Feverfew and the Headache

November 27th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

feverfew-2

feverfew-2

This summer I grew Feverfew for the first time, in a pot with Mexican Oregano and Dusty Miler. It grew well, and tolerated frequent harvest of its flowers and leaves for tincturing, sprouting new buds and growth many times. I hope it comes up next year so I can enjoy it all over again.

Feverfew had always confused me. I rarely heard it used for any other use besides migraines, and since I rarely experience migraines or headaches myself or treat many headaches, I didn’t gain experience with it. It seems that there were differing opinion about it. Some said it was only good for headaches with specific indications, some said to take it as a prophylaxis daily for any sort of migraine. Some said it was overrated and some said it was highly reliable. » Read the rest of this entry «

A Few Sources of Iron

June 19th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

Chickweed - Stellaria media
Chickweed – Stellaria media

I am back from vacation and excited to see that Duluth has thought about entering into summer. Yesterday and today it was in the mid 50′s. Not too bad, but not as warm and sunny as I’d like. My seedlings are doing well; they are strong although they are still tiny. They need some solar energy! I am especially excited for Chinese scullcap, African marigolds and spilanthes.

Over the past two weeks I have been putting in a conscious effort to get enough iron, mostly through diet. The dizziness subsided the last two weeks until this afternoon, when I stood up and became really dizzy after being stooped over during an hour long weeding session. As a reminder, I decided to investigate sources of iron a bit more just to be sure.

The following sources of iron (mg per 100 grams) is taken from Ruth Trickey, page 250 of Woman, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle.

  • Animal – eggs 2, beef 3.4, lamb 2.7, pork 1.3, dark chicken 1.9, light chicken .6, cod .4, sardines 2.4, mussels 7.7, oysters 6
  • Grain – wheatgerm 10, wheat bran 12.9, whole wheat flour 4, oatmeal 4.1, soy flour 9 white bread 1.7, whole wheat bread 2.5
  • Legumes – green beans 2.5, lentils 2.4, peas 1.2
  • Vegetables – broccoli 1, leeks 2, lettuce .9, mushrooms 1, scallions 1.2, parsley 8, potato .6, spinach 3.4, beet 3
  • Fruits – dried apricots 4.1, avocado 1.5, currents 1.8, dried figs 4.2, dates 1.2, dried peaches 6.8, prunes 2.9, raisins 1.6, raspberries 1.2
  • Nuts and other – almonds 4.2, Brazil nuts 2.8, hazelnuts 1.1, peanuts 2, walnuts 2.4 curry powder 75, yeast 20

I knew Susun Weed would have some iron numbers for some herbs. Same mg per 100 grams applies. Notice some high numbers here!

  • Herbs – chickweed 253, fresh dandelion leaves 3, cooked dandelion leaves 29, root 96 (fresh or dried? I am unsure), fresh nettle leaves and shoots 41.8,oat straw 4.6 – 57, kelp 8.9 – 100, dulse 150

My favorite and simplest iron tonic recipe is one I got from midwife Aviva Romm. Start with equal parts yellow dock and dandelion root, simmered and reduced until there is about one cup of liquid remaining. Then add a fourth to a half cup black strap molasses after the liquid has been strained. Take 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon daily. The yellow dock helps the liver use iron more sufficiently, while the dandelion root is a source of iron (and also acts on the liver) and the molasses is an even better source of iron. I do not know how many milligrams of iron are in one teaspoon, but I can imagine that it is not necessarily high in iron, but rather is more bio-available and assists the body is using what iron is present.

Rosemary Gladstar has a nice “Iron-Plus Syrup” (62) recipe that sounds delicious. In fact, after reading about it I want to go make my own!

  • 3 parts nettle  
  • 3 parts dandelion leaf
  • 3 parts dandelion root
  • 3 parts raspberry leaf
  • 2 parts watercress
  • 2 parts alfalfa leaf
  • 1 part hawthorn berries
  • 1 part yellow dock root
  • 1 part dulse
  • 1/4 part horsetail

Add two ounces of the herb mixture to one quart of water. Simmer, reduce to two cups liquid. Strain and while it is still warm, add one cup sweetener (honey works well), two teaspoons spirulina and two teaspoons nutritional yeast. Add 1/4 cup brandy and 1/4 cup fruit concentrate to finish it; bottle, lable, refidgerate and enjoy! The dosage Gladstar gives is four to six tablespoons a day. 

So now I must ask myself, did I make the recommended 10 – 18 mg (depending on your source)? Let’s investigate:

Eggs – 2, half avocado .75, oatmeal 4.1, lentils 2.4, half serving spinach 1.7, half serving almonds  2, = 12.95 grams, plus an undetermined amount from a some potato, raisins, corn tortilla chips, everything else I ate today, plus whatever is in a tablespoon of Romm’s simple iron tonic and a quart of nettle/raspberry leaf tea.

Not too bad, but there is room for improvement, especially in improving iron absorption.

References:

Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women.

Trickey, Ruth. Women, Hormones, and the Menstrual Cycle.

Weed, Susun. Healing Wise.

Where’s the Iron?

June 6th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Ruth Trickey’s Woman, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle is one of my favorite books. I am always reading this book in hopes that eventually it will all sink in! What drew me to it currently is the sneaking suspicion that I am iron-deficient. For many months, I have been experiencing bouts of dizziness, tiredness, and my legs sometimes become very tired after just a little exertion. Once I asked myself, “am I experiencing anemia?” I have had regular dreams in which I am hemorrhaging blood in someway or another.  Last year I had a blood test in which I had 11 grams/dL, while the normal range is 12 – 16 grams/dL for women, after which I made efforts to increase my iron intake…but I feel my efforts were not sufficient.

