Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain

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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 ūüôā 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

  • ¬ľ-¬Ĺ¬†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.



I am on week two of my “continuous migraine,” and I have had to pull out a lot of my “big guns” to treat myself, along with my other doctor given medications. I have been robot-ing through life until we can find a treatment that works. Even though it has been rough, I have got to keep on trucking. I know that soon we will find something! Then it will be nice to pick up all those things you have to set aside because they aren’t vital to existence. But, it won’t be long until I am back to my usual self, and done with those things and on to new ones! ūüôā

Luckily, to help me get through things, I have wintergreen handy. This is a powerful little plant, that seems so common, yet also rare. You might be tempted to think, that wintergreen is one of those plants of the mint family that seem to pop up everywhere, and you would be like most people, wrong. Don’t feel bad though, it is very mint like in scent, and tends to be found alongside mints in candy. Wintergreen though, is from an entirely different family of plants. Wintergreen is a shrubbery, with bright red berries, that creeps through gardens and forests sprouting up from its expanding network of rhizomes. Commonly known as eastern teaberry, checkerberry, and other local names, it has been long used by Native Americans, and after their arrival American colonists and their descendants for centuries.

Almost like bright little cherries, good to eat if you are in the wild or just in the garden.

Generally the way people would be familiar with the smell or taste of wintergreen would be from gums, candies, dental care items (toothpaste, mouthwash, etc), and tobacco products. It is in some root beers, sodas, and (if you like martinis) vermouth traditionally has wintergreen in it. While very similar chemically to therapeutic wintergreen, wintergreen flavoring is usually made from a type of birch, sweet birch or Betula lenta it is a similar chemical make up, but not exactly the same. We will get more into the chemicals of wintergreen later though.

It was well known in Native American healing arts, as a herb for rheumatoid and joint issues, headaches and general aches & pains. This little plant was even used as a tea substitute during the American Revolutionary War, and the berries were sold in Boston in the early years of the States as a treat. There was a belief in the US Colonial eras that chewing the young leaves in spring would protect children’s teeth from decay. Jams, pies and other confection type items are made with the berries, though they are rather slightly medicine like in taste and can be offensive for some palates.

The chemicals that makes them different is why we are interested in a specific wintergreen to treat pain, the one we want is Gaultheria procumbens.¬†While it isn’t as well known in its raw state (just the oil or plant) as it is in pre-made preparations. It is in a lot of joint pain rubs, and it is that “medicine-y” scent that it has that can be off putting to people who don’t care for the medicinal smells of some pain creams and rubs. This is so commonly used in these creams since this herb is a fantastic analgesic, mild local anesthetic, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory.

This is not an herb that I would list as mostly harmless, it is something you can actually use too much of, so this should be used judicially, mindfully, and carefully. This is some pretty powerful stuff, and the oils are very concentrated and contain methyl salicylate¬†which can cause blood thinning, and in large doses can be like overdosing on Aspirin. It is very close to the chemical that makes Aspirin work, and is in a lot of other preparations, is salicylic acid. Both of these acids, methyl and salcylic, work as an anti-inflammatory, they suppress the enzymes (like cyclooxygenase,¬†aka COX, we talked about before) that cause inflammation. This also means that if you have bad reactions to Aspirin, or other similar medications, you want to avoid using this, in my humble non medical opinion, even externally. If you aren’t you should still be careful since the dose between helpful and harmful with any medications is very small, so I say unless you are being guided and dosed by a professional. Also if you are taking any sort of blood thinners, this is not something you want to try without professional advice first. One ounce of essential oil of wintergreen is equivalent to 171 Aspirins, a teaspoon is a whopping 21.5, so I think it is best to stick to using this externally. Always better to be safe than sorry!¬†

Now, just because it has the potential to do this doesn’t mean you should avoid this very useful plant and oils. Their therapeutic power is fantastic, and as long as you use any plant in the right amounts and treat them with respect you should never have an issue. You should never be careless about anything you put in, and sometimes what you put on, your body.

So now that you are sufficiently knowledgeable about wintergreen, how do you use it?

Well firstly, if you are lucky enough to have your own wintergreen plant in your garden there are a few ways you can use the leaves.

You can make an infusion, or tea, with these leaves, but to extract the chemicals that you need to treat pain they must first be fermented slightly. There seem to be a few different camps on what time of year is best to harvest the leaves, some say young, some say in the fall when they go red. Any point in their cycle, as long as they aren’t dead, seems to be OK for making an infusion or tincture in my experience. Most plants will have natural yeasts that live on them as natural flora, but you may have to do an assisted fermentation if you do not see activity after a few days (usually 3 is enough).

