Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Fishfuddle Befuddles Pain

Oh life, you always throw a spanner into the best laid plans. Between migraines coming back (getting topped up again with botox soon so they will be hopefully be gone for a month or two again) and cramming as much life into the days I don’t hurt, due to birthday’s and other social events, I just have not found the time to sit and write as much as I want to. But you must always make time for the things you love ūüôā and I love writing!

Piscidia piscipula, or sometimes known as fishfuddle, or the Florida fishpoison tree, is a tree that is native to Florida, Texas, Caribbean, Central and South America. This is as you can tell from the name, not a remedy to be trifled with, and I am strongly recommending you talk to your doctor(s) before embarking on using this remedy. I actually had some internal turmoil over whether or not I should write about this since it is very much use at your own risk sort of thing, and you should be very careful with this remedy. It is not something you shouldn’t just start up willy-nilly, even though it is a great medication, in small amounts, for pain especially nerve pains. But like I always say, you should always respect all things you put in your body, herbal medicine, or otherwise. Remember that if it is strong enough to good, then it can be¬†strong enough to do bad. Always be mindful in all things you ingest, over the counter pills, essential oils, anything in the wrong amounts or used improperly can be dangerous, and¬†even water can poison you.

Jamaican Dogwood in all of its glory!

Jamaican dogwood in all of its glory!

Now that I have gotten the stern warnings out of the way, this is a powerful analgesic and sedative, and as a bonus has anti-inflammatory properties as well. Its Latin name roughly translates to “little fish killer,” usually in places it grows the indigenous people use the shrub¬†to create a strong fish sedative and poison which can be added to small ponds or swamps. Thus allowing easy collecting of fish for small family groups. Its poison isn’t long lasting and therefore not detrimental to the environment since it breaks down if exposed to sunlight for more than 6 days. It has been successfully used in some cases to remove invasive species from lakes, and may be a way to prevent destructive species invasion of aquatic environments. It is also a powerful insecticide, which if you are fighting the ravages of caterpillars. Which I don’t mind a few having a snack, always plant some extra for nature, but decimation is an act of war! And a solution containing a bit of Jamaican dogwood tincture¬†is a very effective way to prevent them from eating all your plants. Other than obliterating your garden with fire.

Take that you greedy caterpillars!

While it can be detrimental to the finned water friends, since it affects their gills, it can be a powerful pain reliever, especially in the case of¬†nerve pain, as well as sedative for humans. It is really not well studied since it fell out of fashion¬†after¬†the 1800’s, mostly due to the dominance of opiates and then mass produced pain medications. Also there was some bad PR it got due to the claims of possible carcinogenic chemicals (but not enough studies to back it up, just like the same bad PR safrole), and it makes this remedy¬†is a bit more difficult to write about. There have been studies in the early days of Western medicine that do confirm its ability to alleviate pain and ease tense muscles, but not years of studies that would give definitive and detailed information and results. The chemical interactions that lead it to being good for treating human pain, as well as being a sedative, anti-spasmodic, and anti-inflammatory,¬†are unstudied by modern science to a degree that we could¬†not truly pinpoint what chemical is¬†is causing what. One of the known chemicals in Jamaican dogwood is rotenone, which is deadly to fish since it affects their gills, but is not as poisonous to warmblooded animals, though in large amounts Jamaican dogwood can still be toxic to humans. Traditional uses that went beyond fish hunting were generally for the sedation and pain relieving side of the plant. Though later alternative medicinal practices used this plant to treat migraines,¬†and other painful conditions, with patients that could not tolerate opium, or opiates. It has also been used by many cultures to treat moon time issues, and ease painful cramps since it relaxes muscles as well as easing pain.

Generally the bark of the roots is what is used and you can buy this online, try to buy locally if at all possible from a reputable dealer that harvests in a sustainable manner. If you live in one of the areas that Jamaican dogwood grows naturally in, you should have a go at harvesting it yourself. There is a really good article to use here, she goes into identification and how to harvest as well as drying and her own recipe for a tincture. There is also a lot of commercial preparations, such as extracts that can be used as well. If you opt to go the extracts route make sure you know the strength of the extract you are purchasing and it is always best to start with the smallest amount and work up taking tiny steps. Some people experience an adverse reaction to this remedy and it is best to make sure your stomach is not upset by it before you take larger amounts. Another option is to use the bark of the root to make a tea.

