Wednesday, April 08, 2015

If there's one herb that almost everyone knows, it's chamomile. Sweet and dainty, yet powerful and strong, chamomile is a staple in almost everyone's home as a gentle, relaxing remedy that the entire family can use. Safe for babies all the way up to the elderly, chamomile is often a go-to herb when you just need some support or a warm cup of comfort. It's delicate flavor hints at it's wispy structure with an intricate, tiny flower with reaching long stems. Chamomile to me just embodies the whole of herbal medicine, and I make sure to never be without this herbal ally. 

Energetically, Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is warm to neutral while being slightly drying. It's filled with essential oils,  flavonoids and sesquiterpenes and has a slightly sweet to bitter taste. It has traditionally been used for ulcers and inflammation around the stomach and has proven itself a mighty champion over the years of quelling inflammation all throughout the gastrointestinal tract. I have found chamomile to be my go-to herb for spasms and pain anywhere in the gut (especially the stomach or large intestines). Of course, it is also an excellent relaxant and nervine too! Helping to calm the mind and relax the muscles, chamomile is a classic "sleepy time" herb used in almost every calming herbal tea formula. And with it's anti-inflammatory properties, chamomile it remarkably effective to use topically for eczema and psoriasis itchiness on the skin!

Chamomile can be made into a delicious herbal tea and sipped throughout the day for digestive support and calming stressful lives. It can also be taken as a tincture (hydroalcoholic extract) for really acute symptoms like stomach spasms or large intestine/bowel spasms. As a tincture, it can work it's magic in minutes (versus a tea, which may take 30 minutes to an hour to have an effect on some people). If you get a little anxious or overwhelmed when traveling, keeping a small bottle of chamomile in your bag can be a real life saver. I NEVER travel without some chamomile tincture on me. Ever. 

I find chamomile to be most helpful in people with IBS or other stress induced digestive troubles. They may be a little jittery or run cold to the touch. They hold their nerves in their stomach and can be kind of wound up most of the time. I've also used it often for babies while they're teething by making chamomile ice cubes for them to suck on (works like a charm). It's usually the first herb I think of for folks with dull, achy menstrual cramps as it's a fantastic anti-spasmodic (and really safe to take in high doses as often as needed). Below is a delicious chamomile based tea formula that I love for spring!

Calming Chamomile Tea
2 teaspoons chamomile
1/2 teaspoon lemon balm
1/2 teaspoon peppermint
1/2 teaspoon lavender
Blend together and steep in 2 cups of hot water for 7-10 minutes, covered. Sip consciously and in a peaceful place. 

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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

This month has been a pretty happy/depressing with my book endeavors. I finally finished the Harry Potter series which was both exhilarating and utterly depressing once I actually finished. I haven't been so emotionally invested in a series for years, so when it's all over there's certainly a void that needed to be desperately filled. I always love to have some kind of lengthy adventure/fiction/fantasy/epic story going on in my background life while I'm also invested in a small pile of other readings or research...just to keep the balance. I'm still on the hunt for the next epic adventure story, so in the meantime, I've been really loving my small pile of "others":

For the Body:
Simply In Season | This is my first go-to cookbook at the turn of the seasons to get in the groove for a shift in seasonal eating. It's segmented by season with a variety of delicious, fresh and seasonal recipes that celebrate the individuality of every season. Colorful salads, vegetable rich main dishes and just-sweet-enough desserts make it easy to get into the feel of spring, and with the lengthy lists of new vegetables and fruits to expect, it makes your grocery shopping that much easier. Their zucchini brownie recipe is a staple in my house and has been for years. 

The Drunken Botanist | This might be one of the most fun herbal resources I've acquired in the past few years. This pretty little book centers around herbal cocktails and spiked herbal teas while giving the (sometimes long) and complex history of some of our favorite flavorful herbs. Now, I'm not that much into liquors or cocktails, but all of these unique (and, dare I say it - "medicinal") recipes do resonate with me, and I've initiated a lengthy list of things to try when the weather gets warmer and we host some spring garden parties....

For the Mind:
Textbook of Ayurveda: Fundamental Principles (Vol. I) | This is also a "for the body" book for sure, but the depth of Dr. Lad's knowledge fills my cerebral space to the brim with every page. I was recommended this book by my ayurvedic practitioner, Vijaya Stallings who was also my ayurvedic instructor at the time. Dr. Lad has such a tangible grasp of ayurveda that is perfect to implement into clinical (and personal) practice. As with any topic that is so in depth, I'm usually having to read everything twice...or three times to really get it all to sink in. And then come back to it later, too. 

