Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Extraordinary Fenugreek Seed!

I've been researching natural estrogen replacements and to my surprise, Fenugreek seed was among them. Coincidentally, my husband used to drink Fenugreek tea when I met him a few decades ago and I had recently purchased some. After reading about the seed, I was truly amazed at its abundant benefits. Hopefully this post won't be too long as I list the many reasons to use Extraordinary Fenugreek!
~Estrogen-like properties increase libido and decrease hot flashes and mood fluctuations
~Treatment for asthma, arthritis, bronchitis, sore throat, acid reflux, skin wounds, and even diabetes
~Studies show that 2 oz. of Fenugreek daily can significantly reduce cholesterol 
~For type 2 diabetes, consuming 500 mg of Fenugreek twice daily can significantly lower blood sugar levels

There's so many ways to prepare it for use; it's a spice, a tea, and in powder form can be used as a poultice or put in capsules. I recently read that it's one of the base ingredients of curry. Sprouted seeds are delicious too. The taste is somewhat sweet and maple-y. 

So give Fenugreek a try, but there are a few warnings; it should not be taken if pregnant as it may induce labor, and avoid if you're allergic to chick peas.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Keep ginger on hand! Here's why...

Did your mother give you ginger ale when you had a tummy ache? And it probably worked too!  Here's why: to help aid in digestion, ginger breaks down the proteins to clear the stomach and intestines of gas. It also helps digestion of fatty foods. Mom was right! I'd stick to the real thing though, as I'm sure Vernors has a hefty dose of sugar.

Ginger helps with all sorts of nausea including morning sickness, post chemotherapy and motion sickness. We're sailors, and a staple on our boat is ginger tea, or ginger candy (sometimes it's hard to brew tea when the seas are rough)! But there's plenty of other reasons to keep ginger on hand:
  • It stimulates circulation and relaxes muscles around blood vessels, getting the blood moving around. This is helpful for menstrual cramps as well as lowering high blood pressure. 
  • It can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. In fact, in 1980, a group of Cornell Medical school researchers published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine confirming that ginger completely inhibited the potentially life-threatening process of platelet aggregation. It actually interferes with cholesterol biosynthesis. 
Aspirin - Ginger? You decide...
  • When brewed as a tea, it induces sweating, which can help a fever run it's course.
  • Ginger may prevent ulcers, in fact, at least six anti-ulcer constituents from ginger have been isolated and identified.
  • Many have marveled at how ginger can treat two opposites - prevent nausea & ulcers while treating constipation & diarrhea at the same time. It does this by inhibiting toxic bacteria while promoting friendly bacteria, all without side effects!  
  • Ginger is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is our body's response to illness or injury, keeping us from moving a damaged area while it's healing. But, in some conditions, like arthritis, diverticulitis  and heart disease, the inflammation doesn't go away and can lead to other problems. Ginger is used in treating chronic inflammation because it inhibits two important enzymes. Anti-inflammatory drugs only affect one, and not the other, which only addresses part of the problem. Not to mention the side effects like ulcers, whereas ginger has no side effects and does not cause stomach irritation.
  • Some studies are finding that ginger may reduce sugar levels, promising for those with diabetes.
  • New research reported at The American Association for Cancer conference found that ginger actually suppressed cancer cells, suggesting that the herb is able to fuel the death of cancer cells. It has been shown to work against skin, ovarian, colon and breast cancer. 
  • There have been studies that conclude that ginger enhances immunity too. 
So go out and buy yourself some ginger! It comes in many different forms, fresh ginger root (shown above) can be used as a spice or made into a tea. 

To make tea, simmer 3/4 teaspoon of chopped ginger in one cup of water for five minutes in a closed pot. Remove the slices and sip your tea! Drinking before meals will help digestion. 

