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It’s Complicated (and Amazing)

It’s been a longish hiatus since I last wrote, and teaching and gardening are boiling away on the front burners.

So much of what we’ve been learning in our class on anatomy and physiology is the stupendously intricate complexity of the human body. And that science is still figuring us out. New hormones, proteins, enzymes, etc. are still being discovered. Ways everything interacts is still being parsed. Really intelligent people can read the same data and draw very different conclusions. Our own journey affects how we understand the concept of being a human…

In studying the digestive system and now adding nutrition, we are learning not just the basics, but the basics from a variety of viewpoints. The concept of a “calorie” turns out to be incredibly “loaded” with politics, belief systems and which scientists/studies you trust. Who knew!? And hardly anyone except “radical granola types” pay any attention to the primary basis of all health: the health of a country’s soil. And yet studies are showing up even in the mainstream that state that our food today is less nutritious that it was even 50 years ago. When we “mine” our soil, and don’t “put back” the minerals and organic matter and healthy microbes, then the plants don’t have the same nutritional content  in their cells, because the soil is deficient. Add the GMO, herbicide and pesticide issues, not to mention processing whole foods to death, plus artificial chemicals….well, it becomes tremendously difficult to find quality food in an average supermarket.

And that, dear reader is the crux: quality of food is the basis of health.

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Why Aren’t We Taught How Our Bodies Function?

Even though those of you reading this are a variety of ages, I’ll bet most, if not all of you, never learned anatomy and physiology in Junior, Middle or Senior High School. I certainly didn’t. I knew how to do Algebra I and II and III, learned about Chemistry (a lot about the periodic table!), managed to skip Physics, and struggled through many years of French, of which I remember maybe a couple dozen words! But not how my body works…not how digestion begins before we even eat the first bite of food. Not how fats are emulsified or not and where, and what happens when they aren’t. Why some folks can eat fast food and don’t seem to be adversely affected (at least for awhile), and I throw up if I eat fried foods.

We are bombarded with “diets” and the “experts'” opinions (which seem to change drastically over time) and is it no wonder that so many of my clients don’t know what is healthy FOR THEM. And that is the key: what is healthy for each individual, not a one-size-fits-nobody approach to nutrition. There are many “ways” of eating, and many preachers and apostles of what is “correct.” I’m going to put some highlights of our classes here on anatomy and physiology, as well as Michael Moore’s approach, and walk everyone through the process of digestion and its sometimes discontents. And those “problems” or symptoms turn out to be keys to what is not functioning properly and why! what a concept…

and here’s a little graphic that says a lot….:

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Dietary Basics, Part 1.

Reading opposing views about diet is like watching debates about political and economic issues: everyone is focused, passionate, and sure they are right. Facts are marshalled and tossed at one another like hand grenades. So what I’m presenting below is a biased (cause I’m doing it, and I am unable to be totally objective) collation of the info that seems most agreed upon by a variety of alternative researchers.

Basics:

1. Many believe that each person has a metabolic type: protein, carb or mixed. Many folks fall into mixed. The folks that do well as vegetarians and vegans tend to be carb types. (Protein types tend to function better on heavier intake of protein, especially meat; mixed is the combo plate; carb types really thrive on dairy and grains).

2. Organic really does matter. Eat as little conventionally raised food as possible, though local that is mostly organic (even if not certified) is excellent, especially since every day past the date that a vegetable was harvested means fewer nutrients. Fresh really is better.

3. Variety, in both kinds and colors is good. Rotating the eating of various kinds of meats, grains, pseudo-grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds helps reduce food sensitivities.

4. The amount of cooked and raw in any one person’s diet is dependent upon the following: season, climate, altitude, and a person’s constitution (most easily understood from a Chinese standpoint–at least for me–). So if someone has a cool, moist constitution, foods that are warmer and drier are “better” for that person.

5. All grains have a variety of problematic issues (gluten, lectins, etc.) and are best soaked over night, fermented, sprouted, reduced in quantity, or not eaten (celiac disease may be just the tip of the iceberg say these clinicians).

