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3/19/2014

Fasting is a great way to energize the body and mind and to tune it in for the changing seasons. With spring’s longer days and longer to-do lists around the corner, I could use a push-and-a-shove and would happily fall face first into a pile of motivation. Fasting is that push-and-a-shove and what follows is a period of increased motivation.

Before getting into the core and science of what fasting is, let’s talk about what it’s not. Although it has become popularized through celebrities and marketed by corporations, it is not primarily a weight-loss diet. It is also not a one-way dead end street to God’s house. Yes, it may assist some people in losing weight or in walking a spiritual path, but by no means is fasting going to keep that weight gone for long or the mind fixed on God forever. Even a skinny atheist will benefit from a fast.

Master Cleansing

Defining a Fast

Fasting is a cleansing for the physical body. Just like an automobile needs a tune-up, so does the body. To get the best gas mileage, a vehicle’s tires must be properly inflated, the air filter must be cleaned, and the oil needs changed every so many miles. Although the vehicle may still run with low air pressure, dirty filters, and old oil, it will not operate at peak performance. After a less-than optimal life, it will soon enough die. But if that same vehicle receives regular tune-ups, its life expectancy will be increased, along with the quality of each ride. Same with the body.

I know the human body does not have tires, air filters, or engine oil, but it does have tissues, blood, and organs. Everything from the air humans breathe to the food humans eat contains different levels of contaminants that continue to build up. Although the body naturally relieves itself of many toxins, it can never be fully relieved unless the amount of contaminants entering the body are dramatically decreased. By not chewing or eating any food for a chosen number of days, the digestive tract goes on vacation and all organs get time off. Extra energy becomes available within the body and that energy is re-directed towards removing toxins and healing organs.

Fasting is not eating, but the body is still getting vitamins and minerals through fluids. And water. According to Prescription for Nutritional Healing, by James and Phyllis Balch, they recommend to fast for three days a month and to follow a 10-day fast, at least twice a year. For me, that sounds extreme. (I’m not an atheist, but I sure am skinny.)

Science of Fasting

In today’s world, toxins are impossible to avoid, but with a little fasting know-how, toxins built up in the body can be removed and no one needs to be a nutritionist, a doctor, or plastic surgeon to do it. It can be done in the comfort of a home while following a daily routine. Once the digestive system begins to experience a rest from food, many natural processes take effect. According to Prescription for Nutritional Healing, the following happens:

The natural process of toxin excretion continues, while the influx of new toxins is reduced. This results in a reduction of total body toxicity.

The energy usually used for digestion is redirected to immune function, cell growth, and eliminatory processes.

The immune system’s workload is greatly reduced, and the digestive tract is spared any inflammation due to allergic reactions to food.

Due to a lowering of serum fats that thins the blood, tissue oxygenation is increased and white blood cells are moved more efficiently.

Fat-stored chemicals, such as pesticides and drugs, are released.

Physical awareness and sensitivity to diet and surroundings are increased.

In my own experience, once I begin a fast I feel like I can feel how each part of my body works on an independent level. I do get irritable, lazy, and weak once the toxins jump out of my tissues into my bloodstream and begin the removal process. The removal process alone is quite a process. Since the body is not digesting food it is not removing stuff the same way and will require extra attention. Some common things to aid in the removal process are enemas and herbal teas during the fast or taking fiber supplements before and after the fast. Salt water flushes also work great and have become my chosen method of removal while fasting.

Prescription for Nutritional Healing

Types of Fasts

In Gandhi’s day, it was common for people to fast on water alone. I have no desire to experience how that may feel. This type of fast is not recommended, according to Prescription for Nutritional Healing, because toxins will be released too quickly and fresh vitamins, minerals, and enzymes will be lacking, causing headaches and worse.

I have followed a 3-day juice fast and a 3-day master cleanse and the master cleanse gave me much more energy. This fast permits the body to drink water mixed with grade B maple syrup, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. Each ingredient aids the body to remove toxins and heal, in combination with a salt water flush first thing each morning.

The 3-day juice fast was a bit more demanding. I lost count of how many times I had to clean produce, juice the produce, break down the juicer, clean the juicer … I felt like there was less time to rest which added to the feelings of weakness and irritability. It was also more expensive than the master cleanse; however, I would love to try this fast in the summer when produce is available both in season and local.