Jamaican Dogwood Tea

  • ¬ľ-¬Ĺ¬†teaspoon Dried Jamaican dogwood root bark
  • 8 oz of water

Add the root bark to the water, and boil for 10 to 15 minutes. Start small here and you can eventually increase to 1 teaspoon all the way up to¬†2, though this should be done with caution and only after stepping up a 1/4 teaspoon at a time. This is great for all sorts of pain – nerve, joint, lady type, migraines, etc. It also is a pretty strong sedative, even more so than valerian, and is a great way to make sure you get your z’s. It also helps to ease painful cramping and spasms. It also helps to relieve anxiety and stress in the smaller doses and if you are quite anxious this may be a good way to deal with some of the worse days.

Jamaican Dogwood Tincture

  • 1 part Dried Jamaican dogwood root bark
  • 5 parts Grain alcohol
  • Mason jar or other seal-able glass jar

Make sure you have enough room at the top of the jar when you put all the root bark and grain alcohol into your jar. Make sure the root bark is covered and seal. Make sure you shake it every so often, and leave it to sit for 4-6 weeks. On the site I linked previously she suggests blending the bark, which if you don’t have something as powerful as a Vitamix you can use pruning sheers or other strong cutting implements to chop it into little pieces to increase surface area. 5 drops in honey, tea or directly under the tongue, and increase as needed. No more than 30 drops, in my opinion, some sites though recommend 2 droppers,¬†which is about 2.5 ml, and equates to about the same amount. Again, this is good for migraines, spasms, sleeping issues, all that good stuff.

 Jamaican Dogwood Bug Spray

  • 5-10 drops Jamaican dogwood tincture
  • Spray bottle
  • Enough water to fill the spray bottle

Add everything to the spray bottle, and shake well before use. Spray on plants, and make sure you rinse anything you eat from them very well before consuming them. This really should only be used in extreme circumstances of bug, or caterpillar invasion, you should always plant extra for the animals.

If you purchase a powdered version or if you are using extract you can always make these into a pill form and if you need instruction on how to do so there is a good one at the end of this post on turmeric, which just so happens to work really well as a companion to dogwood in a pain pill preparation. Hops and valerian are also good companions for Jamaican dogwood. Depending on the percentage of concentration of the extract you may need to use less, but the dose for powdered Jamaican dogwood is about 1-5 grains (65 mg – 324 mg), I would definitely not suggest using more than that.

Remember educate yourself before taking this drug, and do not start a treatment without consulting a physician. Always check places like WebMD to make sure it won’t interact with your medications or any conditions. In this case, even if you don’t have any doubts about this remedy you need to ask a professional before starting it.


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Valerian the Pied Piper of Sleep…and Cats

Valerian, while a fairly pretty plant to look at has a rather foul smelling root. It’s name was, in historical texts, generally rendered as Phu or Foo, speculated to have been called such, due to the distinctive smell. Pew! This means it is possibly the source of all laser cat powers…

Pew Pew Pew!

The smell is quite seductive to cats and rats (like Anise for dogs), and was supposedly Valerian was used by the Pied Piper, either rubbed on or secreted about his body, to lead the rats from Hamelin. During most of its historical continental European use, it was thought of more as a spice than a herb and was frequently used for cooking and even used in perfumes! There are supposedly more pleasant smelling versions but that sounds, to me, quite a smelly perfume idea.

It was used in some places to protect a person from thunder and lightening, also for ridding people of “demons.” Which could possibly be taken to mean that it eased symptoms of epilepsy, since possession was often the diagnosis for sufferers of epilepsy and other mental disorders before they were fully understood. Valerian would definitely provide a calming effect for nerve issues, agitated people, those suffering from general nervous disorders, and was often used to treat hysteria. But surprisingly for most of early history medicinally, it was not held in high regard, it was mentioned by Hippocrates, Dioscorides, and others for various complaints and ailments almost in passing. It was only Galen that remarked on its sedative effects, and it took many centuries before that was re-discovered in the West.

Valerian was also known as nard, Amantilla, “Capon’s Tail”, and Setwall (or Setewale). It’s present name is thought to come from the Latin for courage (valere), or possibly strength (valeo) or “good health” (valere), but there is no definitive answer on the name origin. Arab doctors knew of its uses and post-Crusades, as Arab knowledge filtered west, more knowledge of this plant grew and usage grew. A great recipe mentioned in the 14th century capitalizing on its relaxing properties was¬†“Men who begin to fight and you wish to stop them, give them the juice of Amantilla (Valerian) and peace will be made immediately.”

