Natural Health

Healthy living, herbal remedies and DIY natural beauty.

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While many kids (and adults, too) might prefer to sleep with a light on, research shows that exposure to artificial light after the sun goes down can disrupt healthy body function and is associated with an increased risk for cancer. So turn off your computers, TVs, and nightlights for kids, and learn to embrace the nighttime darkness.

Light, Circadian Rhythms and MelatoninHidden Risks Of Nightlights

Our bodies are governed by a 24-hour biological clock, the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm regulates when we sleep and wake, and governs many other important biological processes. Melatonin, one of the main hormones responsible for maintaining this cycle, is normally produced in the dark. Light at night suppresses the pineal gland’s secretion of melatonin and disrupts the circadian rhythm.[1] Low melatonin can contribute to a wide variety of health conditions, from sleeplessness to migraines.

Increased Cancer Risk

The circadian rhythm also regulates important processes that modulate tumor activity.[1] Several studies have found evidence that melatonin directly inhibits tumor growth and development.[1,2] Even short-term exposure to bright, white light at night can interfere with this effect.[2]

Women working the night shift show increased risk for breast cancer, and this effect is attributed to their exposure to light at night.[2] These observations and a multitude of laboratory studies have led researchers to conclude that “shift-work that involves circadian disruption is probably carcinogenic to humans.”[3] Interestingly, blind women show a lower risk for breast cancer as well,[4] strengthening the link between light exposure and cancer risk.

Importance for Children

Children may be especially sensitive to artificial light at night. One study found that in children, melatonin activity was suppressed by light at night almost twice as much as it was in adults.[5] Childhood experiences, and even in utero conditions, can influence the risk of cancer later in life. Adolescence and other developmental periods are particularly important and circadian disruptions during these periods can be very detrimental.[4]

Researchers note that “ill-timed electric light exposure to a child may disrupt circadian rhythmicity and contribute to increased risk of cancer later in life.”[6] They suggest that parents avoid night-lights for children from birth onward, and that parents should also use dim red light sources when feeding or caring for a child during the night.

Simple Steps for Reducing Exposure to Nighttime Light

1. Teach your child to sleep without a nightlight. While it can sometimes be a difficult transition to remove nightlights for kids, most children will eventually get comfortable sleeping in the dark. Make the transition slowly. For the first few nights, keep a dim nightlight on in the room. Them, remove that light, and keep the hallway light on with the door cracked. Slowly, work up to closing the door and having your child sleep in complete darkness.

2. Keep a dim, red nightlight in the hallway and bathroom. Red light is better than blue light for nighttime exposure, as blue light is especially disruptive to melatonin. Also keep a red light in your room that you can turn on if you need to get up in the night.

3. Remove alarm clocks, nightlights, and bright electronics from bedrooms. Your room should be as dark as possible at night, and even the lights on an alarm clock can produce unnecessary and harmful light.

4. Use blackout curtains. For those living in the city with bright streetlights outside, blackout curtains can help keep your home free of artificial light.

5. Avoid watching TV or using your computer or phone before bed. Avoiding these artificial lights at bedtime will likely help you to fall asleep easier and get a healthier night’s rest.


[1] PLoS One. 2014 Aug 6;9(8):e102776.
[2] Cancer Res. 2005 Dec 1;65(23):11174-84.
[3] Lancet Oncol. 2007 Dec;8(12):1065-6.
[4] Epidemiology. 2005 Mar;16(2):254-8.
[5] J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2014 Sep;99(9):3298-303.
[6] Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2012 May;21(5):701-4.

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BooksThe term “well-read” most likely has many interpretations depending on family traditions, interests, and education. My well-read means being informed on the subjects that are of interest to me. As an armchair anthropologist, some of these interests include biographies, social sciences, humanities, and history.