The most important thing about fasting are the days before and after the fast. Don’t expect to eat a steak, cheese fries, and a big bowl of ice cream as a last meal before a fast, whether it’s for 5-days or one. According to Prescription for Nutritional Healing, eating raw fruits and vegetables two days before the fast will cause less of a shock to the body. Also, if cooked foods are eaten right after the fast, the beneficial results may not be so beneficial in the end.

My Own Experience

For me, two days before the fast I’ll limit myself to one cup of coffee in the morning. I’ll also cut out junk food and sugar and I’ll eat a big salad for dinner. The next day, the day before the fast, is when I get strict. No caffeine, lots of green smoothies, and a 100 percent raw food salad. If I need a snack, I eat an apple, which helps me with caffeine and sugar withdrawal, or some almonds and dried cranberries.

Then the fast is on. (Sometimes near the end I get the urge to create elaborate grocery lists in preparation for when I can eat again. I do not recommend feeding these thoughts.)

I always break the fast with fresh made orange juice, except this juice has all the pulp still in it. Feeling the digestive system go back to work is mind-blowing, like going to one of those museums where human veins, tissues, and organs are all on display for the still-alive humans to observe, except it’s like observing it from the seat of the dead, as if I could consciously observe the inside of my body to not only know what it looks like, but to know what it feels like, functioning, at the same moment. It’s definitely a little out there in comparison to normal, everyday sense-awareness. Even fun.

After orange juice, I’ll eat small pieces of fruit. The stomach shrinks and the amount of digestive fluid the body needs to digest food decreases during the fast. Working back up to large portions and cooked foods is a slow process, yet another great benefit of fasting. The body gets used to raw vegetables and fruits, and it starts to tell the mind that this is the food it wants. Of course the mind always wins and in a few days, coffee and bakery treats are re-introduced. But the urges for healthier food choices at least tends to linger.

I once did a 5-day fast but I looked Gandhi-skinny and it mentally scared me a bit. Physically, it felt great. The weight and muscle came back in less than 2 weeks. According to Prescription for Nutritional Healing, fasting for more than three days should only be done under qualified supervision. I agree. Most recently, I followed a one day fast and that, too, was a well-worth experience.

According to the Prescription for Nutritional Healing, the length of the fast will accomplish different things. A three-day fast helps the body rid itself of toxins and cleanses the blood. A five-day fast begins the process of healing and rebuilding the immune system. A ten-day fast can take care of many problems before they arise and help to fight off illness, including common degenerative diseases.

And according to me, even a one day fast will energize the body and mind and tune it in for spring. I’ll physically and mentally be buzzing with energy along with the bees and blossoming flowers.

Please do much research on fasting before attempting it alone. I am not a nutritionist, doctor, or plastic surgeon and I only intend to share my experience. For more information on fasting, check out Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Also check out this website for more information on how to prepare for the master cleanse, along with the salt water flush recipe.

To check out what’s happening in the garden, visit my blog. Thank you.



2/25/2014

Warning: Don’t Rely on Diabetes Symptoms to Reveal a Problem One of the most dangerous things about the most common type of diabetes, type 2, is that life-threatening complications often occur before any diabetes symptoms ever develop. In fact, many people with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms at all, while others have diabetes symptoms so mild that they go unnoticed. If the symptoms go unnoticed and the disease is left untreated, the risks of complications such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, blindness, amputations, and more can skyrocket. Some individuals, however, may experience the typical symptoms of diabetes. Therefore, it’s a good idea for all of us to know what the diabetes symptoms are and be able to recognize them.

Classic Diabetes Symptoms

Increased urination
Excessive thirst
Blurred vision
Excessive hunger or increased appetite
Extreme fatigue
Cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
Sensations of tingling, tickling, prickling, pricking, pain, or burning in the hands or feet
Darker, thicker skin in areas of body folds and creases
Yeast infections

Diabetes Complications, Not Symptoms, Are Often the First sign Something’s Wrong

Because many individuals with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms, the disease often remains undiagnosed for many years. In fact, millions of diabetics in the U.S. have no idea they have the disease. Many of these individuals will first become aware of their disease not when they develop one of the diabetes symptoms listed above, but rather when they develop one of diabetes’ life-threatening complications, such as a heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease. Other diabetes complications include heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, and other forms of cardiovascular disease, mild cognitive impairment, dementia, cancer, depression, and erectile dysfunction. The earlier you catch diabetes, the easier it is and the more likely you are to completely prevent these diabetes complications and avoid diabetes symptoms.

