Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Wintergreen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wintergreen Infusion (tea) for Compresses

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

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

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

Wintergreen Tincture

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

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

Wintergreen Massage Oil

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

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

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

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

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


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Rue, the Herb of Grace

Oh the fickle Texas weather! It is wrecking havoc with my nerves and muscles, not to mention giving me some wicked migraines. But at least we only shut down for a day unlike Atlanta! ūüôā Very soon the delicious warm spring will be here. Aaaaah warm sunny days!

This sort of weather makes it a great time to talk about rue. Rue is a plant not well known outside gardening circles usually, and sometimes not even known at all since it isn’t the prettiest of plants, and it has lost some popularity in modern times. Ruta graveolens has yellow flowers and seemingly unassuming blueish green leaves, and tends to be better known in its Mediterranean homelands. Rue is still eaten in salads in Italy, Ethiopia, and Greeks were well known for using it in culinary ways, as well as medicinal. Though it seems unassuming this little plant has a lot of uses, and I suggest not passing it by!

Photo by Kurt St√ľber

If you skip it you will rue the day, see what I did there! ūüėČ

Many of the Greeks believe that rue is a charm against magic, and ate it at meals with strangers so they wouldn’t get cursed, or as we would say – get wind. Aristotle mentions he thinks this is absolute rubbish, and that the Greeks just didn’t like strangers, ate too fast, and got wind that way. Pliny says, or is said to say, that it improves poor, or over-strained eyesight, and this is why it was consumed by painters. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were supposed to be some of its more famous consumers, this is questionable though and may be just historical hear-say. Many cultures also used it to treat strained eyesight, and is really quite soothing when applied to the forehead for eyestrain headaches, or tension headaches.

In the Middle Ages this was another bittering herb that was used to add that bitter note to beers before hops became popular. Many of the other uses of rue in the Middle Ages were, like the Greeks, for¬†warding off, or working witchcraft. But it was thought to ward off plague, and for this it is part of the Four Thieves vinegar, and is featured in many other plague preparations. It possibly got this witchy tradition has carried down from the Greeks, but also possibly came from its rather pungent smell that can be unpleasant to some and bad smells were thought to drive certain spirits away. I find it has a smell much like citronella, and works great in a garden to ward off deer, cats, and other unwanted garden guests. Like many plants it has multiple “vulgar” names, it is known as rue, common rue, and herb of grace. It probably got its herb of grace name from being used to sprinkle holy water during the Roman Catholic ceremony of Asperges.¬†After it crossed the Atlantic to the New World, it became used in spiritual cleansing and sweeping away of “negative vibrations” in the Catholic influenced Latin American shamans called curanderos. Its leaves are thought to have inspired the clubs suit symbol in modern playing cards, which originated in France, and its shape even graces the coat of arms of Saxony.

Its young shoots are quite good in a salad. But harvesting is difficult, this herb that seems so mild actually has a rather effective defense. Cutting into this plant releases its sap, which has the fascinating ability to cause almost poison ivy like symptoms if it is exposed to sunlight (well technically ultraviolet light) while on your skin. This ability has the fancy name of phytophotodermatitis (phyto – plant, photo – light, dermatitis – disease of the skin), if you are going to grow and harvest your own be sure to treat rue like a citrus tree. Wear long sleeves, gloves, and use soap and water, and dark spaces to treat if any sap gets on the skin. If you choose to use fresh in a remedy, be careful and test for allergic reactions first.

It is that bitter note of rue that is what makes it good medicine, it contains rutin which is an anti-inflammatory chemical. This is probably where its early association for the treatment of sciatica pain came from. Rue can be applied as a compress to painful areas, and can alleviate swelling in sore muscles. It also contains pretty high levels of coumarin, which we discussed in the cinnamon post, and other chemical compounds that make it great for relieving nerve and muscle pain, as well as reducing inflammation.

Rue Compress

  • 16 oz Boiling water
  • 2-3 tablespoons Dried rue (you can use fresh in the same amounts)
  • Towel

Steep in the boiling water for 5-10 minutes, and allow to cool enough to be comfortable to apply to the skin. Soak the towel, or a rag, in the liquid and apply to painful area. Traditionally this is used to treat sciatica pain, and sometimes eyestrain, but it can also be applied to swollen areas, painful muscles, or areas of nerve pain. It works great for treating these pains, and the smell can be rather relaxing for some people. It is kind of musty smelling, but some people like it a lot. If you use fresh rue, do a test patch first to make sure it wont irritate your skin. Again, this is a great forehead compress for tension headaches, headaches from eyestrain, or just generally overtired eyes.

