Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Ginger a Spicy Power Packed Punch for Pain!

Well, last week was pure madness. I made 3 costumes for the Renaissance Festival and worked my fingers to the bone. Foregoing sleep and other creature comforts to finish on time, all was totally worth it. But now they are done! Festival visited, and life can resume its usual chaotic pace!

yay!

Ginger, is a long known and widely accepted remedy for many things, and there has been a lot of modern research going into it, many showing its great ability to reduce pain and inflammation. There are even studies now happening looking into the possibility that ginger may help prevent the formation of tumors. Ginger is a rhizome like turmeric, or galangal (used in Thai cooking), and is even related to cardamom. It is mentioned in A Thousand and One Nights, and features in many ancient recipes for food and medicine. Ginger was one of those spices that commanded large sums of money in trade and could hold up to travel on the Silk Roads all the way to the farthest reaches of Western Europe, black pepper was the other major spice. In the 4th Century BCE in the Mahabharata it mentions meat stewed with ginger and spices. Marco Polo mentions it in his travels, and it was noted by early explorers of the Americas. Ginger was then and is now a very common spice, and is found in a lot of Fall foods. So that extra slice of pumpkin pie, or glass of mulled wine is medicine…or at least that’s what you can tell your family 😀

Ginger’s warming properties makes it a great addition to foods and drinks this time of year and it is a great addition to food year round, or if you get tired of turmeric. Most people have experienced it in Japanese food (that pink stuff next to sushi), or in other Asian foods. Or maybe you have just seen that weird lumpy, knobbly brown thing at the grocery store and said to yourself “what the hell is that….how do you even eat it?!”

Its Ginger!

Its Ginger! Put it in your face!

Ginger is famous for a reason, its fantastic! Ginger has been used in medicine for ages all over the world since at least 500 BCE. Asia has seen long use of it as additions to meals or as a side dish, and Confucius was rumored to never eat a meal without it. Our old friend Dioscorides recommended it for stomach issues, and it is mentioned in various other herbals for the same throughout the ages. It was the “Alka-Seltzer” of ancient Rome, as part of a Revolutionary War soldier’s diet, and was in the 19th century the digestive aid of choice for the US.  Even the infamous (that’s more than famous) University of Salerno said that for a happy life “eat ginger, and you will love and be loved as in your youth.” There are mentions in earlier writings that ginger is an aphrodisiac but it is unlikely, another case of “its rare, so it make you strong like bull.” [insert hand gestures here]

What it can do is sooth stomachs, is a better pain reliever for minor inflammation, or pain that can be treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAI) drugs, than Aspirin and the like, and helps keep you healthy with its anti-viral properties. What is great about it is unlike most of the OTC stuff you can get, ginger will not destroy your stomach, and actually tastes pretty nice. Ginger is also superior to those drugs in the way that it not only blocks the chemical formation of signals that cause inflammation like those NSAI drugs but also will attack the inflammation and break it down with its other antioxidant effects which the NSAI drugs lack. That means it does more to reduce inflammation overall, than anything you can buy in a drug store.

In my last post, An Ounce of Prevention Tea, I brought up Sam’s fantastic cold preventing tea, and ginger is a big component of it and that tea is not only good for keeping cold and flu at bay, but it is better than popping an Aspirin, Advil, Tylenol, whatever your drug of choice is, for a headache or other minor aches and pains. Plus it makes a great hangover cure, and is fantastic for lady cramps. Ginger’s anti-viral properties works well with the other ingredients in the tea, and when you toss in a few cloves (3-6 depending on your love of cloves, or pain) you have three pain relieving herbs in one go (cinnamon is the third). Want to increase its anti-inflammatory properties? Add in some turmeric! Plus if you add in a bit of Manuka honey you have a super, mega cold and flu defeating power punch! Nothing is worse than being in pain and sick, and this is definitely the way to keep that from happening. Multitasking! You know I love it!

Ginger is also great for stomach issues, it has been used for morning sickness, and any other stomach issues like indigestion and acid re-flux. It is even good for motion sickness, and helps keep all that queasy wibbly wobbly stomach stuff away. There are a few ways you can take ginger for nausea and for pain, there are pre-packaged ginger gums, candies and even ginger ale and tea, you do want to make sure that the product you are using has real ginger of some sort in it or it will not be as effective. You can also make ginger tea for yourself as a simplified version of the Prevention Tea.

