Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Sandalwood, good for just about everything!

Life, is chaotic as usual! I have a lot of sewing projects (a lot) along with a lot (seriously too many) of migraines (so many it took way too long to finish this post). Time to sit and write feels so precious these days, and this post took way longer than I wanted to get out. But, without my writing I don’t feel whole – so I make time! (  >_<)9

The Hubs is growing a beard, seems to be all the rage these days with the male of our species in my age group. He went to get a shave and a haircut at a local place and they put some oil on his beard for conditioning it. He loved it, and I thought it smelled really great! Like cut wood and lovely (he would probably disapprove of that term but who cares 😉 ). So we looked up the ingredients, because I wanted to make it for him – like I love to do, and of course one of the ingredients was sandalwood – the others were pine and cedar wood with some hair friendly carrier oils, (remember rosemary is good for head hair, it is light and won’t weigh it down). Sandalwood had popped up in my saffron post, and I was growing more curious about it after reading some snippets here and there about it. So the dive into research began!

History and Uses of Sandalwood

Wow.Who knew that sandalwood was so cool? Well most of ancient India that is for sure! I love the stories surrounding the Gods and Goddesses of India, Durga, Sarasvati, and Lakshmi are personal favorites. So imagine my happiness when I found out that Sandalwood is sacred to that lovely Goddess Lakshmi! She is thought to reside in the wood itself, as mentioned by the Brahma Vaivarta Purana.

image from www.chitrahandicrafts.com

Lakshmi carving of made of Sandalwood (you can buy these from the site linked…for a pretty penny)

The name Sandalwood comes from a corruption of the sanskrit word Chandam, which then evolved through linguistic corruption into Sandal possibly along the path Chandam → Sandanam → Sandalum → Sandal. Chandam could mean literally “wood for burning incense” or “shining, glowing” from candrah. Most likely the word we use today is from a late Greek word – santalon – which probably influenced Medieval Latin to create sandalum which then led to sandell in Old French and then sandal in modern English.

Sandalwood and some sandalwood powder.

Sandalwood heartwood and some sandalwood powder.

All sandalwoods are what is known as a hemiparasite which Wikipedia defines as –

“a plant that is parasitic under natural conditions and is also photosynthetic to some degree. Hemiparasites may just obtain water and mineral nutrients from the host plant. Many obtain at least part of their organic nutrients from the host as well.”

Sandalwood is very similar, as well as related, to the well known mistletoe. While they do photosynthesize to create their own food, many of the species also have a taproot that seeks out other plants and then feeds from them. Sandalwood has a sad story of destruction and overuse by humans, so it is extremely important to not only check for the species of sandalwood used in an oil, but also that it is sourced in a sustainable and ethical way. Generally the more expensive the sandalwood oil is, the more likely it is of the right species and from a legit harvester that is approved by the Indian government. Since it is so endangered in the wild there are strict harvesting rules and regulations around sandalwood trees. Sandalwoods are very slow growing trees, which makes restoring the wild population difficult when illegal harvesting is happening. And the older the tree the better quality and stronger smelling the oils (and wood will be).

It’s scent is what makes it so alluring, and I know well of this. My parents lived in China right before I was born, and I had a lot of unusual things growing up. One of them was a carved sandalwood fan, it was so delicate and I would take it out of its little protective box to just sit and smell it.

My fan looked much like this sandalwood carved fan

The scent was just so addictive to me even then, and I think this scent is what has drawn humanity to it over the centuries. It is also used in a lot of religious carvings from prayer beads, to statues of gods and goddesses, to even little fans like mine.

Sandalwood has a large part in human history as well as religions. Sandalwood is mentioned in Indian texts for at least 2,000 years and was used for religious practices as well as medical uses for possibly up to 4,000. It is basically a huge part of life in Hindu culture, it is used in birth rituals, marriage ceremonies, and death rituals. It is used in its oil form, and the wood is used in a powdered form and both are used for the aforementioned religious and medicinal reasons – which I briefly mentioned in the saffron post since it is great for skin masks, soaps, and other preparations, and helps treat and reduce acne as well as other skin conditions. It was also very prized for religious carvings, and for other carved wood products since it retains its scent for decades. In Hinduism specifically it is used as a paste, which is mixed with saffron or other herbal pigments, and is called chandan. Chandan is sacred and can only be prepared by those who are ritually pure. The paste is then used by devotees and is put on the forehead, neck or chest in a ritual manner. Chandan can also be mixed with herbs, or other items to create javadhu which is generally used as a perfume or mixed with water to make a paste and used as deodorant.

Typical Javadhu powder you would find in a store

In both Hinduism and Ayurveda sandalwood is a very holy, and thought to bring one closer to the divine (hence its use as a ritual paste) in fact it is one of the most holy elements to Hindu practitioners or followers of the Vedas and sometimes applied before prayers.

In Buddhism it is also mentioned in some of the sutras (or sutta, depending on which flavor of Buddhism you follow), specifically the Pali Canon mentions it. There is even a legend that as the Buddha died, sandalwood powder fell from the heavens. Sandalwood is thought to be of the lotus (padma) group for the Amitabha Buddha, and is considered one of the three main incenses that are integral to Buddhist practice in general. Sandalwood is thought to focus the mind, and keep one alert during meditation, as well as transform “desires.” It is the most popular for offering incense to oneself in Buddhism.

In the Sufi tradition of Islam sandalwood paste is applied to the grave of a saint by devotees, a mark of respect and of devotion – mostly practiced by people in Southern India where Tamil culture has an influence. In Chinese and Japanese local custom it is also a common incense used in worship and other ceremonies. In Zoroastrianism (in which fire is very sacred) the priests, Mobads, that keep the fire offer it sandalwood – but it is not used in home offerings to the sacred lamps kept in the home. Sandalwood purchased in a fire temple is often more expensive than elsewhere since it is a common form of income for the temple and the Mobads.

Why and How it Works

Some of the chemicals you can find in sandalwoods are santalin (which provides the red color for dying), santene (a terpine that is also in pine needles), tannic acid (same stuff you get in wine!) and santalols. The main chemical that is important in sandalwood for medicinal use is santalol.

Alpha-santalol-stickModel

Alpha-Santalol in its chemical format

Beta-Santalol in its chemical format

Beta-Santalol in the same

Which is broken into two different chemicals α-santalol and β-santalol. Alpha seems to be the most common chemical, but seems like the beta version is the most medicinally useful. It is pretty hard to find medicinal journals that speak of trials and uses of santalol in medical tests but there is a mention in a medical journal of pharmacy ….from 1911. Though it is useful since it points out that sandalwood oil is not very pleasant in taste (though I, personally, would not suggest taking this internally). There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that there are antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent, slight sedative, and good for the respiratory system, hair, and skin. The German government has approved sandalwood oil as a treatment for urinary tract infections, so there is at least some scientific evidence that it is effective for treating infections, but other than that official scientific studies are very scarce. The most interesting point of the German studies is that the oil needs to be coated so that the oils are not released until it hits the small intestine – or it could cause irritation. For this reason I again – do not advise taking this internally.

There seems to be some evidence of its anti-inflammatory action again no firm scientific trials but there is a ton of folk medicine and word of mouth evidence to back this up. Same with the antispasmodic but, again not nearly enough evidence scientifically to completely back these claims, but 4,000 years of history must have something to it. I have found that its use helps with pain, and spasms – especially when massaged into a painful area (with a carrier oil, this tends to need to be diluted). I have not tried it personally as a sedative, though I find the scent quite soothing. It’s antiseptic properties make it a fantastic addition to deodorant since it helps to kill any bacteria that would be lurking around in your armpits. Its skin properties help with scar treatments (like lavender does) and helps soften and soothe, and helps sooth skin inflammation as well as things like eczema. Its astringent nature as well as its antiseptic, make it also great for treating acne. It also helps soften hair, and moisturize it, so it is great to apply to hair  on your head (like rosemary, though it is not as light as rosemary) or hair on your face (if you’re a guy 🙂 ).

Floral scents like lavender or geranium blend well with sandalwood, as well as clove, bergamot, vetiver, and black pepper.

Sustainability & True Species

Like all things that are expensive – saffron, cinnamon and frankincense are good examples – sandalwood oils can be adulterated or diluted at the cheap end of the spectrum. And the actual stuff is expensive – like Lemon Balm oil level which makes frankincense look cheap! I found that it is actually one of the most highly adulterated oils for sale on the market. That means if you see a 9-13$ bottle – you are probably getting mostly jojoba oil or some other carrier oil – or not even a drop of real sandalwood oil. Real sandalwood oil (Santalum album) is in the 100$+ range, which is really prohibitive for some pockets. So you can purchase the cheaper stuff, and this is the cheapest one I trust using on my skin. If you want to go “whole hog” I would go with this site or this one (which also has powdered sandalwood) since they are sustainably and ethically harvested. As you can see the cheapest one is actually a blend of species, since they are all technically all sandalwood but not the “top” species (though they are all good species in the blend as we will discuss further down).

This is another one of those “you get what you pay for” type things. Like the cinnamon I mentioned – if it is cheap, it probably is cassia. Once you have had true cinnamon, there is nothing like the real thing! But what is the right species of sandalwood? Well you could make a blanket statement like all trees of the Santalum genus are real sandalwoods. Which would mostly…mostly be true.

My husband will be pleased with this. Mostly.

My husband will be pleased with this image. Mostly…

But there are a few main species used for sandalwood that you should be familiar with and are the most commonly used.

Indian Sandalwood – (Santalum album)

Santalum album

Other Common Names – White Sandalwood, East Indian Sandalwood, Chandana, or Chandam

First up is the king of all sandalwood species (or would it be queen?) either way Santalum album is the one that is most commonly used, and is sadly the most threatened of species due to poaching and illegal logging. Also this is the wood that sandalwood is named from since Chandam is the Sanskrit word that led to the modern English word. This species is currently the most vulnerable to extinction in the wild, which you may have heard of due to the exploits of Veerappan, a well known sandalwood smuggler. Often used in religious carvings, and as a powder (then made into a paste) is smeared on devotees or made into incense. It is also used for folk medicine and was used to treat: common colds, bronchitis, skin disorders, heart ailments, general weakness, fever, infection of the urinary tract, inflammation of the mouth and pharynx, liver and gallbladder complaints and other maladies. It is known to be effective (from folk medicine history and some medical trials) in treating analgeisc (specifically calming to nerves), antidepressant, antifungal, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent (good for acne and skin), sedative and a fantastic scent to add to perfumes, soaps, and deodorants.

Coast Sandalwood – (Santalum ellipticum)

Santalum ellipticum

Santalum ellipticum

Other Common Names – ʻIliahialoʻe, or Hawaiian Sandalwood

Hawai’ians used the heartwood (‘la’au ‘ala) for its oils, and was often exported to China during the years 1790-1840 for production of carved objects, chests, and joss sticks (incense). The natives used the wood to make the decks of their double hulled canoes (wa’a kaulua) and the heartwood was used to make perfumes and sometimes added to kapa cloth possibly for its fragrance. The leaves and bark were used after burning to ash to treat dandruff and head lice. Shavings of the wood in combination with other plants were used to treat some sexually transmitted diseases.

Australian Sandalwood – (Santalum spicatum)

image by http://www.gilbertdashorstart.com/

Santalum spicatum

This is a species that comes from Western Australia, and its export is a major part of their economy. Its oil was first distilled in 1875, and was produced here and there for a few decades until the 1990’s when it experienced a resurgence which increased (and is still increasing) since it is often used in the perfume industry, very popular with aromatherapists, and in chewing tobacco. This is a much less threatened species, and is almost equal in medicinal properties to Santalum album without the worry of using an extremely endangered species. So if you are unable to afford or can not find ethically sourced Santalum album, this is a good (and less costly) alternative. Testing shows pretty strongly, so far, that it has a lot of great antimicrobial properties, as well as all the stuff listed for Santalum album (since they are so closely related their chemical makeup is very similar and makes it a fantastic stand-in for the more expensive sandalwood).

Other Santalum species you may see are: S. acuminatum, S. austrocaledonicum, S. boninense, S. fernandezianum, S. freycinetianum, S. haleakalae, S. lanceolatum, S. macgregorii, S. murrayanum, S. obtusifolium, S. paniculatum, S. yasi. These species you may see pop up in the occasional commercial preparation, but are not commonly used nor are their medicinal properties well known.

The Fakes

These species, while useful in their own rights are not sandalwoods and are occasionally used as an adulterant in real sandalwood oils or preparations. These should be avoided if you are looking for a real sandalwood.

  •  Adenanthera pavonina sometimes called Red Sandalwood, but this is not sandalwood. Its seeds while toxic when eaten raw are safe to eat when cooked and have been used to treat inflammation in folk medicine.
  • Amyris balsamifera – known as Balsam Torchwood this is a common species accepted by a lot of perfumers and aromatherapy blends.
  • Baphia nitida called African Sandalwood Camwood or Barwood, its bark and heartwood make a red dye, it is known as Osun in Yoruba and is a part of a brand of Nigerian black soap called Dudu Osun.
  • Eremophila mitchelli also called False Sandalwood, Sandalbox and Rosewood Belvory as well as other common names. While native to Australia it is considered an invasive species in some areas of Australia and is illegal to plant.
  • Myoporum platycarpum sometimes called Sugarwood, False Sandalwood as well, which is another native of Australia but is mostly toxic and just the sap is edible, but can not be produced by wounding the tree.
  • Myoporum sandwicense another False Sandalwood, or Bastard Sandalwood, Naio in the native Hawai’ian. It was used in making canoes, fishing net spacers and torches for night fishing. It is a very oily wood and was part of the woods exported to China for Joss stick production.
  • Osyris lanceolata known as African Sandalwood as well, but is generally in Southern parts of Africa, it is over logged despite government protection. Its wood is used for utensils and firewood, and in some communities it is used to preserve milk in gourds for long periods of time.
  • Osyris tenuifolia or Osyris lanceolata known as East African Sandalwood or again as False Sandalwood. Not much information is available on this species.

Recipes

Easy Sandalwood Lotion

  • 2 oz Coconut Oil
  • 10-20 drops of Sandalwood oil (or 1/2 teaspoon of Sandalwood powder)

Take the coconut oil, and whip 2 oz of solid at room temperature coconut oil in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, and adding 10-20 drops of the essential oils. You can also use a bit (half a teaspoon to a teapoon depending on how thick or honey-like you want your lotion. Raw honey is good wound healing and for your skin too.

