Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain

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Your Mindset Matters

I recently got some bad-ish news. I may be looking at a yet another surgery in my future, it isn’t terrible news but not the most fun. Surgery is really an inevitable thing with my current issues, but it is disheartening that it is so soon. Plus no one (well I would hope no one) gets excited about going under the knife.

Stuff like this happens, such is life, especially in chronic pain issues. There are times where it feels like all the hard work, emotion, effort, blood, sweat, tears and ground you have gained is lost with one fell swoop. It could be a fall, a really bad pain day/week/month after a reprieve, or even just a bad day at work. Small things can seem HUGE when you are in pain or low on sleep or just feeling like you have reached your limit. There are two choices when you are feeling emotionally and physically pushed to the extreme.

First choice – give up, throw your hands in the air and just throw in the towel on life. Things like “it’s too hard,” “it’s not fair,” “I can’t.”

Second choice – knock the lemons out of life’s hands, punch it in the solar plexus, pull it by its hair to the ground, and sit on its chest force feeding it the lemons until it whistles Dixie. ( 9 ._.)9 bring it!

If you can’t tell, I am more inclined towards the latter. It wasn’t always so, I struggled in my early years with depression and nearly lost the fight a few times. And I admit I tried to give up a few times, but thanks to having good people in my life, I made it through all of those times. Learning along the way, with failures and successes, I came to understand that those who give up will always lose. Those the fight for everything with all their body, mind and soul, will always succeed in what they set their mind to.

Everyone has heard a news story or heard of someone who was told they wouldn’t be able to walk, or use some limb, live past a certain age, and then out of sheer determination were able to. If you look at the people who do this, they all are incredibly focused on regaining what was lost, or keeping what they have. Some even seem to accomplish their healing through sheer force of will. And it is scientifically possible that their mind actually did play a large role in their healing.

Really. No joke.

There are tons of psychosomatic disorders, where a belief in the mind actually causes a physical manifestation in the body. One of the most dramatic (or at least I think so) is Pseudocyesis. This is a false pregnancy that due to the strong belief in the mind that the body is pregnant, and the body starts to display symptoms of pregnancy. There have been studies that prayer, of any sort, can help heal where other conventional means couldn’t. The religion doesn’t matter, praying for your self, or knowing others are praying for you really does help. You don’t even need to believe it seems in some cases, it seems just knowing that people are praying (and therefore caring about you) can help with healing. Prayer has been studied for the past few decades by medical science, and we still do not know why it works, but it does. There are also lots of studies being done with phantom limb pain and the mind, by tricking the mind to believe that the body is whole with mirror visual feedback or through other methods pain and other issues are able to be treated.  People who study martial arts, especially in a traditional way, will know that you can use “brain hacks” to trick your or your opponents body into behaving the way you want it to. The most famous mind trick is the placebo effect, scientists still don’t fully know why a sugar pill in some cases works as well as the actual medication. The mind is a powerful thing, but it can be fooled, and you can use that to your advantage.

How does this all relate to you and your pain? Well in loads of ways, I used to study Yoga, currently practice Tai Chi and have thoroughly studied many meditative practices. The one thing in common is the harnessing of the mind and the senses, and bending them to your will. Yoga itself means to harness, to rein in the senses. Basically actively taking steps to control your emotions and stress you will improve your mood, it will help greatly with pain, and has a positive impact on recovery. You are worth the effort, and you deserve to live well. So how do you start?

The positive man will pass. 

The positive man will pass. The positive man will pass. The positive man will…

Oh Indy! *swoon*

Anyway, your mindset matters. In all of your treatments and most importantly in your everyday life. Have a positive outlook on everything- your pain, your mood, even painful procedures. This can mean the difference between a great recovery and a mediocre or even a poor one. Trust me it is difficult, to be positive all the time, but this is something you can “fake it ’til you make it”. I remind myself constantly that I have no choice in what I have wrong with me, but I DO have a choice in whether I am going to be happy or not. You decide to or decide not to be happy, it is all up to you. You are completely in control of this and no one can do it for you.

Again I struggle to make that choice some days, there are many mornings when I wake up in horrible pain, and I know I have to push on through a long, long day. I could just give in to being grumpy, it would be so easy to, and a ton of excuses to back it up. But if I am the people I interact with will be grumpier, the day will get worse, and I will spread my grumpy malaise faster than an influenza virus. I stop looking for the things that make me happy and you can easily fall into the trap of wallowing in your pain. Some migraines make me so short I will cause more stress on myself just due to the pain I am in. The grump takes hold, the pain takes over and then when friends reach out to you…

I am…Nacho!

