Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Helichrysum, Immortal & Everlasting

Well, back to the old game of “we are going to poke and prod you for a bit” with the doctors. Looks like my CRPS has spread to another part of me, since its a diagnosis of exclusions we have to rule out everything before we are 100% sure its my CRPS taking over more ground. But, it will never take me down! Especially since it is bluebonnet season here in Texas, one of my favorite times of year.

My energetic recovery helper sitting among some lovely bluebonnets.

My energetic recovery helper sitting next to some lovely bluebonnets.

Everyone should grow herbs, not only is it satisfying to grow and harvest something you planted as a seed, but it is handy for cooking and medicinal uses. If you have only the space for a balcony or window garden, or just don’t have time for that gardening thing, there are a few plants you should absolutely should still make the effort to grow. Aloe, mint, rosemary, basil and helichrysum. They are all multipurpose useful plants that are fairly hardy (that means hard to kill them) and easy to grow…and grow they will, like mad. The one you probably didn’t recognize was helichrysum this fantastic and sadly not as famous as it should be little herb is native to the Mediterranean, and Africa. But because it was so useful, it spread quickly to the rest of the world and now it is used worldwide for skin, pain and nerve conditions.

Helichrysum_italicum_spp_serotinum.002_-_Islas_Cies

Happy little flowers of sunshine!

The name we use for it now comes from Greek, helios or Sun, from the Titan of myth, Helios, that drove the shining golden chariot of the sun, and chrysos for gold, or golden, which refers to the bright sunny flowers that are a trademark of this plant. This sunny little plant, which is a relative of the daisy, got it’s other common names of Immortelle and Everlasting from the flower’s retention of their bright yellow color when dried, and this might be why the dried flowers were used as offerings by the Greeks. The Romans used it to treat word cuts, and was also used traditionally in the Mediterranean to treat colds and chest ailments. Used as a strewing herb in the Middle Ages, it was also used in folk healing for skin conditions and healing scars. In Africa it has a traditional use of treating rheumatism, since it is a wonderful anti-inflammatory, and was known as Geelsewejaartjie which translates roughly to “bright yellow flowers that last seven years in the house.” It is also said it is one of the herbs used by Moses to help protect the Israelites from the plagues in the Old Testament.

Later on in Italy its curry-like flavor made it a widely used culinary addition, it does have a curry like smell, but the taste is more bitter like sage or wormwood. Different parts of the plants such as the young shoots and leaves are stewed with meat or vegetables to impart their flavor. It also is a fairly powerful cat repellent, but since it is poisonous to felines (and will take over any where it is planted) it should be planted with caution, and mindfulness of where kitties tend to venture.

Before we get into how you can use helichrysum, a note on the different species. There are a lot of different species of helichrysum, like hundreds of them, and generally they all tend to have the same properties. There are a few species you shouldn’t, but if you purchase this from a reputable herb dealer/company that states on the labeling that it is safe for ingestion, it should be fine to consume teas or other things made from these herbs or flowers. If it does not explicitly state it is safe for internal use, I would see if the dealer can clear that up, or research the full Latin name (genus and species, and sub-species where necessary) of the helichrysum to make sure it is safe to ingest. If you get to that point, be smart and also consult an herbalist to make sure you aren’t endangering yourself.

This is a plant you can class with lavender and chamomile, generally gentle on the skin, and good for the skin, as well as anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-spasmodic properties. It also rivals arnica for its treatment of bruises, and is a great antiseptic. Chemically it contains a lot of neat stuff, one of the reasons it is so good to have around all the time. There are a few we have discussed before, and some that are new. Since it is a lot of information I have listed them in groups, to make it easy:

Pain & Swelling (or Sport Injury) Compress

  • 4 tablespoons dried Helichrysum flowers
  • 16 oz Boiling water
  • Bowl and towel

Steep for 10 minutes, and allow to cool until very warm, but not hot. Soak towel in the tincture and wring out excess liquid. Place on painful or swollen area to reduce swelling and alleviate pain. You can also throw in a few tablespoons of chamomile, rue, or lavender to help with the swelling and pain. This is a great remedy for nerve pain and the warmth is very soothing.

ProTip: This is also a great way to treat sunburns or wind chapped skin.