Dried ginger root can be blended in herbal teas and chai. Ginger powder capsules are available and ginger essential oil is a wonderful addition to blends for sore joints and muscles. I get my products from Mountain Rose Herbs

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cold Remedies from the Cupboard

What's Your Spice?
My co-worker and I are always sharing remedies and amazingly, we've both avoided the cold/flu bug this season (so far...). I've tried the apple cider vinegar cure that goes like this. First, and most importantly, you need the raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar with the "mother". The mother is actually the enzyme that settles in the bottom of the bottle from yeast and fermentation by-products. It looks like there's something growing in the bottle, and there is! Be sure to shake the bottle every time so the "mother" gets distributed - it's the good stuff with the real healing properties. Among other things, ACV promotes a healthy immune system and helps the body expel toxins. Here's my recipe for "the cure".
  • 1/4 cup raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar
  • 2T honey, local is best
  • liberal dash of cayenne
Combine these ingredients in a mug and fill with boiling water - like a tea. Sip slowly. It's not the best tasting thing in the world, it's an "acquired" taste. I gave it to my mother-in-law when she was getting a cold, she drank two doses over two days and declared that she'd rather be sick than drink it again! But she was already feeling much better! I've been able to drink it down with ease and feel amazing when I do - even more energetic. Besides the ACV, honey is known in Ayurvedic medicine as 'Yogavahi', which means "the carrier of the healing values of the herbs to the cells and tissues". It's said that when combined with another substance, like an herb or spice, the honey enhances the medicinal qualities and helps them reach the deeper tissues in the body. That makes sense to me. And the cayenne, well I believe my prolific use of cayenne is what's kept me going strong for years. It's been used medicinally by Native Americans for over 9000 years! 

Cayenne, or capsaicin, is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU). The lowest therapeutic level of SHU or heat units is 35,000. My local co-op carries cayenne powder in 35,000, 60,000 and 90,000 heat units. You guessed it, the higher the heat unit, the spicier it is and the medicinal value increases as well. I buy the 35,000 HU, but I use it a lot and tend to have a heavy hand. Cayenne is known to strengthen the heart and cardiovascular system and contains beneficial phytochemicals, vitamins C, E, and Magnesium. It's said to clean the blood and is great for the immune system.

Then there's Cassia (Cinnamon)
My colleague swears by cinnamon and honey. We already know how wonderful honey is, and here's the scoop on cinnamon. Like honey, it's also used in Ayurvedic medicine and is one of the oldest spices known to man. For colds, it boosts the immune system and helps clear sinuses. Other health benefits include reducing cholesterol and relieving acid indigestion, to name a few. My co-worker uses a spoonful of honey sprinkled with cinnamon for her cold cure all. I think I'll try it, and give it to my mother-in-law too. I'm sure it'll taste better than the ACV tea!

So here's two effective cold remedies and I bet you've already got the ingredients in your cupboard! Which one do you prefer?

NOTE: When using ingredients for medicinal value, it's important to use good quality, organic products.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Evening Bath Time with Aromatherapy

My new favorite addition to an evening bath. Mountain Rose Herbs describes the aroma as dry, musky, bittersweet floral. To me, it smells a lot like lemon iced tea. Some of this oils' properties and benefits include: antibacterial, antispasmodic (good for menstrual cramps), aphrodisiac - yes, certain aromas can get you in the mood!, sedative, muscle aches & pains and nervous fatigue. Remember "Calgon, take me away"? It's ok if you don't - that just means you're much younger than I am!

And who wouldn't want to soak in this beautiful tub? It's hand crafted by my husband - really! It's poured concrete under the tile with hot water tubing connected to our boiler running throughout. The tile is toasty warm when the boiler's running, so the water stays hot for a good, long while.
The perfect prescription for a good nights rest = a hot bath with Clary Sage followed by my Goodnight Tea!
Coming soon, a spreadsheet for Essential Oils - properties, benefits and how to combine.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sleep Pillows

I've been wanting to make sleep pillows for a while now and finally made a few tonight. I'm anxious to see if it will help, although I'm also drinking my nighttime tea so it won't be a very scientific experiment! I used a blend of equal parts lemon balm, chamomile, rose petals and lavender flowers - except I added more lavender - wanted it to smell really good. Also, half parts each of passionflower and hops. Mixed it up then added a few drops of organic lavender essential oil and mixed again. The pillows are filled loosely and one's already tucked in my pillowcase. Nightie night...

