November 3rd, 2011 § § permalink
This is a post I shared a few months ago at my friend’s Suzie’s inspiring blog, Key & Bones. I want to share it because I am reaping the benefits of this extremely simple little remedy. Last week my ear started to feel a little funky/gunky, swollen, itchy. Each day it got a little worse until my left ear was entirely clogged for two days. Garlic oil, just a drop or two in the ear canal, every other day, relieved the irritation and opened it right up.
In the past I have made more of an ‘ear formula’, with another fabulous standby, mullein flowers. Now that I live in a city, my mullein flower harvesting has diminished. There are still plenty of mullein around, but not in my back yard garden like it was before (so spoiled I was, sigh…). Willow bark, cayenne, eyebright, St. John’s wort and calendula are some other options (among many) to add to your herbal ear oil.
I do have to say, however, that just plain good old garlic does the job quite nicely.
Garlic has been hailed as a super-food for millennia, and rightfully so. Every year it seems that the powers of garlic expand as the scientific community catches on to folk uses of of garlic. Recently, there has been investigation around garlic and weight loss, but it has long been know for other benefits. It is widely accepted as having anticancer, high blood pressure and high cholesterol reducing, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, and immune-stimulating effects, in addition to being a nutrient-dense food.
One common folk use of garlic is an oil used topically and in the ear for infections. A 1995 University of New Mexico study looked at garlic oil’s effect:
“Aqueous garlic extract (AGE) and concentrated garlic oil (CGO) along with various commercial garlic supplements and pharmaceutical prescriptions were used in an in-vitro study. AGE and especially CGO were found to have antifungal activity. These agents showed similar or better inhibitory effects than the pharmaceutical preparations…” [emphasis added].
Garlic oil for medicinal purposes is easy to make and easy to use. It is essentially just like making culinary garlic oil, except that extra care is taken to strain all the garlic particulate out of the garlic before bottling. It smells delicious (in that garlic-y sort of way), and of course can be used for cooking, salad dressing and bread-dipping. Just store it away from the stove, so it doesn’t get the chance to raise its temperature. If you are making a large batch, use a wide-mouthed jar and store it in the fridge. Olive oil, being an unsaturated plant fat, will solidify in the fridge, so you’ll have to scoop it with a spoon and melt it before using in the ears.
- Don’t waste any of that liquid gold, use a funnel.
Garlic Oil Recipe and Dosage:
- Peel a few heads of garlic, trim the bottoms, rinse and air dry (or pat with a clean towel).
- Lightly crush, chop well and let it chill out on your cutting board for a few minuets before adding it to the jar. Crushing the garlic opens the cells and allows health-benefiting alliinase enzymes (one of the multiple compounds in garlic) to become active. I don’t recommend using a garlic crusher, though, because it opens the cells too much, expressing a lot of the garlic’s water quickly. Introducing extra water to the oil to increase the likelihood of bacteria and mold growth, as well as promote oxidation and rancidity.
- Add to a small jar, cover with extra virgin olive oil until a half inch of oil is over the top of the garlic.
- Cover with a tight-fitting lid and let sit in a sunny window for 4-6 weeks, shaking every now and again (once a week or every-other day is good).
- Occasionally, open the jar to check for extra moisture beads condensing along the lid. If there is moisture, simply wipe it off with a clean towel.
- After steeping, strain the oil into a clean, dry bottle. This is the time to add other medicinal ingredients, if desired.
- Label and date, store in a cool, dry place. Use within 18 months.
- Use one drop for kids over 2 in each ear, and three to five drops for adults.
- Drop the oil in, one drop at a time, while side laying. Drape a towel under your head, and adjust your head position so that the ear canal feels vertical. Play around with moving your head around to distribute the oil, lingering at any sweet spots, or tug on the ear and massage the area. Kids and dogs love that part.
- Sit for a few minuets, maybe more if it feels good and you have the time. When you sit up, wipe the outside of your ear off with a clean towel. Yes, your ears will kind of smell like garlic. It should dissipate after an hour.
