Thursday, May 31, 2012

Daily Herb-o-Scope - Gotu Kola to revitalize the body and mind

             Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) is a plant that yields from tropical Africa, eastern Asia and Australia. The herb and leaves have a bitter sweet flavor and are cool and dry. Its name causes some confusion because it isn’t related to kola and it does not contain caffeine. This fairly unknown herb has benefits that are far reaching, helping to revitalize the body and the mind.

             Gout kola’s action on the body is impressive. Its vulnerary (wound healing) properties help to speed healing by stimulating collagen production and discouraging the formation of scar tissue. Gotu kola can help wound healing when applied both topically and taken internally and the wounds are not restricted to the outside of the body either. A tea made from gotu kola has been shown to be helpful in the healing of gastric ulcers. Gotu kola also helps resolve some skin issues indirectly by purifying the blood. Symptoms of metabolic toxicosis including rashes and reoccurring boils may get worse when first using gotu kola but soon you will see resolution. This connective tissue restorative can also help with cellulite. In addition, guto kola is venous decongestant and restorative making it helpful for varicose veins, spider veins, hemorrhoids and heavy periods with downward bearing pressure.

            This herb’s action on the mind is also noteworthy. In India, yogis use gotu kola to help them meditate. This herb helps them to increase the energy of the crown chakra and increases the movement of energy between the two hemispheres of the brain. Gotu kola has also shown to be a restorative to the central nervous system, the adrenal cortex and the immune system and has shown to be helpful with depression, anxiety and other stress related conditions. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is known as Ji Xue Cao and is used for Kidney Essence Deficiency which is a loss of vitality and paints a symptom picture of fatigue, depression, poor memory and early graying of hair. Overall it seems to be a very helpful brain and vitality builder.

In China there is a story of the oldest man who lived to be 256 years old. He ate gotu kola leaves every day and felt that this plant contained an essential nutrient not discovered by modern medicine yet. This man is not recognized by the World Health Organization, but it doesn’t mean that this story is completely false. Gotu kola is said to combat premature aging. Elephants like to eat these leaves and look how long they live. There is also a saying about gotu kola: “two leaves a day will keep old age away.”

James Duke PhD suggests 1-2 tsp of dried herb in 1 cup of hot water 3 times a day and Peter Holmes suggests 2-5ml of tincture at 1:3 (grams of herb to ml of menstrum) strength in 45% etoh.

But gotu kola has some draw backs. In large doses it can cause headaches, itchiness, dizziness and vertigo. Children, pregnant or nursing women and individuals with an overactive thyroid should not take gotu kola. Some suggest that taking gotu kola may interact with pharmaceuticals treating depression, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Overall gotu kola is a wonderful herb with wonderful benefits.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Daily Herb-o-Scope - Don't Let the Bugs Bite

