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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

new parent must haves: the less conventional list

Holy Frijoles, Batman! Is it October already? My goodness. My last post was in July, if you can remember that far back. We've had a few changes since then, the main and all-consuming one being that we are currently in England, not in Arizona. We have no idea how long this change will last, but it does provide me opportunity to mess about with recipes in a different climate and offer new perspectives that Arizona cannot. I hope you continue to find my posts interesting and helpful. Part of my delay in posting these recent months has been due to lack of working camera. Or, lack of connector cable to upload pics from camera to the computer. I think I have that fixed now, but today's post is still photo-less, and I shall start snapping pics for the other posts I've been working on for you. Some good stuff is coming!

I was thinking, though, about babies. Nope, not mine. Well, mine a little, but not any new ones. I have one kid, a boy, and it's staying that way unless God provides differently, but I do still have a lot of friends in the baby factory. Just this morning, we received in the mail another one of those twee little baby announcement photo collage thingamies. I started remembering that time a little over three years ago, when we had all our cloth diapers assembled neatly in drawers, all the clothing and knits washed and ready, and were totally clueless as to the size of the bombshell our tiny boy would drop on us. Boy, did he ever! We had latching issues, SNS and pumping for the SNS, nursing every flipping flapping hour around the clock, and a newborn with extreme colic to the degree of crying 8-12 hours in 24, sometimes for hours at a time... Oh, my goodness. We survived because we had to survive. I hear stories from other parents and I think perhaps our situation was a little more extreme than most, mainly because few babies are so colicky, but every parent seems a little shell shocked by all the newness. Some of that just has to be weathered. There is no preparing for the unknown personality that is about to enter the family dynamics. But other things we learned on the fly I think we would have been glad to consider ahead, if we'd known. So, here. This list is basically my survival kit for a new parent, and includes things I would love to give to you had I the ability. In lieu of endless stacks of cash, this list is my gift to you.

Wireless headphones. 

My husband and I got these when our son was four months old, and they were amazing. I'm not majorly into my gadgets, and I initially thought these were kinda gimmicky. I was so wrong! Our sleep was all off kilter, and sometimes I'd crash early and then be up in the small hours with the boy while my husband tried to sleep in anticipation of another work day. Sometimes, Cariad (my pet name for my man) wanted to play video games and listen to the sound without disturbing us. Sometimes, I couldn't sleep with the baby, but I couldn't always get him to stay sleeping without holding him, and watching a show with headphones on helped to preserve my sanity sitting and rocking for hours. I tried holding books, oh, I did. Long explanation cut short, some babies are just picky and like to be held a certain way that doesn't allow for mama to have one hand free, and sometimes a parent just needs a little personal entertainment that isn't geared for infant ears. If you don't want to watch TV, just getting a headphone set and a CD or mp3 player with audio books can save your sanity. Listen to the bible, sermons, Agatha Christie, Def Leppard, whatever rocks your socks.

Two different baby wearing devices. 

We loved the Moby wrap. We loved the Maya ring sling. We loved the Mei Tai. All were bought at different stages in the first year, all were loved, all were used a lot. I wore my son daily, even just around the house. It doesn't really matter what baby wearing thing you use. The point is that it needs to work for you, and needs to also work for your kid. Sometimes, kid just wants the other style carrier to go to sleep in, or you want to pop babe on your back instead of your hip, or daddy is wearing babe instead of mama and he prefers the other style carrier. Sometimes, a diaper leaks and you need a backup carrier while washing the other. It's all good. Keep an open mind and an open eye. Ask other baby wearing parents you know what they prefer, and if you can try it out with their help sometime before your bump gets too huge, and then when the baby is born have two carriers in different styles ready to go. Many carriers last a long time so if you are uncertain about baby wearing have a scout around for second hand and save a bit of cash.

Dry shampoo. 

Even when bathing daily, or more than daily, it is not good to wash hair too frequently. Healthy hair will stay at it's healthiest when the natural scalp oils are balanced and allowed to nourish the hair cuticle instead of being stripped off as soon as they form. Post partum hair is for some mamas a bit of a nightmare. You go from lustrous, thick pregnant mama hair to clumps of it in your hairbrush daily, loose strands on all your clothes and furniture. Gotta love hormones. Add to that the sudden panic that you need to dash to the store and you've not washed your hair in days, simply due to lack of time. Dry shampoo is your friend, mamas. I don't know now what I did without it. I've tried the homemade powders that are applied to the roots with a brush. Ugh. Plain old Batiste or some other inexpensive thing on the shelf in one of those pressure spray cans is worth it. Dry shampoo the roots, quick brush through, tuck hair out of the face with a braid swept to the side or gather up in a messy bun, and nobody will be the wiser. Abby over on Twist Me Pretty has very clever videos put together with great ideas, and she also only washes her hair about once a week so has plenty of tips for up-styling dirty hair.

Coconut oil. 

This stuff is second only to mama's milk liquid gold. Coconut oil is liquid silver. Again, good for hair. After not washing your hair for several days, massage some oil into the scalp and tips and leave overnight. Shampoo in the morning. This helps keep the scalp healthy and nourishes the fine baby hairs that are growing back after losing all that pregnancy hair. Want awesome mama hair? Treat your scalp well. Coconut oil is also mildly antibacterial, and washes out of fabrics easily. This makes it brilliant for baby's bottom, even compatible with most cloth diapers, and good for a healthy lubricant for those first few times of postpartum sex. Buy an organic, cold-pressed, expeller-pressed coconut oil. If you can't find a reliable brand, Nutiva fits the criteria, sources reliably, is priced fairly, and is available in the USA, UK, and more countries.

Rapha salve. 

This salve heals all kinds of ouches, from sore nursing nipples and vaginal tears to diaper rash and insect bites, even helps with acne. The whole family wants Rapha salve, not just mama.

White noise CD. 

My mother gave us this, after the colic started. I blessed her for it. I don't know why it works for some babies, but it really does, and any overloaded and tired parent will agree that if it is ethical, safe, law-abiding and humane, and works, you do it! It doesn't matter what Josie down the road thinks. If you get more sleep this way, good. There are many white noise albums for babies on the market. We had one by Harvey Karp, "The Happiest Baby on the Block", that had 6 tracks including various different noises like vacuum cleaner, heartbeat, and rain on the roof. It helped us survive that first year.

