Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Rosemary, the Dew of the Sea

Rosemary, or Rosmarinus officinalis, the common name we know it by comes from the original Latin name ros for dew and marinus for sea. This is definitely a herb you should know, or at least heard of before. It is so common in food (Italian and otherwise) that you will most definitely know it from it’s smell even if you have never seen it. It is a common herb used in home made and store bought sausages, and frequently is found in pizzas and tomato based pasta sauces. It is also great in breads, most meats and surprisingly very good with sweets. Rosemary is one of those super herbs that, along with lavenderginger and peppermint, you should have around all the time if possible.

photo courtesy The Gay Gardener

Simply Irresistible!

Rosemary has a long history with humanity, it was found referenced in cuneiform tablets which means it has been with humanity since the cradle of civilization. This plant is native to the Mediterranean, and its allure even grabs us now, I am sure if you have ever found a rosemary bush you are almost compelled to pause and enjoy it, take a sprig, or just rub your hand along it to get that lovely, almost pine like, smell.

Greeks and Romans associated rosemary to memory, and recall of facts, and it was frequently used to symbolize the remembrance of people who have passed. It was woven into hair of students to help with exams, since they believed it would help them recall the answers better. Sprigs were used in funeral ceremonies to indicate the deceased would not be forgotten, often a sprig was even thrown in with the body during burial. In Australia and New Zealand ANZAC forces are honored by people wearing a sprig of rosemary. Even Shakespeare has the tragic Ophelia mention its association with remembering. This association with memory is so strong that some studies have been done, but as of yet there is only some evidence that it could help improve memory, there are not enough definitive studies for this to be a concrete fact.

The ballad Scarborough Fair mentions rosemary, and is thought to have been a song relating to the black plague, due to the listing of herbs, or it could be a changed version of an earlier ballad the Elfin Knight. The song generally follows the pattern of a male requesting impossible tasks of his lady love, who then requests impossible tasks in return promising to do his once he has done her tasks. All of this tied in with the repeating, and almost definitely familiar thanks to Simon & Garfunkel, “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.”

On a happier note, rosemary was also used in marriage and other ceremonies where it took on many folk meanings, such as you would dream of your future husband if you placed a sprig in your pillow, or it would ward off demons or nightmares. Another is if you smelled rosemary on Christmas Eve, you would have a year of health and happiness ahead of you. There is an association with the Holy Family. In some christian traditions, it is believed to be  plant that Mary used to shelter the baby Jesus on their flight to Egypt. The pale blue of the flowers of rosemary is thought to be the same color of Mary’s cloak, that she placed over the bush to help hide him. An amusing one, was that where rosemary flourished there the wife ruled, which may have prompted some husbands to pull up rosemary so no one would think they weren’t the one in charge.

Napoleon was apparently very fond of it, because Josephine requested he bathed in it before entering her bedchamber. He even had it burning as incense on his deathbed. In Roman times it was burned near sickbeds to cleanse the air, and it was frequently used in the past as incense for both ritual and medicinal purposes. Even the people in the past knew it had a good antiseptic properties, and it was one of the many herbs that would have been effective in their use during the outbreaks of Bubonic plague, like others we have discussed before. The usual suspects mention rosemary’s medicinal qualities, like Dioscorides, and Culpepper. Even Thomas More (or Saint Thomas More) mentions that he lets it grow rampant in his garden not only because the bees liked it but it was for remembrance, and therefore friendship. Rosemary is a great addition to skin creams and the like it, it does have antioxidant properties, and it was said in the more ancient herbals that rosemary had wonderful skin restoring properties and if  you –

“washe thy face therwith . . . thou shalt have a fayre face.”

There is legend that Elizabeth of Poland, Queen of Hungary used a form of rosemary water, called Hungary Water. She is credited with the bringing of the first perfume to the Western world, and was a frequent user of this simple scent. According to legend her frequent use apparently made her so foxy that at about 72 she had such youthful beauty that the King of Poland, who was 26, asked for her hand in marriage.

Elizabeth, with her “sons.” Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

While that sounds a little too much like an infomercial for a cream made of rare ingredients that promises to bring you youth and beauty for ever, there may be a grain of truth to this. Rosemary will help with acne, and help in general with complexion as it is an antiseptic and is, again, high in antioxidants and even vitamin E. Rosemary oil is also great for treating dandruff, and a good addition to any shampoo just because it smells so lovely! Try using the recipe for the best shampoo ever, and add 6-10 drops of rosemary and 10 drops of sweet orange oil instead of additional lavender oil, this is a good shampoo if you have mild dandruff. Another dandruff solution, or to improve your scalp and encourage hair growth, you can put a few drops of rosemary oil on your hairbrush and brush it through your hair.

