Monthly Archives: July 2010

Summertime Bane – Sunburn!

I don’t know about where you live but it’s HOT here! I don’t care what the thermometer says, when I get out into the sun, it feels scorching. Yes, I try to get out in the mornings and early evenings before & after the sun is high but sometimes that’s not possible with my crazy schedule.

I hate covering up in summer months so wearing the prescribed long sleeves and long pants isn’t an option for me. I haven’t been able to find a good natural substitute so I use a commercial sunscreen…at least I put some on before I go outside. I tend to get involved in what I’m doing and forget to re-apply as directed. Thankfully, I’m blessed with dark-ish skin and rarely burn. Virtually everyone else I know (my children included) aren’t as lucky. Because I’m very concerned about skin cancer and know several people who have had it, I preach sunscreen to everyone I know.

That said, there are a lot of people who either don’t use a sunscreen or, like me, forget to re-apply every couple of hours. Sunburn, however minor, is painful … especially when you change clothes and the new clothing rubs on it. Most folks know that Aloe Vera will soothe any sort of first degree burn. Some are lucky enough to be able to keep an Aloe plant alive in the kitchen. If you’re one of those, simply break off a leaf and squeeze the gel out onto the burn. I’m not, so I keep a bottle of the gel on hand at all times.

One thing I found extremely soothing is Witch Hazel-infused vinegar. I keep that even closer than the Aloe gel. It’s not only great for sunburns but is cooling for all kinds of first degree burns – and I’m a klutz. To infuse vinegar with any herb, put one ounce dried herb or two ounces fresh (by weight) which you’ve crunched up either by hand or in a mortar & pestle (to release all the good stuff) into one pint vinegar – I use cider but white or rice will work fine. I recommend you use a jar without a metal lid. The acid from the vinegar will eat through the metal very quickly. Let it sit in a relatively dark place for 10 days or so, shaking every day. At the end of the 10 days, strain, bottle and refrigerate. It’ll keep for up to 2 months. I have mine in a spray bottle that mists rather than squirts – it feels good. (By the way, this is how you make an herb-infused vinegar to use with olive oil on your salad. Basil and thyme are tasty!)

After the vinegar has evaporated and the burning feeling gone, I put a little Calendula ointment on the burn to help speed the healing process along. I did this to my husband several years ago and he didn’t peel. He’s so fair skinned I think he could almost burn looking at a photo of the sun. Of course, I got him inside before the burn got too bad.

You can also take a bath. Relax for about 10 minutes in a warm (not hot) bath to which you’ve added 1/2 cup Witch Hazel extract (found in the first aid aisle at the store) or one cup Witch Hazel-infused vinegar, plus 2 teaspoons baking soda.

Stay in the shade as much as possible and drink a lot of water during these scorching times!

Herbs Can Save Money

Whatever television station you watch, despite what Washington is saying, the news on main street doesn’t seem to be very good these days.  Even if you still have your job, times are tough and we all need to tighten our belts a bit. Believe it or not, there are ways to cut down on expenses using herbs. I’ll touch on some of them:

Medicinally

First, always speak with your doctor before changing or going off any medication!

For diabetics: it’s possible to cut down or even eliminate insulin with herbs, depending on the severity of your diabetes. Be sure to follow the dietary instructions you’ve been given…eat slow metabolizing carbohydrates such as whole, unrefined grains, legumes, bananas, potatoes with the peel still on, and raw fruits and vegetables (although don’t overdo it on the fruit).

Exercise at least three times per week. Onions and garlic are particularly helpful for regulating the pancreas. Stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar but has a negligible effect on blood glucose levels so it’s a great sugar substitute.

If you have high cholesterol, again follow dietary instructions. Garlic is really good, as is olive oil (cold-pressed, extra virgin). Recent research has shown that up to 3 ounces of dark chocolate (65% or more cacao) per day may also help lower LDL levels.

