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Posts Tagged ‘herbs’

Pain happens. Headaches, backaches, wounds, broken bones, bumps and bruises. It is almost second nature for us to grab an aspirin, acetaminophen, an ibuprofen, or, for some, something a bit stronger. Unfortunately, even the safest of these options come with serious negative side effects. Liver and kidney damage, stomach or digestive issues, neurological damage. In extreme cases, even death.

The last few decades have conditioned us to believe that our options are not just limited, but non-existent. We either take the options on the market (or at the pharmacy), or we deal with the pain. Under no circumstances should we consider taking natural alternatives. Not only are they extremely dangerous, but they are quite ineffective. I’m still trying to work out the incompatibility of that last statement.

I gotta wonder, though…if natural alternatives are so ineffective, why did the medical world develop some of their best medicines from them? Aspirin from willow bark. Opium, morphine, codeine and laudanum from poppies. Digitalis from foxglove. The list is long and impressive, and pretty interesting, if you are into that kind of thing.

The point is, there is an abundance of exceptionally effective, natural alternatives for dealing with pain of all types. In truth, some of them work faster, more effectively and, well…better. These are a few of my favorites:

Castor oil packs

Most of us have heard horror stories of grandmothers forcing a spoonful of castor oil on reluctant children when they had belly aches. I simply cannot condone that level of torture, but castor oil is not without powerful medicinal benefits.

Of course, the above scenario is not without it’s benefit, either. Castor oil is a highly effective, exceptionally safe laxative for all ages. The biggest problem with this method is actually choking it down. The good news is, it only takes 4-6 hours in most cases for a dose of castor oil to completely cleanse the bowels. A little more good news, a single dose is only 1-2 tablespoons for adults, and 1 tsp for children. Mix it with a bit of fresh fruit juice and it really isn’t so bad.

Castor oil is a strong fungicidal due to its high content of undecylenic acid. Ringworm, athlete’s foot, jock itch…castor oil applied topically daily for a week will help tremendously in any of these situations.

Castor oil is exceptionally moisturizing. It attracts and holds in moisture, so it is the perfect addition to any beauty routine. Acne, dry hair, dry scalp, age spots, warts, and skin tags are just a few of the issues that can be improved with regular use of castor oil.

However, one of the very best ways to administer castor oil is through the use of a castor oil pack. I don’t know all the science behind castor oil and how it does what it does. What I do know is that I have seen it work over and over again to help the body heal, to provide relief from pain of every kind, in every part of the body. I have seen it help people who were in liver failure to detox. I have seen it help shrink cysts and tumors. I have seen it perform nearly miraculous things. But, that’s just MY experience with it. Sore muscles? Use a castor oil pack on them. Arthritis? Try a castor oil pack. Painful period? Use a castor oil pack. Seriously. You gotta try this!

Castor oil packs can be a bit messy, but are relatively simple to use.  All you need is:

  • a bottle of castor oil
  • 2 pieces of natural cloth like wool or cotton. One should be large enough to completely cover the area you intend to apply it to. The second piece should be larger by about 4 inches in both directions.
  • a piece of plastic
  • a towel that you don’t mind getting stained
  • a hot pack or heating pad

Here’s what you do with all of that:

  • Thoroughly coat the smaller piece of the cloth with castor oil. You want it wet, but not dripping. The piece of cloth should be large enough to completely cover whatever area of the body you are treating.
  • Cover the castor oil soaked cloth with a piece of plastic.
  • Cover the plastic with the larger piece of dry cloth. This piece is going to help hold in the warmth so it should be something heavy and natural like wool, cotton or flannel.
  • Place a heating pad on top of your cloth. That’s it. Now just kick back and relax for a spell. Leave the pack on for at least 20 minutes, but I like to leave it on overnight. You will want to put an old towel or sheet under you, because castor oil will stain whatever it touches.

You can use an ace bandage or strip of fabric to secure the castor oil pack in place.

Don’t throw out your castor oil pack after one use, either. The same castor oil pack can be used 10-15 times. Just store it in the fridge between uses and add a bit more castor oil if it begins to dry out.

This is one of those great treatments that work immediately. By the time you remove the castor oil pack you will be feeling better. When dealing with long-term and/or chronic conditions,  I have used this treatment daily for two weeks with absolutely no negative effects. For things like menstrual cramps, arthritis flare-ups, and muscle aches/spasms, we use it as often as we need to. In most cases, we are back up and moving comfortably after an hour or so.

Sometimes we need something that works a bit faster, right? And,  maybe more convenient? After all, I doubt the boss is going to approve of you taking a break to apply a castor oil pack that you will need to wear around the office for a while.

It’s cool. I have this one covered. Herbs. The answer is herbs.

Quit rolling your eyes. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it. Let me try to impress upon you the unbelievable power of herbs to help control pain when used properly.

I live on a farm. I do yoga. I garden. I paint. I write. I bead and sew and crochet and knit. I spend HOURS in the kitchen. I make soap. I build fires. I play with grandsons. I spend unfathomable amounts of time staring at a computer screen.  None of these activities seem especially dangerous, right? Look a little deeper.

Yoga and gardening are the source of many muscle aches, strains and sprains. Crafting, writing and gardening require the use of my hands, which are prone to attacks of arthritis, small cuts, big cuts, cuts from stems and tools (because, you know, why wear gloves like any rational person?). Hours in the kitchen can occasionally produce burns, cuts and other injuries that we need not name, as can building and maintaining fires in the wood stove. Computer screens give me massive headaches. Living on a farm covers everything from shins bashed into trailer hitches to broken limbs. Playing with grandsons…well…the danger potential there is unlimited. So, you see all of the levels of pain that my family may experience at any given moment. Keep that in mind when I make my next statement.

