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Archive for July, 2008

Once more for the record:  I’m not a doctor.  I have no formal medical training.  I can’t diagnose, treat or heal any medical conditions.  The info provided is strictly my own opinion and the results of my own personal experience and research.  Always consult a medical professional if you suspect illness or disease.  None of these statements have been approved by any governing agency, domestic or foreign.

What do you really know about your immune system? If you are like most people, the answer is, not a lot. Everyone knows the basics. The immune system is what keeps us from getting sick. It’s the system that kicks out the bad germs, bacteria and viruses.

I’ve sat here for an hour now trying to decide the best way to simplify how the immune system works so that I can explain to you how to help keep it strong. What I’ve decided is that there is no easy way to break it down.  Instead, I’ll be pointing you to several other well-written, easy-to-understand websites. I suggest that you check out this article at Howstuffworks.com if you are interested in knowing how the immune system works. Otherwise, just understand that the immune system is affected by and/or related to every single organ of the body and requires some very specific things to keep it working properly.

First of all, it needs to be fed. Vitamins, minerals, elements, enzymes…all of these are necessary to keep your immune system strong and focused. So, is the answer a multi-vitamin or supplement? I don’t believe so. The body absorbs vitamins, minerals and nutrients from food sources much more rapidly and efficiently than when taken in the form of a pill. This is one of those rare facts that homeopaths, doctors, nutritionists and the universe can all agree on.

That doesn’t mean that you need to eat 50 different fruits and veggies a day to get all the nutrients that your body needs. Mother Nature is a multi-tasking expert. Most fruits and veggies contain a whole little package of vitamins and nutrients within them. A few, recently dubbed ‘Super-foods‘, contain a big package of vitamins and nutrients.

It has also been proven that organic foods contain higher levels of these vitamins and nutrients. I know all the arguments…organic costs too much, it doesn’t look as pretty, it’s harder to obtain….I’ve heard and felt them all. The truth is, though, they are cheaper over time. The few extra dollars a week spent on organic instead of non-organic will help ensure a stronger immune system, which leads to fewer sick days, less money spent on medicine and increased energy and productivity.

Many fruits and veggies also contain antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral elements. Imagine them as steroids for the immune system without the side-effects, if you will. Sometimes our immune system will get overloaded with processed foods, environmental toxins, viruses, germs and a gazillion other depressants. It’s hard work fighting off all those enemies! Whose system couldn’t use an extra bit of muscle?

Here are a few foods that will help keep your immune system strong and healthy:

carrots, cucumbers, leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, etc), eggplant, tomato, broccoli, asparagus, peppers, onions, garlic, oranges, avocado, honey, apples, berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), lemons, limes, grapefruit, papaya

Raw veggies are best, but really, who wants to munch down on a raw onion? Any form you eat them in (except canned) is great, just don’t microwave them or over-cook them. Try steamed asparagus drizzled with fresh lemon juice and dash of sea salt. A fresh fruit salad sprinkled with some freshly grated coconut, raisins or nuts and a hint of fresh mint. Add some extra onion and garlic to your meals. It doesn’t have to be complicated and you’ll feel so much better!

Our immune system also requires a constant, fresh source of oxygen to function properly. How often do you take the time to just sit and breath? Do you know the best way to breathe? Did you even know there was a ‘best way to breathe’? This is one reason that I always recommend yoga. The combination of breathing and movement helps stimulate the organs of the body, which promotes better function and a stronger overall health.

The skin, too, plays a part in the immune system. It is our first defense against a whole army of deadly bacteria and germs. It is the largest organ of the body and is capable of absorbing just about anything that comes in contact with it. That is why it is incredibly important to have a good skin-care regimen that is free of chemicals and unnatural ingredients that the body often sees as ‘foreign material’.

While your skin will fight it as long as possible, eventually it will catch up with you and suddenly you have a rash from your soap, dandruff from your shampoo and a nasty case of acne from the same kind of makeup you’ve used for years!