- Administer twice daily for acute infections, once daily or every other day for a week for lingering problems (recovering from a cold, itchy ears, ect.) or once a week for maintenance (this is the best dosage for prevention).
- A warm oil is a nice oil…
- Warm the bottle in a cup of hot (almost boiled) water for a minute or two before dropping in the ear, making sure to test the temperature before using. Warmth thins the oil, so it can penetrate the ear canal, and provides comforting relief for infections. A warm oil makes all the difference. If you are in a pinch, wave the dropper over a candle flame, being mindful not to spill the oil from the dropper as it thins. I loosely fix the label on the bottle so I can take it off when it is warming.
Now that you have your lovely garlic oil, what can you do with it? If you are like I was when I first heard of garlic oil, you will be asking, why would I want to put it in my ears? It just so happens that oil is very soluble in the ears because its normal environment is oily (well, waxy, but close).
Uses for garlic oil:
- To prevent swimmer’s ear, use a drop or two in each ear a few hours before swimming. Dry the ears extra well before swimming. Once swimmer’s ear has set in, it is best to avoid garlic oil.
- Fighting a cold. The ears are closely connected with the nose and the throat, areas that first come into contact with microbes causing the common cold or influenza. A little garlic oil in the ears at the first feelings of a scratchy throat, drippy nose, itchy ears can sometimes kick the cold out before it sets in.
- Excessive wax build-up, or gummy or closed ears. Use one drop daily in each ear.
- Eat on food for the medicinal effects mentioned above, a teaspoon or more per day.
- Good for four-legged friends, too.
Lett Appl Microbiol. 1995 Jan;20(1):14-8. Antifungal effects of Allium sativum (garlic) extract against the Aspergillus species involved in otomycosis. Pai, ST, Platt, MW. Department of Microbiology, University of New Mexico, School of Medicine, Albuquerque 87131
November 22nd, 2010 § § permalink
Herbal sitz baths; here is one type of bath that I have seen work time and time again, particularity for genito-urinary purposes. Sitz baths are pretty much exactly like they sound – a bath that you sit in. Sitting in a bath is actually quite different than laying in a bath, however. A sitz bath covers the hips and pelvis, while the legs and torso are not immersed in the bath. This posture ensures that the blood flow of the body is concentrated around the area in the water.
I attempted to make directions with specific quantities of water and herbal infusion, but had to stop because each sitz bath is a little different. That being said, here is a solid starting place:
- Add 3 ounces of dried herbs to just boiled water in a large pot with a lid. Steep for 20-30 minuets, covered. Like with other herbal baths, straining is optional and is dependent upon personal preferences. Do you like bits of re-hydrated herbs floating among your bath water and possibly sticking to you when you leave the bath, or would that bother you?
- Pour the herbal infusion into a bin/sitz bath. Add tap water to adjust water temperature. Hot water is generally used, but alternating between hot and cold is also recommended. A cold or room temperature sitz can be quite therapeutic as well, especially if there is a hot, itchy or inflammatory condition.
- Lower yourself down in the bath carefully, and soak for 20-30 mins. It is a smart idea to try your sitz bath out before adding the water, to make sure it is possible to get in and out easily. Don’t hesitate to ask loved ones for a hand. Fold up a towel to sit in the sitz bath to make it as comfortable as possible.
- If no infection present, the water may be reheated and used again – or use the bath at room temperature.
- Use as frequently as needed, once a day during an acute situation, every other day or weekly for health maintenance.