We have not needed a ‘conventional’ pain reliever since we started using herbal pain-relieving options. No aspirin. No acetaminophen. No prescription pain killers.

What is this miracle herbal pain-reliever, you ask? Well, it isn’t one herb. Or even two. It is a combination of herbs. While each of the herbs we are about to discuss work reasonably well for minor pain all by themselves, combining some of them can be far more effective than many of the dangerous synthetic pain pills flooding the market and killing people by the millions. Unlike prescription or OTC pain relievers, there is no risk of organ failure, heart issues, digestive issues, neurological issues…no negative side effects for a normal, healthy person. Did you catch that? These alternatives should not be used if you have some pre-existing conditions. Some of these herbs can interfere with medications, which can cause big problems. Some of these herbs should not be taken long-term. If you are not trained in the use of herbs, don’t just go taking these herbs willy-nilly. Consult a Certified Herbalist. Really. Don’t be stupid.

Okay, you’ve been warned. Now, let’s move on. I have found a beautiful blend of herbs that works fast (it has never taken more than 10 minutes to feel relief) on every kind of pain we have thrown at it. I’m going to tell you the herbs. Not the formula. The formula, Nerve-Ease, took me a long time to perfect, and is easy for an amateur to mess up.

  • Black cohosh – this root is most often used for female complaints related to the menstrual cycle, menopause, and female organs. This is because of the fact that it has many natural estrogens. What many don’t realize is that is also has a mild sedative effect, is anti-inflammatory, and acts as a mild anti-depressant, just to name a few of its benefits.
  • Catnip – yeah, the same herb your cat flips out over. Catnip is a fabulous pain reliever, and one of the safest option available for all ages, including small children. It is a mild relaxant, it settles the stomach, it calms the nerves, it reduces pain, and it promotes relaxation and sleep without any drowsiness.
  • Cayenne – there is a lot of science behind this herb, and how it works is a whole lesson in itself. We will just leave it at this: cayenne is a powerful pain reliever, and it boost the ability of any herb it is working with. One of the many additional benefits of cayenne is its ability to stop bleeding. There are very few of my formulas that don’t contain a bit of cayenne for very good reason. It is safe for all ages and requires only a small amount to be effective.
  • Chamomile – this is a wonderful sedative herb that works powerfully, but mildly, on the body and mind. It, like catnip, promotes relaxation without making  you drowsy, so you can go to sleep easier without waking up feeling foggy or disoriented. It soothes the nerves, so it is good for anxiety and depression. It is anti-inflammatory. It soothes muscles and joints. Chamomile is safe for any age and can help control just about any type of pain or discomfort you may be having. It is pretty tasty, too!
  • Hops – while best known for its use in beer making, hops has a long history of medicinal use. As with many herbs, hops has a variety of uses. Herbalists often use it for its ability to calm the nerves and promote sleep without causing drowsiness or brain fog. It is an anti-inflammatory, so it also helps with nerve pain, or pain caused from internal inflammation.
  • Mistletoe – the same plant that we stand under for a chance at a free smooch is a most excellent nervine. That means that it helps soothe frazzled nerves and helps rebuild damaged nerves. It is an anti-inflammatory, as well as an immune system builder.  Mistletoe has so many healing benefits that we can’t cover even a fraction of them here, but it also has some warnings attached to it. It is a fantastic pain reliever, but must be properly prepared and used only under the supervision of a Certified Herbalist or natural health practitioner.
  • Mullein – one of my all time favorite herbs, I could spend hours extolling it’s many virtues, not the least of which is it’s pain-relieving capabilities. It doesn’t matter what the pain stems from; Mullein will help soothe it. This is an especially useful herb for dealing with pain from broken bones, sprains and strains, as well as pain from inflamed, irritated mucous membranes in the lungs and respiratory system.
  • Skullcap – if you are looking for power and performance, this is the herb to go to. It’s pain-relieving properties are well known among herbalists, and this is one of the first choices for helping promote sleep, calm anxiety, reduce pain and promote a sense of well-being. It is not an easy herb to work with, though, and is best used fresh, as it loses much of it’s ability with drying.
  • Turmeric – If you have been on the internet in the last couple of years, you have heard of turmeric and all of it’s health benefits. It is used for everything from cancer treatment to dental care. More than 6,000 peer-reviewed studies have been done on this herb, and more are being done daily in an effort to understand it’s range of healing. Even among standard medical groups, turmeric is gaining popularity because they are finding that it is more effective than many prescription drugs for treating a variety of health issues. Pain, depression, heart issues, inflammation, stomach issues, cancer, diabetes and cholesterol are just some of the issues that turmeric is having a profound effect on, all without a single negative side effect.
  • Valerian root – this is easily one of the smelliest herbs known to mankind. Fortunately, it is also one of the best pain-relievers ever. It is a mild, but highly effective nervine that helps calm anxiety, promotes relaxation and sleep, soothes pain and promotes a general sense of well-being.
  • Willow – this is where aspirin comes from, in case you didn’t know. A long time ago, some scientist got the bright idea to extract what they believed was the active pain-relieving constituent in willow bark, then called it medicine. If they would have just left the herb alone they would have gotten much farther. Willow bark has all the phenomenal characteristics of aspirin, but it also has built-in protectors that keep it from harming the liver and other organs. It is not without dangers of its own, though, and should only be used under the supervision of a Certified Herbalist or alternative medical practitioner.