Spare mattress. 

There is no one particular use for this. It just seems that every new family of parents and first baby is met with a learning curve when it comes to meshing sleep with personal space. For some, babe sleeps next door. For others, babe co-sleeps in the same room or the same bed. You might find that the mattress is most handy in the living room, stashed behind the sofa and pulled out for sex not-on-the-floor when kiddo is sprawled out in the center of the king bed. You might need that mattress on the floor next to baby's bed or crib, for mama to use when daddy needs to work the next day and baby keeps waking up in the night. Who knows. Chances are, that mattress will serve more than one purpose in months and years to come.


Um, yeah. This is for mamas more than daddies. That dreaded first post partum poop? Not always so bad, as it turns out, but some mamas I know have reported more inconsistency during subsequent months as their bodies try to find a new normal. If laxatives never become needed, so much the better, but I think it is a good idea to have a comfortable form of relief handy in the medicine cabinet, rather than having to pop the baby in the car and trundle on down to the drug store when you are actually in need.

Merry Muscles baby and toddler bouncing swing. 

Our son loved this. I don't usually brand recommend, but we really do not know of any better baby swing or bouncer or jumper or walker toy that is more worth the cash than a Merry Muscles. It is designed to protect the crotch and the spine, unlike pretty much all other baby entertainers currently on the market, and is therefore able to be used with younger babies than any other bouncer, as young as 2 months old. It is designed to put weight on the heel, not the toe, and so encourages greater muscle stability and balance for later walking. And, it fits babies for a long time. My son is a large boy, grew from tiny baby to 95th percentile everything very rapidly, and at 2 years old was the size of most 4 year olds. He still fitted in the swing safely until he was almost 2 1/2, and it was a sad day for everybody when he did finally outgrow the swing. Merry Muscles also creates a swing for special needs.

Baby swing. 

Less essential than the Merry Muscles in my book, but this is still really handy for any parent with a newborn infant. Get yourself a swing. Borrow, buy second hand, put it on the wish gift list for benevolent and rich aunties to buy for you. The fanciest and most expensive ones out there are probably great but this swing will not be necessary for long, so why bother? Anything motorised, whether by a hand crank or batteries or outlet power, that provides a safe recline for baby's spine, secure straps, and consistent movement, will save a lot of things. Having sex, making dinner, taking a shower, doing anything where you can't baby wear but the kiddo needs some form of distraction and is too young or tired to go in the Merry Muscles? Baby swing. And I'll say it here, although manufacturers and baby "experts" and so many sources say that it is unsafe and unwise to allow an infant to sleep in a baby swing, I have done it. I'm one of those parents. And I know so many parents who have confessed as much to me, too. A baby swing can knock out those lights if nursing didn't work, and when you are at your wits' end, you do what works. (Dr Sears, don't come after me. You and I would have a very long conversation if you did.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

picture tutorial for sewing mini cloth liners

Sewing cloth pads is really not as hard as you might think. I've already given you a full picture tutorial for sewing regular sized cloth pads. You will also find all the dimensions for cutting out pieces for these mini cloth liners there.

Mini cloth liners are just about essential to my wardrobe. Many women and teen girls buy disposable dry liners to wear on a daily or semi-daily basis, so why not sew your own washable ones that will, like the regular pads, not only be better for your body, but also kinder to the earth and free up a little spending cash in your wallet?

To begin, you will need to trace and cut out your pieces, with the guidelines given in the other tutorial, link above. For one liner pad, you need 4 pieces cut in the pretty outside flannel fabric, and one piece cut in the inner lining quilter's batting.

As per the very top pic at the head of this article, stack two outer flannel pieces good side facing in to each other. Stack the other two the same way, and then place them on top of the inner lining piece.

Start sewing. I find that these mini cloth liners are small enough I don't need to pin the fabric, but you can if that makes you more comfortable. Sew all around the edge, leaving a gap on one side about 4 finger's width, or large enough through which to flip the pad right side out.

The tags of thread mark the start and finish of my sewing, leaving the gap in the middle where my fingers are.

Sew both stacks.

Flip them right side out, shape well, and press smooth either with an iron or your hands. Better quality flannel tends to cooperate well without ironing.

Topstitch around the outer seam, all the way around the edge, closing up the gap with the rough fabric edges turned inside the pad. Topstitching not only closes the hole, but ensures the pad will remain flat after washing and wearing.

I forgot to change the thread before starting this mini cloth liner, but it ends up serving a purpose. The black edged piece on the left will circle around the gusset of your underpants and snap together. The white edged piece on the right contains the absorbent inner core of quilter's batting, and will lie on top.

Place the two pieces on top of each other and sew along the existing topstitch seam to secure together.

I like to secure the pieces together by sewing twice along that seam. Rather than backstitching, the easiest way is to sink the needle down as an anchor into the fabric, lift the presser foot, and turn the pad the other way around so that you can sew along the same seam going forward.

Almost finished mini cloth liner. All that is left now is to fold pieces in place, decide where you would like the snaps to fit, and handstitch or hole punch snaps on your liner.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

longevity brandy and "elixir of the greek gods"

 Longevity Brandy

I have given this recipe to friends, served the drink to guests, and the result is always favorable. Everyone loves it. Once infused with these herbs, smooth brandy takes on a sweet, spicy headiness that dances on the tongue, compliments many foods or is fabulous as a cocktail alone, and energizes the drinker with a stable, mellow mood.

Eleuthero root, or Siberian ginseng, is an immune building herb. Rather than stimulating and exciting the immune system, like echinacea, taken regularly over time eleuthero builds its ability to perform efficiently and helps the body regulate responses to stress. Astragalus root, like echinacea, is an immune stimulant, which makes it unsuitable for those with immune disorders, but unlike echinacea is safe for long term use, as the body does not build resistance to it over time. Astragalus is also an energy booster and increases physical stamina. Wild yam root contains compounds that when consumed and digested provide the building blocks for steroids and hormones. It supports the glandular systems, and can help regulate healthy hormone function for a satisfying sex life in both men and women, according to several herbalists. When balanced with the sweet and warming flavors of ginger, cinnamon, star anise, and vanilla bean, these herbs make a solid foundation for maintaining a healthy libido and immune system.