      With summer time approaching, the joy of the outdoors is upon us. Camping and hiking are just a few of the outdoor activities that I cannot live without. What I can live without are the mosquitoes that accompany the outdoor adventures. When I get bit by a mosquito my body has an allergic reaction to them. The bites swell up to the size of at least a golf ball, sometimes bigger and they itch and ache so bad. So for me it is imperative that I have a safe and effective bug repellent with me on my outdoor adventures.
      N-N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide, more commonly known as DEET, is the main ingredient in most commercial insect repellents. Many government agencies deem DEET safe; however, because compounds applies to the skin are readily absorbed into the bloodstream, DEET may not be as safe as we think. Once in the body, DEET affects the nervous system and can cause long term effects including seizures and death. One study done in rats showed that long term use of DEET killed brain cells. DEET isn’t the only pesticide in bug sprays. They are often a chemical cocktail of toxicity .These chemical bug repellents are especially toxic to the sensitive developing bodies of children. So why take the risk when there are other alternatives?
      The next question is “what are effective alternatives?” I’ve tried many options from store bought natural bug sprays to homemade ones, some working better than others. But what I’ve found to work the best is a homemade mixture including many essential oils. Bugs don’t like the smell of these essential oils and I will admit some smell better than others. Useful essential oils include: Lemon, Lemongrass, Clove bud, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Citronella, Orange, Rose Geranium, Lavender, Rosemary and Catnip. I find Catnip essential oil to be the most effective at repelling mosquitoes; however it is very expensive! To remedy this I make a tincture of catnip using 90-100% alcohol. At this strength the alcohol is able to pull out some of the essential oils. The base that I use is witch hazel extract. If the bugs do manage to make their way through the haze of essential oils that I spray on myself, the witch hazel extract helps to tame the itch and the inflammation. Here is the recipe I use:
·         4oz of witch hazel extract
·         90 drops of citronella essential oil
·         80 drops of eucalyptus essential oil
·         40 drops of lavender essential oil
·         30 drops of rosemary essential oil
·         20 drops of clove bud essential oil
·         10-15 drops of both lemon and lemongrass essential oil
·         4oz of catnip tincture
      Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle. I prefer to use many small glass spray bottles because the essential oils can eat away at plastic containers and the small ones are easy to store in your purse or backpack. Shake well before using. If you are missing some of the essential oils, substitute for others named above or just leave them out and increase the amount of other oils. Make sure that you use at least 4 different essential oils and be sure that citronella is one of them. Purchasing all of the essential oils can be expensive, but they will last a long time if you store them in a cool, dry place out of sunlight.
A few other tips:
  • Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors, so stick to brighter colors
  • Mosquitoes are attracted to an increase in carbon dioxide and lactic acid – so    be careful when you are exercising outside
  • Mosquitoes like fruity and floral fragrances so be aware of the kind of soap, shampoo and other beauty products you use. 
  •  Don’t give the mosquitoes that opportunity to eat you and wear long sleeves and pants in heavily infected areas.
  • Try not to drink alcohol. Doing so adds sugar to our sweat making us tastier to mosquitoes.
  • Eating garlic and Vitamin B has been said to help keep the blood sucking bugs away.
  • Clear away any standing water around your home. This could be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
      I hope everyone can now enjoy a mosquito free summer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Daily Herb-o-Scope - Tea Tree Essential Oil

      The Tea Tree plant (Melaleuca alternifolia) yields an essential oil that is very valuable. It has antiseptic, expectorant, and immunostimulant properties that can be used in a wide variety of ways. But what I find most useful is its broad spectrum antimicrobial properties, protecting against bacteria, viruses and fungi. When applied topically it is excellent for wound healing. For adults, tea tree oil is one of few essential oils that can be applied directly to the skin for cuts and scrapes; however, do not use on babies and for children dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil (olive oil, almond oil, etc.) making a 1% solution. Several drops can also be added to a foot bath of half warm water and half white vinegar to help get rid of athlete’s foot, and when tea tree oil is applied directly to the fingernails or toenails twice a day it can help to get rid the nail of fungi.

      Due to tea tree oil’s expectorant), antimicrobial and immunostimulant properties, it can be a great treatment for all sorts of respiratory issues. I add a few drops of tea tree oil to a pot of boiling water and make a towel tent over my head, inhaling the vapors. This can be quiet beneficial and enjoyable, helping the body to cough up secretions and mucus that are stuck in the respiratory system. I recommend keeping your eyes closed while doing it and when the steam cools down use the pot of water as a foot bath.

      For me, the most benefit I get from tea tree essential oil is in my cleaning products. Its antimicrobial properties are a well needed addition to home-made cleaning products. It’s very simple to make an antiseptic soap spray. Fill a 16oz spray bottle with warm water. Add 3-5 tablespoons of castile soap and about 30 drops of tea tree essential oil. This spray can then be used to disinfect most surfaces and it is non-toxic (unlike most commercial cleaning products). I also like to Sprinkle several drop of tea tree directly on my sponges to help disinfect them.

      There are a few safety precautions to know about before you start using tea tree oil. First it’s non-toxic and non-irritating however some individuals may be allergic to it. So before using tea tree oil, do a small patch test to make sure you are not allergic. Put a small drop on the inside of your arm and if within an hour you notice irritation or redness, do not use tea tree oil. Keep out of the reach of children. Essential oils smell very pleasant, and if a child gets a hold of an essential oil and drinks it, it can be very dangerous and potentially fatal. Also do not take internally.  

      Tea tree oil is very close to me in my arsenal of effective home remedies and I hope you find it as invaluable as I do.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Daily Herb-o-Scope - Coffee!!!

