Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Valerian the Pied Piper of Sleep…and Cats

Valerian, while a fairly pretty plant to look at has a rather foul smelling root. It’s name was, in historical texts, generally rendered as Phu or Foo, speculated to have been called such, due to the distinctive smell. Pew! This means it is possibly the source of all laser cat powers…

Pew Pew Pew!

The smell is quite seductive to cats and rats (like Anise for dogs), and was supposedly Valerian was used by the Pied Piper, either rubbed on or secreted about his body, to lead the rats from Hamelin. During most of its historical continental European use, it was thought of more as a spice than a herb and was frequently used for cooking and even used in perfumes! There are supposedly more pleasant smelling versions but that sounds, to me, quite a smelly perfume idea.

It was used in some places to protect a person from thunder and lightening, also for ridding people of “demons.” Which could possibly be taken to mean that it eased symptoms of epilepsy, since possession was often the diagnosis for sufferers of epilepsy and other mental disorders before they were fully understood. Valerian would definitely provide a calming effect for nerve issues, agitated people, those suffering from general nervous disorders, and was often used to treat hysteria. But surprisingly for most of early history medicinally, it was not held in high regard, it was mentioned by Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and others for various complaints and ailments almost in passing. It was only Galen that remarked on its sedative effects, and it took many centuries before that was re-discovered in the West.

Valerian was also known as nard, Amantilla, “Capon’s Tail”, and Setwall (or Setewale). It’s present name is thought to come from the Latin for courage (valere), or possibly strength (valeo) or “good health” (valere), but there is no definitive answer on the name origin. Arab doctors knew of its uses and post-Crusades, as Arab knowledge filtered west, more knowledge of this plant grew and usage grew. A great recipe mentioned in the 14th century capitalizing on its relaxing properties was “Men who begin to fight and you wish to stop them, give them the juice of Amantilla (Valerian) and peace will be made immediately.”

More recent historical usage was for during bleeding to calm the person, and promote healing (bleeding was commonly used up until the 19th century as a treatment for many issues), and as a nervine. It was even used during World War I for the stress trench combat, civilians for air raids constant stress, and was still used during World War II to treat “shell-shock.” It is also widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayerveda, and even the W.H.O. recognizes the nerve relaxing qualities of Valerian.

While Valerian is a pretty little plant, most preparations use the root, which just happens to be the smelliest bit. It generally helps most people sleep,  it can reduce anxiety, depression (from stress or nervous tension), works on the central nervous system to help relax the body, and also can help calm the lower intestine smooth muscle and alleviate gas and cramping. The main purpose I find it useful for it, is its antispasmodic properties, this is a great way to treat lady cramps, muscle cramps and pain, and will help with symptoms of cramps and spasms, like tension headaches. Since it helps muscles and nerves to relax, it helps with blood pressure by relaxing the vein and artery walls, improving circulation and reducing blood pressure.

It is pretty to look at, but smelly!

Tea is always a great way to take Valerian, you can prepare the fresh root, or what is more frequently available, dried roots. You can drink this tea about a half hour to two hours before bed time, and it should help bring sleep faster. You can also make a double batch to add to bath water, two cups, will help bring on sleep and help with painful muscles. This is also a great cup of tea (like Fennel Tea, Anise Tea, Ginger Tea, or Peppermint Tea) for this time of year when over indulgence leads to digestive distress. Now, like most good medicine this can be very bad tasting for some people and bitter, others not so much, but if you find it bitter bust out your favorite local honey when you make this.

Valerian Tea

  • 1 teaspoon Dried (or Fresh) Valerian root
  • 8 oz Hot water (just before boiling)

Steep for 5-10 minutes in a covered teacup, or teapot if you decide to make a bigger batch. Remember covering it helps to keep those essential oils that make this all work in your tea instead of in the air. Again this is great after exercise, to ease spasms, and to help you get restful sleep. Where you don’t feel sedated or fuzzy in the morning.

If you don’t want to have tea in your bath you can always make a relaxing bath salts with Valerian essential oils (remember therapeutic grade only!).

Valerian Epsom Salts

  • 5 cups (40 oz) of Epsom Salts
  • 5-10 drops Valerian essential oil
  • You can add additional oils like Eucalyptus, Lavender, or others to help promote sleep or muscle relaxation. 5-10 drops of any additional oils.

Add a cup at a time to bath water and enjoy a lovely soak, in relaxing goodness.

Valerian is great teamed up with hops, they work well in concert with each other since Valerian is a more mild sedative hops give it that extra punch for a super knock out combo. Hops are thought to work on the body the same way melatonin does, and Valerian acts like adenosine which is a inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps with sleep. So when you combine the two you have a great combination that is non-narcotic, and won’t leave you feeling bad and groggy the next morning.

Super Knockout Sleepy Tincture – Hop & Valerian

  • 2 parts Valerian root
  • 1 part Hops flowers
  • Large Mason Jar
  • Vodka or other clear alcohol, enough to cover

Fill jar with the Hops and Valerian mixture, with gap at the top for expansion, cover with alcohol and seal tight. Let sit for at least 4 weeks, or up to 6 in a cool, dark, and undisturbed place, but shake once a week. Strain and store in dark bottles. You can take 1/2 teaspoon (6 drops) to 1 teaspoon of this about an hour or so before you want to go to bed.

You could make a straight Valerian tincture, make it the same way just leave out the hops, and you can take 1/2 teaspoon to 3/4 of a teaspoon daily (up to 3 times a day) for anxiety, and to help with circulation and blood pressure. You can take up to 1 teaspoon to assist with sleep.

You can also make a great headache and sleep aid by adding more herbs such as lavender, passion flower and chamomile.

Headache & Sleep Tincture

  • 1 part Valerian root
  • 1 part Hops flowers
  • 1 part Passion Flower
  • 1 part Chamomile
  • 1 part Lavender
  • 1 part Skullcap

Take about a 1/2 teaspoon at onset of migraine and increase if pain does not recede, not recommended taking more than 1 teaspoon. This will alleviate migraine pain and help bring sleep, which is great when you wake up at 2 am like I do with migraines.