As with any alcohol, don't abuse, and this is not for pregnant women. Due to the herb content, this is not recommended for exclusively nursing mamas, either, although is great for non-pregnant, non-nursing women, and men of all ages, in moderate quantities. I suggest serving 1/2 to 1 shot for a woman, and 1 to 2 shots for a man, up to several times a week. Serve this drink at the start of a hot date and give your evening an extra nudge in a favorable direction.

Add to jar in standard tincture measures of 2 oz total weight per quart: 

one 4 inch stick of cinnamon
3 star anise
1 vanilla bean pod, scored down the center to open it for flavor release
     (or 4 Tb vanilla essence)
1/3 oz eleuthero root
1/3 oz astragalus root
1/3 oz wild yam root
2/3 oz fresh ginger root or 1/3 oz dried ginger root pieces 

Cover it all in brandy, or in 2:1 brandy and vodka, 80 proof. Cap and let infuse for 2 full weeks, giving it a good hard shake daily.

By this point, the brandy should smell lovely. Add 5 whole dried apricots, recap, and let the tincture sit for another week.

Strain and reserve the brandy. Eat the apricots if you like. They taste delicious, but remember they will be plumped up with alcohol so enjoy slowly. Store the Longevity Brandy as you would a tincture, in a cool, dark cabinet for up to 3 years.

You have the option to add 1 part raw honey to 3 parts brandy to create a sweet liqueur. Just pour in the honey and shake until it dissolves. Serve the honeyed brandy by itself in small sipping glasses. The unsweetened Longevity Brandy is delicious poured over ice, with cranberry juice or the reserved syrup from home canned pears or peaches. Pop in a stemmed cherry or a fresh strawberry and this drink is what we have dubbed, "elixir of the Greek gods", due to the magic it seems to work on date nights!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

picture tutorial for sewing cloth pads

I decided to just do it. There are a lot of tutorials out there for sewing cloth pads, but some of them are frankly a little confusing to the amateur or beginning seamstress, and most of them didn't show enough photos as I thought would have been helpful when I was figuring out the process. Hopefully, this provides you with enough info to get sewing your own supply of healthy, natural, TSS-free, truly sanitary and safe pads!

First, you need to figure out your templates. Every piece is equal to itself, no front or back to the pads, so that if you cut out the shape on paper and then folded it into half and half again, the edges would all match up.

This rounded parallelogram is the basic cutout for regular sized pads, and can be sewn thickness for light, medium or heavy flow. Approximately 7 inches wide and a little over 9 inches long.

This small rectangle is the extra core for medium and heavy flow lining in regular pads, and is 3 inches wide by almost 7 inches long. 

This peanut shape is about the same size as the core piece above, and is for all pieces for sewing mini pads, or liners.

Okay. So here you see everything together.

Use your cardboard templates to draw out pieces on your fabric. I use THIN cotton or bamboo quilter's batting (never fluffy anything, and never polyester or synthetics) for all the inner absorbent pieces. I use 100% cotton flannel for the outer pieces, or you can use 1 PUL (polyurethane lining) fabric piece and 1 cotton flannel piece if you would like a waterproof bottomed pad.

After prewashing all your fabric on hot and drying it, you will need to cut out the following:

Regular sized pad, light to medium flow, needs 1 parallelogram piece, 1 rectangle piece, 2 outer pieces of flannel (or 1 flannel and 1 PUL fabric).

Regular sized pad, heavy flow, needs 2 parallelogram pieces, 1 rectangle piece, 2 outer pieces of flannel (or 1 flannel and 1 PUL fabric).

Mini/underpant liner pad needs 1 peanut shape piece in batting/inner absorbent fabric, and 4 pieces of outer flannel.

Cut the parallelogram and peanut pieces with sewing room, about 1/3rd inch. Very important! You will be sewing along the drawn line. The only piece you cut actually on the drawn line is the rectangular piece for the large pads. Cutting always seems about half the work, to me. Once you get all the pieces cut, the sewing doesn't take long.

Now you start sewing. 

Figure out what lining pieces you need, and layer them together. Sew the smaller piece onto the larger piece(s).

Then, layer on the outer pieces in this order: bottom = lining, middle = bottom fabric face up, top = top fabric wrong side up. This way, the two outer fabric pieces are right side facing each other. Here, you see the pink fabric is the PUL waterproof bottom, and the purple tweed flannel is the top of the pad.

Pin everything in place. Use more pins than this if you think it's going to shift around.

Now sew along the line, but be sure to leave an opening. You see where my hand is? the threads either side of my fingers? I started on the left, sewed around the pad and stopped on the right, leaving an opening wider than my four fingers. 

Carefully trim off excess fabric. Don't cut too close to the seam, just trim off anything that might prove bulky once you've turned the pad right side out.

Now, you turn the pad right side out through the hole you left. My finger is lifting the two outside pieces apart. This is the way you want to turn it.

Just keep pushing and pulling, gently. Work it until it's right side out.

Almost done. Your pad is pretty sturdy at this point, but you need to sew that hole closed.

Turn the edges under and in, and sew a top stitch on the pad to close the hole. I hope you were doing this the whole time but I especially want to note now that you must be sure to anchor the seams by going forward and backward a bit at the start and end of each seam.

Sew all the way around the pad edge with that topstitch. This keeps the pad lying flat and smooth, as well as ensuring that the pieces are thoroughly sewn together for many years of use.

All you have left to do is figure out where you want your snaps, and sew them in place.

I hope to get pics for the mini pads / liners for you in another post soon! and I will link it here for your easy finding.

Washing and care
Cloth pads are really easy to care for. You will notice when you switch to using cloth that the "normal" odor you expect to smell during your period is not really there anymore. Menstrual blood does have a strong metallic scent, sure, but the real problem comes from the chemicals and the absorbent synthetic gels in disposable pads. You will no longer have this problem when you use cloth.