      Coffee (Coffea arabica) is a beverage of mixed emotions. On the one hand Americans know that they overindulge when it comes to coffee drinks and this is no thanks to addiction pushing chains. On the other hand it is so satisfying to slowly sip on that warm morning pick-me-upper. Regardless of your stance on coffee drinking, the health benefits of coffee are overlooked. The typical American diet doesn't offer a whole lot of antioxidant or bitter foods and coffee offers both. The bitter flavor was discussed in the Daily Herb-o-Scope on Thursday May 24, 2012. So I'm not going to say much about it other than it helps to improve the flow of gastric juices and can reduce the risk of gall stones and colon cancer.

      Antioxidants help to protect the body from free radicals. Antioxidants and free radicals are buzz words in the health food industry right now, so I want to make sure everyone knows what they mean. A free radical is an atom or molecule that carries an unpaired electron in its outer ring. Because electrons work best in pairs, the free radicals steal electrons from cells in the body, causing damage by turning our own cell into free radicals. This process known as oxidation can lead to a chain event of destruction with molecules and cells trying to hijack electrons from other cells.

      Antioxidants help to remedy this by giving an electron to the free radical, making it stable. Even though the antioxidant now has a unpaired electron it does not become a free radical because it is stable with or without unpaired electrons. Some research suggests that a cup of coffee may offer more antioxidants than a serving of blueberries or raspberries. And coffee antioxidants can help to prevent degenerative diseases of the heart and nervous system and even protect against certain kinds of cancer. Dark roasting the beans produces even more antioxidants; however, adding milk to coffee has been shown to bind the antioxidants, making them less effective.

      A few other tips to keeping your cup of coffee as healthy as possible are to store your beans in the freezer and to grind them fresh. Coffee contains oils that can go bad. When the oils are rancid they make the coffee very bitter and can wreak havoc on your liver. Also opt for real sugar and organic cream. Decaf usually contains traces of the solvent used to extract the caffeine and still contains traces of caffeine. My advice is to stick with herbs in their natural form. Caffeine and all.

      Now don't go out and drink 5 cups of coffee. Too much can cause nausea, heart palpitations and irregular heartbeats, anxiety, restlessness, muscle tension and insomnia. It may also worsen ulcers and heart burn especially if you drink decaf. Long term excessive use can lead to adrenal fatigue and burnout. Anything in excess is discouraged, stick with moderation. So just as long as you aren't overdoing it enjoy your cup of coffee and the health benefits that go along with it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Daily Herb-o-Scope - Stop the Tinkle Sprinkle and do Kegels

      Kegels are the action of contracting and releasing the muscles of the pelvic floor. These muscles are responsible for supporting the bladder, the bowel and in women the uterus. When the pelvic floor becomes weak it can lead to urinary leakage and organ prolapse causing bulges, uncomfortable pressure and slightly wet undies. Kegels are also a great exercise for pregnant women to do. Pregnancy and delivery can stretch and weaken the muscles of the pelvic floor.
      I think the most appealing aspect of doing kegels is that by tonifying the pelvic floor you may experience improved sexual function. They can help to combat erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation in men and help women to more easily experience an orgasm. If this isn't a good enough reason to do some kegels then I don't know what is.
      Kegels are an exercise that requires no equipment and can be done anywhere and anytime without anyone knowing that you are doing them. Like working out any other muscle in the body, the more consistently you do kegels the stronger your pelvic floor muscles will get and the more you will benefits you will experience. To do kegels start by squeezing the muscle that you would use to stop urinating. When you have found the right muscle contract and hold it for 5 seconds and then release for 5 seconds. Do about 10 to 15 reps about 3 times a day. Slowly build up to 10 seconds of contraction and 10 seconds of relaxation.
      The one problem I have with kegels is I can never remember to do them. To remedy this I put a red heart sticker on my car steering wheel. It reminds me that when I am stopped at a red light to do some kegels. So where ever you are do some kegels. Its fun and it feels kind of sneaky to do a physical activity that no one can tell you're doing.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Daily Herb-o-Scope - Feel Better with Bitters

      In my opinion the number one thing that you can do herbally to increase your health and vitality is to take a blend of bitter herbs before every meal. The bitter taste is the most lacking flavor in the typical American diet and as a result our digestion is suffering. The bitter taste elicits a very important response in the digestive tract: it stimulates the release of gastrin causing an increase in digestive juices. With this, all areas of digestion are improved including the breakdown, absorption and excretion of food. It also helps to eliminate heartburn and indigestion, bloating, gas and borborygmus (I love using this word! Its a fancy way of saying gurgling in the intestines). But the benefits go beyond the digestive tract into other areas of health. Because of the bitters effect on the liver, they help to detoxify the body and regulate hormones which extends into all body systems including mood enhancement and reproductive issues. Also with better absorption of nutrients, the increased nutrition helps to strengthen the entire body. 