Wintergreen Infusion (tea) for Compresses

  • Mason jar
  • Wintergreen leaves, fresh enough to fill the jar
  • Water, enough to cover

Bruise or roughly chop the leaves and place them in the jar, cover with water and seal. After 3 days you should see bubbling, a sign of fermentation. If you do not see bubbling, you can add a quarter teaspoon of yeast to the jar. Or if you are very brave, you can leave the jar open and see if you can entice a wild yeast to ferment your leaves. This does leave your infusion open to mold and other nasty things growing in your jar, and is really the last resort sort of option. If you are only able to get dried wintergreen leaves you would only want to use the same amount for this recipe.

You do not want to use this recipe internally at all, this is best used as a compress for sore areas. To use this you simply heat a small amount of the liquid and allow it to cool to as warm as you can stand and soak a towel or other absorbent cloth in the liquid and apply directly to painful areas. This is great for joint, arthritis, over exertion, muscle spasms and other pains from general working out and life.

Wintergreen Tincture

  • 32 oz Mason jar
  • 10 oz Wintergreen leaves, fresh or 7 oz if dried
  • Grain alcohol to cover

Fill the jar with the wintergreen and cover with the alcohol, shake daily for 3-4 weeks. Strain and bottle and store in a dark place. For this you can use about 20-30 drops in some warm water, and use a compress to apply it to the painful area. You can also massage the tincture directly into the skin, but I suggest using much less 5-15 drops at most. This is a great way to topically treat pain, and inflammation from spasms, joint pains or just sore tired muscles. Remember even if it is on your skin it is still being absorbed and going into your body, don’t think that you can use more topically since its safer. And again, I would not suggest taking either of these recipes internally.

Wintergreen Massage Oil

  • 1 oz Carrier oil
  • 20-30 drops Wintergreen essential oil

Mix well, and store in dark container. This oil can be rubbed directly into the skin, but care should be taken to avoid sensitive skin areas. This is another great way to treat muscles and joints that are in pain or inflamed.

ProTip: You can reduce the wintergreen oil to 10-15 drops and add other oils to help with pain or other issues like: lavender, valerian, chamomile, rosemary, eucalyptus, etc, etc.

You can, if you are a wildcard like me, use wintergreen oil directly on your skin (known to most as neat application). A drop or two is all that is needed, and then just massage it into the painful area. This is my favorite way of using this oil, and it is one of my go to oils for migraines and painful muscle spasms. I don’t use this oil every day, and I try to limit its use to 1 drop or so every 8 hours, and I change it up and try not to use it twice in a row, or over consecutive days if I can help it, mostly because I find that it is best to be overly cautious with these things. But despite my caution, I love this oil and I find its relief when the pain is very bad, especially with migraines, to be the difference between feeling so horrible that I hate everything, and being happy about life. Which if you suffer from migraines is a big difference.

As always do your own research, find out what works best for you and make sure to always check places like WebMD for interactions before using any sort of medication, herbal or otherwise. This is one that I can not stress enough that if you are in doubt at all about dosage or interactions with medications you are currently taking, ask a professional!

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Clarity on Clary Sage

Weather change in Texas is constant and we had some cold snaps, for me heralded by extreme migraines, and this is one of the oils that got me through it all. Its really a shame that such a great little plant gets so little lime light, especially when it has so many uses. Plants of the sage family were all highly prized for medicinal and culinary uses in ancient times, but just common sage in cooking is what most people are used to. Clary sage is different than common sage in smell and taste, and appearance not to mention uses.

by Hectonichus via wikimedia commons

Remember it looks nothing like common sage!

Known as Clear Eye, or Eye Bright, for its seeds which produce a mucelagenous goop that is good for removing debris from the eyes. It is from this that it gets its full Latin name Salvia sclarea which sclarea is derived from clarus which means clear.

Clary sage was a well known addition for some traditional ales, frequently added to make a brew more potent. Marsh rosemary and other herbs were used for the same reason, prior to many hopped beers. Large amounts of Clary sage (like Seer’s sage) added to alcohol can be hallucinogenic, and leave you with an equally potent headache in the morning. One writer wrote of clary sage –

“Some brewers of Ale and Beere doe put it into their drinke to make it more heady, fit to please drunkards, who thereby, according to their several dispositions, become either dead drunke, or foolish drunke, or madde drunke.”