You can also just add a drop or two of Sandalwood essential oil to your regular routine, or just massage a little into problem areas with a carrier oil (Sweet Almond oil is a good alternative if coconut oil makes you break out).

Saffron & Sandalwood Lotion

  • 1/4 cup Whole almonds
  • 1/4 cup Strained Yogurt (or Plain Greek yogurt)
  • 2 teaspoons Lime or Lemon juice
  • pinch of Ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sandalwood
  • pinch of Saffron

First make your strained yogurt, if you don’t know how to do this go here and follow the instructions. Then soak the almonds in a bowl of water overnight, peel the skins off the next morning and grind into a fine paste in a food processor or strong blender. Add in the strained yogurt, lime (or lemon) juice, turmeric, sandalwood, and the saffron threads. Blend again in the food processor or blender until smooth and creamy. This cream can be stored in a clean container in the fridge for about a week, and you should apply it after washing your face at night. Smooth it all over your skin and massage in gently, in the morning wash your face again.

Both of these lotions are good for fighting acne, skin rashes, eczema, sunburns, helps reduce age spots and brighten dull skin. It even does a lot if you massage it into scars, helping to soften them and reduce their visibility, you can even add in a bit of lavender too to help with the redness of scarring if you are treating that. Really it does your skin good and will help just about anything to do with skin 🙂 there is some evidence even that it may help with Rosacea, though it may irritate some skin types that have Rosacea so make sure to do a test patch before you attempt to treat it with sandalwood oil.

Sandalwood Steaming

  • 2-5 drops Sandalwood oil
  • Bowl of hot water, must be steaming
  • Towel

Place a few drops into the bowl of hot water, place towel over your head and allow the steam to bathe the face. This another way to treat skin issues, or to treat very dry skin, or chapped skin.

ProChestColdTip: If you have a chest cold or respiratory issues, or even laryngitis, you can do this with some eucalyptus since there is some evidence that sandalwood can act as an expectorant and has antiviral properties.

ProStressTip: This can also be really good for stress, as the smell is very soothing, and has a mild sedative action, but I would suggest using meditation while inhaling the scent of just the sandalwood oil to reduce stress and bring relaxation.

Woodsy Beard Oil

  • 25 milliliters Carrier oil (this can be straight or a blend, 100 drops = about 5 ml)
  • 2 milliliters (about 50 drops) Sandalwood oil
  • 1 milliliter Cedarwood oil
  • 2 milliliters Pine oil

Mix well and store in a dark bottle, apply a few drops to hands and massage into beard. Comb through with beard brush or beard comb. Trust me guys your ladies will love this

The carrier oil can be anything you like, jojoba is good, vitamin E is great, argan oil is all the rage these days. Grapeseed, hemp, coconut, sweet almond, olive and apricot are all ok as well – it is really up to you on this and what works best with your face and hair and you can combine them and do half and half, or whatever combo you prefer most. Since you will be putting this on your face it will condition and soften your skin (especially with sandalwood oil) and condition and soften your beard hairs. This will make about an ounce, and you can either use a bottle with a dropper or you can use a bottle that has a built in dropper like on most essential oil bottles. You can even re-use some essential oil bottles for this.

ProScentsTip: You can also substitute the pine or cedarwood for lime and rosemary respectively, for a more citrusy smelling oil. You can also check out this site which has some great links for bottles, measuring equipment (if you don’t have anything to measure milliliters with) and some other recipes.

Muscle Spasm Massage Oil

  • 1 ounce Carrier oil
  • 10-20 drops Sandalwood oil (or 1/2 teaspoon Sandalwood powder)
  • 10 drops Wintergreen
  • 10 drops Cardamom

Mix well it is best to use an oil that is liquid at room temperature, if you use coconut oil that is not, you may want to whip this in a stand mixer to make it easier to apply. This is a great oil to massage into painful muscle spasms, or for general muscle pain (especially back pain!). The sandalwood and cardamom will help release the muscles and relax them, and the wintergreen will provide warming (which always helps muscles release) as well as providing a natural aspirin component to alleviate pain further.

Sleeping Sandalwood & Lavender

  • 1-2 drops Lavender oil
  • 1-2 drops Sandalwood oil

Massage into temples and inhale the lovely scents deeply. This is a combination that I find many swear by, and I do like the combination. It isn’t as powerful as hops, but it will definitely send you off to a sweet smelling dreamland.

ProMigraineTip: Since lavender and sandalwood oil are antispasmodics as well as good for treating pain, these are also great to massage into the temples if you are suffering a migraine.

If you suffer from dandruff you can also use sandalwood oil to treat it, and you can use the Best Shampoo Ever Recipe I posted previously as a base for it. Also sandalwood as I mentioned is great as a deodorant, you can add the oils to the Best Deodorant recipes I posted (any of them in the post will work) or you can use sandalwood paste to make your own. Simply take your sandalwood powder, mix with small amounts of water until it forms a paste and apply with the hands to the armpits.

Remember, everyone’s body is different and has different chemistry so always do your own experiments and see what works best for you. Always check sites like WebMD for interactions with any medications you might be taking, and remember check for ethically sourced, and sustainably harvested sandalwood oil. You will pay a little more, but it is worth supporting people who want to make sure this tree is around for future generations. And as always, if you have any doubts whatsoever – ask a professional!

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Cardamom, Holiday Love Potion #9

Happy New Year Everyone!!! What a great year 2015 will be! The best yet!

Finally, winter is officially here, and that means – winter colds (bleh!) & holiday stress (double bleh!). Everyone seems to be getting sick, and this is that time of year when I keep ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom close at hand. Then you get weather changes, and that means horrible migraines. So I tend to hole up, and hibernate, in winter. I venture out even less, since my poor immune system can’t take the cold, and the direct assault of microbial evil, plus all the people out for holiday shopping is overwhelming to my senses as well as a moving people shaped mass of infection. Of course prevention tea helps stave off most anything winter can throw at you – colds, flu and virus-y type things. But did you know that if you add cardamom to your food and drink, or if you drink chai tea (or even chai coffee) that there are a lot of elements in it that helps to stave off colds as well as ease pain, lessen stress, and many other things? That is right, that chai latte you are craving could have those calories written off as medicinal!

So, start taking notes because cardamom is a great way to fight holiday stress & anxiety, winter colds, and even migraines from stress (or winter weather if you are like me). You can also seem like an awesome host, since it is another relaxing warm drink to serve, and it is lovely to experience the aroma of the spices as you chat and warm yourself by the fire. It’s sensual smell has led it to be used in many love potions and perfumes to lure the opposite sex. So, since every King of Spices needs it’s Queen, I bring you…Cardamom!

Lean green fighting pod machines.

Lean, green, anxiety fighting pod-machines!

Now if you know more than the average bear about cardamom, you will know there are actually more than one sort. So to keep this post below epic proportions, I will only be covering Green Cardamom or Elettaria cardamomum, and not Black Cardamom, that will be for another time :). The genus name of green cardamom, elettaria is derived from the Tamil words for “cardamom seeds.” Though this word could be much older, and the term cardamom we now use, could be derived from Dravidian, which is basically the grandparent language of Tamil. The Greeks called the pod kardamomon, which is another contender for the likely root word for this sweet little pod, though the exact etymological roots of the English term is not fully known. A lot of Westerners are not familiar with the taste of cardamom, or have even seen it before. I have been quite amused recently serving people cardamom coffee, mostly to see if they notice the difference and if they enjoy the additional flavor. It is sometimes difficult explaining what is in it, since almost none have even heard of cardamom, and then showing them what cardamom looks like. You get some suspicious glances at first, but the lovely smell from the jar, and the taste of the coffee seems to win most people over fairly quickly.

The History and Uses of Cardamom

As you can see it looks a lot like ginger and turmeric, we are just aren't concerned with the roots this time!

As you can see it looks a lot like ginger and turmeric, we are just aren’t concerned with the roots this time!

Thankfully chai tea (or if you want to get really technical masala chai, but I will refer to it as just chai) has made it’s way into popular Western culture, and cardamom should taste familiar now to most palates that have had chai flavored things. Cardamom is the dominant flavor in most traditionally made masala chai, but in the States it may be more cassia you are tasting with little to no cardamom, so you may have missed out on the best sort of chai if you only are purchasing pre-packaged or commercially made preparations. That is why I highly suggest you make your own chai at home, it is fun, super easy and you can put in as many or as varied a mix of spices as you want. Chai is fun to make and there is a great recipe here, and I will add another to the mix further down. Plus chai with cardamom is good for alleviating stress, and easing holiday anxiety – or any anxiety really!

It also has beautiful flowers, that just happen to be edible (you can plant the seeds from your pods and find out how nice they are)

It also has beautiful flowers, that just happen to be edible (you can plant the seeds from your store bought pods. Almost all grow, and it will possibly bloom, I suggest indoor planting or hot house unless you live in a tropical climate)

Cardamom has been known in India since before history, at least 3000 years of human history we know it has been used, and as soon as people were writing medical texts cardamom was mentioned. Since cardamom is native to India it was easy for it to spread to most of Asia, it quickly became well known to most of the cultures it came into contact with. In India a medical text was compiled between 2 BC and 2 AD called the Charaka Samhita, which mentions cardamom as part of some medicinal preparations, also a Sanskrit text from 4 BC discusses using cardamom, “ela” in the language, as part of formal political gifts between two groups. Cardamom was sometimes offered in some Hindu traditions to the recently deceased to appease them, and can be part of some tarpanas. In traditional medicine of India, Ayurveda, an 11th century medical text called the Manasollasa (Book of Splendor) it names cardamom as one of the ingredients in panchasugandha-thambula or “five-fragrance betel chew”. This five-fragrance chew contained cloves, cardamom and other spices wrapped in betel leaves, sometimes with areca nut sometimes called the betel-nut, which was then chewed to aid with digestion and relieve wind. This is still being done today to ease the stomach and promote digestion, if you include the areca nut is included this is a strong stimulant which could explain the tradition of adding cardamom to the mix.

Cardamom spread from India and the East, then to the West. Making it’s way to Egypt, and into some of its famous medical writings. We have gone over the Eber’s Papyrus before, and of course it name drops cardamom as a great fix for “wind” (or “farty pants”, in the parlance of our times) and digestion. It was also used in Egyptian religious ceremonies, cosmetics, and embalming, as well as food and medicine. The Babylonians and Assyrians also knew well and prized highly the health benefits of cardamom, and they were early traders across the land routes and possibly water routes via the Persian Gulf as early as the Bronze Age. A king of Babylon, Marduk-apla-iddina II, was known to have grown it in his royal garden, and many Assyrian doctors wrote about the uses of cardamom. Since it was used in many perfumes by many cultures it eventually grew to have a reputation of being a powerful aphrodisiac, and was frequently used in love potions.

Not that sort… I wish though! Why yes I WILL go to the dance with you Adrian Paul! *swoons*

Greeks also loved cardamom, and it was so highly prized that it was in itself a symbol of luxury, and was used in social rituals and gatherings. Cardamom is mentioned by a lot of names that should now be very familiar to you, Dioscorides and Hippocrates both agreed this is great for the stomach and digestion, and eases cramps. Alexander the Great, sent many plants home to his tutor, Aristotle, while he was out doing his conquering thing and it is likely that is how his successor, and possible father of botany, Theophrastus wrote about this plant that he may have obtained from Aristotle. While it was used medicinally it did not catch on in the same way it did in India, it was more prized for its scent and was often used in incense and perfumes. Its delicate flavor and scent is what led it to it more often being used in perfumes, and could be the reason for it being unofficially dubbed the “Queen of Spices.” The Romans were just as as fond as the Greeks cardamom to make perfume and other cosmetics, but still Galen wrote about it, agreeing with other medicinal writers of the time that it is a great way to treat stomach disorders, cramping and “wind.” In the 2nd century AD it was listed as a taxable luxury good in Alexandria. Sadly with the collapse of the Roman Empire, cardamom trade routes collapsed it seems, and this lovely pod disappears from history for a short while in the West.

Cardamom maintained its favor in the Arab world and further East, it was incorporated in recipes from the court of the Sultan of Mandu, dating from about 1500’s, and has a number of sherbets and rice dishes flavored with cardamom. You still find a lot of foods, not just dessert type foods, in Indian and Arabic cuisine that contain cardamom. If you have never had the joy of eating Indian sweets (or mithai), I don’t think you can say you have truly lived. I am also a huge fan of food from the Middle and Near East, and especially Indian food – who am I kidding I love all foods! Their savory and sweet dishes all will probably have some cardamom in them. Cardamom is, in my opinion, best in desserts, and it is so popular a dessert flavor that there is a popular brand of cardamom syrup, and you frequently find cardamom extract in dessert aisles.

I can't read Arabic but I am sure that it pretty much says "this stuff is delicious"

I can’t read Arabic but I am sure that it pretty much says “this stuff is delicious, shut up and put it in your face hole”

Cardamom makes it’s comeback in the West during the Middle Ages, when trade from the Crusades re-introduced Europeans to civilization (thank goodness for that, especially the part about bathing regularly). Later as trade between lands Holy and further East increased, the spice became more common and more often used in European cooking. In the Scandinavian countries they continue this tradition, and there are lots of types of cardamom breads, Which I will include some recipes for further down. It was mostly Venetian traders that supplied cardamom, since they had access to the spice routes. Or to put it more bluntly, they had all of the trade routes coming via the sea from Africa and the Levant so locked down they had a near monopoly on most items from the East. (It was such a stereotype for Venetians to be rich it even comes up in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice). They controlled and were pretty much the only point of entry for most luxuries that were arriving from anything East of Greece, and everything had to disperse out from there. They had this trade locked down from the 8th to about the 15th century, when the Ottoman Turks rolled up, and pretty much took over.

They also cornered the poofy hat fashion niche.

They also cornered the poofy hat fashion niche.

If you are paying attention to the dates, you can now see why Columbus was sent by Spain to find a different route to the spice laden East, they were trying to skip the middle men of Venice and the Arab traders that controlled the waters of the Gulfs and Indian Ocean. As more Europeans got out on the sea, a few started to dominate. A surprising country that wielded a lot of power despite its size is Portugal. Many Portuguese merchants made it all over the world, one of them, Duarte Barbosa, in his travels during the 16th century wrote about wild cardamom growing along the Malabar coast, but it was already cultivated when another Portuguese explorer came by a mere 40 years later – testament to is value and value as a trade commodity. But despite its availability, then and today, Cardamom is sadly way under used in US and a lot of Europe. But oddly enough, it is a part of traditional Christmas cookies made this time of year in the Netherlands and Sweden, so again, what better time to talk about this great spice? 