The world of herbal medicine contains a vast array of other effective pain-relievers, but these are the ones I prefer. When used together, they have the ability to fight pain stemming from nearly every source imaginable. They can replace anti-depressants, sleeping pills, nerve pills, stomach pills….pills, pills, pills. They can even help you wean off many of those pills without suffering the symptoms often seen from withdrawals.

This is by no means a complete list of the many ways natural health practitioners approach pain management, especially long-term. However, reaching for a more natural option for every day aches and pains seems like a no-lose situation. If it doesn’t work for you, there is always the option of running to the drug store for a bottle of acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but why start there if you don’t have to? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chickenpox is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, a member of the herpesvirus family.  It is an issue that is hotly debated among all medical doctrine camps.  Vaccinate or don’t?  Expose your child to them or hide them from it?  Give them medications or don’t?

I, as you all know, am something of an extremist at times.  This is most definitely one of those times.  I do not believe that any child should ever be vaccinated against chicken pox.  Never.  Not one.  Why, you ask?  Well, let me just tell you…

~1 It is dangerous.  Period.  Consider these facts, taken directly from the National Vaccination Information Center(NVIC):  Please be aware that this is not a web site that promotes natural remedies.  It is simply an informational site that is relatively unbiased in either direction.

Reported complications from chickenpox vaccine include shock, seizures, brain inflammation (encephalitis), thrombocytopenia (blood disorder), Guillian Barre syndrome, death and infection with vaccine strain chickenpox or transmission of vaccine strain chickenpox to others

Mass use of chickenpox vaccine by children in the U.S. has removed natural boosting of immunity in the population, which was protective against shingles, and now adults are experiencing a shingles epidemic

I went to the VAERS website and looked up reactions to the live chicken pox vaccine so I could share some of their info with you.  Due to the size of their list, that was not possible….there were 52,513 events.  By ‘events’, they mean reported reactions to the vaccine.  What interested me was this ~ almost all of them that I waded through clearly state that none of the reactions was life threatening, though nearly all of them cited anaphylactic reactions.  Really? The Freedictionary.com says:

Anaphylaxis

Definition

Anaphylaxis is a rapidly progressing, life-threatening allergic reaction.

Description

Anaphylaxis is a type of allergic reaction, in which the immune system responds to otherwise harmless substances from the environment. Unlike other allergic reactions, however, anaphylaxis can kill. Reaction may begin within minutes or even seconds of exposure, and rapidly progress to cause airway constriction, skin and intestinal irritation, and altered heart rhythms. In severe cases, it can result in complete airway obstruction, shock, and death.
Somethin’ just ain’t addin’ up, my friends!  Even more frightening to me is that this report only contains the reactions from ONE form of the vaccine.

~2 It is only marginally effect.  More from the NVIC:

Chickenpox vaccine effectiveness is reported to be 44 percent for any form of the disease and 86 percent for moderate to severe disease

In all fairness, if you check out the MERCK site, they give a much better representation of the statistics.

In this trial, a single dose of VARIVAX protected 96-100% of children against chickenpox over a two-year period. The
study enrolled healthy individuals 1 to 14 years of age (n=491 vaccine, n=465 placebo). In the first year,
8.5% of placebo recipients contracted chickenpox, while no vaccine recipient did, for a calculated
protection rate of 100% during the first varicella season. In the second year, when only a subset of
individuals agreed to remain in the blinded study (n=163 vaccine, n=161 placebo), 96% protective efficacy was calculated for the vaccine group as compared to placebo.
There are insufficient data to assess the rate of protection against the complications of chickenpox

So, here is my questions…….Why did over 600 of the original participants drop out of the study (see bold, italicized statement in the above quote), especially if it was so effective?  You do realize that those study participants get paid, right?  Nearly 75% of the original participants declined the money and the miraculous 100% protection for their child because…….?

~3 Children need to be exposed to the virus to build a natural immunity to it.

Mass use of chickenpox vaccine by children in the U.S. has removed natural boosting of immunity in the population, which was protective against shingles, and now adults are experiencing a shingles epidemic. ~ NVIC

Chickenpox complications, such as bacterial infection of skin lesions (cellulitis), brain inflammation and pneumonia, are rare in children but more common in adults ~ NVIC

There are numerous studies that have shown the vaccine may work to help the cases of chicken pox, but it leads to the development of shingles in older individuals, which is a far more dangerous disease.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system we can move on.

Let’s just say that, despite all of your best efforts your child gets chicken pox.  What are you gonna do?

First of all, you are going to make sure that everyone’s immune system is strong.  I, of course, would highly recommend the Tamara’s Herbes line of herbal supplements for healthy immune systems.  It contains herbs that have been used for centuries to help build and maintain strong immune system function. Herbs like astragalus, alfalfa,  golden seal,  ginseng, st johns wort and echinacea. Failing that, eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies, drink plenty of water, get exercise and sunshine on a regular basis, practice safe hygiene habits.

Then, you need to set about making the child as comfy as possible.