Helichrysum Tea

  • 1-2 teaspoons dried Helichrysum flowers
  • 8 oz  Boiling water

Steep for about 4-5 minutes in a covered tea cup, or if you double this you can brew it in a teapot. Remember to purchase the dried flowers from a reputable dealer that can guarantee they are from a species that is known to be safe to ingest, if you are going to grow and dry your own do your research and make sure you are buying the right species when you purchase seeds. This can also help reduce stress, and is great with Tulsi, lemon balm or lavender.

Much easier to acquire is the oil, which is made from the flowers. Make sure you check the species used to make the oils before you purchase it, I suggest dealers like Native American Nutritionals, YoungLiving, and Mountain Rose Herbs, since they tend to lead the pack with quality. And cover a range of prices, this is a pretty expensive oil (like lemon balm) but is totally worth the investment. (If the oils are too expensive, definitely invest in some seeds to grow and dry your own or purchase them dried from a reputable local/online herb dealer.)

Helichrysum Massage Oil

  • 1 oz Carrier oil
  • 10-20 drops Helichrysum essential oil

Mix and store in a light proof container, massage into painful area for relief. This is a great way to treat pain of joints and muscles, as well as inflammation of the skin, muscles and joints. You can also rub this on your skin all over if you use a carrier oil your skin likes (something like olive, coconut, jojoba, or sweet almond), it helps to even tone and generally help skin look fantastic. If you have scars (from surgeries or otherwise), or stretch marks you can massage this into them to help reduce the redness and visibility of scars.

Helichrysum Quick Salve

  • 2 oz Coconut oil
  • 10-20 drops Helichrysum essential oil

Using a whisk attachment, whip coconut oil until soft and creamy. Once it looks light and creamy, start dropping in your essential oils one drop at a time while continuing to whisk. Store in an airtight jar, or clean re-usable container.

Helichrysum Salve

  • 1/3 c Oil (Vegetable based, not canola oil)
  • 1/3 oz Bees Wax, granulated or grated
  • 5-10 drops Helichrysum oil

Heat oil in double boiler, slowly add in beeswax and stir constantly until fully melted and combined. Remove from heat and add drop by drop essential oils while continuing to mix. Pour into containers and allow to cool, store sealed. Makes a great small salve to pop into a purse, pocket or carry on for on the go pain application. Check out the Eucalyptus post if you want more salve details and container suggestions.

Both of these salves are great to rub into sore joints, or painful areas just like the massage oil especially the quick salve since it works in place of oil for massages. While the beeswax salve is more anytime and user friendly application,  keep a jar of these in your purse or gym bag to treat bumps, bruises, sprains and twists that happen unexpectedly, or as your go to pain remedy when you are on the move. It is also good for wounds helping by to heal them, as well as reduce the likelihood of scars. If you have a scar already this is great to massage in to reduce its redness, and is a little less messy than using the oil. Also, both of these treat burns extremely well, you can combine it with aloe, lavender or chamomile for burns and sunburns.

ProTip: Like lavender, chamomile, copaiba, and frankincense its good for skin to keep it lovely, treat eczema and psoriasis, as well as other skin fungal infections. For soaps and lotions it blends well with bergamot, chamomile, clary sage, lavender and citrus scents.

Finally, I always love a food that is also medicine, since nothing is better than food that makes you feel good inside and out. The fresh young leaves and shoots are great used fresh as an addition to salads, placed in fish for steaming (remember to remove before serving), a great addition to a beef marinade. You can bruise the young leaves and add them to onions that you are caramelizing to use for burger, taco, curry or any sort of onion dish. Also, chopped leaves added to cream cheese and mixed well spread on good bread is a fantastic spread, and can even be used for sandwiches, smoked or grilled salmon goes great with this too.

This is a plant that is considered “mostly harmless” that doesn’t mean to carelessly ingest it or to treat it without respect. Even water is poisonous if you have too much. Always make sure you know which species, or sub-species, you are purchasing before even considering any sort of internal use. Generally it is safe for external use, again in reasonable quantities, just use common sense! Remember to do your research and to check for interactions, like on WebMD (or other sites if you have a different species than the one listed on WebMD), and if you are in doubt at all ask a professional!

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Borage, the Starflower, Brings Always Courage

What a busy week! I have been enjoying my new freedom now that my marathon migraine from December has been banished. Now though things are settling back into routine, but it has been a great reminder that keeping your spirits up while you are hurting is so very important. So the bringer of courage, borage is the natural herb to discuss.