Simple Ginger Tea for Headache and Upset Stomach

  • 3 large Medallions of ginger – this could also be 1 teaspoon dried ginger, or even 1-1 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Pour hot water over ginger, steep for 2-3 minutes and drink warm. Ginger can be a bit spicy or hot, so if it bothers you honey can help to tone that down. Ginger is one of those team player spices and it works well with a lot of other spices and herbs. You can add fennel seeds, about an inch of sliced lemon grass or 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of grated lemon grass, and a sprinkle of cardamom for a great after dinner digestive tea.

My favorite way to take ginger is Ginger Ale, I love Vernors if I can’t or don’t have time to make my own, but making your own is fun and quite delicious. If you have never made it, it is well worth the effort, the ginger makes it a spicier sweet drink than you might be used to, or if you;re feeling more British you can make Ginger Beer. For Ginger Ale I like Alton Brown’s recipe and it makes a really good one.

Alton’s Ginger Ale

  • 1 1/2 ounces finely grated fresh ginger
  • 6 ounces sugar
  • 7 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Place the ginger, sugar, and 1/2 cup of the water into a 2-quart saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to steep for 1 hour.

Pour the syrup through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl, pressing down to get all of the juice out of the mixture. Chill quickly by placing over and ice bath and stirring or set in the refrigerator, uncovered, until at least room temperature, 68 to 72 degrees F.

Using a funnel, pour the syrup into a clean 2-liter plastic bottle and add the yeast, lemon juice and remaining 7 cups of water. Place the cap on the bottle, gently shake to combine and leave the bottle at room temperature for 48 hours. Open and check for desired amount of carbonation. It is important that once you achieve your desired amount of carbonation that you refrigerate the ginger ale. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, opening the bottle at least once a day to let out excess carbonation.

For Ginger Beer this is a simple recipe that makes a 16 oz bottle, you can use flip-top bottles for both of these recipes. They’re sold everywhere, Container Store, Ikea, Brew stores, or you can resort to online purchase.

Ginger Beer

  • 1 ounce ginger juice
  • 2 ounces fresh lemon juice, finely strained
  • 3 ounces simple syrup (see syrup notes) 
  • 10 ounces warm water (not above 86 F)
  • Yeast

Ginger juice you can make by passing ginger through a juicer or you can microplane it into a cheesecloth and squeeze the juice out. You could also use the ginger paste in the recipe and strain after fermenting. Mix all the ingredients together, and pour about 16 oz into the bottles, you do want to leave some space (an inch or 2) at the top or you will get exploding bottles. You can add champagne yeast to each bottle, or you can add about 25 grains of yeast to each bottle. Or you can mix your cooled simple syrup with the yeast and bottle this way. You want to store in a cool dark place for 48 hours, then refrigerate immediately this will halt the fermentation process. You can use non-champagne yeast you will want to use 1/8th of a teaspoon per bottle.

Simple Syrup – mix 1 part water with 2 parts sugar, dissolve sugar in water while stirring constantly over heat. Once dissolved remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool and thicken, bottle and store. You can add a tablespoon of vodka to help prolong the shelf life.

You can also make ginger cream to rub onto sore areas, ginger is warming and is quite soothing on sore or spasmed muscles.

Ginger Muscle “Cream”

  • 1 hand sized (about 6 inches) piece of ginger, grated finely
  • Honey (enough to make a paste with the ginger)
  • 1/2 cup (or up to a cup) Coconut oil
  • Pot and boiling water

Bring the water to a simmer but do not boil the hand sized piece of ginger until it is tender. Peel and grate into fine paste, or you can pulverize it as well. Mix in honey until a thick paste is formed. In a mixer with whisk attachment, whip the coconut oil until it creates a thick paste and add in the ginger and honey paste slowly making sure that it incorporates fully. Apply and massage into sore area and be sure to avoid sensitive skin areas in applying this. This is great for sore muscle pains after a hard workout or just to work out stiff sore muscles.

A good tea for sleep and soothing minor pains, and stomach upset that comes with pain or illness is a mix of ginger and Holy Basil. It helps alleviate the aches and pains of flu and colds, or sooth and alleviate pain that wakes you in the night.

Tulsi Ginger Tea for Sleep

  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of Holy Basil (Tulsi)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry (powdered) ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (1 small stick)
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Pour boiling water over ingredients, steep in covered tea cup for 5-10 minutes, and drink warm. This will put you right to sleep!

