Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Sandalwood, good for just about everything!

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

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

History and Uses of Sandalwood

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

image from www.chitrahandicrafts.com

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

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

Sandalwood and some sandalwood powder.

Sandalwood heartwood and some sandalwood powder.

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

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

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

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

My fan looked much like this sandalwood carved fan

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

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

Typical Javadhu powder you would find in a store

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

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

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

Why and How it Works

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

Alpha-santalol-stickModel

Alpha-Santalol in its chemical format

Beta-Santalol in its chemical format

Beta-Santalol in the same

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

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

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

Sustainability & True Species

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

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

My husband will be pleased with this. Mostly.

My husband will be pleased with this image. Mostly…

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

Indian Sandalwood – (Santalum album)

Santalum album

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

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

Coast Sandalwood – (Santalum ellipticum)

Santalum ellipticum

Santalum ellipticum

Other Common Names – ʻIliahialoʻe, or Hawaiian Sandalwood

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

Australian Sandalwood – (Santalum spicatum)

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

Santalum spicatum

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

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

The Fakes

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

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

Recipes

Easy Sandalwood Lotion

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

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

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

Saffron & Sandalwood Lotion

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

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

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

Sandalwood Steaming

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

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

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

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

Woodsy Beard Oil

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

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

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

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

Muscle Spasm Massage Oil

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

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

Sleeping Sandalwood & Lavender

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

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

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

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

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

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Cardamom, Holiday Love Potion #9

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

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

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

Lean green fighting pod machines.

Lean, green, anxiety fighting pod-machines!

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

The History and Uses of Cardamom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They also cornered the poofy hat fashion niche.

They also cornered the poofy hat fashion niche.

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

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

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

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

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

This could be the answer for a happy morning commute!

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

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

What is in Cardamom that Works?

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

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

Cardamom Recipes

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

Carrot Fudge (Gajar Halwa) (adapted from myheartbeets)

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

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

Vetebröd (Swedish Sweet Yeast Bread slightly altered from here)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speculaas or Dutch Windmill Cookies (slightly altered from here)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardamom Molasses Cookies

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

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

Cardamom Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

Cardamom Tea

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

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

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

 Cardamom Tincture

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

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

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

Mike Tyson Level Knock Out Tea

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

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

Cardamom Massage Oil

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

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

Cardamom Epsom Salt Bath

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

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

Ok, now I have to get out my soapbox.

*gets on soapbox*

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

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

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

*gets off soapbox*

Failure (and Idiot) Proof Chai Tea

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

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

Spices in my cute little molina

Spices in my cute little molina

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

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

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

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

My little pot full of tea and spices!

That’s right let that stuff sit and marinate.

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

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

Strained and ready to go!

Strained and ready to go! Yum!

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

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

Cardamom & Senna Tea To Make You Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardamom Link Storm


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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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Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.

“Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres” or in English “tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are,” its an old Spanish proverb. It is one that you should take to heart though, the people you surround yourself with are important. If you surround yourself with negative people, it becomes like a negativity cancer and begins to eat at you from the inside. Surround yourself with people that are positive, and be as positive as possible and your spirits will always be lifted in the darkest hours.

This holds true for everything in life, but it is even more important if you suffer from any sort of chronic pain disorder. If you are in a low place, you need to have as much positive stuff around you as possible. This sounds like something that would be common sense, but we all know that common sense isn’t so common. So how do you do it?

Watch What You Take In – Environment

 

Make it your cardinal rule.

Make it your cardinal rule.

Watch comedians, funny movies (or TV shows), or just movies (or TV shows) that make you happy. Read uplifting, happy, or silly books (Paulo Cohelo’s Alchemist is a great place to start), comics or mangas (or manwhas and all other variants) keep it funny nothing dark. Listen to happy music, or a funny podcast, but make sure it is lighthearted fun, dark humor, while fun now and then, can be OK, but never in a low point. No shows that get you emotional or make you cry or really experience anything but a positive emotion.