Rue Massage Oil

  • 20-30 drops RutaVaLa¬†(I recommend using only this specific oil, since it is difficult to find pure, safe rue oils)
  • 1 oz Carrier oil

Mix well and store in a container that prevents light exposure. Massage directly into painful area for muscle relaxation, sleep, and stress relief. This is a great massage oil to alleviate pain and discomfort right before bed time, and the valerian and lavender in the RutaVaLa will help to bring sleep quickly. There is a Roll-On version that is already diluted that is good for an on the go solution.

Like skullcap, rue quickly runs over into the toxic levels if you add too much to internal preparations. For this reason I suggest avoiding taking rue in teas or tinctures, even if you prepare them yourself. If you absolutely want to use rue internally I recommend 2 things. First, never more than 1 teaspoon of rue per 8 oz of water, and do not take more than 1 time every 8 hours. Second, consult an herbalist, and a physician, for advice and approval of your use of rue internally. Otherwise I would suggest, most of the time, using external preparations for pain and inflammation.

Now that said, I do recommend cooking with rue. You still must stick to the sparing use rules you would in herbal medicine but the amounts combined with heat of cooking (or heat from friction in a blender) will help to break down some of the more noxious chemicals that cause so much worry.

Moretum (Roman Garlic Herb Cheese Dip)

  • 4 garlic bulbs (Roasted whole, or if you like Garlic raw)
  • 1 1/2 cups Feta Cheese
  • 3 Celery sticks, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 to 1 cup Cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 c Fresh young rue leaves, roughly chopped (you can use dried about 2-3 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons Olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons White wine (drier the better)
  • 1 tablespoon wine vinegar (red or white works)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Add garlic, herbs, cheese, and celery into a food processor (or sturdy blender) and start to puree. Mix the oil, wine and vinegar in a measuring cup, or easy to pour from vessel, and drizzle in slowly. You will want to see a smooth evenly mixed paste form. You may need to scrape the sides down of the processor a few times. Serve with additional drizzle of olive oil on top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. This goes great with crackers, pita bread, or just with some crusty bread to dip in it. Since cilantro is hated by some people you can substitute parsley or even sage for it in this dish. If you want to be sure your rue is safe, you can quickly blanch them and sprinkle with salt to help break things down further, and rid it of some of its bitterness. This is one of those dishes you can eat when you have gotten tired of other ant-inflammatory foods, since food is the best way to take your medicine!

Rue Omelette

  • 2 tsp dried Rue, or fresh rue finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried Parsley
  • 1 tablespoon Oregano (Dittany of Crete, or Marjoram I have seen used here as well)
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 1-2 tablespoons Milk
  • ¬†Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Oil for cooking (butter works great too)

Whisk eggs and milk together until creamy yellow in color. Add in herbs and wisk to combine. In a heated skillet with oil or butter melted, pour in egg mixture and rotate pan ensuring that the egg coats the whole bottom of the pan. Once the bottom has cooked, tilt the pan forward and roll furthest corner over, tilt again and roll center over, creating the triple fold. Cook until egg is firm, garnish with additional parsley if desired. Again you can use salted, blanched rue leaves for this too.

I can not stress enough to treat this herb with respect and care, as you should all herbal medicines. Anything can become a poison if taken in the wrong amounts. So do your research, do your own trials since everyone reacts differently, and make sure to educate yourself. Remember no one will do it for you! As always make sure you check WebMD for interactions and if you have the slightest doubt, ask a professional!

There is a great list of rue recipes here, and they have a great recipe for a Rue Mead, better known as English Sack. I highly recommend you trying one of them.

 


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Sweet Marjoram, the Herb of Aphrodite

Lesser known than it’s cousin oregano, marjoram has never quite gotten its time in the limelight. While both are members of that ever useful plant family mint, oregano gets top billing. But the humble little marjoram is no less important in mythology, cooking, or herbal medicine than oregano.