Aaaaaaaaand maybe suggest bringing back Krampus, or at least totally metal cards with him on them. That guy is Ozzy Osborne (pre-“The Osbornes”) metal.

Cardamom in the Levant and Middle East was heartily embraced and took on a whole new set of uses and a new parts in rituals. In most countries that have had an influence from Arab culture, or Islam, it is traditional to add cardamom to coffee, in fact, it really isn’t Turkish coffee without the addition of cardamom, it also could be known as Arabic, or Saudi coffee, or a plethora of other terms. So lets just agree that Turkish coffee will refer to coffee with cardamom and possibly other spices prepared by boiling. I will use Turkish coffee to refer to this to avoid being overly confusing, since there are loads of regional variations (and different names in each region) that makes this really, really complicated to discuss). In some areas it is traditional to pile on the cardamom to show the level of generosity of the host, and respect for their guest, since it is such an expensive spice. It can be so heavily added in some styles of coffee that even the powerful taste of coffee itself plays second fiddle to the flavor of cardamom.

There are literally 100’s of regional variations of making coffee in every single part of the world, couple that with an almost insane level of variation on terms in each region for their own spices, roasts and levels of sweetness, and this post could take years. But since this is all about cardamom, and not coffee (another post in the future!), I am only going to cover just Turkish coffee, since most versions of this contain cardamom in traditional preparations. Coffee in many of these regions also tends to be so strong it is drunk in small amounts, from beautiful coffee pots, and there are all sorts of gestures (as with some tea drinking) that go along with the coffee ceremony.

I hate to admit that until recently I had no idea that the pairing of cardamom and coffee was why I loved Turkish coffee sooooooo much, but what is even more awesome is I found that cardamom, and this was known to those Turkish coffee drinkers, tones down the effects of the caffeine (that means you can have 6 cups of good, strong coffee and not fear that your body may vibrate itself to its atomic parts, I tried it in the name of science and I only felt a little more “amped” like I had only had a cup or two) making the coffee you drink a lot more healthy and beneficial for you. If you take your coffee with milk, it can also reduce the extra mucus that dairy products tend to cause as well, so you can have a splash to give you another way to get Vitamin D. Since it reduces stress as well, it may be a good idea to throw cardamom in the coffee you take on your morning drive to help combat the stress of commuting, and combat the dreaded Monday yawns.

This could be the answer for a happy morning commute!

Now knowing that it can over power coffee you would hardly be surprised at how much in flavor is packed in this little pod. It also easy to keep when stored in unbroken pod form, it can last for ages since the seeds (unbroken) inside the pods are what hold all the precious oils and flavors. I actually keep and re-use a lot of glass jars, my favorite are amber yeast jars for storing spices like this since they are usually airtight, and help prevent damage from sunlight (that is why good beer comes in amber bottles, yeast hates direct sunlight). Cardamom can last even longer if sealed, then put in the freezer. So stock up if its on sale! Because cardamom pods keep extremely well once dried, and retain almost all of their flavor and oils until crushed it made it a very easily stored, and therefore traded, spice. It was so hardy it became quickly a far traveling spice, it was strong enough to make it all the way to Scandinavian countries and still carry its sweet flavor to their palates. Its easy storage is also why it is one of the oldest traded spices (excluding resins), but because it has to be hand harvested like tea – ranks as one of the top 3 most expensive spices, only beaten by saffron and vanilla (more spices we will discuss later). While it is an expensive spice it is not out of reach, and you can buy bags of whole pods at most markets for reasonable prices (much less cost, and easier to find than good quality saffron). You can even find some in a few of the larger chain stores, but I would much rather give my cash to Mom & Pop stores, and local places. Shop local y’all! Like saffron the expense is countered by you not having to use much to get a lot of flavor, 1-3 pods is a lot of flavor for a dish. Heed this warning though, the pre-ground powder loses its potency and flavor faster than most spices. I strongly advise against buying pre-ground cardamom unless you are using it all that day, or you have no other available options. Though if you have pre-ground cardamom it is easy to throw it into coffee beans that are ground, or you are grinding!

Cardamom is also available as essential oil, remember to buy a good quality one if you are going to ingest it, and I advise caution and not to ingest more than 2 maybe 3 drops (that is for adults only) since over use can quickly lead to overdose and that has symptoms opposite to calming the stomach (and definitely some time in the bathroom), but as far as testing has shown this is “mostly harmless” and shouldn’t have overly adverse effects (nothing is ever 100% safe to consume vast quantities of so remember common sense and moderation). Also if you have, or are prone to gall stones, avoid cardamom in excessive amounts it can irritate them.

What is in Cardamom that Works?

Well one of the main components is 1.8cineole which is also known as eucalyptol, which may sound familiar as it is in eucalyptus, lavender and camphor (another future post). Which is something we know to be an anti-inflammatory and there are scientific studies that are showing this is a promising chemical for medicinal use. Also the second highest component in cardamom is a-terpinyl acetate, which has a lot of studies that show it to be an effective antimicrobial, and is the reason that cardamom is such a good addition to any cold, or illness fighting food or drink. Another one that should hopefully be familiar by now is linalool, which has shown a lot of promise in lab research as a stress reliever, and mild sedative. Hence it being such a great addition to drinks to relieve stress, mild anxiety, and can help ease the pain of tension headaches, and all of these mean it is great for migraines.

Α and β-pinene are also present in cardamom, and α as having anti-inflammatory properties, as well as having an almost antibiotic effect, which makes it great for fighting pain and illness. Β-pinene more aromatic, and should be familiar since they are both prevalent in pine. Now this is probably the most important chemical in cardamom for the sufferers of pain – myrcene. This little chemical is a well known pain reliever, and is why hops are effective pain relievers and the not so legal in Texas, but very legal elsewhere, cannabis. Cardamom contains a lot of this chemical and it is fairly safe to ingest in sensible daily amounts with no adverse side effects. Another, hopefully familiar one is limonene, which is why cardamom is so great for settling the stomach, and may actually help people with IBS or acid reflux – if you have these look into it, it may be your answer. It is also a sedative and helps to reduce stress since it helps to stimulate adenosine receptors and the production of adenosine – which is a key chemical in the body goign to sleep as well as an anti-inflammatory. Terpinolene which helps preserve foods, and other things, since it is an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. And many others we have discussed before like (but not limited to) – citronellol, nerol, and geraniol. So as you can see, it was no exaggeration saying that cardamom was a heavy hitter packed into a tiny pod.

Cardamom Recipes

Right, so, since its the holidays fudge is everywhere, or at least it is here. And while most of us know only the chocolate kind, carrot fudge is a World War II treat that was able to be easily made with rations, and has a long history in India as Gajar Halwa. Which as one of my friends (who is Indian) said Gajar Halwa is a great way to take something healthy and turn it into something that is the complete opposite of what it started out as.

Carrot Fudge (Gajar Halwa) (adapted from myheartbeets)

  • 2½ cups Carrots, grated
  • 1 can Coconut Cream (or full fat coconut milk or even condensed milk)
  • 2 tablespoons Coconut oil (butter or ghee could be substituted)
  • 2 tablespoons Honey
  • 1 teaspoon of ground Cardamom seeds
  • Optional: chopped dates, golden raisins, chopped prunes, and optional garnish of crushed pistachios or toasted almond slivers

Melt coconut oil in a saucepan, add grated carrots and cook until softening (about 10 minutes) add coconut cream and simmer on low heat stirring to keep it from burning. After about 20 minutes add the cardamom, mix thoroughly, and then add in honey (leave out if you used condensed milk), mixing well until all liquids evaporate and mixture thickens. Serve in bowls with optional garnishes, or throw in dried fruits for some extra depth, but best is to spread it thickly in a greased or wax paper lined pan. You can press a whole nut or formations of dried fruit into regular intervals while the mix is still hot, and then slice into squares for gifting. Because this has cardamom in it, it is also good to serve after a large holiday meal (especially one where people are sure to overindulge). It is also good for the host(ess), since it helps reduce stress and can help take some of the edge of the exhausting nature of this season.

Vetebröd (Swedish Sweet Yeast Bread slightly altered from here)

  • 2 1/2 cups Milk
  • 1 1/2 cups Butter, melted
  • 1 cup Sugar (or honey)
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 2 teaspoons Cardamom seeds, ground
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 9 cups Flour
  • 7-9 tablespoons Gluten
  • 1 egg and 2 tablespoons water for egg wash
  • Cardamom sugar (see below) or slivered toasted almonds for topping

Prepare your Basic Cardamom Bread Dough using the first 7 ingredients listed above (this takes about 1 1/2 hours).

After punching down dough following its first rise, remove from bowl and knead lightly on floured counter until smooth and shiny. Divide dough into two halves.

Divide each half of the dough into three equal portions. Roll each portion into a long, thin “snake” (about 18 inches long). Braid three of the “snakes” together, folding and pinching outer edges under to form a loaf shape. Repeat for second set of three dough “snakes.” (Alternative: Do not divide dough into 2 halves, but separate entire mass into three equal portions. Roll the three portions into “snakes,” braid together, then join and pinch ends together to form a single braided bread wreath).

Place the two braided loaves (or the single braided wreath) on a greased baking sheet, cover with a towel, and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375º.

When loaves (or wreath) have doubled, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with [cardamom or orange sugar] or almonds. Place in the middle of a preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until done.

Yield: 2 braided loaves or 1 braided wreath, about 20 servings.

To make cardamom sugar, take 1-2 pods cardamom and in food processor grind well with sugar and use to sprinkle over bread, or toast almond slivers in the oven to top. To make an orange sugar take a tablespoon of orange zest and quickly grind a few times in food processor and use to sprinkle over bread.

Speculaas or Dutch Windmill Cookies (slightly altered from here)

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick or 113 g) cold unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (75 g) white granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (165 g) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 3/4 cup (235 g) all purpose flour

Prep a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet. Then:

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes. Place in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the sugars, baking soda, salt, and spices. Cream butter and dry ingredients together on medium speed for 30 seconds or until the batter is uniform in color. Scrape down the sides with a large spatula and add the vanilla extract and egg and beat on medium speed until incorporated (about 30 more seconds). Scrape down the sides again and add the flour. Beat on medium speed until incorporated (about 30 more seconds)

If you are lucky enough to have all the traditional implements follow the quoted text if not skip down past that.

Split the cookie dough in half. If you using the springerle rolling pin, roll the dough out until 1/2 inch thick with a plain rolling pin. Liberally dust the springerle pin with flour then roll over the dough, pressing firmly to make a 1/4 inch thick cookie dough, with imprint. Cut the dough along the springerle grid lines with a sharp knife or pizza cutter and place on the baking sheet. If using a traditional speculaas cookie mold, roll the dough until 1/2 thick with a plain rolling pin. Lightly spray the mold with cooking oil, then liberally dust with all purpose flour (knocking out any loose flour once you’ve dusted it). Press the dough into the mold, remove excess dough of the back of the mold and then carefully unmold it onto the baking sheet.

If you don’t have all that fancy stuff, or some awesome family heirloom shortbread mold, use a cookie cutter and you can cut them into any shape you want. You can also roll it into a log and cut it into evenly spaced discs, roll each into a ball and press with the bottom of a glass if you have one with a nice design, or the old standby used for peanut butter cookies of pressing a fork into an X shape works as well. If you have one a cookie “gun” or a cookie stamp would work a treat to make these (I recently acquired a cookie stamp and am making these cookies again just to try it out). You want to roll things fairly thick so the unbaked cookies are at least 1/4 of an inch thick.

Chill for about an hour, but for at least 30 minutes. Then heat your oven to 375°F and bake for 9 to 11 minutes, you want to remove them when they just start to brown at the edges, do not let them brown all the way. Cookies as a rule should err on the side of underdone, instead of overdone. You can always bake them a tad longer, you can’t un-bake them. Also you should always allow them to cool in or on whatever they baked in for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. These cookies are no different, but taste oh so delicious.

It isn’t Christmas really without these next cookies, and they are a Southern favorite. Sadly less and less people are familiar with them, but these are one of my favorite cookies to whip up as gifts during the holidays and this has a cardamom addition for some exotic flare.

Cardamom Molasses Cookies

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil (seriously just trust me use this and nothing else, you could use shortening or butter but it doesn’t come out the same)
  • 1/4 cup molasses (find the darkest least processed you can find, you want as much dark rich flavor as possible)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • optional: 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • garnish: 1-2 tablespoons sugar

Cream coconut oil, brown sugar, egg, and molasses in a stand mixer or in a bowl with an electric beater. Stir in spices, then add in flour in batches, salt and baking soda. Mix well until fully combined, dough should be slightly dry, but forms easily into balls like peanut butter cookie dough. It is easiest to use a 1-2 ounce ice cream scoop to portion out the dough but you want to have about a tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Roll each by hand into a ball then dip top half in sugar. Place sugar side up on baking tray with parchment paper, with 2 inches at least between each ball. Bake for 12-15 minutes, let cool for 10 and then move to cooling rack. These are a delicious and aromatic cookie, that will become your favorite once you make it.

Cardamom Coffee

  • 1 cup Coffee beans, whole (pre-ground if you have no other option)
  • 1-2 Cardamom pods
  • Optional – cinnamon sticks, orange peel, carob nibs, cloves, saffron, and caraway seeds, fresh vanilla
  • Coffee Grinder
  • French Press (preferred but not required)

It is technically more “traditional” to use a lighter roast, or roast your own beans. Even I don’t have time for all that jazz. So find a roast level you like, and use that. Most grinders hold about a cup of coffee beans, add in your cardamom pods, and grind you don’t want a fine grind but fairly chunky. Follow your normal routine for brewing coffee in a french press, if you never have check out this guide. You can add in other things to your grind like the optional spices, or you can just do plain cardamom and coffee. All of them taste amazing. Guests will be wowed that you blended your own special grind and you will forever be known as the hostess with the most-est.

Some cardamom, cinnamon and orange peel spiced coffee, in my beautiful Christmas present from my fantastic MIL <3 I couldn't help but brag a wee bit!

Some cardamom, cinnamon and orange peel spiced coffee, in my beautiful Christmas present from my fantastic MIL ❤ I couldn’t help but brag a wee bit!

Warning: I have put 3 cardamom pods in about half a cup of coffee and ground it, and it is some pretty strong knockout juice. So please do not drink loads of cardamom and drive!