  • Loose, light natural fabrics will help reduce irritation of the bumps and allow the skin to breath.
  • Soothing baths.  Cool or lukewarm baths with soothing herbs like lavender, oatmeal, cucumbers, calendula and chickweed are some of the better ones.    ~For a soothing bath, mix equal parts of any or all of the dried herbs in a small teabag or tie up in a piece of muslin or cotton and let float in bath.  Don’t throw away the teabag after the bath!  Instead, toss it in a 1 qt jar of distilled water mixed with 2 TBSP apple cider vinegar.  Use the teabag as a sponge to dab at the rash between baths.  This will not only sooth the itch and pain, but it will cool the skin and help prevent infection.   ~And yes, I realize you can’t find dried cucumbers.  I actually meant fresh ones.  Just slice one up and toss the pieces in the bath, peel and all.
  • The fever, while frightening, is actually a good thing.  I know the common school of thought is that we want to bring a fever down, but natural medicine dictates otherwise in most circumstances.  The fever is simply evidence that the body is working exactly the way it is supposed to.  The heat generated by the body kills the invading bacteria and causes the body to perspire, thereby pushing out the dead, toxic waste through the skin.  This is a completely natural, healthy response.  Cool baths, or cool packs placed at the throat, the back of the neck, the wrists, the forehead and the feet are effective and provide comfort.
  • Herbal salves are very effective at helping to heal, sooth and help prevent infection from scabs that have burst or been scratched open.  The same herbs that make a soothing bath also make a soothing salve. Herbs like comfrey, burdock, nettle, mullein and sage will help minimize the itching and pain.
  • Give them lots of water.  This will help prevent dehydration, and it will also help the body flush the nasty virus from their system.  Fruit juice is an excellent addition, but only if it is free of HFCS, sugar and artificial sweeteners, which are likely to make the itching worse and prolong the symptoms.

Most of all, be patient.  This is one of those things that just needs to run its course.  Overall, this is really not a dangerous disease.  Yes, there are exceptions and every parent should closely watch their child for unusual signs or symptoms, especially if other known medical conditions exist.  Otherwise, roll with it.  Try to keep them from scratching as much as possible.

Oh, and take lots of pictures!!!  They are so good to pull out when you meet prospective girlfriends/boyfriends.  My kids totally love it when I do things like that!

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Insomnia is the inability to obtain an adequate amount or quality of sleep. The difficulty can be in falling asleep, remaining asleep, or both. People with insomnia do not feel refreshed when they wake up. Insomnia is a common symptom affecting millions of people that may be caused by many conditions, diseases, or circumstances.”   ~ medical dictionary ~ thefreedictionary.com

That definition was for those of you who don’t suffer from insomnia.  Those of us who do already know what it means, and we know that the definition, no matter the source, can never actually explain the entire scope of this affliction.  Let me give it a shot, though.

Insomnia is an affliction that, when you lay down and close your eyes because you are so exhausted you can’t possibly do anything else, your mind springs to life and causes your eyelids to fly open and stick that way, despite all of your best attempts at closing them.  It makes your legs twitch and your brain spasm with a million thoughts.  It inspires you to create great and fantastic things-just as soon as your exhausted body can move again.  It precipitates deep and poetic thoughts that should be preserved in leather-covered tomes – if only you weren’t too tired to write them down.  It tickles the imagination into seeing shapes in the dark, like pictures in the clouds, that you know are really only figments of your sleep-deprived brain.  It makes you count sheep, cattle, chickens, ducks, and every other animal in a vain attempt to bore yourself into a sleep-induced coma.

Then, when you have finally attained that much-longed-for state of unconsciousness you are suddenly jolted from sleep after an hour -or maybe two or three- to find that you are still hours away from the break of day and everyone for miles around is still sleeping soundly.  It is lying there staring at the clock, counting away the minutes and knowing that the exhaustion is still there, just waiting to overtake you as soon as you have reached the point in your day that is the busiest/most important. By lunchtime, you aren’t quite sure if you want to jump in front oncoming traffic or choke the nearest passerby. Not because they have done anything wrong, but simply because you know that they got a good night’s sleep that was denied you.  For that, they deserve a good beating.

And that’s only one night’s worth of missed sleep.  The second night gets a little hairier.  By the third or fourth night you begin to see the logic behind men like Dexter and Dahmer. Rational thinking is only a dim memory ~ an elusive dream (pun intended).

Do I sound like a commercial for the latest sleeping pill?  I should totally get paid for writing this stuff, right?  Still, anyone suffering from insomnia knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as popping a pill and drifting off to Dreamland. Besides the obvious side-effects of sleeping pills  ~ liver damage, heart damage, kidney failure, ulcers ~ there is the small matter of being able to function the day after.  Sleeping pills, if they even work, make you so frackin’ tired the next day that you might as well have just stuck with your original state of sleep-deprived exhaustion.

So, what is the alternative?  Duh! It’s herbs, of course.  You had to have seen that one coming…

Quit snickering.  Have you tried them?  I don’t mean have you tried a single cup of chamomile tea before bed.  While chamomile has its benefits, to the hard-core insomniac it is like drinking a cup of water.  No, what I’m talking about are the other herbs.

You thought I was talking about marijuana, didn’t you?  While I will admit that I would recommend that particular herb if I lived in the appropriate state, that’s not what I meant.  I’m talking about herbs like valerian and skullcap.  St. John’s wort.  Peppermint.  Vervain.  Mullein. These, my friend, are the magic pill for the true Insomniac.

I’ll be honest.  It took me a while to figure this one out. I did try sleeping pills over the years.  Prescription.  Over the counter.  Under the counter.  Beside the counter.  I didn’t care if there was a chance that I might get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.  Not one of them was worth it.  It was out of sheer desperation that I put my insomnia to use and spent a few nights coming up with a more natural formula that I prayed would work.  Now, I keep a jar in my pantry and refill it regularly.

Bonus…it works as a pain-killer, muscle relaxant, tummy-soother and mood-stabilizer, also.  Let me explain the how’s and why’s.

Valerian

Valerian is the bad-boy of sleep aids.  I still maintain that herbs work best when combined with other herbs, but if I were ever to use one by itself, this would probably be it.  It is in the top 5, anyway.  Valerian is actually classified as a nerve tonic because it has the ability to both sooth and heal the nerves.  By soothing the nerves, you allow your body to fall into sleep naturally, stay asleep longer and wake up feeling great.  Valerian goes a step farther, though.  It will actually help rebuild nerve sheaths that have been damaged, making it a great herb for long-term use in diseases that affect the central nervous system and the nerves.  Don’t think valerian is going to suddenly make you fall asleep, though. It doesn’t work that way.  It works by relaxing the entire body and making it possible to sleep.  That means that after you take it, you need to go lay down and close your eyes.  Let your body do it’s thing!

