Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Don’t be a Victim to a Toothache this Holiday Season

One of the most awful feelings is that of a toothache. To make matters worse is a toothache during the holiday season. Not only does it inhibit your consumption of the delicious food that is the holidays but it can be difficult to get an appointment with a dentist. So today I'd like to provide some all natural ways to help you deal with a toothache.

Why do I have a toothache?
The likely source of a toothache is due to an infection or abscess. This happens when decay penetrate the hard exterior of the tooth and extends into the soft tissue, known as the pulp, in the center of the tooth. Bacteria then infiltrated the tooth causing inflammation and ultimately an infection. The pain that results can be deep, sharp and throbbing. Other common symptoms associated with a toothache include:
  • Pain with chewing.
  • Hot and cold Sensitivity that may persist after the stimuli is removed.
  • Slight bleeding around the tooth or gums.
  • Swelling around the tooth or jaw.
Other Reasons for a Toothache
Infection is the most common explanation as to why you have a toothache; however, there are other reasons for the pain. Other dental related issues including:
  • Gum disease
  • Tooth fractures
  • Tooth extraction
For any of these issues a dentist appointment should clear things up. There are also more serious issues that can cause a toothache. If you experience any of the following issues, seek professional medical attention immediately:
  • Issues of the ears, sinuses or throat.
  • Temporomandibular Joint or TMJ: jaw pain that radiates giving the perception of a toothache.
  • High fever or chills: may be an indication that the infection has spread.
  • Recent head Injury: the tooth pain may be an indication of more serious issues.
  • Facial rash.
  • Jaw pain coupled with chest pain: the jaw pain may be referred pain from other areas and can be an indication of a heart attack.
  • Trouble swallowing, extreme pain and bleeding from the gums: in individuals with compromised immune systems, diabetes or have taken a regimen of steroids recently these symptoms may indicate the need for a more aggressive treatment.
Natural Remedies for a Toothache
The first thing to do when you have a toothache is to go to the dentist. Infection can spread quickly and it is important to get it under control. When you can't make it to the dentist because it is a night, weekend or holiday here are some suggestions.
  • Address the infection: A Fever is an important sign that an infection is present. The western approach is to take antibiotics. If you choose this approach, be sure to take Probiotics to counteract the effects that the antibiotics have on your gut flora. If you choose an herbal approach to fighting the infection, antimicrobial herbs are invaluable. Blasting your system with a tincture of Echinacea and goldenseal can help get the infection under control, but this means taking several milliliters every couple of hours.
  • Garlic: Garlic is another great antimicrobial herb that can be valuable for a toothache. You can take it internally (remember that the antimicrobial properties are destroyed by cooking) as food or place a slice of garlic on the tooth for 20 minutes to increase circulation and fight infection.
  • Clove Essential Oil: Clove (Syzygium aromaticum) essential oil is one of my go-to remedies for toothaches. Eugenol, one of the constituents in cloves, helps to anesthetize the pain and fight infection. I find the best way to apply clove essential oil is to put several drops on a cotton ball and apply it directly to the affected tooth. It doesn’t taste good and the salivary glands really kick into high gear when you use it but it helps with the pain tremendously! If you are using this for a child only use one drop of clove and soak the rest of the cotton ball with olive oil. If you are unable to obtain the oil you can crush or chew a whole clove and apply it to the site of the pain. Overuse of clove essential oil can cause gum damage so be sure to only use this in acute emergency situations.
  • Salt Water Rinse: In a glass of warm water add 2-3 teaspoons of salt. Swish the salt water in your mouth several times before spiting it out. Do this with the entire glass. It will help to clean and disinfect the infected tooth and help to draw out fluid that may be causing swelling. For added antiseptic power, add 1-2 drops of Tea Tree Essential Oil.
  • Fresh Ginger: Cut a slice of fresh ginger and remove the skin. Place the chunk of ginger directly over the sore tooth and bite into it. It should take away the pain almost instantly. Replace with a fresh piece of ginger periodically.
  • Turmeric: This bright yellow spice has amazing antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and help to increase circulation to the infected tooth. Add a few drops of water to a teaspoon of turmeric to make a paste and dab it on the sore tooth. To amplify this remedy, add a drop of clove and tea tree essential oil.  
  • Green tea and Chamomile tea: Green tea contains constituents that can treat infection and reduce inflammation. It is also very easy to obtain from any grocery store, convenience store or restaurant. Drink 2 cups a day to help with a toothache. Chamomile tea will help to relax you and your nerves by gently sedating the nervous system. It can also help to fight the infection, and is safe for children to take. For an adult take up to 3 cups of tea daily (1/2 to 1 tsp of dried flower in 1 cup of hot water steeped for 10 minutes). For children follow the guidelines for using Herbal Remedies for Kids.
  • Spilanthes: The leaves and flower heads of Spilanthes acmella, known as the toothache plant, are an amazing asset when you have a toothache. It’ analgesic property can numb the gums and relieve toothaches when the leaves or flowers are chewed. It is also a relative to echinacea, which is evident in its ability to stimulate wound healing, reduce swelling and treat bacterial, viral and fugal infections.  
Followup to the toothache
When using these herbal remedies, is not uncommon for the toothache to go away; however, it is still important to go to the dentist. If the infection persists, it can penetrate the root and then you run the risk of losing the tooth. Also, chronic dental infections are correlated to an increased risk in stroke. Plaque and bacteria can enter the blood stream through the mouth causing blood clots. So take care of your teeth.
Gladstar, R. (2001). Rosemary Gladstar's family herbal: a guide to living life with energy, health, and vitality. North Adams, Mass.: Storey Books.
Mars, B. (2007). The desktop guide to herbal medicine. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications.
Mars, B., & Fiedler, C. (2011). The country almanac of home remedies: time-tested & almost-forgotten wisdom for treating hundreds of common ailments, aches & pains quickly and naturally. Beverly, Mass.: Fair Winds Press.
White, L & Foster, S. (2000). The herbal Drugstore: the best natural alternatives to over-the-counter and prescription medications. Emmaus, PA: Rodale.
Wildwood, C. (1996). The encyclopedia of aromatherapy. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fermentation - for the future you

