Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


What is this Graston thing?

Graston technique is mentioned quite a bit here and I am sure a lot of you are wondering what exactly Graston is. Graston technique was something completely new and unheard of to me a little over a year and a half a go, but it has been a large part of my pain treatment process and has really helped me regain and retain range of motion, and has reduced my over all pain levels significantly.

Graston was developed by an athlete who suffered a knee injury and, like myself, grew frustrated at the available pain management options. After the technique was studied and tested in Indiana Universities a clinic opened in 1994 and began offering the technique to patients. If you are familiar with cupping, Graston is a similar concept in that it draws blood to injured areas. Graston helps to deal with muscle spasms and break up scar tissue as well though, which can cause a lot of pain and other issues. So instead of drawing blood to that area with a cup and vacuum, it is drawn by scraping from a metal, or plastic, tool.

Graston tools in stainless steel, not as scary to have used on you as you would first think

The scraping draws the blood to the injury as it breaks up adhesion and scar tissue, which can form with some injuries, and spasms. It can be painful as the adhesions, effectively fuse the muscles fibers together, but the relief once they are broken up is well worth the discomfort. You can see how it looks and the difference it makes in range of motion in this video –

I remember when I was first referred by my pain doctor to start using Graston, I was extremely skeptical when my chiropractor told me it would be about 3 weeks and I would feel better. I had been doing massage, physical therapy for years and almost a year’s worth of injections and was still using my cane and only had limited range of motion. After the first week, I felt like this might have something to it. Second week, I was a full blown believer, and by the third week I was feeling better than I had in years. My cane is now a thing of the past, and while I do occasionally need some “touch up” work on my lower back it is almost completely pain free. We are now attacking my shoulders and neck, and this has even brought about significant relief for my migraines which are much less frequent, and this is much less painful (not to mention less dangerous) than having Botox injections to deal with the migraines.

There are two things that can be off putting about it, and that is it causes bruises and while scraping there can be sounds. The sounds, once you get used to it, are quite good sounds, since it means stuff is breaking up. But when you first hear the scraping turn from mostly silent to sounding like walking on gravel, it can be a bit disconcerting. The other is the bruises, and it is more having to explain them that is more annoying than going through a sitting of Graston. I have had to explain to many nurses that no, there is nothing I need to talk about and yes, I am fine. I also have to remember to not wear shirts that show the bruises or you will sometimes get approached in public, and asked questions that sometimes take a while to explain. Or some people will give any male you are talking to the dirtiest of looks. But after seeing how much I bruise, since I bruise like a peach anyway, you can understand how people can assume the worst.

As you can see, it looks "intense"

As you can see, it looks “intense” and yes, those are X-Files toys on the shelf behind me.

Remember this should only be done by a certified Graston professional, and you should definitely interview them before going to them regularly. If they don’t scrape hard enough it isn’t going to work as well or as fast, so don’t look for a soft hand.

Graston should be used in concert with physical therapy (or regular stretching and exercise), massage, and your other pain management routines. Do some research on what and who is available in your area, who is covered by your insurance and so on. Talk to your doctors and make sure this is a right choice of treatment for you!

If you are in the Austin area I highly recommend seeing Dr Alton, for information go here.


Fennel, Aniseed’s More Famous Cousin

I have written before about anise and fennel is like it’s better known cousin. Fennel is used more for culinary purposes than medical but just like anise, it has a lot of uses. Some are similar to anise, and some are not. One big similarity is the smell and taste, this is another one of those licorice-y plants.

In historical texts there is a bit of confusion between fennel and anise, and that can cause a modern mix up when researching benefits for either. The do have some similarities in how they help but for pain the really the big difference you need to remember if you are taking this for pain – is anise is for numbing and fennel is for spasms.

Fennel was used and grown by historical cultures, Romans grew and ate it. Pliny wrote about it and had multiple uses, and believed serpents ate it before shedding. Most traditional uses are for stomach complaints, or for other culinary uses. Romans ate the young shoots, and it was frequent in French and Anglo-Saxon cooking prior to the Norman conquest. Otherwise, it is usually added to foods for the same stomach calming effects, like if you are eating cabbage, or other “hard to digest” foods like anise assists with.

Fennel though is great for spasms, the oil is great to use for those painful spasms that just won’t release. For me a massage of fennel oil into a tight muscle helps alleviate some of the pain and helps it to let go. It is also great to rub into muscles that feel tight after intense stretching or working out. I do like to rub the oil direct into muscles but you can make a massage mix for sore muscles with other oils for added muscle relaxing goodness.

Sore Muscle Massage Oil

  • 1 oz Carrier oil – any good quality oil will do, just make sure it is as pure as possible.
  • 20-30 drops Fennel oil

This is just for a straight fennel oil, which is warming, so it can be too much for delicate skin. So you may need to increase or decrease from 20 to 50 as you find works for you, but you can add in other oils in the below lists to add any of their properties.

The amounts below are in parts, you should not go above 50 drops per 1 oz of oil, so use this measurement to determine the amount of drops for each part to go in your ounce of oil. This should make it easier to increase these recipes to make larger batches, and easy to calculate if you chose to only use one oil or multiple oils depending on your needs. Make your own blend that works best for you, get creative!

Remember some of these oils are warming as well and you will need to test and find out how sensitive you are, and a few of these oils we will be covering in later posts.

As I said previously, fennel is also great for easing stomach complaints and you can make a tea from fennel seeds to ease stomach cramping and pain.

Fennel Seed Tea

  • 2 teaspoons Fennel seeds, slightly crushed
  • 8 oz Boiling water
  • optional: add a teaspoon of coriander seeds, chamomile, or peppermint to increase relief

Steep for 5 to 10 minutes and drink, should ease pain fairly quickly and is a great remedy for holiday over indulgence as that time of year is fast creeping up on us.