With any tincture you can add it to a cup of hot water, or tea, if you are concerned about the alcohol. You can always do the under the tongue delivery, or even just into a cup of water or juice. If the taste is too bitter you can mix this into a tablespoon of honey and take it.

Since it is that holiday time of year! Valerian hot chocolate is a great way to ease the tension and stress that holidays can bring. I love this recipe from James Wong

James Wong’s Valerian Hot Chocolate

  • 3 tablespoons fresh valerian root
  • 3 3/4 cups full-fat milk
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon balm leaves
  • 3 teaspoons fresh lavender flowers
  • 6 leaves & 3 heads of fresh passion flowers (or 1 teaspoon)
  • peel of 1 1/2 oranges
  • 1 3/4 oz dark chocolate (min 50% cocoa solids)
  • “dash” (1/8th or less of a teaspoon) of vanilla

Chop the top and bottom from the fresh valerian root, and then place in a saucepan with the milk, lemon balm, lavender, passion flower, and orange peel and gently heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain. Pour the infused milk back into the pan, and then add the dark chocolate and vanilla extract and stir until melted. Drink at once.

Colds and coughs are frequent this time of year and if you are sick while you are in pain it only makes things worse. A great cough syrup you can make is a variation of another of James’ recipes but it has my own special touches. Because Valerian works to relax and prevent spasms its great to help suppress coughs.

Valerian Cough Syrup

  • 4 tablespoons dried Marshmallow root
  • 2 dried Licorice roots, broken up
  • 3 heads of fresh elderberries (if you can get them, if not about a tablespoon of dried or you can substitute 2 tablespoons wild cherry bark, or just leave it all out entirely)
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon Anise seed
  • 1 tablespoon Fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons Valerian root
  • 2 c water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 5 tablespoons glycerin

Put everything except the honey and glycerin in a pot with the water and simmer unit liquid reduces by about a fifth. Remove the licorice, and pour mixture into blender and blend until smooth. Pour back into pan and add honey, lime juice and glycerin, stir and simmer for 2 more minutes. Store in bottles. Take 2 tablespoons 3 times a day for no more than 5 days. The Valerian in this helps to relax the smooth muscles helping to suppress the cough. Remember, if your cough persists you need to see a professional, don’t neglect colds and illnesses during the holidays!

You can find Valerian in a lot of prepackaged ways, tinctures, teas, but mostly as capsules. You can purchase these already made, or you can make your own, just like in the turmeric post.  You don’t want to exceed 600 mg a day of Valerian, also due to fillers some pre-made pills may work better than others.

ProTip: You should never take any sleep aid for more than 4 weeks straight, or you could have issues sleeping.

Mythbuster Tip: Valium and Valerian while sounding similar are different completely, and Valerian is much safer to use. Remember though, everything in moderation. Too much of anything is bad.

Each person is different and you will need to do your own trails to see what works best for you. Check for interactions with your current medications, and WebMD is a great resource as usual. Make sure you educate yourself on everything you take! If you are ever in doubt, ask a professional!

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Vitamins, A Little Known Key to Fighting Pain

Recently I was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome in my leg. It is not the happiest of diagnoses, but on the bright side now I know I wasn’t imagining all that crazy leg pain, and now knowing what it is, arms me with new weapons for fighting this “named demon.”

One thing my neurologist told me, in discussing my complete body eval we did to find out what was wrong, was that vitamins and vitamin deficiency can be a reason for neurological pain.  There has been a lot of studies into how vitamins interact with our nervous system and body overall, and there are definitely vitamins you can increase in your diet that can help to combat certain types of pain. I was recently found to have low vitamin B’s and D’s with my blood tests they did in all the tests, so we have started to try to elevate those levels and other things in my diet to see if this helps with pain, swelling and muscle spasms. Also, since I get a lot of cortisone shots, calcium is very important as well. But having all of your vitamins, and hormones, and thyroid chemicals at all the right levels, is all extremely important in making sure you are doing everything you can to fight and reduce your pain.

First how to best get your vitamins, sure you could buy supplements and vitamins at the store, but since they are usually not as easy to absorb and can contain extra stuff you don’t need they are not always the best way. And most of the time you are literally pissing your money away. Don’t get me wrong, I am currently taking a prescribed vitamin to get my D levels up to where they need to be, but I need to start increasing it in my diet to maintain that since it will only be a short run of dosage.

Less of these!

 

More of these!

Most multivitamins are too broad spectrum, and won’t be absorbed by your body as well as if you just made sure you get those vitamins in your diet. The best way to get your vitamins, is to educate yourself on what vitamins are in what foods, and to eat the foods that contain the vitamins you need. Your body will absorb everything better, and it will force you to eat more fresh and less processed foods. Which is extremely important as those extra chemicals, harmless though they seem, in highly processed foods can cause crazy amounts of havoc with your body. So remember eat fresh, and home-made when you can and…

See even Godzilla loves broccoli!

So lets get started with an overview of those vitamins that work the best to support nerve health, and ones that can cause pain or other issues if you are deficient in them.

Vitamin C:  W.H.O. says 45 milligrams per day 300 milligrams per week for adults.