Skullcap, like valerian, is a potent nervine that has been used for centuries with fantastic results.  It is so soothing to the nerves that it has even been used to successfully alleviate the symptoms of drug withdrawal, as well as epilepsy, hysteria, anxiety, nervous headaches and insomnia. Naturopathic doctors often recommend using skullcap as an alternative to conventional ADD medications, also.  Skullcap should not be taken if you are pregnant, as it is capable of inducing a miscarriage.

Mullein is one of those herbs that should be in every medicine cabinet.  It is good for coughs, for pain, for soothing the nerves…the list is long!  Mullein has been described as being ‘hypnotic’ and ‘highly narcotic without being toxic’. That means that, even if your sleeplessness is due to pain, mullein is capable of handling it.  Cough keeping you awake?  Mullein will take care of that, too.

Mullein flower

St. John’s wort is a well-known anti-depressant.  In the herbal world, that means it is soothing to the brain.  It relaxes you by relieving tension, stress and other factors that contribute to restlessness and fatigue.  It is best to take this one over a period of time, and in conjunction with other herbs.  It is also a highly effective pain-reliever and immune-system stimulator.

Vervain is not just for warding oneself against vampires. It has aspirin-like effects that help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. It is a muscle relaxant and mild anti-depressant that helps improve the general action of nerves and enhances the entire system, especially when taken over a period of time.  It is a mild sedative.  Here’s the catch with this herb, though…you don’t want to just grab a bottle of this herb and start eating it.  Vervain works best when it is combined with other herbs that strengthen and relax the nerves, and if you take too much you’ll soon be heaving your guts up instead of sleeping.  Used in the proper manner it is a valuable addition to the insomniac’s medicine chest, but used wrong and it is worse than useless.

So, really….put away the Ambien and the Tylenol PM.  You don’t need them anymore!  You just need a good, trained herbalist (like me) to whip you up a batch that contains these herbs.  Of course, I have a batch already made and waiting called ‘Sweet Dreams’…I’m just sayin’….

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There isn’t much I love about summertime in Missouri.  Intense, breath-taking heat, high humidity, biting and stinging insects…discomfort is virtually assured from June through September.  However, there are few a things that make all that discomfort worthwhile.  Long hours of daylight, spending time at the river and, most of all ~ fresh garden veggies.

No summertime garden would be complete without Zucchini.  Baked, fried, stuffed, pickled, raw ~ it doesn’t matter how you prepare it~ I love it!  The last couple of years have solidified my favorite method of eating those big, fresh beautiful zucchini, though.  It is definitely stuffed and baked. Which means that I have to share that wonderful recipe with you.

The beauty of stuffed zucchini is that it comes out tasting perfect weather you use fresh or frozen zucchini.  I always like to take a few zucchini and stick them in the freezer for this garden-fresh treat during the cold months of winter.  Zucchini is one of the few veggies that requires little or no processing before freezing.  Simply cut into slices, shred or grate it, stick it in a freezer bag and pop it in the deep freeze.  To freeze it for stuffing, cut off the ends, scoop out the seeds and voila!

Admittedly, zucchini can get a little mushy after it thaws, but if you aren’t eating it raw it doesn’t really matter.  Use the slices for fried zucchini, pizza topping or add  them to a quiche or pasta sauce. Throw chunks in some chicken or beef broth to make a delicious winter soup.  Use it grated in zucchini bread or, as I’m about to share, as stuffing.

If you are looking for an exceptionally healthy veggie, this one nears the top of the list, providing you leave the skin on.  Zucchini has a high water content, making it very low in calories, and contains no fat or cholesterol. It contains 7 g of carbohydrates, 56 percent of your daily recommended value of vitamin C, 11 percent of your daily value of vitamin K, 16 percent of riboflavin, 21 percent of vitamin B-6 and 14 percent of folate, plus vitamin A, vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, potassium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, calcium, iron, sodium, zinc and selenium.

Anyway…my stuffed zucchini recipe…

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Ingredients needed:

3-4 large zucchini

8 oz cream cheese

1-2 cups shredded cheese -any kind will work, but we prefer shredded Italian blend, cheddar and/or pepper jack

2-3 cups diced or grated raw veggies ~ tomatoes, squash, carrots, cabbage, peppers, celery…   This is a great recipe for using up some of those veggies that have gone soft but aren’t bad yet.

1/2 lemon

1 lb cooked meat (if desired) ~ ground turkey is amazing, but so is sage sausage, hamburger, steak…

Herbs of your choice ~ I love fresh basil, thyme, dill and oregano in this dish.  Just a tsp of each, chopped super-fine, works perfectly

Like all my recipes, this one is adaptable.  If you are using frozen zucchini, you can skip this first part and jump ahead to the stuffing part. If you are using fresh zucchini here’s what you do.

Take the 3-4 large zucchini and fill a pot big enough to lay them in. Fill the pot with water and bring to a full boil, then place zucchini (with ends still intact) in pot.  Boil for 7-9 minutes.  Remove from pot and place in ice cold water for 2-3 minutes.

Remove from water and slice off the ends of the zucchini, then cut the zucchini lengthwise down the middle.  Gently scoop out the seeds, saving as much of the flesh as possible.  Place zucchini on a cookie sheet lightly coated with the cooking oil of your choice and sprinkle with sea salt.