You may have to start censoring things, like songs on the radio – song too too sad? Turn that dial! I have started avoiding listening to or watching the news, especially these days news can add more things to be sad than happy about to your day. It may make me a poor subject to discuss current affairs with, but when your load is heavy why add more things to carry? If you DO watch the news, watch fluff pieces, you know cat dress up shows and that sort of thing. You need to wrap yourself visually, audibly and mentally with positive things. Like a warm, fuzzy positive security blanket that will keep the monsters of depression at bay. Put up things around you that make you happy, like art, or make you recall fond memories. Creating things gives the satisfaction of accomplishment, so it doesn’t matter what you make as long as you feel all “yeah I made that!” and are proud about it in the end (this means even if it doesn’t come out right the first time, there is always another go you can have at it).

Do things that bring you pleasure, even if they are small things. Those small things become huge things when you need something happy. Eat a comfort food meal, take yourself out to a movie, for ice cream, parks, zoos, museums, belly dancing shows, whatever blows your hair back! Just make sure it brings you pleasure. On bad days, look out the window every cloud and ray of sunshine is a personal gift to you enjoy it take it in and appreciate it. I have a lot of cardinals that live near me, and there is a superstition that seeing them means you will have a lucky day, when I see one I think about that and even something small like that can bring my thoughts from doom and gloom to happier pastures. Also, exercise daily, and that means even days that hurt. Do some amount of exercise every single day, even if the exercise is a lap or two around the house. Do some yoga, do some meditating, do some Tai Chi, just do something to get the body moving, this is the best way to beat the blues.

Watch What You Take In – People

I meant it, their negative will become yours.

I meant it, their negativity will become yours.

We all know a “negative Nancy” or a “Debbie downer,” or a general moaner and complainer that always is being negative about something. People who complain and want people to generally be as miserable as they are. This sort of person is definitely not the type of person you want to expose yourself to a lot during bad times, or even good times really. People who drag your spirits down when you don’t have enough positive of you own are worse for you than your pain condition (or depression) in my humble non-medical opinion. You need people that tell you the good things, the ones that make you smile and feel good around you to bring you out of your blues.

The people that are unhappy with life, and themselves and want to pull you down into their hole instead of pulling you out, have no business in your life, frankly pain condition or not. Sometimes, as in my life, that means some of your family. I haven’t cut them all out of my life but I do have some that have no re-entry policies, and if I become upset I attempt to extract myself as gracefully as possible from the situation. Sometimes you have to do this, and it does suck. But afterwards, you always know you made a good decision it will become so much easier to be positive without them dragging you down, like a stone tied to your foot while you try to swim. The effect is sometimes instantaneous, like a massive weight being lifted all at once or others it is long and drawn out and difficult – but so worth it in the end.

Remember, you and your happiness is like one of those eggs you get in health class in American High Schools you have to take care of and fail if it gets dropped or cracked. It is fragile, and needs protecting daily and vigilantly. To not do so is to suffer at your own risk.

What if all that doesn’t work?

If you have been doing this and still are having issues, you may want to look into trying Cognitive Therapy it does a lot, and has done a lot for me and people I know in treating their issues (WebMD also has some neat info). If this still doesn’t help you may want to seek the help of a professional. If you need help finding one try searching here or here.


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Fishfuddle Befuddles Pain

Oh life, you always throw a spanner into the best laid plans. Between migraines coming back (getting topped up again with botox soon so they will be hopefully be gone for a month or two again) and cramming as much life into the days I don’t hurt, due to birthday’s and other social events, I just have not found the time to sit and write as much as I want to. But you must always make time for the things you love 🙂 and I love writing!

Piscidia piscipula, or sometimes known as fishfuddle, or the Florida fishpoison tree, is a tree that is native to Florida, Texas, Caribbean, Central and South America. This is as you can tell from the name, not a remedy to be trifled with, and I am strongly recommending you talk to your doctor(s) before embarking on using this remedy. I actually had some internal turmoil over whether or not I should write about this since it is very much use at your own risk sort of thing, and you should be very careful with this remedy. It is not something you shouldn’t just start up willy-nilly, even though it is a great medication, in small amounts, for pain especially nerve pains. But like I always say, you should always respect all things you put in your body, herbal medicine, or otherwise. Remember that if it is strong enough to good, then it can be strong enough to do bad. Always be mindful in all things you ingest, over the counter pills, essential oils, anything in the wrong amounts or used improperly can be dangerous, and even water can poison you.

Jamaican Dogwood in all of its glory!

Jamaican dogwood in all of its glory!

