Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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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 ½ 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 🙂 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
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • ¼ 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°F. 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
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 1 ½ 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 ½ 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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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!