You can also include fennel in your food preparations to help with digestion, extra boost of pain relief, and even lactose intolerance. I like to include fennel seeds on pizza when I make them to help deal with my lactose intolerance, and it helps to reduce the pain and cramping that comes with eating dairy. You can also include it with things like the previously mentioned cabbage to decrease the “wind” that most cabbage causes. Another way is eating the fennel bulb, it does contain the same oil but you do need to consume more. It tastes so good though that is not much of a chore, as long as you don’t hate licorice, and I love this recipe I got from Williams-Sonoma, Braised Fennel with Olive Oil and Garlic and since it has garlic, it is a great meal to help take the edge off pain.

  • 4 fennel bulbs, about 2 lb. total
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp. ground fennel seeds
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 lemon peel strip, about 2 inches long
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon wedges for garnish


Cut off the stalks and feathery fronds from the fennel bulbs. Reserve the stalks for another use. Chop enough of the feathery fronds to measure 1 Tbs. and reserve some of the remaining fronds for garnish. Set aside. Remove any damaged outer leaves from the bulbs and discard. Cut each bulb into quarters lengthwise and trim away the tough inner core.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute; do not brown. Add the fennel quarters and the fennel seeds. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel begins to soften, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the water and lemon peel, cover and cook until the fennel is tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fennel to a serving platter and keep warm. Increase the heat to high and cook until only 3/4 cup liquid remains, about 5 minutes. Discard the lemon peel. Add the lemon juice, then taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

Drizzle the sauce over the fennel and garnish with lemon wedges. Sprinkle with the chopped fennel tops and garnish with the whole fennel fronds. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Seasonal Celebration Series, Autumn, by Joanne Weir (Time-Life Books, 1997).
One final use I personally love fennel for is just 2-3 drops in a capsule prior to eating, and I can eat any amount of dairy I want. The pain and stomach cramping that comes with eating dairy doesn’t come on after taking fennel. It is strong enough that I can eat alfredo sauce, which I couldn’t previously using over the counter medications for lactose intolerance.
Remember you always need to do your own trials and tests and make sure you are checking for interactions with anything else you take on sites like WebMD. Educate yourself and make sure you understand what you are taking, if you are ever in doubt ask a professional!

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Feverish for Feverfew

If you are in the Austin area, I am sure you know about the rains we have been having, and if not you might have seen that Austin City Limits was canceled due to rain. Rain storms, especially big ones, have become a bit of a pain for me since barometric pressure changes tend to trigger my migraines.

Republic of Austin Blog pictures of the flooding.

While it isn’t so much fun to suffer through a migraine, it has made me more accurate than the weatherman, and definitely more than Miss Cleo.

Weather predictions? CALL ME NOW only a $1 a minute!

We have gone through a few other migraine herbs that help to deal with pain, but Feverfew, otherwise known as Bachelor’s Buttons and a few other common names, is one of those that has long been known to be a cure that is still effective today.

Written about by Greek herbalist physician Dioscorides in the first century and it was used to treat inflammation and menstrual cramps. It gets its name from its use to reduce fevers, from the Latin febrifugiabut it is now known to not be as much use for that as it is in treating other issues. Another name that comes from Plutarch’s writings, is Parthenium, which supposedly came from it saving the life of someone who had fallen off of the Parthenon during construction. There is a story from the UK that a chief medical officer’s wife was suffering migraines, and nothing helped. Then a local, who had overheard her talking about it, told her that he had been chewing feverfew leaves, and had reduced the pain and frequency of the migraines.

While this plant looks a lot like chamomile it definitely acts and smells different. The odor is strongly bitter, and the taste is as well. So bitter bees don’t even really care for it. All good medicine is supposed to taste bad though right? And boy does this taste bad, looks very pretty in your garden though.

Happy little flowers!

Feverfew is great for reducing inflammation, anti-spasmodic, and causes vasodilation. This helps with most of the common symptoms that people who have migraines suffer. You can also take this as a preventative measure to help stop migraines before they start. The best way to get a direct hit on tackling that migraine, chewing has proved to be the most effective. If you are chewing the leaves just on their own, try to keep them in contact with your cheek or under your tongue, it will help you absorb the oils faster.

Feverfew “Chew”

  • 1-2 large Feverfew leaves, or 4 small (small are about 4 cm)
  • chaser – something sweet or strongly flavored food to get the taste out

Just chew the leaves and hold them in your cheeks for as long as you can stand, or under the tongue. It is bitter as I have said, and it helps to chase them with something that will help with removing or improving the taste. You do need to be careful not to do this too often, since repeated use can irritate the membranes in the mouth.

ProTip: You can add the leaves to pretty much anything, salads and sandwiches are a great way to take this since you can mask some of the bitter with them. You can also cook with them but I would suggest adding the leaves directly to your plate, and not cooking them with the food, so they do not lose potency.

Super Migraine Tea with Feverfew

  • 1 teaspoon fresh feverfew leaves (dried will also work)
  • 1 teaspoon dried chamomile flowers
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
  • 1 teaspoon dried Holy basil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon balm (dried will work here again)
  • 1 teaspoon dried passionflower
  • 2-3 slices of fresh ginger (1/4-1/2 a teaspoon of dried if you don’t have fresh)
  • 8 oz boiling water

Steep for at least 5 minutes, longer you steep the more bitter it will get, and drink. You can definitely add honey or another sweetener to make things more palatable. To make a full teapot you can always double or triple the recipe.

