Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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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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Handy Dandy Dandelions!

It feels like it has been a year since I have been able mentally and physically to sit down and write. Migraines have been a real problem this year, as well as edema which is really cutting into my life since you have to elevate your feet. The right side has also been breeched, but the battle continues but the CRPS is slowly progressing into the arm and leg. But! Despite all that, I am starting to finally feel like I am on an upswing. That inspired me to talk about something that no matter how hated they are by others, I have always loved and felt like it was a bit of sunshine that always managed to grow in the harshest of places.

The humble, the tenacious dandelion.

Yes this humble little plant may have saved many lives!

The Rodney Dangerfield of the plant world

 

I even remember the first time I found out they were edible, watching a Pippi Longstocking movie (man I love those movies!) and I saw her eat one and immediately had to ask Mom about it (since there was no wikipedia then, Mom was my food information guru) and she told me that you can eat dandelions, but that she didn’t much care for them since they were bitter. Her mother used to make the greens when she was younger, and would tell her about how she used to eat them as a kid during the Great Depression.

I know the first thing you are thinking, they’re just weeds aren’t they? Why would you want to eat weeds?! This is not the Great Depression! But they are so much more than weeds! They are a wonderful plant that got a bad wrap. You should respect the dandelion, no matter how much man tries to keep it down, it bounces back. We have thrown everything at it, and we still can’t eradicate it! I can only hope to be as strong as this humble sunny flower.

Thankfully for all of us it has survived and grows everywhere, which means its FREE! The best price! You can also eat the entire plant, and it is ridiculously good for you. More reasons why you should love this much slandered plant! It got many people, my grandparents and my husband’s too I am sure (possibly even your own) through really rough times, especially ones when food was scarce. They are so plentiful and cheap that one famous millionaire cheapskate, and vegetarian, Henry Ford, was known to pick greens from the side of the road, including dandelions. While his ideas about nutrition were probably not the most sound, he did have one thing right. There was all this free food just sitting around, why go to the grocery store? Ford was so well known for eating “road greens” he was even featured in a cracked article for it.

If its good enough for Ford, it is good enough for you!

When you realize that dandelions are high in a ton of vitamins (A, C, B2, and K, as well as potassium, and manganese, and more calcium and iron than spinach) eating “road greens” sounds a lot less silly. All of these vitamins and minerals are not only essential for normal body function they are a large chunk that you need to consume for nerve health as well as help assist in fighting or preventing pain. Dandelions were a great source of vitamin C which helped keep people from succumbing to scurvy, and the preserved versions helped keep people going through harsh winters and other hard times. Dandelions also produce a natural lecithin, which you may (or may not) remember from the Kava post. Dandelions are so good for you they are even mentioned in Greek mythology. According to some versions of the Minotaur of Crete stories – Hecate feeds dandelions to Theseus for thirty days, to make him strong enough to kill the Minotaur of the labyrinth. Since it rivals spinach in its iron and calcium content, Hecate is basically giving him the ancient Greek version of Popeye’s spinach!

He is probably singing “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am”

They also contain inulin, taraxacin (the bitter flavor and a possible diuretic) and levulin (basically a type of starch). Dandelions even contains small amounts of vegetable proteins, and fats, as well as fiber and other starches in the roots. It also produces a milky latex like substance, that is being used in the production of natural rubber. This dandelion milk has been a folk remedy for wart removal for a long time, and I have found some blog posts with people praising its efficacy, but there are no scientific studies to back this up. Sadly I don’t have any warts to test this on but I would love to know from someone directly if it works… so if you try it, let me know!

Dandelions have made their way across cultures, time and continents. The Romans knew well of its properties and was included in medical writings as well as gardens. The Romans helped to spread the dandelion to the Celts and Gauls, and they were immediately integrated into the food and medicine of the area. The earliest medicinal reference to dandelions comes from Arabic physicians from the 10th and 11th centuries. It is possible they gave the dandelion its Latin name as it is named Taraxacon in Arabic, but it could also derive from Greek. Taraxos in Greek means “abnormal health condition” and akos means “remedy,” or even taraxo “I have caused” and achos “pain” could be the name origin. As we move West, there are mentions of dandelions in some Welsh 13th century medical writings, and the usual litany of properties are listed. The name we English speakers currently use, dandelion, possibly comes from an Anglo-Saxon, corruption of the Norman French name Dent de Leon or “teeth of the lion,” for its serrated leaves. Though there are the writings of a surgeon from the 1400’s that says it is as powerful as the tooth of a lion for fighting illnesses.

There are many many different kinds of dandelions, and some false dandelions, so make sure you always know what you are harvesting if you are picking them wild.

As you can see there are a lot of imitators, but you want nothing but the real thing….baby.

 

Seriously be careful there are a lot of plants that are trying to be a dandelion, that are not good to consume. So be very, very careful and preferably have a professional help the first time you go foraging.

The specific species that we want to focus on, since it is edible and medicinal, is the common dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) possibly originated in Europe (or Eurasia) and then spread to the west and east from there – east as far as India and west to the Americas. It was well known for it’s diuretic properties which led to some unusual common names like pissabed in English and pissenlit in French. In China it was known as “earth nail” for its long tap root, which is why it is so irksome to gardeners. As the Europeans came over to the Americas, they brought the precious dandelion seeds with them, and seeds were brought west with Pioneers as they expanded. It is sad a plant that was so highly regarded fell so far from grace.

While its diuretic properties are not 100% proven in lab studies, the ones that have been performed do show signs of promise and there is a strong tradition in fold medicine for this which usually indicates there may be some validity in this property. The diuretic properties of dandelions can help with edema, whether its the usual bloating that comes with PMS or edema from pain conditions or CRPS. Another property that is even better to help CRPS, is the anti-inflammatory properties that dandelions have, while they are not 100% proven in human studies, animal studies are promising. Even if it doesn’t have anti-inflammatory properties, the level of vitamins and minerals it has can help to alleviate pains that could come from malnutrition, and it can be taken with other laxative herbs to help replace potassium that most of these tend to make you lose.

Dandelions are also traditionally used for spring tonics, made as syrups, salads and beverages. Possibly due to its diuretic properties, and there is a lot of folk knowledge that says this is also good for the liver. There has been a lot of folk and oral information for this but not enough lab studies to be sure that it can help the liver, and by help that means by stimulating it to produce bile. Which, in my humble opinion, since they are such a great food – again all of it is edible – and so high in vitamins and minerals we all need if they do or do not also stimulate the liver really doesn’t remove from the overall awesomeness that is the dandelion. There is really no downside to eating them, and if it does help your liver it is only another tick in the plus column. Sadly though at this point in time, it is unknown for sure if the dandelion should get credit for this property. There is also a belief that the taraxacin, which is what gives it the bitter taste, helps to stimulate the stomach since “bitters” are usually used as a digestive, though now they are more often to add another dimension to a meal or drink. It could also help with the gall bladder, again by stimulating it, and dandelions are something to add to the list of things that help you go when you can’t go.

There are also studies looking into the possibility that consuming dandelions can help to regulate blood sugar. So if that is interesting to you, you may want to go look into that further. Dandelions are also excellent for the skin, and can help with psoriasis, eczema and acne. or just help keep it looking lovely.

How to Get Them

Dandelions grow everywhere, and as long as they haven’t been treated with pesticides or other chemicals they are great to wild gather. But since they are basically the equivalent of filters for soil, it is best to avoid those found in people’s lawns since they might have been treated with chemicals you wouldn’t want to ingest. But these are one of those things you can wild gather if you are low on cash for food, for medicine, or if the zombie apocalypse has struck and you need both! The two things that are generally stressed if you are going to gather the roots is to dig them in wet weather, since they come out easier (but you can harvest them pretty much any time you see them growing), and to avoid any places that could have pesticide sprayed. Avoid roadsides, people’s lawns (always ask if you are going to dig up plants from your neighbor’s yard), rail road tracks, pretty much anywhere humans go a lot or where they would frown on this flower showing its sunny face. Larger leaves do better if you are cooking them, smaller do great on sandwiches and in salads. All you really need is a good knife, but a tool with tines will work as well. Make sure you rinse the leaves 3 times at least and let them soak for about an hour in clean water. The roots it is traditional to put them in a stream to clean them, but you can scrub them well with a potato or nail brush and then leave them under some running water for a bit to get the dirt out.

If you would like some more detailed instructions here is some info from a guy that is a well known urban forager.

Clara is one of my food heroes, she does recipes from her past and does a quick dandelion salad while showing you how she harvests and cleans them.

If you are collecting and not using the roots immediately you can always cut them into uniform (as possible) 3-6 inch pieces, and dry them in a low oven, commercial dehydrator or the sunshine. They should be brittle enough to snap but still white inside. You can dry the leaves too but I think they are better fresh for cooking, but best dried if you are making teas. If you need help with drying here is a good quick instructional on drying all parts of plants.

How to Use Them

You can really just steam or lightly boil or fry the greens with olive oil or lemon, or as a plain salad with the same. This is the most traditional way of eating the greens. But here are some great recipes for food, and medicinal recipes. Most are both, as Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”

ProPetalTip: When you are removing petals from the flowers make sure you wear latex gloves, or use scissors to trim the petals from the top of the flower. It may not cause a rash but it can stain. It is also a good idea to wear gloves when foraging for the flowers to protect from the sap.

Dandelion Cold Salad

  • Dandelion leaves (collect enough dandelions to fill all the bowls of people that will be eating)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Onions, tomatoes, feta cheese – one, two or all of these can be diced and included
  • Olive oil, to drizzle over
  • Lemon juice, to drizzle over
  • Optional – crushed garlic

Wash and tear the dandelion leaves until they are bite sized, toss with other ingredients and drizzle with oil and lemon juice. These are a great side to most summer barbecue dishes, or picnics, or just whenever! Remember dandelions are seriously good for you, so this salad it is OK to have seconds and thirds of. You can always make Clara’s cold salad recipe as well.

Hot Dandelion Salad

  • 3 pounds of Dandelion greens, well cleaned
  • ½ cup Olive oil
  • 5 large cloves of Garlic
  • ½-1 teaspoon Sea Salt
  • A generous squeeze of lemon juice
  • optional: a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, or basil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add greens. Cook until the stems are tender, usually 10 minutes, then drain in a colander and rinse under cold water. Press the leaves after to get rid of any excess water. Heat the olive oil, gently it burns easily, add garlic and pepper flakes if you want them, cook until golden. Add the greens and increase heat to medium and add the sea salt. Toss the greens so that oil coats the leaves evenly and everything is heated through – about 4 minutes. Squeeze lemons over and serve hot.

Pennsylvania Dutch Dandelion Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing (found here and slightly adapted)

  • 4-6 bowls of Dandelion leaves
  • 5-6 rashers of Bacon
  • 1½ cups Water
  • 2 tablespoons Flour (cornstarch or arrowroot for gluten free)
  • 3 tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons Honey (sugar, or even molasses will do)
  • 1 tablespoon good Mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste (my mom always added some sugar)
  • hard boiled egg or eggs if you like them (I don’t so I leave this out)

Wash the dandelion leaves really well (wash them like Clara does) they need a wash and a soak for at least an hour, and a few more washings. Fry the bacon and remove it from the pan and chop it into pieces. Pour out half the fat, and save the rest bacon grease is really useful. Mix everything else except the egg and dandelions together well and add to the hot bacon grease. Stir and cook until thick, if it is too salty add a pinch or two of sugar. Pour hot dressing over cleaned dandelion greens and garnish with chopped bacon and diced egg.