6. Fermented foods are very good for a variety of reasons and for a variety of bodily systems.

7. Balance of omega 3’s to omega 6’s is important: eating salmon (and sardines and herring), grass-fed beef, free-range eggs, walnuts and flax all help provide omega 3’s to balance omega 6’s from other nuts and seeds, grains (like corn), etc. There are some folks who cannot convert the type of omega 3’s in vegetable foods to a usable form in their bodies. They would need to ingest cod liver oil and/or the animal sources previously listed.

8. Pseudo grains (quinoa, amaranth, wild rice and buckwheat) are healthy, but must be soaked overnight (with that water discarded) for better digestibility.

9. Soak all nuts and seeds for better digestibility. I describe how in a previous blog).

10. NO fried, canned, artificial, genetically modified, or processed anything.

11. Grilled and roasted is fine, but that wonderful tasting browned part is actually not so healthy…sigh.

12. No soy unless fermented (some folks can eat tofu till the cows come home and not have issues; however, many of us court thyroid and other problems). Tempeh and miso are healthy vegetarian sources of protein.

13. No peanuts unless organic, and not too many of them.

14. Reduce or eliminate coffee, alcohol, and recreational drugs. There is some research that has shown that most women do best on only one glass of wine a day. Make it Pinot Noir for highest resveratrol content. Coffee is a paradox: some do great, and studies show less dementia, better focus, less constipation, etc. Others get fibroids, acid reflux, and adrenal fatigue.

15. Bone broths are very important for healing from any major disease: see my blog for details on how to make.

Most importantly: prepare the best food you can afford with love and care; chew thoroughly; eat slowly; share a meal with a friend as often as you can.

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Fermented Foods Aid Digestion

The following article says it so well.

If you’d like some great recipes and info about how to make your own fermented (and dried) foods, check out www.preservetheseason.wordpress.com. My friend Lee Lee started this blog prior to our Lama Foundation Fermentation/Preservation/Traditional Food Prep day, where we taste tested and loved all of them.


Dr. Rubman on the Power of Pickles

Something is inherently funny about the word “pickle”… but the truth is, foods that are pickled (fermented) actually dish up serious health benefits. Specifically, they are really good for soothing digestive discomfort of all kinds. Counterintuitive as it may be, eating fermented foods — not only pickled cucumbers, but also peppers, tomatoes, chutney and sauerkraut, to name a few — is a simple and tasty way to resolve heartburn, bellyache and other intestinal distress.

In fact, Daily Health News contributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND, told me that in addition to being a way to create deliciously tart, appealing foods, pickling is an ancient preservation technique. British seamen ate sauerkraut to ward off scurvy… Bulgarians were believed to live longer because they drank fermented milk… and Koreans today eat more than 40 pounds per year of kimchi (a blend of cabbage, garlic, chilis and other ingredients) both for taste and to ease  digestion. Interesting, isn’t it?

PICKLING PROMOTES DIGESTION

The fermentation of foods takes place through the breakdown of carbohydrates by live microorganisms such as bacteria (for instance, Lactobacillus acidophilus or Lactobacillus bulgaricus), yeasts and molds. Kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut and the like act as probiotics, encouraging the growth of positive intestinal microbes. These fermented foods promote efficient digestion, support immune  function and boost good nutrition overall. They support availability of B vitamins in certain foods and essential amino acids. They also serve to counteract the ill effects of antibiotics.

According to Dr. Rubman, fermented foods are far better than the over-the-counter antacids or the proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) people routinely swallow to relieve heartburn and stomach upset, which end up causing more harm than good. While they may provide temporary relief, use of antacids or PPIs can  backfire because you need acid to efficiently digest foods… and insufficient stomach acid can upset the proper environmental balance of intestinal flora. In contrast, fermented foods encourage the growth of good gut flora while also helping to neutralize the small amounts of stomach acid left in the system between meals, which is a common problem for people with gastritis and GERD.