It also has the fantastic property of helping with digestion, and is a welcome tea to ease nausea from my medications or from pain. Personally though, my favorite uses for rosemary are not only its antiseptic/antibacterial uses but for stress reduction, treating inflammation and as an analgesic. It seems I never grow tired of this and it is so easy to add into meals and your routine since it is so versatile. Plus it is a good change up if peppermint or ginger isn’t working for you to settle your stomach.

Its antibacterial properties are well known, and it is why rosemary was often used in food preservation. Several medical studies have shown it is effective in inhibiting growth of Listeria monocytogenesBacillus cerus, and Staphlococcus aureus. It is great for a tea when you are feeling sick, or as an after dinner tea to aid in digestion, or just prevent any stomach issues as it helps to ease spasms and can reduce inflammation of the digestive tract.

Rosemary Tea

  • 8 oz Hot water, not boiling
  • 1 teaspoon of Rosemary, you can use finely chopped fresh, or you can leave it mostly whole and strain
  • Optional additions: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried or fresh rosemary flowers, a bag of green tea, a few medallions of ginger, a teaspoon of hibiscus flowers, even a dash of parsley (fresh or dried) is very nice in this.

You can also use a half tablespoon of dried herbs if you do not have fresh, or you can grind the dried in your mortar, or spice grinder of choice, to create a matcha like powder you can use for tea as well. You may want to use a tea infuser if you do not want to filter the tea with cheese cloth (or your teeth if you are lazy), remember this needs to be steeped in a covered teacup, or teapot, for about 5-10 minutes. Add honey or your sweetener of choice if you need it sweeter, and do not use continuously for more than a few days at a time.

Rosemary tea like this can also be a great way to start your day on a cold morning, and it is a great wake up call to the brain on one of those foggy minded mornings. This is also a good way to get all the vitamins and minerals from rosemary (such as A, B, C and E, iron, calcium and magnesium) without the destructive heat of cooking that can break things down too far.

You can also brew this tea stronger for a bath as well

Rosemary Pain and Stress Tea Bath

  • 16 oz of water
  • 2-3 tablespoons of the rosemary fresh or dried

Add it to a hot bath for a muscle relaxing, stress relieving, soak. Rosemary has some great antispasmodic properties and can bring relief for muscle pains when used as a hot soak. Or you can use this strong tea as a wound wash, or compress for painful muscles, or across the forehead for a headache. You can always use 3-10 drops of rosemary essential oils instead of a tea in your bath, and you can add in lavender for a relaxing sleepy bath. But you would want to avoid using the rosemary oil for teas you drink as it can quickly become too much for the body and start to upset the stomach, or cause other issues.

Rosemary oil is also great as a massage oil to help with pain and muscle spasms topically, and decrease inflammation. When used in concert with turmeric pills, or Tulsi in a tea, it can go a long way to relieving back pain and even sciatic pain. When mixed with lavender oil or ginger oils it helps to relieve the pain of muscle spasms and will help decrease inflammation.

Rosemary Massage Oil for Muscle Pain and Spasms

Mix well and store in dark container, and massage directly into a painful area. This is a warming oil so as always with these make sure you avoid applying it to any sensitive skin areas. This is also great massaged into the temples or neck if you have a tension headache or migraine.

As I am generally a sucker for sweet stuff, nothing in the world is better than shortbread, unless that is shortbread with rosemary in it. Rosemary lends itself well to sweet surpsingly well, and not just savory dishes like meats and potatoes. These paired with Lavender Shortbread cookies are a fantastic gift for the holidays for those unexpected gifts or people who are hard to shop for.

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

  • 8 oz Unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons Fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup Sugar (granulated white sugar)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (this is not in the Lavender Shortbread recipe but I add it to that one too)

In a bowl or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together, sift in flour and add rosemary at the end. Dough should come together easily in your hand but not be a tight ball. Turn out onto floured surface and roll to about a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out rounds or triangles, or whatever shapes you fancy, and chill for at least 2 hours. You can sprinkle with additional sugar before baking, or some fresh rosemary flowers, for a nice presentation. Bake in a 300 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, you do not want to see any browning, they will almost look under cooked when you remove them. This is a key step, do not let it bake to browning stages!

