Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Rue, the Herb of Grace

Oh the fickle Texas weather! It is wrecking havoc with my nerves and muscles, not to mention giving me some wicked migraines. But at least we only shut down for a day unlike Atlanta! ūüôā Very soon the delicious warm spring will be here. Aaaaah warm sunny days!

This sort of weather makes it a great time to talk about rue. Rue is a plant not well known outside gardening circles usually, and sometimes not even known at all since it isn’t the prettiest of plants, and it has lost some popularity in modern times. Ruta graveolens has yellow flowers and seemingly unassuming blueish green leaves, and tends to be better known in its Mediterranean homelands. Rue is still eaten in salads in Italy, Ethiopia, and Greeks were well known for using it in culinary ways, as well as medicinal. Though it seems unassuming this little plant has a lot of uses, and I suggest not passing it by!

Photo by Kurt St√ľber

If you skip it you will rue the day, see what I did there! ūüėČ

Many of the Greeks believe that rue is a charm against magic, and ate it at meals with strangers so they wouldn’t get cursed, or as we would say – get wind. Aristotle mentions he thinks this is absolute rubbish, and that the Greeks just didn’t like strangers, ate too fast, and got wind that way. Pliny says, or is said to say, that it improves poor, or over-strained eyesight, and this is why it was consumed by painters. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were supposed to be some of its more famous consumers, this is questionable though and may be just historical hear-say. Many cultures also used it to treat strained eyesight, and is really quite soothing when applied to the forehead for eyestrain headaches, or tension headaches.

In the Middle Ages this was another bittering herb that was used to add that bitter note to beers before hops became popular. Many of the other uses of rue in the Middle Ages were, like the Greeks, for¬†warding off, or working witchcraft. But it was thought to ward off plague, and for this it is part of the Four Thieves vinegar, and is featured in many other plague preparations. It possibly got this witchy tradition has carried down from the Greeks, but also possibly came from its rather pungent smell that can be unpleasant to some and bad smells were thought to drive certain spirits away. I find it has a smell much like citronella, and works great in a garden to ward off deer, cats, and other unwanted garden guests. Like many plants it has multiple “vulgar” names, it is known as rue, common rue, and herb of grace. It probably got its herb of grace name from being used to sprinkle holy water during the Roman Catholic ceremony of Asperges.¬†After it crossed the Atlantic to the New World, it became used in spiritual cleansing and sweeping away of “negative vibrations” in the Catholic influenced Latin American shamans called curanderos. Its leaves are thought to have inspired the clubs suit symbol in modern playing cards, which originated in France, and its shape even graces the coat of arms of Saxony.

Its young shoots are quite good in a salad. But harvesting is difficult, this herb that seems so mild actually has a rather effective defense. Cutting into this plant releases its sap, which has the fascinating ability to cause almost poison ivy like symptoms if it is exposed to sunlight (well technically ultraviolet light) while on your skin. This ability has the fancy name of phytophotodermatitis (phyto – plant, photo – light, dermatitis – disease of the skin), if you are going to grow and harvest your own be sure to treat rue like a citrus tree. Wear long sleeves, gloves, and use soap and water, and dark spaces to treat if any sap gets on the skin. If you choose to use fresh in a remedy, be careful and test for allergic reactions first.

It is that bitter note of rue that is what makes it good medicine, it contains rutin which is an anti-inflammatory chemical. This is probably where its early association for the treatment of sciatica pain came from. Rue can be applied as a compress to painful areas, and can alleviate swelling in sore muscles. It also contains pretty high levels of coumarin, which we discussed in the cinnamon post, and other chemical compounds that make it great for relieving nerve and muscle pain, as well as reducing inflammation.

Rue Compress

  • 16 oz Boiling water
  • 2-3 tablespoons Dried rue (you can use fresh in the same amounts)
  • Towel

Steep in the boiling water for 5-10 minutes, and allow to cool enough to be comfortable to apply to the skin. Soak the towel, or a rag, in the liquid and apply to painful area. Traditionally this is used to treat sciatica pain, and sometimes eyestrain, but it can also be applied to swollen areas, painful muscles, or areas of nerve pain. It works great for treating these pains, and the smell can be rather relaxing for some people. It is kind of musty smelling, but some people like it a lot. If you use fresh rue, do a test patch first to make sure it wont irritate your skin. Again, this is a great forehead compress for tension headaches, headaches from eyestrain, or just generally overtired eyes.

Rue Massage Oil

  • 20-30 drops RutaVaLa¬†(I recommend using only this specific oil, since it is difficult to find pure, safe rue oils)
  • 1 oz Carrier oil

Mix well and store in a container that prevents light exposure. Massage directly into painful area for muscle relaxation, sleep, and stress relief. This is a great massage oil to alleviate pain and discomfort right before bed time, and the valerian and lavender in the RutaVaLa will help to bring sleep quickly. There is a Roll-On version that is already diluted that is good for an on the go solution.

Like skullcap, rue quickly runs over into the toxic levels if you add too much to internal preparations. For this reason I suggest avoiding taking rue in teas or tinctures, even if you prepare them yourself. If you absolutely want to use rue internally I recommend 2 things. First, never more than 1 teaspoon of rue per 8 oz of water, and do not take more than 1 time every 8 hours. Second, consult an herbalist, and a physician, for advice and approval of your use of rue internally. Otherwise I would suggest, most of the time, using external preparations for pain and inflammation.

Now that said, I do recommend cooking with rue. You still must stick to the sparing use rules you would in herbal medicine but the amounts combined with heat of cooking (or heat from friction in a blender) will help to break down some of the more noxious chemicals that cause so much worry.

