Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Sandalwood, good for just about everything!

Life, is chaotic as usual! I have a lot of sewing projects (a lot) along with a lot (seriously too many) of migraines (so many it took way too long to finish this post). Time to sit and write feels so precious these days, and this post took way longer than I wanted to get out. But, without my writing I don’t feel whole – so I make time! (  >_<)9

The Hubs is growing a beard, seems to be all the rage these days with the male of our species in my age group. He went to get a shave and a haircut at a local place and they put some oil on his beard for conditioning it. He loved it, and I thought it smelled really great! Like cut wood and lovely (he would probably disapprove of that term but who cares 😉 ). So we looked up the ingredients, because I wanted to make it for him – like I love to do, and of course one of the ingredients was sandalwood – the others were pine and cedar wood with some hair friendly carrier oils, (remember rosemary is good for head hair, it is light and won’t weigh it down). Sandalwood had popped up in my saffron post, and I was growing more curious about it after reading some snippets here and there about it. So the dive into research began!

History and Uses of Sandalwood

Wow.Who knew that sandalwood was so cool? Well most of ancient India that is for sure! I love the stories surrounding the Gods and Goddesses of India, Durga, Sarasvati, and Lakshmi are personal favorites. So imagine my happiness when I found out that Sandalwood is sacred to that lovely Goddess Lakshmi! She is thought to reside in the wood itself, as mentioned by the Brahma Vaivarta Purana.

image from www.chitrahandicrafts.com

Lakshmi carving of made of Sandalwood (you can buy these from the site linked…for a pretty penny)

The name Sandalwood comes from a corruption of the sanskrit word Chandam, which then evolved through linguistic corruption into Sandal possibly along the path Chandam → Sandanam → Sandalum → Sandal. Chandam could mean literally “wood for burning incense” or “shining, glowing” from candrah. Most likely the word we use today is from a late Greek word – santalon – which probably influenced Medieval Latin to create sandalum which then led to sandell in Old French and then sandal in modern English.

Sandalwood and some sandalwood powder.

Sandalwood heartwood and some sandalwood powder.

All sandalwoods are what is known as a hemiparasite which Wikipedia defines as –

“a plant that is parasitic under natural conditions and is also photosynthetic to some degree. Hemiparasites may just obtain water and mineral nutrients from the host plant. Many obtain at least part of their organic nutrients from the host as well.”

Sandalwood is very similar, as well as related, to the well known mistletoe. While they do photosynthesize to create their own food, many of the species also have a taproot that seeks out other plants and then feeds from them. Sandalwood has a sad story of destruction and overuse by humans, so it is extremely important to not only check for the species of sandalwood used in an oil, but also that it is sourced in a sustainable and ethical way. Generally the more expensive the sandalwood oil is, the more likely it is of the right species and from a legit harvester that is approved by the Indian government. Since it is so endangered in the wild there are strict harvesting rules and regulations around sandalwood trees. Sandalwoods are very slow growing trees, which makes restoring the wild population difficult when illegal harvesting is happening. And the older the tree the better quality and stronger smelling the oils (and wood will be).

It’s scent is what makes it so alluring, and I know well of this. My parents lived in China right before I was born, and I had a lot of unusual things growing up. One of them was a carved sandalwood fan, it was so delicate and I would take it out of its little protective box to just sit and smell it.

My fan looked much like this sandalwood carved fan

The scent was just so addictive to me even then, and I think this scent is what has drawn humanity to it over the centuries. It is also used in a lot of religious carvings from prayer beads, to statues of gods and goddesses, to even little fans like mine.

Sandalwood has a large part in human history as well as religions. Sandalwood is mentioned in Indian texts for at least 2,000 years and was used for religious practices as well as medical uses for possibly up to 4,000. It is basically a huge part of life in Hindu culture, it is used in birth rituals, marriage ceremonies, and death rituals. It is used in its oil form, and the wood is used in a powdered form and both are used for the aforementioned religious and medicinal reasons – which I briefly mentioned in the saffron post since it is great for skin masks, soaps, and other preparations, and helps treat and reduce acne as well as other skin conditions. It was also very prized for religious carvings, and for other carved wood products since it retains its scent for decades. In Hinduism specifically it is used as a paste, which is mixed with saffron or other herbal pigments, and is called chandan. Chandan is sacred and can only be prepared by those who are ritually pure. The paste is then used by devotees and is put on the forehead, neck or chest in a ritual manner. Chandan can also be mixed with herbs, or other items to create javadhu which is generally used as a perfume or mixed with water to make a paste and used as deodorant.

Typical Javadhu powder you would find in a store

In both Hinduism and Ayurveda sandalwood is a very holy, and thought to bring one closer to the divine (hence its use as a ritual paste) in fact it is one of the most holy elements to Hindu practitioners or followers of the Vedas and sometimes applied before prayers.

In Buddhism it is also mentioned in some of the sutras (or sutta, depending on which flavor of Buddhism you follow), specifically the Pali Canon mentions it. There is even a legend that as the Buddha died, sandalwood powder fell from the heavens. Sandalwood is thought to be of the lotus (padma) group for the Amitabha Buddha, and is considered one of the three main incenses that are integral to Buddhist practice in general. Sandalwood is thought to focus the mind, and keep one alert during meditation, as well as transform “desires.” It is the most popular for offering incense to oneself in Buddhism.

In the Sufi tradition of Islam sandalwood paste is applied to the grave of a saint by devotees, a mark of respect and of devotion – mostly practiced by people in Southern India where Tamil culture has an influence. In Chinese and Japanese local custom it is also a common incense used in worship and other ceremonies. In Zoroastrianism (in which fire is very sacred) the priests, Mobads, that keep the fire offer it sandalwood – but it is not used in home offerings to the sacred lamps kept in the home. Sandalwood purchased in a fire temple is often more expensive than elsewhere since it is a common form of income for the temple and the Mobads.

Why and How it Works

Some of the chemicals you can find in sandalwoods are santalin (which provides the red color for dying), santene (a terpine that is also in pine needles), tannic acid (same stuff you get in wine!) and santalols. The main chemical that is important in sandalwood for medicinal use is santalol.

Alpha-santalol-stickModel

Alpha-Santalol in its chemical format

Beta-Santalol in its chemical format

Beta-Santalol in the same

Which is broken into two different chemicals α-santalol and β-santalol. Alpha seems to be the most common chemical, but seems like the beta version is the most medicinally useful. It is pretty hard to find medicinal journals that speak of trials and uses of santalol in medical tests but there is a mention in a medical journal of pharmacy ….from 1911. Though it is useful since it points out that sandalwood oil is not very pleasant in taste (though I, personally, would not suggest taking this internally). There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that there are antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent, slight sedative, and good for the respiratory system, hair, and skin. The German government has approved sandalwood oil as a treatment for urinary tract infections, so there is at least some scientific evidence that it is effective for treating infections, but other than that official scientific studies are very scarce. The most interesting point of the German studies is that the oil needs to be coated so that the oils are not released until it hits the small intestine – or it could cause irritation. For this reason I again – do not advise taking this internally.

There seems to be some evidence of its anti-inflammatory action again no firm scientific trials but there is a ton of folk medicine and word of mouth evidence to back this up. Same with the antispasmodic but, again not nearly enough evidence scientifically to completely back these claims, but 4,000 years of history must have something to it. I have found that its use helps with pain, and spasms – especially when massaged into a painful area (with a carrier oil, this tends to need to be diluted). I have not tried it personally as a sedative, though I find the scent quite soothing. It’s antiseptic properties make it a fantastic addition to deodorant since it helps to kill any bacteria that would be lurking around in your armpits. Its skin properties help with scar treatments (like lavender does) and helps soften and soothe, and helps sooth skin inflammation as well as things like eczema. Its astringent nature as well as its antiseptic, make it also great for treating acne. It also helps soften hair, and moisturize it, so it is great to apply to hair  on your head (like rosemary, though it is not as light as rosemary) or hair on your face (if you’re a guy 🙂 ).

Floral scents like lavender or geranium blend well with sandalwood, as well as clove, bergamot, vetiver, and black pepper.

Sustainability & True Species

Like all things that are expensive – saffron, cinnamon and frankincense are good examples – sandalwood oils can be adulterated or diluted at the cheap end of the spectrum. And the actual stuff is expensive – like Lemon Balm oil level which makes frankincense look cheap! I found that it is actually one of the most highly adulterated oils for sale on the market. That means if you see a 9-13$ bottle – you are probably getting mostly jojoba oil or some other carrier oil – or not even a drop of real sandalwood oil. Real sandalwood oil (Santalum album) is in the 100$+ range, which is really prohibitive for some pockets. So you can purchase the cheaper stuff, and this is the cheapest one I trust using on my skin. If you want to go “whole hog” I would go with this site or this one (which also has powdered sandalwood) since they are sustainably and ethically harvested. As you can see the cheapest one is actually a blend of species, since they are all technically all sandalwood but not the “top” species (though they are all good species in the blend as we will discuss further down).