Why would someone be low on iron? Take a look at the graph on this page for risk factors.

“Iron requirements for women are around 80 per cent higher than for men because of menstruation and child-bearing. It is estimated that iron deficiency is the commonest nutritional disease worldwide and that half of all woman consume less than the recommended amount of 10 – 15 mg daily” (249).”

How do you know if you are iron deficient or anemic? A blood test like I had can be helpful. However, one can be deficient even if the hemoglobin (blood levels of iron) are fine. Besides the red blood cells, iron is also found in the liver, marrow, spleen, muscles and can be deficient in these areas  while hemoglobin is normal.

When the blood cells are lacking iron during anemia, the red blood has an impaired ability to carry oxygen around the body, and the following symptoms may be present

  • shortness of breath
  • limb fatigue
  • dizziness
  • poor stamina (249)

Iron deficiency has these symptoms:

  • sore tongue, and cracks in the corner of the mouth
  • concave fingernails
  • low resistance to infection
  • in children, low resistance to infection and failure to thrive, slow learning, poor appetite
  • poor digestion due to low levels of gastric acid (249)

To increase available iron, one must increase iron absorption and increase iron intake. Food labels are misleading because rather than give the milligrams of iron present, the label gives the percentage. As we read above, women need 80% more iron than men. Does the label reflect the percentage for men, for women, or for an average? Iron should be given in milligrams, like the way protein is given in grams, and not in a percentage. By the way, many online sources recommend not 10 – 15, but 18 milligrams of iron a day.

To increase iron absorption, it seems that stimulating gastric acid production is the way to go. Think foods high in vitamin C, sour lemon juice, vinegar, bitter fruits and vegetables, aperitifs and Swedish bitters. Consume these foods while or right after eating iron-rich foods. The same applies to taking an iron supplement; pair it with a vitamin C supplement. My herbal “supplements” include a daily iron tonic taken at the the same time as I take elderberry and rose hip syrup.

Here’s another reason to quit the stimulant cycle; to increase absorption also means to decrease (or flat out avoid) black tea and coffee.

“The tannin in tea binds with iron, making it difficult to absorb. Coffee also reduces absorption, especially if taken with or after a meal, but not taken more than one hour before eating (250).

I have to wonder if soda, diet or regular, also decreases absorption.

As I searched the web for charts on sources of iron, it became obvious that there is a lack of straight forward information on iron content. Many sites simply state, “iron is in meat, shellfish, whole grains”. Other sites are completely dedicated to “non-meat forms of iron”, and while they have some sort of graph of what foods are high in iron, they don’t have the milligrams per serving. Then there are the sites, often from the medical community, that have just short list of popular foods.

This is a good reference site. as it has lots of research based info, and is more scientific than journalistic.

When searching for quality information about herbs, nutrition or the like, I look for sites that are advertisement-free, are not the first hits or even on the first pages of hits, have scientific wording, and appear like they made an effort to not be biased or trendy. Unfortunately, to be one of the top hits on google a website has usually invested a lot of money to get there, with the interest of making more money. Luckily, Rob, my husband, is a web programmer and knows all about this which has changed my perception about internet searching. There is a cultural myth that”if it is the first search result, it is valid and good”.

Example Formulas for Dysmenorrhea

April 18th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

    One thing I love about herbalism is that every herbalist has different herbs, practices and tactics that they favor. There is so many varieties and examples to learn from!  Some seem to be more into tonics, others use simples (single herbs) in almost homeopathic dosages, but most all have specific remedies for symptoms while reiterating the need to support the body systems over the long term.

    No matter how you look at it, suggested herbal formulas from trusted herbalists are a good place to start. They can also be used as guidelines when formulating for the individual. After going over a few examples from a few different herbalists, the beginning herbalist gains knowledge through researching the materia medica and action categories mentioned.

    Let’s look at a few formulas to get some ideas, starting with some from Rosemary Gladstar. She reiterates that you should stick to an herbal program at least four months. Here is a “Hormonal Regulator Tea” from Herbal Healing for Woman, p 117. Decoct, and drink 3-4 cups for 3 weeks out of the month. As you can see, it is not simply herbs for the reproductive system. It offers much support for the liver, which has to process all the hormones circulating in the body, and supports the digestive system, inflammation, and enriches the blood.

    • 1 part wild yam
    • 1 part ginger
    • 2 parts dandelion root (raw)
    • 2 parts burdock root (raw)
    • 2 parts licorice
    • 2 parts sassafras
    • 1 part yellow dock
    • 1/4 vitex

    It is also important to include sufficient calcium, as a low amount has been linked to cramping, as blood levels of calcium drop off 10 days before menstruation. Again, there are more than just calcium-rich herbs in here! There are nervines, blood and uterine tonics and emmenagogues.  “High Calcium Tea” (p 118):

    • 2 parts oatstraw
    • 1 part horsetail
    • 2 parts comfrey
    • 2 parts nettle
    • 4 parts peppermint
    • 2 parts pennyroyal
    • 4 parts raspberry leaf

    For acute cramping, she recommends the following “Cramp-T”

    • 1 part cramp bark or black haw
    • 1 part pennyroyal
    • 1 part valerian
    • 1/2 part ginger

    A tincture of valerian, about 1/2 teaspoon every twenty minuets until the pain decreases. Another handy remedy to have around is pennyroyal essential oil, to rub a few diluted drops on the abdomen during cramping. Please be cautions with pennyroyal essential oil and never take it internally, because it is extremely toxic internally.