Moretum (Roman Garlic Herb Cheese Dip)

  • 4 garlic bulbs (Roasted whole, or if you like Garlic raw)
  • 1 1/2 cups Feta Cheese
  • 3 Celery sticks, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 to 1 cup Cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 c Fresh young rue leaves, roughly chopped (you can use dried about 2-3 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons Olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons White wine (drier the better)
  • 1 tablespoon wine vinegar (red or white works)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Add garlic, herbs, cheese, and celery into a food processor (or sturdy blender) and start to puree. Mix the oil, wine and vinegar in a measuring cup, or easy to pour from vessel, and drizzle in slowly. You will want to see a smooth evenly mixed paste form. You may need to scrape the sides down of the processor a few times. Serve with additional drizzle of olive oil on top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. This goes great with crackers, pita bread, or just with some crusty bread to dip in it. Since cilantro is hated by some people you can substitute parsley or even sage for it in this dish. If you want to be sure your rue is safe, you can quickly blanch them and sprinkle with salt to help break things down further, and rid it of some of its bitterness. This is one of those dishes you can eat when you have gotten tired of other ant-inflammatory foods, since food is the best way to take your medicine!

Rue Omelette

  • 2 tsp dried Rue, or fresh rue finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried Parsley
  • 1 tablespoon Oregano (Dittany of Crete, or Marjoram I have seen used here as well)
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 1-2 tablespoons Milk
  • ¬†Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Oil for cooking (butter works great too)

Whisk eggs and milk together until creamy yellow in color. Add in herbs and wisk to combine. In a heated skillet with oil or butter melted, pour in egg mixture and rotate pan ensuring that the egg coats the whole bottom of the pan. Once the bottom has cooked, tilt the pan forward and roll furthest corner over, tilt again and roll center over, creating the triple fold. Cook until egg is firm, garnish with additional parsley if desired. Again you can use salted, blanched rue leaves for this too.

I can not stress enough to treat this herb with respect and care, as you should all herbal medicines. Anything can become a poison if taken in the wrong amounts. So do your research, do your own trials since everyone reacts differently, and make sure to educate yourself. Remember no one will do it for you! As always make sure you check WebMD for interactions and if you have the slightest doubt, ask a professional!

There is a great list of rue recipes here, and they have a great recipe for a Rue Mead, better known as English Sack. I highly recommend you trying one of them.

 


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Sweet Marjoram, the Herb of Aphrodite

Lesser known than it’s cousin oregano, marjoram has never quite gotten its time in the limelight. While both are members of that ever useful plant family mint, oregano gets top billing. But the humble little marjoram is no less important in mythology, cooking, or herbal medicine than oregano.

The uses of marjoram, like many herbs, seem to be so old as to be lost in the mists of time, we do know this great little plant originated in the Middle East and Mediterranian areas. It spread West from there, and was well known to all of the big name historical cultures – the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and many others. Most people will know it best from its flavor in blends, like Herbs de Provence and Za’atar. But nothing in life is every easy, so to make things more confusing, in antiquity marjoram and oregano were sometimes referred to interchangeably. Due to this it, can be confusing to read older texts about marjoram, and while they didn’t mind the change out, you though,¬†do want to avoid using the wrong species. Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is usually called Sweet Marjoram, and Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is usually listed as Oregano or Wild Marjoram, it is important to distinguish between the two since they do have different properties. Marjoram is sweeter and more mild than oregano, and they look slightly different.

Photo from BonAppetit.com

Make sure you could pick marjoram out in a line-up!

Marjoram has been used for centuries by humans in many ways. An early reference to marjoram is its depiction on Hittite tablets, and there is another record of the use of marjoram in the Ebers Papyrus.¬†Which if you aren’t hip to ancient Egyptian Medical papyri, is the oldest and all around awesome Egyptian medical papyrus. The Egyptians were using marjoram oil as a way to treat ear infections, as an antiseptic, and was used in their embalming, and worn in rituals for the god Osiris. In Greece it was more associated with Aphrodite (Venus), who was supposed to have created oregano and marjoram and loved them greatly, which means both were included in wedding and funeral rituals. It is said that if marjoram grows on a grave the deceased is happy, or will have a pleasant afterlife. Greeks, Romans and even during the Middle Ages in Europe marjoram was used to crown couples, or the bride, during marriage ceremonies. Also during the Middle Ages it was used as a “strewing” herb, meaning one of the many herbs, like other herbs I’ve mentioned, that were added to reeds or straw on the floor to produce a sweet smell when stepped on, think early air fresheners. Marjoram was also added to beers before hops use became prevalent, since it is a good antiseptic. There was even a belief in Prussia that thunder could cause milk to sour, which was remedied by placing a sprig of marjoram next to the milk.

Marjoram is one of those herbs that never seems to not work with meat, it pretty much goes with every sort from fish to beef. It does go well with breads and vegetables, but desserts are not its strong point. Otherwise it is a highly useful herb. It’s popularity in America has to do with returning GI’s and their taste for Italian food, and of course marjoram came along with that. Another well known use is for vocalists, or singers, they are known to use the herb as a tea, or an inhalant, to help to preserve the voice, or treat laryngitis. It probably worked so well since it has an anti-inflammatory nature, is an analgesic, and has antiseptic qualities, this means it is a great addition (as an oil) to sore throat sprays for colds, laryngitis, or just a seasonal scratchy throat.

Chemically marjoram contains many compounds that make it great for herbal medicine uses. Marjoram contains carvacrol for anti-fungal, and antibacterial, as well as champor, borneol and various terpenoids¬†for numbing and analgesic properties. Its analgesic qualities make it great for topical or internal use for pain of all sorts, and this is one herb that is fairly safe in small quantities over a long period of time. Its oils have been used for centuries to help treat inflammatory pain in joints and muscles, most frequently used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Topical application of these oils definitely helps with muscle spasm pain, and brings healing warmth to it as this is another warming oil. Remember bringing additional blood to an injured area helps it to heal faster, this is using the body’s natural healing system to help things along. It is also an antispasmodic so it helps to tell tight muscles to relax and release the tension from spasms, stress, or just over exertion.