Dandelion Syrup

  • 1 ½ cups Dandelion flowers (or petals), or about 100 flowers
  • 1 cup Honey (liquid glucose, or agave nectar could work here too)
  • 3 cups filtered Water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (or a teaspoon citric acid)

If you haven’t already, remove the petals from the green part of the flower, the sepal. You want just the petals, none of the green bits should get in or it will taste horrible. Throw all the petals in a pot and cover with the water. Bring up to a light simmer, and let it go for about 10-15 minutes you don’t want a rolling boil so keep it low. Remove from heat, and cover and let the water and petals sit over night. Pour through a cheesecloth, and twist and press it to squeeze all the moisture from the petals. Return the petal water to the pot and add honey and lemon, and simmer on low heat until thickened. Store in a clean bottle. You can use sugar but I find honey is a better flavor. You can use this syrup on pretty much anything – pancakes, french toast, ice cream, or even with a little gin and tonic for a sunny cocktail for a summer evening. It is packed with all sorts of good things for you and it tastes good! There is all sorts of recipes for dandelion syrup, so just try the one that seems best to you if you don’t care for this one. I even found a traditional Scandinavian syrup recipe you can try here (it has apples and looks like it would taste delicious!).

Dandelion Jelly

  • 8-10 cups of Dandelion petals
  • 5 cups of water
  • 6 cups Sugar (you could use honey but I find sugar works better for jams and jellies)
  • 1 packet of powdered Pectin (2 if you use liquid)
  • 4 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • Jars and canning supplies, make sure they are sterile ahead of time (if you have never canned before read this)
  • optional: food coloring – green and yellow seem to be the preferred colors

Add your petals to a large pot and cover with water, bring water up to a boil and once it hits a rolling boil turn the heat down to medium and let it simmer for about 5-10 minutes. The water will look a bit brown gold, it is ready to be strained. Take 3 cups of the dandelion “tea” and 6 cups of sugar, mix well and add in the lemon juice. You can add yellow food coloring to brighten things up if it doesn’t look as golden as you would like. Some people prefer green, whatever catches your fancy. Put mixture on the heat and bring to a boil an stir quickly, since sugar will turn on you like a Kardashian you are married to. And that is just as fast as you would imagine it to be. So stir a lot. When the mixture boils and stays the same height where you stir it, add the pectin. Boil hard for a minute, then pour into sterile jars leaving a ¼ inch of space from the top. Scoop off any foam that forms and lid. Process in a 10 minute bath for 8 oz jars (15 if you are in the mountains). Jelly goes great on toast, waffles, pancakes, anything really like syrup!

Also if you don’t make your own bread, you need to change that TODAY. I have used a lot of recipes, I love this one a lot but the hubs didn’t care for it much (he is picky about things). This is the one that he loves most, I have to admit I really enjoy as well. It has a crispy crust and a lovely crumb. And it takes like 10 minutes of actual work, so don’t say “oh I don’t have time” because everyone can make time for 10 minutes. Right so bread.

The Husband’s Favorite Loaf

  • 16 ounces flour (regluar NOT bread flour. trust me.)
  • 1 ounce Raw honey
  • ½-1 ounce yeast (go for the full 1 oz if you want a super tall loaf)
  • 1 ounce melted butter (or oil, butter is better)
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounce milk

Put milk in a stand mixer with a hook attachment, add yeast, add honey. An easy tip so you dont kill your yeast with heat (yeast likes about 75°-86°F, higher will kill it) pour butter in cold milk and stir it around and pour in the bowl, making sure to get any butter bits that try to stay behind. Add flour on top, and then the salt. Mix, immediately no waiting this is why its so easy, until the bowl is clean, all the dough should be in the center and it should make what seems to be a very wet sticky dough. Let rest 5 minutes. Turn out on to well floured surface, seriously needs a good coating this is sticky. Kneed a bit until it stops sticking to you and form into a loose long roll trying to make the top as even as possible. Place into well greased or parchment paper lined bread pan and let rise until it is about an inch below the height you need. Cut a slit long the center of the loaf (this helps it expand and gives it that store bought look). Bake at 410°F for 10 minutes, then drop the oven to 350°F and go another 40. It should sound hollow when tapped.

You could add a tablespoon or two of gluten for a crispier crust but I find it works the best as it is. Also if you aren’t cooking bread by weight you need to try it, it comes out better since cups are unreliable when it comes to giving you precisely the same amount each time.

Dandelion Leaf Tea

  • 1-2 teaspoons of Dried Dandelion Leaf (1-3 tablespoons washed, chopped fresh)
  • 8 ounces of Boiling water

Steep for 10-15 if you are using fresh, 5-10 dried. Drink when cool enough to, this can be bitter so you can add honey or other sweetener to taste.

Dandelion Root Tea (Dandelion Coffee)

  • 1-3 teaspoons of Dandelion Roots in pieces
  • 8 ounces of water

Put roots and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 10-20 minutes, add any sweetener you like and enjoy. You can make this more coffee like if you grind the dried roots into a fine powder, a tablespoon in a cup with hot water added will make a more coffee like drink. Some people like to even add cream.

Both of these are great for inflammation but also have all the dietary pro’s that we went over earlier.

ProErsatzCoffeeTip: Ersatz means replacement foods, and this was often a replacement for coffee when coffee supplies were short. You can add chicory, cinnamon, vanilla, all sorts of things to your “coffee.” If you add the chicory add it in an equal ratio to the dandelion root, and everything else is to taste. If you’re attempting to quit the coffee habit this is a fantastic and nutritious replacement.

Dandelion Massage Oil

  • Fill a mason jar with fresh dandelion flowers
  • Enough oil to cover

Place with lid tightly on on a sunny windowsill and wait 2-3 weeks, or until the flowers turn brown. Massage into skin, and joints to help with inflammation of those areas or to ease skin ailments like psoriasis and eczema.

There is a traditional soup made in France from dandelions called creme de pissenlit, which I guess would translate as cream of pissabed…it is supposed to be good I haven’t tried making this yet so if you do let me know what you think.

Cream of Dandelion Soup (Creme de Pissenlit from Care2)

  • 2 pounds (about 6 cups) dandelion greens, trimmed and washed
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
  •  4 cups vegetable stock
  •  2 large leeks, white and light parts only, cleaned and sliced
  •  1 carrot, cleaned and diced
  •  1/2 cups milk
  •  1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dandelion buds and/or flower petals for garnish
  1. If using more mature or very bitter tasting greens, blanch them in a pot of boiling salted water, then drain and squeeze out the excess water, chop and set aside.
  2. Heat butter or oil in a large pot over medium high heat, add greens, carrot and leeks and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes.
  3. Add stock and simmer for about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and whisk in milk, cook stirring frequently, until slightly thickened.
  4. Puree mix in a tightly-covered blender until smooth, taking care with the hot liquid. Season with salt and pepper, and add Dijon if you like.
  5. Serve in bowls and garnish with flowers or buds.

Root Beer (with all the roots! Adapted from NourishedKitchen)

  • ¼ cup sassafras root bark
  • ¼ cup winter green leaf
  • 2 tablespoons sarsaparilla root
  • 1 tablespoon licorice root
  • 1 tablespoon ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon dandelion root
  • 1 tablespoon hops flowers
  • 1 tablespoon birch bark
  • 1 tablespoon wild cherry tree bark
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup unrefined cane sugar
  • 2 packets of Red Star Champagne Yeast
  1. Bring two and one-half quarts filtered water to a boil and stir in sassafras, sarsaparilla, wintergreen, licorice, ginger, hops, juniper, birch and wild cherry bark. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and simmer the roots, berries, barks, leaves and flowers for twenty minutes.
  2. After twenty minutes, turn off the heat and strain the infusion through a fine-mesh sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth into a pitcher. Stir unrefined cane sugar into the hot infusion until it dissolves and allow it to cool until it reaches blood temperature. Once the sweetened infusion has cooled to blood temperature, stir in the ginger bug or fresh whey and pour into individual bottles (preferably flip-top bottles which are easy enough to find online, leaving at least one inch head space in each bottle.
  3. Allow the root beer to ferment for three to four days at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator for an additional two days to age. When you’re ready to serve the root beer, be careful as it, like any other fermented beverage, is under pressure due to the accumulation of carbon-dioxide, a byproduct of fermentation. Open it over a sink and note that homemade sodas, like this one, have been known to explode under pressure. Serve over ice.

I found a really yummy looking Dandelion and Lime ice tea that I am dying to try. This is also a good leaf to mix with watercress, and goes well in sandwiches and salads with cress. This goes well on burgers, in wraps, in salads, in anything that greens go good in, and they are the ultimate soul food.

There are as always pre-made preparations you can buy online in pill, tea, and liquid forms. Make sure you read the bottles and follow the directions, also make sure you know what species of dandelion they are using. You will also notice I don’t list or suggest tinctures, and the reason is that the stuff in the dandelion that is useful is not an oil, therefore not a fat, and not hydrophobic. So tincture of dandelion is less effective and probably not very useful. I don’t recommend them.

Everyone is different so do your own experiments see how well dandelions work for you, and even if they aren’t alleviating pain they are good for you! So really there is no reason (besides allergies) to not add these to your diet. Remember play it safe, if you have doubts, ask a professional!

Allergy Warning: If you are allergic to Daisies, Ragweeds, or Chicory, do NOT use dandelions.


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Licorice, Love it or Hate it, it is Still Amazing!

Well loads of stuff is happening, mostly migraines and holiday stuff, but mostly migraines. I was referred to a new Neurologist in Houston and I met him and really liked him. He gave me a lot of information, and explained to me why I should give taking a few medications a go, to see if they worked. I am not too happy that I am taking more medications, but this hopefully isn’t a “forever” thing. He also explained to me why I would not be a good candidate for a Spinal Stims, and that makes 3 docs that said it was a bad idea. So it just re-confirms my decision to not get any installed (other people may be, and I will go over Spinal Stims in another post in the future). So I am feeling pretty OK on this new medications, and I guess that makes visiting Houston worth it. Houston is a city you either love or hate, and if you hate it, you leave as soon as possible (like I did) to get away from it. So this inspired me to write about something that I personally love, but also has no grey areas when it comes to fans – Licorice.

The wonderful and under appreciated licorice root!

The wonderful and under appreciated licorice root!

Oh delicious licorice! I remember my sisters sorting through their jelly beans anytime we got some to pick out the “icky” black ones to give to me, which I hoarded and consumed with great relish. Licorice, is soooooooooooo good, I have always loved strong flavors, and this one always packs a punch.

I could dive into this and eat my way out!

Sadly, a lot of candies these days are made with anise oil, and licorice is only a background flavor. But you can find older candies made in the traditional ways that will have actual licorice in them.

A History of Licorice

Licorice has been used by humanity for longer than even I knew! I knew that licorice was a frequent offering at the end of Medieval era dinners to help aid in digestion, maybe even help with the meat laden diet since licorice has a mild laxative effect. It is far older though, the Scythians introduced it to the Greeks- Theophrastus, who lived around the time of Aristotle, refers to it as “Scythian root.” It was apparently used by the Scythians, in combination with Mare’s milk cheese, to stave off hunger and thirst during long treks, at least 12 days without water. Later Alexander the Great used it with his troops, telling them to chew licorice root to ease thirst. Even Brahma the Hindu God used it to slake his thirst, and it was well known in ancient India. We know this because of Dioscorides, wrote about it and he also gave the root it’s botanical name glycyrrhiza – from the Greek glykyrrhiza which means “sweet (glykys) root (rhiza).” Dioscorides mentioned that it was good for throat and stomach trouble, and the Greeks often used it in cold remedy preparations. The current name comes from an Anglo-French (basically the dialect of the Normans that invaded England) corruption of the later dialects of Latin liquiritia, which is derived from glychyrrhiza a latinization of the original Greek word. The Latin influence added the “lic,” or “liq” depending on where you live, portion of the word since liquere in Latin means “to become fluid.” Which liquid extraction was a common process for users of this root for many preparations, in fact licorice extract was well known in history, even in the time of Dioscorides. Pliny the Elder also mentions licorice, in a lozenge form (it’s most popular form for medicine) as being good for the throat and to aid with thirst, and aid in healing and reducing inflammation he wrote

“[The] powder of it is often sprinkled on ulcerous sores of the mouth and films on the eyes; it heals, too, excrescences of the bladder pains in the kidneys, condylomata, and ulcerous sores of the genitals”

Galen mentions it as an ingredient in a medicinal wine in which licorice and protropos wine were listed ingredients. Not only is it used to make medicinal wine, but it was also used to doctor “young” wine to make it taste more aged.