Save soiled pads in a container, such as a bucket under the sink, or a mesh washing bag. Let them dry out for a few days while you use your stash. They won't smell much at all when wet, and any minor smell will dissipate as they dry. Menstrual blood is sterile and not at all hazardous, and so long as you keep the pads from coming into contact with any other soiling they are perfectly fine for a few days.

When ready to wash, soak pads for 30-60 minutes in a bucket or sink full of cold water. There is no need to add anything special, but if you want to remove stains (which have never found necessary) you can add an all natural product, such as Bac-Out by Biokleen.

Either dump the pink water onto the roses or tomatoes, as the plants love the iron rich water, or you can pour the whole thing into the washing machine. Wash pads alone or with a dark load, on cold, and without fabric additives -- no brighteners or whiteners, and no fabric softeners as these create a film on the fabric over time that inhibits absorption.

Dry flat, or tumble gently on low if made without PUL. Reuse again and again.

Comfy extras

After delivering a baby, your personal Australia is probably a bit raw. Cloth pads a fabulous way to not only protect your body while saving some cash (as washing and reusing for 3-6 weeks will easily prove cheaper than using disposable pads), but also to provide yourself with greater comfort. And not just because they're cloth.

In those early days postpartum, I remember loving the ice-filled diaper that the nurses brought me at the hospital. I wish now I'd known about this idea! You can dampen and chill your own cloth pads for comfort following the instructions here, at Just Making Noise. If you are uncertain about essential oils right after delivering, when the body is most vulnerable and open, just use aloe juice and pop the pads in the fridge overnight. I also find that painful periods now, when I'm not postpartum, are soothed with these herbal pads:
What you will need:
Overnight maxi pads (cloth or disposable)
2 cups Witch Hazel (distilled extract, available at any drug store)
½ cup pure, edible Aloe Vera gel/juice (fresh or store bought)
15-20 drops Lavender essential oil
15-20 drops Rosemary essential oil
15-20 drops German Chamomile essential oil
Aluminum foil
In bowl, thoroughly combine everything. Pour into a small spray bottle or simply use a Tablespoon. Unfold the pads and spray each pad until damp or pour 1 Tbsp. (make a vertical line down the center area) on each pad. Wrap each pad in aluminum foil and store in the freezer. When ready to use, take one out and unwrap it. Let it thaw for about 2 minutes before put it on. If you put it on right away, it will be COLD… but it feels great!!

Note: If you are using fresh aloe vera leaves. Simply peel the skin off and lightly rinse it. Then put the clear gel in your blender and blend until smooth.

Friday, June 20, 2014

insect bite relief

Bugs like to bite me. Especially mosquitos. Ugh. Inevitably, in spite of the most careful repellant and frequent application, I get bitten every year. By something. Somewhere. The first bite of this year was on the back of my hand after watering the garden late evening. It was irritating me during the night but didn't really start to itch until I had shaken the grogginess from my head this morning. Most likely mozzie, in which case the remedy is pretty simple.

I'm going to give you a few suggestions for different types of insect bites. However -- and I feel I must especially say this for my fellow Arizona desert readers where many, many poisonous crawly things also live -- my advise is not intended to replace good medical practice. If you get bitten 5 times by a black widow spider and fail to phone the ambulance as soon as humanly possible while dipping the tourniqueted bites in activated charcoal, I will weep for you and have pity but very little sympathy at your funeral! Use common sense at all times. Medicate wisely, and get to know about these suggestions of mine before they become needed so that in the event of an actual emergency you are mentally prepared.

Mosquito bites
The pictured plantain ACV (apple cider vinegar infused with plantain) I like to keep in a spray bottle in the fridge door. It doesn't need to be kept chilled, but the coolness sprayed onto itching skin works magic. Plantain ACV used neat, undiluted, is good for all kinds of topical skin itching, whether from sunburn, mosquito bites, gnat and other small fly bites, or poison ivy rash or other form of contact dermatitis. Plantain soothes itching, reduces inflammation, and ACV is just about the ideal pH level for skin. I like to use a spray bottle top rather than a tincture dropper so that application is at its easiest without touching the skin, and so that the vinegar covers a wide area. This is the first remedy I run to when at home and discover an insect bite that is obviously not from a poisonous spider.

Rapha Salve is a good go to for all these insect bites, too, as a follow up after the initial treatment, or Black Rapha Salve for really bad mozzie bites. Or, keep a 5 ml bottle of lavender essential oil in your pocket when working in the garden or out on hikes and apply one drop neat directly to the bite. Lavender is somewhat insect repellant as well as being wonderfully soothing to stings, burns, and skin irritations.

A non herbal practical remedy my little brother swears by is the hot spoon trick. Run a metal spoon under hot water until it is very hot to touch, but not enough to burn the skin. Press the bowl to the bite. The heat alters the proteins in the wounded area and the itching sensation should go away quickly. I find that this works brilliantly on new mozzie bites, but not old ones. So remember this trick next time you have access to a kitchen, but it might also be prudent to keep a little lipbalm tube of Rapha Salve handy, as well as wearing a good insect repellant, if you plan to be further afield. 

Horse fly bites tend to feel a little more painful than those of more regularly sized flies. Children may find that the plantain ACV just doesn't cut it quickly enough. Immediately apply one drop of lavender or tea tree essential oil to the bite and then set about making a poultice from comfrey, if you can. If growing fresh, chew up some comfrey leaf and apply the masticated green goo over the bitten area in a spit poultice. If fresh is not available, warm up a couple Tbs of dried comfrey leaf with just enough boiling water to make it soggy, place in the center of a cheesecloth, handkerchief, or paper towel, and wrap over the bite. Leave the poultice on for at least 15 minutes and reapply both fresh poultices and essential oil through the day as needed.

I am grateful that I have never experienced a tick bite. I've never lived in an area where they do. Leeches in North India, yes. Ticks, no. I hear they're not much fun, though, and a deer tick in the ear can cause some significant damage to the entire nervous system in short order until neutralized and removed. Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be caught by ticks, too, neither of which are pleasant diseases. My grandpa has told me of finding ticks burrowed under the skin in itching, hard lumps. A strong batch of Vinegar of the Four Thieves is a good preventative measure. Spray repellant all over skin, soak shoes and socks, and repeat every few hours. But once you have a tick bite, what then? 

