn’t create the constipation that iron supplements can. It also has healthy levels of minerals like magnesium, calcium and potassium and is known to help normalize blood sugar levels. Just what the doctor ordered for the marathon that is my life lately.
So, I cooked and cooked those Chinese roots and barks and healing herbs in a pot of water on the stovetop until the liquid was reduced by three-fourths, added the blackstrap in and cooked it down a bit further. I bottled the strained liquid and I’ll be adding a tablespoon to my morning and evening tea every day for the next few months. Just the process of slowly cooking this brew over several hours was a relaxing way to begin settling my life down a bit.
I’ll check back over the next few weeks, but what I’m prepared to feel is an energy lift, better focus and concentration at the office, and more sound, restful sleep. Stay tuned…
The Summer dry heat that parched your yellow lawn and left your flowers wilting may have had a similar effect on your body. When moisture is lacking in your environment, it’s also drying your skin, eyes, the mucus membranes along your respiratory tract, and other areas that are open directly or indirectly to the air.
Help your body quell the summer heat
A windy, dry Fall can complicate all that and more. Dryness isn’t just irritating; it makes your body’s surfaces more vulnerable to allergens, unfriendly bacteria and viruses. The mucus in your body and moisture in your skin is there for a reason. It lubricates surfaces and provides a protective barrier for your immune system.
How do you re-hydrate your Lungs, skin and whole body and avoid the hazard of a windy, dry Fall? DRINK MORE WATER.
It’s almost too obvious, but keep a bottle handy throughout the day and get in the habit of staying hydrated. You’ll be surprised how much this can help your vitality.
- SLIPPERY ELM LOZENGES are delicious and do a great job of lubricating a ticklish throat and irritated respiratory tract. Cherokee herbalist David Winston says that slippery elm lozenges can even stimulate the lungs to produce more healthy mucus.
- Herbalist Amanda McQuade Crawford, in her book “Herbal Remedies for Women”, suggests MARSHMALLOW ROOT (not the puffy, sugary confection in your cupboard] as a wonderful demulcent (aka gooey herb) for a dry cough.
- THROAT COAT tea from Traditional Medicinals is one of my favorite soothers for a scratchy throat. If your cough hangs on for more than a couple weeks, consider a visit to your physician or herbalist.
- EAT MORE SWEET POTATOES! These delicious super tubers have a nourishing, moistening effect on the lungs.
- Other cool tips for Fall? Sit in a steamy sauna a couple times a week….apply sesame oil inside the opening of your dry, itchy nose….dig out your pretty scarves and get your neck wrapped nice ‘n snug before heading out to the hayrack ride.