Mix all of your other veggies and the meat in a large bowl.  Make sure you get the cream cheese mixed well enough that you don’t have large chunks in the blend. Add herbs and squeeze lemon juice over the mixture.  Mix well.

Fill zucchini with stuffing.  Pile it on thick and high!

Cook for 10-12 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle extra cheese across the top.  Return to oven and cook until cheese is melted.  Remove from oven and cool for 3-5 minutes.

Serve it up!

I feel it is only fair to warn you that this dish is VERY addictive!  I grew extra zucchini this year so I could make sure I have enough to last me until next growing season.

If you make more than you can eat at one sitting, you can throw the extra in the freezer and they reheat beautifully.

Enjoy!

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These are three of my favorites and they grow like crazy, in spite of all my accidental attempts to kill them off. In fact, at one point I had completely given up and thrown these in the compost pit, only to find that they refused to die, so I moved them back to a forgotten corner of my garden/greenhouse and was rewarded with healthy, huge, happy plants!

Just so you know, all three of these herbs are available for purchase through our farm, Tranquil Haven Hollow.  You can find them (and lots more plants and seeds) at our Etsy shop.

Prickly Pear ~Opuntia dillenii

Prickly pear has been used by Native Americans throughout history in a variety of ways. It was a valuable year-round food source, as all aerial parts are edible and quite tasty. The long, rigid spines were used as needles for sewing. The inner gel can be used like aloe leaves for treating wounds and burns and the large leaves can be used as canteens.

The prickly pear will grow just about anywhere that it is sunny, but it won’t necessarily flourish or bloom unless it receives plenty of water. We have this stuff growing all over our property ~ along trails, in the middle of the field, along the edges of rocks and flower beds ~ but under the intense heat and sun of summer, it quickly withers and shrinks until the cool weather and rains return. The plant in the picture began as a single small pad that was withered and (we thought) dead. My husband tossed it in the scrap pile and it fell into a crack along the edge of the rock wall. Within a couple of months, it had puffed back up and rooted itself into the rock wall. The rock wall happened to be one of our gardens, so we watered it regularly. A couple of months later it was sprouting babies, then this beautiful flower appeared. I’m eagerly anticipating the fruit that is said to be quite yummy!

  • Use this much as you would aloe vera. The inner gel is soothing to wounds, burns and other skin disorders and injuries. The gel also contains pectins and mucilage that promote digestive health and soothe and heal digestive disorders. It is believed to provide nutrients to the pancreas and liver, and helps maintain healthy blood-sugar levels.
  • The flowers have been used to treat urinary disorders.
  • It is anti-pyretic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic.
  • The fruit, when baked and eaten is useful in treating asthma, whooping cough and inflammation of the lungs and bronchial passages
  • The stem is a laxative
  • The seeds kill/expels worms, and promote menstrual flow

Sage~salvia officinalis

Sage has been used for centuries by many cultures, for many reasons. Although it is best known as a culinary herb today, it contains many healing properties that make it a valuable addition to your medicine cabinet.

Sage prefers lots of heat, little water, and average (not rich) soil. To increase the essential oil and medicinal properties once established, give it some poor soil, forget to water it for long periods of time (until it starts to wilt), and tons of heat and sun.

A strong tea made from the leaves will help with skin ulcers, rashes and dandruff, and will also act as an insect repellent, both in the home and garden.

  • It eases the pain associated with insect and animal bites.
  • A sage and vinegar compress is very effective in soothing pain from injuries and bruises and it can be used internally and externally for bacterial infections.
  • Sage reduces excessive sweating, particularly when caused by menopause.
  • Sage is excellent for soothing nerves, and it is believed to be good for the brain, stimulating memory improvement. Recent research indicates that it may help in treating Alzheimer’s disease.
  • It aids in digestion and is capable of boosting insulin activity and reducing blood sugar.
  • Useful for drying up the flow of milk during lactation
  • The primary medicinal components in sage are volatile oils, flavonoids, and rosmarinic acid. It is anhidrotic (prevents perspiration);antimicrobial. Antispasmodic, antifungal, antiseptic, astringent, diaphoretic, expectorant, nervine, and tonic.
  • Sage oil can be applied directly to fungal infections fingernails and toenails, and mixed with a carrier oil to apply topically.

As a tea, let steep in hot water for 15-20 minutes. Drink or use it as a wash. Oil may be inhaled or applied topically. When applying topically, the essential oil should be diluted with a carrier oil to prevent irritation to the skin.

Mint ~Mentha Piperita

Peppermint has been used for more than 2,000 years as a medicinal herb. Ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks made use of it in both medicine and food preparation.

Mint grows everywhere and is highly invasive, but it prefers a sunny location that is damp and warm. Extreme heat and dryness will cause it to become tall and leggy. It propagates by root division, so is best grown in containers or raised beds. It enjoys a certain amount of neglect and abuse.

Members of the mint family can be identified by their square stems and distinctive ‘minty’ scent.

  • It is most well-known for its beneficial effects on the stomach and intestines. Mint dispels gas and bloating in the digestive system and is an antispasmodic, capable of relieving stomach and intestinal cramps and increasing the flow of all the digestive juices and promoting the flow of bile. At the same time, it relaxes the main muscles in the gut. It has a soothing effect on the lining and muscles of the colon, and helps stimulate and cleanse the liver and the gall bladder.
  • Peppermint helps freshen breath and tone teeth and gums.
  • Peppermint is also an antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, and stimulant.
  • It is a tonic for the entire system, making it excellent for helping to dispel nearly any illness. It is a mild pain reliever and fever reducer that works as well as aspirin. Good for any conditions of the heart, digestion and respiratory system.