First, the tick needs to be removed. Use tweezers and a magnifying glass. If you are not confident of doing this yourself, or if you are unable to remove the little insect completely, a doctor can do it for you. Clean the wound by flushing with a little witch hazel with tea tree essential oil added, and apply Rapha Salve antiseptic. Keep an eye on your symptoms for the next 24-48 hours, and if anything such as rash, fever, stiff neck, or flu-like symptoms appear, see a doctor promptly. 

Bee stings hurt, but unless you are allergic they are generally only a bit irritating. My son was stung three different times before he turned three, all from poking with too much toddler vigor at a busy little bee in a garden flower, and each time the sting was somewhere on a hand. I also sat on a bee last summer by mistake, hunkering down to relax on the clover-littered grass at the park, and was bitten on the back of my thigh. First bee sting for me. 

Once you have ensured all the stinger has been removed, Rapha Salve is a pretty easy grab here. A plantain spit poultice will work well if you're in need, but Rapha always seems to do the trick the fastest. Second to that, one neat drop each of eucalyptus and lavender essential oils directly on the sting site will soothe pain and reduce inflammation. Repeat as needed, and apply ice. In the case of a child stung on their sitting parts, as I was last year, run a mildly warm bath with a cup of baking soda and 15 drops of lavender essential oil added under the running water. Let them soak as long as they care, and then apply treatment again after bathing. 

For those with real allergic reaction to bee stings, or for anyone stung in many places, do not replace holistic medicine with herbal medicine entirely. Once anaphylactic shock has been treated appropriately, or the injured has seen the doctor and does not need prescription meds or hospitalization for dangerously stung areas, then care for the inflamed tissues at home with salves, oils and baths. 

Spider bites
A Black Salve made with detoxifying herbs, activated charcoal, and bentonite clay can really help here. It's not just for pimples, people. All kinds of poisons can be drawn out and the body aided by the application of activated charcoal, which is a very finely powdered charcoal of white willow, the herbal aspirin tree, and Black Salve is just about the easiest grab. A few years ago, before I started this blog spot, I was bitten on the top of one foot. I react strongly to mosquito bites so initially we thought it was merely a mozzie irritation, but after several days of persistent icing and a citronella and lavender gel from the local health food store didn't prove to rid me of the now golf ball sized bite, my husband took a better look and said, oh, yes, that's a spider bite. Probably a common garden spider or we would have seen more serious health implications by then. But really, all spiders are poisonous. It's simply that the ones we think of as poisonous have a higher concentration of poison, therefore toxicity, in their venom than certain others.

Now, I would rush right to Black Salve made with tea tree essential oil and plantain and lavender herbs, and smear it all over my foot. I would also make a spit poultice from fresh comfrey and plantain if possible, or from dried if that's all I could get, bandage it in place for several hours or a couple of days as needed. I would also make myself a pot of tea decocted with echinacea purpurea root to boost my systemic white blood count immune response, and dandelion and yellow dock to purify my blood.

Poisonous spider bites are a different story, however. Black widow and brown recluse spiders are not native to the UK, but they are here in the desert. When moving some wood in the garden just last weekend, my husband killed four widows including a large egg sac, over which one of the widow spiders was protectively hunched. Thank God for brave husbands! And when my son was about 16 months old, my husband yelled for me to come see. I ran outside, hearing the tension in his voice, and he showed me a brown recluse on the sidewalk, with which our son had been playing, catlike, by tapping it on one side to make it skitter sideways, and then on the other side, back and forth. Once I was done shuddering and the spider was pulverized to a messy squish on the underside of my man's boot, I phoned our favorite bug buster man to come spray the house again with his natural but effective treatments for all the thresholds and nooks.

The bite of a brown recluse spider forms a nasty blister like a target, with white and red rings around the bite. Black widow venom is similar to that of rattlesnakes, to give you an idea how dangerous these spiders are. The bite can cause spastic muscle contractions, localized tissue death, and if a person is bitten in the right place on the body, or if they are child sized, the bite can prove life threatening. If you plan to be out in the desert, dress properly, practice safe habits, and carry a snake bite kit, which should be used for black widow bites as well as for poisonous snakes.

If without a snake bite kit, such as at home when you didn't anticipate needing one, first make a tourniquet and restrict the blood flow from the bite back to the heart. Slow the spread of the poison. Smear Black Salve thickly over the bite, but do not ice as this can aid tissue damage, and get to the Emergency Room quickly. If a child is bitten, it is a good idea to give them water and calm them down, but don't offer sugary drinks or foods until you have seen a doctor. If the ER is some distance away, you might consider bleeding the bite by making a small, controlled cut with a clean, sharp knife to allow the blood flow to start ridding the body of poison so it has less chance to spread before you reach help. (This is only for extreme circumstances, and only on the arms or legs. If you have not done due research ahead of time, please do not try this.) In a life threatening situation, massive doses of vitamin C, causing an ascorbic acid flush, can be of great benefit.

Scorpion stings can also be quite dangerous. Most cause only discomfort of pain and swelling, some numbness near the sting site, but more serious stings can cause vomiting, muscles spasms, fevering and sweating, heart irregularities. Once again, little bodies need to be given extra care. Tourniquet the bite from the heart, apply Black Salve and go to the ER. If you are quite, quite sure that the sting is not serious, and the patient is of a full sized adult, a soak in epsom salts water and then reapplication of Black Salve may be all that is required. However, keep a close eye on your systemic symptoms as well as on the wound, and seek professional care if anything at all seems to not be improving, if the skin turns any color but normal, healthy pink, if you start to sweat or have any other symptoms.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

herbs for digestive stomach problems

We in our little family refer to stomach problems as Tiny Tummy Troubles, and Big Tummy Troubles. Most Tiny Troubles can be remedied easily at home, and many Big ones can be at least aided by some herbal knowledge. This is not a definitive guide to curing all kinds of gastrointestinal trouble, but it will provide some basic go-to remedies for standard living as well as some suggestions for dealing with longer term problems.