Tao & Dharma : Chinese Medicine & Ayurveda | So basically anything by Robert Svoboda has my attention. I really love his works on Ayurveda and have several of his books in my handy arsenal of resources. But Chinese medicine is totally mysterious to me. I work with Western herbs 90% of the time, and the concepts, theories and practice of Chinese medicine is a discipline I have not dived into. I'm really loving how this book bends the two disciplines, and it's not to advanced that I can't understand the focus on Chinese herbs. It also pulls at my heart strings when two experts blend together their practices to make it work in tandem. Medicine should do that more often...

For the Soul:
Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet | I'm really trying on this one. Once Harry Potter ended, I was so desperate to fill the void I was grabbing anything in my house that I hadn't already read, and this was about the only thing I had left. I'll be honest - it's a struggle getting into this one, but I'm going to power through. I'm feeling so distracted every time i pick it up, like it's just not hooking me into the epic adventure that it actually is. But maybe I'm just not devoting the time and head space that it needs. Regardless though, I need some extra subconscious adventure happening in the background and suggestions are welcome! 

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Friday, February 27, 2015

It's one thing to get caught up in the physiological, phytochemical, and biological side of herbal medicines. If you work with herbs long enough and study hard enough, all of those things are eventually very tangible, trackable and predictable. Western medicine really likes trackable and predictable medicines, as do most people; it gives a sense of security and comfort to know how and why something works because, obviously, when you're ill and want to feel better, you want to know what you're taking actually works. 

But there's more to the body than just health or illness, and more to the person than just physiology. With every person comes a health story, and often deeply engrained in ones health story (not to mention every day life) there is quite a bit of emotional ups and downs. Every day we have an underlying sense of emotion - for our jobs, families, partners, seasons, friends, hobbies, diet, circumstances and even body image. Quite often, we get stuck in a rut with our lives, and emotional habits are hard to break. Now granted, some emotions that are considered "unpleasant" like guilt, depression, grief or anger can be a perfectly natural reaction to a particular life circumstance and not something that really needs to be "fixed", but rather just allowed to let it pass. Once we acknowledge what emotion is lingering, (and if we even want to adjust it at all), that's when herbs can play a supportive role in being strong allies for our emotional health. 

Along with their therapeutic role in supporting overall health and disease imbalance, herbs have this awesome underlying "energetic" aspect that touches on emotional states that is much less tangible than, say, xyz herb's effect on hypothyroidism. This is something that you get to know in a plant after you've been friends/allies for a while. Or have a close relationship with while growing up. Or have sat with in their natural habitat for some time. Or, in my case, used in a clinical capacity with lots of people over time. I've noticed that several herbs have a profound ability to not only be supportive for an imbalance, but affect the person's emotional health so positively that it is a clear factor in helping them overcome an illness completely. Here are a few of my favorites:

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Yarrow derives it's name from the Greek hero, Achilles. Legend has it that when Achilles was a baby, his mother bathed him in yarrow bath water to cover him in strength, however she missed his ankles (where she was holding him) and thus his heel was his weakness forever. True to the legend, Yarrow has always been an herb that instills strength and vibrancy, and when used daily as a tea or tincture (and even still, if you like to believe, as part of a bath ritual) it instills a sense of physical and emotional strength to the consumer. I often use this if someone is presenting as hopeless, desperate or depleted in physical and emotional vigor.

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca): This is typically an herb that is used for issues surrounding the nervous system or the uterus, however as its botanical name (cardiaca) suggests, it also has affinity for the heart space. It's a perfect remedy for people who get really really nervous before performing or speaking in public (when the heart starts racing so fast you feel like people can see it bouncing out of your chest). Or for people who carry a general sense of anxiety or nervousness that presents as a fluttery or skipped heart beat. I've also seen it work it's heart magic on people who carry a lot of grief or sadness (for family or loved ones, specifically) in their heart to lighten the load. 

Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum): This is like my ultimate Hug-In-A-Cup. Holy Basil is naturally uplifting, moving and warm, and ideal for when I feel my inner Eeyore raging. Holy Basil (also knows as Tulsi) is perfect for celebratory occasions as it is so uplifting to the spirit, as well as being adaptogenic (and a gentle energy tonic). The entire plant is highly honored in India and used in countless rituals and ceremonies. This is my ideal herb for despondent folks who just can't get motivated into things that make them happy (like Eeyore, remember that 'ol grump?) Feeling spiritually murky, lost and disconnected? Try Tulsi! Perfect for the lingering winter blues, too. And tea, I think, is the best way to take this spiritual herb (I love the Tulsi from Organic India).