Now that I have gotten the stern warnings out of the way, this is a powerful analgesic and sedative, and as a bonus has anti-inflammatory properties as well. Its Latin name roughly translates to “little fish killer,” usually in places it grows the indigenous people use the shrub to create a strong fish sedative and poison which can be added to small ponds or swamps. Thus allowing easy collecting of fish for small family groups. Its poison isn’t long lasting and therefore not detrimental to the environment since it breaks down if exposed to sunlight for more than 6 days. It has been successfully used in some cases to remove invasive species from lakes, and may be a way to prevent destructive species invasion of aquatic environments. It is also a powerful insecticide, which if you are fighting the ravages of caterpillars. Which I don’t mind a few having a snack, always plant some extra for nature, but decimation is an act of war! And a solution containing a bit of Jamaican dogwood tincture is a very effective way to prevent them from eating all your plants. Other than obliterating your garden with fire.

Take that you greedy caterpillars!

While it can be detrimental to the finned water friends, since it affects their gills, it can be a powerful pain reliever, especially in the case of nerve pain, as well as sedative for humans. It is really not well studied since it fell out of fashion after the 1800’s, mostly due to the dominance of opiates and then mass produced pain medications. Also there was some bad PR it got due to the claims of possible carcinogenic chemicals (but not enough studies to back it up, just like the same bad PR safrole), and it makes this remedy is a bit more difficult to write about. There have been studies in the early days of Western medicine that do confirm its ability to alleviate pain and ease tense muscles, but not years of studies that would give definitive and detailed information and results. The chemical interactions that lead it to being good for treating human pain, as well as being a sedative, anti-spasmodic, and anti-inflammatory, are unstudied by modern science to a degree that we could not truly pinpoint what chemical is is causing what. One of the known chemicals in Jamaican dogwood is rotenone, which is deadly to fish since it affects their gills, but is not as poisonous to warmblooded animals, though in large amounts Jamaican dogwood can still be toxic to humans. Traditional uses that went beyond fish hunting were generally for the sedation and pain relieving side of the plant. Though later alternative medicinal practices used this plant to treat migraines, and other painful conditions, with patients that could not tolerate opium, or opiates. It has also been used by many cultures to treat moon time issues, and ease painful cramps since it relaxes muscles as well as easing pain.

Generally the bark of the roots is what is used and you can buy this online, try to buy locally if at all possible from a reputable dealer that harvests in a sustainable manner. If you live in one of the areas that Jamaican dogwood grows naturally in, you should have a go at harvesting it yourself. There is a really good article to use here, she goes into identification and how to harvest as well as drying and her own recipe for a tincture. There is also a lot of commercial preparations, such as extracts that can be used as well. If you opt to go the extracts route make sure you know the strength of the extract you are purchasing and it is always best to start with the smallest amount and work up taking tiny steps. Some people experience an adverse reaction to this remedy and it is best to make sure your stomach is not upset by it before you take larger amounts. Another option is to use the bark of the root to make a tea.

Jamaican Dogwood Tea

  • ¼-½ teaspoon Dried Jamaican dogwood root bark
  • 8 oz of water

Add the root bark to the water, and boil for 10 to 15 minutes. Start small here and you can eventually increase to 1 teaspoon all the way up to 2, though this should be done with caution and only after stepping up a 1/4 teaspoon at a time. This is great for all sorts of pain – nerve, joint, lady type, migraines, etc. It also is a pretty strong sedative, even more so than valerian, and is a great way to make sure you get your z’s. It also helps to ease painful cramping and spasms. It also helps to relieve anxiety and stress in the smaller doses and if you are quite anxious this may be a good way to deal with some of the worse days.

Jamaican Dogwood Tincture

  • 1 part Dried Jamaican dogwood root bark
  • 5 parts Grain alcohol
  • Mason jar or other seal-able glass jar

Make sure you have enough room at the top of the jar when you put all the root bark and grain alcohol into your jar. Make sure the root bark is covered and seal. Make sure you shake it every so often, and leave it to sit for 4-6 weeks. On the site I linked previously she suggests blending the bark, which if you don’t have something as powerful as a Vitamix you can use pruning sheers or other strong cutting implements to chop it into little pieces to increase surface area. 5 drops in honey, tea or directly under the tongue, and increase as needed. No more than 30 drops, in my opinion, some sites though recommend 2 droppers, which is about 2.5 ml, and equates to about the same amount. Again, this is good for migraines, spasms, sleeping issues, all that good stuff.