This is another one of those “you get what you pay for” type things. Like the cinnamon I mentioned – if it is cheap, it probably is cassia. Once you have had true cinnamon, there is nothing like the real thing! But what is the right species of sandalwood? Well you could make a blanket statement like all trees of the Santalum genus are real sandalwoods. Which would mostly…mostly be true.

My husband will be pleased with this. Mostly.

My husband will be pleased with this image. Mostly…

But there are a few main species used for sandalwood that you should be familiar with and are the most commonly used.

Indian Sandalwood – (Santalum album)

Santalum album

Other Common Names – White Sandalwood, East Indian Sandalwood, Chandana, or Chandam

First up is the king of all sandalwood species (or would it be queen?) either way Santalum album is the one that is most commonly used, and is sadly the most threatened of species due to poaching and illegal logging. Also this is the wood that sandalwood is named from since Chandam is the Sanskrit word that led to the modern English word. This species is currently the most vulnerable to extinction in the wild, which you may have heard of due to the exploits of Veerappan, a well known sandalwood smuggler. Often used in religious carvings, and as a powder (then made into a paste) is smeared on devotees or made into incense. It is also used for folk medicine and was used to treat: common colds, bronchitis, skin disorders, heart ailments, general weakness, fever, infection of the urinary tract, inflammation of the mouth and pharynx, liver and gallbladder complaints and other maladies. It is known to be effective (from folk medicine history and some medical trials) in treating analgeisc (specifically calming to nerves), antidepressant, antifungal, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent (good for acne and skin), sedative and a fantastic scent to add to perfumes, soaps, and deodorants.

Coast Sandalwood – (Santalum ellipticum)

Santalum ellipticum

Santalum ellipticum

Other Common Names – ʻIliahialoʻe, or Hawaiian Sandalwood

Hawai’ians used the heartwood (‘la’au ‘ala) for its oils, and was often exported to China during the years 1790-1840 for production of carved objects, chests, and joss sticks (incense). The natives used the wood to make the decks of their double hulled canoes (wa’a kaulua) and the heartwood was used to make perfumes and sometimes added to kapa cloth possibly for its fragrance. The leaves and bark were used after burning to ash to treat dandruff and head lice. Shavings of the wood in combination with other plants were used to treat some sexually transmitted diseases.

Australian Sandalwood – (Santalum spicatum)

image by http://www.gilbertdashorstart.com/

Santalum spicatum

This is a species that comes from Western Australia, and its export is a major part of their economy. Its oil was first distilled in 1875, and was produced here and there for a few decades until the 1990’s when it experienced a resurgence which increased (and is still increasing) since it is often used in the perfume industry, very popular with aromatherapists, and in chewing tobacco. This is a much less threatened species, and is almost equal in medicinal properties to Santalum album without the worry of using an extremely endangered species. So if you are unable to afford or can not find ethically sourced Santalum album, this is a good (and less costly) alternative. Testing shows pretty strongly, so far, that it has a lot of great antimicrobial properties, as well as all the stuff listed for Santalum album (since they are so closely related their chemical makeup is very similar and makes it a fantastic stand-in for the more expensive sandalwood).

Other Santalum species you may see are: S. acuminatum, S. austrocaledonicum, S. boninense, S. fernandezianum, S. freycinetianum, S. haleakalae, S. lanceolatum, S. macgregorii, S. murrayanum, S. obtusifolium, S. paniculatum, S. yasi. These species you may see pop up in the occasional commercial preparation, but are not commonly used nor are their medicinal properties well known.

The Fakes

These species, while useful in their own rights are not sandalwoods and are occasionally used as an adulterant in real sandalwood oils or preparations. These should be avoided if you are looking for a real sandalwood.

  •  Adenanthera pavonina sometimes called Red Sandalwood, but this is not sandalwood. Its seeds while toxic when eaten raw are safe to eat when cooked and have been used to treat inflammation in folk medicine.
  • Amyris balsamifera – known as Balsam Torchwood this is a common species accepted by a lot of perfumers and aromatherapy blends.
  • Baphia nitida called African Sandalwood Camwood or Barwood, its bark and heartwood make a red dye, it is known as Osun in Yoruba and is a part of a brand of Nigerian black soap called Dudu Osun.
  • Eremophila mitchelli also called False Sandalwood, Sandalbox and Rosewood Belvory as well as other common names. While native to Australia it is considered an invasive species in some areas of Australia and is illegal to plant.
  • Myoporum platycarpum sometimes called Sugarwood, False Sandalwood as well, which is another native of Australia but is mostly toxic and just the sap is edible, but can not be produced by wounding the tree.
  • Myoporum sandwicense another False Sandalwood, or Bastard Sandalwood, Naio in the native Hawai’ian. It was used in making canoes, fishing net spacers and torches for night fishing. It is a very oily wood and was part of the woods exported to China for Joss stick production.
  • Osyris lanceolata known as African Sandalwood as well, but is generally in Southern parts of Africa, it is over logged despite government protection. Its wood is used for utensils and firewood, and in some communities it is used to preserve milk in gourds for long periods of time.
  • Osyris tenuifolia or Osyris lanceolata known as East African Sandalwood or again as False Sandalwood. Not much information is available on this species.

Recipes

Easy Sandalwood Lotion

  • 2 oz Coconut Oil
  • 10-20 drops of Sandalwood oil (or 1/2 teaspoon of Sandalwood powder)

Take the coconut oil, and whip 2 oz of solid at room temperature coconut oil in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, and adding 10-20 drops of the essential oils. You can also use a bit (half a teaspoon to a teapoon depending on how thick or honey-like you want your lotion. Raw honey is good wound healing and for your skin too.

You can also just add a drop or two of Sandalwood essential oil to your regular routine, or just massage a little into problem areas with a carrier oil (Sweet Almond oil is a good alternative if coconut oil makes you break out).

Saffron & Sandalwood Lotion

  • 1/4 cup Whole almonds
  • 1/4 cup Strained Yogurt (or Plain Greek yogurt)
  • 2 teaspoons Lime or Lemon juice
  • pinch of Ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sandalwood
  • pinch of Saffron

First make your strained yogurt, if you don’t know how to do this go here and follow the instructions. Then soak the almonds in a bowl of water overnight, peel the skins off the next morning and grind into a fine paste in a food processor or strong blender. Add in the strained yogurt, lime (or lemon) juice, turmeric, sandalwood, and the saffron threads. Blend again in the food processor or blender until smooth and creamy. This cream can be stored in a clean container in the fridge for about a week, and you should apply it after washing your face at night. Smooth it all over your skin and massage in gently, in the morning wash your face again.

Both of these lotions are good for fighting acne, skin rashes, eczema, sunburns, helps reduce age spots and brighten dull skin. It even does a lot if you massage it into scars, helping to soften them and reduce their visibility, you can even add in a bit of lavender too to help with the redness of scarring if you are treating that. Really it does your skin good and will help just about anything to do with skin 🙂 there is some evidence even that it may help with Rosacea, though it may irritate some skin types that have Rosacea so make sure to do a test patch before you attempt to treat it with sandalwood oil.

Sandalwood Steaming

  • 2-5 drops Sandalwood oil
  • Bowl of hot water, must be steaming
  • Towel

Place a few drops into the bowl of hot water, place towel over your head and allow the steam to bathe the face. This another way to treat skin issues, or to treat very dry skin, or chapped skin.

ProChestColdTip: If you have a chest cold or respiratory issues, or even laryngitis, you can do this with some eucalyptus since there is some evidence that sandalwood can act as an expectorant and has antiviral properties.

ProStressTip: This can also be really good for stress, as the smell is very soothing, and has a mild sedative action, but I would suggest using meditation while inhaling the scent of just the sandalwood oil to reduce stress and bring relaxation.

Woodsy Beard Oil

  • 25 milliliters Carrier oil (this can be straight or a blend, 100 drops = about 5 ml)
  • 2 milliliters (about 50 drops) Sandalwood oil
  • 1 milliliter Cedarwood oil
  • 2 milliliters Pine oil

Mix well and store in a dark bottle, apply a few drops to hands and massage into beard. Comb through with beard brush or beard comb. Trust me guys your ladies will love this

The carrier oil can be anything you like, jojoba is good, vitamin E is great, argan oil is all the rage these days. Grapeseed, hemp, coconut, sweet almond, olive and apricot are all ok as well – it is really up to you on this and what works best with your face and hair and you can combine them and do half and half, or whatever combo you prefer most. Since you will be putting this on your face it will condition and soften your skin (especially with sandalwood oil) and condition and soften your beard hairs. This will make about an ounce, and you can either use a bottle with a dropper or you can use a bottle that has a built in dropper like on most essential oil bottles. You can even re-use some essential oil bottles for this.

ProScentsTip: You can also substitute the pine or cedarwood for lime and rosemary respectively, for a more citrusy smelling oil. You can also check out this site which has some great links for bottles, measuring equipment (if you don’t have anything to measure milliliters with) and some other recipes.