There is always the options of capsules and tinctures. Capsules you can make them out of 2-3 fresh leaves, or from dried. do not take more than 1 capsule of feverfew, about half a gram. And you make them just like we discussed with turmeric.

Tinctures you make with the standard methods we have gone over before, fill jar with dried herb leaving a gap for expansion. Cover in vodka or other strong alcohol, put in cool dark place, and shake daily for a month. Strain and use. You can take 30-60 drops no more than 3 times a day. Again it is very bitter like hops, which it can be combined with, or can be used in conjunction with other herbal tinctures that help with your migraine symptoms.

This is another herb that has a lot of commercial preparations and you may be able to find ready made teas, tea blends, extracts and tinctures. Follow the box directions for these.

An interesting none pain related use for feverfew is for itchy bug bites. It is also safe to give to cats and dogs as a pain reliever, and it makes a great flea killing wash for pets.

Flea Wash for Pets

  • 3-4 cups boiling water
  • 1 heaping handful fresh fevervew leaves

Steep for 10-30 mins, and allow to cool. Saturate fur as best possible, and attempt to leave on for 10 minutes before rinsing, you should start to see fleas dropping off. It is fine to leave it on them, but I prefer to rinse.

 Bug Bite Compress

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon feverfew leaves
  • bowl
  • absorbent cloth or towel

Steep for 10-30 minutes, allow to cool. Soak towel and apply to affected areas.

ProTip: You can use tincture for this as well, just put a drop or two right on the bug bite to alleviate itching and pain.

There has been lab studies with feverfew but they are too small for medical science to make a clear statement on if it does or does not address migraine pain effectively. There have been studies that found that feverfew works significantly better than a placebo with migraines but it doesn’t seem to work for everyone. So this is one herb I would like to stress you should test and see how it works for you. You may need to lower or increase doses slightly, but please consult a professional before increasing. If you don’t get good results, it may not work well with your body chemistry and I suggest trying other options.

Remember, educate yourself, it is on you to do so. Do your research and check for interactions, like on WebMD. If you are ever in doubt, ask a professional!

If you are looking for more detailed chemical information on feverfew go here.

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My Passion for Passionflower

Passionflower, or Passiflora incarnata, (not to be confused with the plant that produces the wrinkled purple passion fruit) grows wild in the southern United States, and through out Middle and South America, but can grow in latitudes as high as Boston. I feel lucky this wonderful plant grows wild here in Texas, it is pretty easy to get a hold of passionflower in general, or grow it yourself. The vine produces fruit, and while the fruit doesn’t have medicinal benefits it makes a great jam, is rather tasty eaten right off the vine, and is a good plant to add to your garden to draw wildlife, since they like the fruit too.

It is one of those great herbs when used in moderation, will give you all the muscle relaxation and alleviation of tension, even emotional stress/anxiety, without the suppression of bodily function or mental impairment. Currently, in Europe, passionflower is already included in a lot of sleep, anxiety, and pain aids, but not in the United States since there is no profit in things you can not patent.

It is just relaxing to look at, I spotted this one growing wild

I spotted this one growing wild, it always grabs your attention when it is in bloom

You can also see where it gets it’s name from, the flowers were thought to be a vegetative reference to the crucifixion of Jesus by Spanish missionaries coming to the Americas for the first time and are thought to be part of the reason for its wide dispersal into Europe.

In history the Aztecs used passionflower to ease pain from spasms and sedate, and this is a great addition to any pain or sleep tea blend since it works on relaxing the body, and the mind. The Cherokee used it for religious ceremonies, and for pain and anxiety, but also to increase concentration and expand the mind. Archaeological evidence has turned up in sites showing the fruit and vine were of common use in cultures existing in its native regions. It was used as a blood and liver tonic for some, and like the Aztecs, for sedation and to induce sleep in others.

There has been a lot of medical studies done for passionflower, and all have found it to be an effective sedative, and mild analgesic for most people. It also had, albeit in lab mice no humans were tested, the effect of keeping sperm count stable despite usage of tetrahydrocannabinol. Which with the recent law changes in the US towards that is something that may be looked into further.

I personally find passion flower to be great for tension related headaches, migraines, and pain from muscle spasms, it is also a great tea to drink throughout the day (like holy basil), up to 4 times a day to reduce stress and anxiety.

Passionflower is like peppermint, fairly easy to obtain at most grocery and health food outlets. There are numerous pre-made teabags, of many brands. I suggest if you want to go this route, trying a few different brands to find the one that works best for you. There are as always, pre-made tincture, extract, and pre-made pills, again available at most herbal, health and grocery stores. These you should take as directed on the package. A rough guideline if they do not list any amounts is:

  •  10-30 drops, 3 times a day for liquid extract
  • 10-60 drops, 3 times a day for tinctures
  • teas should be no more than 8 g of dried herb, and can be taken 3 times daily.

Personally I prefer to make my own blends, to boost the analgesic and antispasmodic properties. You can blend it with Valerian root, chamomile, lemon balm, skullcap, lavender, St John’s wort, holy basil, and many other relaxing or pain reducing herbs we have gone over, or will in the near future. But even without similar herbs, it is a very good tea just on its own, as long as you don’t steep it too long as I find it can become a bit bitter. This herb has helped me a lot with anxiety about procedures, pain, and restlessness when I am unable to sleep from pain or stress. It is a great addition to anyone’s life who suffers chronic pain or chronic anxiety.

Passion Flower Tea

  • 1 teaspoon Dried passionflower
  • 8 oz Boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon of Chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, holy basil, any calming herb. This is optional, you can add all or just 1 of these herbs to the brew depending on what you need. Like more holy basil if stress is high, or chamomile for sleep, etc.