Tension headaches aren’t uncommon. Instead of reaching for the bottle of aspirin, Tylenol or Advil, try rubbing a couple of drops of undiluted Lavender oil on your temples, or drink a cup of Peppermint or Scullcap tea.

Body Care

Instead of buying an expensive bottle of lotion, go to the cooking oil aisle of the grocery store and pick up a bottle of sunflower, almond or coconut oil. At first glance you’ll think it costs the same but you will use considerably less of it after your shower or bath. You can add a few drops of essential oil (up to 10 drops per ounce of oil). Try Rose or Geranium if you have dry skin; Bergamot or Juniper for oily; and Lavender for normal.

Replace your expensive store-bought facial scrub with something out of the kitchen: mix 3 parts baking soda with one part water to make a paste. Scrub on, rinse well. If your skin is on the dry side, substitute whole oats (oatmeal) for the baking soda. Use Witch Hazel extract (found in the first aid aisle) or Thyme tea as a toner. Add some Lemon or Lime juice and voila! You have an astringent. If you store this in the refrigerator, it’s really refreshing in these hot summer months.

If you have acne, first do an elimination diet. Eliminate “known offenders” (chocolate, eggs, sugar, peanut butter and processed cheese are the most common) from your diet for two weeks. Re-introduce them one at a time to see if there are any changes to your skin. If you discover an offender, eliminate it from your diet for at least a year. Tea Tree oil or Garlic oil will help clear up a bad pustule quickly – both are antibiotic. Rubbing a fresh strawberry on the spot will also help (if you’re not allergic to strawberries, that is). To clear up blackheads, make a paste of Lemon juice, milk and oatmeal. Apply to all affected areas (avoiding the under-eye area), leave on for a half hour and rinse off with warm water. Then use that Witch Hazel astringent.

Around the House

Look around the internet for recipes for housecleaning chemical substitutes. Baking soda is wonderful for a lot of things, as are Lemon juice and white vinegar. Instead of buying those disposable floor dusters, cut up an old towel into the appropriate size and use those – they can be thrown into the washer instead of the trash. I sprinkle a couple of drops of Rosemary oil on my wipes and the house smells great after I’m done. A friend of mine found something called “soapnuts” on the internet. I haven’t tried them yet, but I understand they’re less expensive and better for the environment than traditional laundry detergent. Or, you can get froggy and make your own laundry soap. Another friend has posted a recipe here.

As stupid as it sounds during these tough times, try not to stress. It’s not good for your health! Exercise is a good stress-buster – go for a walk or simply run up & down your stairs a bunch of times to get those endorphins working.

There IS light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how far away it may seem!

Lemon-y Balm

It’s the height of summer. Most of the herbs have already bloomed and are starting to die back except … the greenest part of my garden nine months of the year is the Lemon Balm bed. It’s so bright it almost shines.

Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis gets it nickname from its lemony scent and “Balm” is a derivative of “Balsam”, which means it has balsamic-type volatile oils. You will hear most aromatherapists and herbalists refer to it simply as “Melissa” to prevent confusion with other “Balms”.

Dried Melissa doesn’t smell nearly as wonderful as fresh. That’s because the oils that make it smell so good are volatile and dissipate quickly in the drying process. The leaves also don’t have nearly as much volatile oil as, say, Rosemary, making it one of the most expensive essential oils on the market. However, it is very easy to grow, being a member of the mint family, so you can easily have a pot of it on your deck. If you plant it in the garden, beware! Like any other mint it will spread quickly, taking over space you’ve allocated for other plants.

Melissa is one of my favorite herbs to use. It is anti-spasmodic, antiviral, antibacterial and mildly sedative. It has been used for centuries for its restorative and healing powers. As far back as the early Greeks, it was steeped in wine as a remedy for snakebites and scorpion stings. In the 17th century, French Carmelite nuns made their “Carmelite Water” with Melissa as an elixir thought to improve memory & vision, and reduce rheumatic pain, fever, melancholy and depression.