Marjoram Massage Oil

  • 1 oz Carrier Oil (Sweet Almond, Avocado, Olive, etc)
  • 20-30 drops Sweet Marjoram oil (use 10-15 for this and additional oils if you decide to make a blend)

Mix well and store in a dark container, massage directly into sore muscles or joint. Avoid sensitive areas, this is a warming oil and can irritate. This is great for muscle pain and spasms as well as muscles exhausted and sore from exercise, as well as lady cramps. Since this is a warming oil

ProTip: To the above recipe instead of 20-30 drops add 10-15 of marjoram, and then add 10-15 of one or a few of these oils lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus. These will all add to the existing calming, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties of marjoram.

SleepyProTip: A great sleep blend is a drop of lavender and a drop of marjoram rubbed into the temples.

Since marjoram its an antispasmodic it also helps to sooth and calm a cramping digestive tract. Used internally or rubbed into the abdomen, it can relieve stomach and intestinal cramps. This is a great way to treat lactose intolerance as well! For stomach complaints, or just as an internal pain remedy, you can add 2-3 drops of marjoram oil to a gel capsule and take it. You can combine it with other oils like fennel or chamomile for stomach complaints, or with frankincense or lavender for spasms and pain.

If you are going to take an essential oil internally only use therapeutic grade essential oils, I recommend this one.

Or you can make a tea infusion, it is rather nice like a rosemary tea. Very fresh and vegetative tasting, remember though making it with fresh marjoram is usually preferred, but dried works just as well here.

Marjoram Tea

  • 1 teaspoon Fresh Marjoram (2 teaspoons dried)
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Steep in a covered teacup for 5-10 minutes, and drink. If you want to up its stomach calming power add in fennel seeds, chamomile, or ginger. You can also substitute a drop of sweet marjoram oil in warm water, or cool.

Marjoram not only helps with pain and stomach complaints it is also a great tea to have before bed time. It has a slight sedative quality, since it contains linalool, and if you need to be super sharp it is probably not the day time herb for you to use for pain or otherwise. Night time though, is its time to shine! It helps to calm the mind, like Tulsi (Holy Basil), and helps the mind to relax as well as the body. This means that sleep will come easier for those that have a hard time shutting down, and if all you can focus on is pain, sometimes helps the mind let that go so sleep can take hold. For stress reduction, it pairs extremely well with lemon balm and really helps to release stress.

SleepyProTip: Add a teaspoon of one or a few of these – Tulsi, lavender, or chamomile for a more relaxing sleepy tea.

I have brought up a few sleep aids before, and I can not stress enough how very important an adequate amount of sleep is. Sleep is your rest, repair, and recharge cycle for your body. This is when repairs and housecleaning is done, think of it like a computer defragging every night, the body asseses things, does some spring cleaning and if repairs are needed they can be done. Your body requires this time to function normally and it also has a great effect on your mental well-being. Sleep deprivation can cause irritability, depression, anxiety, moodiness, and even hallucinations. If you are in pain why add all of those issues to your existing ones? This is why I find that finding and using gentle, non-addictive, herbal sleep aids, since these are better than me up roaming the house at all hours of the night, because I can’t shut off.

Sometimes though, all you need is a hot calming bath, to shut off your mind or to ease pain in muscles and joints. Marjoram is a great bath addition, and it is so lovely smelling, you will want to bathe with it all the time. Its scent was used to freshen the air in the past, like I mentioned above, and is widely used in perfume and soap making. Believe me once you start, you will see why it is so widely used. After you use it, there is no going back, and it will be hard to go without a bit of marjoram in your bath.

Marjoram Epsom Salts

  • 5 cups (40 oz) Epsom Salts
  • 5-15 drops Sweet Marjoram Essential Oils
  • optional: 1 tablespoon of dried marjoram, or any other oils to increase stress reduction, reduce pain, or give sleepiness

Mix well and store in a dry, airtight container. Add a cup to a hot bath and soak that pain away! You can throw in a tablespoon or so of the dried herb as well in this to boost the potency. If you are suffering from some heinous lady cramps, this is a great way to help you through the pain, and it also helps if you have inflamed muscles from over exertion. It can make you drowsy though so this is best done at night, or when you have time to take a nap if you need it.

Marjoram Bath Tea

  • 2 tablespoons Marjoram, fresh or dried
  • 16 oz Boiling water

Brew like you would tea, in covered pot or cup and add to hot bath water. Just like the Epsom soak above this is also a great soak for sore muscles, lady cramps, muscle spasms, joint pain and inflammation.

Marjoram Compress

  • 2 tablespoons Marjoram, fresh or dried
  • 16 oz Boiling water
  • a towel or rag, large enough to cover the painful/sore area

Prepare like you would the bath tea above, but instead of adding to a bath allow to cool enough to be tolerable. Soak the towel in the infusion and apply to affected area, repeat as necessary. This is a great option if you are on the go, or don’t have access to a tub to soak in.

I am always a big fan of taking your medicine in your food so here is a few recipes that are great ways to integrate marjoram into your diet. First up is a delicious soup that is good for a cold winter night to lift your spirits and keep you warm.

Marjoram Lentil Soup

  • 2 cups of Puy Green lentils, soak for an hour prior to starting soup
  • 1 Yellow onion diced
  • 2 Stalks celery diced
  • 4-6 White or Red potatoes, diced
  • 2-3 Carrots diced
  • 2 cups of Broccoli florets
  • 2 teaspoon Marjoram, dried or minced fresh
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon Black pepper, ground
  • 2 teaspoons Cilantro fresh (may be omitted, or reduced to 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tablespoon Olive oil
  • 8 cups Water (you can use Chicken or Beef stock instead for a more hearty soup)

In a heavy soup pot, or dutch oven, add olive oil and heat until hot. Add onions and cook until clear, add in water and lentils. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 1 hour, after the hour add potatoes and celery.  Add broccoli and carrots after potatoes begin to soften, then add in herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer for a few minutes to combine flavors. Serve warm with crusty bread, or naan.