PICK A PECK OF PICKLED PEPPERS

Eating fermented foods a few times a week  can make a real difference in how well your digestive system functions. It’s easy enough to do — you can spice up stews with a dollop of chutney or a ¼ cup of kimchi, enjoy a bowl of miso soup, slice pickled cucumbers or peppers on sandwiches or spoon yogurt over fresh fruit. To find fermented foods, visit your local health or gourmet store or shop online…

  • Order fermented foods from farms such as Wills Valley Farm Products (www.willsvalley.com) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which offers fermented vegetables including kimchi, red cabbage, red beets and ginger carrots. Other American picklers include ADAMAH in Falls Village, Connecticut… and Alexander Valley Gourmet in Healdsburg, California — and you can find many more online.
  • Go international. Explore fermented foods from around the world, such as the pickled Asian plums known as umeboshi. In Japan, these have been used for thousands of years for their purported ability to counter nausea, stimulate the digestive system and promote the elimination of toxins. Find them in Asian and gourmet markets and on Web sites such as www.kushistore.com. To explore the extensive world of Indian chutney, check out recipes at Web sites such as www.epicurean.com and www.allrecipes.com.
  • Choose carefully. Read labels and buy fermented products that are low in sugar and contain live or active cultures. Dr. Rubman warns that most brands of yogurt, in particular, are loaded with sugar and artificial flavoring, but he notes that Stonyfield Farm and Nancy’s are two brands that do contain live bacterial cultures.

In cases of active intestinal disturbances such as irritable bowel syndrome or gastritis, Dr. Rubman sometimes  prescribes fermented foods and/or probiotics (supplements that you can take if you don’t enjoy the taste of fermented foods), but he does not recommend that you try this on your own. See a qualified and experienced naturopathic physician who can assess your condition and prescribe an appropriate dosage. But if you’re in good health, pile pickles on your plate… pucker up… and enjoy.

Source(s):

Andrew L. Rubman, ND, medical director, Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines, Southbury, Connecticut. www.naturopath.org.

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Some Interesting Tidbits That Hit My Radar

For the next few posts I’ll be talking about heavy metals: why we need to pay attention to them; how to detox from them; and strategies for keeping healthy in an increasingly toxic world. Until then, here are a few interesting articles that caught my attention this week:

Sleep is increasingly becoming a precious “commodity” in our lives….check out this article on sleep deprivation for some excellent reasons why it’s now time to put a good night’s sleep at the top of our “to do” list.

A client recently shared with me that her blood test showed that she was anemic. If you are having issues with iron absorption, here is a good article on anemia.  What the article does not say, however, is that iron from meat is sometimes more easily absorbed than iron from vegetarian and supplement sources. Some experimentation may be necessary before this condition is stabilized.

For those of us who are still eating dairy products, here is an article that will hopefully nudge you into the “organic only” column. The contamination of milk  is especially important to consider if you have children who are drinking milk as part of their diet.

Are you beginning to forget as you age? Here is a new study about Acetyl-L-Carnitine and how it helps stabilize brain structure and memory.

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Implementation: Part 3

Sometimes we make a plan and our body has another idea entirely.  Whenever we “do” detox, whether deliberately or because our body is ready and just goes for it, emotional issues seem to pop up. Many healers believe that any toxic residue has an emotional component…and this will be the  topic I’ll address next week, and how essential oils can assist us.  However, today I will finish this section on implementing with the last 10 herbs that I mentioned in my first blog on herbs, tinctures and essential oils to use for detox.

Mullein: best known for its use in bronchitis, this herb is a lung decongestant and tonic for the respiratory system (soothes inflammation). Pour a cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons of the herb and let sit, covered for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink this 3 times daily.

Elecampane: this herb is used much like Mullein, and adds an anti-microbial property as well as being a digestive and appetite stimulant. Now this is not a typo: pour a cup of cold water over 1 teaspoon of shredded root and let sit for 8 to 10 HOURS. Heat up and drink very hot 3 times daily.

Licorice: because this herb has an effect on the endocrine system (certain chemical components have a structure similar to steroids), it is both very useful and must be used carefully. Licorice is helpful for adrenal gland support, bronchial issues, peptic ulcers, arthritis, various viral infections, and is a mild laxative. Take only 1/2 teaspoon of the root; add to 1 cup of water; bring to a boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. This sweet tasting herb should NOT be used in the following situations: pregnancy, breast-feeding, low blood potassium, or when high blood pressure from sodium retention is present.

Osha: this wonderful southwestern mountain root is useful for all respiratory and throat issues, especially at the first signs of illness, and to help clear the lungs after one has quit smoking. Excellent in children to help prevent middle ear infections, and for anyone to help restore the stomach after illness/vomiting.  Natives chew the root. For the less brave: take 1 oz. (weight) of the herb and let sit overnight in 32 oz. (volume) of water. Drink 2 to 6 oz. of this infusion as needed.