The uses of marjoram, like many herbs, seem to be so old as to be lost in the mists of time, we do know this great little plant originated in the Middle East and Mediterranian areas. It spread West from there, and was well known to all of the big name historical cultures – the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and many others. Most people will know it best from its flavor in blends, like Herbs de Provence and Za’atar. But nothing in life is every easy, so to make things more confusing, in antiquity marjoram and oregano were sometimes referred to interchangeably. Due to this it, can be confusing to read older texts about marjoram, and while they didn’t mind the change out, you though,¬†do want to avoid using the wrong species. Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is usually called Sweet Marjoram, and Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is usually listed as Oregano or Wild Marjoram, it is important to distinguish between the two since they do have different properties. Marjoram is sweeter and more mild than oregano, and they look slightly different.

Photo from BonAppetit.com

Make sure you could pick marjoram out in a line-up!

Marjoram has been used for centuries by humans in many ways. An early reference to marjoram is its depiction on Hittite tablets, and there is another record of the use of marjoram in the Ebers Papyrus.¬†Which if you aren’t hip to ancient Egyptian Medical papyri, is the oldest and all around awesome Egyptian medical papyrus. The Egyptians were using marjoram oil as a way to treat ear infections, as an antiseptic, and was used in their embalming, and worn in rituals for the god Osiris. In Greece it was more associated with Aphrodite (Venus), who was supposed to have created oregano and marjoram and loved them greatly, which means both were included in wedding and funeral rituals. It is said that if marjoram grows on a grave the deceased is happy, or will have a pleasant afterlife. Greeks, Romans and even during the Middle Ages in Europe marjoram was used to crown couples, or the bride, during marriage ceremonies. Also during the Middle Ages it was used as a “strewing” herb, meaning one of the many herbs, like other herbs I’ve mentioned, that were added to reeds or straw on the floor to produce a sweet smell when stepped on, think early air fresheners. Marjoram was also added to beers before hops use became prevalent, since it is a good antiseptic. There was even a belief in Prussia that thunder could cause milk to sour, which was remedied by placing a sprig of marjoram next to the milk.

Marjoram is one of those herbs that never seems to not work with meat, it pretty much goes with every sort from fish to beef. It does go well with breads and vegetables, but desserts are not its strong point. Otherwise it is a highly useful herb. It’s popularity in America has to do with returning GI’s and their taste for Italian food, and of course marjoram came along with that. Another well known use is for vocalists, or singers, they are known to use the herb as a tea, or an inhalant, to help to preserve the voice, or treat laryngitis. It probably worked so well since it has an anti-inflammatory nature, is an analgesic, and has antiseptic qualities, this means it is a great addition (as an oil) to sore throat sprays for colds, laryngitis, or just a seasonal scratchy throat.

Chemically marjoram contains many compounds that make it great for herbal medicine uses. Marjoram contains carvacrol for anti-fungal, and antibacterial, as well as champor, borneol and various terpenoids¬†for numbing and analgesic properties. Its analgesic qualities make it great for topical or internal use for pain of all sorts, and this is one herb that is fairly safe in small quantities over a long period of time. Its oils have been used for centuries to help treat inflammatory pain in joints and muscles, most frequently used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Topical application of these oils definitely helps with muscle spasm pain, and brings healing warmth to it as this is another warming oil. Remember bringing additional blood to an injured area helps it to heal faster, this is using the body’s natural healing system to help things along. It is also an antispasmodic so it helps to tell tight muscles to relax and release the tension from spasms, stress, or just over exertion.

Marjoram Massage Oil

  • 1 oz Carrier Oil (Sweet Almond, Avocado, Olive, etc)
  • 20-30 drops Sweet Marjoram oil (use 10-15 for this and additional oils if you decide to make a blend)

Mix well and store in a dark container, massage directly into sore muscles or joint. Avoid sensitive areas, this is a warming oil and can irritate. This is great for muscle pain and spasms as well as muscles exhausted and sore from exercise, as well as lady cramps. Since this is a warming oil

ProTip: To the above recipe instead of 20-30 drops add 10-15 of marjoram, and then add 10-15 of one or a few of these oils lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus. These will all add to the existing calming, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties of marjoram.