If I consciously make the choice to not do that, and to be happy instead, I usually have a super day and my pain decreases, and better controlled by whatever method I am using. Plus I just feel better overall, you really do start to feel happy pretty fast even if you are just faking it at first, and the grump just melts away. 

Just the simple act of smiling releases endorphins and we all know how great those free pain chemicals are. Plus if you are smiling people automatically smile back at you, they really can’t help it sorta like yawning. Try it! Go to a grocery store and just wander around with a smile, you don’t even have to make eye contact, and count the people that turn their frown upside down because they looked at you. You will be surprised, and you will feel kind of good about it. Like you’re a smile ninja.

Take pleasure in the small things, delighting in the small things uplifts the mood and reminds us that not everything is horrible. Look for that silver lining, if you think you have it badly, remind yourself that things could be worse. You remember the old “eat your green beans there are starving children in China” routine your parents tried? Well, remember it always, it is very true, not everyone has it as good as you do. If you have one form of something, there is bound to be someone much worse off. Don’t let yourself be negative, eliminate it!

Don’t Stress it!

If you are thinking positively, it is much harder to be stressed out. Stress, as we all know, is one of the worst psychosomatic “illnesses” one can have, but it is also the most common. Stress literally kills. But stress is not something that you have to have, you can take the bull by the horns and kick it out of your days.

There are lots of things you can do to combat stress, the big three ways to combat it are:

  1. Exercise – get up and MOVE. Do it! Even if you can not move far or very much, movement is vital. The saying “move it or lose it” is so, so true. If you stop moving you lose flexibility and muscle mass, so do your physical therapy, get exercise, park at the back of the parking lot and hoof it, just move as much as you can. Regular exercise is key to a healthy body and mind, and is something that everyone needs to make time for. No excuses about you are too busy!
  2. Sleep – it is so important to get enough sleep, your body heals when you sleep. With the lives we live these days, it is difficult to get your 8 hours, and even more when you are in pain. Set up a bed time routine, this helps the body realize “hey, I should shut down” at the right time. Keep glowing screens and phones out of the bedroom as much as possible, try to not use one at least 2 hours before bed time. Make your sleeping area as dark as possible, wear an eye-mask or get light blocking curtains if you need to. You can diffuse calming smells, things like lavender work great, and so do “sleepy” teas. Remember keep the bed area for sleeping only, and if you have trouble try some of the sleep aids I list.
  3. Environmental/Action – assess your surroundings, and daily activities. Where can you make improvements to reduce stress? Can you take a break and do some exercise at set times? If you sit all day, can you exercise at your desk? Do you get up and stretch at least once an hour? Are you taking mental breaks through out the day to think about something that is other than work? Can you diffuse/burn relaxing smells? Even if you are in a highly restrictive workplace you can sit and be still for 5 minutes and meditate, pray alone or with people, do focused relaxation exercises, or deep breathing.

Reducing your stress, at work and at home, forcing yourself to make active changes to improve your mood will help make life over all easier, and less stress a habit. And that is a habit I am sure we all need.

There isn’t a lot a sufferer of chronic pain can control, and your mood is sometimes the easiest, and sometimes the hardest to do. But it is worth it, most chronic pain syndromes have very high suicide rates, and low return to work rates, I think choosing to be happy and not becoming one of those statistics is not only worth it but so important. The main reason is it makes the sufferer’s life that much easier, but also their loved ones who suffer in different ways. When you, and the people around you are happy, everything else will follow too.

If you are interested on more information on phantom limbs and the brain check out this video with V.S. Ramachandran

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Tarragon the little Dragon

This little herb has been a bit overlooked historically, which makes me a bit sad since it really is quite useful and versatile. It is mentioned by Hippocrates, and was eaten frequently as more of a vegetable than a herb. There is mention of its use as a cure for toothaches in Greece, but other than that it is not really in the spotlight. It originated most likely in Siberia, or Mongolia and was brought West via trade, and probably made it to continental Europe through the return of the Crusaders (lot’s of stuff made it to Europe this way, and thank goodness, I hate using Roman numerals for maths). The Tudors were known for planting this in their gardens, and the French are well known for loving Tarragon and using it liberally in cooking. It’s common name in French is Esdragon, in the Middle East it is know as tarkhūn both names mean “Dragon” or “little Dragon” and this most likely alludes to the belief that it cures poisonous bites. Even in English it is sometimes referred to as Dragon Wort.