Now, you can not mention rosemary and not bring up Four Thieves Vinegar. This is an old and long used recipe, and still exists in many modern formats. The original recipe seems to be long lost in the pages of time, but the legend of it goes like this…

During the Black Plague thieves (possibly from Marseilles, France) were able to rob houses and graves with impunity, and this was quickly noticed by the other villagers. Once the thieves were caught, the secret of their health was squeezed out of them. Some say by the promise of a hanging instead of burning, hanging preferable to the painful end that burning alive was. They said they used this vinegar recipe on their hands, feet, temples, and face masks that were worn while robbing plague houses and bodies.

Luckily in modern times you can purchase Thieves oil in a ready made form, and this is great for colds, or to add to hand sanitizing solutions and the like. Which you again can buy pre-made or you can make yourself. I prefer the DIY method as usual, and I highly suggest making this vinegar since it is great to use for cleaning most surfaces and is a great addition to the hand-sanitizer recipe listed after the vinegar. For accuracy’s sake I am going to list the oldest listed recipe I can find, and then my own variation of the vinegar.

Four Thieves Vinegar “Original”

  • 3 pints White wine vinegar
  • a handful (about a cup) of the following herbs: wormwood, meadowsweet, wild marjoram & sage
  • 50 cloves
  • 2 oz Angelic
  • 2 oz Rosemary
  • 2 oz Campanula roots
  • 2 oz Horehound
  • 3 cups of Camphor

Place in a container and seal for 15 days, shaking every day. Filter and use for cleaning, and topically on the body for antiseptic purposes. I don’t suggest ingesting this one at all, and should only be used for topical applications.

Four Thieves Vinegar “Modern”

  • 2 pint bottle with a top you can seal (you can use a 2 pint mason jar, but I prefer the bottle for this one)
  • 1 1/2 – 2 pints good white vinegar (you can use apple cider, I just like white for this)
  • 2 tablespoons Rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons Sage
  • 2 tablespoons Lavender flowers
  • 50 cloves
  • 4 cloves of Garlic, peeled and diced or crushed
  • Optional additions: You can include one or more of these in the amount of 2 tablespoons – fresh rue, peppermint, marjoram, or camphor dissolved in a strong spirit.

Finely chop the herbs and add to a bottle and cover with vinegar, do not fill all the way to the top leave some room, about 2 inches. If you add camphor do not ingest this internally, only use topically. Rue as well, if you include it do so sparingly if you want to ingest it. You can use this for cleaning, and for topical sanitizing. This is also surprisingly good in a vinaigrette and can be used for cooking if you like.

Cold and flu season is in full swing, and Four Thieves Vinegar is fantastic to use as a spray for disinfecting areas where sick people have been, or just for a general antibacterial surface cleaner.

Four Thieves Sanitizing Spray

  • A spray bottle
  • 1 part Four Thieves Vinegar
  • 1 part Witch Hazel

Combine liquids in spray bottle, and use the mist and wipe down method to clean and disinfect surfaces.

You can also make a hand sanitizing gel just by adding some additional ingredients.

Four Thieves Sanitizing Hand Gel

  • Pump container
  • 1 part aloe gel
  • 1 part Four Thieves Vinegar
  • 1 part Witch hazel (you can substitute rubbing alcohol, or grain alcohol as well)

Mix liquids well, you can mix this with a spoon but I prefer a hand mixer or with a blender. Store in pump container, you can reuse an old alcohol sanitizer pump bottle, or you can check out your local stores selection of bottles for air travel and they tend to have great bottles for purse or travel use.

Remember these are only a few of the many uses for this very versatile herb, I am sure if you start using it you will come up with a few more ways. Remember before using any herbal or other medicine, do your own research and educate yourself. Everyone is different so do your own trails and see what works best for you, and always check WebMD for interactions. If you are ever in doubt about this in any way, always, always ask a professional!

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Lemon Balm, come on “bee” happy!

This little herb has a very dear place in my heart, it is one of the first plants I went out and bought when I first got interested in herbal medicine in my early teens. I remember planting it in my little patch in my Mother’s garden, and how it pretty much took over everything. This is a great plant to grow yourself, but like many mint’s, yes its a member of the mint family, lemon balm will grow rapidly and pretty much take over. I tend to plant it in pots to help control its wanderings.