SleepyProTip: A great sleep blend is a drop of lavender and a drop of marjoram rubbed into the temples.

Since marjoram its an antispasmodic it also helps to sooth and calm a cramping digestive tract. Used internally or rubbed into the abdomen, it can relieve stomach and intestinal cramps. This is a great way to treat lactose intolerance as well! For stomach complaints, or just as an internal pain remedy, you can add 2-3 drops of marjoram oil to a gel capsule and take it. You can combine it with other oils like fennel or chamomile for stomach complaints, or with frankincense or lavender for spasms and pain.

If you are going to take an essential oil internally only use therapeutic grade essential oils, I recommend this one.

Or you can make a tea infusion, it is rather nice like a rosemary tea. Very fresh and vegetative tasting, remember though making it with fresh marjoram is usually preferred, but dried works just as well here.

Marjoram Tea

  • 1 teaspoon Fresh Marjoram (2 teaspoons dried)
  • 8 oz Boiling water

Steep in a covered teacup for 5-10 minutes, and drink. If you want to up its stomach calming power add in fennel seeds, chamomile, or ginger. You can also substitute a drop of sweet marjoram oil in warm water, or cool.

Marjoram not only helps with pain and stomach complaints it is also a great tea to have before bed time. It has a slight sedative quality, since it contains linalool, and if you need to be super sharp it is probably not the day time herb for you to use for pain or otherwise. Night time though, is its time to shine! It helps to calm the mind, like Tulsi (Holy Basil), and helps the mind to relax as well as the body. This means that sleep will come easier for those that have a hard time shutting down, and if all you can focus on is pain, sometimes helps the mind let that go so sleep can take hold. For stress reduction, it pairs extremely well with lemon balm and really helps to release stress.

SleepyProTip: Add a teaspoon of one or a few of these – Tulsi, lavender, or chamomile for a more relaxing sleepy tea.

I have brought up a few sleep aids before, and I can not stress enough how very important an adequate amount of sleep is. Sleep is your rest, repair, and recharge cycle for your body. This is when repairs and housecleaning is done, think of it like a computer defragging every night, the body asseses things, does some spring cleaning and if repairs are needed they can be done. Your body requires this time to function normally and it also has a great effect on your mental well-being. Sleep deprivation can cause irritability, depression, anxiety, moodiness, and even hallucinations. If you are in pain why add all of those issues to your existing ones? This is why I find that finding and using gentle, non-addictive, herbal sleep aids, since these are better than me up roaming the house at all hours of the night, because I can’t shut off.

Sometimes though, all you need is a hot calming bath, to shut off your mind or to ease pain in muscles and joints. Marjoram is a great bath addition, and it is so lovely smelling, you will want to bathe with it all the time. Its scent was used to freshen the air in the past, like I mentioned above, and is widely used in perfume and soap making. Believe me once you start, you will see why it is so widely used. After you use it, there is no going back, and it will be hard to go without a bit of marjoram in your bath.

Marjoram Epsom Salts

  • 5 cups (40 oz) Epsom Salts
  • 5-15 drops Sweet Marjoram Essential Oils
  • optional: 1 tablespoon of dried marjoram, or any other oils to increase stress reduction, reduce pain, or give sleepiness

Mix well and store in a dry, airtight container. Add a cup to a hot bath and soak that pain away! You can throw in a tablespoon or so of the dried herb as well in this to boost the potency. If you are suffering from some heinous lady cramps, this is a great way to help you through the pain, and it also helps if you have inflamed muscles from over exertion. It can make you drowsy though so this is best done at night, or when you have time to take a nap if you need it.

Marjoram Bath Tea

  • 2 tablespoons Marjoram, fresh or dried
  • 16 oz Boiling water

Brew like you would tea, in covered pot or cup and add to hot bath water. Just like the Epsom soak above this is also a great soak for sore muscles, lady cramps, muscle spasms, joint pain and inflammation.

Marjoram Compress

  • 2 tablespoons Marjoram, fresh or dried
  • 16 oz Boiling water
  • a towel or rag, large enough to cover the painful/sore area

Prepare like you would the bath tea above, but instead of adding to a bath allow to cool enough to be tolerable. Soak the towel in the infusion and apply to affected area, repeat as necessary. This is a great option if you are on the go, or don’t have access to a tub to soak in.