Since they are the most well known marjoram blends, I am going to give a za’atar recipe and herbs de Provence. Herbs de Provence are great for meatloafs and other meaty dishes, it goes great sprinkled over potatoes then roasting them, and loads of other delicious culinary things. ¬†Za’atar is possibly lesser known in the west, but it is just as awesome. It is a common spice blend in Middle Eastern and North African cooking. It goes great in meat, vegetable, rice and bread dishes, I find it is fantastic rubbed onto some flat bread and baked. Or just a teaspoon or so of it with some olive oil, and some bread for dipping, is a good snack for having a drink with friends or right before the main meal. Not only do they both taste great, but these are both great ways to have your food be your medicine, as I said above.

Za’atar

  • 1/4 cup Sumac (you will find this in most Middle Eastern style markets, it has a citrus flavor and you can in a pinch use some lemon zest but real sumac is best)
  • 2 tablespoons dried Thyme
  • 2 tablespoons dried Marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons dried Oregano
  • 1 tablespoon Roasted Sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Grind sesame seeds in mortar and pestle with the salt, or grind them in a food processor or blender. Add the remaining ingredients and give a quick pulse in a blender or processor, or a few good grinds with a pestle until you have a fairly uniform chunky mixture. Store in an airtight container for 3-6 months.

Herbs de Provence

  • 2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon dried Oregano
  • 2 tablespoons and¬†1 teaspoon dried Thyme
  • 2 tablespoons dried Savory
  • 2 tablespoons dried Lavender
  • 1 teaspoon dried Basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried Sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried, crushed Rosemary

Mix well and store in an airtight container, stores for about 3-6 months as well. This goes great as a crust for roasts, on roasted potatoes, even in bread! And like za’atar, is a great way to get an extra boost of marjoram and its healing properties in your diet.

Marjoram while considered to be “mostly harmless” can have some reactions with medications or if you are pregnant. So do make sure that you always check, even the mostly safe herbs, on WebMD just to be sure there will be no interactions with medications and so forth. Remember even water becomes poisonous if you have too much of it, so always use herbal medicine sensibly, with caution and respect. As always if you are in doubt about anything, ask a professional!


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How Do You Do It?

Sometimes I dread being asked this question, more than the small talk question of “how are you.” Unlike the inquiry of your state of being, that you may have to give the white lie of “I am OK” and be done with it, this question can’t be brushed off. Also I feel I don’t have a good, answer to this question. By that I mean I think –¬†“I don’t know, I just do,” followed by a shrug, a pretty lame answer.¬†“I just do” can even seem a rude, but in all reality, I don’t know any other way to be. People have told me I am unique, and that I am “strong.” I don’t know about all that, I personally think I am just a normal human. Anyone can do what I do, I really do think everyone is capable of living a happy and positive life even with chronic pain. So I will attempt to describe how I do what “I just do.”

Something I know for sure is I am stubborn, I have always been as stubborn as a mule. While this hasn’t always been a boon to me in all situations, I guess it could be a large motivation in my need to keep going. I have an almost blind determination to just make it through today, because tomorrow could bring something new. New information, new techniques, and new experiences. Possibly even a reduction in pain, but you don’t know unless you make it to tomorrow. I absolutely know that I have to see tomorrow, and no matter how bad I feel now tomorrow will eventually come.¬†This fierce determination springs from somewhere deep in me, bubbling up from a source that is, to be completely honest, hidden even to me. It could be my stubbornness, but a lot of days I am not really sure why I drag myself out of bed, and force myself to go through the motions of a normal day. There are a lot of days where just the act of getting out of bed is excruciating, but I do it. Sometimes its very, very slowly, but I still do it. I have to, something in me makes me feel I must. My stubborn mind tells me that staying in bed is not an option, so get up! There is stuff to do! I am even starting to wonder if I may actually be physically unable to stop completely. To just give up and wallow in a puddle of self pity and immobility seems to be something that is beyond me. I also think, just going through the motions makes you feel better, even if your pain levels don’t improve. More often than not it usually does improve my pain levels. Just like getting up, having a shower and getting dressed can make you feel better when you are feeling sick.

Another thing that helps me not start to slip into the quitter sort of thinking, is making sure I feel like I accomplished something. That feeling of despite everything stuff still got done, makes me feel like the day wasn’t completely surrendered to The Pain. You can say to yourself, “Hey Self! Even though you couldn’t do¬†everything¬†you wanted to today, you still did¬†something. Good job!” And you really do feel good about it. Even if that something seems simple like just sitting up for an hour, reading, or walking to the mailbox. Because sometimes, even though you may not want to admit it, that is all you are truly able to do. I have struggled with it, but I feel I have gotten to a point where I have accepted my new limitations. I set daily goals I can meet, and adjust them according to my pain.¬†Like I said it can be a struggle, especially if you are a person that was very active and forced to halt. Speaking as just such a person, it is¬†hard, but¬†not¬†impossible. Before my accident I was working a full time job, a commuter cyclist, and avid student of two styles of martial arts when I wasn’t cooking, sewing, reading, drawing, etc, etc, etc. Then my life came to a screeching halt. But like the saying goes, when one door closes, others open.¬†You have to embrace the fact that a simple task such as mopping the floor, cooking dinner, or even just walking the dog, could require hours, or even days, to recover from.¬†Tasks you did effortlessly before some have now become difficult, maybe even impossible. This wears on the psyche, and for me creates thoughts like…

“I am not who I was before…I am broken…I am useless…”

Thinking like this can really throw you into what I call a “well of despair.” That dark pit of soul crushing sadness, that sort of depression that makes everything seem not worthwhile. If one thinks only negative thoughts, it will only continue the descent into negativity, and inevitably giving up. It is a deep pit, one you have to claw and fight your way out of once you are init. Not many chronic pain sufferers escape alive once they allow themselves to fall in. One thing you always hear is suicide rates and that they are extremely high for chronic pain. Negative thinking is a slippery slope into that pit. It starts small, and seems innocent at the start, but it grows quickly. This then breeds depression, anxiety and stress. Pain is already isolating, it cancels plans, it doesn’t stop for birthdays or holidays, and it can make you want to withdraw from people and the world. Feeding it negative thoughts only increases its power, so why give pain more power than it already has?