Steep for 5 minutes, or up to 10, in a covered tea cup and drink. You can have this 3-4 times a day to help with pain, anxiety or have a cup before bed time to help bring sleep. I find that I prefer it to steep no more than 5 minutes as the passionflower can take on a bitter unpleasant taste to me. Others don’t seem bothered by it and are fine steeping for 10 minutes. If you are starting out on the 4 times a day, reduce the amount every week and take a month off after frequent use. You can always add sweetener to it, honey is the best, but any will do.

If you want to make your own tincture, you can make one fairly easily.

Passion Flower Tincture

  • Clean Mason jar
  • Passionflower, dried, enough to fill jar
  • Vodka or grain alcohol, enough to cover dried herb in jar

Fill the jar with the herb, not packed tightly but shaken down to allow the most herb in there but still have surface area exposed to the alcohol. Also make sure to leave a half inch at the top for expansion. Shake daily for a month, strain and use.

Sometimes we need a big kick in the pants to get those sleepy feelings going, especially with pain or extreme stress, or even psychological disorders. So if you need to “kick it up a notch” you should give the below tincture a try.

Insomnia Tincture

  • Chamomile
  • Valerian
  • Hops
  • Passionflower
  • Clean Mason jar
  • Vodka or grain alcohol

Use equal parts of all listed herbs, use dried not fresh for all except hops (if you can get fresh definitely get fresh hops). If you are unfamiliar with part recipes this means that if you use say an ounce of chamomile, you will use an ounce of the rest. Fill the mason jar, leaving a half inch at the top for expansion and shake down but do not compact. Fill with alcohol and shake daily for a month, strain and use. You can add this to any liquid, tea or otherwise, or directly under the tongue. Dosage is anywhere from 10 drops to 2 teaspoons depending on how much of a kick you need.

And finally you can make your own capsules, you would make them the same way you would turmeric capsules, and do not take more than a 2 capsules, a gram of the dried herb, in a sitting and you can take it three times a day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are the best times, mostly because it is easier to remember.

There is one additional use of passionflower that does not relate to pain or sleep, but for the skin. I have very dry skin and suffer from occasional outbreaks of eczema, while it isn’t contagious or anything it definitely isn’t cosmetically pretty or comfortable. You can use a strong infusion of passionflower and apply as a compress topically, or use the tincture or extract directly on the affected area.

Passionflower Compress for Dry Skin or Eczema

  • 1 tablespoon Dried passionflower
  • 8 oz Boiling water
  • Towel or other absorbent cloth

Steep for 10 minutes, and allow to cool. Soak towel in liquid then wring out excess. Apply directly to the affected area and you can do this multiple times throughout the day.

Now, a lot of sites will say that passion flower is harmless, but this is incorrect. It is fairly safe to use in moderation, but if used over extended periods of time in large amounts it can become harmful. Be respectful of the plants, and do not treat any medicine, herbal or otherwise, carelessly. Like I always say, if it is powerful enough to work, it is powerful enough to be bad in large doses. Always use moderation.  Do not use passionflower for extended periods of time, you may experience fatigue and some mental fogginess if you have used it too much or overdose. There are a few interactions that could occur with some medications so be sure to check for possible issues on sites like WebMD, and if you are in doubt in even the slightest amount, ask a professional!


Lemon Balm, come on “bee” happy!

This little herb has a very dear place in my heart, it is one of the first plants I went out and bought when I first got interested in herbal medicine in my early teens. I remember planting it in my little patch in my Mother’s garden, and how it pretty much took over everything. This is a great plant to grow yourself, but like many mint’s, yes its a member of the mint family, lemon balm will grow rapidly and pretty much take over. I tend to plant it in pots to help control its wanderings.

Plus it looks cute in a pot, and will grow pretty much anywhere

Plus it looks cute in a pot, and will grow pretty much anywhere

Once you start to use this herb it is hard to stop, you find ways to add it to everything, and it seems most of humanity feels the same. It has a long history and many historical uses. The latin name of lemon balm is Melissa officinalis. Melissa means in Greek “honey bee” and there is a strong association between this plant and honey, bees, and gods. (I will be going over the details of honey’s awesome abilities in later posts.)

Throughout Mediterranean culture the bee was associated with earth and  goddesses. The Ephesians believed that the life of the bee was the model for society. The queen bee is the representation of the Great Goddess (Great Mother), and the people the worker bees who are also her children. They worshiped the goddess in bee form as well. So anything that was good for bees, or bees preferred, became a revered piece of vegetation.

Gold plaque embossed with winged bee goddesses, perhaps the Thriai, found at Camiros Rhodes, dated to 7th century BCE

Gives new meaning to being the Queen Bee

In Greece the same earth ties were made, but the most frequent was Artemis (Diana in Roman myths) who’s priestesses were called Melissai. This is all important since hives were part of temples and lemon balm was planted around almost all of the hives, as it was believed it would help keep the bees happy and content. Many medicinal writers from Dioscorides to Galen wrote about its properties, and Pliny the Elder said  bees were “delighted” with this plant above others, and lemon balm would be planted around, or rubbed empty hives to lure in wandering swarms, or to keep existing ones. It most likely originated in Turkey and spread to the Middle East and Mediterranean from there.

Lemon balm is also frequently used to sweeten the air, and is strewn about on the floor. Around the 10th century it was probably brought to mainland Europe and was planted, at Charlemagne’s request, planted in all monastery gardens. Monks were thought to have had a hand in further spreading the herb, though it may also have been the influence of the Arab cultures brought home from the Crusades that introduced lemon balm to Europe.