Yerba Santa: another southwestern herb used for asthma, bronchial infection and hay fever. A gentle expectorant, and some varieties are also good for bladder infections. Bring 32 oz. of water to a boil and pour over 1 oz. (by weight) of herb. Let sit 20 to 30 minutes. Drink 3 to 4 oz. 1 to 4 times daily. (Thank you, Micheal Moore, for info on Osha and Yerba Santa).

Elder Flower: a good-tasting remedy for inflammation of / heavy mucus and infection in the upper respiratory system. Pour a cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of dried flowers and let steep, covered, for 10 minutes. Drink 3 times a day.

Peppermint: this favorite herb is actually not so good for small children (can use a bit of spearmint instead), but excellent for older children and adults to deal with nausea and all digestive issues.  Also helpful in reducing fever, uterine cramps, migraines that are worse with indigestion, and tension in general. Most folks have this available in tea- bag form; however, many times they are old and have lost much of their potency. Take a heaping teaspoon of the herb, put it in your mug, and add a cup of boiled water. Cover the cup with its saucer (yup, that’s what they were originally for) and let steep for 10 minutes. Drink this as desired.

Prickly Ash: stimulating to the lymphatic and circulatory systems; excellent for chronic problems of the skin where there is poor circulation (varicose veins) and rheumatism (inflammation of muscles, joints, connective tissue).  Pour a cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons of herb and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink 3 times daily.

Yarrow: this is an excellent herb to reduce fever by bringing the body to a sweat and breaking the fever. It also stimulates digestion, tones blood vessels, helps deal with urinary tract infections, and externally is used to stop bleeding.  Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons of herb; let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink 3 or more times a day. Drink hot for fevers, and cool for internal bleeding. Some experts advise to NOT use if pregnant.

Barberry: major liver and gall bladder tonic (including inflammation and stones); also for enlarged spleen. Especially useful for debilitated people to both strengthen and cleanse the whole system. A  mildly laxative digestive tonic. Put 1 teaspoon of the bark into a small saucepan with 1 cup of cold water. Bring to a boil and steep for 10 to 15 minutes.  Drink 3 times daily. Do NOT use if pregnant.

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Implementation, Part 2

Before I continue with the list of herbs, let’s look at storage of herbs, and some basics about tinctures.

Herbs need to be stored in airtight, opaque jars in a cool, dark, dry place. Light, heat and oxidation degrade the quality of herbs as their constituents evaporate, oxidize, and other otherwise lose their potency. Powdered herbs will only last about 6 months or so; same with tea bags! (They have a use by date stamped on the bottom…and yes, many of mine are past their prime). Whole dried leaves (the best way to home dry, as the more a leaf or root is pulverized, the more surface area is exposed to the air) can last a year; whole dried roots up to 3 years. Alcohol-free extracts (usually glycerites) last 3 or so years, and alcohol extracts or tinctures can last 7 (or lots more) years.

Any of the herbs from yesterday, today, or this weekend’s lists can be (used, made or bought as) tinctures. The dosages of store-bought should be on the label. If a range of doses is given, the middle dose is usually for a 150 lb. adult. If you are making tinctures at home, check out the books offered through Iris Herbal  HERE  to find a good text to help you make and use herbal tinctures correctly and safely. You can also call the Iris Herbal office (toll-free 877-286-2970) and talk to Cathy about buying single herb (or ready-made combinations and/or special blends) tinctures (with all the new FDA regs, this is no longer possible online through the shopping cart).

Nettles: a very versatile edible herb; it is an astringent good for discharges (especially hay fever, diarrhea, nose bleeds); a alkalyzing diuretic; and useful for arthritis & eczema. Pour a cup of boiling water over 1 to 3 teaspoons of dried herb and let steep, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes. Do 3 times daily.

Burdock: another very useful plant disparaged as a weed; it aids liver, gall bladder and kidney function, and is especially good for the treatment of systemic imbalance that manifests as skin problems (eczema, psoriasis, dandruff), arthritis and gout. Put 1 teaspoonful of the root into a cup of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Do this 3 times daily.