More recent historical usage was for during bleeding to calm the person, and promote healing (bleeding was commonly used up until the 19th century as a treatment for many issues), and as a nervine. It was even used during World War I for the stress trench combat, civilians for air raids constant stress, and was still used during World War II to treat “shell-shock.” It is also widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayerveda, and even the W.H.O. recognizes the nerve relaxing qualities of Valerian.

While Valerian is a pretty little plant, most preparations use the root, which just happens to be the smelliest bit. It generally helps most people sleep,  it can reduce anxiety, depression (from stress or nervous tension), works on the central nervous system to help relax the body, and also can help calm the lower intestine smooth muscle and alleviate gas and cramping. The main purpose I find it useful for it, is its antispasmodic properties, this is a great way to treat lady cramps, muscle cramps and pain, and will help with symptoms of cramps and spasms, like tension headaches. Since it helps muscles and nerves to relax, it helps with blood pressure by relaxing the vein and artery walls, improving circulation and reducing blood pressure.

It is pretty to look at, but smelly!

Tea is always a great way to take Valerian, you can prepare the fresh root, or what is more frequently available, dried roots. You can drink this tea about a half hour to two hours before bed time, and it should help bring sleep faster. You can also make a double batch to add to bath water, two cups, will help bring on sleep and help with painful muscles. This is also a great cup of tea (like Fennel Tea, Anise Tea, Ginger Tea, or Peppermint Tea) for this time of year when over indulgence leads to digestive distress. Now, like most good medicine this can be very bad tasting for some people and bitter, others not so much, but if you find it bitter bust out your favorite local honey when you make this.

Valerian Tea

  • 1 teaspoon Dried (or Fresh) Valerian root
  • 8 oz Hot water (just before boiling)

Steep for 5-10 minutes in a covered teacup, or teapot if you decide to make a bigger batch. Remember covering it helps to keep those essential oils that make this all work in your tea instead of in the air. Again this is great after exercise, to ease spasms, and to help you get restful sleep. Where you don’t feel sedated or fuzzy in the morning.

If you don’t want to have tea in your bath you can always make a relaxing bath salts with Valerian essential oils (remember¬†therapeutic grade only!).

Valerian Epsom Salts

  • 5 cups (40 oz) of Epsom Salts
  • 5-10 drops Valerian essential oil
  • You can add additional oils like Eucalyptus, Lavender, or others to help promote sleep or muscle relaxation. 5-10 drops of any additional oils.

Add a cup at a time to bath water and enjoy a lovely soak, in relaxing goodness.

Valerian is great teamed up with hops, they work well in¬†concert¬†with¬†each other¬†since¬†Valerian is a more mild sedative hops give it that extra punch for a super¬†knock out combo. Hops are thought to work on the body the same way melatonin does, and Valerian acts like adenosine which is a inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps with sleep. So when you combine the two you have a great combination that is non-narcotic, and won’t leave you feeling bad and groggy the next morning.

Super Knockout Sleepy Tincture – Hop & Valerian

  • 2 parts Valerian root
  • 1 part Hops flowers
  • Large Mason Jar
  • Vodka or other clear alcohol, enough to cover

Fill jar with the Hops and Valerian mixture, with gap at the top for expansion, cover with alcohol and seal tight. Let sit for at least 4 weeks, or up to 6 in a cool, dark, and undisturbed place, but shake once a week. Strain and store in dark bottles. You can take 1/2 teaspoon (6 drops) to 1 teaspoon of this about an hour or so before you want to go to bed.

You could make a straight Valerian tincture, make it the same way just leave out the hops, and you can take 1/2 teaspoon to 3/4 of a teaspoon daily (up to 3 times a day) for anxiety, and to help with circulation and blood pressure. You can take up to 1 teaspoon to assist with sleep.

You can also make a great headache and sleep aid by adding more herbs such as lavender, passion flower and chamomile.

Headache & Sleep Tincture

  • 1 part Valerian root
  • 1 part Hops flowers
  • 1 part Passion Flower
  • 1 part Chamomile
  • 1 part Lavender
  • 1 part Skullcap

Take about a 1/2 teaspoon at onset of migraine and increase if pain does not recede, not recommended taking more than 1 teaspoon. This will alleviate migraine pain and help bring sleep, which is great when you wake up at 2 am like I do with migraines.

