Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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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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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!