Check your labels when you go to buy your next bottle of face cleanser. Remember that just because it says ‘made with natural ingredients’ doesn’t mean it’s made with ALL natural ingredients. Here are a few ingredients to avoid:

mineral oil,  lanolin, PABA, formaldehyde, phenol acid (urocanic, salacylic and others), propylene glycol, parabens (methyl, propyl and others), Sodium lauryl sulfate (also Sodium Laureth , Ammonium Lauryl, and other “sulfates”)

Some natural ingredients to look for that contain antibacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and other immune-boosting properties ( and many other beneficial characteristics including moisturizing, healing and protecting) include:

shea butter, kokum butter, cocoa butter, mango butter, grapeseed oil, olive oil, sesame oil, aloe vera, honey, beeswax, tea tree, lavender

There are times, though, that even the healthiest diet and a proper amount of exercise aren’t enough and our immune system goes on the blink. What then? Then you make a doctor’s appointment and gladly snatch the prescription he hands you for an antibiotic, right? Well, you could do that. It’s not my first course of action, though. Here is what I do for myself and my family. I’ve gotten a few friends hooked on it lately, too, I’m afraid. Are you ready? It’s kinda complicated…

~I take a lemon and squeeze it til there’s not a drop of juice left. I leave the seeds and pulp in it because they have their own healing characteristics, but you can filter them out, if you prefer.

~Then I add a teaspoon full of some local honey that I always keep on hand.

~I add to that 1 dropper full of astragalus extract. I prefer Teeter Creek Herbs for extracts.

~I stir it all up, then drink it.

Does it work? I think so. It’s been years since my daughter’s last ear infection, which she used to get at least twice a winter. My last bout of strep throat, which used to happen every year in the spring and fall, hasn’t made an appearance in over five years. We haven’t had a sore throat, a cough or the flu in years. For general health and prevention, I take this 2-3 times a week. At the first sign of any illness, even if it’s just that yucky I-don’t-feel-sick-but-I-don’t-feel-good stage, I take a dose every 6 hours until I feel better. I’ve never had to take more than 2 doses. Usually within hours I am back to feeling good.

Why would it possibly work? Well, several reasons.

~Lemon is an antiseptic that helps kill of germs and bacteria while ‘sanitizing’ the system. It cleanses the throat and the stomach, stimulates the digestion and helps keep the system clean.

~ Honey. This is often called a ‘miracle food’ for good reason. It was mentioned as far back in history as the Egyptian Hieroglyphics for it’s ability to heal and nourish the body, both inside and out. Besides being antibacterial, it is also anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, helps heal skin cells, moisturizes, speeds healing, stimulates growth and much more. Read more about honey here!

~Astragalus. Many studies have been done on this Eastern herb and they all show the same thing. It is a valuable herb for stimulating the immune system. This herb seems to not only strengthen the immune system, but it actually helps the body produce immune cells. For more info on some of the studies and effects of astragalus, check out this site.

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If you’ve never suffered from a skin condition that causes itchy, dry, painful rashes that have you clawing the skin from your body, consider yourself fortunate. For the rest of us, I think it is safe to say that these skin conditions can drive you to drastic measures. You can find the most amazing tools to use as a scratcher…combs, brushes, knives, pencils…I must admit that I’ve even resorted to bathing my skin with alcohol on occasion because the burn was a relief from the itch. Of course, I don’t recommend it.

I suppose it was because of these experiences that I found it absolutely necessary to create my ‘Skin Soother’ salve. Unlike my Bite and Sting ointment that is specifically targeted to relieve the itch of venom and other toxins found in plants and animal bites/stings, this salve is made to sooth and help heal rashes and other conditions that our bodies inflict upon itself.

As is the case with eczema and psoriasis. While there is no single thing that causes our body to break out in a rash, the one thing they all have in common is that they are all reactions. Too many toxins in the system, skin care products, medications, environmental toxins, skin infections, sun exposure…these all play a part in skin conditions. These can manifest themselves in many different ways. A blistery patch, a dry patch, a sore, redness, inflammation.

Then, there is the trouble of diagnosing the rash. Is it eczema? Dermatitis? Psoriasis? Heat rash? Sun rash? A reaction to the new soap you used? Sometimes, even the best dermatologists have difficulty finding the root cause.

As an herbalist, my job is much simpler. Sort of. In the case of skin rashes, especially. It is my belief that illnesses of any kind, including skin conditions, is simply an indication that your body has overloaded on toxins (this includes both physical and emotional toxins like stress and fatigue) and/or lacked proper nutrition to keep your immune system strong.

Please take care to note: I am not saying that any single herb, ingredient, salve, tea or diet is going to fix all the known ills of man. Not by any means. While I do believe that every illness can be CURED using natural means, I believe it takes a combination of natural ingredients, exercise (especially yoga, tai chi, etc), diet and a positive attitude to achieve this.

That being said, I do believe that many natural ingredients can help us to treat both the symptoms and the root of our problems.