Cardamom Tea

  • 2-3 pods, slightly crushed
  • 8 ounces of Hot water (not boiling)

Steep for 10-15 minutes, and drink. You may need some honey to help this out since it can be quite strong tasting. This is good for pain, or extremely stressful days. If you are having stomach issues, increase to about a teaspoon of crushed seeds and steep for the same amount of time. This should help with cramping and abdominal pain that comes with medications, IBS, lactose in tolerance and so on.

ProCompressTip: You can steep for 20 minutes, and then soak a towel in this and apply directly to the forehead, or head where migraine hurts most. Or even to cramped muscles to help ease spasms and pain.

 Cardamom Tincture

  • 1 part Cardamom seeds, slightly crushed
  • 2 parts Vodka (or other clear alcohol)
  • Mason jar or airtight jar

Put crushed seeds in a jar, cover with alcohol. Allow to sit, giving a shake once a day or so for about 4-6 weeks. Strain and bottle and store out of sunlight. This is a great cure for stomach cramping, and intestinal distress. It is also good to take after a heavy meal to prevent those issues in advance. A few 1-10 ml (10-60 drops) in honey or in a tea, or under the tongue. This can also be a good way to help yourself sleep on a restless night, or when a migraine or pain is keeping you awake.

It is great paired with Tulsi and lavender in a tea too!

Mike Tyson Level Knock Out Tea

  • 1-2 pods of Cardamom, with seeds removed (more if you like the taste adjust to your liking)
  • 1 tablespoon of Tulsi
  • 1 teaspoon dried Lavender flowers
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon of dried Chamomile flowers

You could reduce the Tulsi to a teaspoon but, I say go big or go home. Plus this tea pretty much ensures that within a half hour you will be counting sheep in dreamland. Steep in water for about 10-15 minutes, add honey if you need some sweet, strain and drink! This is a great tea also if you are up stressing about something, since it will put your mind at ease and bring healthy restful sleep. Seriously you have no other options but to sleep when cardamom is in the mix.

Cardamom Massage Oil

  • 30 drops Cardamom essential oil
  • 1 ounce good oil (jojoba, almond, olive, etc)

Mix well and store in and store in a dark bottle, massage into spasms, or temples, neck and shoulders for migraines. This is also good for a generally allover body massage to alleviate stress and anxiety. Give it a go, you will love the smell and the relaxation.

Cardamom Epsom Salt Bath

  • 5 cups (40 oz) Epsom Salts
  • 5-20 drops Cardamom essential oils
  • Optional: any other oils you would like to add, just remember to reduce your cardamom oil by the number of drops of your other oils.

Mix well, and store in an airtight container, add a cup to a hot bath and soak for 20-30 minutes. You can always use the cardamom tea, and throw in some epsom salts too if you are unable to get your hands on the oil.

Ok, now I have to get out my soapbox.

*gets on soapbox*

Before I get into this second chai recipe, because who can have too many chai recipes? I want to explain something that seems to have as much fear and superstition surrounding its use and adoption, as the gas stove did when it was first introduced (for more on the gas stove see the footnotes). So I would like to clear up some things about Microwaves from things I have heard.

  • Microwaves “change” the molecular structure of water. Wrong. If it did – it wouldn’t be water, secondly this has been pretty solidly debunked by pretty much everyone out there, and their doge, not the least including Snopes. The day some 9 yr old’s science project overturns major accepted views in physics and chemistry, you aren’t going to read about it in some email forward from one of your crazier relatives. Critical thinking people, lets use some.
  • Microwaves give you “radiation and therefore cancer.” Wrong. Microwaves are not going to give you radiation poisoning like if you walked into a nuclear reactor in full meltdown. You are getting more radiation flying in an airplane, or eating a banana – than you do using a microwave. Think about that. Please stop spreading this rumor it is old and tired, and that horse died at least 50 years ago. Stop. Beating it. Microwaves use electromagnetic waves to excite the food’s water molecules, cooking it from the inside basically by steam. That is why it doesn’t brown, or do well with breads like an electric or gas oven that uses heat conduction and convection to cook food. A microwave is not radiating food, or giving anything radiation that will kill you to stand in front of one (except if you are heating a hotpocket, then yes, it may actually be part of killing you, but 90% of that was the hotpocket). Electromagnetic waves also power your computer/car speakers, and many other things, so unless you also shun speakers and pretty much every other electronic device, your argument about microwaves being some “radiation cancer machine,” sounds really rather silly. But if you don’t believe me, here is the FDA on microwaves explaining why they are safe, and American Cancer Society on why microwaves won’t give you cancer, or the bad sort of radiation.

I get that not everyone aced chemistry and physics, but pretty much all the myths and fear surrounding the microwave are just another sad case of history repeating itself. We fear what we do not fully understand, and invisible waves that heats things up does seem pretty magical. So in the hopes that people will better understand, please read this explanation on how microwaves work. Or if you need a more quick and friendly explanation check out this video from the Smithsonian, they are people who know stuff.

*gets off soapbox*

Failure (and Idiot) Proof Chai Tea

  • ¹/3 cup of water
  • 2/3 cup of Milk
  • 1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon Black Tea
  • 1-3 Star Anise pods, whole
  • 2-4 Green Cardamom pods, crushed
  • 2-5 Peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 stick True Cinnamon, whole
  • 3-6 Cloves, crushed
  • 1 inch (thumb sized) piece of Fresh Ginger, crushed, or a heaping teaspoon of candied
  • Optional: teaspoon of Turmeric paste or powder, or fresh vanilla include seeds and pod itself.

Crush the spices except for the star anise and cinnamon you add those whole, and the ginger if you are using fresh. You don’t want to grind this to a powder just make sure things are slightly broken and the ginger is flat-ish, you want it broken up but not completely ground to a paste – though you can grind it to a paste if you really, really want to. I didn’t have fresh ginger this time since I just made ginger ale the day before, so I am using some candied ginger I got as a gift, which I love the jar it came in and will be storing my home-made candied ginger in it once I am done! Since I actually remembered for once to take pictures as I am making it, there are now pictures to follow along 🙂 and I am going to try to be really good this year about taking more pictures of things so hopefully I remember to!

Spices in my cute little molina

Spices in my cute little molina

Throw everything except the milk into a pot, exclude the candied ginger if you are using it, I find that using a spoon to scrape out the spices the easiest way since lifting my stone mortar is difficult with my strength issues. Bring the water tea and spice mix up to a simmer and allow it to go for 3-4 minutes, or until it becomes fragrant with smell of the tea and the spices.

Candied ginger and my plain black tea (I am out of fresh since I just made ginger ale)

My candied ginger that was a gift! It is my trusty backup, and my plain black tea, you can use Earl Grey, or lipton (ugh!) if you have to, if you can’t find plain black tea.

Turn off heat and leave the pot on the burner to get that last bit of heat out while you heat your milk.

My little pot full of tea and spices!

That’s right let that stuff sit and marinate.

Milk, besides sugar, is one of the most evil things to cook with. I say evil because they will turn on you faster than an evil step-sister in a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale. If you look away for a second, or have to tend to some urgent situation, while making chai with milk on the stove, you could end up with some really horrible chai curds and whey. Not pleasant, or drinkable.

So the best way around this is to heat the water with the tea and spices on the stove, and then heat your milk (30 seconds to a minute) in the microwave. Microwaves since they excite water molecules only, will heat the milk (or other liquids) without bringing it to a visible boil (another reason it has such mistrust, how can it make something boiling hot without it looking like its boiling?! And scalding is, I believe, the number one way most people hurt themselves with microwaves). So it is extremely difficult to destroy, or curdle, your milk with this method, and it is heated to a precisely so that the chai is drinkable sooner rather than later.

Strained and ready to go!

Strained and ready to go! Yum!

You can even heat the milk right in the mug you are using, then strain the tea mixture into the heated milk, stir to fully combine and add the candied ginger if you are using it. I also find that I overall get a better colored chai, and if I want to try to squeeze a second brewing out of my tea and spices it isn’t all gross with milk. Waste not, want not. Right?

Cardamom is also a mild laxative, and as we have discussed previously everybody poops, but sometimes we have difficulty pooping. Cardamom is a good addition to a senna or other herbal laxative recipe, as well as fennel, since both will help ease the cramping that can come with taking over the counter laxatives or herbal ones.

Cardamom & Senna Tea To Make You Go

  • 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of senna pods (half as much if you use leaves)
  • 16 ounces Boiling water
  • 5-6 Cardamom pods, crushed
  • Optional: Honey, fennel, or ginger can be added to help things along.

Steep for 3-5 minutes in a covered tea pot, and drink about 8 ounces, if you need a stronger tea let steep for longer. But the longer you steep it the stronger this will be when it comes to cramping, and while the cardamom does help it will not eliminate the cramping entirely. This will also make you sleepy, and senna works best overnight, so drink this before bed.

Remember, everyone is different and every body’s chemistry is different so do your own tests, see what your body works best with. Do the smart thing and check for interactions with other things you are taking on places like WebMD. And as always if you are in doubt in the slightest, ask a professional!

ProCardamomConversionTip: 12 seeds = 1 pod; 10 pods = 1 ½ teaspoons of Cardamom powder

For more information on the fear of adoption of gas stoves, as well as the history of cooking implements and eating as well check out Consider the Fork.

If you are interested in a quick history of Venice, and some of their food go here.

If you are a coffee addict aficionado, like me, you should check out all of these variations by making them at home since they are fun to make, can be made with inexpensive means and little addition to your kitchen unless you want to, and more fun to drink especially if you follow the tradition of using it to socialize with friends and family. We all need more socializing with good people, it lifts the spirits and it is something we have lost in our rush-about modern culture. Also, the habit of hospitality (at least in the US) has been lost, and we should definitely bring that back! If you are afraid to try grinding or roasting it on your own, seek out a local Arabic market, and ask people in the store and the owners what they do, what they use and what they like. I find that when I do this I get fantastic advice, recipes, sometimes a delicious sample with them, and often a new friend. I have yet to meet a person that does not appreciate someone trying to learn about, understand and enjoy something of their culture’s traditions.

There were so many recipes I wanted to include but just ran out of steam and space. So here is a little link storm of things if you are looking to have some more cardamom in your diet. These may sound out of your comfort zone at first but trust me, good things are in your future if you make one of these.

Cardamom Link Storm


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Best Homemade Deodorant!

I guess you could say I have gone fully crunchy? I think that’s the term those wacky kids use these days *curmudgeons and shakes cane.* But mostly, I am thrifty, read as “cheap.” Making deodorant is super cheap, doesn’t take much time at all, and if you don’t want to bother with hand applications you can put it into twist-up tube for as good as store bought goodness. Best part is you can customize the smells to you as well as add in oils that will help you out. You know how I love efficient & double duty things! Also – huzzah making everything!

wooooo

Make all the efficient things!

When I tell people I make my deodorant they always joke about smell, but none of them noticed I had made the switch…this time. I had previously tried different things, I really did not care for the Tom’s deodorant – I felt like it was too thin and wore off after just an hour and it was smell city after that. I have tried a few other products and the two I have found work best are spray deodorants, and deodorants I have made myself. You need some basic ingredients and knowledge of the simple chemistry behind why they work. The husband has obligingly sniffed my armpits and he has given the full approval of no smells for these recipes (which Tom’s got a horrible face and a “UGH” so this has to be a good sign).

Deodorizing – Baking Soda

This is your friend if you don’t want to smell, no one likes being smelly. But why do you smell? Well your body sweats to cool itself, and in the armpits there are 2 types of sweat glands the eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine are the normal cooling sweat, mostly water and salt comes out of them and they help with evaporation. Apocrine glands generally are around hair follicles, and these release a more oily, or a sweat that has fat in it. They also happen to be those sweat glands that kick in when you are stressed out or nervous.

This oily sweat is a good food source for some single celled organisms, and bacteria in our armpits start to consume it. As they eat and the fatty substances are broken down they make waste which is acidic, and this starts to smell (the nasty smells in decomposition are from the production of acids from fats breaking down). So washing is always your first defense against armpit funk, no scent will mask this odor no matter how much you use. I am looking at you I-wear-too-much-patchouli person, thinking “I don’t smell like horrible.”

You do, you smell like a locker room full of teenage boys that have been sweating all day and then rolled about in a vat of patchouli. You aren’t fooling anyone.

Stop it you are only hurting the good name of patchouli.

So why baking soda? Or sodium bicarbonate as it is known in the chemistry nerd talk. If you remember your school days chemistry, baking soda is a base. If you mix a base and an acid, in the right amounts, they can neutralize each other that means the pH becomes closer to water, or neutral. You also get chemical reactions (think what happens when you add baking soda and vinegar) which creates new chemicals that are detrimental or unusable to bacteria attempting to chow down on your oily sweat. Baking soda has been around for ages, it was part of natron used to mummify bodies in ancient Egypt, and is naturally occurring. It has been used for ages to clean bodies, hair (great for dry shampooing), homes (baking soda will clean just about anything), and in modern times it even helps prevent a smelly fridge just by sitting around. It has also been well known for more than 50 years as being a great way to deodorize lots of things especially stinky humans. I even use it in my cat boxes and boy does it help! So baking soda is one of the best ingredients to add to a DIY deodorant. It is also – safe, (again) naturally occurring, cheap (3 $US for a giant box) and it mercilessly starves and slaughters stinky bacteria. Woo slaughter!

SensitiveSkinProTip: If you have sensitive skin, baking soda can be irritating you may need to increase your thickener or reduce the baking soda if you have irritation. You can make up for the loss of this bacteria fighting power with essential oils.

Absorbent Powder – Corn Starch or Arrowroot Powder

These are more than just thickeners by adding corn starch or arrowroot powder to you baking soda mix it helps ease some of the irritation that baking soda could cause to the more sensitive skin types. This also helps absorb sweat as well leaving you feeling dry and comfortable, when water and these powders mix you get a non-Newtonian fluid. This is some wibbly-wobbly, slimey-wimey stuff. It is a solid and a liquid, all at once! And loads of fun to play with, but is also fantastic at absorbing moisture from your armpit areas. That means that you should stay dry and comfortable all day. And, may I just say, if you never did it in school, mix water and corn starch (or arrowroot powder) and let the fun begin! If you are too lazy to do so watch the video and be amazed! SCIENCE!

Science overload bitches!

Science overload bitches!