Licorice made its way to India, where it was known in Sanskrit as yasthimadhu (translates to sweet stalk), and was a big part of the Ayurvedic pharmacy. In Buddhist ceremonies, an infusion of licorice is used to give the statue of the Buddha a ritual bath on his birthday. In even further east countries licorice was widely used, though it may have been the species Glycyrrhiza uralensisit is one of the most popular ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine and has been recorded in use since the Han dynasty. From China licorice made it to Japan and the oldest specimen of licorice was found in the Imperial storehouse of Shosoin in Nara, it dated to the 8th century AD. Licorice in Chinese medicine is a “guide herb” which means it enhances the effects of other herbs, as well as prolonging life and helping healing. There is a great legend that goes with licorice and how it came to be used in Chinese medicine. From wikipedia:

“A long time ago, there was an old doctor with excellent medicine skills. He opened his medical office in his home with a few students as assistants. One time, he had to leave home for a couple of days, and before the old doctor left, he gave his students several drug packages in order for them to help out with the home patients. The old doctor did not return home on time, and the medicine he left for his students were running out, and there were still many patients to cure. In the backyard, however, there were some chopped and dried grasses used for boiling the water left, so the students administered them to the patients and told them that it was their teacher’s medicine. Magically, the patients who were suffering from spleen and stomach problems, coughing phlegm, or with sore throats and ulcers were cured from this medicine. These dried grasses were liquorice roots. Since then, liquorice roots have been widely used in Chinese medicine and healing.”

The Egyptians were also huge fans of licorice, making a drink called mai sus, now called ir sus in modern Egypt, which we know about since it was important enough to be written about. As well as King Tut’s tomb was found to have a large supply of licorice in it, so he could have it available to him in the afterlife. Licorice is very naturally sweet, and it comes from a different chemical than sugar called glychrrhizin, which has lead to it being used in many confections, as a refreshing sweet drink, or to sweeten bitter medicine. Since sugar was not widely known in the world until it spread outwards from India, it was often used in small amounts usually as medicine. It was the Arabs with their perfection of sugar refining, and the vast amount of medical knowledge they had who first made a lozenge for medicinal use that could be considered close to what we recognize today as a licorice candy. The history of this was they originally used honey, and then when sugar was available the conversion to what we would consider candies was made. In the Middle East, they too knew of its medicinal properties and used it  for colds, coughs, congestion and inflammation, and it was from here that licorice, and licorice lozenges or pastilles, made it to Europe (due to the Crusades as usual).

Pastilles were the more common format in the Middle Ages, and they were generally stamped or cast in molds. Though it was used in the brewing of dark beers, and even was used in ginger breads in its powdered form. Licorice was found in the Wardrobe Accounts of Henry IV, and it was documented that it was kept by apothecaries of Italy, and Frankfurt. Queen Elizabeth I planted it in her gardens, and a tax was placed on licorice imports to help repair the London Bridge during the reign of  Edward I. Licorice was as expensive as the grains of paradise, a spice from Africa resembling, and often used in replacement of, Black Pepper.

A famous version of licorice candy that is still around today is the Pontefract licorice, which according to the history on it’s home page has been produced in that area since the Cluniac (or Benedictines from Spain) monks brought the plant to the area around 1550, when a new monastery was built there. It was generally used as medicine but gained popularity overtime, and eventually the post-feast treat came about (that I mentioned earlier) to help ease noble tummies. Then in the 1700’s a chemist, George Dunhill, mixed a special recipe according to a “very ancient formula” and the Pontefract licorice cake was born! Though they were stopped in the 60’s they have been recently reborn through Haribo.

Pontefract Cakes, with the stamped logo same as was used hundreds of years ago.

Pontefract Cakes, with the stamped logo same as was used hundreds of years ago.

This licorice is so old and so famous, that it was the type of licorice used in the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker to make the fake cable car cable that Jaws had to bite through. The extruded candies, it is believed, first came from Holland in about the 17th century. which then became the standard for most licorice candies. As licorice moved down the history line, Napoleon Bonaparte encountered and became a fan of licorice, He supposedly chewed so much of the root (due to stomach issues, maybe from all the arsenic he ate) that his teeth turned black. From the Old World licorice made it to the New World, and introduced licorice to the Native Americans (which is weird, since it is usually the other way round). During the early colonial years, a colonist brewed a beer with licorice, among other things, for Indians when they had bad colds. It is now added to a variety of products from teas, to cold remedies, to alcohol, to even tobacco.

So licorice has a long and varied history, but it never seems to lose its ties to its medicinal roots, pun intended! If you like licorice, this is one thing that will be fun to eat as well as being good for you.

So what exactly is licorice and what does it do?

Though it tastes a lot like anise, or fennel, licorice is funnily enough a member of the pea family, and has about 18 recognized specie variations. Most of them have the chemicals that are required for it to be medicinal so if you are purchasing licorice roots make sure you know which species it comes from, or they may not be as effective. The most commonly used, and oldest is Glycyrrhiza glabra.

The mug shot – Glycyrrhiza glabra aka Licorice

The chemical that makes licorice so sweet, glycyrrhizin, is also what makes this a great medicinal plant. This chemical tastes 50 times sweeter than sugar, and is actually a glycoside. It can also make you retain salt (hence the issue with high blood pressure from over consumption), but it can also behave like a corticosteroid – specifically mineralocoticoids. You should remember that corticosteroids are those stress chemicals your adrenal glands put out, and are also the basis for cortisone injections. So there are a few studies, not enough yet to claim that it works or doesn’t, that consumption of licorice post cortisone shots, could actually increase their efficacy. The reason being is that it could prolong the action of any injected cortisol because it allows it to stay in the bloodstream for longer. Or that even just the consumption of the tea can help with people suffering from Adrenal fatigue, or over stress/exhaustion in general. With it being the holidays, this is a prime time for stress, and exhaustion, so this is definitely something to have on hand if it starts to seem like the holiday season is just getting to be a little too much. This also means that it acts as an anti-inflammatory as well since cortisol helps reduce inflammation. It is also being looked into for treating variations of Hepatitis as well as treating auto-immune diseases. Another chemical that is important is enoxolone, it also acts like cortisone in the system lending a hand with the anti-inflammatory. That’s right folks. Licorice is a corticosteroid 1-2 punch!

Take that inflammation! I float like a butterfly and sting like a licorice whip. Yes, yes I know, but I can’t help myself.

Both of these, glycyrrhizin and enoxolone, do have a warning that come with them, so I am going to emphasize this as much as possible.

***Over consumption of glycyrrhizin or enoxolone can cause high blood pressure, water retention, or low potassium levels. Licorice should not be consumed regularly without the consultation of a physician.***

Now with that said, if you are feeling exhausted even though you have slept or are particularly inflamed that day, a cup of licorice tea or a bit of licorice in any other way can be a great way to pick you up. It is also great for colds, sore throats, and it also can help add sweetness and strong flavor to other preparations to help cover the taste of other medicines that don’t taste as awesome as licorice does. Even aspirin’s blow on the stomach, which is notoriously hard, is softened considerably when coated in licorice.

Licorice is also fantastic for an upset stomach, and has a long history of being used to treat, and soothe, stomach ulcers. There has been some resaerch into this and it is very promising. Licorice could help reduce the size and number of ulcers, and may help with cell life and/or regeneration. For chronic pain sufferers, this means that it can help out with the constipation that strikes all who are forced to take opiates, soothe upset stomachs from other medications, and even help protect the stomach from damage from the harsh things we are forced to ingest. It could even help people with acid reflux, or other upper GI problems. Heartburn after all the rich food of the holidays is a common issue, as well as constipation, so again licorice is perfect for this time of year!

Unrelated to pain, and side effects, winter colds are common, which licorice is great to help fight. It is a great expectorant, and helps soothe and calm the symptoms of a cold.

If you ever wondered what people used before toothbrushes and toothpaste to clean their teeth, you may be surprised to know that twigs and roots were used and one of them was of course licorice! Combined with oil pulling, chewing licorice has been found to be beneficial, and with dry mouth being an issue using this a great alternative to a toothbrush. Chewing the licorice root can also stimulate saliva which is another way to combat dry mouth. For a how to on licorice root tooth brushing check out this site, I plan to try this in the future but haven’t made the jump to throwing out my toothbrush just yet.

How do you use licorice?

Well the easiest way is to just chew the root! Chewing it helps to clean the teeth as we said, and it releases the oils and all that great stuff that helps your body right into the mucous membranes of the mouth so it is put into the blood stream quickly. Just make sure the root is clean, and if you find it a bit too hard you can soak the root in warm water to soften it a little.

Licorice Tea

  • 2 teaspoon of licorice root, roughly chopped
  • 8 ounces boiling water

Boil the water, and when at a rolling boil, add the licorice and remove from heat. Steep for 5 minutes, you can go longer but more than 10 minutes is not advised. Strain, and drink. If you really love licorice you can go up to a tablespoon per 8 ounces of water, a general rule is 1 tsp per 4 ounces water but you can increase more if you are a fan like I am.

This tea is good for stomach upset, or you can add licorice to other laxatives, or you can take it with a stool softener. You can drink it if you have a cold, or sores in your mouth, or if you have any of the previously discussed ailments. This is also a good tea to drink 1-2 times a day for 3 days after cortisone injections to help with the effects of the cortisone in the body.

Licorice Compress

  • 1 tablespoon of Licorice root
  • 8 ounces Boiling water
  • bowl and cloth/towl

Boil water, add licorice and let steep until cool enough to dip your cloth or towel in it and not scald yourself. Wring out cloth until damp and place on affected area. Since it is great and reducing inflammation as well as fighting infection, with the bonus of soothing heat, this is great for wounds, sprains, swollen limbs (which you get a lot with CRPS), and, surprisingly, skin disorders. Stubborn patches of psoriasis can be combated with this method, or you can even put the roots (shredded roots work best) in the cloth and steep it like a giant tea bag, then place on the skin.

Ir’ sus (or Mai sus, or Egyptian Licorice Juice)

  • 3 tablespoons licorice root, powdered
  • 1 gallon Water
  • Large bowl

Place licorice powder in deep bowl and cover with cold water. With a spoon, rub licorice in the water until it forms a thick paste. Allow to rest for about 20 minutes. Place in cheesecloth bag and hang in jug filled with water (12 glasses). Leave in refrigerator until needed. Pull out bag, squeeze gently in jug, then discard bag.  The serve, raise jug about six inches over the glass and pour the juice. This allows plenty of bubbles to form on top – a very important feature in licorice juice. If you like it sweet, suspend the cheesecloth bag in sweetened water. (recipe slightly modified from Egypt Daily News)

Of course there are plenty of pre-made preparations in tea form, or in pill form. You can make your own licorice powder pills, there is a how to in my turmeric post. If you choose the store bought option, make sure you read the label. Know what species, if its a concentrate/extract of licorice, or if it has had the glycyrrhiain removed known as deglycyrrhizinated or DGL. These have had everything useful removed from it, which means there are no side effects, but it also means there are no effects since the active chemicals are removed. If you are purchasing DGL licorice it should be used to make candy or items where you are using licorice just for flavoring, and nothing else!

Licorice Tincture

  •  Mason Jar (enough to hold all parts)
  • 1 part Licorice root, roughly chopped
  • 2 parts Vodka (or other grain alcohol)

Throw the licorice root in the jar and cover with the alcohol, close the lid tightly. Set in a dark place for 4-6 weeks giving it a shake now and then. Strain, bottle and label. 2-5 ml should be taking a day, and not exceeded, nor should you take this for more than 3 weeks. Again this is good for inflammation, colds, constipation, and fatigue.

Also all of these recipes are good for fatigue and general holiday stresses, well stress in general. Licorice goes well with another stress fighter lemon balm, so if you find the taste too potent for you try adding some lemon balm to soften the blow to your palate.