Borage, or Borago officinalis, probably not a plant most people in the States are familiar with, but very common, in Europe, Middle East and in the UK. This plant originally comes from the Mediterranean area, and the generally blue star shaped flowers is where it gets it’s common name of starflower. Other names are: bee bread, ox’s tongue, Herb of Gladness, and cool tankard (from its cooling effect in drinks in the days before ice beverages were common). Traditionally borage leaf is eaten in Mediterranean areas, it adds an almost cucumber like flavor to soups, sauces, salads, even as pasta filling. The infamous Pimms cocktail was originally garnished with borage flowers, but has in modern times been replaced by mint. Borage flowers are one of the few truly edible blue flowers, and has a sweet, almost a cucumbery, honey taste. They are quite delicious candied and added to desserts.

picture by Jengod

The ever so lovely starflower

Pliny the Elder wrote of borage that it dispels melancholy, there is a long tradition that borage helps to “gladden the heart” or help to generally improve the mood by relieving anxiety or tension. It for that reason is recommended by Culpeper for chronic illness sufferers, since this can wear on emotions. Gerard wrote:

“Pliny calls it Euphrosinum, because it maketh a man merry and joyfull: which thing also the old verse concerning Borage doth testifie:
Ego Borago – (I, Borage)
Gaudia semper ago. – (Bring alwaies courage.)”

This sturdying effect for emotions is possibly where it gets its name from, its thought from the Latin Borago, a corruption of corago. From cor for ‘the heart”, and ago “I bring.” Its fortifying effects made it a tea that was taken by Greek soldiers prior to battle to help give them courage. Another etymological origin is it could be derived from the Celtic word borrach which means  a brave or courageous person. Dioscorides and Pliny both speculate that borage is the famous Nepenthe mentioned by Homer, that when drunk in wine becomes “that which chases away sorrow,” making it the herb of forgetfulness. The addition of borage to wine was used up until the Middle Ages, where the flowers and leaves were added to wines to help dispel sadness. The leaves of borage are traditionally used in the Middle East to treat chest colds and ailments, and it is thought that borage tea can help more oxygen to reach the heart.

Borage is an anti-inflammatory which will help to reduce pain and even in some cases to reduce any man made steroids that have been prescribed. This is also a great herb for post surgery inflammation, and to help with inflammation from allergies. The reason it works well as an anti-inflammatory is borage has high levels, in fact one of the highest plant sources available, of GLA. GLA is Gamma-Linolenic acid and is processed by the body into different things, but most importantly prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are part of the body’s immune system and helps to fight inflammation. Most plants that carry large amounts of GLA are usually used by the natives for treating swelling issues. Native Americans used evening primroses, another plant source of GLA, to treat swelling traditionally. This is a fairly gentle herb, but it can cause toxicity issues if taken over an extended period of time, it should not be taken for longer than a month. The fresh leaves are preferred for most preparations, but dried works in a pinch. Young leaves are best for eating fresh like in salads, yogurt, sandwiches, or for cold beverages and teas. The older leaves can be cooked, like in Spain where it is commonly with potatoes. We have previously discussed how very important it is to keep your spirits up when dealing with chronic pain issues, and this is another great herb to add to your de-stress arsenal. Plus it is a two for one herb, got to love efficiency!

Simple Borage Tea

  • 1 tablespoon of bruised young leaves
  • 8 oz Boiling water

If you are unable to get fresh, 1 teaspoon of dried leaves will work just as well. Steep for 5-10 minutes, in a covered teacup or increase for steeping in a teapot. This is a fantastic tea to relieve inflammation, or just boost your spirits during a tough time, and to help reduce anxiety or fatigue from over work.

Since this is such a good pairing with cooling drinks, during a hot summers day the mix of lemon and the slight hint of cucumber borage brings is a great way to cool down.

Borage Lemonade

  • 1/4 c fresh squeezed Lemon juice
  • a tablespoon of honey (more or less can be used depending on how sweet you like things)
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 3-4 young borage leaves

For the lemon juice, quality and freshness is key, take the time to squeeze your lemons fresh you will notice the difference. Put all ingredients in a blender, blend until smooth. Strain and serve cold, borage flowers can be used as a garnish if you feel fancy. This recipe can also be increased for large numbers of people, and is a refreshing way to cool off on a hot afternoon. Not to mention it will help relieve any stress you are feeling.