Great with fish, eggs, and poultry 🙂 I really love it stuck under the skin of a roasted chicken. Mmmmm dragon chicken

Tarragon has been a little overlooked in herbal medicine, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have great uses medicinally. Tarragon has eugenol the same chemical that makes cloves work. Eugenol helps with pain and has a slight numbing effect, and this is why both work so well for tooth pain, and other pain, topically. Tarragon like clove, works great for muscle pain, but this is a warm oil like Peppermint and it can sting a little if you have sensitive skin. So you can mix it into a good carrier oil and apply to any painful areas topically. A carrier oil means any good quality oil to dilute the essential oil – olive oil, sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, V6 oil, etc. For a quick fix just mix a drop of the essential oil to a little bit of the carrier and apply. For more regular usage you may want to make your own blend.

Tarragon Essential oil blend

  • 10-30 drops Tarragon Essential oil
  • 1/2 fl oz of carrier oil

Mix the oils and place in a preferably dark or amber glass bottle, best done with a pump dispenser or if you have a roll on that works well too.

I highly recommend this method since it smells fantastic and the smell definitely brightens my spirits as well as alleviating the pain. Remember to purchase therapeutic grade essential oils, and apply externally. You can ingest the oil, but I find for pain topical application has the best results.

You can purchase therapeutic grade Tarragon essential oil that I use here and use 1453322 as your sponsor number.

Tarragon oil is also great for settling the stomach, you can rub the above oil blend right on the abdomen. Or you can take an empty capsule, put in a few drops of Tarragon, close and swallow. This works great for those stomach issues you can get from taking medications, or the nausea that can come from pain.

Tarragon works great for settling the stomach, it calms that upset queasy feeling you get when you are in pain, or the upset stomach you can get from taking pain medications or the like. I prefer tea to the oil for stomach settling, I find it is just a more pleasant way to take it.

Tarragon Tea

  • 1 handful (or a heaping tablespoon) of fresh Tarragon leaves
  • 8 0z boiling water
  • Covered teacup

Steep for 10 minutes for stomach settling or to reduce stress, or up to 40 minutes for a more sedative draught to help with sleep. I am listing the recipe for just a single cup here but if you want to increase it just use the same amount of tablespoons of Tarragon that you do cups of water. It is best to use fresh for this since the oils that work so well in this plant to ease pain are diminished when dried and deteriorate over time. You can used dried though if that is all you have available, if possible add a drop of the Tarragon oil to dried Tarragon tea to increase the effectiveness.

This tea will settle the stomach and with the stronger infusion will have a mild sedative effect. With its strong flavor, of anise or licorice, it is a good herb to add to any sleeping teas you make with bitter herbs.

I have also read of but not tried a similar infusion with apple cider vinegar instead of water but only a teaspoon is needed and it should settle the stomach. If you try this and it works, let me know!

Tarragon while tasty, is also a great medicine but always check it out for yourself and do your own trials to see what works for you. Remember to check for interactions, things like WebMD. Do your research and educate yourself, if you are in doubt in the slightest about any of it, ask a professional.


Hoppity Hops

Oh hops, hops, hops! I love hops, I am a home brewer so I am extremely familiar with them. I have grown to love them very much, I used to dislike them in beers but they have worked their bitter spell on me and I am a fan of those highly hopped beers now. Most people have had experience with hops through beers, but they are useful for so much more! Hops got their name from an Anglo-Saxon word that means “to climb.” Its Latin name Humulus lupulus comes from possibly humus for the type of soil it grows in, but almost definitely the lupulus portion comes from the aggressive growth noticed and commented on by Pliny the Elder, he described them as strangling other plants, as a wolf would a sheep.

Hops, if you haven’t noticed, are serious business.

Hops are antibacterial, so they make a great beer preservative and the first mentioned use of hops in brewing comes from the 11th century, but there is documentation as early as the reign of Pepin the Short, of what would become France, that hops were grown in the royal gardens. Bacteria can spoil beer and is what makes the newly popular sour beers, sour. One of Hop’s early known uses was the preservation of beverages. This is why IPA’s are such powerfully hopped beers, the additional Hops were to help preserve it for the long, un-refrigerated train ride from England to India in the day’s of the British Empire – hence India Pale Ale. It is also why in the past beer was actually used as medicine. Mummies have been found with beer around them in burials, in them and on them. Which Anthropologist say they look to have been used as an early antibiotic, and were later noted for their ability to keep tuberculosis at bay. So remember that the next time you have a beverage choice, choose beer for your health! (Remember though, all things in moderation, too much of a good thing is bad)

But brewing aside! Hops are believed to have originated in China but quickly spread to Germany and are documented as being grown there as far back as the 8th century. And when I say quickly spread, I mean fast, hops grow at ridiculous rates anywhere from 3 inches to a foot (30 cm) a day. Pliny the Elder mentions that they were grown and the new shoots eaten in Roman times. King George III, with his famous madness, was purportedly a user of hops and slept on pillows of hops to help calm and soothe him. They are mentioned in Arab medicinal treatises as early as the 10th century, and were noted not only for their sedation and anxiety reduction, but also for their anti-inflammatory ability, and mild pain relief. Many Native American tribes used Hops as well as an analgesic (for pain) for minor issues like toothaches. It also gets mention in Ayerveda who recommend the use of Hops for treating anxiety, as muscle relaxers, and for treating tension headaches or migraines.