In some Rhine wines in the early times were adulterated with elderflower and clary sage to make them imitate the taste of Muscatel wines, and the common German name still is Muscatel Sage. This would have also added to the wine’s intoxicating properties, and possibly added to the wine hangovers too.

Medieval drinking, pretty much like being at a frat party. Except everything was like the trash can punch.

Medieval drinking, pretty much like being at a frat party, where everything is trash can punch.

If you are a home-brewer, and I hope you are because its awesome, you can make your own ¬†medicinal beer with clary sage. Just use a cheesecloth or a muslin bag to hold about 2 ounces of the herb and suspend this in your first fermentation but remove it for the second, or only leave it for about 6-7 days if you are a one stage fermenter. Clary sage was used in brewing for bitters, so a little goes a long way here, and in food recipes since it can quickly get too bitter to consume. If you aren’t a home brewer here is a fairly easy recipe, pretty much foolproof, to follow for an Ale.

Clary Ale

  • 4 pounds malt extract
  • 2 pounds brown sugar
  • 4 ounces fresh clary sage
  • 4 gallons water
  • Yeast

Bring the water to a boil, add 2 ounces sage, simmer one hour. When cooled to 160F, strain over malt extract and sugar in fermenting vessel. Stir until sugar and extract are well dissolved. Cool to 80 F. Add yeast, you can purchase brewers yeast from most home brew supply stores, regular bread yeast will do but you may have a different taste than you are used to in beers. Add final 2 ounces of sage to fermenter in cheese cloth or muslin bag. Ferment for 6-7 days, and remove. Transfer beer to a new container (carboy or bucket).¬†Ferment in second stage for a week. Prime (if you don’t know what that is go here), bottle, & cap. Ready to drink in 2 weeks, but I suggest letting it sit for a month before drinking to let all the flavors fully meld.

I have not attempted to mull wine with this herb but I have found a recipe for Clary Wine that intrigues me and will attempt to make sometime soon. If you are interested here is the recipe, let me know how it turns out!

Clary Wine

  • 10 gallons water
  • 35 lb loaf sugar
  • 12 eggs
  • 2 pecks of clary blossoms
  • 1 pint good new yeast

Mix sugar, water and well-beaten egg whites. Let boil gently for ¬Ĺ hour, skimming until the mixture is quite clear. Let stand until cold. Pour into a cask, add 2 pecks of clary blossoms stripped from the stalk and 1 pint of yeast. Stir the wine three times a day for five days. Stop it up, and let stand for twelve months. It may be bottled at the end of six months if perfectly clear.

Besides its ability to intoxicate, beers and wine with clary sage can be useful for painful or infrequent menstruation since it imitates female hormones, and works on muscles to ease spasms. The amounts listed in these recipes are not enough to cause hallucinations and should not cause a residual headache the next morning. I personally like the idea of a cramp medicine that comes with a nice flavor, and a mild kick of alcohol to help deaden the pain. But remember all alcoholic remedies are only good in moderation, drinking too many or too much negates any of its beneficial properties.

Relaxing muscles is what clary does best, in my opinion, and this is one of the main reasons I love clary sage so. It soothes muscle spasms quite effectively with topical application, and brings near instant relief in some cases. It  also eases the nervous system into relaxation, without sedation, so its great for daily stress and tension headaches where you need to stay awake and lucid. You will almost always find its most commonly used to treat lady cramps, but it works great on all cramped and tight muscles.

Clary Sage Massage Oil – Plain Jane Version

  • 1 oz Carrier oil
  • 20-30 drops Clary Sage oil

Mix well and store in dark container, massage into abdomen for lady cramps, and into temples, neck and/or shoulders for migraine or tension headache relief. Really this can be massaged anywhere (except sensitive areas) where a muscle spasm or pain is.

The relaxing properties of this plant goes beyond just helping with spasms and their associated pains, but it also helps to settle the stomach. I don’t know if everyone suffers this, but with my migraines the extreme amount of pain can lead to intense vomiting. Which means that oral pain medications don’t always get a chance to work, and not to mention its not very fun to chunder with a migraine. Clary sage comes to the rescue though, with a double punch of relief and stomach settling goodness. Used with other things like peppermint, chamomile, or lavender it can really be an effective way to treat the pain, or just get everything settled enough to keep the pain medications in you long enough for them to do their thing.

Clary Sage Massage Oil – Pukey Migraine Version

Mix and store in a dark bottle, and you can rub this into temples, neck, and shoulders. Because it has peppermint oil avoid sensitive areas like eyes or delicate skin.