 Jamaican Dogwood Bug Spray

  • 5-10 drops Jamaican dogwood tincture
  • Spray bottle
  • Enough water to fill the spray bottle

Add everything to the spray bottle, and shake well before use. Spray on plants, and make sure you rinse anything you eat from them very well before consuming them. This really should only be used in extreme circumstances of bug, or caterpillar invasion, you should always plant extra for the animals.

If you purchase a powdered version or if you are using extract you can always make these into a pill form and if you need instruction on how to do so there is a good one at the end of this post on turmeric, which just so happens to work really well as a companion to dogwood in a pain pill preparation. Hops and valerian are also good companions for Jamaican dogwood. Depending on the percentage of concentration of the extract you may need to use less, but the dose for powdered Jamaican dogwood is about 1-5 grains (65 mg – 324 mg), I would definitely not suggest using more than that.

Remember educate yourself before taking this drug, and do not start a treatment without consulting a physician. Always check places like WebMD to make sure it won’t interact with your medications or any conditions. In this case, even if you don’t have any doubts about this remedy you need to ask a professional before starting it.


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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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Move It, Or Lose It

Move it or lose it, everyone has heard this. You have got to move your body, exercise is necessary for everyone, even if you don’t have a chronic pain issue. It keeps you mentally healthy, releases stress, fights depression, and keeps everything pumping and moving as it should. When you throw in CRPS, it becomes 1000 x’s more important since all activity helps keep the your brain and nerves connected, and talking. Which means in general that symptoms are better kept in check, and could even help reduce some of the symptoms.

Exercise – do it. No excuses.

Daily exercise and stretching goes against a lot of the early recommendations for sufferers of CRPS, then known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), they were generally advised to not exercise the limb that was afflicted. While we don’t know a ton still about CRPS, we do now know that was the wrong advice. Movement is a big part of keeping the symptoms in check, and possibly keeping them from getting worse. Most people have an aversion to moving a limb that is painful, when movement is exactly what it needs. It is a natural response to protect, and develop protective habits, for areas in pain. If you have CRPS in the arm or leg, they tend to used less and treated gingerly, when what they need is to be moved more. This protective instinct is a natural response, but we do not realize that we are most likely making the situation worse. It is important not to allow yourself to give into the fear of pain, since bad habits will develop that could cause more injuries. So as much as you want to don’t give into the negative voice that says it hurts too much to do anything, and try to be mindful of using that limb more than unaffected ones.

It is vitally important to move and use your body, everyone needs to. It is even more important if you have any part of your body affected with CRPS. You will need to, as I said before, move as much as possible. It can be hard to be disciplined about this, trust me some days I really don’t feel like moving, it all just hurts too much. And sometimes, even though it is hard, I just have to accept that I am just not able to. Other days, it comes easily and I make myself get up and move, in pain or not I almost always feel loads better after. The feeling better after moving, mentally and physically, gives me the knowledge that if I put up with the pain and just get on with it, I will be rewarded. Rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, as well as pain relief. Being able to check off “do some exercise” from your list of things to do, is a great feeling of accomplishment as well as relief from pain. I have to be strict with myself, and to keep with telling myself I have no excuse for not moving because it hurts, since I will feel better once I do. Even if that day, all you can manage is a walking circuit around the house, you still made sure you got up and moved around.

Some days we all feel deathly ill 🙂

Some days we all just feel too crummy to work out, that is OK, now and then. You need to listen to your body and understand what it is telling you, pain is a signal that something is wrong so you need to listen to that signal and understand its nuances. Know your limits, pain exhausts the body so push yourself to move, but be reasonable. Muscle pain from working out is good, that familiar fiery ache you get from working out, push through that. But if it feels like a sharp stabbing pain or sharp pain, is a bad sign and means you should probably consider stopping, slowing down, or a different exercise. Again know your limits, you may not be able to walk 3 miles everyday, so if it is just around the house celebrate that you were able to do it. Remember there are some that can’t even do that, be happy you can.

Exercise means better blood flow, and that’s a good thing.