Hops for sleeping

As we have discussed, hops are a sedative, and in my previous post about Lavender, I said I’d be talking more about the hops pillow that I have made for myself (and if you’re interested in getting one you can check out my Etsy store).*

All you do is place the pouch inside your pillowcase, generally in a position you can easily smell them while you sleep. You will fall asleep fairly quickly, and I tend to find I stay asleep even if I am in minor amounts of pain. I have also had good results with friends that have trouble sleeping due to anxiety, obsessive thoughts, or stress. Remember though, these are pretty powerful little flowers and if you want to read in bed, or just generally be conscious, you should probably remove the pouch out of smell range, and then place it in your pillow when you are ready for sleep. I have mostly had positive feedback about the smell of them, though some have said that they smell vaguely cheesy at first but the smell was not offensive. If you are worried about this, generally if you like the smell of IPA’s you will like the smell of Hops.

This Hop pillow or pouch is one of the most common and well known ways of using Hops for therapeutic reasons, but it is mostly to assist with calming sleep.

What about anxiety while you are awake, or pain?

Glad you asked!

There are a few other tricks up Hop’s sleeve, it does so much more than just helping with sleep or flavoring beer.

Hops for anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain reliever), and anti-anxiety 

As an anti-inflammatory, this is a fairly new discovery, inflammation occurs due to COX enzymes. Hops act in the same way the ibuprofen would, and reduce inflammation, thus reducing pain. They do this by inhibiting the COX enzymes. But unlike ibuprofen, Hops have none of those stomach wrecking side effects. (If you have issues with the tummy, Hops actually could aide in digestion, since this is another ancient use for it.) Hops have long been known for their reduction of anxiety, and they do promote a general sense of coziness and well-being. It helps to calm the mind and are great for people who have issues sleeping due to anxiety.

For both pain, inflammation, and anxiety, a tincture is one way to take Hop’s, 6 drops to start with for anxiety, and up to 20-30 drops will usually do the trick for pain (and sleep). You can do the under the tongue method but I prefer to add this to a hot tea, something like Chamomile or Holy Basil (this will also mostly take care of the alcohol).

Tinctures may be a great way to ingest it quickly but as Hops have a bitter taste, they can be a bit hard on the palate for a first timer, even when you mix them with something else. This bitter side is what makes them such a great stomach tonic. You can purchase or make your own tinctures, and personally if I had to choose, I am not a fan of this method, as it is just too much for my taste-buds. But this is a fairly immediate sort of delivery for pain reduction, so weigh your own pros and cons here for delivery method.

Hop Tincture Recipe

  • 1 part Hops flowers
  • 4 parts Grain alcohol (everclear, vodka, etc)
  • Jar, preferably large enough to hold at least a few ounces of Hops

You want to use a 1 to 4 ratio of solids to liquids to make this tincture, start in ounces (that means 1 oz dried OR fresh, can be right off the vine to 4 liquid ounces of grain alcohol). You should let it sit for at least 14 days but you may want to let it sit in a cool undisturbed place for longer. The liquid should be amber, and you will need to strain and bottle, label…all that normal tincture stuff.

ProTip: The best way to increase surface area, and make a better tincture, would be to put the Hops in a food processor and blitz it a few times. you don’t want to create a powder but you do want to break them up into smaller pieces. Again the stuff you are wanting here is the oils, which are always temperature sensitive, so do this in pulses and avoid heat build up from friction.

Hops Tea (Version 1)

  • 1-2 tablespoons of Hops
  • 1 c boiling water

Steep for 10-15 minutes (at most 20), and drink. This is one of the weaker preparations, but if you choose to include a teaspoon of Skullcap this works great for anxiety and mild headaches.

Hops Tea (Version 2)

  • 1 oz Hops
  • 1 quart boiling water
  • 1 quart (or larger) jar with a lid

Place Hops in the jar, and cover with boiling water. Place the lid on and let steep for at the minimum 4 but no more than 8 hours. This will be extremely strong, so be careful about “operating heavy machinery” if you are going to drink this.

ProTip: These are all going to be pretty bitter so you will want to mix them with something to make things a bit more palatable. Honey, Ginger, Chamomile, Peppermint, Valerian, Stevia all of these can be added depending on the effect you are looking for, and many more would work. As long as the flavor is fairly strong and helps to make the bitterness more tolerable.

