Category Archives: health

My New Charm

No, I haven’t changed my personality. 😉

As background, for years I’ve worn several things on a necklace – always under my shirt. (I have conservative clients. They wouldn’t understand.) However, my thoughts on some things have changed and what I wore no longer really had meaning to me. It was time for something new.

I really like the idea of a pentacle (the four elements plus spirit, surrounded by will) but wearing one of those openly seems to immediately identify you as Wiccan, which I certainly am not. But what to wear?

If you’ve been following along on my Facebook page, you know I’ve been learning the Herbal Tarot. Early on, I set the companion book aside because it’s geared toward herbalists who consult. I don’t. But one thing in the introduction (page ten) struck home: “[…] the ancient Greek letter theta. The circle divided into two halves signifies spirit-matter held together by the underlying principle of Divine Spirit.” I interpreted that a little differently. Body and mind, surrounded by spirit – the principle of holistic health (and witchcraft, if you think about it).

The text shows the lowercase theta. If I’d been thinking a little harder, the upper case theta would more completely show that connection – it has a little space between the horizontal bar and the surrounding circle. There is leakage between the mind and body. But then the charm would’ve had to have a back, been heavier, and I wouldn’t have liked it as much.

It took about five seconds to decide where I was going to get my new charm. My friend, Jen, introduced me to the work of Aidan Wachter several years ago and I’ve been in love with his work since. About a month later, this arrived in the mail:

Isn’t it beautiful? Go look at his website, or his Facebook page, or his Twitter feed. What he does is amazing!

Now I have a charm I can wear on the outside of my clothes, with an explanation even the most conservative of people will understand. Nestled next to it is my father-in-law/husband’s first wedding ring. Yes, there’s a story there, too, but only the fact that it was my husband’s needs to be told.

By Wolfsbane and Mandrake Root – A Review

When the publication of this book was announced, I got excited. Yet another book to add to my collection on poisonous plants! In addition, Ms. Draco is a respected author in the occult world.

Once through this small book (a whopping 96 pages), I was both pleased and disappointed.

The pleased: She gives a very nice history of poisoning, detailing instances from Socrates’ famed ingestion of hemlock, through the times of the Roman Empire, to the Borgias and de’ Medicis of the Renaissance, poisonous intrigue in the English courts, and finishing with various accounts of poisonings in the 18th century (which, naturally, were mostly perpetrated by women 😉 ).

An entire chapter was devoted to the “Proving Tree”, which was a “metal stand (often attached to the salt dish) that had from five to fifteen different ‘stone’ pendants hanging from its branches.” For a few centuries, it was thought that dipping one stone or another into food would either detect or neutralize any poison found in food. Servants would have been a part of that “Proving Tree” because several would taste their master’s food before it even got to him.

The final chapter, “Cursing v Bottling”, was useful. She goes to great lengths to discourage someone from cursing which, in a book for public consumption, is a good thing. A milder retaliation is bottling and she’s got some good ideas in there.

The disappointment: the listing of the plants themselves. While the information presented is, for the most part, accurate, only a chemistry buff would be interested in the list of toxic chemicals in each plant. I’m used to reading scientific papers and I found my eyelids drooping at points. Foot- or endnotes would have made reading easier, rather than citing sources within the text.

It’s obvious this book wasn’t reviewed by someone who is an herbalist prior to publication. One example: she cites “Margaret Grieve” as the author of A Modern Herbal (Chapter 3). The initial “M” stands for Maud.

Another: she lists “Bryony black and white” as Bryonia dioica. B. dioica is red (or sometimes white) bryony, while white is B. alba. Black bryony is in another genus (Dioscorea) altogether, although no less toxic.

And one final nitpicking: all but one of the Latin binomials are in lower case, sometimes without the species name attached (making it a monomial). In case you didn’t know, the genus is always capitalized, the species not. If all species in a genus are considered, then ‘spp.’ should be after the genus.