With any tincture you can add it to a cup of hot water, or tea, if you are concerned about the alcohol. You can always do the under the tongue delivery, or even just into a cup of water or juice. If the taste is too bitter you can mix this into a tablespoon of honey and take it.

Since it is that holiday time of year! Valerian hot chocolate is a great way to ease the tension and stress that holidays can bring. I love this recipe from James Wong

James Wong’s Valerian Hot Chocolate

  • 3¬†tablespoons fresh valerian root
  • 3 3/4¬†cups full-fat milk
  • 3¬†tablespoons fresh¬†lemon balm¬†leaves
  • 3¬†teaspoons fresh¬†lavender¬†flowers
  • 6 leaves & 3 heads of fresh passion flowers (or 1 teaspoon)
  • peel of 1 1/2 oranges
  • 1 3/4 oz dark chocolate (min 50% cocoa solids)
  • “dash” (1/8th or less of a teaspoon) of vanilla

Chop the top and bottom from the fresh valerian root, and then place in a saucepan with the milk, lemon balm, lavender, passion flower, and orange peel and gently heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain. Pour the infused milk back into the pan, and then add the dark chocolate and vanilla extract and stir until melted. Drink at once.

Colds and coughs are frequent this time of year and if you are sick while you are in pain it only makes things worse. A great cough syrup you can make is a variation of another of James’ recipes but it has my own special touches. Because Valerian works to relax and prevent spasms its great to help suppress coughs.

Valerian Cough Syrup

  • 4 tablespoons dried Marshmallow root
  • 2 dried Licorice roots, broken up
  • 3 heads of fresh elderberries (if you can get them, if not about a tablespoon of dried or you can substitute 2 tablespoons wild cherry bark, or just leave it all out entirely)
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tablespoon Anise seed
  • 1 tablespoon Fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons Valerian root
  • 2 c water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 5 tablespoons glycerin

Put everything except the honey and glycerin in a pot with the water and simmer unit liquid reduces by about a fifth. Remove the licorice, and pour mixture into blender and blend until smooth. Pour back into pan and add honey, lime juice and glycerin, stir and simmer for 2 more minutes. Store in bottles. Take 2 tablespoons 3 times a day for no more than 5 days. The Valerian in this helps to relax the smooth muscles helping to suppress the cough.¬†Remember, if your cough persists you need to see a professional, don’t neglect colds and illnesses during the holidays!

You can find Valerian in a lot of prepackaged ways, tinctures, teas, but mostly as capsules. You can purchase these already made, or you can make your own, just like in the turmeric post. ¬†You don’t want to exceed 600 mg a day of Valerian, also due to fillers some pre-made pills may work better than others.

ProTip: You should never take any sleep aid for more than 4 weeks straight, or you could have issues sleeping.

Mythbuster Tip: Valium and Valerian while sounding similar are different completely, and Valerian is much safer to use. Remember though, everything in moderation. Too much of anything is bad.

Each person is different and you will need to do your own trails to see what works best for you. Check for interactions with your current medications, and WebMD is a great resource as usual. Make sure you educate yourself on everything you take! 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.


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My Passion for Passionflower

Passionflower, or Passiflora incarnata, (not to be confused with the plant that produces the wrinkled purple passion fruit) grows wild in the southern United States, and through out Middle and South America, but can grow in latitudes as high as Boston. I feel lucky this wonderful plant grows wild here in Texas, it is pretty easy to get a hold of passionflower in general, or grow it yourself. The vine produces fruit, and while the fruit doesn’t have medicinal benefits it makes a great jam, is rather tasty eaten right off the vine, and is a good plant to add to your garden to draw wildlife, since they like the fruit too.

It is one of those great herbs when used in moderation, will give you all the muscle relaxation and alleviation of tension, even emotional stress/anxiety, without the suppression of bodily function or mental impairment. Currently, in Europe, passionflower is already included in a lot of sleep, anxiety, and pain aids, but not in the United States since there is no profit in things you can not patent.

It is just relaxing to look at, I spotted this one growing wild

I spotted this one growing wild, it always grabs your attention when it is in bloom

You can also see where it gets it’s name from, the flowers were thought to be a vegetative reference to the crucifixion of Jesus by Spanish missionaries coming to the Americas for the first time and are thought to be part of the reason for its wide dispersal into Europe.

In history the Aztecs used passionflower to ease pain from spasms and sedate, and this is a great addition to any pain or sleep tea blend since it works on relaxing the body, and the mind. The Cherokee used it for religious ceremonies, and for pain and anxiety, but also to increase concentration and expand the mind. Archaeological evidence has turned up in sites showing the fruit and vine were of common use in cultures existing in its native regions. It was used as a blood and liver tonic for some, and like the Aztecs, for sedation and to induce sleep in others.