Pain, especially chronic pain can be very hard. The worst thing when discussing it with people is, it is invisible. If you have a broken arm, people can see the cast. But being in pain doesn’t always show on the surface, or it is intentionally hidden, and this can sometimes lead to further isolation. People don’t understand that sometimes you have to cancel plans. That you can attempt to plan in advance but things are always “pending how I feel.” Friends can think you are avoiding them because you were able to do something one day, but then not at another. To top it all off, it is frustrating for you since you aren’t able to do what you want. The invisibility of pain can destroy relationships if you allow it, and sometimes even if you try not to. Pain separates you from your loved ones, your support, and makes it far easier to slip into the “well of despair.”

tumblr_meedbtFBCX1qdmh1ho1_1280

Sometimes its bigger than a well, sometimes its the size of the inside of a Tardis.

Also falling into that kind of thinking is a hard fight to get out of, harder still when you are fighting your own physical pain. So the best way to combat that is to not slip and fall into that trap, or, even better, be so far from the edge that it isn’t even a worry. Positive thinking, it is so so important, find that silver lining in all situations. This has kept me from the edge so far, and it really is an easy habit to keep once you get started.

Another way I have found works to fight falling in, is to keep my mind (or hands) busy.¬†Up wandering the house at night because you can’t sleep? Time to fold that laundry. Time to do some research. Time to work on my stretching exercises, or other exercise routines. Time to do some baking/cooking. Time to work on creating something. Time to do anything that will take your full focus, anything that takes your full focus means that you can not be also thinking about anything else that might be going on. This includes how much pain you are in. Being able to focus your mind so intently on something diverts it from the task of reminding you that something is hurting. It can give you a much needed emotional break at the worst of times, and it can feed into that feeling of accomplishment I mentioned earlier.

Everyone is different, and everyone’s perceptions shape them, but I think everyone is capable of living happily. You just have to chose to be so, no one, and no thing, will ever make you happy for you. You have to do it for yourself, and chronic pain sufferers can be happy, I am living proof! Every day is full of potential, seize it! As long as you never give up, and never surrender. Just do it and tomorrow will be right around the corner.


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Borage, the Starflower, Brings Always Courage

What a busy week! I have been enjoying my new freedom now that my marathon migraine from December has been banished. Now though things are settling back into routine, but it has been a great reminder that keeping your spirits up while you are hurting is so very important. So the bringer of courage, borage is the natural herb to discuss.

Borage, or Borago officinalis, probably not a plant most people in the States are familiar with, but very common, in Europe, Middle East and in the UK. This plant originally comes from the Mediterranean area, and the generally blue star shaped flowers is where it gets it’s common name of starflower. Other names are: bee bread, ox’s tongue, Herb of Gladness, and cool tankard (from its cooling effect in drinks in the days before ice beverages were common). Traditionally borage leaf is eaten in Mediterranean areas, it adds an almost cucumber like flavor to soups, sauces, salads, even as pasta filling. The infamous Pimms cocktail was originally garnished with borage flowers, but has in modern times been replaced by mint. Borage flowers are one of the few truly edible blue flowers, and has a sweet, almost a cucumbery, honey taste. They are quite delicious candied and added to desserts.

picture by Jengod

The ever so lovely starflower

Pliny the Elder wrote of borage that it dispels melancholy, there is a long tradition that borage helps to “gladden the heart” or help to generally improve the mood by relieving anxiety or tension. It for that reason is recommended by Culpeper for chronic illness sufferers, since this can wear on emotions. Gerard wrote:

“Pliny calls it Euphrosinum, because it maketh a man merry and joyfull: which thing also the old verse concerning Borage doth testifie:
Ego Borago – (I, Borage)
Gaudia semper ago. – (Bring alwaies courage.)”

This sturdying effect for emotions is possibly where it gets its name from, its thought from the Latin Borago, a corruption of corago. From cor for ‘the heart”, and ago¬†“I bring.” Its fortifying effects made it a tea that was taken by Greek soldiers prior to battle to help give them courage. Another etymological¬†origin is it could be derived from the Celtic word borrach which means ¬†a brave or courageous person. Dioscorides and Pliny both speculate that borage is the famous Nepenthe mentioned by Homer, that when drunk in wine becomes¬†“that which chases away sorrow,” making it the herb of forgetfulness. The addition of borage to wine was used up until the Middle Ages, where the flowers and leaves were added to wines to help dispel sadness.¬†The leaves of borage are traditionally used in the Middle East to treat chest colds and ailments, and it is thought that borage tea can help more oxygen to reach the heart.

Borage is an anti-inflammatory which will help to reduce pain and even in some cases to reduce any man made steroids that have been prescribed. This is also a great herb for post surgery inflammation, and to help with inflammation from allergies. The reason it works well as an anti-inflammatory is borage has high levels, in fact one of the highest plant sources available, of GLA. GLA is¬†Gamma-Linolenic acid¬†and is processed by the body into different things, but most importantly¬†prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are part of the body’s immune system and helps to fight inflammation. Most plants that carry large amounts of GLA are usually used by the natives for treating swelling issues. Native Americans used evening primroses, another plant source of GLA, to treat swelling traditionally.¬†This is a fairly gentle herb, but it can cause toxicity issues if taken over an extended period of time, it should not be taken for longer than a month.¬†The fresh leaves are preferred for most preparations, but dried works in a pinch. Young leaves are best for eating fresh like in salads, yogurt, sandwiches, or for cold beverages and teas. The older leaves can be cooked, like in Spain where it is commonly with potatoes. We have previously discussed how very important it is to keep your spirits up when dealing with chronic pain issues, and this is another great herb to add to your de-stress arsenal. Plus it is a two for one herb, got to love efficiency!

Simple Borage Tea

  • 1 tablespoon of bruised young leaves
  • 8 oz Boiling water

If you are unable to get fresh, 1 teaspoon of dried leaves will work just as well. Steep for 5-10 minutes, in a covered teacup or increase for steeping in a teapot. This is a fantastic tea to relieve inflammation, or just boost your spirits during a tough time, and to help reduce anxiety or fatigue from over work.