    Now let’s take a look at David Winston’s recommendations. In my last entry, I asked, “…I don’t know if all anodyne work on the same parts of the body…”. Well, Winston has cleared that up for me. Here is “Aspirea Compound” (32)

    • willow bark
    • meadowsweet herb
    • St. John’s wortSt. Johns Wort
    • Jamaica dogwood
    • indian pipe

    It has anti-inflammatory herbs (willow, meadowsweet, St. John’s wort), Jamaica dogwood which is analgesic and antispasmodic which Winston says is “especially for dysmenorrhea…”, and indian pipe which “…creates a feeling of separation from the pain” (32). I have tried this formula for other types of pain with great success (tooth ache, back spasm), but have yet to use it for cramps. It is very relaxing.

    “Full Moon – Woman’s Antispasmodic Compound”

    • PA-Free Petasites root
    • Black haw
    • wild yam
    • Jamaica dogwood
    • cyperus root
    • Roman chamomile flowers

    Winston’s notes: for mild to severe dysmenorrhea and some of the accompanying symptoms, take acutely, not daily. Here we see lots of antispasmodics at work.

    “J. Kloss Anti-spasmodic Compound” (p4 6)

    • black cohosh
    • myrrh
    • skullcap
    • skunk cabbage
    • lobelia
    • cayenne

    This is an example of a classic formula that works well as is, or can be adapted to suit individual needs. I have seen and used a couple variations of this formula (Dr. Christopher has one), one with blue vervain, blue cohosh instead of myrrh and skunk cabbage for treating epilepsy in a dog (2 drops a day for 3 months) and a severe tension headache (1/4 teaspoon every hour), both times it worked great. In the later, I sipped miso soup to quell the nausea that came with the lobelia and vervain.

    Here is one more set of examples from David Hoffmann’s Medical Herbalism from page 387 -8.

    • black haw
    • skullcap
    • black cohosh

    This is a basic formula that covers the many of the action categories mentioned in the last entry. All are antispasmodic, al are nervine, and black cohosh is  uterine tonic. The dosage is 5mL of tincture as needed, so when pain is approaching and in full swing. If a woman has secondary dysmenorrhea caused by pelvic lesions (from endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease) the dosage is 5 mL of the following tincture taken three times a day, rather than just symptomatically:

    • cramp bark
    • wild yam
    • black cohosh

    Again, all herbs are antispasmodic, cramp bark and black cohosh are nervines with black cohosh being the uterine tonic.

    A Handful of Herbal Treatments for Dysmenorrhea

    March 29th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

    a purple garden variety of black cohosh

    a purple garden variety of black cohosh

    Dysmenorrhea is basically period pain. Doctors will often diagnose period pain as “primary dysmenorrhea”, which means the pain cannot be contributed to any other cause or disease. The typical method for dealing with period pain within the medical model is prescribing hormonal birth control. Much less infrequently pain medications are prescribed; over-the-counter pain-relievers are typically suggested.

    Dysmenorrhea is not just a case of “grin and bear it”. It can seriously effect a woman’s ability to function in her daily life. While I am a big fan of resting, nourishing, and turning inwards during the moon time, I acknowledge that there are many woman who’s life is not set up to take such personal time (or rather our society is not set up to take such personal time). And besides, pain is pain, and for most everything besides menstruating and childbirth, we see pain as a sign that something is wrong with the body. Most women I know with dysmenorrhea can’t help but wonder if something is wrong with their body when their uterus is cramped.

    Pain and symptoms vary from woman to woman, so it is important to treat the individual, not the condition.
    Furthermore, pain and symptoms vary from month to month, as harmony within the menstrual cycle is reached through a process of changes and adjustments. Therefore, herbal formulas should be updated accordingly. At the same time, keep in mind that when working with the endocrine system treatment should be for at least 3 months but often as long as a year or more. Each month the ovaries alternate hormone production, so to ensure an herbal treatment (or conventional, for that matter) is effective let the left, then right, then back to left ovaries do their thing (thus the 3 month recommendation). I also think a quarter of a year is a fair time frame to let your body, mind and spirit go through their natural cycles a number of time, establish rhythms, process emotions, and adjust to physical surroundings and seasons.

    It may be tempting to stop taking herbs after a month or so when you a) notice an improvement and b) don’t see any improvement. At this time, especially if you are in the “b” category, keep on! Figure out your dosages and preparations and stick with them. Tinctures? Teas? How often? When I was fist getting into herbs I would stop treatments when I felt they were not working, “so why bother?”, I thought. While it was true they weren’t making horrible cramps disappear, there were many other benefits to be had. Some signs of improvement may be a more regular cycle, less PMS, pre-bleeding spotting, blood clots, nausea, teeth-shattering (yes, some women find they shiver and their teeth-shatter..sounds like a cold condition to me!), more energy and vitality, and simply better able to cope with their cycle no matter how tumultuous it may be.

    When creating a formula for dysmenorrhea, you may wish to include: (from Ruth Tricky in Woman, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle)

    • A uterine tonic, as they normalize the uterine tissue
    • Antispasmodics, relaxing, pain-relieving, prostaglandin-inhibiting herbs based on symptoms
    • Emmenagogues may be used with late or slow starting periods
    • Most always use warming herbs
    • Don’t forget to balance emotional and mental tension with nervines, and treat any other body system that may be out of balance and aggravates dysmenorrhea

    Uterine tonics
    Regulates and normalizes the uterine tissue. Add when there is a heavy, dragging type of pain, pain towards the end of the cycle, some types of pain during sex (of a congested, heavy nature). They often provides nutrition, minerals and can be astringents so the do actually tone (by precipitating excess proteins in cell walls).

    Examples: Raspberry leaf, nettle, shepherd’s purse, lady’s mantle, ect…

    Warming herbs
    Improves the action of antispasmodic herbs when the period if aggravated by cold, relived by heat, lower abdomen feels relatively cool to the touch, relived by movement of the hips.