You can as always purchase pills or pre-made supplements, or even better make your own. If you decide to go this route, do not take more than 500 mgs of Hops at a time 1 to 3 times a day. Hops are available for purchase pre-ground or grind them yourself. You should wait about 4 hrs between doses, and when you are first taking Hop’s make sure you account for the sedation and see how they effect you, so take them when you plan to stay in. The pills will tend to treat most of the listed ailments in this post.

Remember, do your trial and error tests yourself. See what works best for you, check for interactions with any medications you are already taking. WebMD is always a great resource for checking for issues. Do your homework and if you are ever in doubt about anything, consult a professional.

*A side note – Hops can be paired with other sleep aides, such as Valerian, Holy Basil (Tulsi), Chamomile, and Lavender to name a few. The Hop and Lavender mix I use in my pouches, I have found to be the most pleasant smell and best results. But there are other variations that will soon be available on my Esty Store (so stay tuned there!). Refill offers are available if you pm me on Etsy, since they will need to be refreshed after a few months of use.

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Kava, the intoxicating pepper

Kava is surprisingly a relative of the pepper plant, and is a shrub that originates in Polynesia or better known as the South Pacific region. Since written history is a recent addition to the islands of that area, documentation of its use is more in the anthropological arena, and we tend to only have passing mentions in history. Captain Cook who did much exploring in that region gave it the name we know it by, and he chose it since it meant intoxicating pepper.

Kava has been used by island people for many thousands of years and it has little connection with health issues, but Kava drinking is a group activity and it is usually done in moderation. A good history of Kava is here, and they are one of a few good sites to purchase through, along with this one that also sells and blogs about Kava. There are some cultures that use Kava daily but it is generally a social setting. If you are interested in the island Kava cultures you may want to check out Wikipedia.

Kava being served to a group from a traditional Kava bowl. From the Kava Culture Wikipedia article.

Western cultures have a poor understanding of moderation, and in most cases of too much of a good thing, good things quickly become bad. I say this because there has been some “addiction” to it in western areas. And I don’t mean addiction like you can get addicted to opiates, but there has been issues, from what I have read, of being addicted to the euphoria and feelings of relaxation it brings. So I would compare it’s addictive nature to possibly a cannabis or caffeine, not physically addictive but can be mentally addictive and could impact daily life.  As long as you use it respectfully, like any herb or medication, and in moderation, you should have no issues.

This is another herbal medicine that has received some negative media attention, and the main issue listed for this herb is that it may cause severe liver damage. It was later found that this was due to the inclusion of the plant with the root in some preparations, and the plant itself should never be ingested. If you are interested in using Kava please purchase from reputable dealers, ones that sell the root only and do not contaminate with stems or leaves of the plant. In 2001 Duke did a study and they were able to prove that Kava is save for the liver causing no noticeable problems. The culprit of this consistent belief that it causes liver toxicity is from a German study that was soundly proven to be to have been as a study “shoddy and baseless” one. So it seems the contaminates were the issue and there are quite a few other studies that you can look up. And some Kava sites include further information.

So! On to the good stuff!

There are a few strains of Kava (kinda like Kratom) and each one has a different effect and potency so you may need to try a few strains to find which one is your most preferred. It seems to be a consensus that the Vanuatu, though some say Hawaii, is the most potent with other strains varying in strength from there. Age is a factor here though, older it is after harvesting, the less potent the brew!

Kava is great for relaxation, it really helps reduce anxiety and stress. It also is a good muscle relaxer and helps induce sleep. It will promote the relaxation of muscles like a muscle relaxer, and just generally reduces anxiety and stress levels and promotes a sense of well being. Often described as a feeling of the spirit being at rest.

The thing that makes Kava so relaxing is the kavalactones. So if you are purchasing an extract the larger the listed amount of kavalactones, the more potent that extract will be. At present, I have had the most experience with the extracts, but have just obtained some kava roots and am enjoying the potent brew thoroughly. It definitely has an immediate numbing effect to the throat, and its use for easing sore throat pain is pretty obvious.

So lets do some chemistry! (Or Kava-stry possibly?)

Kavalactones are hydrophobic and lipid-soluble, therefore to be more easily emulsified in aqueous (water only) solutions you will need to add a chemical in this case the addition of lecithin. Traditionally this was done by pounding yellow hibiscus, and adding it to the soaking liquid. This addition will allow the kavalactones to “like” dissolving in water, instead of “fearing” it, thus creating a more potent brew. You can purchase soy lecithin for those vegans out there, and there are others that are animal based available for sale too. But it seems the overall online favorite is the soy lecithin.