First identify:

What specifically are my symptoms?

Is this a temporary problem? Is it caused by something I ate? If so, can I identify what food? Is a virus to blame?

Is this a frequent or ongoing problem? Is it caused by a specific food? Could it be a food intolerance?

Is this a problem that needs to be addressed directly with medical expertise? Am I taking any prescribed medication that is causing my problem, or that should not be mixed with certain herbal medicines?

Any bleeding, excessive vomiting or fevers, or reactions to any homemade remedies, all indicate potential for a serious problem and the person should be taken right away to the Emergency Room, especially in the case of elderly, and children and infants. As with all home treatments using herbs, if any malady follows a herbal or natural remedy, whether you think the herb was the cause or not, be sure to grab the jar or make a mental note as you leave the house so that you can inform the doctors anything they may need to know. 

Slippery Elm Bark Powder is a mucilagenic, demulcent, and emollient herb, which adds a lot of protective coating to the inside of the digestive system when taken internally. This makes slippery elm a fabulous treatment for inflammation, which is usually at least part of the problem with any digestive disorder. "It helped keep George Washington's army alive during the bitter winter at Valley Forge" (2), and is taught by some writers to have similar nutritional value to oatmeal. Externally, slippery elm was used by Indians in North America in poultice form for healing wounds and burns. In the digestive tract, it absorbs toxins and heightened acid and carries them out of the body through the slippery coating with which it lines the body's tissues. This is a herb widely considered safe for children and adults, both healthy and weakened by illness, as it is gentle while effective and does not bear any stimulative properties.

We like to mix slippery elm with natural live yogurt or applesauce, sometimes with acidophilus added to the mix as well, and consume as a food. This can be a meal in itself or as a meal supplement. My son didn't take to eating food regularly very quickly, and for a while he would eat well for a day or two and then refuse to eat solids for the rest of the week. This made his bowel movements irregular at times, and even the smallest disturbances can prove extra uncomfortable in little people, especially for those under the age of 2 yrs whose guts have not fully closed. So after asking around a bit and doing some research, I settled on slippery elm bark powder, 1 tsp in food at the start of each meal (after which he continued in Baby Led Weaning style rather than off the spoon). It made a huge difference! Regularity and texture became more comfortable and stable, and although he is now nearly 3 yrs old we still keep slippery elm in the apothecary as a just-in-case food to be consumed at the start of suspected illness, tummy rumblings and gas, or irregularity for some reason.

You can make a kind of porridge or gruel by mixing together equal parts of slippery elm bark and marshmallow root, both powdered, 1/8th part each of cinnamon and fennel seed powder, and water. 1-2 Tbs of the powdered and mixed herbs in 1 cup of water, simmered for 10-15 minutes, will thicken up into a spoon-friendly mixture that can be sweetened gently with breast milk for infants, or a natural sweetener such as raw honey or maple syrup for older children and adults, and eaten straight or with cooked oatmeal as an appropriate nourishing food for a weakened stomach. Rosemary Gladstar suggests that colicky infants may consume as much slippery elm bark gruel as they like.

Aloe vera is a fleshy succulent plant I like to keep growing in a pot in my house, ready as a fresh, instant poultice in case of any wound or burn. Most people think of aloe gel from the local drug store as a sunburn treatment. And it is wonderfully soothing and healing for all types of burns. I have a large jug of aloe juice in my fridge for whipping up with herbal salve into healing lotions in the blender.
Many people don't actually realize that aloe can be consumed, too. "The Spanish conquistadors found Central American Indians using aloe for burns, skin and stomach ulcers, dysentery, intestinal disorders, longevity, kidney disorders, prostatitis and sexual prowess. In Java, aloe juice is massaged into hair and scalp to improve its condition and stimulate growth. Documented cases of radiation burn victims from the atomic bombs used in Japan show more rapid healing using aloe than any other method of burn treatment." (2)

Taken internally, one Tb of fresh aloe cut from the inside of the fleshy leaf helps to absorb toxins in the bowel, acts as demulcent to the digestive tract, soothes inflamed and irritated tissues and helps pass out waste more quickly. This can be added to a smoothie or raw food, or eaten neat. It is also believed to be a probable antibiotic due to the mucopolysaccharides, the mucilage found in aloe flesh. Many herbs are best raw and fresh, but this is especially true with aloe. However, some herbalists note that aloe juice and some brands of freeze dried aloe capsules are reliable. Care must be taken to ensure the quality of these products, however, as many companies tout "100% natural" and yet "odorless, colorless" products. Such products are not reliable and likely contain little or no real aloe.

The plant is relatively easy to grow fresh, however, so if you cannot find a good quality aloe juice in your area, grow it. Or, grow it anyway. Aloe vera wants little water, and I find that a good flood and drain once a month is sufficient for mine. It also only needs indirect sunlight, so a table in the living or laundry room is likely better than a windowsill in most houses. Aloe puts out lots of little babies that can be repotted as gifts or to expand your personal supply, so a year of tending a baby aloe from the local garden center should yield a reasonable harvest for comparatively little effort. 

Acidophilus, or lactobacillus acidophilus, is "a type of 'friendly' bacteria that assists in the digestion of proteins, a process in which lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide, enzymes, B vitamins, and antibiotic substances that inhibit pathogenic organisms are produced. Acidophilus has antifungal properties, helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels, aids digestion, and enhances the absorption of nutrients. The flora in the healthy colon should consist of at least 85 percent lactobacilli and 15 percent coliform bacteria. However, the typical colon bacteria count today is the reverse. This can result in gas, bloating, intestinal and systemic toxicity, constipation, and malabsorption of nutrients, and is conducive to an overgrowth of candida. Taking an acidophilus supplement helps to combat all of these problems by returning the intestinal flora to a healthier balance. In addition, acidophilus may help to detoxify harmful susbtances." (1)

I give my son a daily child's chewable acidophilus, and my husband and I use the natural gelatin capsules you see pictured above. Powder capsules I find to be the most versatile form of acidophilus, as they can easily be broken open and the dose divided, added to food, even added to baby's milk on a spoon if needed. At one point in time, my son was still exclusively nursing at the breast but there were some nasty viruses going around and my husband came down with strep throat. My son was getting a lot of protective goodness from my breast milk alone, but I was keen to avoid him getting sick. So on top of the usual precautions -- Daddy sleeping in a different room, no touching or kissing, no sharing drinks, etc -- I broke open a capsule of adult acidophilus and gave my son 1/8th capsule mixed with my milk on a teaspoon twice a day. Powdered acidophilus can also be added to enemas or colonic irrigation to help restore healthy gut flora. This can be especially helpful to a body weakened by influenza that is sensitive to vomiting, for example, so that the stomach is not irritated by adding fluids or food and the acidophilus is absorbed quickly in the colon and the gut.