You can make a strong infusion using the leaves and use it for a relaxing bath, or to wash wounds as it helps in wound healing, not to mention its great for your skin!

Clary Bath Tea

  • 4 tablespoons Clary leaves
  • 4-5 oz Boiling water

Draw a bath as warm as you can stand and add the tea to the bath, soak for 20-30 minutes for pain and to help relax the body and mind. This can cause you to have some intense dreams, so if you don’t want them ūüôā don’t use this bath too close to bed time.

For a tea to drink it is best to use the essential oil, much safer and even doses with this and none of the bitter funk. If you want to use fresh leaves you can use about a teaspoon dried and you want to use the newer leaves as the larger older ones will be the most bitter.

Clary Oil Tea

You can also use milk, or a milk substitute, as well to take this or add it to your favorite herbal or otherwise teas. Just add the drops and drink it down! Easy!

Clary sage has many uses as you can see, and definitely helps to release muscles, ease the stomach, and relax nerves. But it also has a really pleasant smell. Like a sweeter, more pleasant German chamomile, with some nuttier notes. It was frequently used in perfumes and is great for skin and is found even in skin creams and salves today, like the well known Burt’s Bees skin products. There is some mention that it can produce euphoria and lift the spirits, and I can say the smell is very nice and it does make a horrible migraine day not so bad. But I can’t say I have felt “euphoric” from topical use.

As I said before medicinal food is great! And there are a lot of Culinary uses possible with this plant. You can use clary sage in place of any common sage in a recipe. The flowers are also edible, and are great in teas, salads or on their own just make sure to remove the greenery first. Fritters is a common historical manner of consuming them, the only historical recipe for medicinal food with clary I have found is Culpepper’s which is –

“The fresh leaves dipped in a batter of flour, eggs, and a little milk, and fried in butter and served to the table, is not unpleasant to any, but exceedingly profitable for those that are troubled with weak reins [kidneys], and the effects thereof.”

An easier way to read this recipe I found on this site and copied here –

Clary Sage Fritters

  • 4 oz flour
  • ¬Ĺ tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • ¬ľ pint warm water
  • 1 egg white
  • 12 clary sage flowering brackets
  • 12 clary sage leaves
  • fresh oil for deep frying
  • caster sugar
  • 1 Tbsp clary sage flowers removed from the bracts

Make the batter well before you need it: sift the flour into a bowl, add the salt, stir in the oil and mix with enough warm water to give the consistency of fairly thick cream. Leave to stand, covered with a damp cloth or saran wrap, for one to two hours. Just before using, beat the egg white in a clean bowl until it is stiff and fold it into the batter. Rinse the clary sage flower bracts and leaves. Gently shake them dry, then dry them on some kitchen towel. Roll a flower bract in each leaf and dip into the batter one at a time. Shake off any excess batter and drop into a large pan of oil, heated to 360¬įF. Do not allow them to touch each other in cooking. When done, drain on paper towel and place on a warmed serving dish or hot plate. When all the fritters are cooked, dredge with sugar, sprinkle on the flowers and serve immediately. (Good Enough to Eat)

You can also mix the flowers or leaves into an omelette (add about 2 tablespoons fresh or dry) to your normal omelette mixture, or other foods. Finally a jelly recipe for you to put on your toast, mmm medicinal toast! From the same above mentioned site.

Clary Sage Jelly

  • 3 tsp clary leaves
  • ¬Ĺ cup boiling water
  • 1 ¬Ĺ cup apple juice (unsweetened)
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 cups honey
  • 1 bottle liquid pectin

Make infusion of clary and water. Strain and add enough water to make ¬Ĺ cup. Combine with apple and lemon juice and honey in large saucepan. Bring to full rolling boil and add pectin, stirring constantly. Boil hard for 30 seconds and give sheet test for jellying point. Remove from heat and skim. Pour into hot, sterilized glasses and seal. Add yellow food coloring if desired while jelly is boiling.

Remember to do your research for yourself, and do your own trials to see what works best for you. Always check for reactions or interactions on sites like WebMD, anything that has an affect on the uterus you should not use during pregnancy. As always, any doubts mean you should ask a professional!

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Valerian the Pied Piper of Sleep…and Cats

Valerian, while a fairly pretty plant to look at has a rather foul smelling root. It’s name was, in historical texts, generally rendered as Phu or Foo, speculated to have been called such, due to the distinctive smell. Pew! This means it is possibly the source of all laser cat powers…

Pew Pew Pew!