    Examples: Ginger, cinnamon can be added to other herbal formulas, or taken alone, but drink them warm. Many Chinese patent formulas include cinnamon to warm the interior and promote a healthy circulation of blood.
    Ginger tea – grate or chop 1 inch of ginger into a saucepan. Add about 2 1/3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to low simmer, cover. Simmer for 20 minuets. Turn off heat and let cool slightly before straining and drinking. You may add honey to taste and sip while emerged in a hot bath; doesn’t that sound divine?

    Hormone regulating herbs
    The goal here is to regulate the hormones, which reduceds pain by indirect action on prostaglandins.

    Examples: Vitex angus-castus (chastetree berries) is very useful for congestive dysmenorrhea, and pain with PMS. A picky herb about dosing…when I get the correct does I will let you know. Everyone seems to have different suggestions.
    Paeonia lactiflora (peony), Cimicifugia racemosa (black cohosh) are both antispasmodics and have the potential to competitively inhibit the activity of estrogen.Verbena officinalis (blue vervain) is a sedative, traditionally used for menstrual disorders with a hormonal origin. Schisandra berries.

    Blue vervain flowers close up

    Blue vervain flowers close up

    Nervines
    These are relaxing herbs, used for both physical and mental/emotional tension or anxiety accompanying pain.They potentate antispasmodic and pain-killing herbs, as some are antispasmodics themselves.

    Examples: Valerian, peony, corydalis, vervain, chamomile, agrimony, hops, lemon balm, lavender…

    Anodynes
    These have analgesic effects. Much weaker than conventional analgesics, so they must be prescribed with other herbs that actually attempt to correct the imbalance. I don’t think anodynes work on all systems and complaints, except for corydalis.
    Examples: Wild lettuce, pulsatilla, corydalis, valerian, feverfew (463)…

    Don’t over look the liver
    Congestive period pain with heavy, dull, dragging pain has historically been treated with liver herbs and bitters, as well as those who are “irritable, hot-headed, constipated, headaches, heavy fiery-red flow”. Liver herbs most likely work through an indirect effect on hormone imbalance by improving the liver’s ability to excrete estrogen from the bowel and through the liver and bile.

    Examples: Barberry and other bererine-containing herbs are useful, as are many other ‘liver’ herbs like dandelion root, burdock, Oregon grape, yellow dock. Yellow dock and dandelion in particular (especially when combined with blackstrap molasses) can encourage the body to use iron stores more efficiently, thus relieving fatigue following blood loss.

    References:

    Tricky, Ruth. Woman, Hormones, and the Menstrual Cycle.

    Cold and Flu Notes #3 – Favorite Herbs

    February 1st, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

    p1020208.jpg Thyme’s (Thymus vulgaris) anti-microbial, anti-spasmodic, expectorant and astringent actions and it’s volatile oil content make it very useful for respiratory infections, sore throat, coughs including chronic bronchitis and whooping cough. Here’s a bit about thyme from “My Favorite Mints” post.

    Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) syrup is a well-known, time-tested, effective and utterly delicious respiratory tract tonic. David Hoffmann summarizes the research of this small tree; “The extract was effective in vitro against 10 strains of influenza virus. It also reduced the duration of flu symptoms to 3 to 4 days in a double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized study”(580). The flowers are handy to have around as well, as they are part of the old gypsy cold remedy of equal parts of yarrow, peppermint, and elderflower drunk as a tea, steeped strong and served hot. I like to add a bit of boneset in the formula to address the chills and body aches that often come with a bad cold or the flu. The flowers are a wonderful diaphoretic to open the pores, and they relieve chest congestion through their anticatarrhal action. Elderflowers is called by Matthew Wood “the great infant remedy”, especially in babies and children with red, dry skin on the cheeks and blue coloring around the eyes (457).

    p1020183.jpg Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) is a classic New World (American) herb, used by Native Americans and quickly adopted by Eurpeans. It was and still is “…one of the best remedies for the relief of symptoms that accompany influenza” (Hoffmann, 549). Hoffmann also writes:

    “High dilutions of various sequiterpene lactones isolated from E. perfoliatum demonstrated immunostimulant activity. In addition, polysaccharide fractions from E. perfoliatum showed immunostimulant actions in granulocyte, macrophage, and carbon clearance tests.”

    Have you ever had aches that felt like your bones were being crushed or that they just simply hurt no matter what position you take? Pain like that calls for boneset. It is the first herb that I reach for aches and pains. After having tried it for the flu with great success at relieving aches, I decided to try it for aching bones at times other than the when one has the flu. I found it successful for deep thigh and pelvis aches accompanying menstrual cramps, but unsuccessful for aches after strenuous activity. It doesn’t surprise me that boneset did not relive the latter aches; they were more from a muscular origin than from “the bones”. King’s American Dispensatory recommends it for the “‘bone pains’ of syphilis” (549). I use a tincture, and take it every hour as needed. Boneset is also a well-known diaphoretic, another reason why it is useful for the flu. Like elecampane, it contains bitter properties and is slightly stimulating to the large intestine.

    Sage (Salvia officinalis) tea is effective for sore throats, as mentioned in this older post.