From monasteries is where one of the most well known historical uses of lemon balm was from. Lemon balm was a key ingredient for Carmelite water. Which was more often used for aromatic, than for medicinal use. Aromatic use since most illnesses were considered to be carried in bad smelling air, or miasmas. Even Shakespeare wrote of lemon balm in his plays, since it was popular during his time, but later fell out of favor with later medical practice, since it doesn’t have powerful purgative effects.

Lemon balm is in a lot of ways like turmeric, that is something you should try to include in your everyday diet. It has the wonderful effect of reducing anxiety and stress, and can be mixed into tea blends for anxiety, stress, stomach problems, or sleep. You can add it to teas, water, foods, pretty much anything! Not to mention, it’s lemony scent is rather lovely.

One thing we all don’t get enough of is water, water has recently reclaimed it’s spot as the number one beverage of the world, but we all should drink more than we do. It is also important because most pain medications dehydrate and it is very important to drink water with them. Also when you topically or internally use oils, it can be diuretic or cause drying, and it is important to hydrate after any type of massage or Graston session.

Anti-Anxiety/Anti-Stress Water Infusion or Lemon Balm Spa Water

  • 1 gallon jug with spigot (a jar and dipper will work too)
  • 1/4 of a cucumber sliced into medallions
  • 1 handful of fresh lemon balm, slightly bruised
  • Water

Wash and slice the cucumber and throw them in the jug (or jar), wash and slightly bruise the lemon balm. To bruise it just simply lightly squeeze it until you can smell the lemon scent get stronger. Add the water and let sit for at least 10 minutes. If you have this sitting out you can put ice in it, or keep it in the fridge. If you don’t you will need to toss and re-do the water every morning. I find with the stress of procedures, pain, and just daily life this is a welcome addition to my arsenal to combat stress.

ProTip: You can pretty much add any fruit or veg combination with fresh herbs. I found that basil and watermelon goes great, and blackberries with lemon balm is fantastic. For the fruits slice them if they are hard like apples, or puree them if they are soft like watermelon or berries and add them to the water. Be creative!

I also find when I make my herbal waters, I end up drinking more water. This is a good way to not only reduce stress, but a great replacement for people trying to quit soda, drink more water, or just reduce the amount of sugary drinks in their diet.

Of course you can make a herbal tea of lemon balm, and you can take it every day 3 times a day, just like turmeric. While you should be careful with most herbal medicine, this is one that you can sort of label mostly harmless. Drinking the tea will help with stress and anxiety as we have discussed, there is also mention that it will assist with memory. I haven’t noticed any differences in memory but others report they are sharper and can remember more. Lemon balm is an anti-viral and can help you get up and going sooner, or hold it off completely if you are coming down with virus.

Lemon Balm Tea

  • 2 tablespoons Dried lemon balm, or a handful or two fresh
  • 16 oz boiling water
  • Mints or other herbs for additional flavors (optional)

I recommend making a large teapot of this and drinking it through out your day. It is such a refreshing tea, you will want to drink it a lot. It definitely feels like a steamy cup of sunshine when you have a mug of tea on a cold day. And with fall here, and winter on its heels, we will all need a winter pick me up. It also can be easily made into a nice iced tea. Just add the steeped tea to a pitcher and filling the rest of the way with water and ice, and enjoy! You can drink this year round, all day every day, and is a great addition to outdoor picnics and BBQ parties.

Lemon balm is also good for digestion, and if you suffer from lactose intolerance like I do, or any digestive issues, this is a good tea to just have on hand like Peppermint to soothe any digestive problems. Really this tea is good for any stomach upset from taking medications, or pain, and is also effective against, heartburn, flatulence, and intestinal cramping.

Digestive Distress Tea With Lemon Balm

  • 1/2 teaspoon Dried lemon balm
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dried catnip
  • 1/2 teaspoon Caraway seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon Fennel seeds
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Steep in covered teacup for 5 minutes and drink. If you are going to make a teapot double all amounts.

Another great tea is one to help with sleep, lemon balm’s calming qualities lend a great helping hand to the calming effects of other herbs. The tea recipe below is rather strong and is good when you feel that sleep just isn’t coming, and you need the big guns.

Sleepy Tea With Lemon Balm

  • 2 teaspoon Lavender flowers
  • 2 teaspoon Chamomile flowers
  • 2 teaspoon Dried Lemon Balm
  • 1 teaspoon Skullcap
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ginger (or a few fresh ginger slices), or Licorice root (these are optional)
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Steep for 5-10 minutes in a covered teacup and drink. Again you can double, or triple this if you are making a teapot. This works well when aches and pains keep you up, for tension headaches, migraines, and when you need some help sleeping and regular chamomile or holy basil isn’t enough. You can add Valerian root, but I will talk about that in other posts.

You can also make anti-stress, anti-anxiety sorbet, which I don’t know about the rest of ya’ll, but sorbet medicine is just about the best thing ever.

Lemon Balm Sorbet (Discovery Health Recipe)

  • 2 large Apples, finely chopped (Fuji, Gala, or other sweet apples are best)
  • 2 cups Fresh lemon balm
  • 2 cups Water
  • 1 cup local Honey
  • Juice of 2 lemons, or about 6 tablespoons
  • 1 tablespoon vodka, preferably citrus flavored if possible

You can puree the apples and lemon balm together if you prefer a smoother texture, mix all ingredients and chill for a few hours to ensure an easy mix in your ice cream maker. Follow your ice cream maker’s directions, and store in a sealed container in the freezer. You can eat this every day, and while it is a tasty treat, it is also good for you! This is really a great way to add this herb to your diet.

