Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Eucalyptus It Comes from the Land Down Under

Having lived in Sydney for a while in my youth, the smell of eucalyptus is extremely nostalgic for me. Many memories of smelling that sweet, pungent eucalyptus smell while playing cricket at school, playing in our backyard, traveling through the Blue Mountains. I loved the smell of eucalyptus, and remember often breaking those silvery, green leaves just to inhale that pungent and unique scent. If you have been near one, you can not help but love gum trees, and most Australians do. They form a large part of the iconic landscape of the land of Oz, and are now part of the modern mythology of Australia after May Gibbs wrote about tiny fairy children that lived in them.

Gumnut Babies!

The Blue Mountains get their name from the blue haze that hangs over them from the trees releasing their oils in the air, and its possibly this oil that scatters the blue light waves . This oil is what makes these trees so fragrant, and so useful medicinally. Eucalyptus was historically used by the native Aboriginal peoples of Australia for as long as their history records, and they used it for many of the same complaints that we still use it for today. They used eucalyptus as a tea, or infusion, of the leaves for body pains, wound care, sinus congestion, colds and fevers. It was seen as a general “cure-all” by most of the different tribes.

And the favorite food of some furry marsupials.

And the favorite food of some furry marsupials.

After the discovery of Australia by Europe, the use of eucalyptus was quickly adopted by the Europeans, and even more so once it became a penal colony. Surgeons from the First Fleet used oil of eucalyptus that they distilled themselves, to treat convicts, and the military men of the fleet, during the difficult early years of the convict colonies. During the 19th century it was even used as a disinfectant and planted in “fever districts,” which encouraged more research into, and production of, this valuable oil. Though its reduction of fever in those areas is less likely from the trees releasing oils, and more comes from the tree’s ability to quickly absorb available ground water. Thus reducing habitats for fever, and malaria, causing mosquitoes. Eucalyptus trees can absorb vast amounts of water, making them ideal for planting in marshy areas rife with sickness. A famous instance of this is St Paul at the Three Fountains that was in Roman Compagna – which if you know anything about Italy’s history was an area that was abandoned and labeled as inhospitable in some eras, due to malaria. After the planting of a eucalyptus tree there in 1870, it was inhabitable year round.

Eucalyptus oil, once it hit the world market, was highly desired for medicinal uses and preparations. Soon it was being mass produced, and found its way into surgeries as an antiseptic, in cold remedies, to treat respiratory infections, and for general disinfecting. The person that can be credited with the spread of eucalyptus, and the knowledge of all its many uses, is Ferdinand von Mueller. It was his interest in botany, and his observations that started the western world on the path to using eucalyptus. He noticed the similarity in smell to Cajaput oil, which led him to speculate that the oil of these eucalyptus trees could be antiseptic, or fever reducing. This speculation, and desire to treat malaria, led to the Western interest in this new plant. Seeds were sent to France, and through France to Algeria, and eucalyptus trees helped to get rid of marshy, swampy areas of fever causing mosquitoes, making it much more inhabitable. Because of Ferdinand’s work eucalyptus oil, or sometimes called “Sydney Peppermint,” became fairly widely used in the medical community around the world. It was well known for its use as a catheter cleaner in 20th century medicine, but it also was used during World War I for fighting meningitis, and during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.

That multipurpose usefulness has kept eucalyptus in the modern medical repertoire, in fact most people have probably smelt eucalyptus in chest salves for colds, and in some throat and cold lozenges. There have been scientific studies into its effectiveness as an antibacterial, and is well known for being great for fighting staphylococcus aureus. It is great for clearing a stuffy head, and soothing the aches and pains of chest colds, but I find it also works great topically for muscle pain, and migraines as well. But before we get too deep into uses, like chamomile, there are a few different species of eucalyptus available…well more than a few really. There are about 300 species of eucalyptus, and even more if you count sub-varieties. So lets break it down.