    There are many other respiratory herbs to pick from, based on your specific symptoms. I tend to alternate between wild cherry and elecampane, though I sometimes use mullein, pleurisy root, coltsfoot, horehound, and less often use lobelia, osha and hyssop. Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina) has expectorant, astringent and antispasmodic actions. I have found it works well for those coughs that will not stop or are dry and ticklish with a sore upper chest (Tierra, Leslie). David Hoffmann writes, “because of its powerful sedative effect o the cough reflex, wild cherry bark finds its main use in treatment of irritating coughs” (575).

    p1000527.jpg One of my favorite garden flowers, elecampane (Inula helenium) is indicated in cases with lots of mucus (often yellow or green) accompanying deep bronchial coughs. Elecampane is both effective on tough coughs and gentle enough for children. It is a tonic for the lungs, soothing to irritating tissues, a stimulating expectorant that actively works copious mucus out of the lungs, and an anti-microbial to help rid the body of the underlying infection. All in all, a pretty hand herb to have around! Use the root, either in tincture or dried and decocted as a tea. Hilltown Families has a good recipe for elecampane syrup; I can’t wait to try it! I find it interesting that elecampane has a marked effect of the large intestine, which is related to the lungs in Chinese medicine, as elecampane works on both.

    References:

    Hofffmann, David. Medical Herbalism, The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine.

    Tierra, Leslie. Healing with the Herbs of Life.

    Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.

    Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal Vol. I.

    Addiction Energetics

    July 16th, 2008 § 0 comments § permalink

    Herbal medicine has a number of ways to help one break addictions and assist pharmaceutical and drug withdrawal. Quoting Guido Mase from the lecture handout, “Using herbs for support when transitioning off psychiatric medication” …”[P]eople can be subjected to a drug which, though not ‘addictive’ in the classical sense of an intoxicating substance, can nevertheless have severe withdrawal symptoms”. Indeed, addictions within the sphere of a holistic mind frame can include many conditions that biomedicine and psychiatry may not define as addictive.

    Most useful to me about the aforementioned lecture is the emphasis Mase put on ensuring the integrity of both the GI tract and circulatory system before going to the nervous system. Chamomile, blue vervain, wood betony, St, John’s wort work on the nervous system as well as the digestive system and in my opinion can be very centering and grounding . Valerian and crampbark “dilate the arteries, warms the limbs and relaxes body (soma), then relaxes mind”. Herbs, no matter how hard mainstream herbal commerce tries, cannot be separated into clear-cut, straightforward categories or reduced down to one action only. Think black cohosh for hot flashes, goldenseal for colds, valerian for insomnia, ginseng for energy, St. John’s wort for depression, ect. Not only do these herbs have wider applications then what is popularly marketed, there may be another herb better suited to an individual constitution. For example, valerian has never help a candle to my insomnia, but American ginseng has worked wonderfully.

    Herbs to support addiction and drug withdrawal also take into consideration the constitution of the individual and the underlying diagnosis. Milky oats are a good place to start in almost any formula, as they are one of the ultimate “nerve foods”, restoring the mylin sheaths on the nerve cells. Fresh skullcap tincture is another favorite, perfectly suited for “burn out” and mental over-stimulation. I once heard (perhaps from Matthew Wood) the difference between melissa and passionflower put as such: melissa is suited for people that are over-stimulated but love it, while passionflower is for people who are over-stimulated but don’t like it. I don’t exactly understand this differentiation, but still find it interesting. There are many nervines to choose from, hawthorn, ashwaganda, tulsi, mugwort, rose, gingko, hops, ect…

    I find it hard to look at addictions only through a physiological or herbal medicine view. Lately I have been listening to a number of audio lectures from Caroline Myss which has added a whole ‘nother level to my considerations. While I am far from understanding much of what is out there, I do feel a resonance with what Myss has to say about addictions in the 7th disc of the “Energy Anatomy” audio lecture:

    “So long as your will is in a fog, you will be an addict. You will either be an addict to a substance, to a habit, to a fear, to the need to have the windows open at a certain angle, I don’t care what it is, you will be an addict. There is no such thing as a non-addicted person if the heart and the mind are not clear and congruent and the will is not awake, you will be an addict.”

    “The 6th chakra is your mind, the heart is the 4th, and what’s in between? Your willpower. If your mind is going one way and your heart is going another way, who is commanding your will? So long as you keep your mind and your heart away from each other, your will will find its allegiance in a substance, your will will become commanded by something outside of you because there is nothing inside of you that is strong enough to keep it intact. So you will literally release the circuits of your spirit to a substance, to a person, to a system of thought, to a school of belief, to an external spiritual discipline, to needing to eat tofu, to needing to shove vabooty up your nose, who cares what it is, you will find some addiction that you are convinced you need for tranquility. When in fact, what technically is amiss is that your heart and your mind don’t speak to each other and you haven’t developed an ounce of genuine willpower.”

    How does one develop the will, to reclaim its allegiance for oneself? Unfortunately, it is not as simple as stating, “I demand my spirit to release this addiction now” because your willpower is not strong enough, probably from years of your heart taking the night shift and your mind taking the day shift. During your hearts’ shift, you may have decided to do or say something from the heart, but when you mind takes over, it will say, “Are you crazy? You can’t do/say that. What if that person leaves you? How are you gong to pay the bills?” It doesn’t matter if your heart is unhappy–your mind tends to dominate because it plays of the fears of pain, aloneness, loosing success and financial stability.

    Here is an exercise in activating your willpower: Make a list of all the things that you shouldn’t do but do anyways (this list is from you mind/conscious). Next, make a list of all things you want to do but don’t (from your heart/inspiration). Then pick a one thing to do from each list, and do it. That’s it! Sounds easy, but it may be hard to even admit to yourself what goes on those lists. If it is difficult to make your lists, realize that you may be living in a “fog of deliberate unconsciousness so that you don’t have to develop a stronger will. What kind of will? The level of will power that says, ‘wait a minuet, I am going to will myself to see clearly. Enough is enough. I am going to will myself to call the shots the way they are. I am going to will myself to diagnose myself accurately’.”