There has been a lot of medical studies done for passionflower, and all have found it to be an effective sedative, and mild analgesic for most people. It also had, albeit in lab mice no humans were tested, the effect of keeping sperm count stable despite usage of tetrahydrocannabinol. Which with the recent law changes in the US towards that is something that may be looked into further.

I personally find passion flower to be great for tension related headaches, migraines, and pain from muscle spasms, it is also a great tea to drink throughout the day (like holy basil), up to 4 times a day to reduce stress and anxiety.

Passionflower is like peppermint, fairly easy to obtain at most grocery and health food outlets. There are numerous pre-made teabags, of many brands. I suggest if you want to go this route, trying a few different brands to find the one that works best for you. There are as always, pre-made tincture, extract, and pre-made pills, again available at most herbal, health and grocery stores. These you should take as directed on the package. A rough guideline if they do not list any amounts is:

  • ¬†10-30 drops, 3 times a day for liquid extract
  • 10-60 drops, 3 times a day for tinctures
  • teas should be no more than 8 g of dried herb, and can be taken 3 times daily.

Personally I prefer to make my own blends, to boost the analgesic and antispasmodic properties. You can blend it with Valerian root, chamomile, lemon balm, skullcap, lavender, St John’s wort, holy basil, and many other relaxing or pain reducing herbs we have gone over, or will in the near future. But even without similar herbs, it is a very good tea just on its own, as long as you don’t steep it too long as I find it can become a bit bitter. This herb has helped me a lot with anxiety about procedures, pain, and restlessness when I am unable to sleep from pain or stress. It is a great addition to anyone’s life who suffers chronic pain or chronic anxiety.

Passion Flower Tea

  • 1 teaspoon Dried passionflower
  • 8 oz Boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon of Chamomile, lemon balm, lavender, holy basil, any calming herb. This is optional, you can add all or just 1 of these herbs to the brew depending on what you need. Like more holy basil if stress is high, or chamomile for sleep, etc.

Steep for 5 minutes, or up to 10, in a covered tea cup and drink. You can have this 3-4 times a day to help with pain, anxiety or have a cup before bed time to help bring sleep. I find that I prefer it to steep no more than 5 minutes as the passionflower can take on a bitter unpleasant taste to me. Others don’t seem bothered by it and are fine steeping for 10 minutes. If you are starting out on the 4 times a day, reduce the amount every week and take a month off after frequent use. You can always add sweetener to it, honey is the best, but any will do.

If you want to make your own tincture, you can make one fairly easily.

Passion Flower Tincture

  • Clean Mason jar
  • Passionflower, dried, enough to fill jar
  • Vodka or grain alcohol, enough to cover dried herb in jar

Fill the jar with the herb, not packed tightly but shaken down to allow the most herb in there but still have surface area exposed to the alcohol. Also make sure to leave a half inch at the top for expansion. Shake daily for a month, strain and use.

Sometimes we need a big kick in the pants to get those sleepy feelings going, especially with pain or extreme stress, or even psychological disorders. So if you need to “kick it up a notch” you should give the below tincture a try.

Insomnia Tincture

  • Chamomile
  • Valerian
  • Hops
  • Passionflower
  • Clean Mason jar
  • Vodka or grain alcohol

Use equal parts of all listed herbs, use dried not fresh for all except hops (if you can get fresh definitely get fresh hops). If you are unfamiliar with part recipes this means that if you use say an ounce of chamomile, you will use an ounce of the rest. Fill the mason jar, leaving a half inch at the top for expansion and shake down but do not compact. Fill with alcohol and shake daily for a month, strain and use. You can add this to any liquid, tea or otherwise, or directly under the tongue. Dosage is anywhere from 10 drops to 2 teaspoons depending on how much of a kick you need.

And finally you can make your own capsules, you would make them the same way you would turmeric capsules, and do not take more than a 2 capsules, a gram of the dried herb, in a sitting and you can take it three times a day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are the best times, mostly because it is easier to remember.

There is one additional use of passionflower that does not relate to pain or sleep, but for the skin. I have very dry skin and suffer from occasional outbreaks of eczema, while it isn’t contagious or anything it definitely isn’t cosmetically pretty or comfortable. You can use a strong infusion of passionflower and apply as a compress topically, or use the tincture or extract directly on the affected area.