Muscle Spasm Massage Oil

  • 1 ounce Carrier oil
  • 10-20 drops Sandalwood oil (or 1/2 teaspoon Sandalwood powder)
  • 10 drops Wintergreen
  • 10 drops Cardamom

Mix well it is best to use an oil that is liquid at room temperature, if you use coconut oil that is not, you may want to whip this in a stand mixer to make it easier to apply. This is a great oil to massage into painful muscle spasms, or for general muscle pain (especially back pain!). The sandalwood and cardamom will help release the muscles and relax them, and the wintergreen will provide warming (which always helps muscles release) as well as providing a natural aspirin component to alleviate pain further.

Sleeping Sandalwood & Lavender

  • 1-2 drops Lavender oil
  • 1-2 drops Sandalwood oil

Massage into temples and inhale the lovely scents deeply. This is a combination that I find many swear by, and I do like the combination. It isn’t as powerful as hops, but it will definitely send you off to a sweet smelling dreamland.

ProMigraineTip: Since lavender and sandalwood oil are antispasmodics as well as good for treating pain, these are also great to massage into the temples if you are suffering a migraine.

If you suffer from dandruff you can also use sandalwood oil to treat it, and you can use the Best Shampoo Ever Recipe I posted previously as a base for it. Also sandalwood as I mentioned is great as a deodorant, you can add the oils to the Best Deodorant recipes I posted (any of them in the post will work) or you can use sandalwood paste to make your own. Simply take your sandalwood powder, mix with small amounts of water until it forms a paste and apply with the hands to the armpits.

Remember, everyone’s body is different and has different chemistry so always do your own experiments and see what works best for you. Always check sites like WebMD for interactions with any medications you might be taking, and remember check for ethically sourced, and sustainably harvested sandalwood oil. You will pay a little more, but it is worth supporting people who want to make sure this tree is around for future generations. And as always, if you have any doubts whatsoever – ask a professional!

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Cardamom, Holiday Love Potion #9

Happy New Year Everyone!!! What a great year 2015 will be! The best yet!

Finally, winter is officially here, and that means – winter colds (bleh!) & holiday stress (double bleh!). Everyone seems to be getting sick, and this is that time of year when I keep ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom close at hand. Then you get weather changes, and that means horrible migraines. So I tend to hole up, and hibernate, in winter. I venture out even less, since my poor immune system can’t take the cold, and the direct assault of microbial evil, plus all the people out for holiday shopping is overwhelming to my senses as well as a moving people shaped mass of infection. Of course prevention tea helps stave off most anything winter can throw at you – colds, flu and virus-y type things. But did you know that if you add cardamom to your food and drink, or if you drink chai tea (or even chai coffee) that there are a lot of elements in it that helps to stave off colds as well as ease pain, lessen stress, and many other things? That is right, that chai latte you are craving could have those calories written off as medicinal!

So, start taking notes because cardamom is a great way to fight holiday stress & anxiety, winter colds, and even migraines from stress (or winter weather if you are like me). You can also seem like an awesome host, since it is another relaxing warm drink to serve, and it is lovely to experience the aroma of the spices as you chat and warm yourself by the fire. It’s sensual smell has led it to be used in many love potions and perfumes to lure the opposite sex. So, since every King of Spices needs it’s Queen, I bring you…Cardamom!

Lean green fighting pod machines.

Lean, green, anxiety fighting pod-machines!

Now if you know more than the average bear about cardamom, you will know there are actually more than one sort. So to keep this post below epic proportions, I will only be covering Green Cardamom or Elettaria cardamomum, and not Black Cardamom, that will be for another time :). The genus name of green cardamom, elettaria is derived from the Tamil words for “cardamom seeds.” Though this word could be much older, and the term cardamom we now use, could be derived from Dravidian, which is basically the grandparent language of Tamil. The Greeks called the pod kardamomon, which is another contender for the likely root word for this sweet little pod, though the exact etymological roots of the English term is not fully known. A lot of Westerners are not familiar with the taste of cardamom, or have even seen it before. I have been quite amused recently serving people cardamom coffee, mostly to see if they notice the difference and if they enjoy the additional flavor. It is sometimes difficult explaining what is in it, since almost none have even heard of cardamom, and then showing them what cardamom looks like. You get some suspicious glances at first, but the lovely smell from the jar, and the taste of the coffee seems to win most people over fairly quickly.

The History and Uses of Cardamom

As you can see it looks a lot like ginger and turmeric, we are just aren't concerned with the roots this time!

As you can see it looks a lot like ginger and turmeric, we are just aren’t concerned with the roots this time!

Thankfully chai tea (or if you want to get really technical masala chai, but I will refer to it as just chai) has made it’s way into popular Western culture, and cardamom should taste familiar now to most palates that have had chai flavored things. Cardamom is the dominant flavor in most traditionally made masala chai, but in the States it may be more cassia you are tasting with little to no cardamom, so you may have missed out on the best sort of chai if you only are purchasing pre-packaged or commercially made preparations. That is why I highly suggest you make your own chai at home, it is fun, super easy and you can put in as many or as varied a mix of spices as you want. Chai is fun to make and there is a great recipe here, and I will add another to the mix further down. Plus chai with cardamom is good for alleviating stress, and easing holiday anxiety – or any anxiety really!

It also has beautiful flowers, that just happen to be edible (you can plant the seeds from your pods and find out how nice they are)

It also has beautiful flowers, that just happen to be edible (you can plant the seeds from your store bought pods. Almost all grow, and it will possibly bloom, I suggest indoor planting or hot house unless you live in a tropical climate)

Cardamom has been known in India since before history, at least 3000 years of human history we know it has been used, and as soon as people were writing medical texts cardamom was mentioned. Since cardamom is native to India it was easy for it to spread to most of Asia, it quickly became well known to most of the cultures it came into contact with. In India a medical text was compiled between 2 BC and 2 AD called the Charaka Samhita, which mentions cardamom as part of some medicinal preparations, also a Sanskrit text from 4 BC discusses using cardamom, “ela” in the language, as part of formal political gifts between two groups. Cardamom was sometimes offered in some Hindu traditions to the recently deceased to appease them, and can be part of some tarpanas. In traditional medicine of India, Ayurveda, an 11th century medical text called the Manasollasa (Book of Splendor) it names cardamom as one of the ingredients in panchasugandha-thambula or “five-fragrance betel chew”. This five-fragrance chew contained cloves, cardamom and other spices wrapped in betel leaves, sometimes with areca nut sometimes called the betel-nut, which was then chewed to aid with digestion and relieve wind. This is still being done today to ease the stomach and promote digestion, if you include the areca nut is included this is a strong stimulant which could explain the tradition of adding cardamom to the mix.

Cardamom spread from India and the East, then to the West. Making it’s way to Egypt, and into some of its famous medical writings. We have gone over the Eber’s Papyrus before, and of course it name drops cardamom as a great fix for “wind” (or “farty pants”, in the parlance of our times) and digestion. It was also used in Egyptian religious ceremonies, cosmetics, and embalming, as well as food and medicine. The Babylonians and Assyrians also knew well and prized highly the health benefits of cardamom, and they were early traders across the land routes and possibly water routes via the Persian Gulf as early as the Bronze Age. A king of Babylon, Marduk-apla-iddina II, was known to have grown it in his royal garden, and many Assyrian doctors wrote about the uses of cardamom. Since it was used in many perfumes by many cultures it eventually grew to have a reputation of being a powerful aphrodisiac, and was frequently used in love potions.

Not that sort… I wish though! Why yes I WILL go to the dance with you Adrian Paul! *swoons*

Greeks also loved cardamom, and it was so highly prized that it was in itself a symbol of luxury, and was used in social rituals and gatherings. Cardamom is mentioned by a lot of names that should now be very familiar to you, Dioscorides and Hippocrates both agreed this is great for the stomach and digestion, and eases cramps. Alexander the Great, sent many plants home to his tutor, Aristotle, while he was out doing his conquering thing and it is likely that is how his successor, and possible father of botany, Theophrastus wrote about this plant that he may have obtained from Aristotle. While it was used medicinally it did not catch on in the same way it did in India, it was more prized for its scent and was often used in incense and perfumes. Its delicate flavor and scent is what led it to it more often being used in perfumes, and could be the reason for it being unofficially dubbed the “Queen of Spices.” The Romans were just as as fond as the Greeks cardamom to make perfume and other cosmetics, but still Galen wrote about it, agreeing with other medicinal writers of the time that it is a great way to treat stomach disorders, cramping and “wind.” In the 2nd century AD it was listed as a taxable luxury good in Alexandria. Sadly with the collapse of the Roman Empire, cardamom trade routes collapsed it seems, and this lovely pod disappears from history for a short while in the West.