Licorice may seem safe since it is used in candies, but remember even too much sugar is deadly and the same with licorice. Moderation in all things! Experiment with licorice, see what doses and forms work for you, everyone is different with different body chemistry you need to find your  “sweet spot.” Also since this can have adverse effects if you have high blood pressure or other issues so make sure you check WebMD before you start taking it, and of course if you are in doubt, even in the slightest! Ask a professional!

For coughs and colds – there are a log of recipes out there for syrups, you can check out a few cough remedies herehere, here, and hereIf you would like to read a little more about Pontefract Licorice history check out this siteIf you want to read a really in depth article on licorice go here, and for recipes other than medicinal go here and for interesting Chinese recipes hereFor a shop with the most variety of licorice I have seen, go here. (Seriously, its glorious)


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The Hidden Dangers of Dry Mouth

Man getting back from vacation and switching gears makes it hard to get in a groove, and it seems nothing is right until about the second week you are back 2 weeks and everything falls into place and the fires go out. Halloween and holiday season is gearing up, and then our wedding anniversary snuck up on us and another weekend was lost to fun and relaxing times. Not that it was a bad thing but that definitely took a chunk out of my writing time 😀

I had a major blow to my pride recently, for almost 33 years I kept my pearly whites pearly, and the only work I had done on them was braces. I found out this week I have my first cavity and 2 trying to start. The dentist’s first question was –

“Do you have a really dry mouth?”

Well, I never used to, but the pain medications I am taking now definitely makes me dehydrated, but I hydrate with lots of water all the time (was my answer). It turns out that dry mouth is a lurking side effect that we all take as minor, when it really turns out to be a major issue.

I had no idea! I knew good oral hygiene was vital and I attempted to keep up my routine as best as possible. I brush and floss as regularly as I can, despite my work from home jim-jams lifestyle, and the days where I am crippled in pain I can’t do anything but throw up and tell myself “this one will pass right? the others have…” I try to not let painOral hygiene is important but if you are suffering from a chronic pain disorder a lot of the medications will dry your mouth out. So big deal, just a little dry mouth right? Totally wrong

Oh so very wrong!

Oh so very wrong!

I thought I was safe and doing the right things, until my recent dentist check up. The previous question was asked, and I got the bad news that my teeth had been compromised. The Dentist told me that I had fantastic teeth and it was just the dry mouth that had led to my predicament.

Dry mouth is, I suspect, a major reason I see so often on support boards and support groups that “teeth are destroyed” or “major dental issues” are happening to a lot of the people with chronic pain disorders since a lot of medications dry you out or have dry mouth as a side effect.

I have great teeth I always thought, of course I won’t have dental issues. I have never even had a cavity, and I take calcium, I won’t be like one of the people I see posting about losing teeth. Plus I hydrate! Well friends, just that is not enough! Dry mouth removes the natural defense of your mouth, saliva is part of the constant cleaning system that helps prevent bacteria from over running things and attacking your enamel. Swallowing and the action of the tongue during swallowing is all part of this cleaning system. So, if there is no saliva, there is basically no vinegar on your windows, and you are left scrubbing away with only newspaper. If you have ever cleaned windows, or mirrors, without some sort of chemical solution, you find quickly it doesn’t work very well. And same goes for saliva missing from the mouth, this constant washing mechanism helps prevent bacterial or worse, fungal (like Thrush), outbreaks as it cleans it keeps everything in check.

High bacterial outbreaks mean they produce more acids, bacteria sort of “poos” acids, which breaks down the enamel in your teeth. Teeth are the hardest substance in the body, so much so that often Anthropologists and Archaeologists only have teeth to go on for extinct hominids and primates since that is all that lasted in the harsh environments to exist in the fossil record. They are incredibly strong, and their outer coating of enamel is what makes them so time proof. This enamel though, is weak to acids, and long term exposure makes the teeth tacky and this is pretty much the start of a cavity. This tacky state can lead to deep cavities, tooth breakage, painful and expensive dental procedures, and in the worst cases dentures. For a simple explanation, here is a little video.

So if you have a chronic pain condition brushing isn’t enough to combat the dry mouth symptoms, and could even aggravate it further!

“So what do I do?”

Well right off my Dentist suggested a product that you can get at most drug and grocery stores called Biotene. I got a sample and it seems to work OK, it doesn’t completely fix my dry mouth but hey, it was free! The best price! It IS expensive to keep using, and the mouthwash I find feels like minty saliva from a bottle. Plus, it isn’t the most natural thing to do. So I thought I would find my own way to treat my dry mouth and did a lot of research.

So here are a few diet and habit changes you can make to help combat dry mouth:

  • Hydrate! – You should be anyway but keep as much water in you as possible
  • Avoid alcohol – alcoholic drinks, mouthwashes, anything with peroxide in it, any of these can dry the mouth out. Avoid them when making or purchasing oral care products.
  • Avoid salty foods & spicy foods – salt drys things out, and so does most spicy food.
  • Avoid caffeine – same as salt, its a diuretic.
  • Wear lip balm/chap-stick – it helps soothe things and ease dry mouth irritation. I have a special lip balm I have made that helps a lot that I will post about later.
  • Avoid acidic things – pineapple juice, grapefruit, tomato, anything that stings if you have a cut in your mouth is what you want to avoid.
  • Chew sugar-free gum, suck on ice or hard candy/lozenges – these help to stimulate saliva flow, any sucking or chewing motion will stimulate the salivary glands.
  • Use a humidifier – they are great to have and help with migraines, get one or two!
  • Soft toothbrush! – Gentle, gentle, gentle with your mouth, treat it softly. Think about getting a waterpik/water flosser too!

Being the curious sort though, I did talk to a lot of women that I know that has gone through “the change” and asked them what they use to treat their dry mouths, and others that had problems with dry mouth due to medications. A lot of them told me “Oh I tried that Biotene stuff, and it never worked!” So of course the follow up was, “What do you use?”

Number one answer was! *drum roll*

Oil Pulling!

Now I must say I am not advocating oil pulling just on it’s own, you need to combine this with brushing your teeth with a non-irritating tooth powder or paste. You can make home made (another post), or you can use pre-made like Biotene, Tom’s, or even the YL product line. Which I have heard good things on all of these toothpastes for dry mouth treatment, though Tom’s seems to be the bottom of the fan scale, with biotene in the middle, youngliving products and oddly old fashioned tooth powder as the most preferred. The only requirement of the tooth cleaning material is that it is non-drying, non-irritating. Then, after you brush and of course floss, you do your oil pulling. Think of it like sweeping your floors before you mop.

Now if you are a novice in this the first thing you need to know is you can NOT spit your oil in the sink or toilet, it goes in the trash. DO NOT swallow the oil either, it will contain all the gunk you are trying to get out so putting it further in the body only makes things worse. Also it needs to be done for at least 20 minutes, so it is best to do it with your teeth routine since I learned you can do it on the go. A lady I spoke to who is a huge fan of oil pulling said she just takes an old grocery bag with her in her pocket if she leaves the house and will go shopping while she swishes! Then when done she just nips into a restroom, spits it out into her bag, and done! Oil pulling won’t cure cancer, like some people claim, but I know that a good friend of mine use it to help treat her wisdom tooth pain, and she swears by it for all sorts of mouth related issues.

The reason this works is that bacteria generally have a membrane surrounding them that is made of lipids, which is fat. Oil is made of lipids (also fat) and you are basically swishing bacteria glue around in your mouth, they can’t help but bind to the oil. Then when you spit it out you are removing that bacteria, as well as moisturizing the delicate skin of your gums and mouth. You can even rub vitamin E oil directly on your gums to help with inflammation and healing! Though this is an ancient remedy, dating back possibly about 3,000 years or more, it is still relevant and shown by the limited clinical studies that there is a real value to using this Ayurvedic traditional cure.

You want to use about a tablespoon of oil and swish it around in your mouth, if you can’t take that, its fine use less it is just enough for you to swish around easily. There are some oils that work better than others studies have found, Sunflower, Sesame and Coconut seem to be the top three oils that work the best for this sort of thing since they remove plaque, and help heal and clean the teeth. Also vitamin E oil and Olive seem to be close followers to the top three. You can buy pre-made Ayurvedic oils for pulling as well, that are sort of like a prescription for your body type (which I found to be highly spoken of). But you can probably get your hands on one of the above a lot easier (and sometimes cheaper). You don’t have to swish hard either, just a gentle swish from side to side in the mouth, occasionally sucking the oil through the teeth. The longer time spent swishing, the more gunk you pull out, so try to go as long as you can the first time since it can take some building up to go the full 20.

But, like Levar Burton says, “You don’t have to take my word for it.”

You can read more from WebMD on oil pulling here and you can watch this video on oil pulling.

Fermented Foods!

Yup they aren’t just good for helping you get your vitamins or helping you go by putting good bacteria back into your gut. This bacteria is also good for your mouth, and it can help if you have chronic bad breath that isn’t related to your teeth (gut smell can do that). This can also help prevent outbreaks of fungal infections like Thrush, which no one wants Thrush. Plus it is an excuse to eat sauerkraut and kimchi all  you want! wooo!

Again, the best thing to do is keep your teeth clean, brush regularly, after meals too. Floss gently, preferably with a water flossing device. Use no alcohol or peroxide mouthwashes, see your Dentist regularly. Watch your diet and add in some of these easy additional care steps and you should be able to be happy and healthy even without a pain condition.

Remember everyone’s body is different, experiment find the oils and combinations that work best for you and your body. Educate yourself, no one is going to do it for you and if you are in doubt at all in the slightest, 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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Honey & Apitherapy, What’s the Buzz?

Nothing is more frustrating than a terrible internet connection, I have been fighting with my ISP this week to get connection so I can write and work. They have had to come out twice in about as many days, and I have had a long and frustrating fight which has caused unfortunate pain increases. They have been horrible to deal with and that probably is why they are the most hated ISP in America.

But because of my frustration with them inspired me! It made me think I should write of something sweet, to counter the sour. And of something I love for many reasons, honey. Eating a teaspoon, ideally a tablespoon, of honey a day made from local flowers to your area can help with seasonal allergies. I used to suffer every year from horrible allergies in Spring and Fall, but now that I have been diligent about consuming honey regularly, I no longer am among the ranks of the Cedar Fever sufferers, or any plant pollen since I am allergic to just about all tree pollen here, AND grass. But that is just one of the things that fabulous honey can do! Honey like lavender, aloe, helichrysium and a few others we have gone over, honey is a multi-duty substance that you should have on hand for all first-aid, and other health situations. Honey is great for burns and if you don’t have aloe or lavender, I would reach for some honey next!

Honey is known by a lot of names mel in Latin, is where you get terms like miel in Spanish or French. For Norse and Teutonic languages you get the term huniġ and hunagą respectively from which we derive our modern English honey. Mel is what gives us the name Melissa not only for humans but for bees, and for lemon balm.

That amber liquid of sunshine & awesome

But no matter what you call it, it is that wonderful sweet and gooey, condensed sunshine ambrosia.

History of Honey & it’s Uses

Honey was everything from medicine, to food, to poison, and everything in between, it was always held in high value by most cultures around the world that had access to it. Before sugar being easily produced in mass quantities, honey was the only sweetener option in general. Honey was difficult to get, and a precious resource since it usually came with wax as well as the energy packed honey. That preciousness has carried down to the term of endearment “Honey” which has been in use since the 14th century for precious loved ones. Honey has always been a precious thing, it was difficult to collect yet humans would go to great lengths to gather it. All over the globe humans would seek out honey, and sometimes to extreme lengths to get it –

The gathering of honey has been documented by humans as far back as 8,000 years ago, we know this because of the Araña cave paintings found in Valencia, Spain.