Lemon balm’s final amazing attribute is that it combats dreaded cold sores, or fever blisters. Cold sores are a result of a form of Herpes, not the same as the STD, but still not very fun. They can be socially awkward, like acne, unlike acne they are caused by a virus and because of that will respond well to anti-viral for home treatment.

Lemon Balm Cold Sore Compress

  • 3 to 4 teaspoons Finely shredded lemon balm leaves
  • 3/4 cup Boiling water
  • Bowl
  • Towel or wash cloth

Steep the tea in a bowl, and allow to cool. Soak towel and wring out excess moisture but allow towel to be damp, not dripping. Apply to blister multiple times a day, at minimum 3.

You can also use lemon balm essential oil to treat the blisters, as well as any skin blemishes. A drop or two can be added to teas instead of the dried or fresh herb to get the same awesome effects. Remember, therapeutic grade oils only.

If you are interested in purchasing lemon balm essential oils go here.

Really you can add lemon balm to just about anything you cook – fish, poultry, soups, desserts, cheeses, anything that lemon pairs well with. Since it is a softer flavor than actual lemon it is good for adding a slight lemon flavor to a dish. Just make sure when you add any delicate herb, especially when using fresh, add it near the end of the cooking time.

So go out and get you some lemon balm! Treat yourself to some relaxing beverages and food. While this is mostly harmless, be sure to check for reactions, like allergies or interactions on WebMD. And if you are in doubt, even in the slightest amount, ask a professional.

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Arnica, a klutz’s best friend

Arnica is a member of the sunflower family, with soft furry leaves that are most likely the origin of its name since arna is lamb in Greek. Only the flowers are used in herbal medicine, and while rare is a large part of local medicine where ever it grows. It is a fairly global phenomenon, growing in the more chilly higher elevations across Europe, Siberia and North America. Used for centuries for topical treatment of bruises, sore muscles, and healing. It is a great anti-inflammatory and analgesic, and personally I use it quite often to treat bruises and sore muscles.


photo by lunatik2811

Plus look how happy it looks! 🙂

It is great for after a session of Graston, after some intense exercise, or will even alleviate the irritation of sunburn. Graston sessions tend to produce bruising, and the application of arnica means less time between visits and therefore faster improvements in my mobility or reduction in pain. 

One of the common ways to find arnica is as an oil infusion. You can apply this directly to any painful area, or sore muscles. Any bump or bruise is a good candidate for treatment. As an oil it isn’t easily portable for use on the go or at work, so when I am traveling I carry a spray version of it.

Arnica Bumps & Bruises Spray

  • 2 oz spray bottle
  • witch hazel or rubbing alcohol
  • distilled water
  • 1 tablespoon arnica infusion oil

Put the tablespoon of arnica oil in the spray bottle, fill halfway with witch hazel or rubbing alcohol, and the rest of the way with water. Shake well before using and just spray and rub into sore areas.

If you would like to make your own oil infusion, it is fairly easy.

Arnica Oil Infusion

  • Clean mason jar (of any size)
  • Arnica flowers (enough to fill the jar shaking them down but not packing tightly but leaving about a half inch from the top of the jar)
  • A good quality oil (olive, avacado, jojoba, coconut, etc)
  • A sunny spot
  • citric acid (optional, will help to preserve and extend shelf life)

Fill jar with flowers, leaving gap at top for expansion, and then cover completely with oil. Sit in a sunny spot and everyday turn the jar over once and back then set it back in its spot. It is ready for use in 2-3 days but if you let it sit for six weeks it will be at its most potent.

You can also prepare a good salve for soothing achey muscles or bruises with this recipe, by WellnessMama.

WellnessMama Arnica Salve

Directions: Warm oil in double boiler. Add beeswax and stir until melted. Add Wintergreen Oil in desired amount (warning-wintergreen is very strong!). Pour into desired storage container (we use small tins or little jam jars). Let cool.

Can be used on bruises, sprains, strains, head bumps, etc.

Sometimes if it is a particularly sore or difficult bruise or painful area a tincture works great. You can apply it to a towel for a compress, or directly on a gauze for all day application. You can make a tincture just like you do the oil, except replace the oil with vodka or grain alcohol and store in a cool instead of sunny place. It is also commonly available at herb stores and online in pre-made bottles.

Arnica Tincture for Bumps and Bruises

  • 1 tablespoon arnica tincture
  • 1 pint water (warm but not boiling if you are using a compress)
  • gauze pad or towel

Combine tincture and water and then dip towel in and wring out and apply for a compress, or dip gauze pad into it and wring out and tape to affected area.

Warning! Warning! Warning!

Like all remedies herbal or otherwise, treat this with respect. Arnica should never be taken internally. It is highly toxic, as it contains helenalin, and cause severe issues – liver, heart and kidney issues. No one wants those. Topically if you have sensitive skin it can cause irritation, always do a test patch first to see how you react before using it. Never use on open wounds, or take it internally at all.

Some sites do recommend that you can take homeopathic versions of it internally, since there is no actual molecules of the plant in most preparations they are basically safe. Personally, I do not encourage or endorse any homeopathic remedies, since they are proven through many clinical trials to do no better than a placebo, or contain even a molecule of the herbal item it is claimed to contain. So it is just a bit of a waste of time and your hard earned money.

Remember always do your research, check for interactions on sites like WebMD. If you are ever in doubt, ask a professional!

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Is your Doctor listening to you?

One of the most upsetting things I hear when speaking to other chronic pain sufferers, or just any person seeking medical attention, is that they don’t like what is being done but because it is a doctor, and therefore a position of authority, they are complying anyway. This is one of the worst things you can do, you should always question and always educate yourself on the available options. Never just take what you are given without asking the whys and hows. This holds true for any medication Western or Herbal, do not ever treat any medication of any sort as mostly harmless. If it is strong enough to work, it is strong enough to be bad in large doses. Be smart, know as much as you can about anything you do or put in you. You are much more in control of your pain management, or medical treatment of any sort, than you think!