Passionflower Compress for Dry Skin or Eczema

  • 1 tablespoon Dried passionflower
  • 8 oz Boiling water
  • Towel or other absorbent cloth

Steep for 10 minutes, and allow to cool. Soak towel in liquid then wring out excess. Apply directly to the affected area and you can do this multiple times throughout the day.

Now, a lot of sites will say that passion flower is harmless, but this is incorrect. It is fairly safe to use in moderation, but if used over extended periods of time in large amounts it can become harmful. Be respectful of the plants, and do not treat any medicine, herbal or otherwise, carelessly. Like I always say, if it is powerful enough to work, it is powerful enough to be bad in large doses. Always use moderation.  Do not use passionflower for extended periods of time, you may experience fatigue and some mental fogginess if you have used it too much or overdose. There are a few interactions that could occur with some medications so be sure to check for possible issues on sites like WebMD, and if you are in doubt in even the slightest amount, ask a professional!


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What to do with Chamomile?

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

wooooooooah-man!

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

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

What?! There are different types of chamomile?!

whatchoo

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

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

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

the mugshot

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

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

Chamomile Hot Compress

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

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

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

Chamomile Bath

  • 8 tablespoons of dried chamomile
  • 4 cups boiling water

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

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

Chamomile Bath Salts

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

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

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

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

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

the mugshot

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

Chamomile Tea for Sleep

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

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

Chamomile Tea for Digestion

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

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

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

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

Chamomile Essential Oil for Topical Pain

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

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

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

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

Additional Reading:

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

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

Warning!

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

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


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Hoppity Hops

Oh hops, hops, hops! I love hops, I am a home brewer so I am extremely familiar with them. I have grown to love them very much, I used to dislike them in beers but they have worked their bitter spell on me and I am a fan of those highly hopped beers now. Most people have had experience with hops through beers, but they are useful for so much more! Hops got their name from an Anglo-Saxon word that means “to climb.” Its Latin name Humulus lupulus¬†comes from possibly humus for the type of soil it grows in, but almost definitely the lupulus portion comes from the aggressive growth noticed and commented on by Pliny the Elder, he described them¬†as strangling other plants, as a wolf would a sheep.

Hops, if you haven’t noticed, are serious business.

Hops are antibacterial, so they make a great beer preservative and the first mentioned use of hops in brewing comes from the 11th century, but there is documentation as early as the reign of Pepin the Short, of what would become France, that hops were grown in the royal gardens. Bacteria can spoil beer and is what makes the newly popular sour beers, sour. One of Hop’s early known uses was the preservation of beverages. This is why IPA’s are such powerfully hopped beers, the additional Hops were to help preserve it for the long, un-refrigerated train ride from England to India in the day’s of the British Empire – hence India Pale Ale. It is also why in the past beer was actually used as medicine. Mummies have been found with beer around them in burials, in them and on them. Which Anthropologist say they look to have been used as an early antibiotic, and were later noted for their ability to keep tuberculosis at bay. So remember that the next time you have a beverage choice, choose beer for your health! (Remember though, all things in moderation, too much of a good thing is bad)

But brewing aside! Hops are believed to have originated in China but quickly spread to Germany and are documented as being grown there as far back as the 8th century. And when I say quickly spread, I mean fast, hops grow at ridiculous rates anywhere from 3 inches to a foot (30 cm) a day. Pliny the Elder mentions that they were grown and the new shoots eaten in Roman times. King George III, with his famous madness, was purportedly a user of hops and slept on pillows of hops to help calm and soothe him. They are mentioned in Arab medicinal treatises as early as the 10th century, and were noted not only for their sedation and anxiety reduction, but also for their anti-inflammatory ability, and mild pain relief. Many Native American tribes used Hops as well as an analgesic (for pain) for minor issues like toothaches. It also gets mention in Ayerveda who recommend the use of Hops for treating anxiety, as muscle relaxers, and for treating tension headaches or migraines.

Hops for sleeping

As we have discussed, hops are a sedative, and in my previous post about Lavender, I said I’d be talking more about the hops pillow that I have made for myself (and if you’re interested in getting one you can check out my Etsy store).*

All you do is place the pouch inside your pillowcase, generally in a position you can easily smell them while you sleep. You will fall asleep fairly quickly, and I tend to find I stay asleep even if I am in minor amounts of pain. I have also had good results with friends that have trouble sleeping due to anxiety, obsessive thoughts, or stress.¬†Remember though, these are pretty powerful little flowers and if you want to read in bed, or just generally be conscious, you should probably remove the pouch out of smell range, and then place it in your pillow when you are ready for sleep. I have mostly had positive feedback about the smell of them, though some have said that they smell vaguely cheesy at first but the smell was not offensive. If you are worried about this, generally if you like the smell of IPA’s you will like the smell of Hops.