I am always a big fan of taking your medicine in your food so here is a few recipes that are great ways to integrate marjoram into your diet. First up is a delicious soup that is good for a cold winter night to lift your spirits and keep you warm.

Marjoram Lentil Soup

  • 2 cups of Puy Green lentils, soak for an hour prior to starting soup
  • 1 Yellow onion diced
  • 2 Stalks celery diced
  • 4-6 White or Red potatoes, diced
  • 2-3 Carrots diced
  • 2 cups of Broccoli florets
  • 2 teaspoon Marjoram, dried or minced fresh
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon Black pepper, ground
  • 2 teaspoons Cilantro fresh (may be omitted, or reduced to 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tablespoon Olive oil
  • 8 cups Water (you can use Chicken or Beef stock instead for a more hearty soup)

In a heavy soup pot, or dutch oven, add olive oil and heat until hot. Add onions and cook until clear, add in water and lentils. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 1 hour, after the hour add potatoes and celery.  Add broccoli and carrots after potatoes begin to soften, then add in herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer for a few minutes to combine flavors. Serve warm with crusty bread, or naan.

Since they are the most well known marjoram blends, I am going to give a za’atar recipe and herbs de Provence. Herbs de Provence are great for meatloafs and other meaty dishes, it goes great sprinkled over potatoes then roasting them, and loads of other delicious culinary things. ¬†Za’atar is possibly lesser known in the west, but it is just as awesome. It is a common spice blend in Middle Eastern and North African cooking. It goes great in meat, vegetable, rice and bread dishes, I find it is fantastic rubbed onto some flat bread and baked. Or just a teaspoon or so of it with some olive oil, and some bread for dipping, is a good snack for having a drink with friends or right before the main meal. Not only do they both taste great, but these are both great ways to have your food be your medicine, as I said above.

Za’atar

  • 1/4 cup Sumac (you will find this in most Middle Eastern style markets, it has a citrus flavor and you can in a pinch use some lemon zest but real sumac is best)
  • 2 tablespoons dried Thyme
  • 2 tablespoons dried Marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons dried Oregano
  • 1 tablespoon Roasted Sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Grind sesame seeds in mortar and pestle with the salt, or grind them in a food processor or blender. Add the remaining ingredients and give a quick pulse in a blender or processor, or a few good grinds with a pestle until you have a fairly uniform chunky mixture. Store in an airtight container for 3-6 months.

Herbs de Provence

  • 2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon dried Oregano
  • 2 tablespoons and¬†1 teaspoon dried Thyme
  • 2 tablespoons dried Savory
  • 2 tablespoons dried Lavender
  • 1 teaspoon dried Basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried Sage
  • 1 teaspoon dried, crushed Rosemary

Mix well and store in an airtight container, stores for about 3-6 months as well. This goes great as a crust for roasts, on roasted potatoes, even in bread! And like za’atar, is a great way to get an extra boost of marjoram and its healing properties in your diet.

Marjoram while considered to be “mostly harmless” can have some reactions with medications or if you are pregnant. So do make sure that you always check, even the mostly safe herbs, on WebMD just to be sure there will be no interactions with medications and so forth. Remember even water becomes poisonous if you have too much of it, so always use herbal medicine sensibly, with caution and respect. As always if you are in doubt about anything, ask a professional!


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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 РAKA 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 РAKA 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 РAKA 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 РAKA 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 РAKA 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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Massage, It Isn’t Just Some Fluff ‘n Buff Thing

The simple act of human touch is far more important than most realize, and proving to be a larger part of the healing process than thought of in modern medicine. Humans are extremely social animals, and while we are much more domesticated primates now, we still have that primal need for touch. With touch being so healing, it is no surprise massage is so healing as well. The current term massage, comes from French and translates to “friction of kneading,” in Arabic massa means “to touch, feel or handle” and the ancient Latin term for massage was frictio which is obviously close to friction. No matter what the term used for it though, it is a natural reaction to pain. When you injure something, or something just hurts, the natural human reaction is to rub the area. And it is this that has developed through human history into present day massage therapy and medical massage.