High Blood Sugar Testing

Annual Physical Exam with Blood Laboratory Testing is Essential

Since these diabetes symptoms are not a reliable way for many people to discover they have diabetes, it is critical for individuals to get annual checkups with their doctor which should include the typical lab tests for diabetes and prediabetes: fasting blood sugar and glycohemoglobin A1c. If the numbers don’t look good, take your doctor’s advice seriously. Diabetes can be reversed with the proper diet changes and the use of natural healing protocols, but the sooner you get started the better your chances of getting it under control.

How to Treat Diabetes Naturally

If you suffer from diabetes or you have experienced any of the diabetes symptoms, it is critical that you begin following a low-glycemic diet and/or begin using natural remedies to lower blood sugar. You can find out more about these therapies here:

Suffering From High Blood Sugar Symptoms? Use This Glycemic Index Food List

Could This Diet for High Blood Sugar Be the Single Healthiest Diet for Everyone?

Cinnamon and Diabetes – Clearing the Confusion

What’s Your Experience?

Have you experienced symptoms of diabetes? What about diabetes complications? If so, have you been able to reverse any diabetes-related problems using diet or other natural remedies? Our readers want to hear from you and know what’s worked and what hasn’t for your diabetes issues. Please share in the comments section below.



2/20/2014

PeppermintSpring is floating around out there somewhere, just waiting for its moment to, well, spring. It’s been quite the winter around the majority of the country, bringing moisture that was well needed; there is no arguing that. I think for most of us though, we are ready to move on. We are ready to dig our hands into the dirt and feel the sunshine on our faces.

One of the things I most look forward to is the smell of mint in the air. It grows wild throughout my yard and when a strong breeze kicks up, it sets me on a peppermint cloud, bringing me to a standstill from whatever task I happen to be involved in at the moment. I know that for many, the mint family is a nuisance, spreading like wildfire wherever its heart desires. But for me, that nuisance was a blessing for my less than green thumb when I began my journey into the gardening world. And when I discovered just how useful the sprawling bugger was, it was easy to say: let it grow.

Peppermint Healing Properties

Though many in the mint family pack a whole health wallop, the herb we are loving on presently is Mentha Piperita, or Peppermint. This common weed is widely used for its properties as an antibacterial (inhibiting the growth of bacteria), antiseptic (applied to skin to prevent bacterial growth), and carminative (to relieve gas and griping). It is also a mild analgesic (pain relief without loss of consciousness) and has nervine (calm nervous tension and nourish the nervous system) properties.

Let’s begin with the easiest and most common form for getting that healing dose of peppermint: A simple cup of tea, made by steeping about 1 tsp of the dried herb or 2 tsp of the fresh leaves in 8 ounces of boiled water for about 15 minutes, is a lovely remedy for many everyday ailments, including headaches and stomach upset. Drinking a cup of peppermint tea about an hour after a meal helps to keep your digestive juices in working order and when taken prior to eating, might help you to avoid gas pains. Its mild anesthetic properties can sooth the stomach wall and relieve the vomiting associated with pregnancy and motion sickness.

Peppermint can help to relieve anxiety and maintain focus, aiding those who deal with daily stress. And while it can be a soothing herb, it also has the opposite function of encouraging circulatory flow and treating lethargy. A cup or two of a stronger brew, say a tbsp of herb per 8 ounces hot water, can offer you a boost without the caffeine hangover. It’s a valuable help for colds and flu. I usually turn to peppermint when I feel a cold coming on. Making an extra strong dose and letting it steep for an hour or two will usually do the trick when caught early. Right now though, I go easy on the peppermint because I’m breastfeeding and it has been known to reduce mother’s milk.

Other Uses  for Peppermint

Another way to utilize the tea is for compresses. Soaking a clean towel in the hot, steeped herb can do wonders for headaches. Just place the towel on your forehead, lie down and relax. You can use the same method for sunburn. Just allow the towel to cool and replace as needed.

In addition to the herb, I always keep some pure peppermint essential oil on hand. It packs a bigger punch than the fresh or dried herb and one or two drops will usually do the job. A drop massaged into each temple always eases my headaches. Be sure to wash your hands afterwards because you DO NOT want to get it in your eyes. If you do: washing your eyes out with cool water will usually help. Because of its antiseptic properties, a couple drops of the oil on a minor kitchen burn or scrape can help sterilize the skin and ease the pain.