This Hop pillow or pouch is one of the most common and well known ways of using Hops for therapeutic reasons, but it is mostly to assist with calming sleep.

What about anxiety while you are awake, or pain?

Glad you asked!

There are a few other tricks up Hop’s sleeve, it does so much more than just helping with sleep or flavoring beer.

Hops for anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain reliever), and anti-anxiety 

As an anti-inflammatory, this is a fairly new discovery, inflammation occurs due to COX enzymes. Hops act in the same way the ibuprofen would, and reduce inflammation, thus reducing pain. They do this by inhibiting the COX enzymes. But unlike ibuprofen, Hops have none of those stomach wrecking side effects. (If you have issues with the tummy, Hops actually could aide in digestion, since this is another ancient use for it.) Hops have long been known for their reduction of anxiety, and they do promote a general sense of coziness and well-being. It helps to calm the mind and are great for people who have issues sleeping due to anxiety.

For both pain, inflammation, and anxiety, a tincture is one way to take Hop’s, 6 drops to start with for anxiety, and up to 20-30 drops will usually do the trick for pain (and sleep). You can do the under the tongue method but I prefer to add this to a hot tea, something like Chamomile or Holy Basil (this will also mostly take care of the alcohol).

Tinctures may be a great way to ingest it quickly but as Hops have a bitter taste, they can be a bit hard on the palate for a first timer, even when you mix them with something else. This bitter side is what makes them such a great stomach tonic. You can purchase or make your own tinctures, and personally if I had to choose, I am not a fan of this method, as it is just too much for my taste-buds. But this is a fairly immediate sort of delivery for pain reduction, so weigh your own pros and cons here for delivery method.

Hop Tincture Recipe

  • 1 part Hops flowers
  • 4 parts Grain alcohol (everclear, vodka, etc)
  • Jar, preferably large enough to hold at least a few ounces of Hops

You want to use a 1 to 4 ratio of solids to liquids to make this tincture, start in ounces (that means 1 oz dried OR fresh, can be right off the vine to 4 liquid ounces of grain alcohol). You should let it sit for at least 14 days but you may want to let it sit in a cool undisturbed place for longer. The liquid should be amber, and you will need to strain and bottle, label…all that normal tincture stuff.

ProTip: The best way to increase surface area, and make a better tincture, would be to put the Hops in a food processor and blitz it a few times. you don’t want to create a powder but you do want to break them up into smaller pieces. Again the stuff you are wanting here is the oils, which are always temperature sensitive, so do this in pulses and avoid heat build up from friction.

Hops Tea (Version 1)

  • 1-2 tablespoons of Hops
  • 1 c boiling water

Steep for 10-15 minutes (at most 20), and drink. This is one of the weaker preparations, but if you choose to include a teaspoon of Skullcap this works great for anxiety and mild headaches.

Hops Tea (Version 2)

  • 1 oz Hops
  • 1 quart boiling water
  • 1 quart (or larger) jar with a lid

Place Hops in the jar, and cover with boiling water. Place the lid on and let steep for at the minimum 4 but no more than 8 hours. This will be extremely strong, so be careful about “operating heavy machinery” if you are going to drink this.

ProTip: These are all going to be pretty bitter so you will want to mix them with something to make things a bit more palatable. Honey, Ginger, Chamomile, Peppermint, Valerian, Stevia all of these can be added depending on the effect you are looking for, and many more would work. As long as the flavor is fairly strong and helps to make the bitterness more tolerable.

You can as always purchase pills or pre-made supplements, or even better make your own. If you decide to go this route, do not take more than 500 mgs of Hops at a time 1 to 3 times a day. Hops are available for purchase pre-ground or grind them yourself.¬†You should wait about 4 hrs between doses, and when you are first taking Hop’s make sure you account for the sedation and see how they effect you, so take them when you plan to stay in. The pills will tend to treat most of the listed ailments in this post.

Remember, do your trial and error tests yourself. See what works best for you, check for interactions with any medications you are already taking. WebMD is always a great resource for checking for issues. Do your homework and if you are ever in doubt about anything, consult a professional.