Massage is non-invasive as a treatment, and helps to heal damaged muscles, stimulate circulation, stimulate the immune/lymphatic system, reduce pain, relieve spasms & tension, and alleviate stress. Since massage generally puts one into an extremely relaxed state, the body will naturally release more endorphins, which we already know are the body’s natural pain medication. Massage will also reduce levels of hormones that rise during stress, which can be damaging to the body over extended periods of time. I am a firm believer in massage as a large part in chronic pain management, and starting a regular massage routine caused a huge change in my quality of life. My pain was reduced, and range of motion not only increased, but was able to be maintained. I was not always a believer though, after my accident, and even after my surgeries, many of my friends and family told me I should get a massage.

“You should get one, it would really help,” they would say.

I would say¬†“No, that is some silly luxury for Spas, and¬†Cruise ship¬†denizens, I don’t need that.”

But 1,000’s of years of human history can’t be wrong…can it?

Definitely not. In fact they, my family, and friends, were all so very, very right.

Depiction of massage in the “Physician’s Tomb” dated to around 2330 BCE, further proof that everyone enjoys a foot rub.

Massage is a fantastic way to help relieve stress, pain, and generally maintain the health of mind, body, and spirit. Almost every known historical, and modern, cultures have some type of massage for medical or therapeutic use. Most generally use massage to relieve stress, prevent or heal injuries, and assist with pain. Massage is included in the most ancient medical texts and presently has¬†tons of different styles and methods. But even with this variety, almost all of them have the same goal, overall body and mind wellness, and massage has long been considered an integral part of the healing arts. So much so that¬†Hippocrates¬†said –

“The physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing; for things that have the same name have not always the same effects. For rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose and loosen a joint that is too rigid‚Ķ Hard rubbing binds; soft rubbing loosens; much rubbing causes parts to [loosen]; moderate rubbing makes them grow.'”

And he should know, considering he was the student of Herodicus, who could be considered one of the historical founders of modern sport medicine (though that title¬†has many claimants, and all are highly debatable). Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine have some of the oldest documented writings on massage, and is widely used in their treatments past, and present.¬†The infamous¬†Avicenna¬†of Persia, spoke of analgesics used with massage, and massage’s pain relieving effects when used just on its own. He also mentions that massage should be performed prior to exercise, which only became well known in recent years due to televising during the ’84 Olympic games.

Massage use was well documented in Ancient Greece, athletes were often given massages. Since Rome loves to copy Greece, Roman athletes and Gladiators were treated with massage as well. Julius Caesar was known to regularly receive massage to assist with neuralgia and possibly treat his epileptic seizures. Galen, well known for his own work with Gladiators, and as a Physician, was a supporter of massage, and its ability to treat many ailments. He believed, a good diet, exercise, rest and massage were key to a healthy body. He was also a very strong spokesman against people who would lower the opinion of massage.

No wonder he looks so grumpy!

You heard me, no happy endings!

Which is a frequent problem even now, most of the time when massage is mentioned you inevitably get the “happy ending” jokes. Not all massage is of a sexual nature, though there were some blurring of lines during the 19th century. Where massage was used to treat hysteria, and while it was considered medical, its definitely crossing some lines. This early association in America could be a reason for most modern association of massage with sexual acts. Probably not helped by advertisements…

“I promise it won’t get weird”

And hilarious machines…

Your 19th century lady’s secret in the bottom drawer. So discreet!

Just as Galen was frustrated with these associations in his time, we fair no better in our modern times. Massage is inevitably linked with seedy parlors that offer the infamous “happy ending,” more than a valid medical treatment. Despite all of this though, massage is highly esteemed in some medical circles and is rapidly gaining supporters in the medical community. So hopefully in the future the more healing features of massage will be lauded, rather than the carnal.