You can also add ginger juice, ginger paste, or even Ginger essential oils (always use therapeutic grade!), to a bath, or rub them into the painful area. You can always make a massage oil with ginger for rubbing into sore muscles or a rub of it on the chest is great for chest colds. And a soak in a ginger bath is great for nerve pain, even more so when you include rosemary oil.

Ginger Rosemary Bath Salts for Pain

  • 5 drops Ginger essential oils
  • 5 drops Rosemary essential oils
  • 1 lb Epsom salts

Mix all ingredients together and store in a cool dry place. Mix 1 cup of salts into a hot bath and soak that pain away.

Ginger Massage Oil for Sore Muscles and Pain

  • Carrier oil of your choice
  • 10-20 drops of ginger essential oil
  • optional – add any additional oils for pain, or other uses

Mix up and store in a dark bottle, rub into sore muscles or painful areas.

Always one to enjoy medicinal foods I find that candied ginger is a great way to take ginger for stomach issues or pain. Plus, its candy! Again I will refer to the AB recipe (I do love him so) for this candied ginger.

Alton’s Candied Ginger Recipe

  • Nonstick spray (I prefer to use olive oil, or rapeseed)
  • 1 pound fresh ginger root
  • 5 cups water
  • Approximately 1 pound granulated sugar
  • Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a half sheet pan lined with parchment.

Peel the ginger root and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices using a mandolin. Place into a 4-quart saucepan with the water and set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the ginger is tender.

Transfer the ginger to a colander to drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Weigh the ginger and measure out an equal amount of sugar. Return the ginger and 1/4 cup water to the pan and add the sugar. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup looks dry, has almost evaporated and begins to recrystallize, approximately 20 minutes. Transfer the ginger immediately to the cooling rack and spread to separate the individual pieces. Once completely cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Alton ProTip: Save the sugar that drops beneath the cooling rack and use to top ginger snaps, sprinkled over ice cream or to sweeten coffee.

You can use a piece or two of the candy for any ailment previously mentioned, I mean come on candy medicine? What is better than that? Nothing I tell you, nothing.

And since I also like muffins, here is a great one to get that ginger in your diet, plus its perfect for this time of year.

Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 1/2 cup flour, whole-wheat pastry, (if you can’t find whole wheat pastry flour, may substitute regular whole wheat flour)
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger, or ginger paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, or 1/4 table salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree (from a can or fresh)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (you can use whatever oil you like)
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line with paper, or grease, 12 muffin cups with oil or shortening. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. In a small bowl, beat the egg for 30 seconds, until foamy. Add the milk, pumpkin, oil, and orange zest. Beat well. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, and stir until the flour mixture is moistened. Fill the muffin cups three-quarters full with batter. Bake for 15 minutes, until the tops spring back when you touch them with a finger. Turn out muffins onto a wire rack to cool. Once cool, you can freeze the muffins, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 months.

So next time you have that nagging headache, or some sore muscles reach for your ginger instead of a pill! Ginger is mostly safe but if you do suffer from extreme stomach issues you should be careful about the amount you intake. For people with stomach issues try to avoid exceeding 3-4 teaspoons in a day, for everyone else don’t go above 5 teaspoons. Remember too much of anything, is too much! Always use anything in moderation.

ProTip: A friend of mine showed me that it is super easy to peel ginger using a spoon, just scrape the skin of the ginger with it and discard the brown papery outer skin. Super easy!

Educate yourself and do your own trials to see what works best for you, always remember to check places like WebMD for reactions or interactions with your medications, and if you are ever in doubt, ask a professional!

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Feverish for Feverfew

If you are in the Austin area, I am sure you know about the rains we have been having, and if not you might have seen that Austin City Limits was canceled due to rain. Rain storms, especially big ones, have become a bit of a pain for me since barometric pressure changes tend to trigger my migraines.

Republic of Austin Blog pictures of the flooding.

While it isn’t so much fun to suffer through a migraine, it has made me more accurate than the weatherman, and definitely more than Miss Cleo.

Weather predictions? CALL ME NOW only a $1 a minute!

We have gone through a few other migraine herbs that help to deal with pain, but Feverfew, otherwise known as Bachelor’s Buttons and a few other common names, is one of those that has long been known to be a cure that is still effective today.

