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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

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

ginger snap tea

Ginger Snap Tea is one of our favorite herbal tea mixes. It really is like a ginger snap cookie in a mug and makes a fabulous evening treat on weekdays when I'm avoiding dessert. We originally bought a mix of this tea from the Bulk Herb Store and loved it. But of course, I am very careful with herbs whilst pregnant and nursing, and the licorice root listed in BHS's ingredients is a mild estrogenic that I wanted to completely avoid. So, once I was no longer pregnant with my son, I started working on figuring out the Ginger Snap Tea recipe myself so that I could simply omit the licorice, or indeed tweak the recipe in any other way I needed for reasons of personal taste or health. I also wanted to have a stevia free blend, as sometimes my guests or gift recipients don't like to use stevia, and a quick pinch of cut stevia is easy to add the brewing pot at home from a little jar in the cupboard. One more change I made was the addition of star anise. This is a similar flavor to fennel, so you can omit or replace with fennel seed if you prefer, but I like the balance the two bring together in this tea.

I hope you enjoy this tea as much as we do. It is a fabulous alternative to cough tea mix for all coughs and colds, as these herbs are soothing to a raw throat and aching chest, and warming in chilly weather. Drink plain, with honey, or with a splash of milk or cream or coconut milk added. I personally like it best as a hot drink, but chilled and milky, or in a blended slushie with ice, makes a yummy summery change. Due to the estrogenic qualities of licorice root, I recommend drinking this tea not more than 3 or 4 times a week by children, men, and women who are not pregnant. Nursing mamas may want to use their own discretion as to the safety of licorice during lactation, and either include or leave out the root of your own mix at home.

Be sure to decoct your Ginger Snap Tea to properly release all the goodness and flavor from the hard herbs, by adding 1 Tb mix per pint of simmering water, covering, and simmering on very low for about 20 minutes before serving. Add 1/4 tsp cut stevia herb per pint in the last 5 minutes of simmering time. Leftover tea may be strained and stored in the fridge for several days.

Ripoff Ginger Snap Tea 

2 oz (2/3 cup) red rooibos tea 
2 1/2 oz (1/2 cup) ginger root bits 
1/4 oz (1 Tb) whole cloves 
1 oz (4 Tbs) fennel seeds 
1 oz (6 Tbs) licorice root bits 
1 oz (4 Tbs) orange peel bits 
1 oz (5 sticks at 4 inches long, or 1/4 cup chips) cinnamon chips 
1/4 oz (5 whole stars) star anise

Yields about 9 oz, or over 1/2 lb, of tea mix.

Mix dried herbs together. To make cinnamon chips, place sticks in a sturdy bag, either of strong, clean cotton canvas, or a freezer safe plastic bag you don't mind throwing away, hold the opening closed with one hand, and bash up the sticks to your desired size fragments with a hammer. The same can be done with star anise. Store tea mix in sealed glass in a dark, cool place.

Friday, June 6, 2014

EPS (emergency pimple services): Black Salve recipe

When a pimple strikes, it usually comes at the wrong time. Right? A blemish on the face is never convenient! I have a couple of tips for you to try, so that next time you are caught with that volcano building in perfect time to erupt, inevitably, just as you are getting ready for some important event, you can apply a remedy to shrink and put out that fire before you leave the house. This also works well for insect bites, contact dermatitis caused by poisonous plants such as poison oak or ivy, or just plain old stinging nettles, as well as ingrown hairs and splinters, as it draws out and absorbs poisons while soothing inflammation in the epidermis and at the wound site.

Black Salve

To begin, make up a herbal infused oil. You can use this Rapha Salve mix, or go with my favorite anti-acne favorites and mix up:

1 part calendula flowers
1 part lavender flowers

So to infuse a pint of herbal oil, use 1/2 oz each of calendula and lavender per pint jar. Plantain and comfrey herbs also work well, but since I already include plantain in my anti-acne facial treatments on a somewhat regular basis I like to use other herbs for this.

Once you have your infused oil strained and ready to go, place the following ingredients into a glass measuring jug in a double boiler, the same way as for making a regular salve:

1/2 oz beeswax
1 Tb activated charcoal powder
optional 1 Tb bentonite or green clay powder
optional 4 drops vitamin E oil
optional 4 drops GSE (grapefruit seed extract)
herbal oil up to the 4 oz mark on the measuring jug (about 3 3/4 fl oz)

This will make enough black salve for one 4 oz tin, which will last a while. Alternatively, if you already have a basic Rapha Salve or other skin soothing salve made up, add 1 Tb (1 part) activated charcoal powder to 4 oz (8 parts) of gently melted salve. The charcoal won't thicken the salve, just adds a little extra drawing punch to it. Same with the clay. Bentonite clay is another toxin absorber, so using both charcoal and clay is my favorite way to go. As you can see, though, the clay is optional in black salve.