Cardamom maintained its favor in the Arab world and further East, it was incorporated in recipes from the court of the Sultan of Mandu, dating from about 1500’s, and has a number of sherbets and rice dishes flavored with cardamom. You still find a lot of foods, not just dessert type foods, in Indian and Arabic cuisine that contain cardamom. If you have never had the joy of eating Indian sweets (or mithai), I don’t think you can say you have truly lived. I am also a huge fan of food from the Middle and Near East, and especially Indian food – who am I kidding I love all foods! Their savory and sweet dishes all will probably have some cardamom in them. Cardamom is, in my opinion, best in desserts, and it is so popular a dessert flavor that there is a popular brand of cardamom syrup, and you frequently find cardamom extract in dessert aisles.

I can't read Arabic but I am sure that it pretty much says "this stuff is delicious"

I can’t read Arabic but I am sure that it pretty much says “this stuff is delicious, shut up and put it in your face hole”

Cardamom makes it’s comeback in the West during the Middle Ages, when trade from the Crusades re-introduced Europeans to civilization (thank goodness for that, especially the part about bathing regularly). Later as trade between lands Holy and further East increased, the spice became more common and more often used in European cooking. In the Scandinavian countries they continue this tradition, and there are lots of types of cardamom breads, Which I will include some recipes for further down. It was mostly Venetian traders that supplied cardamom, since they had access to the spice routes. Or to put it more bluntly, they had all of the trade routes coming via the sea from Africa and the Levant so locked down they had a near monopoly on most items from the East. (It was such a stereotype for Venetians to be rich it even comes up in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice). They controlled and were pretty much the only point of entry for most luxuries that were arriving from anything East of Greece, and everything had to disperse out from there. They had this trade locked down from the 8th to about the 15th century, when the Ottoman Turks rolled up, and pretty much took over.

They also cornered the poofy hat fashion niche.

They also cornered the poofy hat fashion niche.

If you are paying attention to the dates, you can now see why Columbus was sent by Spain to find a different route to the spice laden East, they were trying to skip the middle men of Venice and the Arab traders that controlled the waters of the Gulfs and Indian Ocean. As more Europeans got out on the sea, a few started to dominate. A surprising country that wielded a lot of power despite its size is Portugal. Many Portuguese merchants made it all over the world, one of them, Duarte Barbosa, in his travels during the 16th century wrote about wild cardamom growing along the Malabar coast, but it was already cultivated when another Portuguese explorer came by a mere 40 years later – testament to is value and value as a trade commodity. But despite its availability, then and today, Cardamom is sadly way under used in US and a lot of Europe. But oddly enough, it is a part of traditional Christmas cookies made this time of year in the Netherlands and Sweden, so again, what better time to talk about this great spice? 

Aaaaaaaaand maybe suggest bringing back Krampus, or at least totally metal cards with him on them. That guy is Ozzy Osborne (pre-“The Osbornes”) metal.

Cardamom in the Levant and Middle East was heartily embraced and took on a whole new set of uses and a new parts in rituals. In most countries that have had an influence from Arab culture, or Islam, it is traditional to add cardamom to coffee, in fact, it really isn’t Turkish coffee without the addition of cardamom, it also could be known as Arabic, or Saudi coffee, or a plethora of other terms. So lets just agree that Turkish coffee will refer to coffee with cardamom and possibly other spices prepared by boiling. I will use Turkish coffee to refer to this to avoid being overly confusing, since there are loads of regional variations (and different names in each region) that makes this really, really complicated to discuss). In some areas it is traditional to pile on the cardamom to show the level of generosity of the host, and respect for their guest, since it is such an expensive spice. It can be so heavily added in some styles of coffee that even the powerful taste of coffee itself plays second fiddle to the flavor of cardamom.

There are literally 100’s of regional variations of making coffee in every single part of the world, couple that with an almost insane level of variation on terms in each region for their own spices, roasts and levels of sweetness, and this post could take years. But since this is all about cardamom, and not coffee (another post in the future!), I am only going to cover just Turkish coffee, since most versions of this contain cardamom in traditional preparations. Coffee in many of these regions also tends to be so strong it is drunk in small amounts, from beautiful coffee pots, and there are all sorts of gestures (as with some tea drinking) that go along with the coffee ceremony.

I hate to admit that until recently I had no idea that the pairing of cardamom and coffee was why I loved Turkish coffee sooooooo much, but what is even more awesome is I found that cardamom, and this was known to those Turkish coffee drinkers, tones down the effects of the caffeine (that means you can have 6 cups of good, strong coffee and not fear that your body may vibrate itself to its atomic parts, I tried it in the name of science and I only felt a little more “amped” like I had only had a cup or two) making the coffee you drink a lot more healthy and beneficial for you. If you take your coffee with milk, it can also reduce the extra mucus that dairy products tend to cause as well, so you can have a splash to give you another way to get Vitamin D. Since it reduces stress as well, it may be a good idea to throw cardamom in the coffee you take on your morning drive to help combat the stress of commuting, and combat the dreaded Monday yawns.

This could be the answer for a happy morning commute!

Now knowing that it can over power coffee you would hardly be surprised at how much in flavor is packed in this little pod. It also easy to keep when stored in unbroken pod form, it can last for ages since the seeds (unbroken) inside the pods are what hold all the precious oils and flavors. I actually keep and re-use a lot of glass jars, my favorite are amber yeast jars for storing spices like this since they are usually airtight, and help prevent damage from sunlight (that is why good beer comes in amber bottles, yeast hates direct sunlight). Cardamom can last even longer if sealed, then put in the freezer. So stock up if its on sale! Because cardamom pods keep extremely well once dried, and retain almost all of their flavor and oils until crushed it made it a very easily stored, and therefore traded, spice. It was so hardy it became quickly a far traveling spice, it was strong enough to make it all the way to Scandinavian countries and still carry its sweet flavor to their palates. Its easy storage is also why it is one of the oldest traded spices (excluding resins), but because it has to be hand harvested like tea – ranks as one of the top 3 most expensive spices, only beaten by saffron and vanilla (more spices we will discuss later). While it is an expensive spice it is not out of reach, and you can buy bags of whole pods at most markets for reasonable prices (much less cost, and easier to find than good quality saffron). You can even find some in a few of the larger chain stores, but I would much rather give my cash to Mom & Pop stores, and local places. Shop local y’all! Like saffron the expense is countered by you not having to use much to get a lot of flavor, 1-3 pods is a lot of flavor for a dish. Heed this warning though, the pre-ground powder loses its potency and flavor faster than most spices. I strongly advise against buying pre-ground cardamom unless you are using it all that day, or you have no other available options. Though if you have pre-ground cardamom it is easy to throw it into coffee beans that are ground, or you are grinding!

Cardamom is also available as essential oil, remember to buy a good quality one if you are going to ingest it, and I advise caution and not to ingest more than 2 maybe 3 drops (that is for adults only) since over use can quickly lead to overdose and that has symptoms opposite to calming the stomach (and definitely some time in the bathroom), but as far as testing has shown this is “mostly harmless” and shouldn’t have overly adverse effects (nothing is ever 100% safe to consume vast quantities of so remember common sense and moderation). Also if you have, or are prone to gall stones, avoid cardamom in excessive amounts it can irritate them.

What is in Cardamom that Works?

Well one of the main components is 1.8cineole which is also known as eucalyptol, which may sound familiar as it is in eucalyptus, lavender and camphor (another future post). Which is something we know to be an anti-inflammatory and there are scientific studies that are showing this is a promising chemical for medicinal use. Also the second highest component in cardamom is a-terpinyl acetate, which has a lot of studies that show it to be an effective antimicrobial, and is the reason that cardamom is such a good addition to any cold, or illness fighting food or drink. Another one that should hopefully be familiar by now is linalool, which has shown a lot of promise in lab research as a stress reliever, and mild sedative. Hence it being such a great addition to drinks to relieve stress, mild anxiety, and can help ease the pain of tension headaches, and all of these mean it is great for migraines.

Α and β-pinene are also present in cardamom, and α as having anti-inflammatory properties, as well as having an almost antibiotic effect, which makes it great for fighting pain and illness. Β-pinene more aromatic, and should be familiar since they are both prevalent in pine. Now this is probably the most important chemical in cardamom for the sufferers of pain – myrcene. This little chemical is a well known pain reliever, and is why hops are effective pain relievers and the not so legal in Texas, but very legal elsewhere, cannabis. Cardamom contains a lot of this chemical and it is fairly safe to ingest in sensible daily amounts with no adverse side effects. Another, hopefully familiar one is limonene, which is why cardamom is so great for settling the stomach, and may actually help people with IBS or acid reflux – if you have these look into it, it may be your answer. It is also a sedative and helps to reduce stress since it helps to stimulate adenosine receptors and the production of adenosine – which is a key chemical in the body goign to sleep as well as an anti-inflammatory. Terpinolene which helps preserve foods, and other things, since it is an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. And many others we have discussed before like (but not limited to) – citronellol, nerol, and geraniol. So as you can see, it was no exaggeration saying that cardamom was a heavy hitter packed into a tiny pod.