Should look familiar after those videos

Should look familiar after those videos

Honey has even been found in a Georgian tomb from 2700 BCE, since it in never goes bad (though it can go all granular) it survives in tombs well. Honey was found in Tutankhamen’s tomb and was in essence still edible. As long as the jar remains sealed honey will keep indefinitely. Honey was also famously used to embalm Alexander the Great, he was placed in a gold, body shaped casket (the first time, it was later snatched to become coinage and a glass coffin replaced the gold) filled with honey to preserve him. His body was said to be well preserved even years after his death. Many cultures used honey in death rituals or embalming, the mellified man was an interesting, as well as stomach churning, mention documented by a Chinese scribe. In the Talmud it is mentioned that Herod I (yeah that one that really didn’t like babies) had a wife, Mariamne who either committed suicide (lept from a tower) or was executed by Herod (the sources vary on how she died), and Herod kept her body in honey for seven years. Which led to all sorts of rumors of what he got up to with that body behind closed doors. The Assyrians and the Persians used the wax on the body then honey in their embalming processes, and the Egyptians did as well. Plutarch mentions that Agesilaus – 

“The attendants of Agesilaus had no honey to preserve the body (he died in a foreign country), so they embalmed it with melted wax and thus carried it home.” 

The usage of wax and honey seems to come from cultures where large quantities of honey were scarce. Persians apparently also made honey mummies for monetary gain. A red haired man was fed and cared for until he reached 30 and then he was drowned in honey and drugs, and then placed in a jar full of honey for 150 years. Gives new meaning to long term investment. Many mummies were needed since mummies were used in everything from medicine to making paints like Mummia Brown. While honey doesn’t spoil, if you leave the lid off, yeast will quickly grow in it and this is most likely how the first discovery of the wonderful world of meads, metheglins, melomels, tej, and other delicious honey fermented drinks. These played a large role in the cultures that brewed it, mythologically and culturally, studied in depth by one of my favorites Claude Levi-Strauss in his book from Honey to Ashes, a good read if you are into extremely technical and dry anthropology type books. If you aren’t the “too long; didn’t read” it version is honey and honey fermented drinks play a large role in peoples lives, history, the religions of their areas, and just the over all culture, in the areas it is produced or gathered in.

But honey is not just good at preservation, it is also good for utter destruction. Some bees make honey out of plants that are poisonous, like Rhododendrons, which can give honey a reddish tint. This honey, known as Red Honey, or Mad Honey, was the downfall of many armies. Xenophon, a Greek General, was leading his troops through the hostile territory of Persia down to the Black Sea, after the death of the previous leaders, and without supplies. As they arrived in what is now Turkey, fighting their way through until –

“the Hellenes scaled the hill and found quarters in numerous villages which contained supplies in abundance. Here, generally speaking, there was nothing to excite their wonderment, but the numbers of bee-hives were indeed astonishing, and so were certain properties of the honey. The effect upon the soldiers who tasted the combs was, that they all went temporarily quite off their heads, and suffered from vomiting and diarrhoea, with a total inability to stand steady on their legs. A small dose produced a condition not unlike violent drunkenness, a large one an attack very like a fit of madness, and some dropped down, apparently at death’s door. So they lay, hundreds of them, as if there had been a great defeat, a prey to the cruellest despondency. But the next day, none had died; and almost at the same hour of the day at which they had eaten they recovered their senses, and on the third or fourth day got on their legs again like convalescents after a severe course of medical treatment.”

As you can see this honey is far more intoxicating than usual, and it was used to make watered down beer more potent in some areas. But it was also used as a sneaky weapon of war, like St Olga of Kiev did.

Awww looks gentle as a soft summer’s breeze right?

Wrong. Oh so very wrong.

Olga, angered because the Drevlians, think of them like a rival biker gang and/or tribe, had whacked her husband, and then insulted her by saying that she should hook up with the Drevlian Prince. Olga didn’t want to hear any of it, so when they sent 20 guys to talk her into it, she promptly had them buried alive. Because that seems the calm and rational thing to do. Then she sent word to the Drevlians that she had reconsidered their offer and, gee don’t you know she would like to marry their prince but, gosh won’t it be hard to convince the people of this? Won’t they send their best nobles to come help her out? And in a move that makes you wonder if these guys weren’t victims of head injuries or otherwise intoxicated, they sent them. Olga, being the gracious hostess that she is, offered them a sauna to freshen up after their journey. And well heck, don’t you know, that sauna caught fire. Terrible, but you know how these things happen, right? Too bad someone had “accidentally” locked the doors, from the outside. All of them died. Not suspicious at all the to Drevilans. Now Olga really begins to get started, she tells the Drevlians that, well shucks, how awful that happened. And doesn’t she feel bad it happened to your best men too. Such a shame! Why not make amends? Everyone who can come, is now invited to this fabulous feast she would be throwing for her husbands funeral. Which personally, if some lady who had a streak of unusual accidents following polite invitations was inviting me to some fancy dinner for her husband that my gang offed. I would not be going.

Invited where you say?….

Olga had a crafty plan for them, of course, she served them all mead made from poisonous honey. Most likely honey made from Rhododendron flowers, which bees in the area have built up a tolerance to. The mead was highly intoxicating if it did not kill you, and allowed the slaughter of most of the Drevlian guests that had attended the funeral. The numbers that died from this are estimated to be close to 5,000. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!

Olga decides, 5,000, plus a scoach, just doesn’t satisfy her vengeance needs. So she rolls up on the Drevlian home city, threatening more of her patented delightful death and destruction. The Drevlians at this point realized that maybe they should try to make amends, they offered payment to satisfy her and asked if she would leave them alone. She said, “OK I can agree to that, but bring me birds from the eaves of your houses.”

The Drevlians thought they got off light. Well, more alight, since Olga tied sulfur (very flammable, if exposed to heat and sparks of cooking fires) to the birds and sent them back, setting the entire city ablaze. Everyone perished in the flames, they were entirely wiped out… did I mention she was a Saint?

Saint Kick-ass

But honey wasn’t just for the dead or for making mead, or even murderous mead, it was also for medicine. As I mentioned earlier, I have been taking local honey every day and have had a significant improvement in my allergies. I have tried to purchase only local honey, preferable from small companies since most large company, commercially produced honey is over filtered (not ultra-filtered, this explains the why that would be bad), or not even really honey anymore some would say. And in some ways I agree, honey should have pollen and other things in it, and shouldn’t be from other countries, states, cities, or even counties if you can manage. The pollen is what you want, if you understand how inoculation works, this is how you get your body used to the pollen so the body does not see them as foreign objects. That means your body wont release histamines, and you wont have the inflammation that an allergic reaction causes. There were many other uses for honey, the Egyptians were 1000’s of years ahead of the Greek doctor Hippocrates, and in the Edwin-Smith papyrus mentions that honey was used to prevent infection in wounds. The Eber’s papyrus also mentions honey, and it lists honey as an antibiotic, as great for wound dressings to promote healing. Eber’s lists few other remedies made with honey for things like stomach complaints, and using honey as a carrier for Acacia which is an abortifacient used as birth control.

The Romans also used honey for wound healing, Galen used honey mixed with salt, vinegar and water to treat wounds from trepanation procedures. Other Greek and Roman doctors used it to treat burns, all of these methods of wound healing are now being studied by modern medicine and medicinal honey is being used in Western Medical procedures to help with diabetic ulcers, abrasions, operation incisions and burns. They have found more than anecdotal evidence that there is improved healing with some types of wounds if honey is applied. Even the British Army took note and started using honey to treat wounds. In the Middle Ages in Europe honey’s healing properties were well known, an old chronicle from England says –

“Honey is still our chief sweetness, favorite salve and indispensable medicine.”

During the Civil War in America, honey was put on wounds in excess to help prevent infection, and the ever rampant gangrene that caused so many amputations during the bloody conflict. Honey has long been used to soothe breathing problems, honey and whiskey is an old Ozarks remedy my Mom liked to use for coughs. But honey and onion was a well known treatment for asthma attacks before the days of inhalers. I had a friend that suffers infrequent attacks of asthma, and could not locate her inhaler during an attack. She used honey, successfully, to ward off the attack until her inhaler could be located. While this is still anecdotal, it has been a long used home remedy for respiratory issues as well. Dioscorides mentions the use of honey to treat sunburns, and it does a great job of that, and it just is naturally great for the skin.

Apitherapy

Back to modern day! The term for using all sorts of bee things (honey, propolis, etc) is called Apitherapy, so everything that has to do with bees and the things that they produce would be covered under this umbrella term.

What is in Honey & and Raw Honey?

Raw honey is generally best for all of these mentions of honey being used in this post, since it would have the most beneficial components in it that have been filtered out of clear, processed honey. Honey, even if processed, is packed with all sorts of vitamins and nutrients, and the bees produce it mostly for their hive as their main food. This is why honey is valued by people, bears, other animals, and of course honey badgers, because it is good for us and them too. Local honey is made from bees that are kept no more than 400 miles (the official local radius) from where you reside, and they should preferably be pollenating wild flowers, and other local flora. There are many different classifications of honey, Raw as mentioned means unprocessed, local means near by, and if you see clover or orange blossom, that means it is a monofloral, or single species honey where the bees have just fed on that species of flowers. Now onto the basic nutrition!

This is the nutritional components of honey in general (this can vary by hive, location, time of year, and all that jazz).

Honey Nutrition as per wikipedia

  • Fructose: 38.2%
  • Glucose: 31.3%
  • Maltose: 7.1%
  • Sucrose: 1.3%
  • Water: 17.2%
  • Sugars: 1.5%
  • Ash: 0.2%
  • Other: 3.2%

As well as a plethora of vitamins and minerals, which we know are super important not only to a healthy body, but also can resolve some pain issues. Honey in general will contain but is not limited to the amounts or items listed below, since again variation dependent on location and plants available.

Vitamins

  • B2 (Riboflavin): 3%
  • B3 (Niacin): 1%
  • B5 (Pantothenic acid): 1%
  • B6: 2%
  • B9 (Folate): 1%
  • Vitamin C: 1%

Minerals

  • Calcium: 1%
  • Iron: 3%
  • Magnesium: 1%
  • Phosphorus: 1%
  • Potassium: 1%
  • Sodium: less than 1%
  • Zinc: 2%

Propolis

It has all these, as well as propolis, bee bits & venom, royal jelly, bee pollen, and other things like wax if it is raw which is what is listed as other. Pretty much raw honey is as you would get it from the hive itself, natural as can be, hence the “raw” label. Raw is preferred medicinally since it has these other bits in it. Propolis, has had a long history of use in traditional medicines, and is only recently been noticed by Western medicine after a few studies have shown that it treats versions of the herpes virus, that include chicken pox and shingles. Not enough official laboratory tests have been done, but the evidence so far combined with the anecdotal evidence throughout human history points to there being a possible gold mine of anti-viral & antibacterial goodness to be found in propolis if we are lucky. Raw honey usually contains propolis since it is a natural part of the hive.

Bee Venom

Bees, if you have ever been stung by one, have venom, and if there are bee bits in your raw honey there is probably venom from bees. Venom is interesting, depending on what makes it and for what purpose it works on the body in different ways. Just like some good things can become poisonous in large amounts, some venom when used in small amounts can be beneficial. I know this sounds extremely counter-intuitive, but there seems to be a lot of evidence found, and continuing to be found, that this may actually be a beneficial , and non-pharmaceutical, way to treat a lot of inflammatory diseases. (People are looking into snake venom as well) Bee venom therapy seems to work best with things like rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain in general, and even with Multiple Sclerosis (which is very similar to CRPS). There have been interesting experiments done by lay people where they allow bees to sting them in specific areas, sometimes under the guidance of a medical professional, and there have been some fascinating reports of reduced pain and swelling. This is not well studied enough for science to claim it is a 100% sure thing and best for these diseases, but the historical and present information also points, as with propolis, that there could be a lot of benefit to bee venom therapy for pain.

Bee Pollen

Bee pollen, is a tightly packed ball of pollen that bees create, and is a major source of protein for the hive as well as food for bee larva. Since it contains protein, carbohydrates, fats and tons of vitamins and minerals that help the bees, and us function, this has become one of those new trendy “super foods.” In my humble non-medical opinion, all un-processed foods are super-foods, since they all have their own benefits, nutrients and are easier for the body to use and absorb. You also have the “entourage effect” where one chemical in the plant are more effective when used with all chemicals in the plant. Think of it a group of chemical friends, they work best when they are all together and happy, than alone and lonely (simplistic I know but the concept is the same). Bee pollen is though packed with all sorts of vitamins and minerals, and even amino acids, that are really good for humans. This may be a good option if you have vitamin deficiencies, and if you have allergies since it works as inoculation and as a supplement though it may be too much if it aggravates your pollen allergies (though pollen will vary depending on areas the bees gather from). To read a full break down of the nutrition in bee pollen go here.