Written about by Greek herbalist physician Dioscorides in the first century and it was used to treat inflammation and menstrual cramps. It gets its name from its use to reduce fevers, from the Latin febrifugiabut it is now known to not be as much use for that as it is in treating other issues. Another name that comes from Plutarch’s writings, is Parthenium, which supposedly came from it saving the life of someone who had fallen off of the Parthenon during construction. There is a story from the UK that a chief medical officer’s wife was suffering migraines, and nothing helped. Then a local, who had overheard her talking about it, told her that he had been chewing feverfew leaves, and had reduced the pain and frequency of the migraines.

While this plant looks a lot like chamomile it definitely acts and smells different. The odor is strongly bitter, and the taste is as well. So bitter bees don’t even really care for it. All good medicine is supposed to taste bad though right? And boy does this taste bad, looks very pretty in your garden though.

Happy little flowers!

Feverfew is great for reducing inflammation, anti-spasmodic, and causes vasodilation. This helps with most of the common symptoms that people who have migraines suffer. You can also take this as a preventative measure to help stop migraines before they start. The best way to get a direct hit on tackling that migraine, chewing has proved to be the most effective. If you are chewing the leaves just on their own, try to keep them in contact with your cheek or under your tongue, it will help you absorb the oils faster.

Feverfew “Chew”

  • 1-2 large Feverfew leaves, or 4 small (small are about 4 cm)
  • chaser – something sweet or strongly flavored food to get the taste out

Just chew the leaves and hold them in your cheeks for as long as you can stand, or under the tongue. It is bitter as I have said, and it helps to chase them with something that will help with removing or improving the taste. You do need to be careful not to do this too often, since repeated use can irritate the membranes in the mouth.

ProTip: You can add the leaves to pretty much anything, salads and sandwiches are a great way to take this since you can mask some of the bitter with them. You can also cook with them but I would suggest adding the leaves directly to your plate, and not cooking them with the food, so they do not lose potency.

Super Migraine Tea with Feverfew

  • 1 teaspoon fresh feverfew leaves (dried will also work)
  • 1 teaspoon dried chamomile flowers
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender flowers
  • 1 teaspoon dried Holy basil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon balm (dried will work here again)
  • 1 teaspoon dried passionflower
  • 2-3 slices of fresh ginger (1/4-1/2 a teaspoon of dried if you don’t have fresh)
  • 8 oz boiling water

Steep for at least 5 minutes, longer you steep the more bitter it will get, and drink. You can definitely add honey or another sweetener to make things more palatable. To make a full teapot you can always double or triple the recipe.

There is always the options of capsules and tinctures. Capsules you can make them out of 2-3 fresh leaves, or from dried. do not take more than 1 capsule of feverfew, about half a gram. And you make them just like we discussed with turmeric.

Tinctures you make with the standard methods we have gone over before, fill jar with dried herb leaving a gap for expansion. Cover in vodka or other strong alcohol, put in cool dark place, and shake daily for a month. Strain and use. You can take 30-60 drops no more than 3 times a day. Again it is very bitter like hops, which it can be combined with, or can be used in conjunction with other herbal tinctures that help with your migraine symptoms.

This is another herb that has a lot of commercial preparations and you may be able to find ready made teas, tea blends, extracts and tinctures. Follow the box directions for these.

An interesting none pain related use for feverfew is for itchy bug bites. It is also safe to give to cats and dogs as a pain reliever, and it makes a great flea killing wash for pets.

Flea Wash for Pets

  • 3-4 cups boiling water
  • 1 heaping handful fresh fevervew leaves

Steep for 10-30 mins, and allow to cool. Saturate fur as best possible, and attempt to leave on for 10 minutes before rinsing, you should start to see fleas dropping off. It is fine to leave it on them, but I prefer to rinse.

 Bug Bite Compress

  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon feverfew leaves
  • bowl
  • absorbent cloth or towel

Steep for 10-30 minutes, allow to cool. Soak towel and apply to affected areas.

ProTip: You can use tincture for this as well, just put a drop or two right on the bug bite to alleviate itching and pain.

There has been lab studies with feverfew but they are too small for medical science to make a clear statement on if it does or does not address migraine pain effectively. There have been studies that found that feverfew works significantly better than a placebo with migraines but it doesn’t seem to work for everyone. So this is one herb I would like to stress you should test and see how it works for you. You may need to lower or increase doses slightly, but please consult a professional before increasing. If you don’t get good results, it may not work well with your body chemistry and I suggest trying other options.

Remember, educate yourself, it is on you to do so. Do your research and check for interactions, like on WebMD. If you are ever in doubt, ask a professional!

If you are looking for more detailed chemical information on feverfew go here.


