Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Vetiver, the Root that is Dug

Looks like I may actually dodge a surgery for Carpel Tunnel!

But may have a surgery different sort, possibly, that could reduce pain and medications needed since pain has really slowed me down lately. But! Good things are coming, good things. Or at least that is my mantra for now 🙂

Vetiver, also spelled as vettiver or vetivert, is a grass native to India but well known all over Asia. If you are familiar with Ayurveda it is a well known herb in that herbal medicine practice. It goes by many local names like ramacham in Malaysia,  or khus in some local Indian dialects, and has been valued by humanity for ages since it is such a versatile grass. Its name has been translated as “the root that is dug” or “hatcheted up” since it must be dug, and sometimes hacked up as the roots can reach down  3 to 4 meters (9-13 feet).

By aromaticwisdominstitute.com

More root than plant, and it is rather hardy!

It is a relative of Sorghums, so it is related to things you would hopefully be familiar with, you would know them as lemon grass, palmarosa, and citronella. It only grows in tropical climates, but in those areas it is being used to help with soil erosion since the roots go so deep for grasses. Its leaves can be used for weaving and thatch, and animal feed, as a straw replacement. Its roots are even more valuable and were used for making mats or curtains to help keep the room feeling cool and smelling pleasant. They only need an occasional misting with water to keep the room cool and smelling lovely.

*spritz spritz spritz*

It has a long history of use in Ayurveda, but is relatively unknown in the western cultures. All of Asia seems to know and have their own beloved recipes and uses for this plant. It has been a major player in aiding with soil erosion due to its deep reaching roots, it has been an integral part of the perfume industry due to its complex oils. It is even used in evaporation units in air conditioners, since it prevents mosquitoes from breeding as well as makes the house smell lovely. Since vetiver is a bug repellent, and cooling, it can be used for making fans (bug repelling fans! fantastic!), loofa scrub things, blinds, screens, bed matting (sometimes woven with lemon grass as well) sun shades, tassels, woven balls and even handbags. I don’t know why this hasn’t caught on in Texas during summers with all the mosquitoes we have, these would go over great. Literally a plethora of things you can buy made of vetiver root. And if you purchase some and the smell stops being as potent it just requires a soak and a dry in the sun to re-open its pores and the fragrance to return. I have even seen that putting a small muslin bag in an earthen jug (or pitcher) of water keeps it tasting fresh and cool in hot weather, and there is also khus syrup for milkshakes or for a delicious khus lassi.

The smell of the root and the oil it produces, is loved by some, and disliked by others. It was widely used in the perfume industry past and present, Middle Ages perfumers would mix lime and rosewood with vetiver root to make perfume. In perfumes it sometimes is listed as ruh khus, since ruh is the word for essence in Arabic. It is such a complex and sought after oil since the roots take up the characteristics of the soil around it, truly is the smell of the soil, like Krishna said in the Bhagavat Gita “I am the fragrance of the soil.”

This is one of those plants that I can not say enough on all of its properties, it just has so much it can do. Besides its wonderful cooling properties, and coveted oils for perfume, vetiver has many medicinal properties. Benzoic acid is a large component of vetiver, and it is not acid that will hurt you. In fact it is a really helpful acid, it has a long history of usage in everything from antiseptics, analgesics, to decongestants. Benzoic acid is a large component of Friar’s Balsam, which has been used for it’s antiseptic properties to help with healing, as well as it being a great way to treat skin issues like acne. Cadinene, vetiverone, vetiverol, vitivene, and many others (there is actually a full list here on this useful site if you are into perfumery) these all add up to an oil that not only has analgesic qualities but also mild sedation, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodics. Since it is very cooling to put on, it can feel nice on inflammation that does well under coolness, such as right after an injury or on a burn like a sunburn. I am mostly interested in its pain and relaxing qualities, since it is a great oil to treat spasms, migraines, anxiety or stress (pain caused, or otherwise), muscle pain, nerve pain and even lady cramps pain.

Since massage is the best way to deal with a lot of muscle pain, and inflammation lets start there.

Vetiver Massage Oil

  • 15-20 drops Vetiver essential oil
  • 1 ounce Carrier oil

Mix well, store in dark container. Massage into painful areas to help alleviate pain, or sore muscles after a work out. If you have lady cramps, massage into the abdomen. This is also great for migraines massaged into the shoulders, neck and temples, especially so if it is a migraine brought on by stress.

Now, I do like to be a wild child and sometimes just do a drop or maybe 2 directly onto the skin. Remember though, essential oils are a concentrate, and powerful stuff so do a patch test to make sure this isn’t too strong for your skin, you should always do this with anything you apply to your skin. Massaging a drop into the temples on a hot day with a bad headache is relaxing and so refreshing.