Eucalyptus globulus – AKA Blue Gum, Tasmanian Blue Gum

This is one of the oils that has some of the highest cineole (or eucalyptol) content, about 80%-70% on average, and this is the chemical that gives eucalyptus its distinct smell, as well as camphor, rosemary, and other similar plants. This is a very common species in its native Australia, and it has spread around the world due to its rapid growth, and ease of cultivation. This species is virtually phellandrene free, which makes it a favorite for internal preparations (usually flavoring), but I would strongly suggest not taking any eucalyptus oil internally since it can rapidly become toxic, always better to be safe than sorry! Topically it is a great anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiseptic, decongestant and deodorant. I personally use it for its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties, and I find it is great for migraine pain and rheumatoid arthritis as well. All forms of eucalyptus are warming oils, so like peppermint and other warming oils, you want to avoid application to sensitive skin areas. This is the most powerful of the oils, and should really be diluted in a carrier oil if you are going to apply it topically.

This is also great for burns, blisters, cold sores, bug bites cuts and abrasions. It helps in healing, and it helps to fight infection as an antibacterial, and as an antiviral. It works great as a decongestant and provides relief from coughs when applied to the chest.

Eucalyptus radiata – AKA Narrow-leaved Peppermint, Forth River Peppermint

This oil is the second highest cineole content, about 75%-60% on average, and is a much gentler oil than the E. globulus eucalyptus. It is slightly more floral and citrus in scent than E. globulus. You tend to find this more in mouthwash and dental preparations due to its more gentle nature. It is an excellent antibacterial, and a competent antiviral as well. Like E. globulus it is a great topical analgesic and anti-inflammatory, as well as a great for fighting colds and as a decongestant. This oil, while still warming, I find gentle enough for direct application for pain or sore muscles, but you do still want to avoid sensitive skin areas.

This is a great addition to any acne regimen, direct application or adding it to other oils in a skin cream is a great acne fighting solution. This is also a great addition to any hand sanitizers, disinfecting sprays or for cooling sprays.

Eucalyptus polybractea – AKA Blue Mallee, Australian Tea Tree

This has probably the highest cineole content ranging from 80-90%, and you will notice this has more of the camphor-like medicinal scent that most people associate with eucalyptus. This is like the other species, a great topical pain, anti-inflammatory and just all around good for sore, tired muscles.  The downside is the more medicinal smell to this than the more plant like E. globulus or E. radiata species. You do want to dilute this with a carrier oil if you are going to apply it topically. This is a good addition to a lotion bar, or pain bar, for post-activity aches and pains. This is, like the others, a warming oil still and can bring warmth and relaxation to tense muscles with massage. With the high levels of cineole, this is the best antiseptic available of the different species, and works well as an antibacterial for wound care or general cleaning. Which means it is a great addition to sanitizing sprays, gels, and great for after illness cleaning. It is also lower in chemicals that irritate mucus membranes, and is a great option for inhaling to help with congestion or coughs.

This is also a great addition to a cleaning or laundry routine. It helps to remove grease stains, and it also can remove gum or other sticky things from clothing or glass and the like.

Eucalyptus dives – AKA Broad-leaved Peppermint, Peppermint Eucalyptus

This is a strong species, with 70-80% cineole, and should only be used topically and not be ingested. It can also be more irritating for people with very sensitive skin. It has higher phellandrene and piperitone than other species, which gives it that peppermint like smell. This means its best used for colds and coughs as an inhalant or part of a chest salve or plaster. It can be used topically, if diluted in a carrier oil, but it is better used as an insect repellent and cold aid, than for pain relief. This is still a great warming oil that works well to warm and soothe muscles after stretching or exercise. It a great antibacterial, and like other species can be added to cold and sanitizing preparations, external only though!

Eucalyptus bicostata – AKA Eucalyptus Blue

This is a topical only again, and is the best eucalyptus for respiratory issues. it contains high levels of alpha-pinene, which is also found in pine and rosemary. This can be added to a massage regimen if diluted in a carrier oil, and it has great muscle relaxing properties. You should though, combine this oil with other oils, for the most pain relieving ability. This is a bronchodilator and is great for chest cold preparations or even asthma sufferers can benefit from this being diffused in the air.

Combined with other oils like rosemary, lavender, or others this is a great addition to a massage oil blend. Otherwise, use this when you need your head cleared from a bad cold, or to just aid with breathing issues. This can be applied closer to sensitive areas like the eyes, without the eye watering effect of the others.