Now for the "tricky" part. Except that it's really not that tricky. Once things are melted all smoothly together, the charcoal (and the clay powder) tends to settle a bit as the salve cools. In the same way as with homemade deodorant, you will need to keep an eye on the cooling salve and give it a good stir every once in a while until fully cooled and set. I find that blood heat salve is mostly thickened but not fully hardened in place, and so I like to stir up all the charcoal from the bottom of the tin at this point, thoroughly turning it all over and then smoothing it on top. If you forget to stir, no big deal. Scrape the salve out of the tin and beat it for a moment in a food mixer with a whisk. This will break up the hardness of the salve, but it won't affect the potency of the salve itself. You can also pop this salve into an empty lipbalm tube, which I find to be super handy for quick EPS. Once the salve is mostly set but at that blood heat stage, stir it up well and then use a finger to push salve into the lippie tube. If your pour the fully melted salve right into the tube, the charcoal will settle, so make sure to shove in malleable but well mixed salve so that it hardens up in the lipbalm tube nicely for you.

To Use

Black Salve can stain clothing and fair hair, so so be careful not to go smearing this all over yourself right before getting dressed. It also tends to linger underneath a manicure, just in case you need to know. If taking from the tub, I tend to use the back of my nail to scrape some up so that it doesn't stay black underneath my white nail tip. I suggest popping a bandaid over the salve-covered wound while you allow the salve to work its magic for at least 15 minutes before applying makeup or leaving the house for that big event.

Use this as often as needed to shrink a pimple or boil, small or large. It doesn't matter whether the pimple is hard and inflamed, small and with a white head, or pus-filled because you squeezed and poked at it when you should not have done -- Black Salve will help it all. You can apply Black Salve and a bandaid overnight for painful, large pimples. I made my first Black Salve after getting fed up with the "simpler" method of applying plain activated charcoal powder with 1 drop essential oil in a bandaid. But activated charcoal is a very fine, very light powder, and the process of putting it into a bandaid always got messy. So I started mixing it up in 1/8 teaspoon quantities with ready made salve from the first aid kit, and then wondered why I wasn't just making up a Black Salve properly so it was ready to go when I needed it!

Black Salve also works really well on drawing out pain and poison from bee stings, spider bites, mosquito bites, so I find a little lip balm tube and a few bandaids are very handy to add to our busy bag when we visit places. People often give me skeptical face, but when at the park and without fresh plantain, a little Black Rapha goes a long way to soothing a bee sting obtained by sitting on the poor bee on the grass!

The History of black salve is somewhat tainted. It was known as cansema, an alternative cancer treatment, and was a highly controversial quack remedy. Indian black salves contained ingredients similar to activated charcoal (more crude charcoals not made of white willow), and sometimes clays and wild honey, and are still marketed in some places today as an alternative to allopathic treatment for various ailments internally and externally. Really, my black salve is just a black salve because of the color, in the same way that a green salve is colored green from the herbs used, or red salve contains a high amount of St John's wort which colors the oil red, but not because I'm trying to reproduce an older folk remedy in particular. Some of the oldest recipes for black salve that I have found contained tar, which is certainly not anything I would recommend for you to use! You can have a lot of fun researching the history of black salves, though.


I so often have variations! I hope you know by now that there are so many ways to create herbal medicines that there are some basic guidelines for handling herbs but few major wrongs outside of those guidelines 

Herbal oil -- use Rapha mix, calendula, plantain, lavender, comfrey, white willow bark, chamomile, St John's wort, or a plain liquid oil

Add essential oils -- lavender, tea tree (melaleuca), thyme, oregano, eucalyptus, chamomile, being sure to dilute to a sensible strength appropriate to the other herbs used in the salve. FYI, there are 24 teaspoons in 4 ounces of salve.

Add bentonite clay or green clay powder, too. Clay will thicken up the salve just a touch but does add more punch to the toxin drawing power.

Add honey a la Wellness Mama's recipe.

Love to know herbs website also details a very similar black drawing salve.