Borage Cocktail

  • 3-5 young Borage leaves
  • 1 teaspoon of Simple Syrup (or less depending on how sweet you like things)
  • a shot of Gin (vodka or white rum works fine too)
  • Tonic, Club Soda, or Sparkling water
  • Lemon wedges

Muddle leaves in a highball glass and fill with ice, add shot of gin and the simple syrup. Fill glass the rest of the way with the fizzy water and add the lemon wedge. This is just about the most restorative drink you can have after a rough week.

ProTip: If you feel very fancy you can fill an ice cube tray halfway with water, freeze, and place borage flowers on them and cover with water the rest of the way. Freeze and serve in Borage Lemonade or in a Borage Cocktail.

And since wine was always a common vehicle for borage I have found this recipe floating around (claimed by a few different authors), but have not tried it myself, but did make a few changes because pink champagne is disgusting in my personal opinion. If you do try this let me know what you think!

Borage Wine Cup (Punch)

  • 5/8 cup Brandy
  • 1/8 cup Sugar
  • 3 1/4 cup Dry White Wine
  • 5/8 cup Orange Juice
  • 1 cup Crushed ice
  • 3 1/4 cup Champagne (or Sparkling Wine)
  • 1 cup Lemonade
  • 1 cup Ginger Ale
  • 1/4 cup Borage leaves, chopped
  • Borage flowers for garnish or flower ice cubes, orange slices

Combine brandy, sugar, wine, orange juice and crushed ice. Keep chilled until right before serving, this can be made in advance and whole orange slices can be added. Just before serving combine chilled champagne, lemonade, ginger ale (home made is best for this), borage leaves and add to existing punch. Serve chilled with borage flowers, or with borage flower ice cubes.

You can like mentioned previously just throw a few young leaves on your sandwich, or in a glass of water you would like to jazz up a bit. Dicing 3-4 leaves goes great in yogurt, and you can even throw them into your smoothies if you are looking for an on the go fix.

Now besides the leaves and flowers, the seeds of borage are used as well to make borage seed oil. Now there is some controversy around borage seed oil, since there was some marketing for it to treat eczema, for which there does not seem to be any evidence of it treating and this bad PR has followed poor borage ever since. Borage seed oil is a great way to keep borage around in a form that is more functional and retains more medicinal properties than the dried herb. Borage seed oil is in some ways a more condensed version of the plant itself. The oil has very high concentrations of the important GLA but it also has another important fatty acid, nervonic. This is a fatty acid that is used by the body to create the coating around nerve cell’s axons called myelin. Myelin is basically like the coating around a wire, it helps to prevent “signal loss” and allows nerve cells to function properly when sending nerve signals. Now in some nerve disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, this myelin layer can break down, or even disappear completely. CRPS has many symptoms similar to multiple sclerosis, and is a nerve issue, so it is possible that borage could be beneficial for CRPS symptoms. So far I have had good results, and I find that my nerve pain overall is more manageable when I use it, but time will tell though if this can be called an herb to assist with CRPS.

The one issue I have run into to borage seed oil is it is usually sold in pre-made preparations, it is important to do your research on a brand for yourself. Make sure you know that you are buying a pure product, as additives can cause unwanted side-effects. I would suggest using this as topically only, while there has been evidence shown that the seed oil does not contain high levels of the alkaloids that can cause liver toxicity, it is always better to be safe than sorry. A lot of local herb stores will carry borage seed oils, and your grocery or health stores will carry them as well. I tend to purchase mine from these locations and have had good results so far with it. Again, I have only used this topically, if you are sure you want to try this internally, I would suggest consulting your doctor, or herbal professional, before starting a regimen.

With any herbal remedy, you need to use caution. Borage has some components that if taken continuously over an extended period of time can cause health issues. It does have Pyrrolizidine alkaloid, in the fresh plant, which can start to become toxic after prolonged use, and some of the hairs on the leaves can be irritating to those with sensitive skin. Do your own research and see if this might be a good herb for you, always check WebMD for any reactions. And if ever in doubt about anything at all, ask a professional! 

For some more interesting borage recipes 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!