Since this is such a good pairing with cooling drinks, during a hot summers day the mix of lemon and the slight hint of cucumber borage brings is a great way to cool down.

Borage Lemonade

  • 1/4 c fresh squeezed Lemon juice
  • a tablespoon of honey (more or less can be used depending on how sweet you like things)
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 3-4 young borage leaves

For the lemon juice, quality and freshness is key, take the time to squeeze your lemons fresh you will notice the difference. Put all ingredients in a blender, blend until smooth. Strain and serve cold, borage flowers can be used as a garnish if you feel fancy. This recipe can also be increased for large numbers of people, and is a refreshing way to cool off on a hot afternoon. Not to mention it will help relieve any stress you are feeling.

Borage Cocktail

  • 3-5 young Borage leaves
  • 1 teaspoon of Simple Syrup (or less depending on how sweet you like things)
  • a shot of Gin (vodka or white rum works fine too)
  • Tonic, Club Soda, or Sparkling water
  • Lemon wedges

Muddle leaves in a highball glass and fill with ice, add shot of gin and the simple syrup. Fill glass the rest of the way with the fizzy water and add the lemon wedge. This is just about the most restorative drink you can have after a rough week.

ProTip: If you feel very fancy you can fill an ice cube tray halfway with water, freeze, and place borage flowers on them and cover with water the rest of the way. Freeze and serve in Borage Lemonade or in a Borage Cocktail.

And since wine was always a common vehicle for borage I have found this recipe floating around (claimed by a few different authors), but have not tried it myself, but did make a few changes because pink champagne is disgusting in my personal opinion. If you do try this let me know what you think!

Borage Wine Cup (Punch)

  • 5/8 cup Brandy
  • 1/8 cup Sugar
  • 3 1/4 cup Dry White Wine
  • 5/8 cup Orange Juice
  • 1 cup Crushed ice
  • 3 1/4 cup Champagne (or Sparkling Wine)
  • 1 cup Lemonade
  • 1 cup Ginger Ale
  • 1/4 cup Borage leaves, chopped
  • Borage flowers for garnish or flower ice cubes, orange slices

Combine brandy, sugar, wine, orange juice and crushed ice. Keep chilled until right before serving, this can be made in advance and whole orange slices can be added. Just before serving combine chilled champagne, lemonade, ginger ale (home made is best for this), borage leaves and add to existing punch. Serve chilled with borage flowers, or with borage flower ice cubes.

You can like mentioned previously just throw a few young leaves on your sandwich, or in a glass of water you would like to jazz up a bit. Dicing 3-4 leaves goes great in yogurt, and you can even throw them into your smoothies if you are looking for an on the go fix.

Now besides the leaves and flowers, the seeds of borage are used as well to make borage seed oil. Now there is some controversy around borage seed oil, since there was some marketing for it to treat eczema, for which there does not seem to be any evidence of it treating and this bad PR has followed poor borage ever since. Borage seed oil is a great way to keep borage around in a form that is more functional and retains more medicinal properties than the dried herb. Borage seed oil is in some ways a more condensed version of the plant itself. The oil has very high concentrations of the important GLA but it also has another important fatty acid, nervonic. This is a fatty acid that is used by the body to create the coating around nerve cell’s axons called myelin. Myelin is basically like the coating around a wire, it helps to prevent “signal loss” and allows nerve cells to function properly when sending nerve signals. Now in some nerve disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, this myelin layer can break down, or even disappear completely. CRPS has many symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis, and is a nerve issue, so it is possible that borage could be beneficial for CRPS symptoms. So far I have had good results, and I find that my nerve pain overall is more manageable when I use it, but time will tell though if this can be called an herb to assist with CRPS.

The one issue I have run into to borage seed oil is it is usually sold in pre-made preparations, it is important to do your research on a brand for yourself. Make sure you know that you are buying a pure product, as additives can cause unwanted side-effects. I would suggest using this as topically only, while there has been evidence shown that the seed oil does not contain high levels of the alkaloids that can cause liver toxicity, it is always better to be safe than sorry. A lot of local herb stores will carry borage seed oils, and your grocery or health stores will carry them as well. I tend to purchase mine from these locations and have had good results so far with it. Again, I have only used this topically, if you are sure you want to try this internally, I would suggest consulting your doctor, or herbal professional, before starting a regimen.

With any herbal remedy, you need to use caution. Borage has some components that if taken continuously over an extended period of time can cause health issues. It does have Pyrrolizidine alkaloid, in the fresh plant, which can start to become toxic after prolonged use, and some of the hairs on the leaves can be irritating to those with sensitive skin. Do your own research and see if this might be a good herb for you, always check WebMD for any reactions. And if ever in doubt about anything at all, ask a professional! 

For some more interesting borage recipes go here.


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Eucalyptus It Comes from the Land Down Under

Having lived in Sydney for a while in my youth, the smell of eucalyptus is extremely nostalgic for me. Many memories of smelling that sweet, pungent eucalyptus smell while playing cricket at school, playing in our backyard, traveling through the Blue Mountains. I loved the smell of eucalyptus, and remember often breaking those silvery, green leaves just to inhale that pungent and unique scent. If you have been near one, you can not help but love gum trees, and most Australians do. They form a large part of the iconic landscape of the land of Oz, and are now part of the modern mythology of Australia after May Gibbs wrote about tiny fairy children that lived in them.

Gumnut Babies!

The Blue Mountains get their name from the blue haze that hangs over them from the trees releasing their oils in the air, and its possibly this oil that scatters the blue light waves . This oil is what makes these trees so fragrant, and so useful medicinally. Eucalyptus was historically used by the native Aboriginal peoples of Australia for as long as their history records, and they used it for many of the same complaints that we still use it for today. They used eucalyptus as a tea, or infusion, of the leaves for body pains, wound care, sinus congestion, colds and fevers. It was seen as a general “cure-all” by most of the different tribes.

And the favorite food of some furry marsupials.