First, you need to use something that will help your body combat any virus, fungus or bacteria that my have entered your system, which is why doctors will often automatically hand you a prescription for an antibiotic of some sort. Please understand that, while this may help for a period of time, your body will eventually become immune to that antibiotic. Synthetic antibiotics do not help boost your immune system. In fact, they weaken it, so when the problem comes back it is often already angry over being tricked like this and comes back stronger, more resistant.

Natural ingredients work differently. Rather than tricking your immune system into submission, many natural ingredients are known for boosting the organs of the body that stimulate the natural immune functions. Now, here is where I could give you a terribly long and boring science lecture, but I won’t. However, if you find that curiosity is eating at you, Wikipedia has a wonderful overview of the immune system and how it functions.

You might be surprised to learn that there is a plethora of natural ingredients that boast wonderful immune-boosting properties. Many are antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic. When applied topically, they are quickly absorbed into the skin and bloodstream where they are carried throughout the body, fighting off the nasties as they go.

Many of these ingredients are included in my Skin Soother salve. Olive, grapeseed, sesame, coconut oil, mango, kokum, shea butter, beeswax, aloe gel, honey, lavender, tea tree and eucalyptus all contain at least one of those properties.

Secondly, you need to soothe the itch. Let’s face it, if a product kills off the nasties like bacteria, fungus and virus but doesn’t relieve the pain and itch, who wants to use it? There are several natural ingredients that work beautifully to soothe itchy skin and are included in this Skin Soother salve.

Peppermint is a natural nervine and analgesic which makes it extremely useful for skin conditions that cause pain and itching. It soothes those nerve endings that are causing the itch and helps ease the pain associated with many skin conditions. Other potent nervines included in the formula are hops and chamomile.

Many herbs have also been chosen for their long history of soothing any kind of skin disease. Comfry, basil, marshmallow and burdock have all been used for centuries by many different cultures to soothe inflammation, cool the skin, calm the itch and help remove toxins from the system.

So, I used these ingredients (and a few others) to create my Skin Soother. I can’t give you my formula, of course, but I’m happy to discuss ingredients and how to use them. I can always be contacted through my website, Tamara’s Herbes, or through my Etsy shop.

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Warning: Please consult a physician before consuming any type of herb or flower, as many of them will interfere with medications. While we at Tamara’s are careful to use only those herbs considered safe, it is always possible that someone will have a negative reaction. None of the statements made are intended to diagnose or treat anyone or anything! If you are pregnant, please avoid all herbs, as many of them can bring about early labor and other problems.

Have you ever browsed the drug store shelves in search of the cure for that nasty headache or relief for your throbbing sinuses? You have a gazillion different pills to choose from! Heartburn? Grab a pill. Cramps? Grab a different pill. Constipated, agitated or still a bit inebriated? There’s a pill for that, too.

The problem with those pills is that they only mask your symptoms so you think you are better. It’s simply a mind (and money) game. If you really want to get rid of those symptoms, there is a better way!

Eat a weed. Or, more precisely, an herb or two.

It took a while, but my friends and family finally realized that if they are coming to visit me, they better bring their own stash of pills ’cause they won’t find one in my house. Not an aspirin, not a Tylenol, not an antacid… If a headache strikes within the walls of my house, they’ll likely find themselves with a cup of hot tea in front of them!

I’m usually met with a strange look, but few people have the nerve to criticize my methods to my face, so they politely sip their tea while trying to come up with an excuse to run to the nearest drug store. By the time they come up with one, though, they find their headache (or belly ache or whatever ache) has disappeared.

Without a doubt, headaches are the most common complaint, which means my Happy Head Tea is constantly at the ready. Granted, it takes a bit longer to sip that cup of tea than it does to pop that pill, but the long-term benefits blow the pill out of the water! Why? Because the herbs work to correct the problem rather than disguise the symptoms, and works just as quickly. Bonus ~ the headache won’t be back in 3 hours!

Second in line for most-used is the Belly Achin’ Tea. This is one of the few herbal teas that even my kids like to drink. Pleasantly minty and fast-acting, this works great when you’ve over-eaten, have excess gas or just over-did it on the junk food.

And, we can’t forget the popular Sweet Dreams Tea. As a chronic insomniac, there have been many nights that this beauty has sent me gently to sleep when I was certain there was no hope. Unlike sleeping pills, you don’t wake groggy and disoriented and it isn’t necessary to have 7-8 hours of sleep before the effects wear off.