The smell is quite seductive to cats and rats (like Anise for dogs), and was supposedly Valerian was used by the Pied Piper, either rubbed on or secreted about his body, to lead the rats from Hamelin. During most of its historical continental European use, it was thought of more as a spice than a herb and was frequently used for cooking and even used in perfumes! There are supposedly more pleasant smelling versions but that sounds, to me, quite a smelly perfume idea.

It was used in some places to protect a person from thunder and lightening, also for ridding people of “demons.” Which could possibly be taken to mean that it eased symptoms of epilepsy, since possession was often the diagnosis for sufferers of epilepsy and other mental disorders before they were fully understood. Valerian would definitely provide a calming effect for nerve issues, agitated people, those suffering from general nervous disorders, and was often used to treat hysteria. But surprisingly for most of early history medicinally, it was not held in high regard, it was mentioned by Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and others for various complaints and ailments almost in passing. It was only Galen that remarked on its sedative effects, and it took many centuries before that was re-discovered in the West.

Valerian was also known as nard, Amantilla, “Capon’s Tail”, and Setwall (or Setewale). It’s present name is thought to come from the Latin for courage (valere), or possibly strength (valeo) or “good health” (valere), but there is no definitive answer on the name origin. Arab doctors knew of its uses and post-Crusades, as Arab knowledge filtered west, more knowledge of this plant grew and usage grew. A great recipe mentioned in the 14th century capitalizing on its relaxing properties was¬†“Men who begin to fight and you wish to stop them, give them the juice of Amantilla (Valerian) and peace will be made immediately.”

More recent historical usage was for during bleeding to calm the person, and promote healing (bleeding was commonly used up until the 19th century as a treatment for many issues), and as a nervine. It was even used during World War I for the stress trench combat, civilians for air raids constant stress, and was still used during World War II to treat “shell-shock.” It is also widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayerveda, and even the W.H.O. recognizes the nerve relaxing qualities of Valerian.

While Valerian is a pretty little plant, most preparations use the root, which just happens to be the smelliest bit. It generally helps most people sleep,  it can reduce anxiety, depression (from stress or nervous tension), works on the central nervous system to help relax the body, and also can help calm the lower intestine smooth muscle and alleviate gas and cramping. The main purpose I find it useful for it, is its antispasmodic properties, this is a great way to treat lady cramps, muscle cramps and pain, and will help with symptoms of cramps and spasms, like tension headaches. Since it helps muscles and nerves to relax, it helps with blood pressure by relaxing the vein and artery walls, improving circulation and reducing blood pressure.

It is pretty to look at, but smelly!

Tea is always a great way to take Valerian, you can prepare the fresh root, or what is more frequently available, dried roots. You can drink this tea about a half hour to two hours before bed time, and it should help bring sleep faster. You can also make a double batch to add to bath water, two cups, will help bring on sleep and help with painful muscles. This is also a great cup of tea (like Fennel Tea, Anise Tea, Ginger Tea, or Peppermint Tea) for this time of year when over indulgence leads to digestive distress. Now, like most good medicine this can be very bad tasting for some people and bitter, others not so much, but if you find it bitter bust out your favorite local honey when you make this.

Valerian Tea

  • 1 teaspoon Dried (or Fresh) Valerian root
  • 8 oz Hot water (just before boiling)

Steep for 5-10 minutes in a covered teacup, or teapot if you decide to make a bigger batch. Remember covering it helps to keep those essential oils that make this all work in your tea instead of in the air. Again this is great after exercise, to ease spasms, and to help you get restful sleep. Where you don’t feel sedated or fuzzy in the morning.

If you don’t want to have tea in your bath you can always make a relaxing bath salts with Valerian essential oils (remember¬†therapeutic grade only!).

Valerian Epsom Salts

  • 5 cups (40 oz) of Epsom Salts
  • 5-10 drops Valerian essential oil
  • You can add additional oils like Eucalyptus, Lavender, or others to help promote sleep or muscle relaxation. 5-10 drops of any additional oils.

Add a cup at a time to bath water and enjoy a lovely soak, in relaxing goodness.

Valerian is great teamed up with hops, they work well in¬†concert¬†with¬†each other¬†since¬†Valerian is a more mild sedative hops give it that extra punch for a super¬†knock out combo. Hops are thought to work on the body the same way melatonin does, and Valerian acts like adenosine which is a inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps with sleep. So when you combine the two you have a great combination that is non-narcotic, and won’t leave you feeling bad and groggy the next morning.