Today I would like to introduce you to my friend and colleague, Steven Zoncki. He is a wonderful individual and a passionate herbalist. He continues to inspire me to push myself and dream big. I hope you enjoy his words of wisdom as much as I do.  

Fermentation - for the future you
By Steven Zoncki
Founder and Herbalist, One Tribe Herbals  
The harvest moon has come and gone and the community supported agriculture program has now come to a full stop for the season, leaving us with enormous piles of harvest-season vegetables, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, onions, and kale coming out our ears.

Its, I know, a dilemma, that I am incredibly grateful for as this is also the time for many less fortunate who's personal gardens were their only food source throughout the summer.  However, to honor my commitment to those less fortunate and the memory of our frugal ancestors who used this time to put up surplus and planned their families winter meals, today I am challenging myself and the readers of The Verbal Herbal to ferment some or all of the surplus vegetables in your fridge, pantry or root cellars and contribute some of the grocery money saved to a local food bank or charity where it will help other families get through the winter months to another season of bounty.

Yes, I challenge you to seize the opportunity to take back some self sufficiency, support the wellness of your family and friends and learn why the time honored process of food fermentation is so dang good for us as opposed to the modern canning and preservation that we get in today's grocers.

"Fermentation". To some it might bring up images of those rotten tomatoes in the bottom of your fridge and others might think of that incredible homemade beer or wine made earlier this year. 

Fermentation is far more important to us than trash or treasurer.  It is a process that can help make vegetables more palatable for kids (and those anti-veggie eaters) and help us more easily assimilate the nutrients locked up in cellulose rich vegetables. 

We hear nearly every day on radio, television, web ads and billboards about how our human body benefits from supplementing the good bacteria in our digestive system.  Well here is a time honored method to make vegetables taste better for kids and supplement your Gastrointestinal tract (GI).  The health of our children and communities could be vastly improved if we each rediscovered lacto-fermentation like our grandparents or great grandparents used each autumn and early winter.

The process...  Simple.

Chop up, grate or food process your fall crop vegetables into bite size to small pieces, add starter and let sit out for a week or three.

Crunch it with your clean hands to help some of the vegetable juice come out.

Add the starter (see below)

And BAM!  You've got sauerkraut or preserved vegetables, or delicious homemade pickles.

So, here's the scoop,  You can use almost any vegetable as long as you include cabbage and/or cucumber in the recipe.  These two vegetables contain higher natural levels of the lactobacillus organism and will be your insurance that your ferment is promoting bacteria that are good and safe for humans to consume.