Okay, so this sounds like a sales pitch. However, I needed some frame of reference and my teas provided that. The truth is, though, you don’t need to buy these teas from me. The herbs are available at most health food stores and on several internet sites. I would highly recommend Mountain Rose Herbs for their high quality, affordable herbs. They offer organic and fair-trade herbs at very reasonable prices. Please keep in mind, though, that if you intend to mix up your own blends you need to be careful to research proper dosage and side effects.

Feeling brave? Here are the recipes for a few of my most popular teas and a glimpse of why I chose those particular herbs.

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Happy Head Tea:

Catnip, basil, lavender, lemon balm, peppermint, rosemary, blessed thistle, spearmint, mullein and yarrow.

Catnip

This is a very mild herb that has been used in many cultures as a sedative, pain reliever and blood cleanser for centuries. It is gentle enough to use on children and potent enough to provide relief to adults. It is also known for its use as a digestive aid. Headaches are often caused by stress, poor diet, improper digestion and accumulated body toxins, so catnip is a perfect choice to include in my Happy Head tea.

Basil

The anti-inflammatory action of basil is known to help shrink blood-vessels and swelling that contribute to headaches and its sedative effect helps dull the pain. It is also known to be a system stimulant that helps your organs to function properly, which allows your body to process and release toxins that contribute to headaches.

Lavender

This herb is known to calm the nervous system, promote relaxation, sooth anxiety and reduce inflammation. It has been used for centuries by the wealthy to ease headaches caused from tension and stress.

Lemon Balm

This herb is unusual because it acts as both a stimulant and a sedative. It invigorates the mind and body, while it soothes the nerves, making it a wonderful addition to headache formulas.

Peppermint

Peppermint stimulates the entire system, helping the body to function as its meant to, and also contains wonderful pain-relieving properties. Its minty scent invigorates the mind and help relieve tension, stress and fatigue.

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Belly Achin’ Tea

Burdock, slippery elm, catnip, basil, peppermint, anise, ginger, sage, green tea, hops

anise

While this herb is most commonly known for its use in cough syrups and lozenges, it also a wonderful herb to use for indigestion and other stomach issues. It helps relieve gas and settle an upset stomach. It is believed to have originally been used in ancient times as a seasoning for meat and vegetables, due in large part because of its value as a digestive aid. It is also an anti-spasmodic, which helps relax the muscles of the stomach.

ginger

Ginger cleanses the body of toxic waste and calms nausea. It is an aromatic bitter, which means that it stimulates the digestive system. It helps tone the intestinal walls which helps ease the transport of substances through the intestines. Ginger is also and anti-parasitic, which means that it aids in the removal of parasites such as intestinal worms and other little critters that often cause stomach troubles.

sage

Widely known for its many healing properties, sage is valuable when treating any type of stomach disorder including constipation, nausea, gas, diarrhea and intestinal disorders. It also stimulates the appetite, thereby stimulating the digestive system.

hops

Heartburn, gas, nausea, colic, ulcers and general stomach upset have all been treated for centuries by hops. Often used to calm anxiety, this herb helps relax the body, which makes it wonderful for those belly upsets brought on by stress and anxiety, too!

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Sweet Dreams Tea

Hops, catnip, peppermint, lavender, chamomile, mullein

You’ll notice that each of these herbs were used in the other formulas. One of the beauty of herbs is that they often have a variety of medicinal constituents. This allows them to treat many different bodily systems in many different ways.

Some herbs, like peppermint, are known for their ability to treat the entire system. Combining peppermint with other herbs enhances a particular aspect of it, for example: combine peppermint, hops and anise to make a powerful remedy for stomach issues. Combine it with lemon balm, basil and catnip and you have a potent headache remedy.

In the case of Sweet Dreams Tea, it is combined with herbs like chamomile, lavender and hops which are all known to relax the mind and body. Easing away tension, stress and over-stimulation will provide your mind and body with the opportunity to drift off to sleep a bit easier. You won’t notice an overwhelming tiredness, as happens with synthetic sleeping aids. This herbal blend works gently, so that all you need to do is add a little darkness and quiet to the mix and you wake refreshed and ready to face the day, rather than groggy and disoriented.

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Note: I don’t recommend mixing these blends yourself unless you have studied each of the herbs carefully and understand proper dosage and the benefits/risks of each herb. While each of the herbs used is considered safe, they can affect other medications you may be taking or medical issues that you have. Always consult your medical adviser before taking any herbs.

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