Pro-Tip: You can mix in any migraine oils, or pain oils to help add additional benefits to the massage oil. Just make sure to reduce the drops of Vetiver to 10 and add 10 of any other oils you would like. Lavender and woody scents go well with this, as well as some earthier scents like you get from oil from tree sap or resins. Play around with smells and properties and find what works best for you.

You can also make a great salve out of this oil, it is really best for on the go wound applications but could also be a great way to treat migraines you might have on the go.

Vetiver Salve

  • 20-30 drops Vetiver essential oil
  • 1/2 ounce Bees wax, granulated or grated
  • 1/2 ounce of Oil (any vegetable oil)

Heat oil in double boiler, and slowly add in bees wax until it is melted and combined, remove from heat and hand stir in essential oils, pour into containers and allow to cool. Again this is a good antiseptic for wound treatment, like if you go camping, but is also great to keep in gym bags for pain from workouts. It is fantastic for sunburns, especially if you add in some lavender to it. Really any painful swollen area will feel much happier when rubbed with this, and just like the massage oil it can be mixed and matched with other oils. Just reduce the vetiver to 10-15 drops, and add the same amount of any other oils you like.

Oh stress, stress, stress. You are always lurking, and it is really hard to combat the daily stress of just navigating life when you are already stressed due to the amount of pain you have. This root is a great way to reduce stress, relax, make sleep easier and even loosen muscle spasms. You can have it one of two ways, as a cool summer drink, or a hot cup of tea.

Vetiver Infused Water

  • 4 cups Cold water
  • 1 handful Vetiver roots, washed thoroughly and roughly chopped
  • Optional: Lemon slices, ginger slices, whatever you like to add really

Throw it all in a pitcher, let the vetiver steep for at least 2-4 hours in the fridge before drinking. This is a great addition to summer lemonades or any cooling summer drink. You can also freeze this water as ice cubes and add to drinks to slowly release the vetiver as you enjoy your drink. It also helps the mind to relax and “unwind” after a stressful day or week, and is the perfect evening drink to help sleep come faster.

I like to during the summer throw enough ice to fill a glass container with a spout, fill with water and herbs, vegetables, or fruits. It is great for outdoor entertaining, or just as a way to jazz up water to make sure you are getting enough water. It is also a nice addition to gin or vodka for a cooling summer cocktail.

Vetiver Tea

  • 4 cups Boiling water
  • 1 handful Vetiver roots, washed and chopped
  • Optional: same here, lemon, ginger, pretty much sky’s the limit do what you like.

Add the roots to water in a saucepan and bring it to a boil on the stove, when the water has reduced by half remove from heat, strain and serve. Sweeten as you like, and enjoy its relaxing benefits on a winters day or any day you feel a bit stressed. It is a good herb to have before bed, known in oil form sometimes as the “oil of tranquility” for the peaceful feeling it brings. There are some herbs that are good to add for even more stress reduction (and would some would go well in infused water) are: tulsi, lavender, lemon balm, chamomile. Really you could add anything like with the infused water, as long as it is safe and you do research, feel free to get really creative here.

Sharbat (the origin of the word sherbert) is a type of drink made with a syrup in some places, khus syrup is often used to make these drinks. The syrup is long storing and easy to use, you mix it with a bit of water (sort of like a cordial) to make a drink. But it is also good on ice creams, in milkshakes, cocktails or used in cold drinks in place of whole vetiver. It is really great mixed with some fresh lime juice and some soda water for lime vetiver soda, or one part of the syrup to two parts of water or milk for a lovely cool drink. I have been giving recipes for whole vetiver which looks like this when you purchase it whole –

Vetiver roots ready for sale

Vetiver roots ready for sale, make sure you wash them!

But if you want to go the easy route, you can purchase all sorts of ready made syrups at most Asian markets. Follow this guide for purchasing.

Vetiver Syrup (Khus Syrup)

  • 50-70 grams of Vetiver roots
  • 5 cups Water
  • 4 cups Raw sugar
  • 1 lime
  • Optional: a few drops natural green food coloring (the color is traditional)

Wash roots well, make sure there is no dirt or grit left on them, and roughly chop. Add to water bring up to a boil and remove from heat, let steep overnight. Then strain, squeezing all moisture from the roots, and return to heat stirring in sugar and juice of one lime. Be sure to stir this all the time since sugar burns in the blink of an eye. You want to reduce the liquid until it starts to go to a syrup. To test to make sure you have it at the right consistency put a slightly cooled drop on your finger and press your thumb against it if there is a string when you pull your fingers apart, its ready. Store in a clean jar or bottle, and refrigerate.