Beeswax

Beeswax is also another highly useful gift from the bees. Almost everyone should be familiar with their use in candles, and in the popular Burt’s Bees lines. In raw honeys you may get a small amount of beeswax which is indigestible but not harmful, it will just pass on through. Beeswax though is a fantastic substance, it seals cheeses, makes candles, cosmetics, candles, waterproofs fabric, food and medicinal products, and SO much more! It is great for warm wax treatments, and if you are familiar with the Burt’s line you already know that it is great for skin & lip products. The wax is the honey comb you see in jars, or pictures of hives, and I like to purchase it in its honeycomb form when possible. If you have never had the pleasure of eating sticky, chewy honeycomb before buy some and try it. You can bite the comb, and eat it spitting out the wax chewing. It really is fantastic, and you can save the leftover wax, it a great to use in salves (as we have gone over) and I bet we will continue to find more uses for this great substance.

Royal Jelly

Royal Jelly is another bee product, produced to feed some larvae and to produce a new queen once the old has grown old. It contains chemicals that encourage the larvae to develop into queens, but it is also loaded with nutrients and vitamins. It also seems to have antibacterial and antibiotic properties, but there has not been enough scientific studies to back a lot of claims made about it. It has a lot of traditional uses, a lot of people swear by it for skin care, but when added to honey that is consumed you get all of its goodness mixed with everything else.

So in addition to honey on its own, raw honey contains all of these things, and pollen, which is why it is so much better to consume for medicinal reasons than filtered honey. Most processed and clarified honeys do not contain the additional bee products, and may contain little to no pollen. If you can get your hands on it, raw honey should be used, but local honey is great as well. Local raw honey is best!

Mānuka Honey

There is one other type of honey, also best if you can find it raw (since some of the compounds are filtered out if it is clarified), is Manuka honey (sometimes written Mānuka). Manuka honey is a monofloral, that means one flower, type of honey. The bees are kept so they visit one type of plant, a tree called the Manuka tree, that is a type of myrtle tree native to New Zealand. Native birds, a type of parakeet, uses the manuka trees to rid itself of parasites, and I personally have found it to be a fantastic way to combat colds they tend to go away in a day or two. Since I get a lot of cortisone, my body’s immune system is compromised, and when I get a cold it tends to linger and get worse. I find that I can hold off colds the more honey I consume in general but if I get a cold I switch to Manuka honey, and it is gone in days. My husband was also astonished by the “magic” honey that fixed his cold overnight. Manuka honey is a bit more expensive than your regular honey, I spend about 30$ US for a small jar of it. But a teaspoon in a glass of tea a day, sometimes twice a day, is enough to help me get over my illnesses faster. It is especially effective when combined with the cold prevention tea as well. Though this is only my own experiences, and it has proven effective for me so far. But there is not enough scientific evidence to say that this is a proven known effect of this honey, or even why it works so well. It is entirely possible that the placebo effect is causing it, since it does have a medicinal smell that puts you in mind that it is medicine from the start, but hey if it works it works right? Manuka honey does contain the compound methlglyoxal, which can be bactericidal, but there is not enough evidence to point to it being why Manuka honey seems to be so beneficial. It is also good for hair, burns and wounds in general.

So you are probably thinking, wow, all this for stuff I keep in a squeezy bottle shaped like a bear? Indeed! But wait, there’s more!

There seems to be a lot of murmurings online that honey, sometimes on its own, with apple cider vinegar (not really sold on this one), or even cinnamon (which we know is useful already) helps with pain, or colds. Cinnamon mixed honey is an effective cold fighter, and can help with inflammation just from that alone, and the honey makes it palatable (since the cinnamon challenge shows its difficult to swallow it in a powder). But the honey also adds a big punch of vitamins and other nutrients that we know already can contribute to pain levels. Remember to make sure you get true cinnamon since cassia can be dangerous in large amounts daily. The additional vitamins may be why there is anecdotal evidence for apple cider vinegar helping with pain conditions, since it is usually unfiltered/processed that is recommended. Apple cider vinegar is made of crushed apples and it will contain lots of nutrients that the body may be deficient of with some of the diets people have these days. So this could be why there is so much from people saying they had good results with this added to their diets. Acetic acid is a large component of all vinegar which is a good anti-microbial is good for colds, and apple cider vinegar is a boon to diabetics since it was used in the days before current diabetic medications to help diabetics lower glucose levels in blood. Sadly though there is only traditional medicine and personal stories to back this up though more interest in it is growing.

How Do I Use it?

So how do I use honey & other bee things to the max? And get the most out of it? Well, like I said, go local and eat raw as a rule. You can add it into anything really, coffee, tea, bread (in and on it!), pretty much anywhere you use sugar, use honey instead. If you are a home brewer, mead and beers brewed with raw honey are a great way to consume some of the great benefits of what the bees make. There are lots of other uses though.

Honey & Cinnamon – for Colds & Pain

  • 1 teaspoon True Cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon Honey (Preferably Raw, Manuka or local)
  • optional: glass of warm water, cup of tea (green, black or white), 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (for colds only)

Mix honey and cinnamon well and consume plain. This is a good, and sweet way to treat a cold, as well as a good anti-inflammatory regimen. You can also put the honey and cinnamon mixture in warm water to drink it down, or a good cup of tea. If you have a cold, or sore throat the addition of apple cider vinegar can help quite a bit with the pain (will kill the microbes) and help the body fight it off. You can also warm the honey &  cinnamon mixture slightly in a warm (not boiling!) water bath and apply directly to wounds or joints.

Beeswax Warm Wax Treatment

  • 1 lb Beeswax
  • 3.2 ounces Mineral oil (you can use olive oil or coconut oil as well but mineral gives a better consistency)

You can place this in a Pyrex dish and melt in an oven set to 170-200°F (76-93°C) and allow it to melt, while stirring occasionally. Or you can heat this in a double boiler over the stove. Either way you want a slow, low, indirect heat to melt the wax, all wax will catch fire with direct heat, do not use direct heat or flame to heat it! Remove from heat and allow to cool to about 125°F (51°C), a very thin skin of hardened wax should form. Wash and dry thoroughly the body part that will need the wax treatment. Dip the body part in the wax 3-5 times so a shell forms around the body part, if you are doing a hand or a foot try to splay (hold as wide as possible) the fingers or toes while dipping. Allow a few seconds between dips to allow that coating to slightly harden before applying the next. Leave for about 15-30 minutes, and then peel off and you can store it in a sealed container for repeated use. Warm wax treatments provide warm moist heat, and are not only great for pain help moisturize the skin.

ProWaxTip: Again, never use direct heat or flame to melt wax. Paraffin wax can be substituted (without the mineral oil) for this as well, and there are electric wax melt-er things with lids you can find in stores and online too if you do this treatment a lot.

Herb Infused Honey

  • 1/4 cup Chopped fresh, or 1/8 cup dried herbs (applies to each herb added, so if you do 2 herbs 1/4 cup of each)
  • 1 cup Raw Honey

Add the raw honey and herbs to a double boiler and slowly heat until honey fully melts, simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes to help the herbs infuse into the honey, then strain if necessary and pour into a clean glass jar and seal tightly. You can also avoid straining by using cheesecloth or muslin bags to hold the herbs while infusing. Get creative with this one, you can make anti-stress & anxiety honey with lavenderlemon balm (1/4 cup for each herb or 1/8 dried), and adding or by itself chamomile would be good for sleep as well as inflammation and pain as well as topical. Lavender & peppermint for a icky tummy, rosemary for pain or your hair, copaiba or pine resin for inflammation or boost its antimicrobial powers (2 tablespoons of resin to a cup, apply externally only), vetiver for cooling, rose hips for a vitamin C boost, grated ginger (about 2 tablespoons) or minced garlic (same amount) can be added too to help with fighting infection and pain. Suggested dose is about a teaspoon a day of this herb infused honeys, and they are best stored in a fridge for no more than a year if you keep the herbal material in the honey, since it can ferment and/or mold with the additions.

ProTip: This honey can be used in place of essential oils in salve making.

ProSkinTip: Using things like copaiba, lavender and other skin friendly herbs is a great way to treat acne, rosacea, psoriasis and skin issues in general (abrasions, sunburns, burns, etc).

Hot Toddy

  • 1-2 shots (1-2 ounces) Whiskey (Bourbon or Rum are acceptable too)
  • 1 tablespoon Honey
  • 4 ounces Boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon Lemon juice (or a healthy squeeze from a wedge or two)
  • Your favorite teabag, or a teaspoon of your favorite tea
  • Covered Teacup

Brew tea as usual, and add the rest of the ingredients making sure all of them fully dissolve. This is an old old remedy, the origin I have been unable to locate. I know that both my grandmothers, and my husband’s great grandmother loved this sort of thing. It was used as a general cure-all for colds, flu’s, sore throats, and “just because” in most American history. Since it is alcoholic you shouldn’t use this if you are taking most medications, but if you need some mild pain relief with a bit of kick, this will do the trick!

Capsicum Paste

  • 3 tablespoons Chilies finely pureed or crushed, powder will work here too
  • 1 cup Oil (jojoba, almond, olive, any good quality oil)
  • 1/2 ounce of Beeswax, granular or grated
  • optional: any essential oils you would like to add, or raw honey

I will go over in later posts the benefits of capsicum and why it works, but for now it does and provides warmth to soothe painful muscles and joints, as well as chemical relief of pain that I will go over in detail in the future. Any chili will do to make this, the stronger (hotter) the chili is the more effective this will tend to be. To make this you will want to heat the oil in a double boiler, and add in the chili paste, or powder, and mix well until completely combined. Add in the beeswax slowly stirring to combine fully. You can pour this directly into a seal-able container, or you can whip it with a hand mixer (or stand mixer) so it is more like a creamed lotion for ease of application. Apply directly to painful areas, and if kept in the fridge it will store for about 2 weeks. ALWAYS WASH HANDS BEFORE TOUCHING EYES OR SENSITIVE SKIN AREAS. Trust me you will regret it if you don’t!

Finally honey is a great shampoo, it can be added to the best shampoo ever (a tablespoon or two), or you can mix 1 part honey (preferably raw) and 3 parts water together (thoroughly no lumps!) for a single application shampoo. This is great for dry hair, or if you suffer from a dry scalp or dandruff. If you make this in large quantities they honey can ferment so I don’t suggest it.

Honey and bees are great resources, so respect them and support the people that help keep them around, for without bees there are no plants. Honey should never be fed to babies since it can contain botulism. Some people may be allergic to the bee venom, or pollen, and could cause allergic reactions. If you are sensitive do test patches and check WebMD for honey related reactions. As always if you are in doubt about anything at all, ever, ask a professional!

If you are going to take bee products on their own, make sure that you discuss this with your doctor and check for interactions on WebMD for Manuka honeypropolis, bee venom, royal jelly, beeswax, and bee pollen individually.

Online stores great for bee products are Amazon.com, Mountain Rose Herbs, and Bulk Apothacary, look for local stores that sell bee products though and try to purchase through them if you can. Support your local Bee Farmers! 🙂

A few sites with recipes, and products that also supports bee keepers here, here, and here.

If you are interested in a neat honey documentary this is a good one on Honey made from Rhododendrons, mentioned previously. If you are interested in honey death rituals this is a great site, and for more military history of mad honey and armies go here or here

If you want to learn about the history of Sugar and its impact this is an OK book, but there may be better out there now.


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Everybody Poops

Well pain has slowed me down this week, and last not to mention a massive amount of doctor appointments. Looks like I will likely be going in for a hand surgery soon for Carpel Tunnel, caused by CRPS. It has slowed me down a bit, but I will always keep on truckin’!

This is a lot of information again, could be information diarrhea, but you know how I do. *z formation snaps* So here we go!