Vitamin C Food Sources:

The usual lime, lemon, orange, tangerine suspects but also – Rose hips, Broccoli, Elderberry, Currants (red and black) Brussel Sprouts, Wolfberry (Goji), Lychee, Chili Peppers (that does include bell!), Guava, Papaya, Strawberry, Pineapple, Cauliflower, Kale, Melons, Garlic, Grapefruit, Raspberries, Tomatoes, Green Cabbage, Mangoes, Blueberries, Blackberries, Cranberries, Plum, Apricot, Avocado, Pear, Cucumber, Fig, Cilantro, Thyme, Parsley, Dill, Beef Liver, Oysters, Chicken Liver, Goat and Cow milk. (there are more see full list of plants here, herbs here, and animals here)

Why You Should Take It

In cases of people with CRPS (which is a painful nerve disorder that usually follows an injury) taking C during their healing or starting a regimen during the early onset helps to reduce CRPS or possibly even prevent it from occurring. Personally I have just started a vitamin C regimen so I can not say one way or another if it helps post-onset, but vitamin C also helps keep me healthy since the cortisone injections I receive decimate my immune system, and this is one way I bolster it up. Vitamin C, if you are going through any sort of cortisone injections, should be your closest friend. 🙂

How To Put It In Your Diet

Vitamin B12: US FDA recommended daily intake is 2 to 3 micrograms per day.

B12 Food Sources:

Bananas, Apples, Beans, Asparagus, Beets, Artichokes, Apricots, Bamboo shoots. Barley, Beef, Turkey, Broccoli, Collard Greens, Couscous, Bulgur, Cheeses, Sardines, Mussels, Salmon, Halibut, Scallops, Cod, Milk (Goat & Cow), some Nuts, Liver, Pacific Oysters, Onions, Plantains, Clams (raw), Egg, Alaskan King Crab, Yogurt, Peaches, and Beer! (For a full list go here or here)

Why You Should Take It

Vitamin B12 deficiency has a lot of dangers, it can cause lasting damage if it dips even only slightly below the normal range. Symptoms of B12 deficiency are fatigue, depression and poor memory. It can also cause nerve issues such as numbness and tingling in your hands and feet if your levels dip below the normal range. B12 is vital for the brain, nervous system, DNA synthesis and blood formation. There are many processed foods, which we sometimes can not avoid that have added B12, since this is not able to be made by anything but bacteria and archaea. But that also means ALL fermented foods are good sources of B12! Hooray for Kimchi! Hooray for Sauerkraut! Hooray Beer!

How To Put It In Your Diet

Vitamin B6: about 1-2 micrograms per day

B6 Food Sources:

Chili Peppers(fresh and dried/powder), Bran, Brown Rice, Whole Wheat, Garlic, Tarragon, Sage, Spearmint, Basil, Chives, Savory, Turmeric, Bay Leaves, Dill, Onion, Oregano, Marjoram, Pistachios, Liver, Tuna, Salmon (Wild), Cod, Sunflower Seeds, Sesame Seeds (yes that means Tahini, therefore Hummus is deliciously good for you), Molasses, Hazelnuts, Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans), Bananas, Potatoes, Oatmeal, Walnuts, Lima Beans and Watermelon. (for a more complete list go here)

Why You Should Take It

When you lack vitamin B6 it has a large effect on your body and your nerves. B6 is part of neurotransmitter synthesis and plays a role in hemoglobin creation and function, and even helps with histamines formation. While slight deficiency is common, large amounts of depletion is usually a rare occurrence unless you suffering from specific diseases (usually of the liver or kidneys), or are receiving regular anticonvulsants or corticosteroids – which if you are a chronic pain sufferer you need to be mindful of your B6 levels. There can be dermatological and neurological issues with deficiency in B6 such as issues with peripheral nerves, skin (ulcers may appear), mucous membranes, and your circulatory system.

How To Put It In Your Diet

Vitamin D: 15-20 micrograms a day

D Sources: 

This is something you don’t have to eat, you can make this yourself! Vitamin D is synthesized by the body when exposed to sunlight, 15 minutes of sunlight a day minimum is what everyone should have. Food is another way to get vitamin D, things like Mushrooms, Milk & Milk Products, Lichen, Fish Oils, Catfish (wild), Salmon, Mackerel, Sardines, Tuna, Eel, Egg and Beef Liver.

ProTip: If you are lactose intolerant, and/or pale you need to make sure you are getting enough vitamin D. Wearing sunscreen will prevent D formation.

Why You Should Take It

Ever heard of Rickets? Lack of vitamin D in extreme cases causes Rickets which can cause deformation of long bones and lead to difficulty walking pre-puberty. Osteomalacia is the older person version of Rickets, and also includes softening of the bone, bending and other not good bone things you really don’t want happening. Vitamin D deficiency can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, decrease in ability to make antibodies, cognitive impairment, and increase your risk for cancer. It can also lead to depression (ever hear of SAD), and lack of D can prevent the bodies inflammatory response to injury. It will cause muscle aches, weakness, even twitching. D is vital to many bodily functions and a happy mind, so it is very important to make sure vitamin D features in your diet as often as possible.

*giggles like a 5th grader* the D

How To Put It In Your Diet

Vitamin E: 15 mg per day for adults.

Vitamin E Food Sources:

Wheat Germ, Sunflower Oil, Safflower Oil, Almonds, Hazelnuts, Palm Oil, Purslane, Spinach, Turnip, Beet Greens, Dandelion Greens, Avocados, Kiwi, Pumpkin, Broccoli, Mangoes, Tomatoes, Rockfish, Papaya, Turnip Greens, Mustard Greens, Collard Greens, Bell Peppers, and Lettuce (for a complete list see here and here)

Why You Should Take It

Lack of vitamin E can cause issues with your brain and central nervous system, as well as your vision, immune system response, and recycling of red blood cells. Pain and tingling in the extremities has been associated with vitamin E deficiency. It also helps support healthy skin and hair. Applied to scars from surgery it can help scars in healing to be less visible once healed up.

How To Put It In Your Diet

Magnesium: 300-450 mg a day for adults.