Last night, I had the good fortune to hear Brian Little speak about his new book Me, Myself, and Us at Town Hall, Seattle. His passion for psychology, personality, and the science behind our behavior was infectious. He began the night by asking 10 questions about our personalities, which we were to answer based on a scale of 1−10. The questions were set to measure self-ratings of diplomatic to blunt communication, slow to fast paced approach to life, introverted to extroverted personalities, and so on. At the conclusion of his lecture, he assigned introverted, extroverted, and ambiverted (combination of introverted and extroverted) personalities to everyone in the room based on our scores from the test. After the lecture, I greatly enjoyed exploring these findings with my husband, daughter, and a dear friend. I am equally excited to read more about the topic in Brian’s new book.

Thankfully, as fall turns to winter, the days are getting shorter and reading season is right around the corner. I am grateful to have a warm and cozy house that invites me to catch up on the books I pushed aside as summer’s multitude of outdoor activities unfolded.

As a dyslexic, I didn’t begin life expecting to look forward to reading, but now, as I turn the pages, my imagination paints worlds unknown with a multitude of strange but intimately welcoming people and ideas. I look forward to the hug of an armchair as I meditatively page through the book at hand, as the act of page turning, peaked curiosity, and emotional involvement work in concert to create a rich experience. When the end of a book finally draws near, there is an undeniable sense of accomplishment combined with the desire to take those last few pages a little slower, deferring the encroaching finish.

Regardless of the physical finish, many of my favorite books seem to stay with me in my thoughts and conversations. As I reflect on my version of “well-read,” I am reminded of the multitudes of differing interests, reads, and variations on truth in our shared world.

Little noted that we’re not destined to steep and respond to the world in various predetermined ways. Instead, we are predisposed to act and react in a series of typically patterned responses. In this variety of patterns, habits, and behavioral balance, Little’s lecture emphasized the wonders of clear communication in such a diversely well-read and well-received world.

What does your bookshelf reveal about you? How do you define “well-read”? Do you know which human traits form your world view?

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tea for coldsWhen we’re suffering from a bad cold, nothing makes us feel like we’re taking care of ourselves more than a steaming cup of herbal tea, particularly if it contains medicinal herbs. Sipping on medicinal herbal tea is one of the best steps you can take to shorten the duration of illness when the symptoms of a cold, sore throat, or other upper respiratory infection begin.

Fortunately, medicinal tea for colds is widely available these days. We don’t even need to live near a health food store—many supermarkets and drugstores now sell herbal blends formulated to treat a variety of conditions, including tea for colds, sore throats, coughs, and general immune support. However, while these pre-blended teas, generally sold in tea bags, often contain at least a couple of herbs with known medicinal properties, the medicinal herbs are not always in high enough quantities to have much impact. Furthermore, when medicinal tea ingredients are blended together in tea bags, they can’t be properly infused or decocted to optimally extract the active constituents.

A much better option is to make your own tea for colds by using one of the following herbal tea recipes and using the correct infusion and decoction techniques for the specific herbs in your tea.

What Are Medicinal Infusions and Decoctions?

Tea is the most common type of herbal extract—it is essentially a water-based herbal extract. Making tea is one of simplest ways to separate the active, healing herb constituents from the inactive, fibrous matter. There are two basic ways to prepare medicinal tea: infusion and decoction. Broadly speaking, an infusion is made by combining hot water with medicinal herbs and steeping to extract their active ingredients. A decoction, meanwhile, is made by adding the ingredients to boiling water and simmering them.

Which method to use depends mostly on the herb itself (for example, chamomile or licorice) and the part of it being used (for example, flower or root, respectively). Although there are exceptions, the basic rule of thumb is that infusions are used for delicate and less dense parts of plants such as flowers, leaves, and green stems. Decoctions are used to prepare tea from hard and woody plant material such as roots, barks, and some seeds and hard fruits.

The actual methods for properly infusing and decocting herbs vary and depend on the ingredients themselves, whether they are fresh or dry, how they are cut or crushed, the quantity and strength of the tea to be made, and the goals for treatment. However, there are some basic guidelines that can generally be followed if specific dosages are not given.