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Skullcap, a touch of the mad dog

Skullcap, named for the shape of its flowers, is also known sometimes as “mad dog” because of its use for calming the muscle spasms that come with rabies, which made early users believe it was a cure. As a cure for rabies, it has been disproved, but it is still an excellent antispasmodic and great for those who suffer from anxiety. Including the anxiety that comes from withdrawal symptoms. If you have ever quit smoking, or also had the misfortune to ween off an opiate you know what I am talking about. It also is great for tension headaches, migraines, and a sedative.

Pretty to look at too 🙂

I was inspired to write this post after a discussion I had today. I suffered a lot from migraines, still do from time to time. The pain of a migraine can be all encompassing, and can make even the strongest soul pray for death’s sweet release just to escape the pain. That is why, if there is something that can alleviate this, not make you feel like a zombie, and improve the mood to boot, I want all tension headache and migraine sufferers to know about it.

For ages Skullcap has been known as a great treatment for nerves and spasms. If you suffer from tension headaches this is definitely something to look into for treating them occasionally with natural means. Muscle spasms and nerve issues are a large part of my pain issues, and something that I am always seeking to relieve and possibly control. Also, it you are a similar migraine sufferer like I am (especially when a storm rolls in), the headaches are triggered by muscle spasms but are no less painful than other migraines. I had tried many things to treat mine and even resorted to being Botoxed, twice. Recently my migraines were more rare and I went out of town leaving my migraine medication at home (pretty smart, right?) and of course I suffered some intense migraines with nothing to take. Upon my return I was still experiencing pain and a friend of mine mentioned that they had used Skullcap and the one thing mentioned that made me go, “I need to look into this” is it relieved the “behind the eye” pressure. A place most of my migraines live, and I have to say I have been pleased with the results. Not only did the migraine pain reduce to a level that allowed me to function, but I felt pretty awesome. Not giddy but just that everything was right in the world, quite a different mood to the grumpy and irritable migraine person I was prior. I have used it a few times now to treat my migraines and this is a great nervine and sedative.

ProTip: Make sure you are getting PURE Skullcap! Skullcap has and can be adulterated with germander, and this can cause liver and other issues. Please make sure you are getting your Skullcap from a reputable dealer that can assure you no germander touched your Skullcap. Also, this is an herb you should use sparingly in small amounts and never for repeat daily use for very long. The side effects for over dosing are giddiness and confusion, but can lead to nausea stupor, irregular heart rate, twitching and others. But as long as you are not ingesting large amounts you should not run into any of these issues. Remember you need to educate yourself as much as possible before using Skullcap or any supplement. Always consult a professional if you are ever in doubt.

Skullcap tea

This, like peppermint, is actually fairly easy to find as a ready made tea you can buy in sachets off the shelf. There are a few companies like this one or this one, that sell them as blends or “straight” but I personally again prefer to make capsules (like with Turmeric).

To make your own tea from fresh or dried Skullcap for sleepy time tea use these ratios:

  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon dried or fresh skullcap
  • add a cup of water if you want to add an additional tablespoon of Chamomile, Passion Flower, Holy Basil, or even (but use less) Kava just make sure you don’t over do it, especially if you use the extract form of Kava)

You can also do a “medicinal” brew of the skullcap for more pain related treatments. That would be a recipe along the lines of:

  • 1 oz of dried Skullcap
  • 1 pint of water

Boil the water and steep for at least 10 minutes in a covered pot, you can treat with half a teacup (about 5-6 fluid ounces) every few hours for pain.

I also have a Stress and Migraine tea I have concocted myself that has had good results, look for it here.

WARNING: Skullcap is definitely an herb you can take too much of easily and it can cause some severe discomfort with side effects that feel like a heart attack. DO NOT EVER mix tinctures or extracts into teas, or use them in addition to teas or pills. Start with the SMALLEST possible doses and see how you react. Use common sense!

Like I said previously I prefer a capsule, but you can always use the teas or tinctures, they are always available in most herb stores, tea stores, and online. Again, always remember with this one always start with the lowest dose, and do not exceed a gram if you are taking this in a capsule or powdered form. Also make sure that you don’t take Skullcap over consecutive days if possible, try to put a time spacer in before taking a second dose. Jaw pain has been reported to me by a friend after taking it over consecutive days.

Always make sure to educate yourself before taking anything, and check reactions with your current medications or herbs. WebMD is always a good resource, but make sure you know what you are putting in you before you do!