Another way is fat, milk is a favorite here, as milk contains a significant amount of fat in general and kavalactones are lipid soluble. Any milk or milk substitute would do as long as it has some fat content. If you want to reduce the amount of milk used you can use a 1 to 2 part ratio of milk to water respectively.

Lastly you can add fruit with enzymes or high acidity to break things down, just add to the water (or water and milk) some pineapple juice (fresher is better) which its high acid content helps to break things down. Or papaya which has the infamous papain, a well known enzyme for aiding digestion, and it can really help break things down to release the most kavalactones. 

Ok, chemistry is cool and all but how much do I use, and how do I make this stuff?

Great question! The amount seems to vary for users, but a good starting point is a tablespoon of powdered root, or root solids, per 8oz of liquid. You can upgrade to a heaping teaspoon afterwards and increase slowly if you need more, or decrease if you feel you need less. If you have an instant kava drink, best to prepare it according to package and if you have powdered kava extract you want to take into account the amount of kavalactones. You should immediately notice a numbing effect in the mouth and throat, if you don’t the kava was probably too old as the root does degrade with time. Later you will notice a relaxed feeling, some describe as mellow or even sleepy. This is relaxed state generally helps stress reduce, and can be used as a sleep aid for those who suffer from sleeping issues. Or just moments of strong anxiety, such as I use it before I receive cortisone injections since I tend to faint from pain and anxiety. It works great for migraines too, for some people the behind the eye pressure is alleviated better with kava than with skullcap.

So on to the recipe! It is in 3 easy steps, you do want to gather your supplies, your kava, your liquid, your strainer and a soaking bowl.

First – Soak it!

When you soak your roots (which are generally sold pre-chopped and dried, and a prefered method of making Kava) or powder you want to use a fine muslin bag, cheesecloth and use it like a tea bag. Or strain the liquid through muslin or cheesecloth after soaking. I have read that any fine weave fabric will do, and nylon stockings are even used by some for straining. While it is soaking you will want to gently kneed the kava once to help with extraction.

You will also notice a color change, the liquid should take on a brownish color, sort of coffee with cream colored if you used only milk. If it was water with a small amount of milk, juice, or lecithin the liquid will be a bit darker colored like coffee with only a splash of cream.

Second – Strain and squeeze!

When extraction is over, make sure to squeeze out as much moisture as possible from the remaining mass, and this is fine to compost or discard. You can determine if you have extracted all the kavalactones from the roots by feeling them. If they are slippery feeling, think soap slippery or oily feeling, there is still more to extract, if they squeeze dry and don’t feel oily you have gotten all you will get from them. You do want to retain some of the finer solids in the liquid, so the straining is not to remove all particles. So don’t overdo it.

Third – Slam it.

That’s it, drink it down, its pretty awful tasting but the numbing helps and so does a strongly flavored food “chaser.” You can also hide the taste in a smoothie and all you have to do is add the cup of liquid to your favorite smoothie mix.

Temperature is key in all of this!

This is a chemical reaction, so it is really important here to use cool temperatures, heat kills everything with Kava so room temperature is best but can use cool water from a fridge. I wouldn’t suggest water colder than 60 F, since if it is too cold the process slows down. If you want to add it to a blended drink, blend in pulses so the friction does not create too much heat, or at the end and mix with one quick pulse.

ProTip: The ideal soak time seems to be about 1.5 to 2 hours, and longer doesn’t always mean stronger. If you increase the liquid from 8 to 16oz it will decrease the potency.

PartyTip: If you are brewing for a large group of people you want to use about a cup a gallon and do the same soaking times and process.

WARNING! This can cause extremely quick sedation in some cases and you should not drink kava when you are going to be driving, swashbuckling, minding a child playing with a balloon on a cliff, or anything where falling asleep suddenly will cause you or others instant horrible death. It is best to stay in and in a party situation have friends stay over.  There have been driving under the influence tickets issued in Hawaii for driving on kava so be smart. Be smart, and use kava responsibly.

Remember, do your research and purchase only from reputable dealers of Kava, you want to avoid those leaves and stems and get pure roots only.

If after all this, you are worried about interactions please talk to your doctor, or other professional, prior to using Kava. If you have liver issues, since most liver issues that were claimed to be associated with Kava were with people with pre-existing liver issues, you may want to discuss it with your doctor more thoroughly prior to use.

Always do your homework, no one will do it for you, and make sure you do your own testing to ensure you find the strain that is right for you, check for reactions on WebMD. And I can’t say this enough, when in doubt, ask a professional!


Anise, hope you like licorice.