Magnesium Food Sources:

Green vegetables! Spinach, Kale, etc. Almonds, Cashews, Brazil Nuts, Dark Chocolate, Soybeans, Bran, Peanuts, Black Beans, Avocado, Potato (skin), Brown Rice, Yogurt, Kidney Beans, Broccoli, Apples, Carrots, “hard” water, and Magnesium water that you can use as a skin spray or in lotion. (for a full list of foods go here)

Why You Should Take It

Magnesium is a metal that occurs naturally, but it is also a necessary element for bone, muscle and nerve health. Low magnesium levels can cause muscle spasms, migraines, anxiety, high blood pressure, cerebral infarction, insomnia and can increase pain in people that have Fibromyalgia or other neurological disorders. If you have low magnesium it can have a direct effect on muscle relaxation since it interferes with calcium uptake in cells. Depression is also a sign of low magnesium, and with any chronic pain disorder, keeping an eye on your mental health is key, and every little bit helps.

How To Put It In Your Diet

Calcium: no more than 600 mg a day.

Calcium Food Sources:

Milk (and Milk Substitutes), Mozzarella, Yogurt, Sardines, Cottage Cheese, Tofu, Turnip Greens, Kale, Bok Choi, Broccoli, Sesame Seeds, Scallops, Spinach, Collard Greens,Fennel, Cumin, Leeks and most Milk products. (for a full list go here)

Why You Should Take It

Calcium is not only integral to bone health but also to normal cell functioning. Helps keep your blood alkaline balance where it should be, and can help with PMS, leg cramps and other leg pains. We all know how important it is to have enough calcium, and with a lot of pain management treatments cortisone is frequently injected and this can cause early onset of osteoporosis so it is extremely important to make sure if you are receiving these to watch your calcium levels and to make sure to take a supplement.

How To Put It In Your Diet

  • Anything and everything Milk! If there is milk in it, calcium is a go. Cheese, yogurt, and everything else made of milk counts.
  • Steamed Broccoli, is broccoli ever bad?

Additional Supplements you should look into:

  • Lecithin – mentioned in the Kava post, this is a vital supplement that is good for nerves, cardiovascular system, liver, overall cell function, healthy hair and skin. Think of it like motor oil for your nerves.
  • GLA – Gamma Linolenic Acid found in borage and evening primrose oil is good for skin conditions and for other joint pain related issues. It helps with depression and with other sorts of nerve pain.

Remember this is not medical advice but you should talk to your doctor and see if blood tests may help you pinpoint some un-noticed issues that could be causing additional pain.

Always remember as well that too much of a good thing becomes bad, it is possible to overdose on some vitamins so please be mindful of how much you are taking and its interactions, always check WebMD for interactions! And if ever in doubt, ask a professional!


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Ginger a Spicy Power Packed Punch for Pain!

Well, last week was pure madness. I made 3 costumes for the Renaissance Festival and worked my fingers to the bone. Foregoing sleep and other creature comforts to finish on time, all was totally worth it. But now they are done! Festival visited, and life can resume its usual chaotic pace!

yay!

Ginger, is a long known and widely accepted remedy for many things, and there has been a lot of modern research going into it, many showing its great ability to reduce pain and inflammation. There are even studies now happening looking into the possibility that ginger may help prevent the formation of tumors. Ginger is a rhizome like turmeric, or galangal (used in Thai cooking), and is even related to cardamom. It is mentioned in A Thousand and One Nights, and features in many ancient recipes for food and medicine. Ginger was one of those spices that commanded large sums of money in trade and could hold up to travel on the Silk Roads all the way to the farthest reaches of Western Europe, black pepper was the other major spice. In the 4th Century BCE in the Mahabharata it mentions meat stewed with ginger and spices. Marco Polo mentions it in his travels, and it was noted by early explorers of the Americas. Ginger was then and is now a very common spice, and is found in a lot of Fall foods. So that extra slice of pumpkin pie, or glass of mulled wine is medicine…or at least that’s what you can tell your family 😀

Ginger’s warming properties makes it a great addition to foods and drinks this time of year and it is a great addition to food year round, or if you get tired of turmeric. Most people have experienced it in Japanese food (that pink stuff next to sushi), or in other Asian foods. Or maybe you have just seen that weird lumpy, knobbly brown thing at the grocery store and said to yourself “what the hell is that….how do you even eat it?!”

Its Ginger!

Its Ginger! Put it in your face!

Ginger is famous for a reason, its fantastic! Ginger has been used in medicine for ages all over the world since at least 500 BCE. Asia has seen long use of it as additions to meals or as a side dish, and Confucius was rumored to never eat a meal without it. Our old friend Dioscorides recommended it for stomach issues, and it is mentioned in various other herbals for the same throughout the ages. It was the “Alka-Seltzer” of ancient Rome, as part of a Revolutionary War soldier’s diet, and was in the 19th century the digestive aid of choice for the US.  Even the infamous (that’s more than famous) University of Salerno said that for a happy life “eat ginger, and you will love and be loved as in your youth.” There are mentions in earlier writings that ginger is an aphrodisiac but it is unlikely, another case of “its rare, so it make you strong like bull.” [insert hand gestures here]

What it can do is sooth stomachs, is a better pain reliever for minor inflammation, or pain that can be treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAI) drugs, than Aspirin and the like, and helps keep you healthy with its anti-viral properties. What is great about it is unlike most of the OTC stuff you can get, ginger will not destroy your stomach, and actually tastes pretty nice. Ginger is also superior to those drugs in the way that it not only blocks the chemical formation of signals that cause inflammation like those NSAI drugs but also will attack the inflammation and break it down with its other antioxidant effects which the NSAI drugs lack. That means it does more to reduce inflammation overall, than anything you can buy in a drug store.

In my last post, An Ounce of Prevention Tea, I brought up Sam’s fantastic cold preventing tea, and ginger is a big component of it and that tea is not only good for keeping cold and flu at bay, but it is better than popping an Aspirin, Advil, Tylenol, whatever your drug of choice is, for a headache or other minor aches and pains. Plus it makes a great hangover cure, and is fantastic for lady cramps. Ginger’s anti-viral properties works well with the other ingredients in the tea, and when you toss in a few cloves (3-6 depending on your love of cloves, or pain) you have three pain relieving herbs in one go (cinnamon is the third). Want to increase its anti-inflammatory properties? Add in some turmeric! Plus if you add in a bit of Manuka honey you have a super, mega cold and flu defeating power punch! Nothing is worse than being in pain and sick, and this is definitely the way to keep that from happening. Multitasking! You know I love it!