A note about dosages: before I continue, the amounts to make and use have so far come David Hoffmann’s The New Holistic Herbal and reflect a robust relationship between human and plant. When first taking any new herb, you may want to half the dosage and start with once a day, and work up to larger dosages. Sometimes taking herbs can exacerbate a symptom, often referred to as a “healing crisis” as toxins are discharged (and the body is supported in dumping metabolic waste). Some herbalists are gung-ho here and exhort the patient to press on. Since we are doing “gentle detox” my advise is to slightly back off, drink more water, go to sleep earlier, continue cleaning up your diet, and calmly persevere. Also, when a herb is specifically for digestion, take your tea  just before eating; otherwise, (in general) take the dose 45 minutes 1/2 hour before a meal.

Oregon Grape/Mahonia: this root is a bitter tonic for impaired salivary and gastric secretions (especially for difficult fat and protein digestion); is a stimulant to liver protein metabolism; and is an anti-microbial for both the skin and intestinal tract. Prepare like Burdock; take 2 to 4 oz. in the am and before retiring; do this for at least 2 weeks. (Thank you, Michael Moore).

Sarsaparilla: this alterative is good for systemic tonification, especially where there is chronic skin irritation and problems, rheumatism, herpes, gout and deficiencies in the adrenal and gonad hormone production. Put 1 to 2 teaspoons of the root into a cup of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Do this 3 times daily.

Yellow Dock: another wonderful weed! For all chronic skin eruptions and complaints, especially when accompanied by constipation; also for jaundice from liver congestion. Make and use as for Sarsaparilla.

Cleavers: excellent tonic for the lymphatic system; good for swollen glands, cystitis, and skin conditions. Pour a cup of boiling water over 2 to 3 teaspoons of dried herb and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Do this three times daily.

Red Clover: fabulous herb for children (childhood eczema, whooping-cough, mono) and for adults (chronic skin problems and infections, increases lactation). Pur a cup of boiling water over 1 to 3 teaspoons of herb; infuse for 10 to 15 minutes. Take 3 times daily. DO NOT use if PREGNANT.

Red Root: good for lymphatic congestion, especially accompanied by sore throat, inflamed spleen, and/or fluid cysts in sexual organs (male or female). Use like Sarsaparilla.

Echinacea: this is our premier anti-microbial herb; good for all infections anywhere in the body (use at first sign of upper respiratory problems). Also beneficial to tendons and ligaments (in chronic inflammation) and for any swollen areas on the skin (whether due to septic cuts or insect bites. For acute symptoms it’s easier to take a tincture (up to 40 drops per hour) and in chronic conditions, see Sarsaparilla.

Calendula: this flower is useful both internally: ulcers, mouth sores, indigestion with gall bladder pain and fungal infections; and externally: inflammation due to bruising, minor burns and sprains, as well as fungal problems. Pour a cup of boiling water on 1 to 2 teaspoons of the herbs and let steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Do this 3 times daily.

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Implementation: Which Herbs, How Much, When To Take

In the middle of last night I awoke thinking, how will folks implement that big wad of info? So here we are again regarding herbal detoxification, only with this additional info you may actually be able to start!

Gentian: great digestion enhancer, both in the stomach and intestines; good for anemia and convalescence to jumpstart digestion. Put 1/2 teaspoon of the root in a cup of water. Boil for 5 minutes. Drink warm 10 to 30 minutes before a meal.  It is BITTER! Ginger and Cardamom are great additions: use a total of 1/2 tsp of herbs.

Ginger: relieves indigestion, nausea, cramping. Stimulates peripheral circulation and can promote perspiration. Pour a cup of boiling water over a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger and drink when cool enough, before, during or after a meal (or anytime you feel nauseous).

Cardamom: good for relieving gas, cramping; stimulates the appetite and the flow of urine. Pour a cup of boiling water over freshly crushed seeds and steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Use a saucer over top of all steeping herbal infusions: this captures beneficial chemicals in the steam.  Drink freely during the day, or before a meal.

Anise: the seed is great for intestinal cramping as well as getting rid of bronchial mucus. Pour boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons full of freshly, gently crushed seeds, and let steep, covered, for about 10 minutes. can be drunk several times a day, especially before meals or to assist in productive coughing.