And the favorite food of some furry marsupials.

After the discovery of Australia by Europe, the use of eucalyptus was quickly adopted by the Europeans, and even more so once it became a penal colony. Surgeons from the¬†First Fleet¬†used oil of eucalyptus that they distilled themselves, to treat convicts, and the military men of the fleet, during the difficult early years of the convict colonies. During the 19th century it was even used as a disinfectant and planted in “fever districts,” which encouraged more research into, and production of, this valuable oil. Though its reduction of fever in those areas is less likely from the trees releasing oils, and more comes from the tree’s ability to quickly absorb available ground water. Thus reducing habitats for fever, and malaria, causing mosquitoes. Eucalyptus trees can absorb vast amounts of water, making them ideal for planting in marshy areas rife with sickness. A famous instance of this is¬†St Paul at the Three Fountains¬†that was in¬†Roman Compagna¬†–¬†which if you know anything about Italy’s history was an area that was abandoned and labeled as inhospitable in some eras, due to malaria. After the planting of a eucalyptus tree there in 1870, it was inhabitable year round.

Eucalyptus oil, once it hit the world market, was highly desired for medicinal uses and preparations. Soon it was being mass produced, and found its way into surgeries as an antiseptic, in cold remedies, to treat respiratory infections, and for general disinfecting.¬†The person that can be credited with the spread of eucalyptus, and the knowledge of all its many uses, is Ferdinand von Mueller. It was his interest in botany, and his observations that started the western world on the path to using eucalyptus. He noticed the similarity in smell to Cajaput oil, which led him to speculate that the oil of these eucalyptus trees could be¬†antiseptic, or fever reducing. This speculation, and desire to treat malaria, led to the Western interest in this new plant. Seeds were sent to France,¬†and through France to Algeria, and eucalyptus trees helped to get rid of marshy, swampy areas of fever causing mosquitoes, making it much more inhabitable. Because of Ferdinand’s work eucalyptus oil, or sometimes called “Sydney Peppermint,” became fairly widely used in the medical community around the world. It was well known for its use as a catheter cleaner in 20th century medicine, but it also was used during World War I for fighting¬†meningitis, and during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.

That multipurpose usefulness has kept eucalyptus in the modern medical repertoire, in fact most people have probably smelt eucalyptus in chest salves for colds, and in some throat and cold lozenges. There have been scientific studies into its effectiveness as an antibacterial, and is well known for being great for fighting staphylococcus aureus. It is great for clearing a stuffy head, and soothing the aches and pains of chest colds, but I find it also works great topically for muscle pain, and migraines as well. But before we get too deep into uses, like chamomile, there are a few different species of eucalyptus available…well more than a few really. There are about 300 species of eucalyptus, and even more if you count sub-varieties. So lets break it down.

Eucalyptus globulus РAKA Blue Gum, Tasmanian Blue Gum

This is one of the oils that has some of the highest cineole (or eucalyptol) content, about 80%-70% on average, and this is the chemical that gives eucalyptus its distinct smell, as well as camphor, rosemary, and other similar plants. This is a very common species in its native Australia, and it has spread around the world due to its rapid growth, and ease of cultivation. This species is virtually phellandrene free, which makes it a favorite for internal preparations (usually flavoring), but I would strongly suggest not taking any eucalyptus oil internally since it can rapidly become toxic, always better to be safe than sorry! Topically it is a great anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic, decongestant and deodorant. I personally use it for its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties, and I find it is great for migraine pain and rheumatoid arthritis as well. All forms of eucalyptus are warming oils, so like peppermint and other warming oils, you want to avoid application to sensitive skin areas. This is the most powerful of the oils, and should really be diluted in a carrier oil if you are going to apply it topically.

This is also great for burns, blisters, cold sores, bug bites cuts and abrasions. It helps in healing, and it helps to fight infection as an antibacterial, and as an antiviral. It works great as a decongestant and provides relief from coughs when applied to the chest.

Eucalyptus radiata РAKA Narrow-leaved Peppermint, Forth River Peppermint

This oil is the second highest cineole content, about 75%-60% on average, and is a much gentler oil than the E. globulus eucalyptus. It is slightly more floral and citrus in scent than E. globulus. You tend to find this more in mouthwash and dental preparations due to its more gentle nature. It is an excellent antibacterial, and a competent antiviral as well. Like E. globulus it is a great topical analgesic and anti-inflammatory, as well as a great for fighting colds and as a decongestant. This oil, while still warming, I find gentle enough for direct application for pain or sore muscles, but you do still want to avoid sensitive skin areas.

This is a great addition to any acne regimen, direct application or adding it to other oils in a skin cream is a great acne fighting solution. This is also a great addition to any hand sanitizers, disinfecting sprays or for cooling sprays.

Eucalyptus polybractea РAKA Blue Mallee, Australian Tea Tree

This has probably the highest cineole content ranging from 80-90%, and you will notice this has more of the camphor-like medicinal scent that most people associate with eucalyptus. This is like the other species, a great topical pain, anti-inflammatory and just all around good for sore, tired muscles.  The downside is the more medicinal smell to this than the more plant like E. globulus or E. radiata species. You do want to dilute this with a carrier oil if you are going to apply it topically. This is a good addition to a lotion bar, or pain bar, for post-activity aches and pains. This is, like the others, a warming oil still and can bring warmth and relaxation to tense muscles with massage. With the high levels of cineole, this is the best antiseptic available of the different species, and works well as an antibacterial for wound care or general cleaning. Which means it is a great addition to sanitizing sprays, gels, and great for after illness cleaning. It is also lower in chemicals that irritate mucus membranes, and is a great option for inhaling to help with congestion or coughs.

This is also a great addition to a cleaning or laundry routine. It helps to remove grease stains, and it also can remove gum or other sticky things from clothing or glass and the like.