The ingredients for a spicy sauerkraut
5 lbs cabbage
2-3 carrots
1/2 daikon radish
1 clove garlic

Putting it all together
Different people put it together in different ways. But first you must shred the cabbage, or at least cut into small pieces that you and your family will enjoy eating. Slice, dice or shred the carrots and radish and slice or chop the garlic. Some people sprinkle a little salt on each layer of veggie as you chop.  I have used this method most often, it is less accurate on the brining and often turns out ferments that are pretty salty - beware to those with high blood pressure.

I know what you're thinking. That's not enough garlic and onion, but trust me the ferment process enhances and strengthens the flavor of most spices and herbs. By the time the 2-4 weeks has passed, you'll be glad for just one clove of garlic. This advice is even more critical when you decide to make those spicy duly beans. A little fresh jalapeƱo goes a long way.

Once you've chopped or shredded your veggies. In a bowl, hand mix them together, scrunching them just a bit to get the liquid flowing out of them to start the brining. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt... scrunch it together well and set it to the side for about an hour. The salt and your scrunch will start the juices flowing so you end up with brine at the bottom of your bowl. Be sure you have sterile glass jars with lids.

Once the veg-mix has begun you can begin to pack it into jars. Pack it nice and tight into the jar so when You press on the veg you can see the juice in the jar. Work out any remaining air pockets and bubbles to the surface.  Your veg should be packed tight enough to maintain the water above the level of the veg.  If you are a little short use the following brine recipe to fill jars to about 1 inch above the level of the vegetables.

Cover with a couple layers of muslin cloth and rubber band around the rim of the jar and let sit on the counter or other clean, dry, cool area of the kitchen for a couple days to a couple weeks depending on how you like your sauerkraut.

Taste a little each day to see if it is done to your taste and not "overdone" and when its ready skim off the top layer of foam, cover with the jar lid and keep in the refrigerator for the next several months.  Use it cold as a condiment, hot cooked with your favorite veggie sausage or on the homemade reuben sandwich.

Voila!  In a few weeks you made your very own delicious tangy sauerkraut.  Produced a great lactobacillus supplement for your family and saved all those end of summer vegetables, saving money in one afternoon of fun work (include your own high energy music to play throughout the afternoon here)

You can use the same method with cucumbers, dill, garlic to make amazing pickles,  all of which support the good flora in your gut and help you become more able to assimilate nutrients in your intestines.  Not to mention the great fiber that most Americans need to increase in our diets.

The Starter
You can purchase online a lactobacillus starter mix that you mix with water and add to your vegetables, but cabbage and cucumbers are a great natural source for this particular type of bacteria and include some cabbage or cucumber in your ferment recipes can act as a starter for you.  Bear in mind that starting from scratch will mean the ferment takes longer on your counter, whereas the prestart mix is usually live ready to go bacteria and also great for those of us who might go a little insane with the wait time.  Once you have started a ferment you can actually use a cup of the juice now rich with lactobacillus to start your next batch of vegetables, miso, yogurt... but that's another ferment lesson entirely.

Extra Brine Solution
2 Tbsp kosher or sea salt (preferably not the iodized processed salt that contains anticaking chemicals)
1 Quart Distilled or spring water (tap water nearly always contains chlorine that inhibits the good bacterial growth)  Be careful too if you are using well water to insure it is free of other bacteria.

Online Resources:
There are bazillions of resources online from other fermenters and nutrition sites who support fermentation.  The Verbal Herbal writers have included just a few of these below.  Or do a search with your favorite search engine and you'll see so many more from all around the world.  I recommend this approach, because fermenters are always willing to share their amazing and delicious recipes from Sauerkraut to fruit ferments, to beverages, kimchi, miso, hot sauce and Oh! so much more.  Have Fun and Herbal On Verbal Herbies!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

5 Must Haves For the Cold and Flu Season

It has been quiet some time since I last posted. I would like to formally apologize to my readers for the lack of commitment that I have displayed these last few weeks. I couldn't find the drive or motivation to speak my truth due to some personal hardships. Sometimes, it’s hard to help others when inside you feel as though you can't help yourself. But I now realize that for me, helping others means helping myself.

Today I would like to help everyone survive the winter with 5 must haves for the cold and flu season.