Ginger is also great for stomach issues, it has been used for morning sickness, and any other stomach issues like indigestion and acid re-flux. It is even good for motion sickness, and helps keep all that queasy wibbly wobbly stomach stuff away. There are a few ways you can take ginger for nausea and for pain, there are pre-packaged ginger gums, candies and even ginger ale and tea, you do want to make sure that the product you are using has real ginger of some sort in it or it will not be as effective. You can also make ginger tea for yourself as a simplified version of the Prevention Tea.

Simple Ginger Tea for Headache and Upset Stomach

  • 3 large Medallions of ginger – this could also be 1 teaspoon dried ginger, or even 1-1 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Pour hot water over ginger, steep for 2-3 minutes and drink warm. Ginger can be a bit spicy or hot, so if it bothers you honey can help to tone that down. Ginger is one of those team player spices and it works well with a lot of other spices and herbs. You can add fennel seeds, about an inch of sliced lemon grass or 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of grated lemon grass, and a sprinkle of cardamom for a great after dinner digestive tea.

My favorite way to take ginger is Ginger Ale, I love Vernors if I can’t or don’t have time to make my own, but making your own is fun and quite delicious. If you have never made it, it is well worth the effort, the ginger makes it a spicier sweet drink than you might be used to, or if you;re feeling more British you can make Ginger Beer. For Ginger Ale I like Alton Brown’s recipe and it makes a really good one.

Alton’s Ginger Ale

  • 1 1/2 ounces finely grated fresh ginger
  • 6 ounces sugar
  • 7 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Place the ginger, sugar, and 1/2 cup of the water into a 2-quart saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to steep for 1 hour.

Pour the syrup through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl, pressing down to get all of the juice out of the mixture. Chill quickly by placing over and ice bath and stirring or set in the refrigerator, uncovered, until at least room temperature, 68 to 72 degrees F.

Using a funnel, pour the syrup into a clean 2-liter plastic bottle and add the yeast, lemon juice and remaining 7 cups of water. Place the cap on the bottle, gently shake to combine and leave the bottle at room temperature for 48 hours. Open and check for desired amount of carbonation. It is important that once you achieve your desired amount of carbonation that you refrigerate the ginger ale. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, opening the bottle at least once a day to let out excess carbonation.

For Ginger Beer this is a simple recipe that makes a 16 oz bottle, you can use flip-top bottles for both of these recipes. They’re sold everywhere, Container Store, Ikea, Brew stores, or you can resort to online purchase.

Ginger Beer

  • 1 ounce ginger juice
  • 2 ounces fresh lemon juice, finely strained
  • 3 ounces simple syrup (see syrup notes) 
  • 10 ounces warm water (not above 86 F)
  • Yeast

Ginger juice you can make by passing ginger through a juicer or you can microplane it into a cheesecloth and squeeze the juice out. You could also use the ginger paste in the recipe and strain after fermenting. Mix all the ingredients together, and pour about 16 oz into the bottles, you do want to leave some space (an inch or 2) at the top or you will get exploding bottles. You can add champagne yeast to each bottle, or you can add about 25 grains of yeast to each bottle. Or you can mix your cooled simple syrup with the yeast and bottle this way. You want to store in a cool dark place for 48 hours, then refrigerate immediately this will halt the fermentation process. You can use non-champagne yeast you will want to use 1/8th of a teaspoon per bottle.

Simple Syrup – mix 1 part water with 2 parts sugar, dissolve sugar in water while stirring constantly over heat. Once dissolved remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool and thicken, bottle and store. You can add a tablespoon of vodka to help prolong the shelf life.

You can also make ginger cream to rub onto sore areas, ginger is warming and is quite soothing on sore or spasmed muscles.

Ginger Muscle “Cream”

  • 1 hand sized (about 6 inches) piece of ginger, grated finely
  • Honey (enough to make a paste with the ginger)
  • 1/2 cup (or up to a cup) Coconut oil
  • Pot and boiling water

Bring the water to a simmer but do not boil the hand sized piece of ginger until it is tender. Peel and grate into fine paste, or you can pulverize it as well. Mix in honey until a thick paste is formed. In a mixer with whisk attachment, whip the coconut oil until it creates a thick paste and add in the ginger and honey paste slowly making sure that it incorporates fully. Apply and massage into sore area and be sure to avoid sensitive skin areas in applying this. This is great for sore muscle pains after a hard workout or just to work out stiff sore muscles.

A good tea for sleep and soothing minor pains, and stomach upset that comes with pain or illness is a mix of ginger and Holy Basil. It helps alleviate the aches and pains of flu and colds, or sooth and alleviate pain that wakes you in the night.

Tulsi Ginger Tea for Sleep

  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of Holy Basil (Tulsi)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry (powdered) ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (1 small stick)
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Pour boiling water over ingredients, steep in covered tea cup for 5-10 minutes, and drink warm. This will put you right to sleep!

You can also add ginger juice, ginger paste, or even Ginger essential oils (always use therapeutic grade!), to a bath, or rub them into the painful area. You can always make a massage oil with ginger for rubbing into sore muscles or a rub of it on the chest is great for chest colds. And a soak in a ginger bath is great for nerve pain, even more so when you include rosemary oil.

Ginger Rosemary Bath Salts for Pain

  • 5 drops Ginger essential oils
  • 5 drops Rosemary essential oils
  • 1 lb Epsom salts

Mix all ingredients together and store in a cool dry place. Mix 1 cup of salts into a hot bath and soak that pain away.

Ginger Massage Oil for Sore Muscles and Pain

  • Carrier oil of your choice
  • 10-20 drops of ginger essential oil
  • optional – add any additional oils for pain, or other uses

Mix up and store in a dark bottle, rub into sore muscles or painful areas.