ProTip: To make this you have to use sugar, the less processed the better though, but you need sugars properties here to make this correctly.

There are literally tons of things you can do with this stuff, here are a few extra drink recipes here.

Finally, you can’t mention lassis and not give a lassi recipe, cause they are amazing! You could go super traditional and use your own hung curd (wikihow to make hung curd here) or you can use drained yogurt (how to here), or you can just use Greek yogurt pre-made all of the amounts would be the same.

Vetiver Lassi (Khus Lassi)

  • 17.5 ounces (500 grams) Hung curd (or above mentioned substitutes)
  • 14-16 ounces (about 2 cups) chilled Milk
  • ½ cup Vetiver (Khus) Syrup
  • Optional: green food coloring, additional sugar, honey or other sweetener

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, and make sure to blend everything completely you want a totally blended mixture. Put in glasses and chill for 30 minutes to 2 hours before serving. You can garnish with additional syrup, candied nuts or fruits, or regular nuts and dried fruits. Fantastic for a hot summers day or night.

Remember, always do your research and make sure this is the right thing for you to be using. Everyone’s body is different and somethings work better for some that don’t for others. Experiment see what does and go with that, always check for interactions with other things on places like WebMD. As always, if you are in doubt even in the slightest, ask a professional!

 

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Kava, the intoxicating pepper

Kava is surprisingly a relative of the pepper plant, and is a shrub that originates in Polynesia or better known as the South Pacific region. Since written history is a recent addition to the islands of that area, documentation of its use is more in the anthropological arena, and we tend to only have passing mentions in history. Captain Cook who did much exploring in that region gave it the name we know it by, and he chose it since it meant intoxicating pepper.

Kava has been used by island people for many thousands of years and it has little connection with health issues, but Kava drinking is a group activity and it is usually done in moderation. A good history of Kava is here, and they are one of a few good sites to purchase through, along with this one that also sells and blogs about Kava. There are some cultures that use Kava daily but it is generally a social setting. If you are interested in the island Kava cultures you may want to check out Wikipedia.

Kava being served to a group from a traditional Kava bowl. From the Kava Culture Wikipedia article.

Western cultures have a poor understanding of moderation, and in most cases of too much of a good thing, good things quickly become bad. I say this because there has been some “addiction” to it in western areas. And I don’t mean addiction like you can get addicted to opiates, but there has been issues, from what I have read, of being addicted to the euphoria and feelings of relaxation it brings. So I would compare it’s addictive nature to possibly a cannabis or caffeine, not physically addictive but can be mentally addictive and could impact daily life.  As long as you use it respectfully, like any herb or medication, and in moderation, you should have no issues.

This is another herbal medicine that has received some negative media attention, and the main issue listed for this herb is that it may cause severe liver damage. It was later found that this was due to the inclusion of the plant with the root in some preparations, and the plant itself should never be ingested. If you are interested in using Kava please purchase from reputable dealers, ones that sell the root only and do not contaminate with stems or leaves of the plant. In 2001 Duke did a study and they were able to prove that Kava is save for the liver causing no noticeable problems. The culprit of this consistent belief that it causes liver toxicity is from a German study that was soundly proven to be to have been as a study “shoddy and baseless” one. So it seems the contaminates were the issue and there are quite a few other studies that you can look up. And some Kava sites include further information.

So! On to the good stuff!

There are a few strains of Kava (kinda like Kratom) and each one has a different effect and potency so you may need to try a few strains to find which one is your most preferred. It seems to be a consensus that the Vanuatu, though some say Hawaii, is the most potent with other strains varying in strength from there. Age is a factor here though, older it is after harvesting, the less potent the brew!

Kava is great for relaxation, it really helps reduce anxiety and stress. It also is a good muscle relaxer and helps induce sleep. It will promote the relaxation of muscles like a muscle relaxer, and just generally reduces anxiety and stress levels and promotes a sense of well being. Often described as a feeling of the spirit being at rest.

The thing that makes Kava so relaxing is the kavalactones. So if you are purchasing an extract the larger the listed amount of kavalactones, the more potent that extract will be. At present, I have had the most experience with the extracts, but have just obtained some kava roots and am enjoying the potent brew thoroughly. It definitely has an immediate numbing effect to the throat, and its use for easing sore throat pain is pretty obvious.

So lets do some chemistry! (Or Kava-stry possibly?)

Kavalactones are hydrophobic and lipid-soluble, therefore to be more easily emulsified in aqueous (water only) solutions you will need to add a chemical in this case the addition of lecithin. Traditionally this was done by pounding yellow hibiscus, and adding it to the soaking liquid. This addition will allow the kavalactones to “like” dissolving in water, instead of “fearing” it, thus creating a more potent brew. You can purchase soy lecithin for those vegans out there, and there are others that are animal based available for sale too. But it seems the overall online favorite is the soy lecithin.