So, I’ll give this 3.5 stars of 5. It presented a lot of good information on poisonous herbs but there are other books out there that present it better (a couple she used for reference and cited in the bibliography would be a good start). Buy it for the history lesson and how to bottle rather than curse.

 

 

Honey to the Rescue!

I normally have mild spring and fall allergies, fall being just a little worse. A little sniffing, a little sneezing, a little itchy eyes for a week or so, and I’m back to normal. I don’t even consider them bad enough to take anything. Usually.

Not this year. Whatever was blooming, on top of the dust from dying leaves and drought-dry everything else, made me miserable for a month. The allergies then (I think) turned into a full-blown sinus infection. On top of that, my immune system was (and is) trying to battle the germs from husband’s fall cold (which the stubborn man refuses to treat, even just to ease or shorten the symptoms).

Nothing I tried worked. The inflammation and congestion in my sinuses stayed firmly put no matter what herbal allies went to battle for me. Desperate, I did some internet searching.

And came across mention of not just regular honey*, but Manuka honey. From New Zealand. Virtually everything I read was anecdotal evidence. A lot of it was taking the properties of regular honey and extrapolating possible results due to the higher nutritional content of Manuka honey. (There are few clinical trials on regular honey, much less this type.) But, as I said, I was desperate. So, I ordered some of this holy-shit-that’s-expensive honey (UMF 16 for medicinal purposes) and ate my first tablespoon of it the night it arrived. (It’s not quite as sweet as regular honey and is much thicker, in case you’re wondering.)

Public Domain image

Another tablespoon the next morning and evening, repeat. Within 48 hours, blowing my nose became a productive thing rather than a waste of tissue. Five days later (two tablespoons per day), my face no longer feels like a brick is laying on it (ignore the properties of gravity – you know what I mean). So, I’m going to say my investment was worth it, and continue to take this twice a day until the symptoms completely subside. Once I feel healthy again, I’ll reduce it to once per day as a prophylactic measure during cold and flu season.

YMMV but if all else fails, do some searching, read up on this stuff, and make an investment. You might thank me. (Or not.)

 

*I don’t mean that crap in the grocery store that comes in cute little plastic bears. That’s been so processed it’s only good for flavoring. I mean the stuff you get from the farmer’s market or even a local beekeeper that’s not processed.

OMG- Fleas!

I can’t believe it. All four cats are indoor cats (their only “outside” is the deck, which has no egress), yet we got fleas. Obviously, they came in with the humans – or maybe that bat Maks caught about a month ago…

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a flea on Maks in the sparse hair in front of his ears. Shudder. Where there’s one, there are many. As much as I deplore chemical remedies, I know my cats well and attempting anything herbal on them would have disastrous effects – as in, I’d look like I’d been in a war. So, I bought a commercial flea remedy specifically formulated for cats. Even applying that was an adventure. The “little” boys, especially Sev, aren’t very amenable to being snuggled for a bit in such a position to get that stuff between their shoulder blades where they can’t lick it.

Because the cats weren’t scratching themselves overly-much and I’d seen none other than the one on Maks, I thought I’d licked the problem. Nope. One jumped on me the next night as I was sitting in my recliner. So, treating the rugs & upholstery was added to my ‘to do’ list. Here, I could use natural remedies.

First up: working food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) into all the upholstery & rugs. (Don’t get the stuff sold for pools.) You can also use finely ground salt. Put your kitchen salt into a grinder to powder it. Sprinkle it on, then use a scrub brush (or broom) to work the powder down into the fibers. It’s a workout, I tell you! You’ll get some powder floating around in the air. It won’t hurt you but if you have respiratory issues, wear a mask while doing this. Either DE or salt works its way into the innards of any bug with an exoskeleton (like fleas) and kills them. Leave it there for at least 30 minutes (overnight is recommended if it’s a heavy infestation), then vacuum up. Immediately discard the bag & its contents outdoors.