Mint also makes an awesome alternative to caffeine-loaded tea or soda, as well as a great addition to any salad, and as a seasoning in soups, stews, stir-fries and any other dish.

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Life on the farm is always a learning experience.  It has been especially so for me in my capacity as an Herbalist.  Every foray into the yard has the potential to reveal a new medicinal plant that I didn’t realize was there.  My computer is stuffed full of photos taken with the hope of identifying some new treasure.

Therein lies the frustration also.  There are some plants that I stumble across and think, “I know that is something, but I just can’t quite remember what it is…”.  There are some plants that I stumble across and think, That should be something,” but it turns out to be nothing more than an interesting weed that has no medicinal value, but it has abundant aesthetic appeal.  Either way, I usually end up digging a piece of it up to bring home and plant in my ‘special place’.

So, it occurred to me that maybe I wasn’t the only one having this problem.  Therefore, I am going to make a great effort to share with you, my loyal, devoted readers, my finds.  Hopefully, I can save you a few hours of frustration when you are attempting to identify plants for yourself.

To keep things interesting, I am also going to post pictures of the things that I cannot positively identify.  Be the first one to identify it and you will win a special gift, so make sure you leave me a link to your e-mail.  If I can’t contact you, I can’t send you your gift!

Plantain

This is narrow leaf plantain, or plantago minor.  It grows like crazy year round, in just about any soil, and under almost all conditions.  If left alone, eventually it will grow to be quite large, the leaves often reaching a length of more than 1′ tall.  I have transplanted this herb successfully, but it seems to self-seed quite readily if allowed.

There are two types of common plantain, and both of them have the same medicinal benefits and grow under the same circumstances.  You can find a great picture of broad-leaf plantain, or plantago major here.

Plantain is an awesome herb and Mother Nature certainly had a plan in mind when she created this one.  It is incredibly handy to have nearby during the summer months when stinging or biting insects are everywhere.  A single chewed leaf placed on the affected area can provide nearly instant relief to the pain, itching and inflammation that accompany those summer insects.  Got a cut?  The same treatment helps.

There is more to it than that, though.  The leaves of this little fella contain tannins, which are astringent.  This means that it is able to draw tissues together, be it internally or externally.  This can help stop bleeding, as well as speed healing.

  • Plantain is a natural source of potassium and calcium.
  • It is a diuretic that can help with the kidneys, liver, spleen and bladder by flushing out impurities that contribute to infections in the urinary tract.
  • It is helpful in any type of female complaints.
  • It may help control cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • It is a very mild laxative.
  • It soothes the mucus membranes and helps loosen and expel phlegm from the lungs and respiratory system.
  • It soothes the stomach and helps ease indigestion and heartburn, as well as any other  inflammation or irritation of the intestinal tract. It is believed to help absorb toxins in the bowels, allowing them to be released from the body.
  • It contains salicylic acid, which is the predecessor of synthetically-made aspirin, which accounts for its effectiveness at relieving all types of pain.

Plantain is a great field first-aid herb.  Ever been strolling through the grass barefoot and stepped on a bee?  A piece of broken glass?  A stick?  Pick a couple of leaves, chew them up really good and cover the sting or wound.  This will help stop pain and bleeding, reduce swelling, slow the spread of poison, and protect the wound until you can obtain proper medical treatment.

Because plantain grows in all but the very coldest of weather here in Missouri there is little need to harvest and dry it, and it is much more effective when gathered fresh.  However, the years that I haven’t dried any, I’ve inevitably found myself in need of it during the cold snow and ice of February.  I have found the best way to dry it is on the lowest setting of my dehydrator, as it is prone to mildew if not dried quickly.  Ideally, it should be dried in a single layer, maintaining a temperature of 85-95 F in a dark place that gets plenty of air circulation.  When it is crisp but not crumbly, it can be stored in a paper sack or a glass jar.

Like most herbs, this one can double as a filler in your salad, too.  A few leaves chopped up and added to your plate of greens will add just a hint of bitterness that will help stir up those digestive juices and give a little kick to your taste buds, too!

Red Clover

Everyone knows what red clover looks like, so you probably didn’t really come looking for a description. Here’s a quick one, anyway…

Soft, spiky balls grow on long stems.  Beautiful leaves of variegated green (like in the picture above), or dark green with a pale green arrow-shaped marking like this:

It grows everywhere around here…along roadsides, in fields and pastures, in lawns and gardens.  Rocky soil, sandy soil, clay soil, perfect soil.  It really isn’t picky.  It puts off two crops a year ~ once in early/mid spring, and again in mid/late fall.

It’s incredibly easy to harvest, also.  When you see a patch, pluck the pretty little flower and dry it in a single layer in a warm (85-95 F) well-ventilated area.  Many of the dried blooms will retain some of their color.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get on with the real reason I wanted to post this herb.  Like plantain, it’s a medicinal powerhouse.  So much so, in fact, that even the government and big pharma have had to acknowledge it as medicinally viable, even if they do so only grudgingly.

Numerous studies have shown red clover to be exceptionally helpful in treating many forms of cancer.

Used internally or externally, this is a valuable herb to have on hand for just about any ailment.

  • Purifies the blood
  • Cleanses the liver
  • Improves circulation and cardiovascular health by increasing the amount of high-density lipoprotein, or “good” cholesterol, in the bloodstream.
  • Encourages bone growth, slows bone loss and boosts bone density
  • Adds strength and flexibility to arteries
  • One of the premium sources of phytoestrogens which help increase the levels of estrogen in our bodies, thereby reducing menopausal symptoms
  • Contains vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, niacin, potassium, and Vitamin C.