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Need Sleep?

For so many, sleep eludes us. We get through the day being groggy, grumpy and not up to our best selves. Looking for a safe, healthy remedy, I purchased a product from the co-op called Calms Forte'. I've used it before with some success and thought I'd give it another try. It does work pretty well, and as usual, my husband asked, "what's in it?" The main four botanicals in Calms Forte' are Passionflower, Oatstraw, Hops and Chamomile. So, my next mission was to learn about the ingredients which led me to Mountain Rose Herbs, and look what I found! A nighttime tea with passionflower and hops!
Try a cup of Mountain Rose Herb's Fidnemed Nighttime Tea, or get creative and play with a different combination of herbs. Here's how mine turned out
The large green flowers are Hops! I substituted chamomile flowers for skullcap and guessed at amounts. The first blend had an overwhelming odor of valerian root (not a pleasant smell) so I added more lemon balm and hibiscus. It brewed to the most lovely red shade and worked like a dream! (pun intended). Here's what I put in mine:
  • Lemon Balm, a mint with a lemony scent
  • Hibiscus Flowers, also known as red sorrel - has a high level of anti-oxidants
  • Chamomile Flowers, used as a medicine by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans 
  • Passionflower, popular as a sedative (yay!) See my other posts for more on Passionflower
  • Hops Flowers, first mentioned in European literature in 1079 and used as a sleep aid and to reduce libido. Monks used it to help young males remain chaste!
  • Valerian Root, reduces anxiety. The root smells horrible! Suprisingly, the flowers don't.
  • Lavender Flowers, can't say enough good things here! My favorite herb & essential oil.
Notes of caution: Chamomile is in the ragweed family and may cause a reaction if you're extremely sensitive to ragweed.
Did you know that avoiding excessive hops consumption (beer) can help men retain potency?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Skin - The Ultimate Protector!

Did you know the average adult has five to eight pounds of skin and that if stretched out flat, it would cover an area of about 20 square feet?  It's the largest organ we have and our skin performs nine essential jobs for our bodies.
  • Protects us from damage (chemical, biological, thermal and electrical)
  • Helps to maintain our body temperature
  • Regulates moisture
  • Prevents loss of minerals
  • Converts ultraviolet rays into vitamin D3
  • Responds to sensory stimulus - heat, cold, pain, pleasure & pressure
  • Metabolizes and stores fat
  • Secretes sebum, a lubricating substance
  • Assists in excretion of waste & toxins via sweating
Our skin is alive and it's our first line of defense. In order for us to take good care of it, we need to know about our skin type. Stephanie Tourles has an extensive section on skin types and care recommendations. And your skin type can change often depending on the weather, your stress level, age, etc. The great news is that you can change up your recipes by using different carrier oils. I finished the spreadsheet that lists common carrier oil properties and it's listed under Know Your Ingredients on the Blog. Next I'll do the same for essential oils. My absolute favorite is Lavender! What's yours?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Exfoliating Face Scrub!

After learning about homemade face creams, now I needed a cleanser/scrub. My friend that told me about Organic Body Care Recipes makes her own face wash by mixing a dab of almond meal with a little organic powdered milk. Well, I've been making my own yogurt for a few years now, and it's milk - right?

So every morning I take the smallest vessel I have - a shot glass, and add a pinch of almond meal and a dab of yogurt and voila! Exfoliating face scrub! It's free and I always have the ingredients on hand. I make the almond meal as part of my homemade granola process. I grind almonds in the food processor for the granola but leave a 1/4 cup or so in the processor to grind a little longer.