Peppermint, according to Rosemary Gladstar, "has often been called, 'a blast of pure green energy'. It's not that there aren't stronger stimulants, but few make you feel as renewed and refreshed as peppermint does. Peppermint is most commonly used as a digestive aid. It is also effective for easing nausea and stomach cramps and for freshening the breath." (3) Peppermint is a refrigerant, which means it cools the body, and is also anti-inflammatory. (Seeing the theme here? Inflammation is so often a problem, as a side-effect if not the direct cause, in many digestive complaints.) Chinese traditional medicine pairs peppermint with papaya for digestive complaints and acid stomach.

We often include peppermint in regularly consumed teas, such as Cal-Mag Tea, or just by itself. Peppermint herbal teas can be frozen into popsicles, too, which are not only lovely treats any time of day in the summer but very handy to keep in the freezer for quick relief of the occasional indigestion pangs or pregnancy nausea, as peppermint tea with elderberry to ward against viruses you may have been exposed to at a playdate or recent event, peppermint and elderberry and yarrow ("the YEPs") to bring down chills and fevers. Popsicles are easier hydration for most people to manage than tea, especially during illness. Tummy Tea, Peppermint Lemonade, and Mama's Weight Loss Tea are some other ways to drink or slurp down this green herb.

can consume fresh peppermint leaves as a food, too. My son knows peppermint the most reliably of all the herbs in my garden, as I taught him as soon as he could toddle around and pick his own peppermint leaves what it looks like and where to find it. He loves to tend to my peppermint patches, watering them daily, and I frequently find him plucking a leaf to chew on after dinner or when playing in the garden. I encourage this habit as much larger amounts daily would still be unlikely to cause any adverse effect, and his regular consumption of fresh mint typically follows meals, which I know is aiding his digestion as well as sweet breath. Add peppermint leaves to a savory green salad, mixed berries, with lemon and oregano over chicken.

Ginger root is a hot herb with a sharp bite to its flavor. Another anti-inflammatory, ginger is also diaphoretic, analgesic, and carminative, which means that it creates heat and induces sweating, dulls pain, and prevents the formation of gas in the intestinal tract while also speeding the expulsion of existing gas. "The volatile oils, oleo resins and proteolytic enzymes in ginger are digestive stimulants which trigger the production of digestive fluids. This helps combat the effects of overeating, improper chewing or excessive motion by helping to make the digestive process more efficient, increasing gastric motility and neutralizing toxins and acids in the digestive tract.. This carminative action has been widely recognized for centuries and is the basis for most of its medical use." Traditional use of ginger typically prescribes tea for indigestion, stomach ache, malaria and fevers, as well as diarrhea and trapped gas. A yummy way to consume ginger is this Ginger Snap Tea.

DIY Children's Digestive Pastilles recipe can be found on the Bulk Herb Store blog, but in case the link goes cold for some reason here it is:

1/8 Cup powdered fennel
1/8 Cup powdered peppermint
1/8 powdered marshmallow root
1/4 Cup powdered slippery elm bark
1-2 T honey
2-4 T pure vegetable glycerin

Blend powdered herbs together, then add liquids until a dense dough forms. Roll up using clean hands into small pastilles of about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp each. Dry overnight or in the dehydrator for a few hours (they say at 100 to 110 F but I suggest 95 F if you can manage it) until balls are hardened enough to store without becoming a sticky mess. This is one of the standard methods for making herbal medicine pills to chew or swallow. Adjust the herbs as desired for your needs.

Homemade Natural Fiber

1 part whole chia seeds 
1 part ground flax seeds 
1/2 part psyllium seed powder 
optional 1/2 part powdered herbs 

A simple homemade fiber can be a very effective ward against digestive troubles, or as a gentle aid for non-emergency Tiny Tummy Troubles such as constipation and frequent gas. Chia seeds are mucilagenic and when taken whole they will soften and swell in the digestive tract, adding bulk to stool while also coating it with anti-inflammatory goodness. Flax seeds do the same to a lesser degree, and are gentler ground than whole. Psyllium seeds are very similar to those of the plantain herb, being a very close botanical relation, and while once again mucilagenic they also soothe the digestive tract and add weight to stools. Powdered herbs of chamomile, catnip, fennel, peppermint, ginger, garlic, orange peel, or cayenne, may help to further aid digestive flow and healthy regularity. Stir one Tb into a glass of water and drink immediately.

Herbs to consider include ginger root, peppermint, fennel seed, dill. All can be applied in essential oil form externally to the belly as well as taken internally in tea or tincture. Apply warmth over the belly. Massage in a clockwise motion, spiraling out from the bellybutton and down the left leg, will help encourage the intestines to flow normally, releasing trapped gas or breaking down blockage. Chewing on fennel seeds or drinking Tummy Tea or Ginger Snap Tea (linked above) will also help from the inside out.

Acid reflux and Heartburn
Consider possible food culprits and eliminate them from the diet once pinpointed. Processed foods are most often to blame. Herbs to consider include peppermint, dill, ginger, fennel, catnip, red raspberry leaf, lemon balm, marshmallow root, slippery elm bark, papaya. Chamomile can be very helpful, especially paired with catnip after dinner or before bedtime, but is not advised by some sources for prolonged use, due to it's relation to ragweed, as it can produce intolerance in some people when exposed over long periods of time.
Reduce fluids with meals and increase fluids between meals, using herbal tea in place of water if necessary. 1 drop of peppermint essential oil to 16 oz water may be sipped on throughout the day. This is a handy option while traveling, although bear in mind that 1 drop of essential oil is approximately equal to 75 cups of herbal tea, which makes oils much easier to overdose with, so don't go crazy with the essential oils internally. Acidophilus taken up to three times a day may also help.