Always one to enjoy medicinal foods I find that candied ginger is a great way to take ginger for stomach issues or pain. Plus, its candy! Again I will refer to the AB recipe (I do love him so) for this candied ginger.

Alton’s Candied Ginger Recipe

  • Nonstick spray (I prefer to use olive oil, or rapeseed)
  • 1 pound fresh ginger root
  • 5 cups water
  • Approximately 1 pound granulated sugar
  • Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a half sheet pan lined with parchment.

Peel the ginger root and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices using a mandolin. Place into a 4-quart saucepan with the water and set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the ginger is tender.

Transfer the ginger to a colander to drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Weigh the ginger and measure out an equal amount of sugar. Return the ginger and 1/4 cup water to the pan and add the sugar. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup looks dry, has almost evaporated and begins to recrystallize, approximately 20 minutes. Transfer the ginger immediately to the cooling rack and spread to separate the individual pieces. Once completely cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Alton ProTip: Save the sugar that drops beneath the cooling rack and use to top ginger snaps, sprinkled over ice cream or to sweeten coffee.

You can use a piece or two of the candy for any ailment previously mentioned, I mean come on candy medicine? What is better than that? Nothing I tell you, nothing.

And since I also like muffins, here is a great one to get that ginger in your diet, plus its perfect for this time of year.

Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 1/2 cup flour, whole-wheat pastry, (if you can’t find whole wheat pastry flour, may substitute regular whole wheat flour)
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger, or ginger paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, or 1/4 table salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (from a can or fresh)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (you can use whatever oil you like)
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line with paper, or grease, 12 muffin cups with oil or shortening. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. In a small bowl, beat the egg for 30 seconds, until foamy. Add the milk, pumpkin, oil, and orange zest. Beat well. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, and stir until the flour mixture is moistened. Fill the muffin cups three-quarters full with batter. Bake for 15 minutes, until the tops spring back when you touch them with a finger. Turn out muffins onto a wire rack to cool. Once cool, you can freeze the muffins, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 months.

So next time you have that nagging headache, or some sore muscles reach for your ginger instead of a pill! Ginger is mostly safe but if you do suffer from extreme stomach issues you should be careful about the amount you intake. For people with stomach issues try to avoid exceeding 3-4 teaspoons in a day, for everyone else don’t go above 5 teaspoons. Remember too much of anything, is too much! Always use anything in moderation.

ProTip: A friend of mine showed me that it is super easy to peel ginger using a spoon, just scrape the skin of the ginger with it and discard the brown papery outer skin. Super easy!

Educate yourself and do your own trials to see what works best for you, always remember to check places like WebMD for reactions or interactions with your medications, and if you are ever in doubt, ask a professional!


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An Ounce of Prevention Tea

I have made it through the start of a Fall for the first time in years without getting horribly sick. Even after all the cortisone shots I have had. The only change is I have added this tea to my daily routine and I think this may be the key to my good health this winter!

 

Some quick notes – Ginger good for upset stomach, inflammation and pain. Cinnamon good for boosting that immune system, vitamin C from lemons helps too. Cloves help with pain, they aren’t listed but I like to add them because I love the flavor. I also will sometimes use Manuka Honey for its extra benefits. And if you have a bit of a headache, reach for this tea, it is better than popping Aspirin and easier on your stomach! This is also a great hangover “cure” and good for lady cramps 😀

Sam Makes & Bakes

It’s no secret that I love ginger. You can always find a large, fresh root in my flavor arsenal (otherwise known as the basket I keep my onions and other counter-top veggies in). Ginger is not only delicious in many meals or brewed as a simple tea, but it is also a powerful anti-inflammatory herb with many other extraordinary benefits. Ginger can help boost immunity, aid in the detoxification of your body’s impurities, and even help prevent cancer! For these reasons, I like to use it as the main component in my Prevention Tea.

preventative2

Aiding the ginger with it’s preventative powers are Ceylon cinnamon, organic lemon, and local honey. Cinnamon contains natural anti-infectious compounds to help fight unwanted pathogens. It can also help stabilize your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Cinnamon has even been shown to reduce the proliferation of cancer cells! Not to mention, it’s freaking delicious. 😛

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Best Shampoo Ever!

Recently I started making my own shampoos and I fell in love with this recipe. It worked great, don’t get me wrong, and it might work for you. But it didn’t for some people, and I didn’t care for it being runny. So I decided to make a hopefully more “universal,” easy to make, and gel-like DIY shampoo. Plus if you throw in some essential oils you can have a multi-function shampoo! I love multi-tasking things!

This recipe also has a longer shelf life than the original recipe I used, because its got citric acid (which if you like the first recipe, add some and it helps to extend the life there too). You could just use lemon juice, but its easier to control the pH variations since the powder is more consistent than lemons fresh squeezed. To find citric acid, locate your local grocery store’s canning supplies there is usually some there. Lemon is good for the hair and it lightens it, so you can add lemon juice or oils to this if you can’t find citric acid, if you want increased lemon smell, or if you are a blonde to brighten your hair or just help bring out highlights if you aren’t. Lemon oils will not preserve as well, so use in combination with lemon juice or citric acid if you go that route.

With this recipe it is super customize-able for your hair type, and you can make your own blend of smells, so do what you like  and feels good for your hair. I like lavender since its a great stress reliever, and lavender is also great for your hair, skin, migraines, and muscle spasms. It soothes irritation, so if you have a dry or itchy scalp this is also a great oil to use or add in a blend. That is 6 things in a one step shampoo! Bam! How you like that efficiency!?

Also, I find that a hot shower at the first twinges of a headache with this definitely helps hold things off a little longer. Not to mention when I use this version, I have less tangles throughout the day, and it definitely uplifts the mood in general.