Putting a few drops into steaming water and draping your head over the water with a towel can relieve sinus congestion. You can also put a couple drops into your palms and rub them together briskly, creating warmth, and then cup your hands at your nose and breathe deeply. This also helps for concentration and focus. But be careful to only breathe this two or three times, as this can stimulate the heart and possibly cause lightheadedness and burning eyes. Use in an aromatherapy diffuser to provide an overall uplifting and enthusiastic feeling to any room.

I keep a bar of peppermint soap in my shower. For me, there is nothing like the magic of mint in a steaming bath or shower. It lifts my spirit and is super soothing for skin rashes. Adding a few drops of oil to your favorite lotion makes a great foot balm, and gargling with an infusion of the herb freshens the breath!

While the benefits of this herb are far-reaching, exercise caution if you are pregnant or nursing. Do not overuse peppermint in any form for any condition. The suggestions printed here are from experiences I’ve benefited from personally and do not mean they will work the same for you. Every body is different. Consult your doctor if you are more comfortable doing so.

The possibilities of this aromatic herb are many, far more than what I’ve included here. I encourage you to explore it further and maybe plant some in your own yard to enjoy its plentiful benefits. However, if you would like to avoid a mint takeover, I’d suggest potting it.

Visit me at Folkways Farm, to read about urban farm life and the happy shenanigans of my family! Thanks for reading Mother Earth News!

My resources for this article include: The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal, by David Hoffmann, The Essential Herbal for Natural Health, by Holly Bellebuono, The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, by Valerie Ann Worwood, and The Way of Herbs, by Michael Tierra.



2/18/2014

I recently spent a weekend at the Oregon coast. If you have ever been there yourself, you know that you do not go to the Oregon coast for sunshine and warm sand. You go for the magnificent views including striking rock formations and rhythmic waves. Each time I am at the Oregon coast, I awavesm reminded of how similar those rolling waves are to the contractions experienced by women in labor.

By design waves naturally rise from the vast ocean behind them, hug the edges of the shore and quietly retreat. Then, they do this once more and once more. At times, the white foam of the waves reaches the shore quickly and rhythmically, at other times slowly and idiosyncratically. And while waves aren’t always symmetrical, they are constant. I have yet been to the coast and wondered what happened to the waves. It is in their consistency that there is assurance. As the waves roll by no man’s command, their rhythm reflects the order of the universe, the closing of one day and the beginning of another.

Like the ocean waves they mimic, the contractions of childbirth also build slowly and crescendo through a mother’s body until they crash and rescind back into a relaxed uterus, giving momma a few moments to rest. As the next contraction flows in and through and over the mother, her baby wiggles it’s way through the birth canal, closer to the open, cervical shore. If momma senses fear or feels a lack of control, the contractions may follow the asymmetry of the waves, slowing and even stopping before completing the predestined cycle. However, when momma feels loved, supported and relaxed, the contractions will continue and fall into their prehistoric rhythm. Left to nature’s intricate design and timing, these contractions will mirror the waves in closing the day of life in the womb and awaken mother and baby to a new life full of joy and beauty.  

It is awe inspiring to see the many synergies in nature. As we breathe in and out, the world breathes in and out with us. As we grunt and groan through the pains of labor, the earth shifts and quakes and brings forth new life with us. As the earth tilts on its axis causing the ocean’s waves to roll in and out, so will the mother tilt her pelvis and let the power of birth roll through her body until her precious child is born.

Have you experienced a labor which fell in synch with the waves of the ocean? Please share.

Photo: Pacific City, Oregon by JoAnn Swanson



2/7/2014

I don't know why, but I've always been totally intimidated by quilters. I mean, I'm a mad sewer and seamstress extraordinaire if I do say so myself, but there is something about the little intricacies of bits and pieces of quilting fabric. This goes here, this goes there, wait, what do I do with this piece? And how do I make it match up with that one?! I signed up for a quilting class recently and I am super excited to take it. But in the meantime...

One of my best friends is having a baby. I really wanted to make her new little addition a special baby blanket. One that was almost Charlie Brown-ish. (think Linus' security blanket that he takes everywhere) I wanted it to be that special. I knew I didn't want to crochet it, and I knew that I wanted it to be warm and cushiony so that she could lay him on it on the floor if she wanted to. I had some great leftover linen from making her a baby sling, so I looked around for other complementary fabric that I could match with it; and as not to overwhelm myself, I figured, how hard could a bunch of squares be? Also, with it only being a baby blanket, the size wouldn't be overwhelming either. Here's what went down:

How to Sew a Lap Quilt

Easy Quilt Making One

I used a CD case as a template for my squares, which are actually more rectangular, because of the CD case shape, but it worked perfect. I cut out 36 total, from 4 different fabrics. My quilt would be 6x6 blocks. I then laid them on the living room floor so I could arrange them the way I wanted to. Keeping aware of the seam lines, I knew I would lose quite a bit of fabric, so make sure when you estimate a good size for yourself, you remember that you will lose inches when sewing. Arrange your blocks in whatever pattern appeals to you.