Fennel: very similar to Anise: use the same way. Some folks prefer to just chew their seeds, and spit out when the taste has been extracted.

Cumin: these spice/herb seeds are a major part of many traditional cuisines because they are aids to digestion and taste good. Often used in bean dishes to aid beans’ digestion.

Cascara Sagrada: this is one of the gentlest of the purgatives (aids to elimination), as it encourages peristalsis and tones slack muscles of the digestive system. Start with 1 teaspoon of the bark in a cup of water. Bring to a boil, and let sit for 10 minutes. Drink before bed. Much better tasting and effective if used in conjunction with Ginger, any of the Seeds above, or Licorice.

Chickweed: good for acidic system due to heavy meat-eating; to gently increase the flow of urine (especially for PMS edema); and externally to treat arthritis, gout, eczema and psoriasis. Pour a cup of boiled water over 2 teaspoons of dry herb and let sit at least 5 minutes. Drink this 3 times daily, or use as a skin wash externally. You can also make a super strong infusion and pour into your bath water (just warm, not hot) to relive itching.

Dandelion: the root and leaf are both useful. This herb is a strong diuretic, increases bile production (and is a good liver tonic) and  stimulates digestion and elimination. Put 1 to 3 teaspoons of the root into a cup of water and gently simmer for 15 minutes. Drink three times daily. The leaves can be added raw to salads when young and tender, or steamed as a pot herb.

Parsley: eat the leaves! The root is used as a diuretic, to bring on menstrual periods, and to ease digestive cramping. Pour a cup of boiling water over 1 to 2 teaspoons of the root and infuse, covered, for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Do this 3 days a day. DO NOT use this herb at this medicinal dosage if PREGNANT.

Tomorrow I will do the next 10 herbs mentioned in the previous blog, and then the last 11 herbs over the weekend.

Here is the info for safe and effective essential oil usage at home:

Essential Oil Use & Safety Guidelines

  • Do not take essential oils internally unless you are following a cooking recipe (many herb and spice oils can be used as flavorings in minute quantities) or under the supervision of a licensed health care practitioner (with aromatherapy training).
  • Do not apply essential oils directly to the skin; always dilute with a carrier oil such as sweet almond, sesame and/or olive oil.
  • Here are the standard dilutions (as recommended by several internationally known aromatherapists) for a variety of home uses (on healthy adolescents and adults over 100 lbs):
    • Massage: use a total of 12 to 15 drops of essential oil(s) per one ounce of carrier oil. This is a 2 % dilution.
    • Bath: use 5 to 8 drops of non-irritant essential oil(s) in a teaspoon of vegetable oil and add to the water just before you enter the bath.
    • Inhalations: a drop of essential oil can be placed on a handkerchief or cotton ball and inhaled. Three to five drops may be added to a bowl of steaming water and the vapors inhaled. Be sure to close your eyes!
  • Keep out of the reach of children.
  • Avoid contact with eyes and mucous membranes.
  • Do not use citrus oils (or Angelica…and some references include Lavender) on the skin before exposure to UV light.
  • Use only pure and natural essential oils; avoid synthetic fragrances.
  • Do not use essential oils on infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly and/or those with serious health problems without specific aromatherapy training. There are books available that, when read and understood, can help parents make informed choices about aromatherapy use for the whole family. When in doubt: don’t use.
  • Should ingestion of an essential oil occur, immediately call your Poison Control Center (http://www.aapcc.org/DNN/) Do not give water if breathing or swallowing is difficult.
  • Do buy a reference book to help you use essential oils safely and confidently. If you have a specific question, the folks at Iris herbal are happy to assist you.
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Herbs That Assist Detoxification

This blog topic could easily be a book…which means that although this won’t be comprehensive or in great detail, you will find the creme de la creme of the basics…call it “detox cliff notes”…

An herbal approach to detoxification is based upon the premise that our bodies are self-healing; that we already have an amazingly effective and astoundingly complex array of detoxification systems “built-in;” and that our job is to augment our innate abilities by:  first, support the whole body’s process of elimination (and not just the colon, which is what many pre-made cleanses do); second, apply specific support for overly taxed organs and third,  alleviate any symptoms (and address any pathologies that may be present).