Then, because I believe in the belt-and-suspenders approach, I made up a voile of distilled water and essential oils for a repellent*. There are a bunch of oils that will work but the ones I chose were Rosemary, Lavender, Peppermint and Geranium. (Rosemary and Geranium are the two most-recommended when I was doing my research.) You can add up to 10 drops per ounce of water. Use your nose – you want it rather strong-smelling. Put this into a spray bottle that has a ‘mist’ setting on it, shake well and spritz all upholstery and rugs. Let it dry, then mist everything again.

NB Cats do not metabolize essential oils the same way dogs (and humans) can. Do not put EOs on your felines, even in diluted form! If your cat will allow you to bathe her, you can dilute an herbal infusion and use that.

We didn’t have a heavy infestation so this one treatment has worked. If yours is really bad, plan on doing it twice, about a week apart. The DE may not kill all the eggs in the first go-round.

 

*If you don’t have the EOs but do have dried herbs, make a strong infusion by steeping 2 teaspoons herb in one cup just-boiled water (covered) for about a half hour. Strain, then put into your spray bottle.

The Alphabet of Galen – A Review

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know I love reading historical herbals and other medicinal texts. I find comparing what “they” knew “then” to what we know today an interesting (and sometimes mind-boggling) exercise. You’d be surprised at how accurate some entries are, without scientific evidence.

The Alphabet of Galen wasn’t written by the Galen (c. 129-217 CE) but predates him by probably one or two hundred years. Someone a few centuries down the line gave it that name – who knows why? The translator was able to see eight manuscripts dating from the seventh to the twelfth centuries (none identical, some fragmented), along with the first printed edition (1490). Although I can’t read Latin, I’m still jealous. I do own several pairs of white cotton gloves…

The first third of the book is discussion of the history, sources, translation/dating and the manuscripts themselves. The last fifteen percent or so is an extensive bibliography and index. In between are the 302 entries with Latin on the left and English on the right. It’s extensively footnoted.

Yes, some of the entries scared the bejeezus out of me. Bathing in lye, anyone? The same fragmented entry mentions something about “[…] true for the internal uses […]”! Others made me a little queasy – I’m not sure I’d ingest a skink’s inner flesh (in a twelfth of a pint of wine) as an aphrodisiac. Yet others, however, told of properties we still know today, such as St. John’s Wort “heals burns when applied topically by means of a compress”.

Mr. Everett did a wonderful job not only translating but cross-referencing this Materia medica with other well-known writers such as Dioscorides and Pliny.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into far-ancient times. Unlike many of its contemporaries, there isn’t a spot of superstition or magic. It’s all “fact”.

Five stars.

Herbs ARE Drugs

Image from my ACHS webinar

Last week in my webinar, I mentioned that herbs are drugs. In the Q&A session afterwards, someone asked me why I said that. The answer is quite easy. A quick Google search of the definition of “drug” brings up, “a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body”. Doesn’t this succinctly sum up why we take herbs in a medicinal context? It also could be used to describe the food we eat!

But to go a little more in depth, plants/herbs have chemicals in them – they’re just naturally produced by Mother Nature in her plant factories rather than artificially produced by Man in laboratories. It’s the chemicals that have the physiological effect we’re seeking when we take herbs in a medicinal context (or to get high…). One of the blogs I read, Nature’s Poisons, is written by a forensic toxicologist and he’ll give you all the chemistry lessons you want about why nasty plants (and animals) work the way they do on our body. (Justin also has a great sense of humor. You should read that blog.)

Anyways, I was mistaken when I gave the etymology of the word, “drug”. From the Online Etymology Dictionary: “late 14c. (early 14c. in Anglo-French), “medicine, chemical ingredients,” from Old French droge “supply, stock, provision” (14c.), which is of unknown origin, perhaps from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German droge-vate “dry barrels,” or droge waere, literally “dry wares,” but specifically drugs and spices, with first element mistaken as word for the contents (see dry goods), or because medicines mostly consisted of dried herbs.”