How To Use It

So now you know about the different types, time to discuss how to use it. Since most of these have similar properties, I am just going to list eucalyptus oil in the ingredients. You should select the oil you add to this based on the properties you need most. And remember, warming oil, never put this on sensitive skin areas!

First off, a massage oil blend.

Eucalyptus Massage Oil

  • 1 oz Carrier oil
  • 15-30 drops of Eucalyptus oil
  • optional: add 10 drops of other eucalyptus oils, or add other oils (Lavender, Rosemary, Peppermint, Frankincense, etc) for additional pain relief or anti-inflammatory properties.

Mix well and store in a dark container, apply directly to painful areas, or sore muscles, and massage in. You can use just eucalyptus and massage this into the chest and neck area for chest cold relief. You can also rub this oil on exposed areas as insect repellent.

ProTip: If you do a test patch first to make sure that it won’t cause issues, you can use a drop or two of the essential oil of eucalyptus directly on your skin for insect repellent, and pain or cold relief.

Eucalyptus Salt Soak

  • 5 cups (40 oz) Epsom Salts
  • 5-15 drops Eucalyptus Essential Oils
  • optional: any additional oils for any additional properties needed

Mix well and store in a water proof container, add about a cup of mixture to a hot bath and soak in delicious muscle relaxing bliss. This is a great soak for muscle pains, and helps with migraines from muscle tension or spasms.

“After Sports” Eucalyptus Soak

  • 1/2 cup Citric Acid
  • 1 cup Baking Soda
  • 1 cup Epsom Salts
  • 20-30 drops of Eucalyptus Oil

Mix well and store in airtight container (or it will lose its fizz), add a few tablespoons to a hot bath. It should be fizzy, and is a wonderful soak after a hard work out session. It helps relax and soothe both the skin and muscles. You can add an additional cup of sea salt to this as well.

Eucalyptus is fantastic in salves & balms, which if you would like to read a good explanation on what salves and balms are, with some good instructions on how to make a few types, go here.

Eucalyptus Salve “Cheater” Version

  • 2 oz Coconut oil
  • 10-20 drops of Eucalyptus oil

Use whisk attachment in a stand mixer, and whip coconut oil until soft and creamy. With machine still whisking add in a drop at a time the essential oil. Store in airtight jar, or clean reused jar lotion container, this will have the consistency more of a body butter but it gets the job done and is easy to make. This is a great for massaging into muscle pains, or applied to the chest for colds.

Eucalyptus Salve

  • 1/3 c Oil (Sunflower, Almond, Apricot, just should be of vegetable origin)
  • 1/3 oz Bees Wax, granulated, or grated
  • 5-10 drops of Eucalyptus oil

Heat oil in a double boiler, and slowly add bees wax. Stir until fully melted and combined. Remove from heat and stir in by hand the essential oils. Pour into small, preferably glass, seal-able containers and store in a cool dry place. You can test to see if your salve will set with the method listed on Whispering Earth, using a spoon to dip out a small amount to see if it sets correctly. If you find it does not, you can add more beeswax a few grains at a time until the right consistency is achieved.

This like the “cheater” salve is great for muscle pains, and for chest colds.

You can make a sanitizing spray and a sanitizer as well (like with rosemary). Below is a purse, or travel friendly, version of a sanitizing spray and gel, either can be used on the hands or on surfaces that you wish to disinfect.

Eucalyptus Sanitizing Spray

  • 2 oz spray bottle
  • 10-20 drops Eucalyptus essential oil (or oils if you would like to use more than one eucalyptus)
  • 1 3/4 to 2 oz Witch Hazel
  • optional: any additional oils you would like to add to boost its germ killing ability

Mix well and store in spray bottle, mist on to hands and rub in, or mist directly onto a surface to disinfect.

Eucalyptus Sanitizing Gel

  • Pump or squeeze container
  • 1 oz aloe gel
  • 10-30 drops Eucalyptus oil
  • 1 oz Witch Hazel

Mix well, I prefer to give this a spin in the blender to make sure it is of an even consistency, you can use a food processor too. Store in a squeeze container in purse, or carry on, for a quick squirt of hand sanitizer gel.