    Myss’s example is giving up coffee. In the first column, “I know I shouldn’t drink coffee but I do”. In the second, “I know I should give up coffee.” In making this list, “you see into whose hands you’ve commanded your spirit and what you’ve given authority over you”. Myss says to “pay attention to how often you make excuses as to why you allow yourself to break your own rules”, and to the excuses you make up in order to avoid the stress of developing the level of willpower you need to break the addiction. Do this not in a punitive way, but in a experimental way to know yourself more deeply, one notch at a time.

    References:
    Mase’, Guido. “Using herbs for support when transitioning off psychiatric medication” lecture notes.
    Myss, Carloine. “Energy Anatomy” Audio lecture. Disc 7.

    My Favorite Mints

    July 7th, 2008 § 1 comment § permalink

    Practically everyday I find myself using mints for one reason or another. Here are a few of my current favorites.

    Skullcap: Scutellaria lateriflora for mental exhaustion
    I have been drinking infusions of this cooling bitter nervine, as I usually do after a mercury retrograde when thinking, communication, and information dissemination are often difficult and confusing. Though I have heard that the fresh tincture is best for acute burn-out conditions, I am using the tea is as a brain tonic to promote a clear mind. Skullcap can be a good ally for mental tension, nervous fear and even dread. Ah yes, this plant is very effective for tension of all sorts, even high blood pressure during pregnancy. Guido Mase of Vermont mentioned that skullcap is useful for acute drug withdrawal symptoms (use frequently) as well as breaking addictions in general, especially that of pain-killers and other receptor-site addictions. I hear that skullcap and motherwort are used to treat sunstroke; luckily I haven’t had to try it.

    Sage: Salvia officinalis for a sore throat

    Garden SageCurrently I am gargling with a strong sage tea right before bed and upon waking to treat a sore, scratchy throat. I like the spicy astringency of sage for sore throats because it seems to promote reduction on the soreness in a stimulating manner, almost as if it is gently scratching my irritated tonsils. During the winter I often opt for the soothing, coating, mucilaginous ways of slippery elm, especially when the sore throat is a cold or flu symptom, whereas currently I have an infection of the tonsils. Sage seems to prompts a healing response and tone up the rawness I see in the back of the throat. Helium.com has a sums up the common uses of sage. Phyllis Light and Matthew Wood mentioned sage for ‘male menopause’ when there are signs of wasting, premature aging, nervousness and shaking when a man passes mid-age, as it converts hormones to be used by the adrenals. They also cite sage for cystitis caused by mucus congestion in the bladder.

    Thyme: Thymus vulgaris for a respiratory infection
    About a week ago I awoke with an intense pain in my lungs, as if my chest and ribs were beaten to a bloody pulp. To my dismay, I had another respiratory infection. Feeling wiser since my last infection, I promptly took care of myself the best I could. Acupressure, deep breathing, saunas and steams, light soups and steamed veggies, gentle movement to circulate lymph, mustard plasters (you know it’s bad when you skip the onion plaster and go straight to mustard) followed with chest massage with essential oils, echinacea, goldenseal and osha tinctures, and lots and lots of thyme tea. Creeping Thyme

    Spicy and warm thyme is an expectorant, antiseptic, and anti-infective, which makes it so useful in protecting the lungs from a worsening infection. I use it for both acute coughs and lung congestions, as well as for recovering from chronic infections. Looking back, I should’ve taken thyme for a longer duration after my last respiratory infection–I know I will now! Use it for pneumonia, tuberculosis, cold and flu, whooping cough, and sore throat. I read somewhere that it is not the best for chronic bronchitis where there are a lot of secretions, but rather indicated in dry coughs.

    Pennyroyal: Mentha pulegium or Hedeoma pulegiodes as an emmenagogue

    A few years at an herb conference in North Carolina, a complete stranger came over to me while I was making some tea. When she read the ingredients of the formula, she scoffed and said, “why are you using pennyroyal of all things? It’s a very dangerous herb best let to practitioners, young lady!” “Yes”, I told her, “I am well aware of the dangers of pennyroyal, and make sure to never ingest the essential oil” and continued on with my tea time. Common sense tells me it is always wise to employ caution when using herbs and essential oils. However, I am not about to be scared away from responsibly using pennyroyal herb after hearing a few stories. According to drugwarfacts.com, “Each year, use of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) accounts for an estimated 7,600 deaths and 76,000 hospitalizations use of NSAIDs in the United States.” (NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, ketoprofen, and tiaprofenic acid). Would this woman have reacted in the same manner if I took out a bottle of aspirin?

    Pennyroyal is one of my favorite herbs to have around to use both premenstrually during the first few days of bleeding. It is a well-know emmenagogue, antispasmodic and sedative, while calming nervous tension that settles in the stomach . I can feel its warm, diaphoretic action almost immediately; pelvic congestion and fullness with a bit of coldness or stagnation is allayed. A few drops of the essential oil in a spray bottle with plain water is one of my favorite mosquito repellent.

    Lemon Balm – Melissa Offinalis as a calmative
    Melissa Volatile oil-rich Melissa is hands down one of my favorite herbs. It is so sweet yet tart, cooling yet uplifting! Could there be a more tasty herb? During the long Minnesota winter, melissa is a melancholy sun-mourners best friend (along with Saint John’s Wort, calendula and rosemary), as it seems to dry up the dreariness and cheer one out of any funk. In true Scandinavian style, the winter darkness doesn’t seem to bother me. In fact, I thrive off of the most yin time of the year. Rather, I like to drink lemon balm tea in the summer to healthfully align myself to the yangness of the long sunny days. I say healthfully align because I have a tendency to be overstimulated in the expansiveness of summer, so much so that I drain my adrenals with too much all-day physical activities and late-night projects. Melissa helps me stay calm in the face of nervousness and insomnia, so I can be more appropriately active. I appreciate its carminative and somatic properties after eating too many raw and cool foods.