*A side note РHops can be paired with other sleep aides, such as Valerian, Holy Basil (Tulsi), Chamomile, and Lavender to name a few. The Hop and Lavender mix I use in my pouches, I have found to be the most pleasant smell and best results. But there are other variations that will soon be available on my Esty Store (so stay tuned there!). Refill offers are available if you pm me on Etsy, since they will need to be refreshed after a few months of use.


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Holy Cow, Holy Basil!

Sleep! With some of my migraines and pain, sleep escapes me as I have mentioned. I use a few different sleep aids, but today we are going to discuss Holy Basil is one of those herbs that seems so unassuming, like the basil you are probably familiar with it is a mint relative, and is used infrequently in cooking but is gaining use in America recently.

It is a native of India and is known as Tulsi, which you may see when you purchase ready-made teas. In Hinduism it is a sacred herb, most sacred to Vishnu where it symbolizes Lakshmi. But it also has one of those great stories like Mint, where there is a beautiful lady, Tulsi, who catches the eye of the playboy god, Krishna. Then his real girlfriend, Radha, gets wind of this and turns her into a plant (there is another version where Vishnu is the boy and Lakshmi is the girl). Also, in a story where Krishna is weighed and large amounts of gold could not tip the scales, but a single leaf of Holy Basil did.

You may see it at temples or in homes of Hindu practitioners, usually in a small alter-like setting, and all of the plant, including the soil, is supposed to be holy. It is also part of Ayurveda and was used as a fever reducer, ringworm & skin disease treatment, cold & cough remedy, sore throat, and for many other issues.

It even got a stamp!

The main aspect I am interested in is its stress reduction, headache pain reliever, and wonderful effectiveness as a sleep aid.

Stress is something not something many people think of when it comes to chronic pain. But being in pain, dealing with medical bills, and all the associated things that come with chronic pain can be stressful. Not to mention work, and just life in general these days is stressful and we could all use a cup of tea that made everything a lot more mellow. I have a few friends that suffer from sleep issues and I always recommend this to them and I always hear back how great it is working. This is definitely something that not only calms the body but calms the mind. You feel mellow and relaxed and sleep comes quite easily. This is also great for those stress related headaches, a cup of this tea will wash those away.

Tinctures are available and you can take 40-60 drops 3 times a day for stress. Do not add a tincture of Holy Basil to Holy Basil tea though. More than 60 and you will have more of the sedative-like effects.

My favorite way of ingesting it is tea, I reather like the taste of it and it seems to work well for sleep for me.

Tea for Restful Sleep –

  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon Holy Basil

Let it steep for at least 5 minutes in a covered teapot, and drink a cup a half hour before you want to sleep, or if you are suffering from a headache drink 2 cups.

ProTip: If you have a covered teacup, just use 1 teaspoon per cup. Steep 5 minutes and drink. If you need more re-brew as needed.

Stress or Migraine tea

  • 2 + teaspoons of Holy Basil (Tulsi)
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoons Lavender¬†(1 tsp if you don’t mind the bitterness of lavender)
  • 1/2 tsp Skullcap
  • Honey to taste
All aboard the sleepy train to dreamville!

All aboard the sleepy train to Dreamville!

Steep for 5 or 6 minutes, preferably with a covered teapot/cup, and drink! This is my go-to tea for stressful or painful days, it is fairly potent.

You can increase the dose as needed I really wouldn’t suggest more than 2-3 teaspoons, or if you like you can decrease the amount. Decreasing the dose to 2 teaspoons per pot with any mixer of your choice (you can mix in green tea or black tea for the caffeine, or even lavender or chamomile for their relaxing properties). This will help alleviate stress if you are feeling weighed down by a stressful day. You also have the option to take capsules, you can make your own or purchase them as a supplement and that is another great way to deal with daily stress. You can take this as a supplement or tea daily, but if you are using it as a sleep aid you should not take it for longer than 4 weeks at a time, this is not habit forming but it could make it more difficult to sleep without it.

This will not remove stress completely! There have been some scientific studies into Holy Basil, and there has been documented decreases in stress in individuals who use it, but as always it is in conjunction with exercise and regular, mindful breathing exercises. A life style change is required for full stress reduction, but Holy Basil is definitely something good to have in your arsenal.

Remember educate yourself, make sure you know what you are taking. And always check for drug interactions, WebMD is always a good resource! Remember use common sense!