Of course there are a lot of sites, and stores, that offer pre-made blends of oils, or other preparations with eucalyptus in them, and those are a great way to easily use eucalyptus if you aren’t the DIY type. The down side is there are literally tons of them. So I would say, if you want to go this pre-made path, do some research on the ingredients, species used, and amounts, and see if this will work for your issues cold, pain or otherwise. Also I would also recommend trying a few brands before sticking with a specific one.

Remember these are all warming oils, and should not be used on sensitive skin. They also should not be used internally unless under the direct supervision of a healthcare expert. Always do your own research and trials to see what works best for you, since everyone is different! Check for interactions on WebMD. And like I always say, if you are in doubt, ask a professional!

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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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Ginger a Spicy Power Packed Punch for Pain!

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

yay!

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

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

Its Ginger!

Its Ginger! Put it in your face!

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

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

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

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

Simple Ginger Tea for Headache and Upset Stomach

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

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

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

Alton’s Ginger Ale

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

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

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

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

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

Ginger Beer

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

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

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

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

Ginger Muscle “Cream”

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

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

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

Tulsi Ginger Tea for Sleep

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

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

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

Ginger Rosemary Bath Salts for Pain

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

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

Ginger Massage Oil for Sore Muscles and Pain

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

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

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

Alton’s Candied Ginger Recipe

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

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

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

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

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

Pumpkin Ginger Muffins

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

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

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

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

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


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Nutmeg, an Easy Nut to Crack

Been going through a lot of medical tests lately, but I am feeling really positive about all of it, and still a little in the goulish Halloween spirit, so I think it is time to talk about nutmeg. Thanksgiving and Christmas is almost upon us now, so it makes it an even better time to talk about nutmeg. It features in so many holiday dishes you can’t seem to get away from it this time of year. Also, fun fact, nutmeg and mace are major ingredients in delicious, delicious haggis.

Yes, haggis is delicious.

No, I will not hear slander against it.

If you feel you must speak ill against one of the most delicious meal of squiddly animal bits, here is my response –

That’s right Freddy, they gonna.

Now on to serious business.

Nutmeg is often mentioned with mace which grows with nutmeg, and we will possibly cover in later posts. Nutmeg is the small little nut part encased in mace’s scarlet tendrils, inside a peach, but not a peach, shaped fruit.

Remember, nutmeg inside mace, inside fruit. The nut is often dipped in lime water to prevent sprouting. No one likes a sprouty nutmeg.

So on to the history! Of all the plants and information we have gone over, nutmeg has probably the most fascinating, dark, sordid history of death and destruction, of all the previously discussed plants. A lot of its allure was due to its highly prized medicine and culinary uses, but mostly it’s rarity. The history of nutmeg starts in the fabled East Indies, you know the ones that everyone was trying to find a water route to? Columbus and all those guys. Up until the 1800’s there was a single group of islands called the Banda Islands that provided the world’s nutmeg as part of the fabled spice islands. Their location was closely guarded secret of the Arab traders, so they could continue to sell it at high prices to the Venetian traders. The Portuguese were the first Western culture that “discovered” the location of the islands, but were unable to monopolize the trade. It wasn’t until the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) rolled in, after chasing out the Portuguese, that nutmeg’s history became very dark. At first they were seen as liberators, but then, the islanders started to realize that these VOC chaps, might actually be big fat jerks.

Nutmeg was completely monopolized by the Dutch, and the VOC even went so far as to go on yearly raids to ensure that no trees made it outside of their control. A great example of this is the island of Run, a small island the British East India Company used for their trade in nutmeg. The commander of the VOC in Banda snuck onto Run, and burned all of their nutmeg trees. Frankly a pretty dick move, and very much the creepy “if I can’t have them, no one can” sort of thing.

As time passed there was the usual colonial oppression of the local people, an impossible not to violate contract between the VOC and the native Bandas, and the eventual near genocide of the Bandas native population. All while the VOC kept prices intentionally high by occasionally setting fire to nutmeg warehouses, just to create artificial scarcity and selling nutmeg at near a 6,000 time mark up. Which, do I even need to mention this does little to help their image of being big fat jerks? Yes, yes I do.