Aromatherapists use the essential oil to relieve anxiety, shock, depression and nightmares. Depending on the circumstances, it may be used in a massage oil, or inhalation of the vapors of the essential oil.

One of the best known uses for Melissa is for herpes. Herpes simplex is a virus that, once contracted lives in the body, occasionally manifesting itself in “cold sores” (often at the most inconvenient times). Applying Melissa essential oil diluted in Vitamin E oil will quickly clear that unsightly sore. Using a lip balm made with Melissa may help keep the virus dormant, reducing the chances of  a cold sore erupting in the first place.

You can also make a tea with the leaves and use it as a wash for skin prone to acne. Combine it with German Chamomile as a wash for eczema and skin allergies.

A cup of Melissa tea can ease headaches, indigestion and nausea. Since it causes a slight dilation of the blood vessels, it can be used to help lower blood pressure. It is somewhat cooling and is a good addition to teas made to reduce fever. Its sedative properties are also great for relieving tension in our stress-filled world. (I love to relax with a cup of Melissa tea after a long day at the office, or sun-infused iced tea after a hot day in the garden.) If blended with other herbs, it adds a cheery note to the tea.

One caveat: Melissa may interfere with the action of thyroid medications. Check with your doctor if this may be a problem before using Melissa.

Melissa’s sedative properties make it a wonderful ingredient in spells to heal people with nervous disorders or to simply bring a little peace to a stressful life. It has been used in Arabian magic to attract love: steep a handful of fresh leaves in a bottle of wine for several hours, strain and share with a friend.  (You don’t need to do magic for this … if you use white wine it’s very tasty!)

It’s going to be a hot day. I think I’ll head out to the garden, pick a few stems and get a jar of Melissa tea going in the sun.

Blueberries Bilberries Huckleberries Oh Yum!

July is National Blueberry Month.  The “occasion” must have been started by someone in the more northern climes: we’ve had blueberries for nearly a month, here.

Blueberries are a close relative of bilberries (or huckleberries or whortleberries … pick your name).  They are all of the Genus Vaccinium and have essentially the same uses. And are all very yummy and nutritious fruits, by the way. Although science hasn’t proven what has been known for centuries, the bilberry has been used medicinally in Europe since the Middle Ages. Like most fruits, bilberries are high in Vitamin C and were used extensively to treat scurvy. The antiseptic, astringent and diuretic actions are quite possibly the reason Vaccinium has been used to treat atherosclerosis, diarrhea, stomach ulcers and a host of eye problems, including glaucoma and retinopathy. A wash made from an infusion of the leaves will help clear hemorrhoids quickly.

Blueberries are high in anthocyanin pigments, which are antioxidants. Researchers are currently studying these as possible treatments for cancer, aging and neurological disorders, inflammation, diabetes and bacterial infections. Further research is focusing on a leaf decoction to lower blood sugar levels in Type II diabetics.

We mustn’t forget the magical applications for blueberries! They are great for protection and hex-breaking. If you think you’re under an attack of some kind head for the kitchen. Eat a handful of blueberries or utilize your baking skills to make a blueberry pie or tart to consume as soon as it’s cool enough to eat. Don’t have fresh berries on hand? Blueberry jam (made without preservatives) on a piece of bread will suffice.

Blueberries are easily grown in most climates, although they don’t like it if your winter temperatures get below -20F. You can even get smaller plants that will grow in pots so you can bring them indoors over the winter. They usually start producing fruit after the third year so at that time, be sure you protect your plants from the birds, who like the fruit as much as you! Even if you simply purchase the fruit at your local grocer, look for the fruits with the purplish meat, which is considerably higher in antioxidants than the “American” blueberry, which is white or pink under the skin.

For me, blueberries are a standard 4th of July treat. Add some strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream and the dish starts looking rather patriotic. It doesn’t last long, though!