Cardamom Recipes

Right, so, since its the holidays fudge is everywhere, or at least it is here. And while most of us know only the chocolate kind, carrot fudge is a World War II treat that was able to be easily made with rations, and has a long history in India as Gajar Halwa. Which as one of my friends (who is Indian) said Gajar Halwa is a great way to take something healthy and turn it into something that is the complete opposite of what it started out as.

Carrot Fudge (Gajar Halwa) (adapted from myheartbeets)

  • 2½ cups Carrots, grated
  • 1 can Coconut Cream (or full fat coconut milk or even condensed milk)
  • 2 tablespoons Coconut oil (butter or ghee could be substituted)
  • 2 tablespoons Honey
  • 1 teaspoon of ground Cardamom seeds
  • Optional: chopped dates, golden raisins, chopped prunes, and optional garnish of crushed pistachios or toasted almond slivers

Melt coconut oil in a saucepan, add grated carrots and cook until softening (about 10 minutes) add coconut cream and simmer on low heat stirring to keep it from burning. After about 20 minutes add the cardamom, mix thoroughly, and then add in honey (leave out if you used condensed milk), mixing well until all liquids evaporate and mixture thickens. Serve in bowls with optional garnishes, or throw in dried fruits for some extra depth, but best is to spread it thickly in a greased or wax paper lined pan. You can press a whole nut or formations of dried fruit into regular intervals while the mix is still hot, and then slice into squares for gifting. Because this has cardamom in it, it is also good to serve after a large holiday meal (especially one where people are sure to overindulge). It is also good for the host(ess), since it helps reduce stress and can help take some of the edge of the exhausting nature of this season.

Vetebröd (Swedish Sweet Yeast Bread slightly altered from here)

  • 2 1/2 cups Milk
  • 1 1/2 cups Butter, melted
  • 1 cup Sugar (or honey)
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 2 teaspoons Cardamom seeds, ground
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 9 cups Flour
  • 7-9 tablespoons Gluten
  • 1 egg and 2 tablespoons water for egg wash
  • Cardamom sugar (see below) or slivered toasted almonds for topping

Prepare your Basic Cardamom Bread Dough using the first 7 ingredients listed above (this takes about 1 1/2 hours).

After punching down dough following its first rise, remove from bowl and knead lightly on floured counter until smooth and shiny. Divide dough into two halves.

Divide each half of the dough into three equal portions. Roll each portion into a long, thin “snake” (about 18 inches long). Braid three of the “snakes” together, folding and pinching outer edges under to form a loaf shape. Repeat for second set of three dough “snakes.” (Alternative: Do not divide dough into 2 halves, but separate entire mass into three equal portions. Roll the three portions into “snakes,” braid together, then join and pinch ends together to form a single braided bread wreath).

Place the two braided loaves (or the single braided wreath) on a greased baking sheet, cover with a towel, and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375º.

When loaves (or wreath) have doubled, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with [cardamom or orange sugar] or almonds. Place in the middle of a preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until done.

Yield: 2 braided loaves or 1 braided wreath, about 20 servings.

To make cardamom sugar, take 1-2 pods cardamom and in food processor grind well with sugar and use to sprinkle over bread, or toast almond slivers in the oven to top. To make an orange sugar take a tablespoon of orange zest and quickly grind a few times in food processor and use to sprinkle over bread.

Speculaas or Dutch Windmill Cookies (slightly altered from here)

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick or 113 g) cold unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (75 g) white granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (165 g) packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 3/4 cup (235 g) all purpose flour

Prep a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet. Then:

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes. Place in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the sugars, baking soda, salt, and spices. Cream butter and dry ingredients together on medium speed for 30 seconds or until the batter is uniform in color. Scrape down the sides with a large spatula and add the vanilla extract and egg and beat on medium speed until incorporated (about 30 more seconds). Scrape down the sides again and add the flour. Beat on medium speed until incorporated (about 30 more seconds)

If you are lucky enough to have all the traditional implements follow the quoted text if not skip down past that.

Split the cookie dough in half. If you using the springerle rolling pin, roll the dough out until 1/2 inch thick with a plain rolling pin. Liberally dust the springerle pin with flour then roll over the dough, pressing firmly to make a 1/4 inch thick cookie dough, with imprint. Cut the dough along the springerle grid lines with a sharp knife or pizza cutter and place on the baking sheet. If using a traditional speculaas cookie mold, roll the dough until 1/2 thick with a plain rolling pin. Lightly spray the mold with cooking oil, then liberally dust with all purpose flour (knocking out any loose flour once you’ve dusted it). Press the dough into the mold, remove excess dough of the back of the mold and then carefully unmold it onto the baking sheet.

If you don’t have all that fancy stuff, or some awesome family heirloom shortbread mold, use a cookie cutter and you can cut them into any shape you want. You can also roll it into a log and cut it into evenly spaced discs, roll each into a ball and press with the bottom of a glass if you have one with a nice design, or the old standby used for peanut butter cookies of pressing a fork into an X shape works as well. If you have one a cookie “gun” or a cookie stamp would work a treat to make these (I recently acquired a cookie stamp and am making these cookies again just to try it out). You want to roll things fairly thick so the unbaked cookies are at least 1/4 of an inch thick.

Chill for about an hour, but for at least 30 minutes. Then heat your oven to 375°F and bake for 9 to 11 minutes, you want to remove them when they just start to brown at the edges, do not let them brown all the way. Cookies as a rule should err on the side of underdone, instead of overdone. You can always bake them a tad longer, you can’t un-bake them. Also you should always allow them to cool in or on whatever they baked in for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. These cookies are no different, but taste oh so delicious.

It isn’t Christmas really without these next cookies, and they are a Southern favorite. Sadly less and less people are familiar with them, but these are one of my favorite cookies to whip up as gifts during the holidays and this has a cardamom addition for some exotic flare.

Cardamom Molasses Cookies

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup coconut oil (seriously just trust me use this and nothing else, you could use shortening or butter but it doesn’t come out the same)
  • 1/4 cup molasses (find the darkest least processed you can find, you want as much dark rich flavor as possible)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • optional: 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • garnish: 1-2 tablespoons sugar

Cream coconut oil, brown sugar, egg, and molasses in a stand mixer or in a bowl with an electric beater. Stir in spices, then add in flour in batches, salt and baking soda. Mix well until fully combined, dough should be slightly dry, but forms easily into balls like peanut butter cookie dough. It is easiest to use a 1-2 ounce ice cream scoop to portion out the dough but you want to have about a tablespoon of dough for each cookie. Roll each by hand into a ball then dip top half in sugar. Place sugar side up on baking tray with parchment paper, with 2 inches at least between each ball. Bake for 12-15 minutes, let cool for 10 and then move to cooling rack. These are a delicious and aromatic cookie, that will become your favorite once you make it.

Cardamom Coffee

  • 1 cup Coffee beans, whole (pre-ground if you have no other option)
  • 1-2 Cardamom pods
  • Optional – cinnamon sticks, orange peel, carob nibs, cloves, saffron, and caraway seeds, fresh vanilla
  • Coffee Grinder
  • French Press (preferred but not required)

It is technically more “traditional” to use a lighter roast, or roast your own beans. Even I don’t have time for all that jazz. So find a roast level you like, and use that. Most grinders hold about a cup of coffee beans, add in your cardamom pods, and grind you don’t want a fine grind but fairly chunky. Follow your normal routine for brewing coffee in a french press, if you never have check out this guide. You can add in other things to your grind like the optional spices, or you can just do plain cardamom and coffee. All of them taste amazing. Guests will be wowed that you blended your own special grind and you will forever be known as the hostess with the most-est.

Some cardamom, cinnamon and orange peel spiced coffee, in my beautiful Christmas present from my fantastic MIL <3 I couldn't help but brag a wee bit!

Some cardamom, cinnamon and orange peel spiced coffee, in my beautiful Christmas present from my fantastic MIL ❤ I couldn’t help but brag a wee bit!

Warning: I have put 3 cardamom pods in about half a cup of coffee and ground it, and it is some pretty strong knockout juice. So please do not drink loads of cardamom and drive!

Cardamom Tea

  • 2-3 pods, slightly crushed
  • 8 ounces of Hot water (not boiling)

Steep for 10-15 minutes, and drink. You may need some honey to help this out since it can be quite strong tasting. This is good for pain, or extremely stressful days. If you are having stomach issues, increase to about a teaspoon of crushed seeds and steep for the same amount of time. This should help with cramping and abdominal pain that comes with medications, IBS, lactose in tolerance and so on.

ProCompressTip: You can steep for 20 minutes, and then soak a towel in this and apply directly to the forehead, or head where migraine hurts most. Or even to cramped muscles to help ease spasms and pain.

 Cardamom Tincture

  • 1 part Cardamom seeds, slightly crushed
  • 2 parts Vodka (or other clear alcohol)
  • Mason jar or airtight jar

Put crushed seeds in a jar, cover with alcohol. Allow to sit, giving a shake once a day or so for about 4-6 weeks. Strain and bottle and store out of sunlight. This is a great cure for stomach cramping, and intestinal distress. It is also good to take after a heavy meal to prevent those issues in advance. A few 1-10 ml (10-60 drops) in honey or in a tea, or under the tongue. This can also be a good way to help yourself sleep on a restless night, or when a migraine or pain is keeping you awake.