Plus it looks cute in a pot, and will grow pretty much anywhere

Plus it looks cute in a pot, and will grow pretty much anywhere

Once you start to use this herb it is hard to stop, you find ways to add it to everything, and it seems most of humanity feels the same. It has a long history and many historical uses. The latin name of lemon balm is Melissa officinalis. Melissa means in Greek “honey bee” and there is a strong association between this plant and honey, bees, and gods. (I will be going over the details of honey’s awesome abilities in later posts.)

Throughout Mediterranean culture the bee was associated with earth and  goddesses. The Ephesians believed that the life of the bee was the model for society. The queen bee is the representation of the Great Goddess (Great Mother), and the people the worker bees who are also her children. They worshiped the goddess in bee form as well. So anything that was good for bees, or bees preferred, became a revered piece of vegetation.

Gold plaque embossed with winged bee goddesses, perhaps the Thriai, found at Camiros Rhodes, dated to 7th century BCE

Gives new meaning to being the Queen Bee

In Greece the same earth ties were made, but the most frequent was Artemis (Diana in Roman myths) who’s priestesses were called Melissai. This is all important since hives were part of temples and lemon balm was planted around almost all of the hives, as it was believed it would help keep the bees happy and content. Many medicinal writers from Dioscorides to Galen wrote about its properties, and Pliny the Elder said  bees were “delighted” with this plant above others, and lemon balm would be planted around, or rubbed empty hives to lure in wandering swarms, or to keep existing ones. It most likely originated in Turkey and spread to the Middle East and Mediterranean from there.

Lemon balm is also frequently used to sweeten the air, and is strewn about on the floor. Around the 10th century it was probably brought to mainland Europe and was planted, at Charlemagne’s request, planted in all monastery gardens. Monks were thought to have had a hand in further spreading the herb, though it may also have been the influence of the Arab cultures brought home from the Crusades that introduced lemon balm to Europe.

From monasteries is where one of the most well known historical uses of lemon balm was from. Lemon balm was a key ingredient for Carmelite water. Which was more often used for aromatic, than for medicinal use. Aromatic use since most illnesses were considered to be carried in bad smelling air, or miasmas. Even Shakespeare wrote of lemon balm in his plays, since it was popular during his time, but later fell out of favor with later medical practice, since it doesn’t have powerful purgative effects.

Lemon balm is in a lot of ways like turmeric, that is something you should try to include in your everyday diet. It has the wonderful effect of reducing anxiety and stress, and can be mixed into tea blends for anxiety, stress, stomach problems, or sleep. You can add it to teas, water, foods, pretty much anything! Not to mention, it’s lemony scent is rather lovely.

One thing we all don’t get enough of is water, water has recently reclaimed it’s spot as the number one beverage of the world, but we all should drink more than we do. It is also important because most pain medications dehydrate and it is very important to drink water with them. Also when you topically or internally use oils, it can be diuretic or cause drying, and it is important to hydrate after any type of massage or Graston session.

Anti-Anxiety/Anti-Stress Water Infusion or Lemon Balm Spa Water

  • 1 gallon jug with spigot (a jar and dipper will work too)
  • 1/4 of a cucumber sliced into medallions
  • 1 handful of fresh lemon balm, slightly bruised
  • Water

Wash and slice the cucumber and throw them in the jug (or jar), wash and slightly bruise the lemon balm. To bruise it just simply lightly squeeze it until you can smell the lemon scent get stronger. Add the water and let sit for at least 10 minutes. If you have this sitting out you can put ice in it, or keep it in the fridge. If you don’t you will need to toss and re-do the water every morning. I find with the stress of procedures, pain, and just daily life this is a welcome addition to my arsenal to combat stress.

ProTip: You can pretty much add any fruit or veg combination with fresh herbs. I found that basil and watermelon goes great, and blackberries with lemon balm is fantastic. For the fruits slice them if they are hard like apples, or puree them if they are soft like watermelon or berries and add them to the water. Be creative!

I also find when I make my herbal waters, I end up drinking more water. This is a good way to not only reduce stress, but a great replacement for people trying to quit soda, drink more water, or just reduce the amount of sugary drinks in their diet.

Of course you can make a herbal tea of lemon balm, and you can take it every day 3 times a day, just like turmeric. While you should be careful with most herbal medicine, this is one that you can sort of label mostly harmless. Drinking the tea will help with stress and anxiety as we have discussed, there is also mention that it will assist with memory. I haven’t noticed any differences in memory but others report they are sharper and can remember more. Lemon balm is an anti-viral and can help you get up and going sooner, or hold it off completely if you are coming down with virus.