Another way is fat, milk is a favorite here, as milk contains a significant amount of fat in general and kavalactones are lipid soluble. Any milk or milk substitute would do as long as it has some fat content. If you want to reduce the amount of milk used you can use a 1 to 2 part ratio of milk to water respectively.

Lastly you can add fruit with enzymes or high acidity to break things down, just add to the water (or water and milk) some pineapple juice (fresher is better) which its high acid content helps to break things down. Or papaya which has the infamous papain, a well known enzyme for aiding digestion, and it can really help break things down to release the most kavalactones. 

Ok, chemistry is cool and all but how much do I use, and how do I make this stuff?

Great question! The amount seems to vary for users, but a good starting point is a tablespoon of powdered root, or root solids, per 8oz of liquid. You can upgrade to a heaping teaspoon afterwards and increase slowly if you need more, or decrease if you feel you need less. If you have an instant kava drink, best to prepare it according to package and if you have powdered kava extract you want to take into account the amount of kavalactones. You should immediately notice a numbing effect in the mouth and throat, if you don’t the kava was probably too old as the root does degrade with time. Later you will notice a relaxed feeling, some describe as mellow or even sleepy. This is relaxed state generally helps stress reduce, and can be used as a sleep aid for those who suffer from sleeping issues. Or just moments of strong anxiety, such as I use it before I receive cortisone injections since I tend to faint from pain and anxiety. It works great for migraines too, for some people the behind the eye pressure is alleviated better with kava than with skullcap.

So on to the recipe! It is in 3 easy steps, you do want to gather your supplies, your kava, your liquid, your strainer and a soaking bowl.

First – Soak it!

When you soak your roots (which are generally sold pre-chopped and dried, and a prefered method of making Kava) or powder you want to use a fine muslin bag, cheesecloth and use it like a tea bag. Or strain the liquid through muslin or cheesecloth after soaking. I have read that any fine weave fabric will do, and nylon stockings are even used by some for straining. While it is soaking you will want to gently kneed the kava once to help with extraction.

You will also notice a color change, the liquid should take on a brownish color, sort of coffee with cream colored if you used only milk. If it was water with a small amount of milk, juice, or lecithin the liquid will be a bit darker colored like coffee with only a splash of cream.

Second – Strain and squeeze!

When extraction is over, make sure to squeeze out as much moisture as possible from the remaining mass, and this is fine to compost or discard. You can determine if you have extracted all the kavalactones from the roots by feeling them. If they are slippery feeling, think soap slippery or oily feeling, there is still more to extract, if they squeeze dry and don’t feel oily you have gotten all you will get from them. You do want to retain some of the finer solids in the liquid, so the straining is not to remove all particles. So don’t overdo it.

Third – Slam it.

That’s it, drink it down, its pretty awful tasting but the numbing helps and so does a strongly flavored food “chaser.” You can also hide the taste in a smoothie and all you have to do is add the cup of liquid to your favorite smoothie mix.

Temperature is key in all of this!

This is a chemical reaction, so it is really important here to use cool temperatures, heat kills everything with Kava so room temperature is best but can use cool water from a fridge. I wouldn’t suggest water colder than 60 F, since if it is too cold the process slows down. If you want to add it to a blended drink, blend in pulses so the friction does not create too much heat, or at the end and mix with one quick pulse.

ProTip: The ideal soak time seems to be about 1.5 to 2 hours, and longer doesn’t always mean stronger. If you increase the liquid from 8 to 16oz it will decrease the potency.

PartyTip: If you are brewing for a large group of people you want to use about a cup a gallon and do the same soaking times and process.

WARNING! This can cause extremely quick sedation in some cases and you should not drink kava when you are going to be driving, swashbuckling, minding a child playing with a balloon on a cliff, or anything where falling asleep suddenly will cause you or others instant horrible death. It is best to stay in and in a party situation have friends stay over.  There have been driving under the influence tickets issued in Hawaii for driving on kava so be smart. Be smart, and use kava responsibly.

Remember, do your research and purchase only from reputable dealers of Kava, you want to avoid those leaves and stems and get pure roots only.

If after all this, you are worried about interactions please talk to your doctor, or other professional, prior to using Kava. If you have liver issues, since most liver issues that were claimed to be associated with Kava were with people with pre-existing liver issues, you may want to discuss it with your doctor more thoroughly prior to use.

Always do your homework, no one will do it for you, and make sure you do your own testing to ensure you find the strain that is right for you, check for reactions on WebMD. And I can’t say this enough, when in doubt, ask a professional!