So on to what you need? Not too much, this is a super easy recipe and all you need is the following:

  • Dr Bronner’s liquid castile soap – you can buy it pre-scented, any style will work. I usually just grab the small bottle since one will do you for a couple months worth of shampoo.
  •  1/4 c Coconut oil – solid, not the kind that is liquid at room temp
  • 1 large Aloe leaf – or about 1 1/2-2 cups aloe gel
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid
  • 1 tablespoon “nourishing oil” – vitamin E oil, or any other oil like jojoba, sweet almond, avocado, olive oil, or whatever. You can change it up as you get to know what works best in your hair.
  • Food processor, or blender
  • empty bottles for shampoo
  • 5-10 drops of essential oils – again I use lavender, you can add up to 15 of any blend of oils you like more tends to be smell overkill.

For the aloe, if you are lucky enough to have a large aloe plant use a large leaf, one at least 1.5 to 2 ft long. If you aren’t growing them sometimes you can buy a leaf individually at some Latin American markets, or you can buy just the gel in the health food section, that is not the kind you use for sunburns, the sort you can eat.

You want all of its gooey goo!

Gut the aloe, this is messy, so just realize you’re going to work with a slippery thing that’s hard to cut, and use good knife safety. Gloves are a good idea if you have them, but I’m a rebel without a cause, and go bare handed. I find you can sort of shave the top part of the leaf off, with a sharp knife, and scoop/scrape the gooey innards with a spoon into a bowl. Again, be careful of the aloe spines when doing this.

Toss the aloe gel in the food processor or blender, add in the coconut oil. I would start with 1/4 c since a little goes a long way with this, but you can add more if you have dry hair or find it isn’t moisturizing enough. Don’t add more than 1/2 a cup though as I find it gets way too oily. You want to blend this until you have a pretty even emulsion, it will turn sort of milky white, and then you add in the castile soap, citric acid, essential oils and your tablespoon of nourishing oil.

Give it another quick whiz, and bottle. I just reuse old shampoo bottles or even the Dr Bronner’s bottles make great shampoo bottles, and fill using a funnel. You should have a thick gel in the end that should be easy to apply, and provide a rich creamy lather. When you rinse your hair you will notice it feels different than other shampoos or conditioners, it will have a slight oily feel but once dry it shouldn’t be oily. Remember to shake before each use!

This makes for me, and I have long but extremely fine hair, at least 2 months worth of shampoo sometimes more. You don’t have to use a conditioner or anything after unless you want to, it is pretty much wash ‘n go. You can also use this as a great body wash!

ProTip 1: If your hair is lank, clumpy, and oily, you have probably got too much coconut oil in it. So of you add too much coconut oil, you can counter this with additional castile soap. Add it bit by bit until you find that it rinses clean, with no heavy oil residue.

ProTip 2: Citric acid helps to balance the pH of the shampoo, if you notice your hair is too dry you may need to adjust the amount of citric acid. It adds shine but can strip moisture from naturally dry hair, you can counter this with a teaspoon of your nourishing oil or even coconut oil, and adding more if needed based on your results. I wouldn’t recommend more than a tablespoon of citric acid in a batch for oily hair, and a teaspoon at most for dry. Again it is a preservative and will help prolong the shelf life of the shampoo, so even if your hair is dry go ahead and add some.

Dr Bronner’s pre-scented soap guide (minus lavender) – you can use these soaps and matching essential oils for specific uses:

  • Peppermint – for headaches, helps with itchy scalp or irritated scalp, or any bacterial infections. Also good for an “invigorating” shower that reduces stress, but helps you feel more awake due to increased circulation. Peppermint oil tends to wash cleaner for a less oily feel.
  • Eucalyptus – good for anti-fungal, and it helps to stimulate circulation. It is good for muscle pains and dandruff, and is supposed to stimulate hair growth.
  • Almond – Almond and Sweet Almond oil are great for hair and it has a lot of vitamins in it that are good for your hair and skin. It helps reduce frizz and increase shine if you have curly or frizzy hair. It is also a good hair strengthener to help hair grow longer and thicker. I find if I add this instead of other oils I have less static in my hair as well.
  • Citrus – We already discussed lemon earlier, orange and lemon oils are good for hair and help it to be shiny and lighter.
  • Rose – Pretty much like lavender, it is good for stress relief, and has some anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. It is also very good for soothing an itchy scalp. Rose oil is rather expensive and I would use this shampoo as a base and possibly add lavender or other oils that complement rose.
  • Tea Tree – best known remedy for dandruff, this is a good oil for treating that. It can be strong and irritate further if you use too much so use the base soap first and add drops of additional tea tree oil to ensure you don’t add too much.

I have been told this shampoo makes my hair nicer than ever by a few people so hope you get some good results too 🙂 Happy showers!


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Nutmeg, an Easy Nut to Crack

Been going through a lot of medical tests lately, but I am feeling really positive about all of it, and still a little in the goulish Halloween spirit, so I think it is time to talk about nutmeg. Thanksgiving and Christmas is almost upon us now, so it makes it an even better time to talk about nutmeg. It features in so many holiday dishes you can’t seem to get away from it this time of year. Also, fun fact, nutmeg and mace are major ingredients in delicious, delicious haggis.

Yes, haggis is delicious.

No, I will not hear slander against it.

If you feel you must speak ill against one of the most delicious meal of squiddly animal bits, here is my response –

That’s right Freddy, they gonna.

Now on to serious business.

Nutmeg is often mentioned with mace which grows with nutmeg, and we will possibly cover in later posts. Nutmeg is the small little nut part encased in mace’s scarlet tendrils, inside a peach, but not a peach, shaped fruit.

Remember, nutmeg inside mace, inside fruit. The nut is often dipped in lime water to prevent sprouting. No one likes a sprouty nutmeg.