Lemon Balm Tea

  • 2 tablespoons Dried lemon balm, or a handful or two fresh
  • 16 oz boiling water
  • Mints or other herbs for additional flavors (optional)

I recommend making a large teapot of this and drinking it through out your day. It is such a refreshing tea, you will want to drink it a lot. It definitely feels like a steamy cup of sunshine when you have a mug of tea on a cold day. And with fall here, and winter on its heels, we will all need a winter pick me up. It also can be easily made into a nice iced tea. Just add the steeped tea to a pitcher and filling the rest of the way with water and ice, and enjoy! You can drink this year round, all day every day, and is a great addition to outdoor picnics and BBQ parties.

Lemon balm is also good for digestion, and if you suffer from lactose intolerance like I do, or any digestive issues, this is a good tea to just have on hand like Peppermint to soothe any digestive problems. Really this tea is good for any stomach upset from taking medications, or pain, and is also effective against, heartburn, flatulence, and intestinal cramping.

Digestive Distress Tea With Lemon Balm

  • 1/2 teaspoon Dried lemon balm
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dried catnip
  • 1/2 teaspoon Caraway seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon Fennel seeds
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Steep in covered teacup for 5 minutes and drink. If you are going to make a teapot double all amounts.

Another great tea is one to help with sleep, lemon balm’s calming qualities lend a great helping hand to the calming effects of other herbs. The tea recipe below is rather strong and is good when you feel that sleep just isn’t coming, and you need the big guns.

Sleepy Tea With Lemon Balm

  • 2 teaspoon Lavender flowers
  • 2 teaspoon Chamomile flowers
  • 2 teaspoon Dried Lemon Balm
  • 1 teaspoon Skullcap
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ginger (or a few fresh ginger slices), or Licorice root (these are optional)
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Steep for 5-10 minutes in a covered teacup and drink. Again you can double, or triple this if you are making a teapot. This works well when aches and pains keep you up, for tension headaches, migraines, and when you need some help sleeping and regular chamomile or holy basil isn’t enough. You can add Valerian root, but I will talk about that in other posts.

You can also make anti-stress, anti-anxiety sorbet, which I don’t know about the rest of ya’ll, but sorbet medicine is just about the best thing ever.

Lemon Balm Sorbet (Discovery Health Recipe)

  • 2 large Apples, finely chopped (Fuji, Gala, or other sweet apples are best)
  • 2 cups Fresh lemon balm
  • 2 cups Water
  • 1 cup local Honey
  • Juice of 2 lemons, or about 6 tablespoons
  • 1 tablespoon vodka, preferably citrus flavored if possible

You can puree the apples and lemon balm together if you prefer a smoother texture, mix all ingredients and chill for a few hours to ensure an easy mix in your ice cream maker. Follow your ice cream maker’s directions, and store in a sealed container in the freezer. You can eat this every day, and while it is a tasty treat, it is also good for you! This is really a great way to add this herb to your diet.

Lemon balm’s final amazing attribute is that it combats dreaded cold sores, or fever blisters. Cold sores are a result of a form of Herpes, not the same as the STD, but still not very fun. They can be socially awkward, like acne, unlike acne they are caused by a virus and because of that will respond well to anti-viral for home treatment.

Lemon Balm Cold Sore Compress

  • 3 to 4 teaspoons Finely shredded lemon balm leaves
  • 3/4 cup Boiling water
  • Bowl
  • Towel or wash cloth

Steep the tea in a bowl, and allow to cool. Soak towel and wring out excess moisture but allow towel to be damp, not dripping. Apply to blister multiple times a day, at minimum 3.

You can also use lemon balm essential oil to treat the blisters, as well as any skin blemishes. A drop or two can be added to teas instead of the dried or fresh herb to get the same awesome effects. Remember, therapeutic grade oils only.

If you are interested in purchasing lemon balm essential oils go here.

Really you can add lemon balm to just about anything you cook – fish, poultry, soups, desserts, cheeses, anything that lemon pairs well with. Since it is a softer flavor than actual lemon it is good for adding a slight lemon flavor to a dish. Just make sure when you add any delicate herb, especially when using fresh, add it near the end of the cooking time.

So go out and get you some lemon balm! Treat yourself to some relaxing beverages and food. While this is mostly harmless, be sure to check for reactions, like allergies or interactions on WebMD. And if you are in doubt, even in the slightest amount, 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!