Everybody poops, so lets just get that part out of the way. Normally, as the saying goes, “shit happens,” but what if it doesn’t happen? I have recently been asked, as discretely as possible sometimes, about these and other gut issues, so I thought it might be time to share some knowledge about a difficult to discuss subject. We must get over it though, constipation happens, it could be due to digestive issues, poor diet, not enough hydration, post-surgery, digestive disorders, or in the case of chronic pain sufferers, a side effect of most medications available, as well as lots of other disorders. How long is “too long” before not pooping is an issue? How do you remedy or, hopefully, prevent such issues? Is there such thing as a “bad” sort of poo? Are there different positions for pooping that you can use to not over strain yourself? What to do about this is usually a very private issue, alluded to in silly commercials for harsh chemical laxatives, but never really discussed? Drag it out into the light of course! So lets get started, here is a simple image to give you a general knowledge of what most poos are made of, and some general color references. This is a great image for a quick reference for the scoop on poop.

You will know more about poop than you ever thought you could know after reading this, and this is just scratching the surface!

The Whens, Wheres, & Whys of Pooping

The Whens & Wheres

The history of where ancient peoples had a poo, and what social do’s and don’ts existed around them were, usually, for valid reasons. So of course, since you know I love all things historical, here is a somewhat brief history of bathrooms, which is more important than you think. Water toilets we think are a modern invention, but using water to move waste away either through using naturally occurring water resources of human built plumbing has been a way to get waste that if it sat around could bring disease, away from the areas where people lived. The first known flushing toilets were from the Indus valley region in India, and date as far back as about 2600 BCE. Greece too had water driven toilets found in the ruins of the Minoans on Crete. Romans too had toilets where waste was washed away by water, they were though much more communal and rich and poor used them…and possibly had a chat.

Since pooping was more of a social event.

They used most likely a sponge attached to a stick, dipped in water (or vinegar, depends on who you ask) from the trough in front of each seat. The rich apparently carried their own, but if you were poor you made due with the communal one. Possibly the origin of the phrase “short (or shit) end of the stick,” as you would want to be very aware of which end of the stick was grabbed when it was passed to you. There has also been a recent articles about alternative wiping options. But there isn’t 100% evidence this is actually what these pessoi were used for, and they do not seem like they would be friendly to your neither regions if used. Other than sponges on sticks, leaves, sticks, even hands and possibly the aforementioned pessoi been used to clean up after a good poop. But you can all breathe a sigh of relief and thank China for inventing toilet paper. Paper has existed in China, as we would know it, since the Han Dynasty.

Making paper in China

It was first recorded there that paper was used for toilet purposes in about 875 CE. There is even a quote from Yan Zhitui, a government official and scholar, said –

“Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes”

So there are limitations culturally for what can and can not be used as toilet paper, since this would be dishonorable. Finally in Europe the privy or garderobe, which was basically an outhouse or latrine, was first improved upon by Queen Elizabeth’s godson, Sir John Harrington, invented the flushing toilet. Which was used only by the Queen really after it was made, most people used toilets that were built over rivers so water again could carry waste away. They looked much like this –

photo by Steve

Gaurderobe over river in France

Or were sometimes built like a bridge over the river. Obviously, this is not an optimum waste disposal method. This led to a lot of issues with diseases that travel in tainted drinking water. Once it was proven that clean drinking water was key to a large amount of disease prevention, you start to see more sanitary conditions improving across most countries. Oddly though sanitation in large palaces, like the infamous Versailles, had no sanitation. Puts a real different spin on the place when you realize all those fancy French nobles were having a wee and possibly a poo in the corners. Most rooms came equipped with a chamber pot, which in many fancy castles and noble houses was all you had even if you were Queen Victoria. If you were a lady things were often more difficult, with all that fabric taking it off or lifting it all up was not really an option. So the bourdaloue was invented, you lifted just enough of your skirts to place it between your legs, clasping it firmly with your thighs you could have a wee under all that fabric at a party, and no one would be the wiser. Not so great for poos though, some women were said to straddle a chamber pot.

Getty Art Collection

Definitely not a gravy boat.

A lot of them had seats, most were just a hole in a board over a hole, or a stool with a hole over a bucket. They were very much like the latrines you may have used while camping, or a port-a-potty type thing. Very smelly, and rather unfortunate if it is your job to manually clean it out. Interestingly, when these were covered over and left, they are sometimes found by archaeologists, who also dig out sewers (never saw Indiana Jones sifting through poo did you?). The reason being is that a lot of information can be gleaned from a civilization’s leavings. Undigested seeds, or other plant or animal matter, was passed and can tell us a lot about diet, and general health of the population. Diseases present themselves in poo, so you can get a great snapshot at diseases that occurred and sometimes the demographics of who got it (ie: only the poor or a certain area had one type of disease, while others types appear elsewhere). You can also find a lot of interesting things that people happen to drop, rings, pottery, jewelry, coins, and many other things that happen to fall in, for us to find in modern excavations.

Silly medieval lady, that's not for babies!

Silly medieval lady, that’s not for babies!

A lot of them in early Europe and Asia didn’t have seats and then evolved into using them later. You get the term stool for poo from the position of Groom of the Stool, who had the honor of wiping the King’s rear after a poo, since he had a fancy stool to sit on while he went. Not a job I would be knocking over people to get to, but if you were wiping the King’s rear, you were also able to get his ear. And influence on the King was, well a coveted thing at most courts. Yet only Asia has brought the past into the modern day, Asian countries employ what is dreaded by most Western tourists – the squat toilet. Or as many call them squatters.

They really aren’t so bad

Squat toilets could actually be quite forward thinking, for your back-end. It seems that like along with the birthing canal, the muscles that allow you to poop work in concert with gravity in a squatting position, so it may allow you to more easily pass things, and could prevent injury from over straining like hemorrhoids and other issues. It may also be a good position if one is constipated. Currently some countries are a bit more open about pooping. Germany has poop “shelves” (extremely well described by the linked blog) in their toilet to allow for proper fecal inspection, since a good poop is the key to good health in a lot of ways. Which is not incorrect, noting the amount, consistency, and other aspects of what you pass can be a key to monitoring and maintaining good health (which we will go over further down). Other countries are even more relaxed about poop, in Japan the word for poop sounds very close to the word for luck and there has been a whole market formed around lucky golden poops.

The perfect golden poop

Admire the perfect golden poop

But even in Japan there was a serious crisis with women using too much water during bathroom visits, due to flushing repeatedly to hide the sound of bodily functions. Which lead to the creation otohimes, or sound princesses, which has a recorded flushing noise to cover any incriminating sounds. Inspired by a princess in the nebulous past that feared sounds being overheard as well, and had a maid drop stones in water while she was “indisposed” to cover any audible evidence.

The Whys of Pooping

So now you know the wheres of pooping, so now to understand the whys of pooping. To do that we need to understand the whole process, and why its important. So you gotta start at the top, the digestive tract is one big tube that goes from the mouth (and nose if you want to be technical) down through the esophagus, which chewed food travels down. Food moves down the esophagus, made of smooth involuntary muscles, using a wave like muscle action called peristalsis, aided by saliva and mucus that lines the digestive tract. Mucus is a large part of the digestive tract, think of it like the oil in a machine. Mucus helps everything move, and protects the stomach tissue from digestive juices, and does other things in other systems in the body but we are mainly concerned with digestion. Mucus is extremely important, like I said, oil in a machine, no oil machine stops. So to make mucus, you have to be hydrated also if you remember the first image, poo is mostly water. If you aren’t drinking enough water there is not enough mucus, and if you don’t have enough water a good poo can’t be properly formed, or moved along. Lack of proper hydration can be the source of your issues when you can’t poo a lot of the time.

The food moves to the stomach, the stomach is a muscle-y sack that has gate keepers at the beginning and end. The gate keepers are sphincters that allow food in, and food out in measured amounts. Food once it enters is broken down by the digestive juices and the muscle action (it sort of squeezes things to help turn things to a soupy food slurry) then, through the next gate keeper sphincter to the U shaped duodenum. Then more peristalsis as it goes through the small intestines. There is nothing small about them though when it comes to their importance in the digestive tract. It is where a lot of absorption of nutrients happens by the velvety covering of teeny tiny little fingers, called villi, that line the intestinal walls, and increase in surface area aiding in nutrient absorption. Small intestines are the home of gut flora. Gut flora you may have heard of, since probiotics are a huge thing these days…or at least it is if you are Jamie Lee Curtis.

Have YOU eaten your yogurt for pooping today?

Have YOU eaten your yogurt for pooping today?

Gut flora is basically a symbiotic relationship, that means we both benefit living with each other. We don’t actually know what all the gut flora bacteria are, they actually differ between humans and are difficult to grow in a lab culture. But what we do know is they are vital to having proper digestion as well as your immune system. There are some theories being bandied about lately that lactose intolerance, IBS, and other digestive/immunological disorders could be increasing in the population is due to the over use of antibiotics, which can kill gut flora. You kill all bacteria, even the good guys, and sometimes the cure is almost as dangerous as the illness.

So since we have all been on some antibiotics, it is important to try to restore as much of that good gut flora as you can, one way is actually with yogurt. You have to make sure you are eating yogurt with active cultures, so that would be traditionally made yogurts or if they are added they will note so on the label. Probiotics have helped my husband with his rosacea, by keeping it from spreading and reducing the redness, and has even helped my dog who has an issue with an overgrowth of skin flora, yeast (its not bad or contagious, its only real side effect is making her smell horrible). This happens due to a lack of bacterial checks and balances, bacteria need other types of competing bacteria to keep things in balance (circle of life and all that jazz). So eating yogurt you get lactobacillus, a type of bacteria we know is in the gut, as well as in dairy and some fermented foods. Eating home made fermented foods is also another way to get this bacteria into your system, things like kimchi, pickles, and pretty much any fermented food will have this bacteria. If you are hip and now, you probably have seen or heard of kombucha, it is a drink made from tea fermented with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). This is an excellent way to return helpful bacteria to the gut, and it is super easy to brew at home (instructions and recipe later).

Finally after all the nutrients have been absorbed and all food matter further digested by the gut flora, food moves into the large intestines, or colon. This is where the poop happens, this is where water is absorbed back into the body, the waste has now become less a slurry and more a thick mash, and all that good bacteria starts to ferment it so any other fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins K, B12, B1 & B2) can be absorbed, as well as any remaining and necessary salts. The large intestines are large in circumference, and not length, it is ¹/5th the length of the small intestines. After moving through the colon, the food you have eaten has become, poop. When it has become poop, it must be stored until it can be passed through the anus, and it is stored in the rectum until its ready to go. If you ignore the signal that it is time to poop, it is sometimes returned to the colon and more water is absorbed, which could cause the very bad issue of hardened poops and again, constipation. If it is listened to it will be passed into the anal canal and then out through the anus, that’s it.

A picture of the path we have just taken, with a few more details

What exactly is constipation, and what do I do about it?

The What of Constipation

Well, to understand this we need to whip out the ol’ Bristol Stool Chart, which is a chart from the University of Bristol. It is a tool to help clinically discuss the nature of your poo, and it is a simple classification chart to help patients, and doctors effectively communicate poo status. Remember the poo shelf? Poo really is important for health! You should always take a look, to make sure your poo is good poo because “bad” poos could indicate all sorts of issues. If you want a good break down of the when to, and when not to, freak out about your poo, check out the article here. Poo is an extremely effective way to keep an eye on the over all health of your body.

So back to that stool chart.

In all of its poo glory!

In all of its poo glory!

So as you can see it describes the entire poo rainbow, and gives an effective and less “icky” way to describe poos. Also it gives you a general outline of what is good and bad poos. I say general since type 1 and 2 are considered constipated, but if they are easy to pass and don’t fit the other criteria of constipation it may just be you aren’t drinking enough water, or didn’t go soon enough or something like that. 3 and 4 are considered ideal, the 4th being most ideal while anything after that is considered diarrhea which is a whole different kettle of fish. So what are the other symptoms with types 1 and 2 that show it is constipation?