On to happier things, like the well known saffron, nutmeg was an expensive spice and was considered quite a luxury for many centuries. It was valued as medicine since the 7th century, and it was even worn around the neck to ward off the Black Plague. And, oddly, the use for warding off Plague might have actually worked since nutmeg helps to keep fleas, which carried the plague, away.

It has history of use as a hallucinogen, of which in certain doses it is actually a powerful one, and it scares the pants of William S. Burroughs, which really says quite a lot. Nutmeg is also supposedly aphrodisiac, which everyone says that about everything rare, so it is highly unlikely you will find that effect rearing its head. Pun intended.

In the 19th its was used as an abortifacient, and this unfortunately led to many cases of accidental nutmeg poisonings. Which brings up the point of it’s toxicity, yes nutmeg is toxic in high doses, but safe enough in small amounts. Never consume more than about a teaspoon of nutmeg in a day internally. Some sites, you may find, suggest more, which I disagree strongly with the large amounts for internal use, and it is always better safe than sorry. My suggestion is, if you really feel you must increase the dose, talk to your doctor first. But again, in small doses, nutmeg is a wonderful remedy for sleeplessness, nerve pain, indigestion (mostly flatulence and other discomforts from over indulgence) and muscle spasms.

Nutmeg can be used as a mild sleep aid, it isn’t as powerful as some of the others we have discussed, but a good one you can use frequently and without worry in small amounts. To make a simple sleepy time drink, and one that is extra good for winter, is nutmeg and warm milk.

Nutmeg and Milk for Sleep

  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1 cup Milk (or milk substitute)
  • Honey to taste (optional)

Heat the milk in a pan or microwave, being careful not to scald, and add freshly grated nutmeg. Stir thoroughly, and drink still warm. Since we are close to the holiday season, eggnog could be your liquid to use here. Which you don’t have to heat if you don’t want to, and I won’t tell anyone if you put a little splash of rum in it. 😀 And that will definitely help you sleep.

Eggnog leads us into our next use for nutmeg too since it is a great way to help ease stomach discomfort and flatulence. During the holiday season we all tend to over indulge and the addition of nutmeg in these holiday foods helps to keep some of the repercussions for all that food at bay. Grate a little into your eggnog before diving into that Christmas dinner, or make sure you have a slice of pumpkin pie with some real nutmeg in it. Don’t buy ground, really for any spice, they can be adulterated with inferior products or other species, or so old they are of no use. Your tummy will thank you later. I have read a few other recipes that involve combining nutmeg with other things, even coffee, to ease the stomach or diarrhea but this sounds like it would taste horrible to me and I haven’t tried it, let me know if you do, brave soul. I just recommend adding it to your dishes and drinks, or even using the milk and nutmeg recipe listed above.

Nutmeg oil, (remember use therapeutic grade only!) is a warming oil that is great for spasms and nerve related pain. It helps to ease the spasms and numb the nerves to ease the pain. Massage oil is a great way to apply this and it is easy to make, though you can apply always apply nutmeg oil directly to the skin. Remember though, this is a warming oil, so test to see how sensitive your skin is to it before direct application.

Nutmeg Massage Oil

  • 1 oz Carrier oil
  • 20-30 drops Nutmeg oil

Mix together and massage directly into affected area. You can always blend this with other oils like mentioned in the fennel post.

I use this oil for days when I am not in a ton of pain, but I still need something to work the stiffness and minor aches out, and it works great for this sort of application, or for sore muscles after sports or exercise. I find it works well for my minor muscle spasms and helps to numb the area a bit, and this effect increases if you combine it with cloves or other oils. The smell is woody and spicy, and rather pleasant. You can also take a drop or two internally in a capsule to help with pain and nerve issues too, I don’t recommend adding the oil directly to your beverage, it can be quite overpowering in flavor.

If you would like to purchase the Nutmeg Oil I use go here, remember to use 1453322 as your sponsor number.

There are some other skin uses for nutmeg, like using grated nutmeg and milk to make a paste to treat acne, or as a chest plaster with honey for a cold, and many, many savory and sweet culinary uses. I love nutmeg in food, and enjoy recreating medieval food where it is often used, as well as other current culinary styles.