      Less is more when it comes to the use of bitters. Only 1 ml of tincture should be taken 15 minutes before each meal. You can purchase a  bitters tincture at most health food stores or you can make your own tincture blend by including herbs such as artichoke leaf, milk thistle, dandelion root, turmeric, angelica, ginger and gentian to name a few. I will warn you that the taste is not very enjoyable but the health benefits far outweigh the nasty taste you have to experience. So get some bitters so you can feel better.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Daily Herb-o-Scope - In Love with Lemon Water

      I must say that in the morning I find it very uplifting and invigorating to drink a glass of warm water with half of a lemon squeezed into it. Not only does it wake up my taste buds with its zesty refreshing flavor but it also offers some great health benefits. Lemon water helps us to detoxify by stimulating the liver and aiding in digestion and elimination.

      It also helps to alkalize the body. Our internal environment prefers a neutral to a slightly alkaline pH; however, the typical American diet consists of highly acidic foods including grains, meats and sugars without enough alkaline foods, fruits and veggies, to counteract all the acid. In order for the body to balance out these highly acid forming foods our muscles break down and we release Calcium and Magnesium from our bones. Not only does this result in muscle and bone loss but also a whole other slew of health issues. I know that it is completely counterintuitive to think that lemons, a clearly acidic food outside of the body, can create a healthy alkalizing effect inside of the body. But it is lemon juice’s high Potassium content that's responsible for the alkalinization. So jump start you day and your system by enjoying some warm lemon water in the morning.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Daily Herb-o-scope - Keep your heart healthy with Hawthorn berries

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is a great cardiac restorative that can nourish and restore the heart. This plant has the innate ability to stimulate or depress the hearts activity as needed. Take it as a tasty tea or as a tincture but don't forget about the delicious jams and jellies that these berries can make. Although Hawthorn is safe to be taken along with heart medication, be sure to consult your physician so that you can monitor you blood pressure and heart function. You may find that with continued use of hawthorn berries you may need less medication.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Herbal Resurgence

Herbal Medicine in the Western World has a deep seeded past. For thousands of years this knowledge of safe and effective plant medicine was passed down from generation to generation. Today this method of learning plant healing is known as “The Wise Woman Tradition”. In my opinion, this once general knowledge fell from popularity and familiarity with two major events in Western history.
 The first historical event is the witch hunts. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed during the witch hunts and most of these individuals were healers following the Wise Woman Tradition. The criteria for being accused of a witch included healing without a license and offering relief to a woman during child birth. As a consequence we lost thousands of years of valuable plant knowledge and healers were forced secrecy.
The second major breaking point for herbal medicine in Western history is the Flexner Report of 1910. The report was financed by the Carnegie Foundation and assessed the quality of various medical schools. The report praised the Hopkins-Harvard model which follows a science based pharmaceutical version of medicine and adheres to the requirements of the AMA. Funding was cut to all schools that did not comply with this method of medicine forcing medical schools teaching folk medicine, herbs, naturopathy, homeopathy, osteopathic medicine and chiropractics to either drop these classes or loose funding and accreditation. Within 20 years, no medical school in the US provided training in herbal medicine.
Since then herbs and other natural healing methods have lost value and recognition among Americans. Today we are a society that is drowning in pharmaceuticals and we are hitting rock bottom in regards to our health. Now don’t get me wrong, modern western medicine has its place. If I’m in a car accident or my arm gets chopped off, take me to the hospital. I’m not discrediting the life saving techniques of modern medicine. They are second to none. But as for modern medicine’s illness prevention techniques, umm there are none, and for day to day health issues, pharmaceuticals are toxic and if they are effective at treating your problem, chances are they are also causing some gnarly side effects. So today we are seeing an Herbal resurgence. More and more people every day are finding relief and comfort in alternative healing practices. Herbs, nutrition, massage and acupuncture are just a few modalities that are gaining popularity among an unhealthy and an unhappy culture.
                So the Verbal Herbal is here to bring about discussions about natural healing modalities, particularly herbs – my specialty. There will also be a daily Herb-o-Scope. Not unlike your horoscope, it will provide a daily tip to help bring you closer to health and happiness. Please join me on the voyage of The Verbal Herbal.