It is great paired with Tulsi and lavender in a tea too!

Mike Tyson Level Knock Out Tea

  • 1-2 pods of Cardamom, with seeds removed (more if you like the taste adjust to your liking)
  • 1 tablespoon of Tulsi
  • 1 teaspoon dried Lavender flowers
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon of dried Chamomile flowers

You could reduce the Tulsi to a teaspoon but, I say go big or go home. Plus this tea pretty much ensures that within a half hour you will be counting sheep in dreamland. Steep in water for about 10-15 minutes, add honey if you need some sweet, strain and drink! This is a great tea also if you are up stressing about something, since it will put your mind at ease and bring healthy restful sleep. Seriously you have no other options but to sleep when cardamom is in the mix.

Cardamom Massage Oil

  • 30 drops Cardamom essential oil
  • 1 ounce good oil (jojoba, almond, olive, etc)

Mix well and store in and store in a dark bottle, massage into spasms, or temples, neck and shoulders for migraines. This is also good for a generally allover body massage to alleviate stress and anxiety. Give it a go, you will love the smell and the relaxation.

Cardamom Epsom Salt Bath

  • 5 cups (40 oz) Epsom Salts
  • 5-20 drops Cardamom essential oils
  • Optional: any other oils you would like to add, just remember to reduce your cardamom oil by the number of drops of your other oils.

Mix well, and store in an airtight container, add a cup to a hot bath and soak for 20-30 minutes. You can always use the cardamom tea, and throw in some epsom salts too if you are unable to get your hands on the oil.

Ok, now I have to get out my soapbox.

*gets on soapbox*

Before I get into this second chai recipe, because who can have too many chai recipes? I want to explain something that seems to have as much fear and superstition surrounding its use and adoption, as the gas stove did when it was first introduced (for more on the gas stove see the footnotes). So I would like to clear up some things about Microwaves from things I have heard.

  • Microwaves “change” the molecular structure of water. Wrong. If it did – it wouldn’t be water, secondly this has been pretty solidly debunked by pretty much everyone out there, and their doge, not the least including Snopes. The day some 9 yr old’s science project overturns major accepted views in physics and chemistry, you aren’t going to read about it in some email forward from one of your crazier relatives. Critical thinking people, lets use some.
  • Microwaves give you “radiation and therefore cancer.” Wrong. Microwaves are not going to give you radiation poisoning like if you walked into a nuclear reactor in full meltdown. You are getting more radiation flying in an airplane, or eating a banana – than you do using a microwave. Think about that. Please stop spreading this rumor it is old and tired, and that horse died at least 50 years ago. Stop. Beating it. Microwaves use electromagnetic waves to excite the food’s water molecules, cooking it from the inside basically by steam. That is why it doesn’t brown, or do well with breads like an electric or gas oven that uses heat conduction and convection to cook food. A microwave is not radiating food, or giving anything radiation that will kill you to stand in front of one (except if you are heating a hotpocket, then yes, it may actually be part of killing you, but 90% of that was the hotpocket). Electromagnetic waves also power your computer/car speakers, and many other things, so unless you also shun speakers and pretty much every other electronic device, your argument about microwaves being some “radiation cancer machine,” sounds really rather silly. But if you don’t believe me, here is the FDA on microwaves explaining why they are safe, and American Cancer Society on why microwaves won’t give you cancer, or the bad sort of radiation.

I get that not everyone aced chemistry and physics, but pretty much all the myths and fear surrounding the microwave are just another sad case of history repeating itself. We fear what we do not fully understand, and invisible waves that heats things up does seem pretty magical. So in the hopes that people will better understand, please read this explanation on how microwaves work. Or if you need a more quick and friendly explanation check out this video from the Smithsonian, they are people who know stuff.

*gets off soapbox*

Failure (and Idiot) Proof Chai Tea

  • ¹/3 cup of water
  • 2/3 cup of Milk
  • 1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon Black Tea
  • 1-3 Star Anise pods, whole
  • 2-4 Green Cardamom pods, crushed
  • 2-5 Peppercorns, crushed
  • 1 stick True Cinnamon, whole
  • 3-6 Cloves, crushed
  • 1 inch (thumb sized) piece of Fresh Ginger, crushed, or a heaping teaspoon of candied
  • Optional: teaspoon of Turmeric paste or powder, or fresh vanilla include seeds and pod itself.

Crush the spices except for the star anise and cinnamon you add those whole, and the ginger if you are using fresh. You don’t want to grind this to a powder just make sure things are slightly broken and the ginger is flat-ish, you want it broken up but not completely ground to a paste – though you can grind it to a paste if you really, really want to. I didn’t have fresh ginger this time since I just made ginger ale the day before, so I am using some candied ginger I got as a gift, which I love the jar it came in and will be storing my home-made candied ginger in it once I am done! Since I actually remembered for once to take pictures as I am making it, there are now pictures to follow along 🙂 and I am going to try to be really good this year about taking more pictures of things so hopefully I remember to!

Spices in my cute little molina

Spices in my cute little molina

Throw everything except the milk into a pot, exclude the candied ginger if you are using it, I find that using a spoon to scrape out the spices the easiest way since lifting my stone mortar is difficult with my strength issues. Bring the water tea and spice mix up to a simmer and allow it to go for 3-4 minutes, or until it becomes fragrant with smell of the tea and the spices.

Candied ginger and my plain black tea (I am out of fresh since I just made ginger ale)

My candied ginger that was a gift! It is my trusty backup, and my plain black tea, you can use Earl Grey, or lipton (ugh!) if you have to, if you can’t find plain black tea.

Turn off heat and leave the pot on the burner to get that last bit of heat out while you heat your milk.

My little pot full of tea and spices!

That’s right let that stuff sit and marinate.

Milk, besides sugar, is one of the most evil things to cook with. I say evil because they will turn on you faster than an evil step-sister in a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale. If you look away for a second, or have to tend to some urgent situation, while making chai with milk on the stove, you could end up with some really horrible chai curds and whey. Not pleasant, or drinkable.

So the best way around this is to heat the water with the tea and spices on the stove, and then heat your milk (30 seconds to a minute) in the microwave. Microwaves since they excite water molecules only, will heat the milk (or other liquids) without bringing it to a visible boil (another reason it has such mistrust, how can it make something boiling hot without it looking like its boiling?! And scalding is, I believe, the number one way most people hurt themselves with microwaves). So it is extremely difficult to destroy, or curdle, your milk with this method, and it is heated to a precisely so that the chai is drinkable sooner rather than later.

Strained and ready to go!

Strained and ready to go! Yum!

You can even heat the milk right in the mug you are using, then strain the tea mixture into the heated milk, stir to fully combine and add the candied ginger if you are using it. I also find that I overall get a better colored chai, and if I want to try to squeeze a second brewing out of my tea and spices it isn’t all gross with milk. Waste not, want not. Right?

Cardamom is also a mild laxative, and as we have discussed previously everybody poops, but sometimes we have difficulty pooping. Cardamom is a good addition to a senna or other herbal laxative recipe, as well as fennel, since both will help ease the cramping that can come with taking over the counter laxatives or herbal ones.

Cardamom & Senna Tea To Make You Go

  • 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of senna pods (half as much if you use leaves)
  • 16 ounces Boiling water
  • 5-6 Cardamom pods, crushed
  • Optional: Honey, fennel, or ginger can be added to help things along.

Steep for 3-5 minutes in a covered tea pot, and drink about 8 ounces, if you need a stronger tea let steep for longer. But the longer you steep it the stronger this will be when it comes to cramping, and while the cardamom does help it will not eliminate the cramping entirely. This will also make you sleepy, and senna works best overnight, so drink this before bed.

Remember, everyone is different and every body’s chemistry is different so do your own tests, see what your body works best with. Do the smart thing and check for interactions with other things you are taking on places like WebMD. And as always if you are in doubt in the slightest, ask a professional!

ProCardamomConversionTip: 12 seeds = 1 pod; 10 pods = 1 ½ teaspoons of Cardamom powder

For more information on the fear of adoption of gas stoves, as well as the history of cooking implements and eating as well check out Consider the Fork.

If you are interested in a quick history of Venice, and some of their food go here.

If you are a coffee addict aficionado, like me, you should check out all of these variations by making them at home since they are fun to make, can be made with inexpensive means and little addition to your kitchen unless you want to, and more fun to drink especially if you follow the tradition of using it to socialize with friends and family. We all need more socializing with good people, it lifts the spirits and it is something we have lost in our rush-about modern culture. Also, the habit of hospitality (at least in the US) has been lost, and we should definitely bring that back! If you are afraid to try grinding or roasting it on your own, seek out a local Arabic market, and ask people in the store and the owners what they do, what they use and what they like. I find that when I do this I get fantastic advice, recipes, sometimes a delicious sample with them, and often a new friend. I have yet to meet a person that does not appreciate someone trying to learn about, understand and enjoy something of their culture’s traditions.