Remember nutmeg, like skullcap, is good in small doses! Do your own research, check for interactions on sites like WebMD, and educate yourself. Do your own trials with it to see what works best for you. As always if you are in doubt, even in the slightest, ask a professional!

If you would like to learn more on the history of nutmeg you can read a quick version here, and a more in depth version here, and an amusingly honest one here.


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Fennel, Aniseed’s More Famous Cousin

I have written before about anise and fennel is like it’s better known cousin. Fennel is used more for culinary purposes than medical but just like anise, it has a lot of uses. Some are similar to anise, and some are not. One big similarity is the smell and taste, this is another one of those licorice-y plants.

In historical texts there is a bit of confusion between fennel and anise, and that can cause a modern mix up when researching benefits for either. The do have some similarities in how they help but for pain the really the big difference you need to remember if you are taking this for pain – is anise is for numbing and fennel is for spasms.

Fennel was used and grown by historical cultures, Romans grew and ate it. Pliny wrote about it and had multiple uses, and believed serpents ate it before shedding. Most traditional uses are for stomach complaints, or for other culinary uses. Romans ate the young shoots, and it was frequent in French and Anglo-Saxon cooking prior to the Norman conquest. Otherwise, it is usually added to foods for the same stomach calming effects, like if you are eating cabbage, or other “hard to digest” foods like anise assists with.

Fennel though is great for spasms, the oil is great to use for those painful spasms that just won’t release. For me a massage of fennel oil into a tight muscle helps alleviate some of the pain and helps it to let go. It is also great to rub into muscles that feel tight after intense stretching or working out. I do like to rub the oil direct into muscles but you can make a massage mix for sore muscles with other oils for added muscle relaxing goodness.

Sore Muscle Massage Oil

  • 1 oz Carrier oil – any good quality oil will do, just make sure it is as pure as possible.
  • 20-30 drops Fennel oil

This is just for a straight fennel oil, which is warming, so it can be too much for delicate skin. So you may need to increase or decrease from 20 to 50 as you find works for you, but you can add in other oils in the below lists to add any of their properties.

The amounts below are in parts, you should not go above 50 drops per 1 oz of oil, so use this measurement to determine the amount of drops for each part to go in your ounce of oil. This should make it easier to increase these recipes to make larger batches, and easy to calculate if you chose to only use one oil or multiple oils depending on your needs. Make your own blend that works best for you, get creative!

Remember some of these oils are warming as well and you will need to test and find out how sensitive you are, and a few of these oils we will be covering in later posts.

As I said previously, fennel is also great for easing stomach complaints and you can make a tea from fennel seeds to ease stomach cramping and pain.

Fennel Seed Tea

  • 2 teaspoons Fennel seeds, slightly crushed
  • 8 oz Boiling water
  • optional: add a teaspoon of coriander seeds, chamomile, or peppermint to increase relief

Steep for 5 to 10 minutes and drink, should ease pain fairly quickly and is a great remedy for holiday over indulgence as that time of year is fast creeping up on us.

You can also include fennel in your food preparations to help with digestion, extra boost of pain relief, and even lactose intolerance. I like to include fennel seeds on pizza when I make them to help deal with my lactose intolerance, and it helps to reduce the pain and cramping that comes with eating dairy. You can also include it with things like the previously mentioned cabbage to decrease the “wind” that most cabbage causes. Another way is eating the fennel bulb, it does contain the same oil but you do need to consume more. It tastes so good though that is not much of a chore, as long as you don’t hate licorice, and I love this recipe I got from Williams-Sonoma, Braised Fennel with Olive Oil and Garlic and since it has garlic, it is a great meal to help take the edge off pain.