1. Probiotics

Probiotics are the first must have for the winter season. With the majority of our immune system in our gut, by keeping our gut healthy we are also able to keep our whole system healthy and prevent illness before it happens. There are many ways to take probiotics. My favorite is through fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso soup, yogurt, temphe and kefir to name a few. I feel that it is an evolutionary treatment to utilize food as medicine. If you are unable to incorporate these foods into your diet, then a supplement will do. There are so many different kinds of probiotics supplement that I am sure you can find one that fits your needs, as well as your wallet. I suggest switching between a few different kinds of probiotics supplements. This way you can get several different strands of probiotics into your system, making a sure your variety of gut flora is strong and healthy. Check out a previous blog post on Probiotics for more information on the topic.

2. Homemade Veggie Stock

This is my favorite thing to have on hand for the winter season. It is so easy to make and store and it’s jam packed with vitamins and nutrients to help heal the body. Click here for instructions on how to make it. Be sure to add lots of kitchen herbs like parsley, rosemary, basil and thyme to help increase the effectiveness of its healing properties. Once it is strained, you can use it to make chicken or vegetable soup or can drink it as a tea to nourish and re-hydrate.

3. Echinacea

Echinacea is amazing at helping the body fight off invaders. It helps in several ways. First it increase our body’s own defenses by increasing macrophage, neutrophil, monocyte, eosinophil and B-lymphocyte activity and initiating destruction of the pathogens. It also provides a physical enzymatic barrier by impairing the pathogen’s ability to penetrate and destroy healthy cells. It is effective against both bacteria and viral infections anywhere in the body and is safe for all ages.

Some people use echinacea preventatively for daily immune support; however, this is not an appropriate use of this herb. Continued use, decreases the effectiveness of this important herb. My suggestion would be to only use echinacea when you feel an illness coming on and to cycle use: 5 days on and two days off.

At the first sign of illness take frequent small doses. Hoffmann suggests 1 to 4 ml of tincture (1:5 in 40% etoh) 3 times a day or a decoction of 1 to 2 tsp of root in one cup of water taken several times a day. I will also note that echinacea is a sacred plant of the Native Americans and because it has been exploited in the wild, many species of echinacea are now at risk. I suggest only using the cultivated Echinacea pupurea to preserve echinacea in the wild.  

4. Elder berries and flower
Elder is another herb that is a must have for the cold and flu season. The flower is an excellent diaphoretic, inducing sweating and helping to reduce fevers. The berry has amazing immune enhancing properties. It helps to increase cytokine production which strengthens the cell membrane to prevent viral penetration. In vitro it is effective against 10 strains of the influenza virus and helps to decrease the duration of flu symptoms by 3 to 4 days. It is a sacred plant to the Gypsies, claming it has abilities to help all ailments of man kind.

Both the flower and the berry can be made in to an infusion. 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp of herb, infused for 10 minutes and taken 3 times a day.

One great way to utilize the healing properties of both echinacea and elder berries is to make a syrup. It is great to make a large batch in the early fall and then have it throughout the winter season. I made a large batch in July and I just ran out. When I feel a cold coming on I take a tablespoon every couple of hours for several days. Usually I feel better after the first day but it is important to continue to take it for the extra day to ensure that I have kicked the bug. Click here for direction on how to make this winter must have.

5. Garlic

Garlic is an herb that most people have in their kitchens year round and don’t even realize its healing properties. Its sulfur and volatile oils are powerful antiseptics against bacteria, viruses and parasites. The volatile oils are excreted through the lungs, which is why you get garlic breath if you eat a lot, making it especially useful for infections in this area, including bronchitis, catarrh, colds and flus. It also supports the growth of gut flora while killing off the bad bacteria. During acute infection, I suggest 1 clove 3 times a day. It is best to ingest garlic as food, but the active ingredient in garlic is destroyed with cooking. My favorite way to get a lot of garlic into my system is to add chopped garlic to soup right before it is served or to add a lot of garlic to some salsa and chew it as quickly as possible. If you can stand it go ahead and chew on a clove.

Thank you to all my readers for your continued support. I hope you find this blog helpful in keeping you healthy for the winter season.


Gladstar, R. (2001). Rosemary Gladstar's family herbal: a guide to living life with energy, health, and vitality. North Adams, Mass.: Storey Books.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.

Levy, J. d. (1997). Common herbs for natural health (Rev., expanded ed.). Woodstock, N.Y.: Ash Tree Pub..