    Peppermint – Menta piperita as a cooling beverage

    I inherited a community garden plot that is chock full of gobs of healthy peppermint. When I initially laid out my garden beds, I transplanted all the peppermint to its own designated spot. With a little bit of conscious planting and watering, this former weed is now the prime example of health and vitality in my garden. Every time I come back from the garden, I take a hand full of peppermint with me to make into a deliciously aromatic sun tea. What says summer like fresh mint tea? To my roommates requests, we will probably be making mojitos soon.

    Dang Gui and Blood Deficiency

    March 13th, 2008 § 6 comments § permalink

    One of the first herbs I used was dang gui. Still, I have a hard time understanding this herb so here is my attempt at gaining clarity. Any comments about indications for or experience with this herb would be much appreciated!

    Its botanical name is Angelica sinensis (a common species name, meaning “of China”). Dang gui is one of them many members of the volatile oil containing Apiaceae (parsley) family. It is one of the most popular Chinese herbs in the US. Foster and Chongxi state that dang gui is the most used herb in China, for “it is used more frequently and in larger amounts that ginseng and licorice, often considered the most widely used Chinese herbs”.

    Its flavor is sweet with an earthy bitterness. The taste can be strong for some, but I have witnessed that those who need it crave it and love its distinctive smell. I have a entirely non-technical and strange way to associate herbs with colors; to me dang qui conjures a dusty lavender taupe color. Every time I smell it I think of chalk and afternoon recess in 5th grade and I feel as if I am smelling it with my jaw. Don’t ask me why! Weird, I know, but it happens every time so I feel it is worth noting although they are very individual. I digress…

    Dang gui has quite the reputation as a woman’s herb, mostly because it is warming and tonifying to the blood, and can regulate menstruation. It has emmenagogue, mild laxitive and analgesic properties. Also, it Harmonizes vital chi, nourishes the blood and returns them both to proper order, like for headaches due to blood deficiency or traumatic injury. Of course, men and non-menstruating women can use this herb for Blood Deficiency; in fact my dog will walk over to where I keep my powdered Chinese herbs and whine until I give her some. She has skin problems, and is dry and flaky half the time. Within my references, these are some indications for dang qui:

    • building blood, anemia
    • menstrual complaints of all kinds: dysmenorrhea, irregularity, amenorrhea
    • menopausal complaints
    • fibroids (most likely does not contain phytoestrogens)
    • some vaginal infections
    • abdominal pain
    • circulatory problems such as angina, thromboses, coronary heart problems
    • “Damp Wind” conditions with joint and muscle pain and inflammation
    • tinnitus
    • palpitations
    • injury, arthritis, rheumatism
    • constipation
    • dry skin and skin eruptions
    • promoting circulation (it moistens the intestines)
    • sores and abscesses
    • blurred vision and headaches due to Deficient Blood

    As mentioned, dang gui is a well known emmenagogue, so it generally not to be taken during the heaviest days of menstruation if you are a heavy bleeder, nor during the first trimester. However, it can be quite helpful during scanty menses and amenorrhea. This leads me to think that dang gui would be of good use for pain towards the end of the period, not necessarily for pain at the start of the period (possibly due to Stagnant Blood). Michael Tierra precautions to avoid use if there is abdominal bloating and congestion (damp Spleen), as well as in Deficient Yin with heat symptoms (since dang gui is heating itself).

    We see in the above list many of the tell-tale signs of Deficient Blood. In Chinese medicine, the blood nourishes and moistens the cells and organs, which warms the body. “Deficient Blood arises when there isn’t enough Blood in the body to preform its nourishing and moistening functions” (Tierra, 148). Let’s not forget that patterns of imbalance do not manifest on their own but relates to other organs and functions in our body. For instance, Blood is related to the Heart (directs the blood), the Liver (which stores it and works to renew it while we sleep) and the Spleen (holds blood in the vessels, and builds it through digestion). Bleeding, over-exertion, yin deficency or spleen chi deficiency (resulting in poor digestion and lack of assimilated nutrients) can lead to Blood Deficiency.

    Here are some patterns of Blood Deficiency. Does anyone else see a relation to the Kidneys, adrenal glands, and Shen? Can you see how dang gui would help?

    • dizziness
    • blurry vision
    • numbness
    • restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, sometimes irritability
    • scanty menses
    • tendency towards thinness
    • dark spots in visual field
    • dry skin, hair, eyes
    • lack of luster, pale face and lips
    • tiredness or overwhelmed
    • easily startled
    • poor memory (Tierra, 148)

    References:

    Lesley Tierra, “Healing With the Herbs of Life”

    Michael Tierra, “Planetary Herbology”

    Simon Mills, “The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine”

    Headache Differentiation #2

    February 17th, 2008 § 2 comments § permalink

    After I wrote the entry on headaches, I started to get one. What’s with that? I haven’t had a headache in at least three or four years! Anyways, it was an annoying and painful experience, since I had it for seven days. Maybe it was because I needed to write more about headaches…

    This headache was dull, located in the temples down into the face for six days. The fixed pain was so mild I didn’t realize it was there most for most of the day but made itself apparent when I laid down at night. I was under a lot of emotional stress, especially the last day when the pain was the worst.

    The seventh day it was located in the same place, but became progressively stronger as the day wore on. By the time I went to bed it was unbearable, keeping me up for hours. The pain was mediated when I rubbed my whole head, neck and shoulders, but I as soon as I stopped it would assuredly return. The headache had no relation to eating.

    Pain in the temples can indicate heat in excess or deficiency or stagnant Liver Qi. The Gallbladder meridian was very tender, painful even, to the touch. Pressing the points on my face and neck felt wonderful, as if it was releasing pressure.