• To make an infusion, use one teaspoon of dried herb per one cup of water. Warm a glass, porcelain, or stainless steel vessel and put the dry herb into it. Pour boiling water over the herbs. Cover the vessel with a tight-fitting lid to ensure that only a minimum of the aromatic volatile oils are lost through evaporation. Steep for 15 minutes (recommended time may vary). Strain the infusion to drink.

• To make a decoction, put one teaspoon of dried plant parts (powdered or broken into small pieces to break the cell walls and facilitate extraction) for each cup water into a non-aluminum pot or saucepan. Add the appropriate amount of water to the herbs, bring the water to boiling, turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, strain and drink.

Important Exceptions To the Infusion/Decoction Rule

One important exception to this basic rule is for woody herbs, roots, and seeds that are rich in significant volatile oils such as valerian root and fennel seeds. In this case, boiling will cause evaporation of important volatile constituents. For herbs like this, it is best to crush or even powder them finely and make an infusion. Another exception is for herbs that don’t tolerate heat at all. For those herbs, such as elecampane root, a great remedy for colds with coughs, cold infusions are best. For cold infusions, you steep in cold water for extended periods of time to extract the constituents without damaging them.

Oftentimes, a medicinal tea formula will contain a combination of herbs, some of which should be decocted and some infused. Another basic rule of botanical medicine is that when preparing a medicinal tea containing both soft and woody herbs, it is best to prepare an infusion (for the soft herbs) and a decoction separately. This ensures that the active constituents of the more delicate herbs are not destroyed and that the soluble constituents from the tougher, woodier herbs are appropriately extracted.

Herbal Tea Recipes

Infusion for acute cold care

David Hoffmann, author of Medical Herbalism, a foundational textbook on the scientific principles of botanical medicine used in Bastyr University's herbal sciences classes, has a favorite herbal remedy for acute colds.[1] This tea for colds is ideal when there is much inflammation and mucus production in the upper respiratory tract.

1 part black elder (Sambucus nigra dried flower)
1 part yarrow (Achillea millefolium dried flowers, leaves, stems)

1 part peppermint (mentha piperita dried leaves)

Combine equal parts of each herb (for instance, one ounce of each). Infuse two teaspoons mixed herbs per one cup water (for instance, four teaspoons in two cups water), covered, for 15 minutes. Strain and drink hot, often, until symptoms pass.

Additional Herbs for Infusion

When I was a naturopathic medical student, some of my botanical medicine instructors recommended additional herbs that could be added to the herbs above to enhance the infusion:

• Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis dried budding aerial parts) This plant from the mint family has a slightly bitter, sharp, spicy flavor and is traditionally used for colds and flu. (Use 2 parts.)
• Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum dried leaves). This sweet, aromatic herb is used for colds or any condition in which there is cough with poor expectoration.
• Thyme (Thymus vulgaris dried flower and leaf). You know this aromatic herb well for its culinary importance, but thyme is also a powerful antimicrobial that also acts as an expectorant and anti-spasmotic, making it great for coughs associated with colds and bronchitis.
• Linden (Tilia spp.dried flower and leaf). This slightly sweet, aromatic herb is a sedative and anti-inflammatory. It can be added in equal parts to the infusion recipe above when your cold symptoms are making you too irritable to sleep.

Immune Supportive Decoction/Long infusion

This tea recipe comes from herbalist, author, and naturopathic doctor Sharol Tilgner.[2] Although this recipe is a general immune supportive, Dr. Tilgner explains that it is specifically helpful for viral respiratory infections and can be used for the prevention and/acute treatment of colds and flu. The herbs have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, lymph stimulating, adrenal supportive, mucous-thinning properties.