So, as you see, herbs are drugs.

Curanderismo

I’m always curious about folk healing. First, because it was around (and mostly effective) long before science took over. Second, because it’s interesting to see both similarities and differences between cultures. It’s especially interesting to note how the same herb is used for the same thing, regardless of what part of the world you may be in. Lastly, most folk healing recognizes the connection between our mind, body and spirit – something that is sorely lacking in today’s medicine.

When this introductory course on curanderismo (folk healing in the southwestern US, Mexico and parts of Central & South America) was announced, I saw it as an opportunity to learn about another culture and hey, it was FREE.

Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. The course really should be entitled, “Introduction-Lite”. A maximum of 45 minutes’ of videos a week and a multiple-choice test (where you get two tries to get it right?) doesn’t give a whole lot of information. They don’t explain some things at all – just demonstrate. I’m guessing it’s a teaser to get you to take the two-week, in-person course they offer every summer at the University of New Mexico. For me, ain’t gonna happen – I have obligations that keep me in the office, y’know?

One of the things that sort of befuddled me was in the video about making tinctures (yer standard folk method), they mention that in Mexico, caña is generally used as the menstruum. That’s effectively a cane sugar version of Everclear. In lower proofs, you know it better as rum. However, in the video, they used vodka. That got me a little confused because cane sugar alcohol is readily available here in the US. So, I visited my favorite bartender, who just happens to be from Guadalajara, and asked him. He, too, was confused. But I got a tidbit from him I’ll share with you:

Caña isn’t much available outside the border states with Mexico. That said, apart from your favorite brand of rum (which comes in both 80 and 100 proof if you make your tinctures scientifically), there is something called aguardiente. Here you have to be careful because that can be made with something other than cane sugar but … it comes as high as 54% alcohol, which is 108 proof. Carlos says it’s smoother than rum and, understanding what I was getting at with my questions, thought it would make a more palatable tincture than straight vodka or rum. Although vodka is considered a “cleaner” alcohol than rum (and thus would make a better tincture), I really don’t like the taste of vodka – even in drops –  so I’m going to get some aguardiente and try it.

Back to the course: I had a lot more luck poring through their “recommended reading” books than watching the videos. Although you will never learn to be a curandero/a (the Spanish language differentiates nouns between the masculine & feminine, if you didn’t know) without studying/apprenticing under someone, the reading gave a lot more in-depth information on how they go about things. Of the five books recommended, I found the following two of the most interest:

Woman Who Glows in the Dark by Elena Avila

Sastun by Rosita Arvigo

The first because it’s written by someone with extensive experience in the allopathic (scientific medicine) world who left it behind to follow her heritage. The second because, although it doesn’t really go into a lot of detail, it’s written by someone who grew up in the United States with our allopathic system and apprenticed under a curandero in Belize.

Although I like my doctor, I wish there was a curandero/a nearby. I think it’s important to treat the whole person and, although she tries, my doctor doesn’t have time because she’s dependent on that insurance reimbursement.  If he was a hierbero (or yerbero), we could compare notes between their use of herbs & mine – I studied Western herbalism. I’d find that fascinating.

A Cautionary Tale

Necessary disclaimer: This post is my experience and should not be construed as medical advice. Also, I know my own body. Some of my symptoms can be indicative of more serious issues. Please consult your healthcare professional for any health difficulties.

Three weeks ago, I got a urinary tract infection. It happens on occasion, sometimes frequently, as a woman gets older and her natural secretions dry up and even change pH. A real pain, to be sure.

This one didn’t respond quickly to my preferred herbal therapy (massive doses of cranberry extract and gallons of water) and I didn’t want to take any more time trying something else so I called my doctor to get an antibiotic prescription. (UTIs can be dangerous. The bacteria can travel up your urinary tract, into your kidneys and from there to your bloodstream. If you get one and it doesn’t go away within 24 hours on an herbal protocol, call your doctor.) I requested a particular antibiotic that I know works on me and is fairly mild as far as those go.