When I started out as a doula, I read about sitz baths for healing the perineum after birth, but I never heard of anyone actually using one. At one of the birthing hospitals in Duluth, I noticed a locked door with a sign on it that said “Sitz Bath”. I inquired with a nurse about the “Sitz Bath” room, she said there was a indeed a special sitz bath tub in there, but she never heard of anyone using it. Here is the sitz bath that eventually came up with, it was the one I used most with doula clients, friends and sold to midwives:
Postpartum Sitz Bath
- 3 tablespoons comfrey herb (root and leaf mixed)
- 3 tablespoons yarrow
- 3 tablespoons uva ursi
I chose comfery because of its soothing, tissue healing properties. I am in the works on writing a post about the constituents of time-honored Symphytum officinale, so more to come on that front. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium), another ‘wound wort’, stops bleeding and is especially effective in healing stitches and tears. Even if there’s no tears, yarrow is still helpful because it moves the blood and disperses bruising and inflammation. Matthew Wood says it can “actually help the arteries suck up blood that has flowed out through a torn vessel into the tissues” (70). Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is a creeping, evergreen, berry-bearing member of the Ericaeae family. The leaves are very antiseptic with an affinity for the genito-urinary system. I first became familiar with this plant while researching herbs for bladder infections. Tannin-rich uva ursi helps heal the skin by tightening the tissues and discouraging infections (75, Earthwise Herbal).
There are a variety of herbs that can be used to postpartum your sitz bath. Sea salt is a great addition, as are any astringent, tonifying herbs. If there is a lot of bleeding add a stiptic like Shepard’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), or if there is a over-relaxed state, add astringents and tonics like Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) or cranesbill (Geranium maculatum).
Here is another herbal sitz bath I heard about from Mary Bove, ND from a 2009 lecture on herbs for pelvic congestion. Although I was familiar with and had good success with herbal steams for genitourinary complaints (particularly pelvic congestion and inflammation), for some reason I never thought to do a sitz bath for pelvic congestion. Bove says these herbs are particularly beneficial for labial varicosities.
- Lady’s mantle
- White or red oak bark (Quercus spp.)
- Bayberry root (Myrica spp.)
- Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
For a while, I thought of sitz baths as a modality of delivering herbal medicine useful specifically to postpartum women. While postpartum sitz baths are indeed incredibly useful in that way, it is not the only application of sitz baths. There are so many genito-urinary complaints that sitz baths can be useful for, but what about the other areas of the body that are immersed in a sitz bath? Could digestive problems be comforted with sitz baths; what about the lower vertebrae and pelvic bones? Oh the possibilities…
November 2nd, 2010 § § permalink
When I talked about herbal baths a couple months back, I mentioned that you don’t need to have a bath tub to benefit from therapeutic baths. True to my word, here is a little bit about one of my favorite ways to administer botanicals, relax and ease symptoms: Herbal foot baths.
Have you ever had a therapeutic foot bath? If not, I highly recommend it. I found that they are saviors to ease symptoms of colds, especially when used in conjunction with a herbal steam to clear the sinuses. You may wonder how a foot bath can help alleviate the stuffiness, headache, chest tightness, itchy ears, coughing, or sore throat that comes along the common cold. Foot baths work simply: sticking your feet in a vat of aromatic tea directs your energy downwards, that is away from your aching head, stuffy throat, and whatever else is bothering you ‘up there’. It’s like a having a 20 minuet foot massage that smells divine, boosts circulation and lymph flow, and relaxes the nervous system…particularly useful if a stuffy nose or headache is keeping you awake at night.
Foot baths are useful in a variety of situations, however, not just when you caught the latest bug that’s going around. Here are a few situations when I use or recommend herbal foot baths:
- Colds and flu
- Respiratory infections
- Stress and anxiety
- Local pain or inflammation of the foot, ankle or leg (alternating between cold and warm foot baths during an acute sprained ankle is akin to hot and cold packs and can assist the healing process)
- Topical irritations of the foot or skin, like athlete’s foot, cracks, dry skin, calluses, ingrown nails, ect…
So here another question to consider: what makes a herbal foot bath more special than a water bath? (Note to self: quit asking rhetorical questions that don’t have a pat answer). Hot baths (and cool baths) are therapeutic and pretty awesome in and of themselves, but the addition of aromatic herbs takes the baths up a notch. For example, ginger and mustard make warming baths even warmer, peppermint and eucalyptus make a cooling bath even cooler.