  • Straining with more than a quarter of the times you go
  • Hard poo (that’s type 1)
  • Feeling of a partial poo, like you may not have pooed everything.
  • Sensation of a blockage, or that things aren’t able to pass
  • Fewer than three poos a week

If you have these symptoms and types 2 and 3 if you are able to pass, you my friend probably have constipation. No I am not a medical doctor, so remember if you try any over the counter and natural methods and you don’t have results in a few days, you need to contact your doctor.

The Hows of Fixing Constipation

There are simple things to do to combat constipation if you have or could have it.

Drink lots of water.

Seriously, do it. Most of us don’t drink enough water with all the sugary juices and sodas around, plain old water gets boring. I carry a bottle of water everywhere with me, I’ve used metal and other types but my favorite has been my rubber jacketed reinforced glass Zulu bottle. It is glass, so non-reactive, and surprisingly durable, considering I’ve dropped it at least 3-4 feet a few times and it bounced instead of breaking. Also if you want to add essential oils to your water

Zulu bottle, about 30$ but worth the money

Any water bottle will do, glass, metal or BPA free plastic (it is worth it just to be on the safe side). You can always jazz water up infusing it with things like fruit and herbs, mix it up go wild. Have a basil and watermelon water (you can puree a watermelon and freeze it as ice cubes and drop those and fresh basil into your glass or pitcher), lemon balm and black berries (you can do the same as watermelon juice, with any fruit really). You can also add small amounts of essential oils to water, no more than 1 drop per 8 0z of water at first, and you want to make sure that you are getting oils that are safe to ingest. Make sure to do your own research, oils are unregulated so be careful about what quality it is of the stuff you put in.

Get lots of fiber.

I probably couldn’t sound more cliche I know, but with all cliches there is a granule of truth. It is so very important to eat lots of leafy greens, and fruits and just vegetable matter in general. Fiber is basically plant celluloid that cant be digested and acts as an internal broom to sweep things out more easily. It is important to get enough of this in your diet to make sure you poop good poops, on the regular. Making sure to get your daily recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables should cover you, if you want to eat more leafy greens great! Eat raw, I rarely recommend a purely raw diet, but for few days raw veg is a great way to give the bowls a kick start.

There are all sorts of fiber supplements and other things like, Grape-Nuts, bran muffins, and Metamucil to name the most famous. You may want to find one that works best for you with some trial and error if you choose to go the supplemental route. It can be a good way to get additional fiber if you are already eating your roughage and things aren’t moving along as they should. There are a lot of natural, and chemical dietary fiber supplements, but fresh is always best in my opinion. Just make sure to do your research, and try a few different brands, everyone and every brand is different. What works for your friend, may not work for you. One size never fits all.

Get exercise.

No fooling. Get out and take walks, swim, run if you are able to. Any work out that just gets the blood moving helps to get that gut moving. If you are post-surgery and they “put your gut to sleep” this is a good way to go, even if your movement is limited. Walking as much as you can stand can get things going. So if poo seems a no go, go talk some exercise to help you go. There is also some Yoga to do to help with constipation, this is a good quick-start, but you may want to dig deeper and do more research if this appeals to you. T’ai Chi Ch’uan and Qigong are also good exercises to do, even walking, can stimulate things enough.

Massage the Abdomen

I have seen overall 2 schools of thought on this, first one is to rub in large circular motions from right to left on the abdomen. The other is to start where the appendix is (think lower right quadrant of the abdomen), then make small circle motions working up to (the top right quadrant) just under your ribs on the right, across the top to the other corner on the left, down to the top of the pelvis (or lower left quadrant) and then across and back around again. This is supposed to help stimulate the colon’s muscles to start contracting and sending things along. There are tons of massages and things listed if you google “massage for constipation” look around try a few see what works for you. If you ever feel severe pain doing this stop, and call a doctor.

Natural Laxatives

If you are eating fiber, probiotics, hydrating, and your green roughage and you still aren’t going you may need to start trying some natural laxatives. Some fruits, herbs and vegetables on their own have laxative properties that you can take advantage of that help get things going when you don’t want to use a harsh, possibly cramp-y, laxative. A lot of foods are just naturally rich in fiber, or have laxative properties I don’t fully go over but I would like to list since they are all good additions if you are looking for relief. Things like: flax seeds, raisins, beans, leafy greens, banana, bran, peaches, broccoli, raw carrots, etc. These are just a few, but of my favorite ones are:

  • Apples – Apples, they are the quickest and easiest laxative around, and so so very simple. All you have to do is get an apple, any type, and cut it into slices, leave it out for a bit til it gets brown. Then eat it. That is all, gotta love simplicity! You could also opt for unfiltered apple juice, or cider, since this will also have the same effect. Although it can cause some foul wind in some digestive systems.
  • Prunes – Another simple fix is prunes, I love, love, love prunes. I was very small, maybe 2 or 3 years old, and ate a whole bag of them I found in the fridge door. I soon found out about their strong laxative effect, yet this has not diminished my love for prunes. They are an underrated fruit, reserved for “old people.” But they are so good for you, and a wonderful way to help get things going. Also fantastic kolache flavor, try it if you have a Czech bakery near you. Prune juice is also a great option, a glass or two will get things moving.
  • Figs – Then there is always figs, which are not only tasty but also like prunes and apples, a good natural laxative.  Dried or raw figs are a natural stool softener that can help loosen things up enough go get you going. I really like grilled fresh figs, grilled until soft with just a dollop of marscapone cheese on them it makes this medicine that is actually a treat to eat. You can also make a syrup I will list a recipe for later.
  • Rhubarb – Rhubarb is a natural laxative too, and great cooked up with some strawberries in jam or in a pie, or just sliced and cooked in some honey to pour over ice cream or into a drink (like some hot or iced green tea). You can even take apple or pureed strawberries and pureed rhubarb, (with a bit of water to loosen things up to drinkable level if needed) and make a drink out of it.
  • Fish Oils – Fish oil and cod liver oil are both great laxatives, fish oil is generally easier to take since it comes in capsule forms, and is found in grocery stores more often than cod liver oil. Cod liver oil is found in most health food specialty stores and is extremely fast acting (do NOT take this at bed time!) and a ½ to 1 teaspoon a day should be enough to get things going, too much can actually damage your GI tract so be careful with this and don’t go overboard.
  • Water – I can not say enough, drink a lot of water. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It is thought that if you drink room temperature, or even just warmer that it will help with things a little more. You can also put half a lemon’s juice in water and down it, that may get things started. As well as the previously mentioned way of adding fiber to your drinks.
  • Caffeine – A good old cup of coffee is also a pretty good way to get things going, or if you aren’t a coffee drinker a strong cup of black tea since caffeine is a laxative. Moderation must be cautioned, too much of this can definitely be a bad thing.

 

Recipes

Probiotic Butter

  • 1 cup Whipping Cream
  • 1 tablespoon Plain Yogurt (probiotic of course)

Place yogurt in cream and set in undisturbed area in 73º F, since it is getting hot I create my own cool with ice packs. Leave for 16 to 24 hours, I like to just dump it all in my stand mixer, and cover it so nothing falls in, and whip with a paddle attachment. I set it on the speed above stir, and just leave it. If you have a splash guard, use it. This can get messy if there’s splashing. When you hear a sloshing sound that means its done, you will have the buttermilk which you can strain, and save. I use to make biscuits, but you can do loads of other things with it (though nothing is better than hot buttermilk biscuits so I don’t see why you would make anything else). You will want to put the butter that is in lumps in a bowl and smush it while holding the bowl at an angle and squeeze the liquid out. Rinse it occasionally, with cold water, and keep working the butter until the liquid from it runs clear. Add a half a teaspoon of kosher salt if you want for preservation, and there you go butter! You can whip it for fluffy spreadable butter and store it in a butter bell, or a tub. Or you can put it in wax paper or plastic wrap and roll it into shapes (just make sure to poke any bubbles with a toothpick or pin) and refrigerate, or even freeze it. You can double this for a 2 cup log of butter as well. Not an extreme measure but a great additional way to get probiotics than yogurt, kombucha or pills.

Fig and Date Jam

  • 1 cup Prunes (pitted)
  • 1 cup Dates (pitted)
  • 1 cup Boiling water

Chop dates and prunes into small pieces, smaller the better, and place in water and bring to a boil. Cook until a thick consistency and then throw it in a jar, and store in the fridge. 1 tablespoon a day should get things done, and it is super good on toast from home made bread.

Epsom Salts are another way to get relief, generally the package will have amounts for oral doses, speak with a doctor especially if you want to venture to other orifices for dosing.

If all of the other methods have failed you it is time to move on to these recipes.

Dandelion Root Tea

  • 1 ounce of Dandelion root, pounded
  • 6 cups water

You must be starting to get desperate to resort to this, and the other teas, dandelion root tea is pretty horrible tasting. But it does the job. This will yield 4 doses, and you will want to pound the root until it just breaks a part a bit, don’t make a mash of it. Simmer it in the 6 cups of water until it has reduced by half. Drink 3/4 of a cup warm a day.

I got this next recipe from Jimmy Wong’s Grow Your Own Drugs series. It contains senna pods, this is a relative of cassia, you can use senna leaves but use only a few as they are far more potent than the pods.

Syrup of Figs for Constipation

  • 18 grams (.6 oz) dried Senna pods
  • 100 milliliters (3.4 fluid ounces) Boiling water
  • 8 fresh figs, quartered
  • 100 grams (3.5 ounces) Sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon

“1. Place the senna pods in a glass bowl and pour over the boiling water. Leave to steep for about 30 minutes, then strain through a sieve or piece of muslin into a blender.
2. Add the figs and sugar to the senna infusion and whizz until smooth.
3. Pour into a saucepan, and heat slowly to reduce, stirring occasionally. You want to end up with a thick, glossy sugar-like syrup – this will probably take about 25 minutes. Add the lemon juice and stir in well.
4. Take off the heat and pour the syrup into a sterilized 150 ml bottle.

USE: Shake well before use. Take 2 tsp before bed when needed. Don’t use for more than a few days at a time, or if you have severe abdominal pain.

STORAGE: Keeps in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.”

You can also make a senna pod tea, it is pretty powerful stuff so this should really be a last resort. Senna has been used for generations in Chinese herbal medicine, but it still should be used with caution and respect. There are also pre-made preparations from teas, to suppositories that carry senna extracts as well.

Senna Pod Tea

  • 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of senna pods (half as much if you use leaves)
  • 16 ounces Boiling water
  • 5-10 medallions of Ginger (for taste and to ease some of the cramping)
  • 3-5 drops Fennel essential oil (or 3 or 4 fennel tops of about 3-5 inches)

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.

If you don’t want to opt for that, you can always go with cascara sagrada, sacred bark, this is another one that you will find in a lot of pre-made preparations, but if you want to make it at home make sure you purchase just the dried bark, fresh bark could cause intestinal bleeding, and can severely irritate existing digestive issues, like Chron’s or IBS. Make sure if you have an existing digestive tract issue to discuss this option with your doctor first.

Cascara Sagrada Bark Tea

  • 1 teaspoon of Cascara Sagrada bark (well dried)
  • 3 cups Boiling water

Steep in a covered teapot for 30 minutes, and drink a warm cup before bedtime, possibly 2 cups if you had the first the night before and nothing happened. Again, use this with caution, and all other herbal medicines.

If all of these fail, you may want to move on to chemical laxatives, which WebMD has a good breakdown of each here. You can also try enemas, which are not my favorite thing since you should pretty much be ready to feel like you are peeing out of your ass, and it may not even fix things. After a surgery or in an extreme situation though they may be necessary. If you have not had a poo in two weeks or more, you need to consult your doctor and manual removal may be required. Which is unpleasant for all involved. Make sure you always answer the “urge” when it calls, and take care to look at your poop more often. It is way more important than you realize.

Remember, I am not a medical professional, consult your doctor before embarking on any drastic treatments, especially if you have any digestive disorders. As always, if you are in any doubt about anything whatsoever, ask a professional!