  • 4 fennel bulbs, about 2 lb. total
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp. ground fennel seeds
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 lemon peel strip, about 2 inches long
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon wedges for garnish

Directions:

Cut off the stalks and feathery fronds from the fennel bulbs. Reserve the stalks for another use. Chop enough of the feathery fronds to measure 1 Tbs. and reserve some of the remaining fronds for garnish. Set aside. Remove any damaged outer leaves from the bulbs and discard. Cut each bulb into quarters lengthwise and trim away the tough inner core.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute; do not brown. Add the fennel quarters and the fennel seeds. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel begins to soften, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the water and lemon peel, cover and cook until the fennel is tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fennel to a serving platter and keep warm. Increase the heat to high and cook until only 3/4 cup liquid remains, about 5 minutes. Discard the lemon peel. Add the lemon juice, then taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

Drizzle the sauce over the fennel and garnish with lemon wedges. Sprinkle with the chopped fennel tops and garnish with the whole fennel fronds. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Seasonal Celebration Series, Autumn, by Joanne Weir (Time-Life Books, 1997).
One final use I personally love fennel for is just 2-3 drops in a capsule prior to eating, and I can eat any amount of dairy I want. The pain and stomach cramping that comes with eating dairy doesn’t come on after taking fennel. It is strong enough that I can eat alfredo sauce, which I couldn’t previously using over the counter medications for lactose intolerance.
Remember you always need to do your own trials and tests and make sure you are checking for interactions with anything else you take on sites like WebMD. Educate yourself and make sure you understand what you are taking, if you are ever in doubt ask a professional!


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What to do with Chamomile?

Chamomile, an herb I am sure everyone should have at least heard of once. It is a common ingredient in most prepared “sleepy” teas, you know things like cubby wubby womb room…

wooooooooah-man!

But chamomile is so much more! Historically it has been used by the Egyptians, who associated the sunny flowers with the sun gods, used it to treat fevers. The Romans used it for headaches and urinary tract disorders. Pliny the Elder also wrote about and recommended it to his students. It has been grown for generations in English gardens and used for stomach disorders and treating intestinal parasites on the European continent. In Spain and Mexico it is known as Manzanilla, which means little apple, a common name due to its smell, and is used for hair rinses. If you have blond hair, it will enhance highlights and makes a great addition to shampoos or a rinse. But sadly, it is another one of those plants that everyone seems to know of, but not much about.

First we need to make clear the different types of chamomile.

What?! There are different types of chamomile?!

whatchoo

Yes! There are many types of chamomile, in fact nine in all, but there are only a few that we will be concerned with here. The biggest problem with chamomile is that it has so many common names, that it can become confusing to a novice. So I will be listing the Latin names, and then the most common “vulgar” names. You will notice that these are different species, but the properties of some are extremely similar.

ProTip: You will find that most packaged chamomile is only labeled as just Chamomile, and it will probably be either a blend of the Roman and German, or more likely just German. Roman is slightly more difficult to find, but most good quality herb stores will carry it and designate between the two.

Matricaria chamomilla – A.K.A. German Chamomile, Hungarian Chamomile, scented mayweed

the mugshot

Like all chamomile, this is a well known sleep aid, it is great to add to skullcap teas, holy basil teas, or mix the oils (or flowers) with lavender and Epsom salts for a relaxing bath. It is noticeably different as an essential oil from its Roman cousin, as German has a distinct blue color and Roman oil is yellow to pale yellow, or pale blue even. German is better for anti-inflammatory, but shares most of the same properties as Roman.  You can use both internally and externally, but this specific species is the most studied strain of chamomile by modern science. Remember – if you try one, and don’t get good results, you can almost always try the other and see if it works better.

It has a lovely straw scent, apple if you use Roman, that goes well with lavender and hops in herb pillows to help with sleep. My all time favorite uses for this is an anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, and a mild analgesic. A hot compress of chamomile can ease spasmed muscles reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, and a hot compress is just about the loveliest thing you have ever experienced when you have nagging persistent muscle spasms. If you don’t get good results with any of the below remedies, scroll down to Roman.

Chamomile Hot Compress

  • 1 tablespoon of dried chamomile
  • 1/2 c boiling water
  • towel (or other absorbent cloth)
  • bowl

Steep the chamomile in the boiling water for 1o minutes, remove herbs and reheat if necessary and soak towel in warm liquid (or go as hot as you can stand, be careful not to scald yourself). Apply the towel to the affected area and leave on until cools and re-heat and apply again as necessary. It also works great if you have puffy eyes!

As I said before you can mix this with lavender, or other herbs for a relaxing bath, but it is great just on its own.