My doctor is wont to automatically prescribe an anti-fungal when she prescribes antibiotics for women because 9 times of 10, women will get a yeast infection when on an antibiotic regimen. The drugs kill not only the bacteria causing the infection but also upset the rest of the balance in your system. I know from experience that if I eliminate refined sugar from my diet during the 7 days on the drugs plus 2 days afterward, I don’t have to take yet another Rx. (Yeast feeds on sugar.) I did that, complaining about missing my sweets for the whole nine days.

What I forgot, though, is to add a probiotic into my diet to counteract the rest of the imbalance.

Two days into the Rx, I started belching a lot more than normal. I didn’t think much of it until a week ago, a few days after finishing the antibiotic prescription, I was awakened out of a sound sleep at 3am with a bonfire in my chest. I’ve never had heartburn before but damn! Now I feel really sorry for those people who get it frequently. At that hour, in the middle of my sleep cycle, I couldn’t remember my own name, much less what herbs I had in stock that might be good for heartburn. Thankfully, I dug grandma’s solution out of the depths of my brain: a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and a half hour of pacing around the house (to let gravity help get the acid back down where it belongs) and I could finally go back to sleep.

Next night, the same thing. Only this time it was two doses of baking soda and an hour of pacing. I don’t think well without a good night’s sleep so it took those two days for the dime to drop that I’d forgotten the probiotic. You see, for the first time in my life, those antibiotic pills had also disrupted my normal stomach function – something the probiotic would’ve handled if I’d remembered to take it. So, an emergency trip to the store was in order!

Even though the stomach acid problem was brought on relatively quickly, bringing the body and all its integrated systems back into balance doesn’t happen overnight. All that excess acid (and my – sigh – smoking) has irritated my lower esophageal sphincter, bringing on dysphagia. That’s where either something is stuck in your gullet or it feels like something is stuck. I know there’s no blockage because I’m not having any difficulty swallowing food. But it’s really uncomfortable; that irritation has to be calmed while the probiotics do their thing.

So, another trip to the store for some slippery elm powder for its demulcent (soothing) effects. It’s tough to find just a jar of powder locally but I got some in capsules that I can open. One a day into a glass of water. I don’t want to just swallow the capsule & let it get digested – I want that powder sliding past & hitting the irritation. I’ll do this until I feel the irritation is completely gone – probably another couple of days.

Six days into the probiotics and three into the slippery elm and I’m finally feeling something closer to normal. At least I’m able to sleep through the night again. And so are the cats! They definitely were upset that they had to get out of their cozy places to supervise my pacing around a dark house in the middle of the night.

So, if you have to be on an antibiotic for something, be aware that it will not only kill the unwanted bacteria but also the good bacteria normally found in your body.

 

Homemade Toothpaste

brush-41753_640I’ve been making my own tooth powder (actually only baking soda with some Peppermint EO mixed in) for quite some time. It worked fine but just didn’t quite make my teeth feel squeaky-clean and I didn’t really enjoy waiting for all the powder to dissolve in my mouth. A few months ago, this recipe popped onto my radar. Ooh, a paste! I like that!

I don’t have any Xylitol, didn’t really see why I had to add something to sweeten it and finding really natural Xylitol is difficult. (Most of it is processed from corn with all sorts of manmade chemicals. Ick.) A comment on that blog said that Xylitol is a necessary ingredient because of its antibacterial properties. Well…do some research. There are plenty of other alternatives there! I added a half-part of powdered Sage leaves to the recipe for its antimicrobial & teeth-whitening properties.

I also didn’t want to go to the expense of buying a half-pound of powdered calcium for an experiment. Threw a few calcium tablets into my handy-dandy coffee grinder and voilà! Powdered calcium.