Movement gets the blood flowing better, and helps to move along fluids that may be pooling in the area causing edema. Vasomotor dysfunction (a fancy way of saying the veins and arteries have issues expanding or contracting like they should) is a symptom of CRPS, and leads to the color change and temperature change in the affected areas. By moving the body, it makes the heart pump faster, which signals the rest of the circulatory system to dilate, making the path wider to allow more blood to travel. Blood brings nutrients, oxygen, and the body’s immune system to the muscles and other parts of the body. If it isn’t allowed to make it’s full circuit in the circulatory system it can’t do it’s job.

One of the first things I noticed about my “bad” leg was my heal was dry and cracking no matter what I did, and was quite the mystery until my CRPS diagnosis. The leg was paler compared to the right one, as well as swollen, with a sickly blue hue to it. This was because the de-oxygenated blood was backing up in the leg, amongst other things, and was not allowed to move back to the lungs due to the swelling narrowing vessels blood needs to pass through. De-oxygenated blood, referred to as blue blood in the video (blood isn’t really ever blue, just dark red when low on oxygen, bright red when high in oxygen) has to travel back to the lungs to pick up a load of oxygen and then goes round the circuit again. Oxygen is a major part in proper cell functioning, and when you exercise you start to breathe more as well making sure that the blood that is traveling to the lungs can pick up more oxygen. Oxygen saturation can give you an idea of how well your body is moving things around, and is sort of a good test to see if you are breathing enough (we will go over breathing in another post). My blood when they check it, is generally 98% and higher thanks to all the breathing I do, you can check yours with an oximeter that are generally easy to get. They also tend to check your pulse too, which you can see your resting pulse rate versus your exercise heart rate. It should increase, as well as oxygenation after working out.

Another reason to move about is that the push/pull action of the muscles, actually helps to move the circulatory system along. The veins have a little flap like valve system, similar to the heart valves, which allows the blood to flow up instead of down.

You can see the valve at the top

Contracting and using the skeletal muscles helps to squeeze the veins and help move the blood in an upward direction more efficiently. If you are sedentary, it is just the heart that has to work harder to move blood up. This again helps prevent pooling, can help with chronic edema, and makes sure that the pumping system is working at maximum capacity. Pooling is what happens when you are in rest mode, blood will tend to be drawn to the core, to the digestive system, reproductive system and so on. The blood will tend to pool in the center of the body, so it can help with digestion and other functions, reducing flow to extremities. Moving around makes sure that the body knows that it isn’t time for rest mode, but work mode, and to keep blood pumping to the extremities.

Blood flow to an area is a large part of making sure the parts of the body responsible for healing can get to where they need to be. If you have pinched off or narrowed flow of blood like I do in some places, exercise can sometimes relieve some of the pinching of the vessels, or allow blood from other areas to flow more easily to where it needs to be. Making sure lots of fresh blood can travel to an injured area means the body will be able to heal that area faster. Moving around and getting the heart rate up gives the circulatory system that extra little bit of help that could be the difference between large painful swelling, and normalcy. The concept of having increased blood flow to an injured area is an old one, and it is part of how Graston works. Oxygen is one of the main ingredients to proper cell functioning, if you are working out more your blood is more oxygenated.

Everything you eat gets broken down by your digestive system (talked about in detail here) which then is dumped into the blood stream and delivered all over the body.  But cells also generate waste, cells like all living things have to poop, just like us. The circulatory system takes all of that waste, and any additional detritus from the regular repairs your body undergoes, to the liver for it to be cleaned from the body (which then ends up in your feces) or kidneys where it is expelled as urine. So blood is food and communication delivery as well as cleanup crew.

NoUrineTherapyTip: Just don’t do it. There are some people that tout drinking pee for a healthy body, and that it will cure anything. This is not true, and even though people in ancient China, or whatever, drank it doesn’t mean it is a valid treatment today. There is a reason it didn’t carry over into modern day, it doesn’t work. Urine Therapy has shown no medical benefits, and you are basically putting everything your body just worked hard to filter out, back. That is like sweeping the floor and then throwing the dust back down on the ground. Do not be fooled by pee drinker propaganda!

I guess that’s a reason…

Exercise helps the lymphatic system, and it needs all the help it can get.