    Since pressure made the headache feel better (albeit temporary) a deficient condition is indicated here. The fact that the pain increased at night is due to Deficient Blood, as does the fact that the worst part of the headache occurred at the end of the period.

    Deficient Blood and Stagnant Liver Qi describe more than just a headache pattern, it also fits in with my general constitution. Blood Deficiency is aided by nourishing herbs like equal parts of dang qui, cooked rehmannia, lycii, ligusticum, white peony, jujube with a half part of licorice with blackstrap molasses. For the latter, Tierra recommends two capsules each of turmeric and cumin taken with fennel tea and five drops of lobelia tincture.

    lobeliaUnfortunately, my herb supply is low so couldn’t try any of Tierra’s suggestions. The only thing I had to work with is a tincture of black cohosh, blue cohosh, skullcap, kava and lobelia. I took three teaspoon doses of this on the last night when the pain was the worst. A mug of miso soup helped sooth the nauseousness caused by the lobelia, and in thirty minuets I fell into a headache-free sleep.

    The origin of this headache can be traced to a sub-par diet, muscular tension and emotional stress. My work situation has caused much worry and placed me in a definite funk, and the lack of funds has impeded on purchasing fresh food. Because of the below zero weather with 30 below wind-chill, I have not taken my regular hikes. I have no real excuse for not practicing yoga, though, unless you count the uninspired funk.

    The tincture I used is actually quite indicated when the causes of my headache are taken in consideration. A response to the intense stress was to gather tension in the neck and upper back, which I feel caused the muscles of my head to get out of whack. The lack of exercise combined with the bitter cold further tensed my whole body, and stagnated the liver because of decreased circulation. Of course lack of nourishing food further slowed the liver and depleted the blood.

    Skullcap alleviated the pain and relaxed the mind from its constant stewing. Kava had a similar action, with more of a sedative, anodyne and sleep-promoting action. In the future I will try kava for tension headaches more often. Blue cohosh invigorated the blood and acted on spasmodic muscles, as did black cohosh especially on my tight neck and spine. This was the first time I used lobelia, but I could feel its presence in both my nerves and muscles as soon as it touched my lips.

    Reference: Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life.

    Introduction to Headache Differentiation

    February 10th, 2008 § 2 comments § permalink

    A while back I was talking to a friend who had migraines about six times a year, but came two at a time. She would have one for two days, then within a week she’d come down with another. I felt very sympathetic for her and everyone else who are prone to headaches, and thought to myself, “I’d rather have horrible menstrual cramps then a headache any day”. At least with cramps, you know when they are coming and when they will be done.

    To be honest, the main reason I’d rather have cramps is because there is something so elusive, so hard to pin down about headaches. Feverfew has been proven to help migraines, but I have known it to not work on some people. Laying down with a wet rag over their eyes help some people, but others feel the headache actually get worse when resting. When I got Lesley Tierra’s Healing with the Herbs of Life I became enamored with her chapter about headaches. Part of the mystery of headaches dissolved as I discovered that there are about twenty different types of headaches from a Chinese perspective. Consider the nature of the headache in combination with the temperament of the person.

    Where is the headache located?

    Temples (one side or both), top of the head, sides of the heads, behind the eyes, forehead, back of head, whole head, face.

    How often does it occur?

    Twice a year, twice a month, twice a week. Acute or chronic.

    What is the nature of the pain?

    Dull, sharp, heavy, stabbing, empty, pulling, stiff, changes from one sensation to another.

    How is it related to your state of health or life style?

    Menstrual cycle, sinus infection, addiction withdrawal, hypertension, stress, high cholesterol, holidays, during work, pregnancy and postpartum.

    How is it related to your emotional state?

    Frustrated, angry, after crying, worried about money, relationship problems, anxiety or fear.

    When is it triggered? Is it worse or better during the following:

    Eating in general, eating specific foods, resting, pressure, cold, heat, activity, lying down, daytime, damp weather, menstrual cycle.

    Tierra recommends equal parts of Feverfew, Chamomile, Willow Bark, and Angelica, with the Feverfew as a general formula for acute headaches. An alternate formula is Rosemary, Poplar, Willow, Wintergreen and Angelica. A general formula from Simon Mills for nagging but mild headaches is Linden, Yarrow, Self-Heal, and Wood Betony. These help by dilating the blood vessels, stimulating blood circulation, and dulling the pain sensation. Sounds like a perfect cure-all until you consider that not all headaches are caused by constriction of the blood vessels. Mills explains:

    “…most migraines are accompanied by vasoconstriction of blood vessels, a significant minority are not; sufferers of the former often obtain relief by applying hot packs to the head and are probably more suited to Feverfew than those of the latter.”

    These “general formulas” can also be called generic. They help symptomatically, they are formulated for the condition, not the personal constitution. Here is just one example of headache differentiation for someone with Blood stagnation, who shows:

    • Headache fixed in one place
    • Intense, severe pain; stabbing and boring
    • Side of body, ribs, abdomen may be painful/sore
    • Dark tongue, purple
    • In women there might be painful periods with dark blood clots
    • Dark complexion

    Equal parts of Corydalis, Motherwort, Salvia, Cyperus and Ligusticum is recommended by Tierra. In this formula, the Corydalis is an anodyne for severe pain and breaking up stagnant blood, Motherwort and Salvia stimulates blood circulation without being too warming and also soothes the nervous system, Cyperus addresses stagnant Qi, while Ligusticum moves both stagnant Qi and Blood that can cause the intense, stabbing pain. But even the twenty patterns of headaches can be generic when the focus is still on the condition, not the person.

     

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