So, I made up a small batch, sans Xylitol, and tried it. Not bad! Made my teeth feel clean. After a few uses, I could see a slight whitening effect. Remineralization? Not so much but then again, I still do all the stuff bad for your teeth – smoke, drink coffee, cola, wine… I also didn’t change a damned thing in my diet as the blog suggested. Okay, maybe a little remineralization happened. One spot in my mouth that I can’t see because I don’t have any fancy dental tools was sensitive to sweets. It’s not anymore. I’ll know more when I go for my semi-annual checkup in a couple of months.

When making the second batch, I forgot the Peppermint essential oil. It still didn’t taste bad – just bland.

So, it works. I only have one quibble with this recipe & it has nothing to do with its efficacy:

Because it’s made with coconut oil, it’s oily (duh). I’m not the neatest brusher in the world & the oil dripping along with my saliva makes the toothbrush slippery. The same oily saliva dripping into the sink isn’t easy to clean up. It just doesn’t rinse well, y’know? It means I have to actually clean my sink on a daily basis. Being a lazy-but-neat-freak somebody, this doesn’t make me happy. But not unhappy enough to stop using it.

Once More Into the Breach

NoIdiots

(Warning: I’ve spent an entire weekend trying to put something behind me. Didn’t work. I’m still pissed. Strong language follows.) /begin rant/

In a medicinal/health context, I’ve harped on personal responsibility & doing research in the past (here and here as examples).

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been posting – cough – interesting things I’ve found while reading The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation Including the Demotic Spells. They are spells & recipes from about 200 BCE to about 400 CE. Bear in mind that I have my Facebook page linked to my Twitter account so I try to keep posts within 140 characters where possible. Friday afternoon, I posted the following:

Try this? “To keep fleas out of the house: Wet rosebay with salt water, grind it and spread it”. Rosebay is Oleander or Rhododendron.

Please note the quotation marks. Not my recipe. I will admit I could’ve worded my comment a little differently or maybe put a smiley face in there but nonetheless…

Within a few minutes a woman I’d never had any interaction with carved me a new one on Facebook. Those plants are poisonous. [No shit. Even the ancient Greeks knew that.] I should have put a warning in my post. I should have put a disclaimer in my post. How would I feel if someone used that recipe & one of their pets or kids died?

How would I feel? The same as I would if anyone got hurt or died. Terrible – that a person used an herb for anything without doing further research. Guilty? Not on your life.

I tried to be polite. I thanked her and explained that it’s not my fault Facebook doesn’t show all posts from all pages, much less in chronological order but if someone cared to just click over to my page proper rather than their news/pages feed, they’d see what I’d been posting over the last week. That wasn’t good enough for her because she only saw the one post and didn’t bother looking further. According to her, it’s my responsibility to put complete information in all my posts so some fucking idiot doesn’t hurt themselves or others by taking a short post at face value. She was so vehement and I could tell no matter what I or anyone else said (thanks, guys, for backing me up) that it was just going to escalate. I decided I’d had enough drama for one day & took the whole damned post down. Others said I shouldn’t have done so but I have enough shit going on in my life without getting into a squabble online.

When he got home from work, I told my husband what had happened. His comment? “It’s the same spoon-fed mentality I see every day. No one wants to take responsibility for themselves or their decisions. Instead, if something bad goes down, it’s someone else’s fault.”

I chewed on it while working in the garden this weekend, lovingly tending my poisonous & not-so-poisonous plants (depends on the person & dose whether they’re poisonous or not). I generally try to be nice but in this case, snark is coming to the forefront. To the lady in question: just because they saw it on Facebook or Twitter, any man (or his partner) who did the following without researching further gets no sympathy from me: “To get an erection when you want. Grind up a pepper with some honey & coat your “thing“. That was another of my posts quoting from the same book.

So, in black and white for all the world to see:

I don’t give a damn where you read it or who said it – even if it’s me – do your own fucking research before using anything herbal for any purpose. I only babysit children, not adults. Don’t like my attitude? Unlike me, unfollow me, or better yet, kiss my ass.

//end rant//

I feel better.