2 parts echinacea (Echinacea purpurea dried root)
1 part licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra driedroot)

1 part osha (Ligusticum porteri dried root)

This formula combines the techniques of decoction and long infusion. The echinacea and licorice roots should be decocted, while the osha root should be infused for 25 minutes to preserve the volatile oils.

Combine two parts of echinacea root for every one part licorice root. Keep the osha root separate. For acute treatment of colds, decoct two teaspoons echinacea/licorice combination per one cup water in a pot with a tight fitting lid. Bring to a boil and then turn down heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, infuse one teaspoon osha root per one cup boiling water, covered, for 25 minutes. Strain both the infusion and decoction, combine, and drink a cup of hot tea four to five times a day until symptoms pass. For preventative, long term treatment, decrease echinacea/licorice dose to one teaspoon per one cup water and decrease osha dose to one-half teaspoon per one cup water and drink three cups per day.

Caution: Chronic, large doses of licorice can raise blood pressure by increasing sodium resorption and potassium excretion by the kidney. Avoid licorice if you have pre-existing hypertension.

Combining Herbal Tea Recipes for Colds

Any of the herbs mentioned above can be combined to create your own tea for colds. I hope I’ve given you some useful herbal tea recipes for colds and shown you why making your own tea for colds using proper infusion and decoction techniques is far superior.

Find more information on a wide variety of health-promoting teas here.


Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices of Herbal Medicine. Healing Arts Press. 2003.

Tilgner, Sharol. Managing editor. Herbal Transitions. Newsletter. Winter, 2005.

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New Zealand Honey Bees

For centuries manuka honey has been considered a ‘wonderfood,’ a powerful, healing and sticky-sweet substance that we are only beginning to understand. With roots in the therapeutic wound dressings of the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand, manuka honey has transcended natural health circles and is now a coveted food, beauty regimen and medicine by many.

What is Manuka Honey?New Zealand Beekeeping Operation

Manuka is a monofloral honey, which means it is created by bees that feed solely on the nectar of the white flowers that adorn the manuka bush, native to New Zealand’s North Island. This curative honey is in such high demand that producers on the island have been scrambling to ramp up production, with varying results. As a journalist, honey purveyor and manuka loyalist I wanted to dig deep into the research, past marketing and jargon, to find out what really qualifies a high quality manuka honey and how you as a consumer, can more easily navigate the different labeling of manuka to reap the benefits of this delicious and healing honey.

Healing Benefits of Manuka Honey

Researchers discovered this earthy, aromatic honey’s strength as a powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antimicrobial in the late 19th century. Since then, it has been employed as a valuable remedy in the treatment of antibiotic resistant MRSA bugs, stomach ulcer-causing bacteria, E Coli and Staph infections, just to name a few. Manuka is so effective at treating infection that Britain’s National Health Service has licensed the use of manuka honey wound dressings and sterilized medical-grade manuka honey creams in their hospitals since 2004. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, it eases inflammation when applied topically and can be used to heal and ease the pain and discomfort associated with eczema, burns and dermatitis. As if that weren’t enough, manuka advocates and beauty editors sing its praises as an acne-fighting, skin-beautifying cleanser and moisturizer.

Regulating Medicinal HoneysBeekeeping In New Zealand

Contrary to popular belief, there is no official governmental standard regulating honey production in New Zealand or the United States. This is problematic for those who wish to obtain pure, high-quality honey, as closer inspection of the manuka business reveals adulteration is underway. Food Safety Minister Nikki Kaye of New Zealand states that their research shows that 1,700 tons of manuka are produced there each year, compared with the estimated 1,800 tons of “manuka” honey sold in Britain alone. As much as 10,000 tons are sold worldwide, obviously suggesting foul play. Thankfully, the New Zealand government is currently working with industry and overseas regulators in order to develop guidelines to help clarify labeling issues.