This is something I have had to learn for myself the hard way, not all doctors are created equal. Many are just in it for the money, no real care for you, it is just the most expensive procedures so they can get a fatter pocket. This issue is rife within the Pain Management section of medical treatment. I had to go through many, many pain doctors until I found one that would listen to my requests. I did not want to be put back on opiates for another two years, and I wanted a medication that was less addictive and did not make me feel so awful. Before her, I was just handed a script, and told to just take it. And when I told them I was still in pain, I was offered even more powerful, and addictive medications. Nothing was done to find out why I was hurting. I felt they were not listening to me, and my pain wasn’t being addressed properly, and I was right. 

This goes the same for Chiropractors as well, don’t them just adjust you then ask questions. They should sit and talk to you, ask you where the issues are and then only adjust the issue areas (unless of course you both discover a new one). If they are just adjusting whatever they want willy-nilly, you can end up even more injured. 

A grievous sin of the Western medical community is just slapping a band-aid on some symptoms and considering the patient treated. Just treating symptoms and not attempting to attack the root cause of the issue is something I can hardly stand to hear. It is upsetting for me, because I have experienced it and it only leads to more suffering for the patient. If the doctor is not treating the root of your issues, you definitely need to start looking for a new one. You shouldn’t be handed pills as a solution for everything.

So just like finding a good life partner, you have to go through a lot of weeds to find a flower when hunting for a good doctor. Here is a list of things you should do to help yourself find a good doctor.

Read Reviews & Check Online

Google them! Look on Yelp, any site that has reviews and testimonials from existing patients. Look for things like “listened to me,” “receptive to input,” etc, etc. And also look at satisfaction, did they feel they were well treated and issues resolved. Did the doctor fix the root cause, were they asking for input from the patient on their treatments, or were they just band-aiding things. The NY Times wrote a great article on how to do research on doctors before visiting them and it is a great resource for online places to look up reviews, go here to check it out. 

Speak Directly to Patients

If you can, this is a great way to find out about a doctor, if you have friends or relatives with pain issues ask them who they use, and why. Look for support groups for chronic pain online and in your area, ask them who they are seeing and if they are listened to. Are their issues being treated to their satisfaction? This is a lot like reading reviews, but you get a much better idea of a doctor when speaking to people about who they see and why.

Talk to Nurses

They are the best resource ever is Nurses. Nurses always know the good from the bad doctors and will usually be happy to share that information. Hospital Nurses are easy to talk to and you can sometimes just call a Hospital and request to speak with them. You can also look online, there are sometimes Nurse lines depending on your area.

Ask Your Insurance Provider

Call your insurance and go to their sites, see who is available, if they are rated. Find out what will be covered and not with visits before you go. No one likes a surprise bill or charge. Insurance providers can be a great resource for you in finding a list of available doctors in your area.

Interview Them

Talk to them, do you like them? Do they seem nice? Are they interested in what you have to say? Your doctor should be someone you trust, someone you can say “Hey, I don’t think this is working can we try something else?” And they listen, and provide you with options. You should feel comfortable with your doctor and feel you can trust that they are giving you all the available information, and receptive to your input.

If you would like another article on how to pick a good doctor check out this article.

Do Your Homework

Like I always say, educate yourself because no one will do it for you. Make sure you know what you are taking, or having done to you. Ask your doctor questions, then look things up for yourself get as MUCH information as possible. Make sure you aren’t taking medications that will react with anything that is prescribed to you by other doctors (trust me I have had this happen, it pays to check for yourself). And remember you can voice your opinion, if you look something up and you don’t think it is a good idea – tell your doctor. They should be able to discuss this with you and provide either a better reason why, or an alternative option.

Finally, remember your doctor and you should have a relationship, a give and take from both sides. Not just you taking what they give without question. Empower yourself, and you will receive better care overall, and all the hard work you put into finding that awesome doctor will pay off.


What to do with Chamomile?

Chamomile, an herb I am sure everyone should have at least heard of once. It is a common ingredient in most prepared “sleepy” teas, you know things like cubby wubby womb room…


But chamomile is so much more! Historically it has been used by the Egyptians, who associated the sunny flowers with the sun gods, used it to treat fevers. The Romans used it for headaches and urinary tract disorders. Pliny the Elder also wrote about and recommended it to his students. It has been grown for generations in English gardens and used for stomach disorders and treating intestinal parasites on the European continent. In Spain and Mexico it is known as Manzanilla, which means little apple, a common name due to its smell, and is used for hair rinses. If you have blond hair, it will enhance highlights and makes a great addition to shampoos or a rinse. But sadly, it is another one of those plants that everyone seems to know of, but not much about.

First we need to make clear the different types of chamomile.

What?! There are different types of chamomile?!


Yes! There are many types of chamomile, in fact nine in all, but there are only a few that we will be concerned with here. The biggest problem with chamomile is that it has so many common names, that it can become confusing to a novice. So I will be listing the Latin names, and then the most common “vulgar” names. You will notice that these are different species, but the properties of some are extremely similar.

ProTip: You will find that most packaged chamomile is only labeled as just Chamomile, and it will probably be either a blend of the Roman and German, or more likely just German. Roman is slightly more difficult to find, but most good quality herb stores will carry it and designate between the two.