Anise, or sometimes written as anise seed or aniseed, is another herb that has been used and written about since writing was invented. It is one that may not be for everyone since it does have an extremely strong black licorice smell and taste. It was in the past frequently used as just a breath freshener, and chewing a few of the seeds works extremely well, even after garlic food or heavily spiced food.

It is mentioned in some of the most ancient medical texts for a variety of aliments by Hammurabi, Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and Pliny the elder recommended it for sleeplessness, placing it next to the bed the smell would soothe you to sleep. They also thought it would ward off bad dreams.

Old timey-wimey picture of it, notice it looks a lot like Queen Anne’s lace, remember you want the seeds or the oil. Not the plant!

While it may not ward off bad dreams, it does ward off indigestion, and was often used by Romans in cakes to be eaten after meals, especially rich ones, to ease indigestion and flatulence. This cake could possibly be the ancestor of spiced wedding cakes. It was used as currency in some places, and in the 9th century Charlemagne ordered it grown on imperial farms. (Probably didn’t want to be called Charlie farty-pants.)

Anise is known as a great digestive as it is a mild antispasmodic, it also works really well for menstrual cramps. You  can massage the oil directly on to the abdomen and it should relieve cramping. If you are having cramping from gas or indigestion, rubbing oil on the abdomen works as well, I have used this myself a few times to help with tummy issues from medications and treat my lactose intolerance.

It also works well for lower back pain and other aches and pains from daily movement or exercise. It even works as well as clove for numbing and reliving tooth pain. Typical dose is a drop or two massaged into the affected location. I have made a topical spray though to help with dispersing it evenly across an area.

Personally my favorite use of anise is for its numbing purposes, it is very effective as a local anesthetic and I regularly use it prior to a session of Graston to be able to take more and longer in a session. Remember to get therapeutic grade anise oil where you can, if you can not locate a reputable dealer in essential oils, use the oils you find externally ONLY.

Anise Numbing Spray

  • 1 part anise
  • 1 part rubbing alcohol
  • 1 part distilled water (filtered is fine)

In a small 3 oz spray bottle combine the three ingredients for a travel sized spray, or in a larger bottle for home use. Just make sure you are using equal parts of all ingredients.

If you are unable to locate the oil, you can always use the seeds to make tea. Again do not use the plant part only the seeds.

Anise Seed Tea

  • 4 c boiling water
  • 2 tbspn crushed anise seeds – Crush with a mortar and pestle if you have one, if not you can use a clean coffee grinder (not ideal but it will do), but grind in quick pulses with breaks between to avoid heating the seeds too much
  • *optional* Milk or milk substitute

Add the anise to the boiling water, steep for 5 minutes in a preferably covered teapot or teacup, and add a tablespoon or two of milk if you like. This tea is supposed to be good for indigestion, sleep, and it should ease some pains. It is even supposed to aid with asthma, and can be a good daily tea to drink if you suffer from it in addition to your existing medications.

Warning! I really like the taste and smell of this herb, but if you are not a fan of black licorice this may not be the one for you!

As always you need to do your research yourself and see if this is right for you, do your own trials and see what works. Always check for interactions on sites like WebMD and if you are in doubt consult a professional!


Breathing, it’s more important than you think

Breathing. Do you think about it? You really should. Mindful breathing while going through a mental relaxation technique is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to reduce your pain. Stress from the daily life, and the stress on your body pain causes can be significantly reduced by using relaxation techniques and these always include breathing.

Breathing is so automatic hardly anyone thinks about it, as a T’ai Chi practitioner I always try to focus on how I breathe. And I definitely notice a difference in myself before and after practicing and when using the same techniques to relax. I also am able to tolerate longer sessions of Graston if I am focused on breathing. Since pain can make you involuntarily hold your breath, it is extremely important to focus on deep breaths when you have a lot of pain.

The first reason is it is calming, and it does distract you a bit from the pain. The second reason is chemistry, everyone knows about endorphins and that they are released by the body to deal with a plethora of things, but most commonly known for pain. There have been lab studies stating that in a relaxed state, we produce more of these endorphins than the usual resting state. Adding in some deep breathing and you increase the oxygen in your blood which allows more production and better absorption of those chemicals so your body can naturally deal with pain. Endorphins are basically opiates chemically and can deal with pain extremely effectively, and all it takes to take advantage of this is just relaxing.