With manuka honey labels touting numerous classifications, it’s difficult to manage the labyrinth of manuka honey products available on the market today. Many manuka honey companies base their rating system singling out one component but to the contrary, researchers have found that it is the synergy of many components found in manuka honey — such as plant phenols, proteins, live enzymes, hydrogen peroxide and methylglyoxal — that make it so effective. It is in the collaboration of all these ingredients, and not one particular measure (as some honey companies would like you to think), that make manuka so special.

Through further research, I found that manuka honey can be artificially manipulated to achieve the high numbers you find on some jars on manuka honey — the numbers customers think they are looking for, not knowing that a high number does not necessarily mean it is more effective. It follows then, that defining honey solely based on one, easily-tampered-with component leaves out other important and unknown factors and sets honey up to sometimes dangerous manipulation.

How to Know Manuka Honey is RealManuka Flowers New Zealand

So, how can you be sure that what you’re getting is the real deal? Look for raw (heating destroys the beneficial properties of honey), pure manuka honey with a high pollen count, live enzymes and naturally occurring methylglyoxal components. If you’re unsure, do your research on the provenance of the honey and practices of the company or reach out to the supplier. Luckily, those selling a pure manuka will be happy to share this information, and their therapeutic honey, with you.

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ShawnIn the age of the Internet, there’s a common misconception that we can figure out who others are by looking them up online. With our own sleuthing skills, the speed and sophistication of search engines, and the abundance of information out there, we can form conceptions (skewed by the keywords we’ve typed in) about people we barely know or have never met. It becomes easy to build a virtual personal composite to define a physical whole.

As I age, I’ve become much, much clearer about who I am. Recently, I thought it might be fun to see who Google thinks I am. After typing in my name, I was surprised to find The Invisible Parenting Handbook prioritized as the first link. Yes, I am the author of this book, and I do think that the book is an important part of my identity, but it’s a part, not the whole. How far down the page would the unacquainted observer scroll until satisfied they knew me? No matter how far they scrolled, the search results tell more about what I’ve done than the everyday holism of who I am. What Google’s functionality doesn’t map out is the web of my interpersonal relationships (I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister, relative to many, and friend to some), my personal values (I am a person of integrity, choice, kindness, conversation, passion, activism, faith, and courage), and my habits of conscious consumption or even my politics. No matter how transparent I am on my social media sites, no matter how diligent I am about posting, the search would not yield the essence of who I am.

Two things brought this self-reflection to the forefront of my thoughts recently. The other day, I was trying to schedule an appointment with a leading Seattle retailer’s CEO. After his assistant and I spoke about my need for an appointment, she checked my LinkedIn profile. The fact that she couldn’t directly ask me who I am and why I’m so passionate about speaking with her boss left me feeling a little unsettled.

The next prompt for this thinking was a recent conversation I had with a wonderful woman with many gifts, talents, and a BIG heart. She told me that her job as a mother had come to “completion” (her daughter had launched), and now, she’s searching to find herself again. The act of raising a child is such a monumental and all-encompassing role that it’s easy to get swept away from ourselves and come out on the other end wondering who we are. I trust this women will enjoy remembering and piecing together all of who she is.

For me, knowing and enjoying who I am, brings me a great sense of comfort and peace. I would encourage others to explore the same for themselves. I believe that as more have that internal peace, the more we will collectively grow.

What is the whole picture of you? What have you done, who do you spend time with, what do you believe? What do you want others to know about who you are?

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We are living in a world that is constantly surrounded by technology and screens. The world is becoming a great deal smaller, as it is becoming almost second nature to chat with somebody on the other side of the world, across town (or even a different room of your home) with a quick text, instant message, call, video call or email within arm’s reach! While communications are more accessible and convenient than ever before, some people are reporting increased loneliness because although quantity of communication is there, quality is unfortunately not.

Living Off The Land, Credit: Hardworkinghippy

More and more people are looking to reconnect themselves with nature and taking a step back from technology and the digital world to get in touch with mother earth.  There is a holistic appeal to living off the land, cultivating and growing your own food where possible, generating your own energy and making a conscious effort to spend some time away from the computer, phone or television screens.