Super Knockout Sleepy Tincture – Hop & Valerian

  • 2 parts Valerian root
  • 1 part Hops flowers
  • Large Mason Jar
  • Vodka or other clear alcohol, enough to cover

Fill jar with the Hops and Valerian mixture, with gap at the top for expansion, cover with alcohol and seal tight. Let sit for at least 4 weeks, or up to 6 in a cool, dark, and undisturbed place, but shake once a week. Strain and store in dark bottles. You can take 1/2 teaspoon (6 drops) to 1 teaspoon of this about an hour or so before you want to go to bed.

You could make a straight Valerian tincture, make it the same way just leave out the hops, and you can take 1/2 teaspoon to 3/4 of a teaspoon daily (up to 3 times a day) for anxiety, and to help with circulation and blood pressure. You can take up to 1 teaspoon to assist with sleep.

You can also make a great headache and sleep aid by adding more herbs such as lavender, passion flower and chamomile.

Headache & Sleep Tincture

  • 1 part Valerian root
  • 1 part Hops flowers
  • 1 part Passion Flower
  • 1 part Chamomile
  • 1 part Lavender
  • 1 part Skullcap

Take about a 1/2 teaspoon at onset of migraine and increase if pain does not recede, not recommended taking more than 1 teaspoon. This will alleviate migraine pain and help bring sleep, which is great when you wake up at 2 am like I do with migraines.

With any tincture you can add it to a cup of hot water, or tea, if you are concerned about the alcohol. You can always do the under the tongue delivery, or even just into a cup of water or juice. If the taste is too bitter you can mix this into a tablespoon of honey and take it.

Since it is that holiday time of year! Valerian hot chocolate is a great way to ease the tension and stress that holidays can bring. I love this recipe from James Wong

James Wong’s Valerian Hot Chocolate

  • 3¬†tablespoons fresh valerian root
  • 3 3/4¬†cups full-fat milk
  • 3¬†tablespoons fresh¬†lemon balm¬†leaves
  • 3¬†teaspoons fresh¬†lavender¬†flowers
  • 6 leaves & 3 heads of fresh passion flowers (or 1 teaspoon)
  • peel of 1 1/2 oranges
  • 1 3/4 oz dark chocolate (min 50% cocoa solids)
  • “dash” (1/8th or less of a teaspoon) of vanilla

Chop the top and bottom from the fresh valerian root, and then place in a saucepan with the milk, lemon balm, lavender, passion flower, and orange peel and gently heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain. Pour the infused milk back into the pan, and then add the dark chocolate and vanilla extract and stir until melted. Drink at once.

Colds and coughs are frequent this time of year and if you are sick while you are in pain it only makes things worse. A great cough syrup you can make is a variation of another of James’ recipes but it has my own special touches. Because Valerian works to relax and prevent spasms its great to help suppress coughs.

Valerian Cough Syrup

  • 4 tablespoons dried Marshmallow root
  • 2 dried Licorice roots, broken up
  • 3 heads of fresh elderberries (if you can get them, if not about a tablespoon of dried or you can substitute 2 tablespoons wild cherry bark, or just leave it all out entirely)
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon Anise seed
  • 1 tablespoon Fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons Valerian root
  • 2 c water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 5 tablespoons glycerin

Put everything except the honey and glycerin in a pot with the water and simmer unit liquid reduces by about a fifth. Remove the licorice, and pour mixture into blender and blend until smooth. Pour back into pan and add honey, lime juice and glycerin, stir and simmer for 2 more minutes. Store in bottles. Take 2 tablespoons 3 times a day for no more than 5 days. The Valerian in this helps to relax the smooth muscles helping to suppress the cough.¬†Remember, if your cough persists you need to see a professional, don’t neglect colds and illnesses during the holidays!

You can find Valerian in a lot of prepackaged ways, tinctures, teas, but mostly as capsules. You can purchase these already made, or you can make your own, just like in the turmeric post. ¬†You don’t want to exceed 600 mg a day of Valerian, also due to fillers some pre-made pills may work better than others.

ProTip: You should never take any sleep aid for more than 4 weeks straight, or you could have issues sleeping.

Mythbuster Tip: Valium and Valerian while sounding similar are different completely, and Valerian is much safer to use. Remember though, everything in moderation. Too much of anything is bad.

Each person is different and you will need to do your own trails to see what works best for you. Check for interactions with your current medications, and WebMD is a great resource as usual. Make sure you educate yourself on everything you take! 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¬†febrifugia,¬†but 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.