There are loads of relaxation techniques and ways to do this, personally I prefer T’ai Chi, but there is also Yoga, meditation, abdominal breathing, stretching, light exercise (like walking), mental and body relaxation techniques. Any of them are effective, pick the one that you enjoy most and is most effective for you. Some simple ones you can start with are:

Abdominal Breathing

Sit down, on a stool preferably, low chair with no back, or with legs crossed on the ground. Place your hands on your stomach right below your belly button. Breathe in deeply and slowly, you should feel like your belly is inflating and deflating with each breath. Sit for at the very minimum of 5 minutes doing this, but the longer you do so the more beneficial it is. Focus completely on your breathing and filling up slowly with as much air as possible, and then exhaling as slow as possible until you feel you are deflated completely.

“Shape” Breathing

Picture a cube or another shape with corners in 3 dimensions in you mind. Start on one corner and trace the edge of the shape in your mind inhaling as you go, as slowly as you can. When you reach the corner go down the next edge exhaling as slowly as possible. Rinse and repeat!

Body Relaxation Exercise

Lay down if possible, if not sit again on a low chair, stool or on the floor. Start with your “pinky” toe, on each side and thing about relaxing all the muscles for that toe. Continue to the next toe relaxing it and move up through the body relaxing each part fully as you go. It may help at first to slightly tense that part and then relax it in time with an inhale to tense and exhale to relax. Make sure you are breathing in a natural and easy manner, and completely focus on relaxing each part as you go.

ProTip: If you are having trouble keeping your mind focused on this one, imagine you are drawing your blood, or imagine drawing in the tension as a color of light you find pleasing, you can use those images to help keep the mind engaged and focused on relaxing your body.

These are all great ways to relax, and there are other techniques out there than just the few I have mentioned. Remember that every person is different and you will need to try a few to find the one that works best for you. I did Yoga for many years and thought it was tops in body/mind relaxing, but then after looking into T’ai Chi I found it much more suited my extremely active mind giving it a lot to focus on therefore keeping it engaged and focused on the task at hand and not the world going on about me. It may not be the thing for you, so give a few things a try for at least a week each before making a decision.

To not take advantage of this, would be silly, I mean your body makes FREE, effective pain killers. Plus it just makes you a happier person, and really doesn’t take that much effort. Remember stress kills! Keep it mellow!

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Cloves! Nail that pain down

Cloves are one of those ancient spices, most people are at least familiar with clove cigarettes. Or you may have seen clove and orange pomanders at Christmas time, my husband says that clove smells like Christmas food to him since it is a common ingredient in fall holiday foods. I used to love Clove gum as a girl, though it is harder to find now sadly.

Delicious I promise! Get some if you can find it!

Cloves are actually the dried buds of flowers from a tree, they were found on those infamous in European history “Spice Islands” and since they were so prolific they were harder to monopolize the trade of them. They have their name as we know it now derived from old french for “nail of a gillyflower” and they do look like tiny little nails.

Tiny, delicious smelling nails that is.

Europe quickly became obsessed with spices during the Middle ages, especially once they were brought back from the crusades. During outbreaks of disease, usually plague, or just generally existing in medieval cities could be quite smelly. Most medicine at the time believed that disease was caused by bad air or miasmas. So often sweet or strong smelling items were used to “fumigate” themselves from disease. One that has survived to this day is the pomander. Pomander can be used to describe a lot of things, but the main one most will recognize is an orange studded with cloves. I love these and they make great holiday gifts!

So festive looking! They will think you spent days making them!

So festive looking! They will think you spent days making them!

Historical medical uses tend to focus on digestion, the mouth, and teeth. A Han emperor required people to chew cloves before addressing him, to sweeten their breath. Ibn Battuta, the famous Arab traveler, mentions them and was familiar with them as they were traded all around Arabia and India and everywhere in between. Most uses focus on using cloves for tooth pain, and the commonly known remedy, cloves and especially clove oil is great for easing tooth pain from any sort of issue, and is a mild anesthetic. The fabulous Sam wrote a great post about dealing with wisdom tooth pain using ginger and clove tea that you can read here. But I should caution that there has been laboratory tests on extended use of clove oil for tooth pain and if used over and extremely extended period of time there could be damage to gums, tooth pulp, and mucous membranes. Cloves are known as warming, and help with digestion due to this, and that is some of the reason it can be hard on the gums. Since it can be slightly irritating to delicate skin areas, nothing as bad as peppermint, but still not something you want on chapped lips, or near your eyes or other places. As a topical oil for external use it is fantastic for pain. I would rate it a close second to frankincense in speed and efficacy in reducing muscle pain from spasms. I have had some great success using clove oil in this way, and of course I use therapeutic grade oils so that they do not have adulterants. All I need is a drop or two, and rub it directly on the area that hurts. Remember everyone is different, so test this for yourself, see what works for you, and educate yourself! Know what you are putting in and on you before you do anything and always check for reactions like on WebMD. If you are ever in doubt about anything always check with a professional!