What herbs are good for a foot bath? Many herbs will do for a foot bath, and often you can take them right out of the kitchen cupboard. Thyme, rosemary, oregano, ginger and mustard are a few herbs great for colds and flus. Catnip, elder flowers, hibiscus and lavender are fine choices for kids (and adults!). I find a simple ginger and peppermint foot bath is balancing in the evening to help one fall asleep in times of stress or insomnia. For dry and cracked feet, comfrey root or leaf and calendula make a great pair; add a drop or two or tea tree essential oil for fungal infections.
Directions for a foot bath:
- Bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Turn off heat.
- Add 3 – 4 tablespoons of your herb or herbs of choice to pot, cover. Let steep for 20 minuets.
- Pour your ‘tea’ into a big pot or a tub (like a dish tub, basin, ice bucket – whatever you can find that will accommodate your feet comfortably). Straining the foot bath ‘tea’ is optional.
- Adjust the water temperature to your desired temperature.
- Set your feet in the water, soak and enjoy.
I have a habit of making my foot baths a little too hot to sink my feet in right away, so I skim the rough part of my soles over the surface of the water as much as I can stand. Just touching your feet ever so slightly on the steaming water for a second or two sets the body’s circulatory and nervous systems in motion and feels amazing to your feet, legs, and all over, actually. Immediately you are drawn into your senses. Foot baths are best followed with a lotion or oil foot massage of to lock in moisture, pair of comfy socks, a cup of tea and bed time…
October 9th, 2010 § § permalink
Before I left Minnesota in June, I wanted to immortalize the fragrant roses from my neighborhood. I still have a few ounces of delicious and handy rose elixir from last season, so I decided to mix it up a bit and make an elixir version of one of my favorite love teas. ‘Love tea’ features a favorite combination of mine, rose petals and damiana, and just about any other herbs that strike my fancy. Hawthorn berries, milky oats, ashwaganda, shatavari, eleuthero are some of my regular additions.
To a non-herb person, it may seem unlikely that botanicals could ever have anything to do with love. I would beg to differ. First of all, there is no doubt that plants can effect our emotions, and I would bet that most of us have had experiences with food that has altered our emotions. Chocolate and champagne are almost cliche ‘romance’ foods. I don’t want to go so far as to say that rose and damiana are cliche romance herbs, but they do play a little on the heart-stings.
Although it contains herbs with well-known actions, I see it as being broad in usage. For example, it can be calming to the emotions and nervous system, relaxing yet stimulating in times of stress (it has adaptogenic qualities), as well as potentially being an aphrodisiac. Damiana is warm and spicy and tones Yang (Lesley Tierra, 75). Rose petals are both cooling and relaxing, and have a special affinity for the heart and heart chakra. Ashwaganda also tonifies Yang, as Tierra describes:
“[It] is one of the best rejuvenation herbs because it tonifies without being overly stimulating and, in fact, calms and strenghtens the nervous system. Thus, it can be widely used in all conditions of weakness, chronic debilitation due to over work, stress, insomnia, or nervous exhaustion, in other words for all of you burned-out Type A folks.” (60).
Spiced Rose Elixir
- Rose petals – pick highly fragrant ones, chop a few times, add to fill jar more then half full.
- Damiana – 3 tablespoons
- Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus) – tablespoon
- Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) – tablespoon
- Clove – teaspoon
- Allspice – teaspoon
- Star anise – 2 pieces
- Cinnamon – 2 sticks
Elixirs are so easy to make, and easy to use. Please check out Kiva Rose’s blog for lots of info about the medicinal uses of roses and elixirs. Elixirs are part alcohol and part honey (or glycerine), I like equal parts of each, or more alcohol to honey. As far as alcohol goes, my normal preference is grain alcohol (especially with resinous herbs that need a high percentage of alcohol to fully extract) or brandy.
Back to the directions: fill a jar with herbs, pour over the alcohol of choice to fill the jar halfway, then top off with local, unheated honey. Let sit for 4-6 weeks, give it an occasional shake to add the maceration process, strain to a new bottle, label and enjoy 1-2 tablespoons as needed.
Reference: Tierra, Lesley. Healing with the Herbs of Life.