For digestion issues and the colon, we want to assist the break down of food (try a simple herbal bitters recipe of Gentian, Ginger and Cardamom {used as a tea or a tincture; the last 2 are also available as essential oils and can be diluted and rubbed on the stomach} ; or you can use Anise, Fennel, and/or Cumin Seeds {chew the seeds, make a tea, use as tincture or essential oil} as both flavorings and to assist in digestion) as well as deal with constipation, or even slow evacuation (mild, safe, not too intense Yellow Dock and Dandelion Root; for more stubborn cases, try Cascara Sagrada).

For the kidneys and urinary system, we can use a gentle diuretic (increases the flow of urine) to move fluids out of the body, which is especially helpful in cases of edema (swelling) or to remove toxins more quickly. Herbs that do this without causing imbalance (unlike drugs, these herbs contain potassium; however, a little goes a long way) are Chickweed, Dandelion, Parsley and Nettle leaves. Notice that these are “spring tonics,” often considered weeds (well, maybe not parsley, but how many of us really eat it?), and are edible as “pot-herbs” (cooked like any greens), in salads, or used medicinally in the form of tea or tinctures (alcohol extract). Many folks recommend using the juice of half a lemon in warm water upon arising.

Hepatic herbs are those which assist the liver and gall bladder in their many functions:  Dandelion root, Beets (yes, the food), Turmeric ( the main spice ingredient in many curries) {all of these can be used as food, a simmered tea or as a tincture} and Milk Thistle seed, which is available as either a tincture or a standardized extract which comes in the form of a capsule.   Alteratives are what used to be called  blood cleansers and are the class of herbs that gradually restore the proper functions of the body which then increase health and vitality. These include Burdock, Oregon Grape, Sarsaparilla and Yellow Dock roots, Cleavers, Nettles and Red Clover, as well as seaweeds and garlic.  Essential oils that stimulate and aid the functioning of our liver include Angelica, Carrot seed, Chamomile, Cypress, Grapefruit, Lemon, Peppermint and Rosemary. They can be used individually or in various combinations as a massage oil or bath oil. {Infomercial: check out www.irisherbal.com offerings in health enhancement, massage and bath oils, as well as individual essential oils, and the essential oil info page which gives great detail on how to safely use essential oils}.

Lymphatic tonic herbs assist in the movement and drainage of our lymph system.  They include Burdock, Dandelion and Yellow Dock roots, as well as Red Root, Echinacea root and Calendula (usually taken as a decoction or simmered tea, or as a tincture). There are many essential oils that are useful in this category: Lemon, Grapefuit, Carrot seed, Coriander, Spruce, Frankincense and Laurel {infomercial # 2; check  HERE for 2 massage oils for the lymph system}.

For the  Lungs we can increase the flow of mucus (mucolytics) to help move out phlegm and ease breathing. For this I  find essential oils to be easy and effective, as either a salve or by vaporizing a few drops of essential oil in a pot of boiled water. Good oils for this include Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Laurel, Rosemary, Lavender, Camphor and Peppermint. In the herbal realm, we can use an expectorant (again, help loosen and expel mucus) like Mullein, Elecampane,  Anise seed, Licorice, and great southwestern herbs such as Osha  and Yerba Santa. Any of these herbs can be used as a tea or tincture.

When dealing with the skin, we have a few avenues open to us. We can use diaphoretics (aid the skin in the elimination of toxins through perspiration) which include Elder flower, Ginger, Peppermint, Prickly Ash and Yarrow (as teas, decoctions or tinctures) as well as the use of 2 herbs which address the skin/liver connection which are Barberry and Yellow Dock. Besides dry brush massage, alternating cool and warm showers (which stimulate the lymph and the skin) there are also the judicious use of saunas, steam baths (where we can add essential oils) and  hot springs, baths in our homes (where we can add bath oils, clay and/or apple cider vinegar)and sunlight (either the addition or removal).

WHEW!  In the next few weeks we’ll be exploring heavy metal detox, using supplements as part of our detoxification program, plus the emotional aspects of detox, and 2 guest blogs by Lisa Goodstein, DOM on the Chinese/Eastern take on this subject.