Chamomile Bath

  • 8 tablespoons of dried chamomile
  • 4 cups boiling water

Steep chamomile in boiling water for about 10 minutes and add to a drawn bath. You can include the chamomile itself in the bath to help increase its potency. This is great not only for sore or spasmed muscles, but also great for alleviating stress. A great bath to have right before bed to ensure a restful sleep.

ProTip: If you can only find chamomile tea in pre-made tea bags you can use 8 teabags for the bath, and 2-4 for the compress.

Chamomile Bath Salts

  • 5c Epsom Salts
  • 5-10 drops Chamomile Essential Oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried Chamomile flowers per cup of salts (just like lavender you can add as much or little of these as you like)

Mix well and store in dry place, you would use about a cup per bath. You can add the additional items listed in the lavender post if you like, but this works great as is. This and the plain chamomile bath are great for menstrual cramps.

As we have said, chamomile works great for muscle spasms and you can use it to treat cramps, you can also use the essential oil topically on the abdomen to treat cramps or stomach issues, as well as for muscle pains. It works great as an addition to massage oils as well to help de-stress and relieve tension.

I highly recommend this German chamomile oil, if you go with another brand make sure it is a therapeutic grade essential oil.

Chamaemelum nobile – A.K.A Roman Chamomile, Noble Chamomile, camomile, English Chamomile, garden chamomile, ground apple

the mugshot

This is a brother from another mother of German chamomile, it has all the great antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, stress, sleep and pain relief properties and will work measured in the same amounts for all the above listed recipes. It is much better, I find, at lifting the mood, soothing sore muscles and topical pain. Both are good for sleeping, menstrual pain, and really are almost interchangeable.

Chamomile Tea for Sleep

  • 1/2 oz of dried chamomile
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • honey or other sweetener to taste

Steep for 10 minutes for a sleepy tea, preferably in a covered teacup or teapot multiply all amounts by 4 if you are brewing in a teapot. It is said that if you suffer from persistent nightmares this is a sure-fire remedy for sleeping well.

Chamomile Tea for Digestion

  • 1/2 oz dried chamomile
  • 2 cup boiling water

Steep this for 20 minutes and drink to settle the stomach, if it is upset from medications or pain. A few slices of ginger can be included and is rather pleasant with chamomile. This tea is great for cramping in the digestive tract or other digestive muscle issues, since it will deal with the muscle spasms as well as reducing inflammation.

Chamomile helps in healing wounds and is a great antibacterial wash for cuts, or surgery incisions if you want a mild way to help keep them clean. Just make the tea for sleep and wash affected area, or for some whole body healing from something like chicken pox, to help with healing the skin, the bath recipe in the German chamomile section works quite well.

Again, the topical application of the essential oils is great for topical pain, and I personally prefer this over German for my pain. You can apply directly, with a carrier oil, or with a hot compress (listed above).

Chamomile Essential Oil for Topical Pain

  • 1-2 drops of chamomile essential oils
  • slightly damp hot towel

Rub oil directly into painful area, or place a few drops on heated towel and apply directly to painful area. This works well for menstrual cramps too.

I have read of but not used a topical pain compress that can be made of 10 parts chamomile to 5 parts poppy flowers steeped in water and then applied for pain. I hope to give this a try sometime soon to see how effective it is.

For the Roman chamomile essential oil I use go here, again if you go with another brand make sure it is a therapeutic grade essential oil.

Additional Reading:

For information about chamomile by Georgetown school of pharmacology on German and Roman chamomile are a great read and informative.

For more medical information about the chemicals chamomile contains by a PhD from Campbell (pharmaceutical university) go here.

Warning!

If you are allergic to Ragweed, you should do a skin test patch prior to using chamomile. You should test ALL herbal remedies for allergies and interactions, but this one especially so for Ragweed. You should be careful with chamomile (and peppermint) if you suffer from acid re-flux and should consult a professional before taking chamomile. Also as chamomile can cause uterine contractions it is best for pregnant women to avoid taking it internally, though if you are absolutely set on using it speak with your doctor first.

Always check for interactions, resources like WebMD for Roman and WebMD for German are useful. Do your own trials and find what works best for you, and if you are ever in doubt about anything at all, ask a professional!