Matricaria chamomilla – A.K.A. German Chamomile, Hungarian Chamomile, scented mayweed

the mugshot

Like all chamomile, this is a well known sleep aid, it is great to add to skullcap teas, holy basil teas, or mix the oils (or flowers) with lavender and Epsom salts for a relaxing bath. It is noticeably different as an essential oil from its Roman cousin, as German has a distinct blue color and Roman oil is yellow to pale yellow, or pale blue even. German is better for anti-inflammatory, but shares most of the same properties as Roman.  You can use both internally and externally, but this specific species is the most studied strain of chamomile by modern science. Remember – if you try one, and don’t get good results, you can almost always try the other and see if it works better.

It has a lovely straw scent, apple if you use Roman, that goes well with lavender and hops in herb pillows to help with sleep. My all time favorite uses for this is an anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, and a mild analgesic. A hot compress of chamomile can ease spasmed muscles reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and a hot compress is just about the loveliest thing you have ever experienced when you have nagging persistent muscle spasms. If you don’t get good results with any of the below remedies, scroll down to Roman.

Chamomile Hot Compress

  • 1 tablespoon of dried chamomile
  • 1/2 c boiling water
  • towel (or other absorbent cloth)
  • bowl

Steep the chamomile in the boiling water for 1o minutes, remove herbs and reheat if necessary and soak towel in warm liquid (or go as hot as you can stand, be careful not to scald yourself). Apply the towel to the affected area and leave on until cools and re-heat and apply again as necessary. It also works great if you have puffy eyes!

As I said before you can mix this with lavender, or other herbs for a relaxing bath, but it is great just on its own.

Chamomile Bath

  • 8 tablespoons of dried chamomile
  • 4 cups boiling water

Steep chamomile in boiling water for about 10 minutes and add to a drawn bath. You can include the chamomile itself in the bath to help increase its potency. This is great not only for sore or spasmed muscles, but also great for alleviating stress. A great bath to have right before bed to ensure a restful sleep.

ProTip: If you can only find chamomile tea in pre-made tea bags you can use 8 teabags for the bath, and 2-4 for the compress.

Chamomile Bath Salts

  • 5c Epsom Salts
  • 5-10 drops Chamomile Essential Oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried Chamomile flowers per cup of salts (just like lavender you can add as much or little of these as you like)

Mix well and store in dry place, you would use about a cup per bath. You can add the additional items listed in the lavender post if you like, but this works great as is. This and the plain chamomile bath are great for menstrual cramps.

As we have said, chamomile works great for muscle spasms and you can use it to treat cramps, you can also use the essential oil topically on the abdomen to treat cramps or stomach issues, as well as for muscle pains. It works great as an addition to massage oils as well to help de-stress and relieve tension.

I highly recommend this German chamomile oil, if you go with another brand make sure it is a therapeutic grade essential oil.

Chamaemelum nobile – A.K.A Roman Chamomile, Noble Chamomile, camomile, English Chamomile, garden chamomile, ground apple

the mugshot

This is a brother from another mother of German chamomile, it has all the great antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, stress, sleep and pain relief properties and will work measured in the same amounts for all the above listed recipes. It is much better, I find, at lifting the mood, soothing sore muscles and topical pain. Both are good for sleeping, menstrual pain, and really are almost interchangeable.

Chamomile Tea for Sleep

  • 1/2 oz of dried chamomile
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • honey or other sweetener to taste

Steep for 10 minutes for a sleepy tea, preferably in a covered teacup or teapot multiply all amounts by 4 if you are brewing in a teapot. It is said that if you suffer from persistent nightmares this is a sure-fire remedy for sleeping well.

Chamomile Tea for Digestion

  • 1/2 oz dried chamomile
  • 2 cup boiling water

Steep this for 20 minutes and drink to settle the stomach, if it is upset from medications or pain. A few slices of ginger can be included and is rather pleasant with chamomile. This tea is great for cramping in the digestive tract or other digestive muscle issues, since it will deal with the muscle spasms as well as reducing inflammation.

Chamomile helps in healing wounds and is a great antibacterial wash for cuts, or surgery incisions if you want a mild way to help keep them clean. Just make the tea for sleep and wash affected area, or for some whole body healing from something like chicken pox, to help with healing the skin, the bath recipe in the German chamomile section works quite well.

Again, the topical application of the essential oils is great for topical pain, and I personally prefer this over German for my pain. You can apply directly, with a carrier oil, or with a hot compress (listed above).

Chamomile Essential Oil for Topical Pain

  • 1-2 drops of chamomile essential oils
  • slightly damp hot towel

Rub oil directly into painful area, or place a few drops on heated towel and apply directly to painful area. This works well for menstrual cramps too.

I have read of but not used a topical pain compress that can be made of 10 parts chamomile to 5 parts poppy flowers steeped in water and then applied for pain. I hope to give this a try sometime soon to see how effective it is.

For the Roman chamomile essential oil I use go here, again if you go with another brand make sure it is a therapeutic grade essential oil.

Additional Reading:

For information about chamomile by Georgetown school of pharmacology on German and Roman chamomile are a great read and informative.

For more medical information about the chemicals chamomile contains by a PhD from Campbell (pharmaceutical university) go here.


If you are allergic to Ragweed, you should do a skin test patch prior to using chamomile. You should test ALL herbal remedies for allergies and interactions, but this one especially so for Ragweed. You should be careful with chamomile (and peppermint) if you suffer from acid re-flux and should consult a professional before taking chamomile. Also as chamomile can cause uterine contractions it is best for pregnant women to avoid taking it internally, though if you are absolutely set on using it speak with your doctor first.

Always check for interactions, resources like WebMD for Roman and WebMD for German are useful. Do your own trials and find what works best for you, and if you are ever in doubt about anything at all, ask a professional!