What is the lymphatic system? It is considered part of the circulatory system, and it is a major part of the delivery of the body’s immune system. It carries a clear fluid, hence its name since lympha means water, as well as other cells and chemical signals. Unlike the circulatory system, it is not a closed system. That means since blood never leaves its vessels, it is closed, and all material passed back and forth does so through the vessel walls. The lymphatic system is not closed, and can have sort of a back and forth with the circulatory system. While it does not carry red blood cells, it does carry the white blood cells, hormone signals, as well as the other things blood carries like waste and other detritus. The immune system and the endocrine system depend heavily upon the lymphatic system, but unlike the blood circulatory system, the lymphatic system does not have a muscle dedicated to pumping the fluids around like the heart does with the blood. That means that the only way it is going to move is from you moving.

And as you can see the lymph system covers a lot of ground.

 

So to make sure your lymphatic system is moving and getting around as best possible. A lot of people that suffer from vein disorders, and other diseases that cause edema, like CRPS, from backed up lymphatic fluid as well as blood and these all can be helped with things like compression socks, and physical movement. This is why they tell you to pump your legs if you are in the hospital, moving the legs in a pumping motion (bringing your knee up as high as possible and then extending the leg) or making pumping motions with your feet (point your toes then pull them as far back as possible). All of those exercises are to help combat edema, and to make sure that everything keeps moving while you are in a horizontal position.

Exercise is good for the mind & body.

Exercise allows one to have the empty mind, but what is an empty mind? It is the mind that is not thinking about what you will do next, the grocery list, what you have to do later that day, or what ever it is that is tying your mind in knots. Focusing on a specific motion, like you have to if you are exercising usually, allows your mind to be so occupied with the task that it stops focusing on all those other thoughts. That means your mind, if it is like mine, doesn’t have a chance to become the negative comity. Depression is a big risk to people with chronic pain, or any chronic disease, and exercise has been shown to be a vital part in maintaining a happy, and healthy, mind. Along with a good diet, and sleep, it is needed for the body to function as it should. Now that doesn’t mean you need to do crazy amounts of exercise each day, just simply walking and working out a little harder every other day is sufficient, over working out is just as bad as not working out at all. Moderation in all things, remember. But this is one place where you will have an almost immediate effect from what you do, after a work out you always feel good. And you sleep better too!

Since neurological pathways are re-enforced with use, they more likely to repair or reroute around damaged areas if you are making sure that signals are always being sent. The area of the brain associated with the affected limb in CRPS can shrink in some sufferers, which means lost capacity for moment since the limb can atrophy to a point that removal is required. The more you move, no matter how painful it is, the more you are ensuring that the CRPS will advance more slowly if it advances, and could significantly reduce likelihood of amputation and atrophy. We really don’t understand why the nervous system, or body, behaves as it does when someone has CRPS, but we do know that the more you work out your nerves, the better connected they seem to be. You can also help override some of the pain signals by basically flooding the pathways with “louder” instructions that can help break the infinite pain signal loop that can be a part of the symptoms of CRPS.

What sort of exercise is good for limited mobility?

Exercises like light stretching, walking, water aerobics, Yoga, Qigong, and Tai Chi, are all great ways to get everything flowing. You should examine all the options you have in your town and go with whatever works best for you. First, it matters that you first consult your doctors on any limitations you might have, you don’t wan’t to make things worse. It is also important that you find an instructor that you feel good working with, you should feel comfortable working with them and in the class if you are in one. You should also enjoy the activity you pick, if you don’t care for it and it becomes a chore you will be less likely to stick with it. If you enjoy it your exercise you will be amped to go, and more likely to do it. Every person is different, I did Yoga for many years and enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as Tai Chi, and that is what I stuck with. It may not be right for you, maybe you are a water aerobics person, maybe you just do walking, or Qigong. I don’t just do one exercise either, so I also use walking and swimming for my exercises. Changing it up is a good way to keep things interesting by giving me new things to do instead of the same thing over and over.

Just make sure you know that whatever exercise you choose you stick to it, and it is approved by your doctor if you have any issues that could limit your work out ability. Shop around, try things, get out of your comfort zone and you will be well rewarded. You may find a new exercise that you fall in love with, and changes your life. Remember if you are ever in doubt about anything at all, ask a professional!

There are some theories that vitamin C after surgeries could help prevent symptoms, and that sufferers of CRPS should increase their intake of calcium and vitamin C. It also can not hurt to increase vitamin D and magnesium as well. To read more on why vitamins are important, go here