For those of you who have never wandered through the feel and picked a clover blossom to chew on, you are totally missing out.  The blooms are sweet and somewhat moist, making them perfect for adding to spring or fall salads, especially if you are looking for a vitamin and mineral boost that doesn’t come in the form of a pill!

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Degenerative Bone Disease.  It sounds painful, doesn’t it?  It is a phrase that I have been hearing a lot of lately.  At first, it was just the 35 and older crowd -mostly women-  that kept saying they had been diagnosed with it, but gradually the victims have gotten younger.  In fact, just recently I heard about a 9-year-old little girl that had been diagnosed with it.

So, this then, is the newest medical ‘trend’.  Frightening.  Even more frightening is that most doctors are telling their patients that there is no way to reverse the disease or the damage it has caused.  Instead, the best they can hope for is to control the pain with some prescription meds.  ‘Experts’ tell you that osteoporosis drugs are the answer.   Forget the dangerous side effects.

Degenerative bone disease is, for all intents and purposes, the same thing as osteoporosis.   This is caused from a lack of calcium, vitamin D and other bone-building vitamins and minerals.  Many people run to the health food store and stock up on some multi-vitamin that claims to have these ingredients in it, hoping to prevent this disease.  You all know what I think about vitamin pills, right?  This is not the answer.  It is difficult for the body to process vitamins and nutrients that are not organic.  Raw.  In their natural state.  In order to prevent this disease, you have to get these essential elements from your food, not from a pill.

But, that’s not where this blog post is going.  We were talking about Degenerative Bone Disease. So, here’s how it works ~  our bodies, when kept in good working order, are designed to heal themselves.  Skin, tissue, bone and blood will all repair and replenish themselves, returning to perfect working order even after the most severe damage.  We have already dealt with healing skin and tissue, so lets talk about healing bones.

Like most people, I had always assumed that bones, once broken, never truly healed.  Not back to the way they were before.  In fact, when I broke my wrist I remember the doctor putting on that awful cast and telling my mom how careful I would have to be because that would always be a weak spot in my bone.  Later, I learned that it was not the broken spot, itself, as much as the area just above and below the healed fracture that was the most vulnerable.  Either way, things would never be the same.

Then, I decided to go and become an herbalist.  In earning one of my herbalist certifications, I was introduced to the possibility that the bones are, in fact, capable of healing completely.  Just like they were before they were damaged.  With the proper treatment and healing methods, even a shattered, fragmented mess of bones could pull itself back together so you’d never even know it was harmed.  Did you notice the big, dark italicized letters?

The body, when it is deprived of the things it needs to function (things like calcium and vitamin D), will start to pull these things from it’s storehouse – the bones.  When that storehouse is depleted, the shell becomes brittle and fragile.  Bones may break more easily, or even break off a single chip at a time.

It is not just depriving the body of the things it needs that is the problem, though.  There are many other things that will cause the body to lose these essential elements faster.  They will actually pull them from the body.  Iodized salt, white sugar, caffeine and many prescription and OTC medicines are some of the worst culprits.

Coincidentally, it seems that in most cases of osteoporosis, or degenerative bone disease that I have heard about, bad diet  and a history of prescription meds are prevalent.  Without exception, when I asked about their eating habits many of them ate canned or boxed meals on a regular basis, were at least minimally overweight, and consumed high levels of meat, sugar and caffeine.

So, what to do to fix things?  Treat the osteoporosis like it is a broken bone.  Give it what it needs to repair and regenerate stronger bones.  Of course, this isn’t always an easy thing.  For some of us, switching to a raw food diet is just not an option.  However, switching to a partially-raw-food diet is.  That doesn’t mean to eat a rare steak, either.  I’m talking raw fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains.

Here are some of the best foods and herbs to help your body help itself to heal from broken bones or even degenerative bone disease:

Bananas, cantaloupe, eggplant, cucumber, peppers, strawberries, avocados, cabbage, green foods (broccoli, kale, spinach)

And, don’t forget these bone-building herbs:

parsley, horsetail, red clover, alfalfa, kelp, rose hips, dandelion

But, you still need some vitamin D.  Vitamin D is critical because it allows the body to absorb calcium.  Without it, there is little chance of reversing bone damage.  If you ask most people, they will tell you that your best source of Vitamin D comes from milk and other dairy products, or from one of those great-tasting cereals off the grocery store shelves enriched with Vitamin D.  They would be way off the mark.  In fact, there is very little evidence that dairy products help at all with vitamin D.  In fact, most modern research shows that dairy products hinder the system in many ways.  That’s a post for another day, though…

So, what to do?  Simple really.  Step outside.  You know how I’m always spouting off about fresh air and sunshine?   10-15 minutes of sunlight on the face and hands every other day will provide you with the proper amount of vitamin D, among many other benefits.

Here’s the surprise, though.  You would think that brittle bones mean you should stay away from exercise to avoid injury.  This isn’t the case, either.  Gentle exercises like yoga or tai chi will help strengthen not just the bones, but the entire body.  It will stimulate the organs of the body to work properly, which in turn will allow the body to heal itself.  It will help calm and focus the mind, which has been shown to speed the healing of the body.  Plus, it just makes you feel good!

Finally, de-stress your life.  Stress has been shown to promote health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcers and other digestive disorders, depression and even with how the body absorbs and uses the vitamins and minerals it is given.  I know, sometimes that is much easier said than done, but  if your health is at stake then maybe now is the time to re-evaluate your life.  Decide what is truly important and let the rest fall to the wayside. Take time to watch a sunrise.  Take a drive in the country.  Spend a night with friends.  Laughter really is the best medicine.

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