Essential Oils

Basil, eucalyptus, orange, lemon, lime, lemon grass, frankincense, tea tree (melaleuca), peppermint, thyme, oregano, lavender, geranium, marjoram, clove, rosemary, clary sage, bergamot, pine, black pepper, sage, cedar wood, vanilla, sandalwood and of course, patchouli. All of these oils work well on their own, or blended together. Really this is up to you, what smells good to you, or if you want to add in some oils that help with pain or anything else (skin conditions, etc). You can make a chai smelling one, which can help with antibacterial as well as smelling fantastic (for chai equal amounts of black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, optionally add star anise or other anise-like oil). Or manly smells like frankincense, cedar wood, lemon grass, black pepper and sage can be mixed and matched into a deodorant that doesn’t smell “girly.”

But wait! There’s more! These oils I listed don’t just help make you smell nice, they all have anti-bacterial properties, so that means they can also help to keep body smells under control. So you read that right, they help you smell good, they can help with pain, AND they can keep you from smelling like a comic book store on table top gaming night.

Fancy Stuff

This is where you get to add that fancy pants stuff in, things like oils (coconut works best due to its going solid at room temperature, but you can use small amounts of others for moisturizing) cocoa butter, shea butter, clay, beeswax and anything else you would like to add. Aloe can be added to create a more gel like deodorant, I am working on a gel that can work for a twist up tube as well. Butters like shea and cocoa help with moisturizing and keeping irritation from baking soda or from shaving down, coconut oil does the same as well, and all three help form a convenient paste with the powders for ease of application. You can also use things like bentonite clay, which is highly absorbent if you are one of those that sweats a lot, beeswax helps to sort of bind things like coconut oil and makes it more solid for ease of application if you are going with the twist bottles. Beeswax also helps retain shape if you live in a hot place like Texas!

Recipes

Lets start with the harder ones, which will be followed by ones that anyone can make from things that you would likely have around the house.

Spray Deodorant

  • Spray bottle
  • 2 parts Witch hazel, rubbing alcohol or grain alcohol
  • 1 part aloe vera gel
  • 10 drops Essential oils per ounce of liquid
  • Baking soda – ½ teaspoon per 1 cup of witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, or grain alcohol)

For a spray bottle, check out your local stores travel section there are lots of empties around there that are great for spray deodorant, but a spray bottle with a mist setting is just as good. Mix the baking soda and witch hazel (or alcohol) well, make sure to crush and completely dissolve all lumps. Combine liquid with aloe vera, if you are using natural aloe from the leaf (or even if not) you may want to give it a blitz in your food processor or blender. Add essential oils, and put in a spray container. Spray on and allow to dry, if you don’t like how long that takes, omit the aloe. This works very well with vanilla, cedar wood, and lemon grass scents since they can stand well on their own. Frankincense, lemon, and clary sage are also good.

Jar or Stick Deodorant

  • 1 part Baking soda
  • 1 part Corn starch or arrowroot powder (see directions for clay modifications)
  • 1 part “Fancy” stuff (see below for breakdown)
  • 10 drops Essential oil per ounce

Mix the powders well, if you want to include clay reduce the corn starch or arrowroot to a half measure and make up the rest with clay. Then add 1 part “fancy” stuff, that would be coconut oil, or other items to the mix. This is where it gets a little more complicated.

If you want to form these into cakes or into a twist up bottle you will need add something that solidifies things more what I use is shea butter (or cocoa), coconut oil, and beeswax all in equal amounts to make this last 1 part. That means if you have 1 ounce baking soda, 1 ounce corn starch, then you will need 0.3 ounces of shea butter (or cocoa), 0.3 ounces of coconut oil, and 0.3 ounces of beeswax. Melt the beeswax and the oil and shea butter (or cocoa) in a double boiler (I like the mason jar in a water bath idea, since any that doesn’t fit in the containers can just be stored with the lid on for later use) once melted and blended well, add in the powders and combine thoroughly. Add essential oils, allow to cool slightly and then pour into your twist up container. If you are making a cake sort, pour into a muffin tin dusted with corn starch.

If you want to use a jar for this, you may want to reduce the amount of beeswax and increase the oil or butters you are using so that you have a creamy paste you can apply to your under arms. You make it the same way as the stick sort just with less, or without the beeswax. You can add aloe to this one too just make sure its pureed well if you are using it straight from the leaf.

ProContainerTip: You can order empty deodorant bottles online (BPA free even), or you can just wash and reuse one you have already. Jars are also easy to get and you can reuse pretty much any convenient container to hold this deodorant. I find the easiest way to figure out how much volume each container has is to fill it with water and weigh it, or pour the water into a very precise measuring cup.

Some of my solid twist up deodorant with some oils :)

Some of my solid twist up deodorant with some oils 🙂

Now on to the easy ones that you can make from things you should have just around the house.

Lazy Dry Deodorant

  • 1 part Baking Soda
  • 1 part Corn Starch or Arrowroot powder

Put it in a container and shake well, apply with talcum puff, cotton balls, old baby powder bottle, or the good old hands. This works if you are desperate, but it doesn’t make me feel secure about not being smelly which is more mental than the actual performance. You do need to reapply though I feel since it just doesn’t do the job for an extended period of time.

Lazy Spray Deodorant

  • Witch hazel, rubbing alcohol or grain alcohol, enough to fill your container
  • 10 drops Essential oils per ounce of liquid
  • Baking soda (slightly optional)
  • Spray container

Mix the baking soda with the liquids, you don’t have to use it if you have sensitive skin, or you just don’t like it. But I suggest using it since it really does a great job at odor control. Add essential oils, pour it all in the spray container and you are good to go!

If you don’t want to bother making it and are in the Austin area support local Green Skunk they make a great product I have tested them out and they really work and are all natural.

Lazy Cream Deodorant

  • Coconut oil
  • 1 part Baking soda
  • 1 part Corn starch, arrowroot powder

Mix the powders well, and heat coconut oil, you want 2 tablespoons of oil per 1 cup of the soda and starch mix. Mix well until you have a uniform paste, you can increase or decrease the oil to reach a consistency you like. Pour into a jar, and apply with fingers.

There is a lot of stuff added to deodorants these days, and while the scientific juries are still out on just exactly how bad a lot of that stuff is for you, why not know all the things in your deodorant? Plus it is really satisfying to make it yourself. Did I mention it was cheap? It also usually doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to whip up a batch. 🙂

Remember everyone’s body is different, experiment see what works for you and what scents and products work with your body best!


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Bumps, Bruises, Sprains and Pulled Muscles Salve

Oh the rain in Spain is mainly falling on our Texas plains. Which has been murder for my head, and body, though not nearly as crippling as usual since I found a new way to help combat it (which will be the subject of an upcoming post) and it has seriously slowed down my experiments and research on Licorice, which will be the topic of my next post. So to tied you over I figured I could share a little about myself, and a nice little fix for some general injuries and pain that anybody with or without a pain condition could have. You gotta make sure you take care of those little bumps and bruises so you can handle the big stuff. Plus all those scars and bumps add character.

Cause all I know how to be is like a boss.

Cause all I know how to be is like a boss.

Now, if you don’t already know, I am always a sucker for a sob story, and I am exactly the sort of lady that brings home or rescues any stray or injured animal. I am still being made fun of the baby opossum I rescued, he was just so cute and helpless, I mean look at his widdle face!

Awww lil possum snuggled into my jacket! He was successfully released from the rescue center and will live his lil possum-y life in the wild because I saved him 🙂

Well, maybe that is a face that only a mother and/or a crazy animal lady could love, but I know what I am 🙂 and I am OK with that.

I have a student in the school who injured his shoulder pretty badly (he does other martial arts) and that was sort of what prompted me to write this post, since I had to make more for him to help with the pain. Also since my husband and I have not been able to have kids yet (hopefully), I tend to adopt people to mother that I feel need some extra love. We took in and “adopted” a young gentleman that had suffered some of the cruel shunning practices that are a part of some sects of a certain type of book religion. I couldn’t stand seeing his rejection and “adopted” him, and now he is like a son to me. He was recently injured, his shoulder while playing soccer, and the pain was bothering him and wouldn’t go away. Both him and my husband are soccer players and soccer fans (Come on Arsenal!), which means both end up with bumps, bruises, scrapes, sprains and all sorts of soccer related injuries. We are also very active in martial arts, and while T’ai Ch’i isn’t high impact and not prone to injury, my husband does a harder style and the usual sports injuries occur there too. Though the soccer ones always seem worse…

This was the top google image for “soccer injury,” I don’t think the salve will fix this though….

So I started making salves to help with those issues. I made the first batch fortuitously, since it happened to be right when my “adopted” son had hurt his shoulder and he said that this helped more than using tiger balm, and other things, for reliving pain and helping it heal. It is also great for bruises, sprains, or any injury you get where bruising and swelling is present.

ProMuscleSpasmTip: If you have a muscle spasm that is really giving you sass, use the salve and a lacrosse ball. Rub the salve in well then have a friend rub the spasmed muscle with a lacrosse ball giving firm pressure. If you don’t have a friend put the ball on the wall or ground and use your body weight or your body pressure to press firmly into the complaining muscle.

What do you put in a Pain Salve?

The best thing for bruising and pain is Arnica, so this is one of the first things I grab when I am going to make something to help with bruising. Arnica is also great for alleviating swelling as an anti-inflammatory since it has helenalin. This will also take care of making bruises disappear faster, since no one likes unsightly bruises. Then you have wintergreen, wintergreen is a fantastic natural pain reliever since it has methyl salicylate, and reduces inflammation.

Another ingredient I use is copaiba, as resin or oil though I find oil easier, if you use resin use about teaspoon up to half a tablespoon, and reduce the amount of beeswax by the same amount you add. Another good oil to add is peppermint, which helps to warm and soothe tired muscles, and help alleviate pain as well, with the wintergreen this will be nice and minty spicy, and not good for applications near the eyes.

If the addition of peppermint is too much you can always substitute another oil, recently I used JuvaFlex blend oils, since it I had a bottle lying around I hadn’t been using and it had a lot of oils in it that were great for injuries that I could add in small amounts. It has a lot of stuff  in a carrier oil, things like – fennelrosemary, Roman chamomile, geranium, blue tansy, and helichrysum. You could add any of these individually but you would want to keep the addition to about 10 drops. Tarragon I add to help numb and ease the pain, and it helps warm and soothe the area as well.

Bumps, Bruises, Sprains & Pulled Muscles Salve

  • 2 ½ tablespoon Coconut oil
  • ½ tablespoon Arnica infused oil
  • 1 tablespoon Beeswax, granulated or grated
  • 10 drops Wintergreen essential oil
  • 10 drops Copaiba essential oil (you could use resin, just use less beeswax)
  • 10 drops Peppermint essential oil
  • 10 drops Tarragon essential oil

Add beeswax and oil to a double boiler (a mason jar set in a pan of water works best I’ve found), and stir well. When thoroughly combined remove from heat, and add essential oils. Pour into two 2 ounce tins, and allow to cool. This has less beeswax, so it will be less solid than the rosacea salve I wrote about last, so it will spread easier and work better for massaging into sore muscles. More like the consistency of Tiger Balm (which if you are not big on the DIY thing is a great pre-made muscle pain salve). Remember, wash your hands after application and don’t touch your eyes or sensitive skin areas with this or it will be unpleasant.

You can modify this as your injury requires, and if you are looking for lots of warmth, you can always add capsaicin in for some extra heat kick. You can use different oils, whatever suits your needs and/or fancy.

Always do a patch test to make sure you don’t have any reactions to the ingredients before applying to large areas of the body. You should always check WebMD for interactions with any medications you might be taking with any ingredients you use, and remember educate yourself and do your own experiments. No one can educate you for you, you have to do it yourself. Remember if you have any doubts what so ever you should always ask a professional!


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The Curse of the Celts, Rosacea

My poor long suffering husband, who does so much to care for me, suffers a lot of stress. Stress is a major trigger for rosacea, which he has on his cheeks, and the more stress he has the redder his rosacea gets and sometimes it spreads. Now I don’t think he looks any less handsome, he is just wonderful no matter what, but after suffering from horrendous acne as a teen, I know what it is like to have a face you feel uncomfortable about. So I rolled up my sleeves and decided to make a salve for him to help with this.

Rosacea is a very old and well known skin disorder, nicknamed the “Curse of the Celts” due to a belief it has a higher rate of occurrence in the British Isles, or Northern European descent. My husband being of Black Irish and Welsh descent is unfortunately of the right genetics to inherit this skin issue. Though is is being found that it is more common in other genetic groups but people with fairer skin tend to be more susceptible to it, and the redness shows more. Oh the curse of being pasty white!

An Old Man and his Grandson painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio in about 1490. His rosacea is unmistakably displayed on his nose.

In France, since it was thought to be linked to hard drinking (though now we know it is just a trigger that can worsen symptoms), it was known as “pustule de vin” or “pimples of wine.” Rembrandt had it, and painted his symptoms in great detail.

Rembrandt never left out any details of his skin affliction.

Bill Clinton as well had it and was unable to hide its effects from the camera during his terms. Shakespeare references the skin issue in Henry IV part 1 & 2 and Henry V, and one of my favorite author/poets, the delightfully rude Geoffrey Chaucer, mentions it in the prologue to the Summoners Tale.

A somnour was ther with us in that place,

That hadde a fyr-reed cherubbines face,

For sawcefleem he was, with eyen narwe.

As hoot he was and lecherous as a sparwe,

With called brows blake and piled berd;

Of his visage children were a ferd.

Ther nas quik-silver, litharge ne brimstoon,

Boras, ceruce ne oille of tartre noon,

Ne oynement that woulde clense and byte,

That him might helpen of his whelkes whyte,

Nor of the knobbes sittinge on his chekes.

Wel loved he garleek, oynons and eek lekes,

And for to drinken stron wyn red as blood.

Which describes well the symptoms of rosacea, and blames it on his diet of garlic, onions, leeks, and hard drinking of blood red wine. As well as having too much salt phlegm (sawcefleem) in his constitution, and that nothing available at the time to treat it could reduce the obvious symptoms of the skin condition. Luckily, in modern times we have many more options for treatments and it is much easier to control the symptoms than in the days of Chaucer or Rembrandt.

Rosacea is redness on the face, usually cheeks, chin, around the eyes, and forehead are most affected, but it can go to the chest and other places. It can be just redness of the skin, to pustules, papules, dilation of blood vessels close to the surface of the skin, red & gritty eyes, as well as Rhinophyma which is what causes the enlargement and hardening of the skin on and around the nose. Which as you can imagine doesn’t do a lot for self esteem when you look in the mirror, and if left untreated rosacea can spread and become a real issue.