Eucalyptus dives РAKA Broad-leaved Peppermint, Peppermint Eucalyptus

This is a strong species, with 70-80% cineole, and should only be used topically and not be ingested. It can also be more irritating for people with very sensitive skin. It has higher phellandrene and piperitone than other species, which gives it that peppermint like smell. This means its best used for colds and coughs as an inhalant or part of a chest salve or plaster. It can be used topically, if diluted in a carrier oil, but it is better used as an insect repellent and cold aid, than for pain relief. This is still a great warming oil that works well to warm and soothe muscles after stretching or exercise. It a great antibacterial, and like other species can be added to cold and sanitizing preparations, external only though!

Eucalyptus bicostata РAKA Eucalyptus Blue

This is a topical only again, and is the best eucalyptus for respiratory issues. it contains high levels of alpha-pinene, which is also found in pine and rosemary. This can be added to a massage regimen if diluted in a carrier oil, and it has great muscle relaxing properties. You should though, combine this oil with other oils, for the most pain relieving ability. This is a bronchodilator and is great for chest cold preparations or even asthma sufferers can benefit from this being diffused in the air.

Combined with other oils like rosemary, lavender, or others this is a great addition to a massage oil blend. Otherwise, use this when you need your head cleared from a bad cold, or to just aid with breathing issues. This can be applied closer to sensitive areas like the eyes, without the eye watering effect of the others.

How To Use It

So now you know about the different types, time to discuss how to use it. Since most of these have similar properties, I am just going to list eucalyptus oil in the ingredients. You should select the oil you add to this based on the properties you need most. And remember, warming oil, never put this on sensitive skin areas!

First off, a massage oil blend.

Eucalyptus Massage Oil

  • 1 oz Carrier oil
  • 15-30 drops of Eucalyptus oil
  • optional: add 10 drops of other eucalyptus oils, or add other oils (Lavender, Rosemary, Peppermint, Frankincense, etc) for additional pain relief or anti-inflammatory properties.

Mix well and store in a dark container, apply directly to painful areas, or sore muscles, and massage in. You can use just eucalyptus and massage this into the chest and neck area for chest cold relief. You can also rub this oil on exposed areas as insect repellent.

ProTip: If you do a test patch first to make sure that it won’t cause issues, you can use a drop or two of the essential oil of eucalyptus directly on your skin for insect repellent, and pain or cold relief.

Eucalyptus Salt Soak

  • 5 cups (40 oz) Epsom Salts
  • 5-15 drops Eucalyptus Essential Oils
  • optional: any additional oils for any additional properties needed

Mix well and store in a water proof container, add about a cup of mixture to a hot bath and soak in delicious muscle relaxing bliss. This is a great soak for muscle pains, and helps with migraines from muscle tension or spasms.

“After Sports” Eucalyptus Soak

  • 1/2 cup Citric Acid
  • 1 cup Baking Soda
  • 1 cup Epsom Salts
  • 20-30 drops of Eucalyptus Oil

Mix well and store in airtight container (or it will lose its fizz), add a few tablespoons to a hot bath. It should be fizzy, and is a wonderful soak after a hard work out session. It helps relax and soothe both the skin and muscles. You can add an additional cup of sea salt to this as well.

Eucalyptus is fantastic in salves & balms, which if you would like to read a good explanation on what salves and balms are, with some good instructions on how to make a few types, go here.

Eucalyptus Salve “Cheater” Version

  • 2 oz Coconut oil
  • 10-20 drops of Eucalyptus oil

Use whisk attachment in a stand mixer, and whip coconut oil until soft and creamy. With machine still whisking add in a drop at a time the essential oil. Store in airtight jar, or clean reused jar lotion container, this will have the consistency more of a body butter but it gets the job done and is easy to make. This is a great for massaging into muscle pains, or applied to the chest for colds.

Eucalyptus Salve

  • 1/3 c Oil (Sunflower, Almond, Apricot, just should be of vegetable origin)
  • 1/3 oz Bees Wax, granulated, or grated
  • 5-10 drops of Eucalyptus oil

Heat oil in a double boiler, and slowly add bees wax. Stir until fully melted and combined. Remove from heat and stir in by hand the essential oils. Pour into small, preferably glass, seal-able containers and store in a cool dry place. You can test to see if your salve will set with the method listed on Whispering Earth, using a spoon to dip out a small amount to see if it sets correctly. If you find it does not, you can add more beeswax a few grains at a time until the right consistency is achieved.

This like the “cheater” salve is great for muscle pains, and for chest colds.

You can make a sanitizing spray and a sanitizer as well (like with rosemary). Below is a purse, or travel friendly, version of a sanitizing spray and gel, either can be used on the hands or on surfaces that you wish to disinfect.

Eucalyptus Sanitizing Spray

  • 2 oz spray bottle
  • 10-20 drops Eucalyptus essential oil (or oils if you would like to use more than one eucalyptus)
  • 1 3/4 to 2 oz Witch Hazel
  • optional: any additional oils you would like to add to boost its germ killing ability

Mix well and store in spray bottle, mist on to hands and rub in, or mist directly onto a surface to disinfect.

Eucalyptus Sanitizing Gel

  • Pump or squeeze container
  • 1 oz aloe gel
  • 10-30 drops Eucalyptus oil
  • 1 oz Witch Hazel

Mix well, I prefer to give this a spin in the blender to make sure it is of an even consistency, you can use a food processor too. Store in a squeeze container in purse, or carry on, for a quick squirt of hand sanitizer gel.

Of course there are a lot of sites, and stores, that offer pre-made blends of oils, or other preparations with eucalyptus in them, and those are a great way to¬†easily¬†use eucalyptus if you aren’t the DIY type. The down side is there are literally tons of them. So I would say, if you¬†want to go this pre-made path, do some research on the ingredients, species used, and amounts, and see if this will work for your issues cold, pain or otherwise. Also I would also recommend trying a few brands before sticking with a specific one.

Remember these are all warming oils, and should not be used on sensitive skin. They also should not be used internally unless under the direct supervision of a healthcare expert. Always do your own research and trials to see what works best for you, since everyone is different! Check for interactions on WebMD. And like I always say, if you are in doubt, ask a professional!