I have to say, it works quite well. Yogurt is a mild, bleaching exfoliant and the lactic acid dissolves dead skin cells. My face feels soft and not at all dried out. Almond meal is high in skin-pampering emollients and exfoliates dry skin too. Here's my morning routine, yogurt/almond meal on left and my version of Rich and Royal Regeneration Flower Cream (from Organic Body Care). It contains macadamia nut oil, rose hip seed oil, beeswax, rose hydrosol, vitamin E capsule, and I use frankincense, lavender, geranium and ylang ylang essential oils. An essential oil spreadsheet coming soon!

Choosing Your Ingredients - Carrier Oils

The recipe for this regeneration cream includes rose hip seed oil, and another choice of almond, soybean or macadamia nut carrier oils. Choices are also made with the water component - you can use distilled water or a hydrosol. I love hydrosols! Also called floral waters, they have similar properties to essential oils but are less concentrated. They contain all the essence of the plant in every drop and the scent is exhilarating! This rose hydrosol smells just like you're inhaling rose petals - heavenly!
Rose hip seed oil is pale orange-red in color. It's high in essential fatty acids which makes it perfect for mature, environmentally damaged skin. It softens and heals skin damaged by scars and extreme weather exposure. Kind of like today - it's been zero here with wind gusting to 25 mph. The wind chill advisory is in effect for -25 through tomorrow night!
A vitamin E oil capsule is optional in this recipe. I use one in this cream and have revised other creams to include vitamin E too. Just like cooking, I can't stick to the written ingredients. That's part of the fun and especially when it comes to the essential oils. With skin care, scent is so personal, not only that, essential oil properties can change a face cream to one that treats dry, weathered skin to oily skin types. More on that later...
Here's a spreadsheet that lists the key properties of carrier oils and a few miscellaneous ingredients at the bottom. Let me know of others and I'll gladly add them to the list.

What's your favorite go to carrier oil or essential oil, and why?

Choosing Your Ingredients

It's a great feeling of satisfaction to know the ingredients of what you put on your face every day. In fact, choosing the carrier oils, butters and essential oils is as much fun as watching them emulsify into their creaminess. The recipes in Stephanie Tourles' book are flexible in their ingredients, for example, my favorite body lotion can be made with your choice of soybean, almond, apricot kernel or macadamia nut base oils. It's wise to learn about the properties of these oils before purchasing your choice, and thankfully, Organic Body Care Recipes has devoted 50 pages to an Ingredient Dictionary. I chose macadamia nut oil after reading about its properties that help mature and environmentally damaged skin. It's helpful for sunburned and windburned skin too!
The ingredient decisions you make are especially important if you make lotions as gifts. My best friend is allergic to tree nuts, so macadamia nut oil would reek havoc for her and probably cause a nasty reaction. When making lotions for her, I choose apricot kernel or soybean. So the same lotion can have very different effects depending on the carrier oil you use.

A Great Beginning

For me, it all began a few years ago when I was invited to spend the weekend at the home of an acquaintance with a group of like-minded ladies. We ate, drank, told stories and stayed up way too late...but it was worth it! In the morning, we were talking about hair products, etc, and I asked what they used for their face care. At the time, I was using a commercial brand, only available in one store in town, and pretty pricey. I was caught up in this regimen of 6 different products. Let's see if I remember... it was the anti-aging cleanser, skin rejuvenating serum, skin brightening moisturizer, etc. etc...
When one of the girls mentioned that she made her own skin care formulas, I was intrigued. She brought out a book of recipes and I spent the rest of the morning pouring over it with excitement! I've always liked home made soaps and choosing my own scents for lotions. My favorite shop, back in the day (1980), was the original Body Shop in Berkeley, CA.  They opened a branch in San Anselmo, where I used to live, and my girlfriends and I used to spend hours in there choosing scents for our shampoos & lotions.
When my friend with the book brought out one of her hand made creams in a little cobalt blue jar, it was a defining moment for me. I wanted to go home and throw out my store bought stuff and start concocting right away!