It is that effectiveness in treating people that has kept massage alive for centuries, and now modern science is starting to revive the medical community’s interest in it. Some clinical studies have been done, but not enough for modern science to state that yes, it is 100% effective, and they fully understanding of how it all works. Luckily it is a field that is rapidly gaining attention, and research is speeding up on it, so we may be hearing changes of opinion in the medical community in the next decade. In the clinical studies that have been done so far, some as recently as 2008, it has been shown that massage is the best relief for chronic back pain. Much more so than other treatments including acupuncture, medications, and other conventional medical treatments.¬†Some studies have found that anxiety, pain, depression, and stress can all be reduced through massage therapy. Its also been found to help with neck pain, which I can personally vouch for, and thought to alleviate some pain for cancer patients. The American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians recommend that patients with chronic pain should include massage in their pain management regimen. So while modern science is not fully sure why massage works, the evidence is starting pile up, and clearly point to it working. It is just the “whys and the hows” that aren’t completely understood, current theories are that it helps to either block pain signals sent to the brain, or it could be that it causes the release of serotonin, endorphins, or other chemicals the body produces that help deal with pain. It could even be it triggers some other beneficial change in the body that we aren’t even familiar with yet, there is still so much about the body we do not know.

What I can say is from personal experience is that massage can do wonders for neurological pain, back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, tension headaches, muscle pain and spasms. So many times the expert hands of my masseuse have found an area that needed work, that I was in too much pain to pin point, and alleviated more pain than I thought possible. Seeing my masseuse can turn some level 10 pain days right around, changing a horrible day to a great one. Even migraines from spasms can be relieved with massage, and a good neck and shoulder massage has been the reason I have gotten through some horrible migraines. Times when injections or other medications are not option. Massage is, unlike lots of treatments, something you can add to your regimen that is considered mostly safe with little danger in using it frequently. Of course you do want to consult with your doctor if you have special needs, or conditions, but most ailments can benefit from massage.

A massage will generally consist of the manipulation of the skin, muscles and other tissues, done with a body part (hand, feet, elbow, etc) or with tools. Some stretching may be involved, as well as the application of heat, vibration, or other methods. Some massage, like deep tissue, can be mildly painful, but you should never feel you can’t stand the pain. It is important to give feedback to the masseuse, to make sure they are using the right level of pressure for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for more pressure if you need it, or ask them to back off a bit if it hurts too much. It is important you work together, so your body doesn’t take more than it is able to handle. Remember it should “hurt so good,” but never just hurt. As you build your relationship with your masseuse, you will find they know the amount of pressure you like and can take, and they will eventually get to know your body’s needs almost as well as you do.

There is a bit of a lingo that comes with massage, so below are a few basic movements you will hear mentioned. They are:

  • Effleurage ‚Äď gliding or stroking
  • Friction ‚Äď rubbing or pressing
  • Petrissage ‚Äď squeezing or kneading
  • Tapotement ‚Äď striking, beating or percussion
  • Vibration ‚Äď oscillations on the skin

These can again be done with a part of the body, or with a tool as said earlier. Sometimes besides heat and vibration, essential oils can be used in combination with massage to assist with pain reduction, ease stress, or aide the release of muscles. I highly recommend locating a masseuse who uses therapeutic grade oils in their massage, as they add a whole new treatment dimension to the massage process. The style of massage practiced doesn’t really matter in general, as long as they are certified in some sort of therapeutic massage techniques. The masseuse you choose should sit and talk with you prior to each session to find out what areas will need focus, if any, and a general idea of your existing issues. This is important as it help’s them, and you, to create a sort of “game plan” for that treatment session.

Aromatherapy, while it still mostly falls into the realms of what most people consider too “out there,” or too “woo woo” as I call it, but there has been studies in smell and the body’s reaction to it.¬†And there is enough evidence for me to consider that they just might be on to something. Certain smells diffused in the air during a massage session can assist with the body and mind’s relaxation, and can even assist with pain relief, since relaxation will make those endorphins release. So aromatherapy, combined with massage and oils, is the best, and possibly most effective way, to treat pain and stress in my humble, non-medical, opinion.

Again, you should do your own research, look into a few styles and find out what will work best for you. Interview a masseuse before going, and make sure you read up on the style they use for treatment to make sure it is right for you. It is always a good idea to talk it over with your doctor before embarking on any new pain treatments, and this way they can inform you of any issues you would need to be mindful about – such as with cancer patients, or pregnant women. Make sure the masseuse is certified, and if their certifications aren’t displayed, make sure you ask to see them. And if you are ever in doubt about anything, always ask a professional.

If you are in the Austin area, I highly recommend AZ Massage.


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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 ūüėÄ

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¬†‚Äúeat ginger, and you will love and be loved as in your youth.‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôt 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¬įF. 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. ūüėÄ 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.