Belly ache
Digestive Pastilles taken as needed should help. Consider adding dill to the recipe. Also consider the possibility of virus if processed foods, dehydration, and overeating are not obviously to blame, and consider herbs such as elderberry and echinacea for a day or so to ward against incipient infection. Essential oils such as fennel and ginger, or lavender, clary sage and chamomile, or marjoram, spearmint and peppermint, can be massaged in a dilution over the abdomen. Aromatic essential oils can also help with accompanying headaches 

Flu and Vomiting  
Herbs to consider include yarrow, catnip, peppermint, slippery elm and marshmallow root gruel, elderberry, echinacea, ginger, lavender. Acidophilus is very helpful, but if the patient cannot keep down fluids then a colonic dose might be considered.

I am of the belief that a fevering body is one which is trying to kill the germs with heat, and that this can be a good thing. Of course, and especially with elderly, infants, and young children, it is important to keep a temperature within reasonable levels. (Brain damage is not supposed to occur under 107 F / 42 C, but I personally am of the belief that fevers over 103 F in children and elderly are unproductive and I will apply medication such as acetaminophen to bring it back down. I do not advise you to brave everything out and let a fever rage unchecked.
) The sweating which accompanies a fever that is not of unsafe levels can be beneficial at times, and baths in lavender or being wrapped in blankets while drinking lavender and catnip tea can sometimes bring a fever to break and reduce sooner than the repeated application of allopathic medications. I also like to rub eucalyptus essential oil on the bottoms of coconut oiled feet, as it is far enough from the eyes as to not cause vapor irritation to already sensitive everything, and adds some cooling to draw heat away from the head. Eucalyptus is a little gentler than peppermint in essential oil form in the case of fevers, and bathing in eucalyptus is often pleasurable whereas a peppermint essential oil bath can be a bit shockingly cooling to the system.

While the patient is unable to keep down fluids, sometimes colonic irrigation or retention enemas can be helpful, as the colon absorbs water rapidly. Frozen herbal popsicles or ice chips may also help. As the patient is able to start keeping down fluids, don't push food until they are truly ready for it but offer nourishing liquids such as teas made from nettles, peppermint, alfalfa, red raspberry leaf and red clover, and soup stocks. Rehydrating drinks made with lemons, honey, and Celtic sea salt provide potassium and a variety of minerals to replenish dehydrated cells along with the antiviral properties of raw honey.


Herbs to consider include yellow dock, blackberry root, slippery elm bark, peppermint, catnip. In traditional medicine, too fast a flow needs slowing by the application of coolness with herbs like peppermint. Too slow a flow, constipation, needs the application of heat via hot herbs to stimulate movement. Keep the body hydrated with plenty of nourishing fluids as listed above with flu and vomiting, and include fiber and calcium and iron rich foods such as liver, spinach, broccoli. Intermittent diarrhea and constipation usually indicates an ongoing constipation problem, where blockages prevent mass from eliminating the body but liquid and soft densities manage to pass on occasion. Slippery elm and fiber mix may help with this, along with acidophilus.

Most often, insufficient fiber and water in the diet is the culprit. Increase vegetables and healthy fats, eliminate processed foods and decrease grains and uncultured dairy. Sometimes the occasional consumption of a dried prune is all that is needed, but if the problem persists beyond dietary changes, consider 1/2 cup aloe juice morning and evening, and slippery elm bark gruel. Black strap molasses and carob powder are worth considering adding to the diet, especially for constipated-prone children. Herbs to consider consuming include cayenne, ginger, licorice root, psyllium seeds, chia seeds, marshmallow root, cinnamon, coriander. It may also be worth considering a colonic irrigation to soften a blockage, as well as a tincture or tea of liver cleansing herbs that stimulate the production of bile. These might include dandelion, burdock, fennel, fenugreek. Abdomen massage is also helpful in this case. Work slowly and steadily for a good several minutes, with massage oil or cocoa butter as needed, in a supine position so that your stomach muscles are relaxed and you can dig as deeply as is reasonably comfortable into the digestive tract. 

Colonic irrigation
Garlic, acidophilus, natural live yogurt, catnip, licorice root, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, castor oil, all may be used in water for colonic irrigation. Caffeinated coffee stimulates bile in the liver for rapid cleansing and is one of the foundational treatments in the Gerson Therapy cancer cure. (Taken 'at the other end', coffee does still enter the blood stream and give the body a caffeine high.) Bear in mind, though, that frequent enemas can lead to loss of nutrients, especially iron and magnesium, so irrigation should be used in case of need but is not suitable for daily prevention or intervention on a prolonged basis without the supervision of a doctor or certified health care provider. Essential oils are never suggested for internal use in the colon, please be aware, due to their concentrated strength and the sensitivity of the colon, and you can do yourself great harm by disobeying this rule. Only the gentlest of herbal teas, which is the mildest form of herbal consumption, is recommended for colonic irrigation. I don't recommend using standard pharmacy saline, as this is often still too high in the wrong forms of sodium, lacking in minerals, and so can be more prone to draining the body of important minerals than actually replenishing it. When you have the opportunity to heal your body from the inside out, why not take the chance and use a nourishing, gentle herbal tea instead? Everything you need to know about enemas can be found here. Simpler colonic irrigation follows the same rules for cleanliness and what types of fluids and concentrations to use, but involves only a cup or two of fluid. It is generally not recommended to give a child a full blown enema, and I recommend only a very small amount of fluid with children, assuming they really do need a cleanse with catnip tea for a fever or painful constipation. They really are much smaller than adults so best to be careful and start with a couple Tbs fluid for a baby or toddler, working up very gently from there and involving many smiles and caresses as you care for them.

(1) Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by Balch and Balch
(2) Nutritional Herbology, by Mark Pedersen
(3) Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health