Now before I get into the salve making for treating this, I thought I would go over a few triggers for rosacea, since while it isn’t physically painful it does stem from mental pain, and like migraines can come from environmental or food triggers. Known rosacea triggers are:

  • Sun exposure – so wear those hats and sunscreen
  • Emotional stress – stress kills, and causes so many issues in the body. Reducing stress, and trying to avoid it when you can is a good way to prevent flare ups. Which if you have a partner that suffers from chronic pain, this may be harder to avoid, try seeking out care giver support groups, or speaking with people that have spouses that suffer. Knowing there are people out there that are going through what you go through helps.
  • Alcohol – this seems to cause the most flare ups from what I have seen, but every person is different. Try to avoid or limit your alcohol intake
  • Weather/Environment – hot, cold, wind, humidity, lack of humidity, all the elements outside (and some inside) can trigger flare ups, so try to avoid too much exposure to extreme weather.
  • Foods – spicy foods, stimulants (coffee, tea, etc.) all of these can cause flare ups they have less of an effect in some cases than others. Try an elimination diet, and see if a specific type of food is causing your flare ups.

How to Treat Rosacea

Now there are some foods though that help with rosacea, number one is probiotics – which I went over in my post about helping with how to care for your gut and issues with lack of pooping. Probiotics we have found to help a lot, and I put them in as much food as I can for him, even his butter. It made a huge difference, he had a bad bout with it where it spread and pustules started to appear, and after we started the probiotic regimen a lot of the pustules reduced in size or disappeared.

You can also use, and guys you will have to get over what it is marketed as used for, yeast infection cream. You want to purchase a cream with 2% or more (preferably 4%) of Miconazole Nitrate. Now I know this seems silly, it is supposed to go on lady parts as it says on the box, so think outside of the box! The level of medication used in most stuff for lady parts is a lot stronger than what you can buy for treating other yeast blooms on the skin. That means the infamous jock itch or athletes foot can be much better battled with this than other over the counter preparations made specifically for those issues. Since it is an anti-fungal, this can also battle ringworm! So many uses for just one over the counter product! Five in one!

You’re flippin’ right Moss!

But we have, in our experiments, found what seems to be the best topical way to treat this, and has had some seriously amazing results. It has improved enough to where he is just taking probiotics and using this salve, and it is difficult to get him to use even an aspirin and he uses the salve everyday without complaint. So must be working right?! Also, since he has very sensitive skin this is a very bespoke salve, but you can adapt it easily for yourself with some of the notes I include below the recipe.

Rosacea Salve

  • 1 ounce Beeswax, grated or pellets
  • 1 ounce Coconut oil (Shea butter or Cocoa butter, something moisturizing)
  • 10 drops Lavender essential oil
  • 10 drops Rosemary essential oil
  • 10 drops Pine essential oil
  • 10 drops of German chamomile essential oil

Melt the beeswax and oil in a double boiler, again I really like the mason jar technique now that I have discovered it since scrubbing this out of bowls is a real pain in the behind, so you can dedicate a mason jar to each salve and prevent cross contamination from a poor scrub job. Once you have the wax and oil sufficiently melted and blended, remove from the heat and add essential oils and stir in well.

This is designed for two 2 ounce tins, and you can modify this to fit any container by using 1 part beeswax to 1 part moisturizer (coconut oil, cocoa butter, or shea butter). You can also use pine resin for this instead of essential oil, but you would want to reduce your beeswax by half and make the rest up with the resin.

Now if you are less sensitive skinned than my dear husband, you can use Roman chamomile, or even Tea Tree oil. We found though for him, Tea Tree is much too drying and causes irritation. Frankincense is also a good option here, but he just doesn’t care for the smell and we found it didn’t do as much for him as the other oils.

Why This Works

The lavender helps to reduce the red, and inflammation, and is great for just generally healing the skin. The rosemary which is also antiseptic, antibacterial, and it has vitamin E which is fantastic for the skin. Pine helps as an anti-everything in fighting fungal and anything else that could be creeping about on the skin as well as providing vitamin A and E which are fantastic for healing scars and skin issues. Pine also provides yet another anti-inflammatory to help calm the skin inflammation. German chamomile is gentle and helps to sooth the skin like the lavender, and is a better anti-inflammatory than the more astringent Roman.

The chamomile and lavender also help to reduce stress, and soothe the mind, which I know he needs with everything he has to go through. I often tell him that I think this is worse for him than for me, since I just have to get through the pain, he is the one that has to watch the person he loves suffer and is helpless to do anything to ease my suffering. So it makes me feel better that I am helping him fight that in some small way. Plus the less noticeable it is the happier he is, and more confident he feels, and what is better than that?

Remember to check for any interactions for these ingredients on WebMD, and always do test patches for any salves or topical preparations to make sure you don’t have and adverse reaction. Reducing stress is important and exercise, diet, and a good nights sleep is all important for keeping stress at bay. Meditative practices too, he has started doing Tai Chi himself and I like to think it helps him. Most importantly, see a dermatologist, self diagnosing can lead to improper treatment we consulted one first to make sure what we thought was rosacea really was that and not something else. So, if you aren’t officially diagnosed, ask a professional!


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Beer is Good for You, Huzzah!

Have you been watching the World Cup? I definitely backed the wrong team this year, (maybe next time Spain!) and, surprisingly, the US has not done too badly, until they did…sigh.

Around the world people will be watching matches, and inevitability, drinking a pint. Beer, it is s much more than just some beverage. Just something to drink at a barbecue, or after long day, that a pint you have while you commiserate with friends. Beer is complex, alive, and very interesting. You should appreciate a well made beer, as well as make own. I am a home-brewer (as I have mentioned) and beer is a such wonderful, and fascinating creature, you really must experience making one for yourself. Having a little beer baby in your closet, checking on it, and then enjoying it – there is nothing quite like it. Beer, is possibly the key to good health (in moderation of course) and is not “fattening” despite this new trend for lite beers. So time to learn about some of the benefits of our fabulous friend beer.

Kitchen-101-Beer-PNG

Everything you ever need to know about beers! (also a great site and should buy the print)

Beer, one of the oldest foods, and possibly the reason that humans settled down and started things like agriculture and cities. Beer is a very old medicine, Egyptians were known to use it as a “primitive” antibiotic, and it is so ancient that even Hammurabi wrote laws about it in his infamous code. Beer really can be medicine, and one now and then with the right ingredients can actually do a lot of good. Now that doesn’t mean you should go slam a 6-pack, but beer does have its benefits medicinally if consumed in moderation. Over consumption of beer negates any beneficial aspects of it so I can not stress moderation enough, but a beer now and then can be beneficial, even more so with the right ingredients.

Beer as I said gets mentioned in Hammurabi’s code but it is so important that it has been written in many more languages and hundreds of thousands of recipes existed around the world, and has a long and varied history. The oldest evidence of beer (Iran) and a mead/wine hybrid (China) from studying pottery found in tombs and archaeological excavations that date to 9,000-7,000 years ago. Humans have been brewing for almost as long as we have record for, and possibly started long before we lost our hunting and gathering ways.  The Sumarians had a goddess called Ninkasi, her name translates loosely to “the Lady who fills the mouth” and she was the Goddess of beer, basically. Yeast and fermentation were not understood so the whole fermentation process was very “magical.” Ninkasi it was said she was borne on sparkling fresh water, and the hymn to Ninkasi is basically a recipe for brewing beer in poetic form, and the Goddess comes and makes the magic happen.

Ninkasi, like a lot of other deities of alcoholic beverages, is a sort of embodiment of that magic of fermentation. There are a lot of cultures that have legends or magic around fermenting. Some cultures used a magical brewing stick that they thought magically caused beer to ferment, yeast transferred from the crevices in the stick would inoculate beers as it was stirred. Other cultures believed fermentation could only happen in a quiet place, and there were stories that if the beer was startled by loud noises it wouldn’t ferment. In most early cultures, beer was made with bread, since the yeast was wild yeast that was caught by the dough and fermented the dough through the yeast living in the air. The bread was then used to brew the beer, some used the dough raw, half baked, or twice baked in the case of the Sumarians, or at least as far as we can tell. The bread was added to the wort (or was sometimes part of the ingredients for the wort) for brewing and fermentation occurred. Some of it also could have been based on luck, and wild yeast settling in fermentation vessels and inoculating as well, but this bread method seems to be the most common and is even carried over today with some recipes having yeast spread on bread and floated on the wort to start the fermentation. Yeast doing its work still seems magical today when I make beer, or even my home-made sodas (though I tend to use specialized champagne yeast for those). Something so small having such a big effect, you must admit it is pretty fantastic.

The beer brewed from this method in Sumer, was very thick almost like a porridge. It had to be sipped with straws to filter it. The straws are a bit like traditional yerba mate straws, they filter out the solids (they used these in Egypt and with other early beers from many other cultures too. Everyone from gods and goddesses, to kings to commoners were shown sipping beers through these straws.

from nicolepeyrafitte.com

Sippin’ on bread ‘n’ juice… laid back. With my mind on Ninkasi, and Ninkasi on my mind.

There are craft brews now being produced under her name, it seems the old ways have become new ways and the circle of history continues.

Beer was part of life and worship through the ages as humanity progressed from the times of the Sumerians, and was a major part of many religious rights (and if they didn’t use beer a mead or wine substance was often used), like the libations of beer poured on a warden tree that we just discussed in the history of birch. In Egypt Bes was a God that was known to love drinking beer, and was frequently depicted as drinking beer (also through straws since it was more like Sumerian beer). Bes is probably, that is probably not definitely, the “pagan” origin of St Bessus, since some of the symbolism and protection areas (fertility, war, etc) were brought over as Bes was very popular with ladies, dancers and soldiers. Bes was second to Hathor for beer and brewing, and like in Hinduism Gods and Goddesses come in many forms and can take other forms. Hathor could manifest as many things, in her lady form she has cow ears, in her cow form, she is the divine white cow, always marked by it’s special necklace.

Like a cow with bling would go unnoticed in the tall papyrus… cause that’s normal.

But Hathor had another side, her pissed-off lady side. Sekhmet is Hathor’s not so nice side, and she is the goddess of war and is on the list of people not to be trifled with, like the Dread Pirate Roberts, or a Middle-American soccer mom fighting for the last Tickle-Me Elmo on Black Friday. Yet, Ra, decides to piss her off by telling her that some of the people of the Black Land, were planning to kill him. Not something you tell to Hathor considering one of her other forms was Ra’s wifey. She becomes so mad about the possible death of Ra, that she becomes Sekhmet, and begins to slaughter all humans faster than the robot overlords of Skynet could. Ra, realizing that flipping his wife’s bitch switch could result in complete genocide, and a real reduction in his worshipers population levels, decides the best thing to do is stop her. How do you stop a blood thirsty goddess on the warpath? With blood colored beer of course! Ra pours the beer on the ground and she drinks so much (remember – blood thirsty) that she becomes drunk, due to her drunken state she is sedated and thankfully returned to her more calm, cow-eared self.

“What did you say, Ra? You are going to what instead of the dishes?”

Beer was such a strongly held tradition, that as the new religion of Christianity was spread, many “pagan” (meaning- not of the 3 “book” religions) rituals and deities were absorbed into the rituals and traditions of the incoming traditions. This is why you have Saints like Brigid, she was not always a saint but was a pagan Goddess. Brigid was the daughter of Dagda, and was one of those amalgam Goddesses that comes about from many years of cultures growing and mingling until she becomes a triad goddess (Mother, Maiden, Crone type) as well as covering blacksmiths, poetry and many other things. Brigid once adopted by the incoming new religion, soon became combined and tied (like many other pre-Christian deities) to an existing saint, St Brigid of Kildare. There is a tradition that carried over from her earlier worship, and a group of nuns tended a flame which was a symbol of the earlier origins of the Saint. Saints typically do saintly things, and a main one was she tended to lepers in a leper colony. Tragically she found one day that the lepers  had run out of beer. She kindly saved them from this horrible plight by changing their bathwater (in some legends her own bathwater) into beer and saved the thirsty lepers.

“For when the lepers she nursed implored her for beer, and there was none to be had, she changed their bathwater into an excellent beer, by the sheer strength of her blessing and faith in God and dealt it out to the thirsty plenty.”

And again her place in history is secure, since there are craft beers being produced today that are named Brigid in honor of this saint, even one I quite like a lot. St Arnulf of Metz (sometimes written as Arnold) was another patron saint of brewers, and is now the patron saint of a brewery in Houston. Appropriately so, since Arnulf brewed himself, and often preached that –

“from man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.”

He also preached to the people to drink beer over water, which is a safety issue as I will cover with another Arnold later. After his death, the people of Metz sent people to collect their hometown saint’s body since he was buried near the monastery he retired to. On their way home, lugging their saintly cargo, stopped to have a pint at a tavern, but they were informed that there was only one mug of beer remaining. So one of them prays to Arnulf of Metz and assured his fellow travelers that by his prayer to Arnulf they will –

“by his powerful intercession the Blessed Arnold will bring us what we lack.”

And the single mug of beer never ran dry, providing enough beer to slake the thirst of all the travelers and some of the receiving crowd upon his return to Metz. The story of the Miracle of the Mug became one of the major reasons that Arnulf became Saint Arnulf, logically of course. Because if anyone had a never-ending mug of beer, they would definitely petition that the gifter of said mug, should be immortalized, or held in reverence as a saint. Personally, I would say sainthood in all religions, well…at least the ones that drink.

Beer was so important to most cultures as water was sometimes an unreliable resource for drinking (this was before germ theory and all that jazz). The best option for drinking was water that was boiled (which makes it safe) and then given the extra benefit of alcohol (to keep out other nasty things) was the obviously much safer option. Seriously, water was so bad that the patron saint of hop pickers, St Arnulf of Soissons (also written as Arnold, and different from the previous St Arnold), was so pro-beer drinking that he actively encouraged the peasants in the area to drink it instead of water. Due to beer’s “gift of health,” there is even legend he ended a plague by putting a crucifix in his brew pot, and all who drank of it were cured of the plague. Which beer could possibly have saved them, even without the crucifix addition, since there has been evidence that tetracycline, a well known antibiotic now, was found in mummies and ancient beers. They may not have known why it helped and made them feel better but they knew it did, this could be the reason that beer had such a strong history of restorative powers.