Many Americans are looking to get back to nature because it's a healthier lifestyle option. It is not only more friendly for the environment, but eating fresh food, spending more time outdoors and being active can do wonders for an individual’s health.

‘Technology free Tuesdays’ are a fantastic way for people to make an additional effort to allocate weekly slow time for yourself and find some time to properly talk and enjoy each other’s company. Sharing a meal and playing a board game, and trying to  make your home a smartphone free zone for the evening and enjoying eachother’s genuine company can be fulfilling.

Vacations that bring the holiday maker closer to nature are also becoming increasingly popular. From camping holidays, hiring RVs or buying are all fantastic ways to get out of the city and truly appreciate the beautiful surroundings nature has to offer. It is the perfect opportunity to leave technology at home and go for walks, observe wildlife and experience a different kind of living.

In addition to getting back to nature, being in more control of what we put into and onto our bodies is also becoming more prevalent in today’s society, with people looking to cut out processed, unhealthy food. According to Mint, Americans have become a good deal more health conscious over the past five years, and the diet food industry growing by 72 percent since 2000.

Americans are also interested in buying more organic products than ever before, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that more and more people are becoming interested in the move back to all-natural farming techniques and the Organic Trade Association’s 2014 survey found that 80 percent of American families are now actively and regularly making organic products as part of their shopping list.

Consumption of seasonal food that is sourced locally has many health benefits and also considerably decreases an individual’s carbon footprint. Home grown food is also a fantastic way to decrease food waste (nobody wants to throw away food they have grown themselves) and save money, which are both fantastic for the environment.

So, despite living in a world that is so immersed in technologies and dependent upon computers, it appears that the trend of people getting back to nature is increasing. This will lead to more people becoming environmentally aware which will only result in good things for the environment and the world we live in.

Image credit: hardworkinghippy.

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DogSince I was a little girl, we’ve had pets — ranging in size (with the exception of a horse we had for a short period) from hamsters to dogs. Our most recent adopted dog was named Abby. As with all our pets, she was a very dear sweet companion. She was strong willed, somewhat aloof (raised by our cats), kind, sensitive and wise. Above all else she was there for me and our family at every turn. While having a pet is a luxury, because of the time and money attached to this responsibility, I find that what you receive back from them pays off in spades. 

We recently had to put Abby — our sweet quirky dog of 11 years — to sleep. She was walking four miles on Friday and immobile by Monday. She had a tumor on her spleen that was giving her great pain, and by Tuesday night she was gone.

When the vet, Franklin Vincenzi of Cascade Pet Hospital, told me of her condition and prognoses, I wept. Thankfully, I had an entire examination room to myself with Abby. Jessica, the receptionist, gave me tissues, a shawl, a blanket for Abby, and so much understanding. Sitting with Abby, I tried my best to comfort her. I called our friends to come say their goodbyes. Then, when our daughter arrived from the airport, having just returned from a trip the East Coast, Dr. Vincenzi and Carla, their lead technician, came in and finally put Abby to sleep while we continued to pet her and cry.

It is an often overlooked luxury to forget the fragility of life — we are here one moment and can be gone the next. A house can feel empty so suddenly, empty of that unconditional love that greets you as you arrive home or even just move around your inside space. Abby was the third dog my husband and I have lost together. The vacancy created by each one’s passing never gets any easier.

In my book The Invisible Parenting Handbook, my daughter describes me this way: “To call her a people person would be an unfortunate understatement.” The fact of the matter is that I’m not just a people person, I’m also a living creature person. I enjoy interacting with most living beings and know these interactions add to my life in many immeasurable ways. Abby’s interaction and love will be missed by me more than words can say.

What pets or animals have touched your life and how? Do you have time, energy, and the financial ability to add a pet to your family?


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