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): I may talk about Skullcap with the same affection that I talk about my puppy. Or my partner. Or my mom. I love Skullcap. I think it saved my life in grad school. Originally I started taking it for debilitating anxiety induced IBS symptoms (which it's also amazingly effective for), but I found that it not only provided an anxiolytic effect on the gastrointestinal tract, it also was an emotional lifesaver for when I was feeling overwhelmed, overworked and just plain unhappy and scared. I've used it dozens of times with people in similar situations, and most especially for people who feel overexposed in a big and busy world - like the world is too bright, too loud and too busy for them and they're feeling very vulnerable. This is especially useful for the person with sensitive skin and is hypersensitive to pain/physical stimuli on the surface and sensitive to the emotions of their environment. If you're seeking a warm, dark hideaway, skullcap is for you (and while you're at it, grab your mom and a teddy bear, too). 

Lavender (Lavandula spp): Sweet and aromatic, lavender. These light and colorful little buds are just so joyful and, like Motherwort, have a special affinity for the heart, but for different reasons. There's loads of things that go on with the heart - jealousy, love, longing, fear of abandonment and, most notably for lavender: Grief. Grief is usually an emotion that our culture does not allow time to explore and sit with. And some people I've seen have been literally grieving for years. Lavender is the perfect remedy for those who grieve the loss of something: the death of a loved one, a child going off to college, a relationship that has ended, a house that is being left behind. This supports the process of the loss and softens the grief without getting rid of it. 

It's best, I think, to find your herbal allies for emotional health by just trying things over and over again and getting a sense for how they sit in your body. And, as an extra jolt of excitement, I will be adding some speciality tea blends to my online shop here very soon which utilize most of these herbs! Be sure to check back in a few days when they make their online debut!

I would love to hear your experience with emotional support using herbs. What have you used that I didn't mention?

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

Valerian is an herb that's close to my heart. It's usually always the magical sounding herbal remedy tossed around in medieval stories for "sleeping draughts" that folks randomly pick along the roadsides while in transit with their gypsy caravans. It's developed a reputation for inducing deep, dreamy slumber, and with good reason. It's one of the oldest herbal remedies with documented medicinal use, spanning hundreds of years and countless generations. It's a tried and true ally for me, because sleeping is probably one of my favorite things to do, and on the random night when I can't sleep, my whole life seems unbearable. 

So here's the lowdown on Valerian (Valeriana officinalis):

Major constituents include essential oils, iridoid esters and valerenic acids (a non volatile sesquiterpene derivative).The valerenic acids are what you'll find to be "standardized" with some supplements to enhance potency.) 

Parts used include the rhizome with the rootlets. Yep - you'll know right away it's valerian root with that classic stinky gym sock smell. When purchasing, aim for the coarsely chopped roots/cut and sift that are a light tan colored. The roots are heat sensitive, so the lighter the color, the better they were processed and dried and not exposed to high heat. 

Primary Actions: Valerian primarily influences the nervous system (AKA a nervine) and has a remarkably calming and relaxing effect. It has an affinity for GABA and adenosine receptors which will help lull you off to sleep and relax you (alternately, coffee blocks these receptors, get it?). At higher doses, it's relaxing effect is ideal for people with sleep onset insomnia (in combination with behavior modifications) or who have a heightened sense of anxiety in the evening. However, tricky this little plant is because at low doses, it's actually stimulating. You'll need to take valerian for a couple of days to really see a solid effect, and you'll know within 7 days if this is the right herb for you or not. Aim to start at about 500mg and work up from there, paying close attention to how it is affecting you at different doses. 

When I'm recommending valerian, I'm either giving a tincture (hydroalcoholic extract), or mixing the chopped root in with a sleepy herbal tea combination, or sending folks away with a capsule if that's they're preferred method of taking it (like I said, it's got a pretty funky taste...). For capsules, I really like Gaia, Oregon's Wild Harvest, or Mountain Rose Herbs - all amazing quality products. There's also some other unique and delicious way to take valerian...and those recipes you'll be privy to with later posts :)

So lets paint a picture of the classic Valerian person: A generally robust, pale and sluggish person who is routinely exhausted with anxiety and stress on a daily basis. Generally they may run cold with slower circulation and difficulty making quick decisions. They may present an able-and-willing persona, but underneath they're significantly fatigued and possibly emotionally distraught. They're usually the people that are asked to do more than they can handle...and they're likely to say yes, even if they know it will deplete them. They may often get a dull, persistent afternoon headache and be cold to the touch. Sometimes they may literally feel too tired to sleep, and need the gentle nudge of valerian to hold their hand into their slumber land. 

Have you ever taken valerian and noticed a change? I'd love to hear from you about your experience!

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sometimes, in the dead of winter when I least expect it, a truly inspirational and wonderful weekend rolls around that just puts me in a singsongy mood and dormant ideas can flow freely...unencumbered by the normal, sluggish doubts surrounding winter time. I picture it sort of like all of the streams and rivers thawing in Narnia when spring starts to come around. My frozen over ideas and projects start to break free and suddenly look possible. It's been one of those weekends so far, and Sunday afternoon is proving to be a nice roundup of ideas - past, present and future. 