Beer was drunk by everyone, young and old, rich and pour. Though not all beers were created equal, there are highly alcoholic versions, and some with much less which are more like the previous ancient beers we were discussing. There was small, or children’s beer in some areas, which is generally 3% alcohol or less. This was drunk for breakfast or throughout the day, in fact most workers drank about 10 Imperial pints (568 ml) a day. Which if this was of what we now consider “regular” beer (about 6% ABV in most areas is “normal”), not much would get done, but it sure would be fun! The dangers of drinking water meant that this was the much safer alternative to water, and was provided to everyone including children and pregnant or nursing women. This sounds bad but it was generally watered down, so it would generally be enough alcohol to kill bacteria, but not enough to where it would do much harm, they weren’t doing keg-stands or anything.

There are traditional and regional variations, one we discussed with juniper, and they all have their own uses, recipes, meanings, and ingredients. There are things like chichakvass, svagdricka, podpiwek, and malzbier (malt beer) all of these fall in to this small beer group. Small beer is the drink of the masses, what was given to the servants when the European Lord threw a party, it was what the Egyptians workers received as part of their pay, and in Tudor times pints were allocated to ladies in waiting. No one was really getting hammered all day like some gridiron loving, forehead can crushing, frat boy, but if they had enough they might get a little “buzz” if you had a lot. It seems like drinking beer all day would lead to crazy behavior, but small beer was just enough alcohol to be safe but not wasted, since there were stronger ales if you wanted to drink your face off. This is a good thing to remember when you are traveling, beer is generally a safer bet than tap water. Also, if you are in a situation where drinking water is not so great, opt for the beer, even in survival. You can boil most any water and turn it into a somewhat decent beer, even duck pond water as was found in a documentary of how beer saved the world (if you have netflix).

These small or unfiltered beers add another level to most of the cultures that consumed them as a good source of nutrition. Beer in it’s varied forms were a large part of daily nutrition for almost all historical cultures. Since it is a fermented beverage is very high in B vitamins, and it isn’t just one beer has, it is all of the spectrum. Even more so in a lot of bottled home-brews, since a lot of them are conditioned in the bottle to carbonate them, and yeast isn’t filtered out. B vitamins are part of those vitamins that are so important for making sure everything works right, and helps keep nerves and pretty much everything else healthy. Beer was nutrition for monks in the Middle Ages, since fasting was a large part of their religious calendar, and beer was all the vitamins and nutrients monk’s needed. And this is why generally monastery, or more specifically Trappist, ales and beers are still some of the best around, I am sure all of you who good love beer you have heard of Chimay if you are a beer drinker. Trappist beers come from Trappist monasteries which means that they are brewed by monks of a branch of the Cistercians, but one that follows a more “strict” observance of the orders rules. Everything that is good for yeast, is good for people, and it is a great way (in moderation) to get a lot of vitamins you need in a natural way, which are generally easier to digest and absorb than in pill form. Beer has a lot of nutritional value, and while it does have calories mainly from carbohydrates and other sugars. It is mostly the fattening foods consumed with beers, as well as over consumption that leads to the inevitable beer belly.

Why do we care about small beer other than its nutritional value? Well, alcohol is a great way to dissolve fats and therefore oils (which are fats). So, what does that mean? That means that oils that can give beer flavor can also give beer additional medicinal value. Just like hops add a sedative quality to beer with their hop pollen and oils, you can add other plants to increase medicinal qualities. Rosemary, peppercorns, and juniper (as I mentioned) are all normal beer ingredients, but these ingredients bring not just flavors to beers but all of the properties of their oils as well. That means if you add say a quarter of an ounce of lavender flowers to a beer in the last 5 minutes of a boil, or even leave a muslin bag in the fermenter you will have a beer that with the hops will be quite sedating and good for relieving stress (goes well in Saison recipes). Lavender is quite bitter though so small amounts go a long way, and I have found that unless you let this sit for a month drinking it tastes like a punch in the face from Grandma’s closet. All herbs added must have their potency considered, so for example you probably wouldn’t want to add a pound of lavender, it would be way too bitter. You may need to counter with additional sweet like honey, which is a great addition to beers or brew it as a honey wine with lavender. Or get crazy and try including other herbs, be careful with bitter ones like hops and lavender…unless you like things bitter then it is a great addition. So you can be creative here, lemon balm in an IPA or a Hefeweizen, or maybe green peppercorns and rosemary in a Saison, or even chili peppers to a lager. Adding essential oils works too if you dont have herbs handy, add a few drops to the wort about one drop per 8th of an ounce of herbs called for in a recipe (for very intense flavors 1 drop for a quarter ounce of herbs). Whatever the addition you can get valuable vitamins, and a healthy dose of herbal benefits just by having a beer.

Another aspect of beer is one you can’t really get around, the alcohol content. Alcohol, from the Arabic language we borrow the word, and it was they who discovered distillation. But beer does not require distillation, so be glad for that since stills are first of all highly explosive, and second are generally frowned upon for legal reasons. Alcohol does have negative effects on the body when consumed too frequently or too much in a sitting (binge drinking is worse than steady alcoholism so don’t think that is better). The Mayo Clinic gives good information on what is a moderate versus an immoderate amount, here are their guidelines –

For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

Examples of one drink include:

  • Beer: 12 fluid ounces (355 milliliters)
  • Wine: 5 fluid ounces (148 milliliters)
  • Distilled spirits (80 proof): 1.5 fluid ounces (44 milliliters)

So having one now and then can do some good for the body, and I can’t stress enough moderation. Alcohol is a depressant, something that does “deaden” the system, which is why it is so dangerous to ever drink and drive. It slows reaction time, it also relaxes muscles and slows things down. Which can help if you are in pain a bit, it can help a lot with the right sort of herbs in it. Drinking too much will affect sleeping and other things so it is really important to not go overboard, and it can actually cause a B deficiency if consumed in excess. So keep it moderate (you may get tired of me saying that), and that beer can do a lot to relax the body, which can relax the mind. Especially when you enjoy it over a good meal, with good friends and family, nothing is better for the spirit than that.

“But beer sounds way too complicated to make,” I am hearing some of you think, “what is all this boil and fermenter stuff?” If you are the type that likes to read everything you can get your hands on about something before starting it Michael Jackson is a good place to start, I have brought him up before, and he is the unofficial guru on all things beer related, and some other distilling and fermenting type things. He writes some fantastic stuff about beers, and covers all sorts of ground on the old and new ways. If you want one book that explains it all in one book, and is “just the facts, ma’am” this is a site and writer you should check out. He was actually my first brewing book I bought, and while it is stuffed with information it is a good single source, read it twice if it feels overwhelming the first time. Another great book for not only recipes but history and great herbal information check out this book.

If you have a small amount of space and are looking for a small investment to start brewing, you should look into doing half grain, and half extract (sometimes called a mini-mash). It requires less set up, and by that I mean equipment, and you get a better product than if you do all extract. If you have the space and time, though even brewing with half extract takes a half day basically. But it is all worth the time and effort, especially when you crack open that bottle or tap that keg of a beer you brewed. If you are looking for recipes there are a lot of sites (like this, this, this, this, and this) that give recipes and notes from other home brewers. Since I am from the Austin area, I can not help but put in a plug for the local brewing supply store here that does ship nationally, and has kits, recipes, blogs, faqs and just about anything and everything you need for beer (even hops rhizomes to grow your own!).

Seriously, nothing tastes better than beer you made yourself, and because beer is endlessly customize-able to taste and seasons you can make beers that change with what is available in your garden or whatever suits your fancy. Making things add a real sense of satisfaction, and since it is a DIY thing that requires more patience than effort it is a great thing for someone with limited mobility (as long as you invite a friend who can lift heavy things). If you don’t you may want to invest in some hand pumps to transfer liquids in place.

If you are interested in reading the Hymn of Ninkasi, other than the site linked in the photo, and/or more information on her and beer culture in Sumer, check out this site or this site

If you are interested in beer deities in general go here and here.  

If you are interested in the Saints of Brewing, hops, and other Beer related things, go here or here.


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Birch, The Watchful & Giving Tree

Sorry to everyone out there, this took so long to post since my left arm is slowing me down a bit, and there are spasms in my hand and face that are starting to make doing a lot of things painful. But what better inspiration to talk about something that is a good pain reliever for aches and pains!

Everyone knows birch, the tall silvery trees that seem to stand out so starkly against the forest background. It has many species and all are a part of the genus Betula. I always love paintings that include birch trees, and birch is the state tree of New Hampshire. Birch in Sanskrit is bhurga and translates basically to “tree whose bark was used for writing on,” and may be the root word for the Anglo-Saxon word for birch – beorgan which means “to protect” or “shelter.” In Czech the month of March is Březen and is derived from bříza which means birch, since birch trees tend to flower in that month there.

Source National Geographic

No matter what you call it though, it is always slender, silvery, and beautiful birch.

The birch, no matter where it grows, seems to draw notice from humans. Be it for functional use, mythology, or their own aesthetic beauty, every culture that has them in their region holds it in high honor and has a wide range of uses functional and spiritual, almost universally. The slash like markings on the tree are often a feature of mythology, though sometimes they look less like slashes, and more like eyes, hence one of its epitaphs – “The Watchful Tree.”

Mythology & Historical Use of the Birch

The common English name birch, is a very old word, and has evolved from the Old English birce or bierce. The genus Betula is from Latin, but is a lone-word (from influences of the languages of the Gauls) bethe (Old Irish), bedw (Welsh). Birch bark was used like paper in India and was what the Vedas were written on, as well as many other things since birch paper is sort of like papyrus, strong and does not start to rot. Even some Native American tribes that in general did not have written languages, recorded important events in pictorial form on birch bark.

Wikipedia

A birch bark inscription excavated from Novgorod, circa 1240–1260.

I grew up reading the Narnia books, and one of my favorite scenes is where Lucy goes to a Dryad party. I loved the description of all the Dryads and how they were pale, slender, graceful and limber. I was always envious of her being able since the spirits of the trees all seemed so beautiful and so individual. One of the trees she sees is birch, and this is how C.S. Lewis describes her –

“[s]he looked at a silver birch: it would have a soft, showery voice and would look like a slender girl, with hair blown all about her face, and fond of dancing.”

"Birch Dryad of Narnia" by Matthew Davidson

I just really liked this drawing, she looks most like what I thought the birch dryad would look like.

Birch is a common tree to find in mythology and due to species of it existing all over the world, birch is in most traditional crafts, knowledge and medicine. It’s history spans the ages, and the world, and pretty much everywhere it grows it is a valued and respected tree.

In C.S. Lewis’s homeland of the British Isles, the birch tree held a sacred place in the mythology of the land. Beth is the first consonant of the Ogham alphabet, and is represented by the birch. In proto-German (which would be one of the invading languages of the Isles) the letter berkanan means birch which is also what it represents in the Scandinavian cultures. There is a legend that a birch tree halted a fire that would have destroyed the Swedish town of Umea, and the city is unofficially known as the “City of the Birches.”

Interestingly, if you are a Game of Thrones fan, the God Trees used in the stories are extremely similar to the Warden Trees used on burial mounds in Scandanavian cultures. Warden trees, or Vörðr, were planted on top of burial mounds as protection, or some think it is also as a representation of Yggdrasil, and they were often birch. One birch warden tree was still alive and being offered libations of beer until 1874 when it was finally cut down. The Warden Tree’s job was to keep people who would disturb the dead away, sometimes through physical force, spooky manifestations, or just a simple weird feeling that makes you not want to stay. In some cultures the tree houses a spirit that protects the area bringing vengeance and misfortune to any who dare upset it. Like most spirit dwellings you could save yourself from their ire by providing the required sacrifices. Which would keep the spirits happy, and engaged in their job of hanging out to protect things – sorta like a spirit security guard. The word wraith is derived linguistically from the warden trees, and this is why burial mounds are generally believed to have wraiths or why Tolkien wrote about barrow-wights inhabiting mound tombs.

In Russia, the birch is considered the national tree, and some of the Siberian Shaman traditions hold birch to be sacred. Some of the plains cultures of Asia and Eastern Europe would place deceased shamans in birch trees, since they were the way point between this world and the spirit world. Allowing that deceased shaman to travel to the spirit world where they could continue to help, heal, and guide their people. It is possible that the birch held such a high spiritual value since fly agaric mushrooms are often found growing around their roots. Reindeer eat them, and people noticed would then act very strange. They would be “tripping balls” to use the parlance of our times. Eventually one brave soul wanted in on that action, and for some strange reason they jumped to the conclusion that the best way to get to whatever was making the reindeer act weird, would be to drink the deer pee. My current suspicion is that it was probably some distant relative of Bear Grills. Fortunately, later some bright spark decided that pee drinking was a) gross and b) unnecessary since you could skip the reindeer middleman and just eat the mushrooms themselves.

You would probably see a lot more than spirits eating these anyway.

These mushrooms were a key part of most “vision” rituals as they are a powerful hallucinogenic. Other cultures used the birch as the center pole for their Siberian plains tents, called yurts. The tree represented the way point between the worlds and shamans would sometimes climb them, or have initiates climb them, since the climb symbolically represents the traveling to the spirit world.

Freya and Frigg were tied to the tree, since they are both goddesses associated with love, and fertility like the birch. Eoster, the debated goddess since she is only referenced by Bede, is associated wtih birch and is the root of our modern word for Easter and is most likely the “pagan” ritual that was then co-opted by the converted Christians unwilling to give up their old ways. Many people are familiar with Loki due to the recent comic book movies, but Loki was a real Norse God who got up to many shenanigans, frequently involving his incredibly strong, but usually quite daft, brother Thor. One of the most famous is the story of how Loki caused Baldur to be killed with his trickery. Loki was chained for his evil ways, and is the reason that he was said to be “fortunate in his deceit” in a Rune Poem – since he was chained and not killed.

Birch has the greenest leaves of any shrub;
Loki was fortunate in his deceit.

Because it is one of the first trees to bud and show leaves in spring, as well as it being a pioneer species (that means it tends to go where no tree has gone before, or were before and aren’t now), has led to it being a symbol of life, growth, and fertility. It is often used in “spring cleaning” rituals to keep evil out of the house. It was this use that is probably the reason it was also used in the Beating of the Bounds rituals in the British Isles, as it would drive out any lingering bad luck from the previous year.  Birch was also used as the disciplinary rod of choice since it was thought to deliver punishment as well as driving the evil out of the child that was misbehaving.