There were so many recipes I wanted to include but just ran out of steam and space. So here is a little link storm of things if you are looking to have some more cardamom in your diet. These may sound out of your comfort zone at first but trust me, good things are in your future if you make one of these.

Cardamom Link Storm


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Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.

“Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres” or in English “tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are,” its an old Spanish proverb. It is one that you should take to heart though, the people you surround yourself with are important. If you surround yourself with negative people, it becomes like a negativity cancer and begins to eat at you from the inside. Surround yourself with people that are positive, and be as positive as possible and your spirits will always be lifted in the darkest hours.

This holds true for everything in life, but it is even more important if you suffer from any sort of chronic pain disorder. If you are in a low place, you need to have as much positive stuff around you as possible. This sounds like something that would be common sense, but we all know that common sense isn’t so common. So how do you do it?

Watch What You Take In – Environment

 

Make it your cardinal rule.

Make it your cardinal rule.

Watch comedians, funny movies (or TV shows), or just movies (or TV shows) that make you happy. Read uplifting, happy, or silly books (Paulo Cohelo’s Alchemist is a great place to start), comics or mangas (or manwhas and all other variants) keep it funny nothing dark. Listen to happy music, or a funny podcast, but make sure it is lighthearted fun, dark humor, while fun now and then, can be OK, but never in a low point. No shows that get you emotional or make you cry or really experience anything but a positive emotion.

You may have to start censoring things, like songs on the radio – song too too sad? Turn that dial! I have started avoiding listening to or watching the news, especially these days news can add more things to be sad than happy about to your day. It may make me a poor subject to discuss current affairs with, but when your load is heavy why add more things to carry? If you DO watch the news, watch fluff pieces, you know cat dress up shows and that sort of thing. You need to wrap yourself visually, audibly and mentally with positive things. Like a warm, fuzzy positive security blanket that will keep the monsters of depression at bay. Put up things around you that make you happy, like art, or make you recall fond memories. Creating things gives the satisfaction of accomplishment, so it doesn’t matter what you make as long as you feel all “yeah I made that!” and are proud about it in the end (this means even if it doesn’t come out right the first time, there is always another go you can have at it).

Do things that bring you pleasure, even if they are small things. Those small things become huge things when you need something happy. Eat a comfort food meal, take yourself out to a movie, for ice cream, parks, zoos, museums, belly dancing shows, whatever blows your hair back! Just make sure it brings you pleasure. On bad days, look out the window every cloud and ray of sunshine is a personal gift to you enjoy it take it in and appreciate it. I have a lot of cardinals that live near me, and there is a superstition that seeing them means you will have a lucky day, when I see one I think about that and even something small like that can bring my thoughts from doom and gloom to happier pastures. Also, exercise daily, and that means even days that hurt. Do some amount of exercise every single day, even if the exercise is a lap or two around the house. Do some yoga, do some meditating, do some Tai Chi, just do something to get the body moving, this is the best way to beat the blues.

Watch What You Take In – People

I meant it, their negative will become yours.

I meant it, their negativity will become yours.

We all know a “negative Nancy” or a “Debbie downer,” or a general moaner and complainer that always is being negative about something. People who complain and want people to generally be as miserable as they are. This sort of person is definitely not the type of person you want to expose yourself to a lot during bad times, or even good times really. People who drag your spirits down when you don’t have enough positive of you own are worse for you than your pain condition (or depression) in my humble non-medical opinion. You need people that tell you the good things, the ones that make you smile and feel good around you to bring you out of your blues.

The people that are unhappy with life, and themselves and want to pull you down into their hole instead of pulling you out, have no business in your life, frankly pain condition or not. Sometimes, as in my life, that means some of your family. I haven’t cut them all out of my life but I do have some that have no re-entry policies, and if I become upset I attempt to extract myself as gracefully as possible from the situation. Sometimes you have to do this, and it does suck. But afterwards, you always know you made a good decision it will become so much easier to be positive without them dragging you down, like a stone tied to your foot while you try to swim. The effect is sometimes instantaneous, like a massive weight being lifted all at once or others it is long and drawn out and difficult – but so worth it in the end.

Remember, you and your happiness is like one of those eggs you get in health class in American High Schools you have to take care of and fail if it gets dropped or cracked. It is fragile, and needs protecting daily and vigilantly. To not do so is to suffer at your own risk.

What if all that doesn’t work?

If you have been doing this and still are having issues, you may want to look into trying Cognitive Therapy it does a lot, and has done a lot for me and people I know in treating their issues (WebMD also has some neat info). If this still doesn’t help you may want to seek the help of a professional. If you need help finding one try searching here or here.


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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 🙂 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

  • ¼-½ 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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Helichrysum, Immortal & Everlasting

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

My energetic recovery helper sitting among some lovely bluebonnets.

My energetic recovery helper sitting next to some lovely bluebonnets.

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

Helichrysum_italicum_spp_serotinum.002_-_Islas_Cies

Happy little flowers of sunshine!

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

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

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

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

Pain & Swelling (or Sport Injury) Compress

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

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

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

Helichrysum Tea

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

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

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

Helichrysum Massage Oil

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

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

Helichrysum Quick Salve

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

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

Helichrysum Salve

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Rosemary, the Dew of the Sea

Rosemary, or Rosmarinus officinalis, the common name we know it by comes from the original Latin name ros for dew and marinus for sea. This is definitely a herb you should know, or at least heard of before. It is so common in food (Italian and otherwise) that you will most definitely know it from it’s smell even if you have never seen it. It is a common herb used in home made and store bought sausages, and frequently is found in pizzas and tomato based pasta sauces. It is also great in breads, most meats and surprisingly very good with sweets. Rosemary is one of those super herbs that, along with lavenderginger and peppermint, you should have around all the time if possible.

photo courtesy The Gay Gardener

Simply Irresistible!

Rosemary has a long history with humanity, it was found referenced in cuneiform tablets which means it has been with humanity since the cradle of civilization. This plant is native to the Mediterranean, and its allure even grabs us now, I am sure if you have ever found a rosemary bush you are almost compelled to pause and enjoy it, take a sprig, or just rub your hand along it to get that lovely, almost pine like, smell.

Greeks and Romans associated rosemary to memory, and recall of facts, and it was frequently used to symbolize the remembrance of people who have passed. It was woven into hair of students to help with exams, since they believed it would help them recall the answers better. Sprigs were used in funeral ceremonies to indicate the deceased would not be forgotten, often a sprig was even thrown in with the body during burial. In Australia and New Zealand ANZAC forces are honored by people wearing a sprig of rosemary. Even Shakespeare has the tragic Ophelia mention its association with remembering. This association with memory is so strong that some studies have been done, but as of yet there is only some evidence that it could help improve memory, there are not enough definitive studies for this to be a concrete fact.

The ballad Scarborough Fair mentions rosemary, and is thought to have been a song relating to the black plague, due to the listing of herbs, or it could be a changed version of an earlier ballad the Elfin Knight. The song generally follows the pattern of a male requesting impossible tasks of his lady love, who then requests impossible tasks in return promising to do his once he has done her tasks. All of this tied in with the repeating, and almost definitely familiar thanks to Simon & Garfunkel, “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.”

On a happier note, rosemary was also used in marriage and other ceremonies where it took on many folk meanings, such as you would dream of your future husband if you placed a sprig in your pillow, or it would ward off demons or nightmares. Another is if you smelled rosemary on Christmas Eve, you would have a year of health and happiness ahead of you. There is an association with the Holy Family. In some christian traditions, it is believed to be  plant that Mary used to shelter the baby Jesus on their flight to Egypt. The pale blue of the flowers of rosemary is thought to be the same color of Mary’s cloak, that she placed over the bush to help hide him. An amusing one, was that where rosemary flourished there the wife ruled, which may have prompted some husbands to pull up rosemary so no one would think they weren’t the one in charge.

Napoleon was apparently very fond of it, because Josephine requested he bathed in it before entering her bedchamber. He even had it burning as incense on his deathbed. In Roman times it was burned near sickbeds to cleanse the air, and it was frequently used in the past as incense for both ritual and medicinal purposes. Even the people in the past knew it had a good antiseptic properties, and it was one of the many herbs that would have been effective in their use during the outbreaks of Bubonic plague, like others we have discussed before. The usual suspects mention rosemary’s medicinal qualities, like Dioscorides, and Culpepper. Even Thomas More (or Saint Thomas More) mentions that he lets it grow rampant in his garden not only because the bees liked it but it was for remembrance, and therefore friendship. Rosemary is a great addition to skin creams and the like it, it does have antioxidant properties, and it was said in the more ancient herbals that rosemary had wonderful skin restoring properties and if  you –

“washe thy face therwith . . . thou shalt have a fayre face.”