So on to the history! Of all the plants and information we have gone over, nutmeg has probably the most fascinating, dark, sordid history of death and destruction, of all the previously discussed plants. A lot of its allure was due to its highly prized medicine and culinary uses, but mostly it’s rarity. The history of nutmeg starts in the fabled East Indies, you know the ones that everyone was trying to find a water route to? Columbus and all those guys. Up until the 1800’s there was a single group of islands called the Banda Islands that provided the world’s nutmeg as part of the fabled spice islands. Their location was closely guarded secret of the Arab traders, so they could continue to sell it at high prices to the Venetian traders. The Portuguese were the first Western culture that “discovered” the location of the islands, but were unable to monopolize the trade. It wasn’t until the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) rolled in, after chasing out the Portuguese, that nutmeg’s history became very dark. At first they were seen as liberators, but then, the islanders started to realize that these VOC chaps, might actually be big fat jerks.

Nutmeg was completely monopolized by the Dutch, and the VOC even went so far as to go on yearly raids to ensure that no trees made it outside of their control. A great example of this is the island of Run, a small island the British East India Company used for their trade in nutmeg. The commander of the VOC in Banda snuck onto Run, and burned all of their nutmeg trees. Frankly a pretty dick move, and very much the creepy “if I can’t have them, no one can” sort of thing.

As time passed there was the usual colonial oppression of the local people, an impossible not to violate contract between the VOC and the native Bandas, and the eventual near genocide of the Bandas native population. All while the VOC kept prices intentionally high by occasionally setting fire to nutmeg warehouses, just to create artificial scarcity and selling nutmeg at near a 6,000 time mark up. Which, do I even need to mention this does little to help their image of being big fat jerks? Yes, yes I do.

On to happier things, like the well known saffron, nutmeg was an expensive spice and was considered quite a luxury for many centuries. It was valued as medicine since the 7th century, and it was even worn around the neck to ward off the Black Plague. And, oddly, the use for warding off Plague might have actually worked since nutmeg helps to keep fleas, which carried the plague, away.

It has history of use as a hallucinogen, of which in certain doses it is actually a powerful one, and it scares the pants of William S. Burroughs, which really says quite a lot. Nutmeg is also supposedly aphrodisiac, which everyone says that about everything rare, so it is highly unlikely you will find that effect rearing its head. Pun intended.

In the 19th its was used as an abortifacient, and this unfortunately led to many cases of accidental nutmeg poisonings. Which brings up the point of it’s toxicity, yes nutmeg is toxic in high doses, but safe enough in small amounts. Never consume more than about a teaspoon of nutmeg in a day internally. Some sites, you may find, suggest more, which I disagree strongly with the large amounts for internal use, and it is always better safe than sorry. My suggestion is, if you really feel you must increase the dose, talk to your doctor first. But again, in small doses, nutmeg is a wonderful remedy for sleeplessness, nerve pain, indigestion (mostly flatulence and other discomforts from over indulgence) and muscle spasms.

Nutmeg can be used as a mild sleep aid, it isn’t as powerful as some of the others we have discussed, but a good one you can use frequently and without worry in small amounts. To make a simple sleepy time drink, and one that is extra good for winter, is nutmeg and warm milk.

Nutmeg and Milk for Sleep

  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1 cup Milk (or milk substitute)
  • Honey to taste (optional)

Heat the milk in a pan or microwave, being careful not to scald, and add freshly grated nutmeg. Stir thoroughly, and drink still warm. Since we are close to the holiday season, eggnog could be your liquid to use here. Which you don’t have to heat if you don’t want to, and I won’t tell anyone if you put a little splash of rum in it. 😀 And that will definitely help you sleep.

Eggnog leads us into our next use for nutmeg too since it is a great way to help ease stomach discomfort and flatulence. During the holiday season we all tend to over indulge and the addition of nutmeg in these holiday foods helps to keep some of the repercussions for all that food at bay. Grate a little into your eggnog before diving into that Christmas dinner, or make sure you have a slice of pumpkin pie with some real nutmeg in it. Don’t buy ground, really for any spice, they can be adulterated with inferior products or other species, or so old they are of no use. Your tummy will thank you later. I have read a few other recipes that involve combining nutmeg with other things, even coffee, to ease the stomach or diarrhea but this sounds like it would taste horrible to me and I haven’t tried it, let me know if you do, brave soul. I just recommend adding it to your dishes and drinks, or even using the milk and nutmeg recipe listed above.

Nutmeg oil, (remember use therapeutic grade only!) is a warming oil that is great for spasms and nerve related pain. It helps to ease the spasms and numb the nerves to ease the pain. Massage oil is a great way to apply this and it is easy to make, though you can apply always apply nutmeg oil directly to the skin. Remember though, this is a warming oil, so test to see how sensitive your skin is to it before direct application.

Nutmeg Massage Oil

  • 1 oz Carrier oil
  • 20-30 drops Nutmeg oil

Mix together and massage directly into affected area. You can always blend this with other oils like mentioned in the fennel post.

I use this oil for days when I am not in a ton of pain, but I still need something to work the stiffness and minor aches out, and it works great for this sort of application, or for sore muscles after sports or exercise. I find it works well for my minor muscle spasms and helps to numb the area a bit, and this effect increases if you combine it with cloves or other oils. The smell is woody and spicy, and rather pleasant. You can also take a drop or two internally in a capsule to help with pain and nerve issues too, I don’t recommend adding the oil directly to your beverage, it can be quite overpowering in flavor.

If you would like to purchase the Nutmeg Oil I use go here, remember to use 1453322 as your sponsor number.

There are some other skin uses for nutmeg, like using grated nutmeg and milk to make a paste to treat acne, or as a chest plaster with honey for a cold, and many, many savory and sweet culinary uses. I love nutmeg in food, and enjoy recreating medieval food where it is often used, as well as other current culinary styles.

Remember nutmeg, like skullcap, is good in small doses! Do your own research, check for interactions on sites like WebMD, and educate yourself. Do your own trials with it to see what works best for you. As always if you are in doubt, even in the slightest, ask a professional!

If you would like to learn more on the history of nutmeg you can read a quick version here, and a more in depth version here, and an amusingly honest one here.