We spent the bulk of the weekend cooking - making lemon blueberry pancakes and black bean burgers and heaping pots of Kitchari and extra servings of fresh green broccoli and spanakopita. It was a gloomy Saturday, all rainy and gray here in Richmond. We had the lanterns lit in the house and the kitty and pup were curled up asleep most of the day in their usual cozy spots. It was the perfect day to clean out the old office and get paperwork out of the way (oh, taxes...). Keep what I need, get rid of the stuff taking up space. In the next month, Idea No. 1 is to re-design my office upstairs and make it a space I want to actually use. I'm making a giant chalk board to hang on the wall to keep track of past and future financials, and list the current and new ideas in full fledged view all the time (thanks to the lovely gals at Braid for that idea). We're building bookshelves out in the wood shop for my increasing collection of books, and collecting plants to turn the space into a room that encourages inspiration and hard/fun work. I think we're almost there. 

Idea No. 2 is setting up a legit weekly schedule. It's been a long time goal of mine to have a 4 day work week plus 1 extra day for office work, patient charting, email returns, idea formulating, odds and end round up and workshop planning. Starting February 1st, this will actually happen and I can hardly contain how exhilarating that prospect have time to finish and follow up with things and devote 100% of my creative and work energy to my business and things that bring me joy. I have never ever liked the feeling of being under the wire, crunched for time or juggling too many things. I like to have just enough on my plate to keep me busy and also allow lots of time for sleeping (a speciality of mine) and reading and play time and rest time. Having weekends and evenings to do that feels like a solid YES. This also means that I'll have a little extra time to play with new ideas that have been dormant for years. So with some recent encouragement from friends, colleagues and even strangers, this leads me to:

Idea No. 3 which is tea formulations. For sale. To anyone who wants 'em. (!!!!!). Sure, I put herbal formulas together all day long for people who come to see me at my office, and these formulas are hardly EVER the same twice. Everyone gets something different depending on what they come in with. But I've had a few herbal formulas floating around in my personal tea arsenal for a long time that I always go back to for myself and to give away as gifts. With some tweaking and professionally rustic/badass packaging, they might just find themselves to a wider audience, but still keeping it on a relatively small scale. So I spent some time this weekend playing with formulas and packaging ideas. There's still a long way to go until perfection, but the ideas (and flavors!!) feel amazing. 

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Thursday, January 01, 2015

The beginning of this year feels so exciting for me. I've established this year as "The Year of Improvement", and my mind is abuzz with new and exciting projects, collaborations and goals. One of the (many) things that keeps me continually inspired and on track with my business vision and daily practice is filling my shelves with amazing books that feed my body, mind and soul. Every month I add new ones and sometimes come back to the old tried and true ones. Here's what's in my book nook this month:

For the Body:
A Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari | Maya and her books are always on my radar and I always go back to them when I need some grounding in my nutrition and Ayurvedic practice. Her recipes are amazingly therapeutic and refreshing in their simplicity. This particular book is the ultimate reference for following an Ayurvedic diet and lifestyle practice that's ideal for the novice to the seasoned practitioner. I often utilize her recipes and dosha menus for my own patients in their treatment plans and haven't had a single person yet dislike any of the recommendations.

GATHER Journal (fall/winter 2015) | I was introduced to this journal over the holiday and it's so adorably perfect I can't stop looking at it. Filled with "seasonal recipes and exceptional ideas" (and beautiful photos), it's bountiful with new food ideas for January that I'm already drooling over, like Magical Mushroom Risotto and Smoky Lentil Soup with Pumpkin. Yes. 

For the Mind:
Sacred Commerce by Matthew & Terces Engelhart | This book was recommended to me by a friend a couple of months ago and over the holidays was gifted to me (thank you, Universe) by my Mom. I read through it in a single day, and will continue to read it over and over to let all of the gems sink in as I start this new year for my business and personal growth. It feels so right to embark on a business venture with a foundation based in gratitude and open communication - two principles that made into into my yearly ideal wheel for my daily living. 

For the Soul:
Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince | Because I hopped on the Harry Potter fan wagon way late...and was apparently too busy being a die hard Lord of the Rings fan. I tore through the first five HP books in the past three months and....this one is nearly done already. Not that I imagine any of you have neglected to read these in the past 10 years, but if you haven't, just mosey on down to the bookstore and seriously get started. So much adventuring. 

What's in your book nook this month that's keeping you inspired?
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Herbal medicine and nutrition is my expertise. Understanding plants, their properties, and their powers is my passion.


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