There is legend that Elizabeth of Poland, Queen of Hungary used a form of rosemary water, called Hungary Water. She is credited with the bringing of the first perfume to the Western world, and was a frequent user of this simple scent. According to legend her frequent use apparently made her so foxy that at about 72 she had such youthful beauty that the King of Poland, who was 26, asked for her hand in marriage.

Elizabeth, with her “sons.” Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

While that sounds a little too much like an infomercial for a cream made of rare ingredients that promises to bring you youth and beauty for ever, there may be a grain of truth to this. Rosemary will help with acne, and help in general with complexion as it is an antiseptic and is, again, high in antioxidants and even vitamin E. Rosemary oil is also great for treating dandruff, and a good addition to any shampoo just because it smells so lovely! Try using the recipe for the best shampoo ever, and add 6-10 drops of rosemary and 10 drops of sweet orange oil instead of additional lavender oil, this is a good shampoo if you have mild dandruff. Another dandruff solution, or to improve your scalp and encourage hair growth, you can put a few drops of rosemary oil on your hairbrush and brush it through your hair.

It also has the fantastic property of helping with digestion, and is a welcome tea to ease nausea from my medications or from pain. Personally though, my favorite uses for rosemary are not only its antiseptic/antibacterial uses but for stress reduction, treating inflammation and as an analgesic. It seems I never grow tired of this and it is so easy to add into meals and your routine since it is so versatile. Plus it is a good change up if peppermint or ginger isn’t working for you to settle your stomach.

Its antibacterial properties are well known, and it is why rosemary was often used in food preservation. Several medical studies have shown it is effective in inhibiting growth of Listeria monocytogenesBacillus cerus, and Staphlococcus aureus. It is great for a tea when you are feeling sick, or as an after dinner tea to aid in digestion, or just prevent any stomach issues as it helps to ease spasms and can reduce inflammation of the digestive tract.

Rosemary Tea

  • 8 oz Hot water, not boiling
  • 1 teaspoon of Rosemary, you can use finely chopped fresh, or you can leave it mostly whole and strain
  • Optional additions: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of dried or fresh rosemary flowers, a bag of green tea, a few medallions of ginger, a teaspoon of hibiscus flowers, even a dash of parsley (fresh or dried) is very nice in this.

You can also use a half tablespoon of dried herbs if you do not have fresh, or you can grind the dried in your mortar, or spice grinder of choice, to create a matcha like powder you can use for tea as well. You may want to use a tea infuser if you do not want to filter the tea with cheese cloth (or your teeth if you are lazy), remember this needs to be steeped in a covered teacup, or teapot, for about 5-10 minutes. Add honey or your sweetener of choice if you need it sweeter, and do not use continuously for more than a few days at a time.

Rosemary tea like this can also be a great way to start your day on a cold morning, and it is a great wake up call to the brain on one of those foggy minded mornings. This is also a good way to get all the vitamins and minerals from rosemary (such as A, B, C and E, iron, calcium and magnesium) without the destructive heat of cooking that can break things down too far.

You can also brew this tea stronger for a bath as well

Rosemary Pain and Stress Tea Bath

  • 16 oz of water
  • 2-3 tablespoons of the rosemary fresh or dried

Add it to a hot bath for a muscle relaxing, stress relieving, soak. Rosemary has some great antispasmodic properties and can bring relief for muscle pains when used as a hot soak. Or you can use this strong tea as a wound wash, or compress for painful muscles, or across the forehead for a headache. You can always use 3-10 drops of rosemary essential oils instead of a tea in your bath, and you can add in lavender for a relaxing sleepy bath. But you would want to avoid using the rosemary oil for teas you drink as it can quickly become too much for the body and start to upset the stomach, or cause other issues.

Rosemary oil is also great as a massage oil to help with pain and muscle spasms topically, and decrease inflammation. When used in concert with turmeric pills, or Tulsi in a tea, it can go a long way to relieving back pain and even sciatic pain. When mixed with lavender oil or ginger oils it helps to relieve the pain of muscle spasms and will help decrease inflammation.

Rosemary Massage Oil for Muscle Pain and Spasms

Mix well and store in dark container, and massage directly into a painful area. This is a warming oil so as always with these make sure you avoid applying it to any sensitive skin areas. This is also great massaged into the temples or neck if you have a tension headache or migraine.

As I am generally a sucker for sweet stuff, nothing in the world is better than shortbread, unless that is shortbread with rosemary in it. Rosemary lends itself well to sweet surpsingly well, and not just savory dishes like meats and potatoes. These paired with Lavender Shortbread cookies are a fantastic gift for the holidays for those unexpected gifts or people who are hard to shop for.

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies

  • 8 oz Unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons Fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup Sugar (granulated white sugar)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (this is not in the Lavender Shortbread recipe but I add it to that one too)

In a bowl or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together, sift in flour and add rosemary at the end. Dough should come together easily in your hand but not be a tight ball. Turn out onto floured surface and roll to about a 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out rounds or triangles, or whatever shapes you fancy, and chill for at least 2 hours. You can sprinkle with additional sugar before baking, or some fresh rosemary flowers, for a nice presentation. Bake in a 300 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes, you do not want to see any browning, they will almost look under cooked when you remove them. This is a key step, do not let it bake to browning stages!

Now, you can not mention rosemary and not bring up Four Thieves Vinegar. This is an old and long used recipe, and still exists in many modern formats. The original recipe seems to be long lost in the pages of time, but the legend of it goes like this…

During the Black Plague thieves (possibly from Marseilles, France) were able to rob houses and graves with impunity, and this was quickly noticed by the other villagers. Once the thieves were caught, the secret of their health was squeezed out of them. Some say by the promise of a hanging instead of burning, hanging preferable to the painful end that burning alive was. They said they used this vinegar recipe on their hands, feet, temples, and face masks that were worn while robbing plague houses and bodies.

Luckily in modern times you can purchase Thieves oil in a ready made form, and this is great for colds, or to add to hand sanitizing solutions and the like. Which you again can buy pre-made or you can make yourself. I prefer the DIY method as usual, and I highly suggest making this vinegar since it is great to use for cleaning most surfaces and is a great addition to the hand-sanitizer recipe listed after the vinegar. For accuracy’s sake I am going to list the oldest listed recipe I can find, and then my own variation of the vinegar.

Four Thieves Vinegar “Original”

  • 3 pints White wine vinegar
  • a handful (about a cup) of the following herbs: wormwood, meadowsweet, wild marjoram & sage
  • 50 cloves
  • 2 oz Angelic
  • 2 oz Rosemary
  • 2 oz Campanula roots
  • 2 oz Horehound
  • 3 cups of Camphor

Place in a container and seal for 15 days, shaking every day. Filter and use for cleaning, and topically on the body for antiseptic purposes. I don’t suggest ingesting this one at all, and should only be used for topical applications.

Four Thieves Vinegar “Modern”

  • 2 pint bottle with a top you can seal (you can use a 2 pint mason jar, but I prefer the bottle for this one)
  • 1 1/2 – 2 pints good white vinegar (you can use apple cider, I just like white for this)
  • 2 tablespoons Rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons Sage
  • 2 tablespoons Lavender flowers
  • 50 cloves
  • 4 cloves of Garlic, peeled and diced or crushed
  • Optional additions: You can include one or more of these in the amount of 2 tablespoons – fresh rue, peppermint, marjoram, or camphor dissolved in a strong spirit.

Finely chop the herbs and add to a bottle and cover with vinegar, do not fill all the way to the top leave some room, about 2 inches. If you add camphor do not ingest this internally, only use topically. Rue as well, if you include it do so sparingly if you want to ingest it. You can use this for cleaning, and for topical sanitizing. This is also surprisingly good in a vinaigrette and can be used for cooking if you like.

Cold and flu season is in full swing, and Four Thieves Vinegar is fantastic to use as a spray for disinfecting areas where sick people have been, or just for a general antibacterial surface cleaner.

Four Thieves Sanitizing Spray

  • A spray bottle
  • 1 part Four Thieves Vinegar
  • 1 part Witch Hazel

Combine liquids in spray bottle, and use the mist and wipe down method to clean and disinfect surfaces.

You can also make a hand sanitizing gel just by adding some additional ingredients.

Four Thieves Sanitizing Hand Gel

  • Pump container
  • 1 part aloe gel
  • 1 part Four Thieves Vinegar
  • 1 part Witch hazel (you can substitute rubbing alcohol, or grain alcohol as well)

Mix liquids well, you can mix this with a spoon but I prefer a hand mixer or with a blender. Store in pump container, you can reuse an old alcohol sanitizer pump bottle, or you can check out your local stores selection of bottles for air travel and they tend to have great bottles for purse or travel use.

Remember these are only a few of the many uses for this very versatile herb, I am sure if you start using it you will come up with a few more ways. Remember before using any herbal or other medicine, do your own research and educate yourself. Everyone is different so do your own trails and see what works best for you, and always check WebMD for interactions. If you are ever in doubt about this in any way, always, always ask a professional!


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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!