There is also the belief that striking cattle with birch twigs would make them more fertile. This is similar to the tradition of bringing birch saplings into barns and houses to promote fruitfulness, and sometimes the striking with birch twigs was used on people, for the same fertility reasons. Other regions, a birch twig given from a girl to a guy she likes, is a sign of encouragement. There is even an old form of marriage ritual is called a “Besom Wedding,” that was recognized as a legally binding ceremony up until the 1800’s. The couple jumped over a birch broom, and they were considered wed.

Birch was considered a protective force, and branches were placed over doorways, or lent against barns to protect them from evil. Birch was also a common tree to use for a Maypole for May Day celebrations. Also birch twigs or boughs were put over cradles to protect babies, as well as making their toys, and sometimes even the cradle itself, of birch to protect the baby from unseen forces and evil spirits. In the highlands of Scotland, a cross was made of birch twigs for ceremonies for St Brigid, and a straw, or stick, effigy representing the child placed in a cradle, as part of a ritual for protection. Then a rod was placed next to the effigy, sometimes made of birch (sometimes other woods but usually birch), which was known as Bride’s (Brigid) birch or wand, and this ritual would protect the baby, until the next celebration of St. Brigid. Some other cultures just made children’s beds of birch twigs for the same sort of Brigid rituals. Though birch twig beds in more often for fertility rights, and feature in a lot of  love poetry and stories where lovers meet on the bed of birch, or under birches.

Birch has always been known for its flexibility, there is a Native American legend from the Blackfoot Confederacy tribes telling how the birch despite intense wind bent, but never broke. Infuriating the creator, who then slashed the bark of the birch with his hunting knife for its disobedience. The Ojibwe people (better known as Chippewa) tell the story that the marks come from the Thunderbird throwing lightening at the tree after Waynaboozhoo (the hero of the story) steals fire in the form of a rabbit from the Thunderbird. This is has also led to the belief among the Ojibwe that the birch is immune to lightening strikes, and is the best place to shelter during a lightening storm. The Odawa people tell the story of the helpful birch, which is the manifestation of an extremely helpful warrior that lost his life in battle. He was gifted with the ability to help people in a good way, and after his death, the birch tree grew from his grave and continued to help the people.

Birch is an extremely helpful tree, and is probably why it is featured around the world in mythology as well as local crafts. Birch can do many many things, its bark as we mentioned was used as paper, and makes great paper pulp, but it was also used as clothing. Birch hats have been found in burials, and birch bark was used as leg coverings in Scandinavian cultures to keep out the damp. The twigs were used as kindling, to make besoms (a type of broom), and the shavings were great for smoking meats. The shavings or sawdust was good for creating dyes, as well as tanning leather. Its outer bark due to its lack of decay and waterproofing oils was used to make baskets and containers, as well as roofing, and canoes. With the bark removed, birch is the choice of wood for the Yule log, and is a great firewood, but needs preservative treatment if it is to be used for woodworking (things like furniture, flooring or utensils). The “Spruce Goose” is actually made mostly of birch, despite its name. The oil in the wood makes it combustible and burns similar to a candle, and that oil is collected and used to tan leather (which results in Russian leather). You can also extract it and cook it down into Birch Tar, which has been used as one of the oldest types of super glue (Ancient Greek pots have been found fixed with it). The sap can be brewed into a delicious alcoholic beverage, and is also a great home-made soda. (I haven’t made my own birch beer yet, but I plan to, and I generally buy as much as I can when I am able to find it, because it is awesome. Like spicy root beer awesome.)

Seriously, it is so good that every time I find some Birch Beer this dance happens

Birch as Medicine

After all those uses, birch is also a great medicinal tree. If you are ever lost in the woods and you break an arm or a leg you can use the outer birch bark, after it is soaked in some water, to make a cast to keep the limb immobile. It will also deliver pain relief if the inner bark is included and can be used as a topical pain “patch” for injuries if you are out in the wild. For a long time sweet birch (Betula lenta, or sometimes called black birch) was used to commercially produce wintergreen and was sometimes used for commercial production of a type of wintergreen oil (since it is much safer to ingest), so if you buy wintergreen oil, again be sure you know you are getting the real wintergreen. Like wintergreen, it is a good topical analgesic and birch does carry methyl salicylate, again like wintergreen, and is why it is sometimes sold as such. Birch is good for treating joint pain, back pain, the usual daily aches and pains, and headaches. The salicylate is held in the inner bark and is basically aspirin, and it is the reason it was used in most cultures as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, arthritic pain in general, as well as “moon time” cramps.

Birch also contains a lot of vitamin C, and we already know how important vitamins are for your body to work and reduce your pain. Birch has betulinic acid in it as well which is a known anti-inflammatory, and has promise as an anti-malarial and anti-retroviral, but not enough research has been done yet. There is also a lot of mentions that it is being studied for treating tumors, since it could inhibit or reduce growth, but this has been mostly focused on for melanoma treatment. Betulinic acid also is very astringent and works well for skin complaints, like eczema and psoriasis, even insect bits. It is also antiseptic so it is good for wounds and preventing infection topically. Other uses of birch, specifically betulinic acid from birch, include helping with lymphatic diseases, urinary infections, respiratory infections (like tuberculosis), and due to its diuretic nature it helps with edema and gout. Birch bark also has a mild sedative action, and is a great addition with rosemary in the bath to relieve pain as well as relax the body and mind.

There are loads of species of birch, and they all generally have the same properties, but I suggest only using the above mentioned black birch, or if you are in Europe or Asia silver birch (Betula pendula). You can use other species, but make sure you do your research before using any species of birch, and again always use any thing you put in and on your body in moderation.

Birch Recipes

Leaves are safer to use in teas than bark, since just like wintergreen you need to treat this with respect. So small doses and use common sense, and make sure you speak with your doctor to make sure this won’t interact with anything you are already taking. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the bark or small twigs, they are safe to use and a small twig green from the tree is a safe teething option for children since it provides relief from the pain and tastes quite nice (obviously they would need to be supervised while doing this, just sayin’). There are a lot of pre-made options here too, you can buy capsules of birch bark, oils, and so forth, make sure before using any of them you are researching which species is used in the preparation.

Birch Tea for Pain

  • 5-7 whole leaves of Birch (1-2 teaspoons if dried and crumbled)
  • 8 oz Boiling water

You will need to collect the leaves in spring, and you want new leaves that have just come out on the tree. You can use them fresh, or dry them in a dehydrator or in the sun, you may want to put a net, muslin, or cheesecloth over them if you dry them out side. They are ready to use dry when they snap under pressure and then crumble easily. Steep in a covered teacup for 4-8 minutes, the longer you steep the stronger the tea. This is good for pain, pretty much anything you would take an aspirin for, but it is also good if you are suffering from water retention, or have edema since it is a diuretic. Also this is a good rinse for your hair, and it smells nice.

ProTwigTip: You can also make this with young twigs or bark, you need the cambium (that’s the layer between the bark and the wood) to be green. That is the part that carries salicylate in the woody parts of the tree. You can use a teaspoon of twigs or bark (just make sure you include the cambium), and steep it just like the leaves. This will be stronger though, and again you should treat all of these with respect and use common sense. Don’t take more than 3 cups a day.

Birch Twigs for Pain

  • Birch twigs, fresh off the tree (preferably)

You can also chew the twigs for headache relief, pain from braces, and these are great for teething babies (used with supervision of course) since chewing the twig will release the salicylate and bring pain relief. All you have to do is just break a twig off a branch, give it a wash, and chew it.

Birch Leaf Bath for Pain & Inflammation

  • 2 handfuls of fresh or dried Birch leaves
  • 4-5 large sprigs of Rosemary
  • 1-2 tablespoons of Lavender flowers

Draw a warm bath, and throw everything in and have a good soak, but for no longer than 20 minutes. This will help with muscle and joint pain, and its anti-spasmodic properties will relax spasms, and help relax the body to bring on sleep if needed.

ProTwigBathTip: Twigs are obviously pokey if you use them in a bath, and bark as well, so they aren’t great for the bath. If you don’t want to spend the time cleaning the tub afterwards or if you need to make a stronger bath, this is also another good option to use the infusion instead. To make the infusion use 2 large handfuls of twigs or birch (or leaves), and cover with enough boiling water to submerge them, allow to steep for at minimum 10 minutes up to an hour. Pour liquid into a warm bath, and soak for 20 minutes.

Epsom Birch Bath Salts

  • 40 ounces (5 cups) Epsom salts
  • 10 drops Birch Essential Oil
  • optional: any other oils, like rosemary and lavender above, or even chamomile could be added to this to help with whatever sort of pain you have.

Mix well, no lumps, and store in an airtight container. Add a cupful to a bath and enjoy a relaxing soak that will bring pain relief and sooth painful joints and spasms. You do need to be very careful using the essential oil of birch, but diluted this much you should have no issues, but it is best to do a test patch before doing this bath if you haven’t been exposed to birch before. Make sure you also know what species the oil is made of as well.

Birch Tincture

  • 1 part birch bark
  • 2 parts alcohol (vodka, grain alcohol)

Add everything to a seal-able jar, mason jars are usually best, and store in an undisturbed place for about a month. Make sure to shake once every day or so. Never take more than ½ a teaspoon, and you should start with a ¼. No more than 3 times a day. This can be added to teas, honey, juice, or under the tongue. Birch, I think, tastes very nice and isn’t offensive to the palate to where it would need to have the taste masked.

There are birch essential oils out there, but make sure you are using one you know is sourced and distilled reliably. Buy local if you can. Both oils and tinctures are difficult to use on the go so you can always make a quick salve or a beeswax salve for on the go applications. These are also good for skin issues like eczema or psoriasis.

Birch Salve

  • 1/3 c Oil (any good quality oil)
  • 1/3 oz Beeswax, granulated or grated
  • 10-15 drops Birch Oil or 20-30 of Birch Tincture

You can always add other things to this, but birch smells quite nice on its own. It goes well with floral scents like lavender or jasmine if you don’t care for the smell. In a double boiler, heat the oil and slowly add in the beeswax stirring until it is completely melted and mixed. Remove from heat and stir in birch oil or tincture, pour into containers with lids and allow to cool.

Birch Quickie Salve

  • 2 ounces Coconut oil (solid at room temp)
  • 10-15 drops Birch Oil or Tincture

Using a mixer, whip oil and add in the oil a drop at a time while whipping. Whip until fluffy with a texture similar to a whipped lotion. Store in a container with a lid, and this is also great for skin issues as well as for pain, joint pain, and muscle spasms.

There are a lot of birch beer, and birch wine recipes floating around. Many countries that use birch use the sap fresh or fermented, so you can always use an old family recipe if you have one floating around. If you don’t, you should make your own. I plan to make some myself in the near future but locating birch syrup is difficult. If you live in an area where birch grow you can tap your own sap (instructions here). You can drink the birch sap right from the tree, and is supposed to be quite good this way.

Birch Beer (Birch Soda) from GroupRecipes

  • 5 gallon crock
  • 4 quarts finely cut sweet birch twigs
  • 1 gallon honey
  • 4 gallons birch sap
  • 1 cake soft yeast (or a packet of yeast)
  • 1 slice toasted rye bread

Measure 4 quarts of finely cut twigs of sweet birch into the bottom of a 5-gallon crock.
In a large kettle, boil together the honey and birch sap for 10 minutes.
Pour over chopped twigs.
When cool, strain to remove the twigs.
Return to the crock.
Spread cake of soft yeast on the slice of toasted rye bread.
Float on top of the beer in the crock.
Cover with a cloth.
Let ferment until the cloudiness just starts to settle, about a week but it depends somewhat on temperature.
Bottle the beer and cap tightly.
Store in a dark place and serve it cold after the weather gets hot.
It should stand in the bottles about 3 months before using.
If opened too soon, it will foam all over and pop worse than champagne.

Since birch isn’t frequent in my area, extract is my only option for birch beer and it does not have the same medicinal properties, but it sure does taste good. So don’t despair if you want to make birch beer but have no birches. I also have never made these wines, but the recipes looked interesting, I plan to (if possible) since it has a lot of fans that say it tastes like a good sweet wine. There are a lot of recipes floating around but the easiest I found is the one here, which I have copied here with some of my own additions to it.

Birch Wine

  • 8 pints sap
  • ½ lb Raisins
  • 2 lb sugar
  • 2 Lemons, juiced
  • ½ a packet of Red Star Champagne yeast
  • 6 ounces White Grape Juice Concentrate

You need freshly collected sap for this, bring to a boil and add the sugar and simmer for 10 minutes. Place the raisins in a fermentation bucket or carboy, pour in the boiling liquid and lemon juice. When it has cooled to 86 degrees or cooler add the yeast and seal with an airtight brew vent to prevent messy explosions. Allow to ferment for three days at minimum no more than 7, before straining, and transferring to a secondary fermenter also with a brew vent. Let stand for about a week and then bottle the wine and store in a cool place for at least a month. Though, I suggest 3 months for this since that seems to be the consensus on the older recipes, but one month should be plenty of time for it to develop an alcoholic zing to it.

Lastly, bark bread, and ersatz food has existed for ages and while making all your bread out of bark flour won’t taste so great a small addition to it will provide a good punch of vitamins to a hearty type of bread. This seems to be one of the tastier looking recipes, and this is one last thing I have not tried but am now excited to that I know about it.

Ingrid’s [Birch] Bark Bread from Julie’s Kitchen

  • 100 g or 3.5 oz yeast
  • 1 liter or 1 quart lukewarm water
  • 1 liter or 1 quart rye flour
  • 1.5 liters or 1.5 quarts white flour
  • 2 dl or 1/2 cup bark flour (Ingrid uses bark from her own pine forest) [Refer to this guide or this guide for harvesting birch bark, and drying it to make bark flour]

Blend the ingredients and knead the dough. Allow to rise for one hour. Roll out into smaller rounds. Baking time varies according to the size of the bread.
(I suggest for medium rounds which are the size of pita breads 10 minutes at 225 C or 437 F – sprinkle water over before baking)

Finally, you must remember that everyone is different and you need to start with small doses of this and increase slowly. Keep in mind that this should only be used internally in large amounts under supervision, it is not the same level of danger as wintergreen being ingested but you can quickly toe the line of safety if this is used unwisely. You always want to make sure anything you use is not going to interact badly with anything else you are taking, so check for interactions on sites like WebMD. Always do your own research, and if you are in doubt in any way whatsoever, ask a professional!

For more information on Irish trees and their legends, this is a fantastic resource.

For an interesting break down of a birch poem that was part of a collection Tolkien worked on go here, and for Robert Frost’s poem on birches go here, they are both very good.