Start with the first row and sew all the pieces together, the way they're set up on the floor. I laid each one back down on the ground after sewing so that I wouldn't get backwards with my pattern. It's easy to do, trust me. Better being overly cautious than having to grab your seam ripper. Once you finish that row, lay it back on the ground in the right pattern and move on to the next row. Finish each row the same. Now moving back to the first line, iron the seams down in one direction. This will make it easier to sew together. Make sure that each rows' seams all lie in the same direction. Now it's time to join the rows together. Start with rows 1 and 2. Sew together in the direction that your ironed seams will lay flat. Continue with the rest of your rows. At this point, I like to iron down the new longer seams and stitch them flat. It will make it easier to stitch in the ditch later on. It does for me anyway. But remember, this is my first quilt, and I'm only relaying what works best for me.

Have a piece of fleece or cotton batting handy that is slightly larger than your sewn quilt blocks. Lay your quilt on the fleece right side up and pin each square in the center to the material. This helps hold your cloth in place so that it doesn't shift or stretch too much, though it still might do so. That's why you want your fleece to be bigger than your quilt blocks. It doesn't matter what you use for batting, as long as it's breathable, washable, and thick enough to give you the cushion you want. You won't be able to see it in your finished quilt. Take the whole thing back to your machine, or if you're hand sewing, work where you're comfortable, and start sewing in the ditch. Just follow each seam line with your needle, creating the raised quilt affect. I'm sure this has a technical name, but I don't know what it is. I make up my own words anyway. :) Stitch around the whole outside of the quilt as well, with about 1/4 inch of allowance, attaching the edges to the fleece.

Take the time now to clip any loose strings so that you are not overwhelmed in the end. Lay your quilt down (right side up) on a larger solid piece of fabric, preferably similar to that of your top for washing convenience. The edges of your bottom piece should extend 2 inches from your quilt blocks. I used a solid dark brown to match my quilt. I'll just use the word brown to talk about that piece of fabric. Using your pins, fold the edge of the brown fabric inward to match the edge of the quilt. Do this all the way around. Coming back to the beginning, remove your pins one at a time, and fold the brown fabric inward again, this time overlapping your quilt. Pin it down again. Repeat this step all the way around, turning in the corners if you like before folding in. Sew down your edging in whatever way you like. You can use any fancy stitch that appeals to you, or just straight stitch it all the way around. I used a double straight stitch close to the inner edges.

Easy Quilt Making Two

If you like, you can stitch in the ditch again, or you can do what I did, which is just to thread a needle with embroidery thread and stitch down from the top and up through the bottom in a few corner blocks and then tie the edges of the thread together in a double knot. This helps to hold the quilt together to keep it from bunching. If you're really crafty, you can embroider something bigger in the quilt as a whole, or use your machine to freehand stitch it in curves and angles or other fun shapes.

 

All done! This makes a great new baby gift. It could also be a great seasonal gift if you used fabrics to match holidays and such. Or even a family heirloom using special garments that mean something to those you love! Be creative and use your heart and imagination! Happy sewing!

Update: I took that quilting class and I am definitely hooked! As far as technique goes, my "just winging it" version was very similar to what was instructed in the class. However, the binding instructions were totally different. While it was great to learn a new skill, I think I'll stick with my way for now! I can't wait to make more!

Read all of Brandi's blog posts by clicking here.



2/7/2014

Ginseng is one of the best known and most frequently studied medicinal plants worldwide. This is for good reason—ginseng benefits just about every system in the body in one way or another.There are a number of different types of ginseng. The species of ginseng that is most commonly used around the world is Panax ginseng, also known as Korean or Asian ginseng. Its official botanical name is Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) is another commonly used and well-studied species. The word “Panax” is derived from the Latin "Pan," meaning “all,” and "Akos," meaning “cure.” If any herbal medicine is truly a cure-all, ginseng is it. Its broad range of therapeutic effects includes everything from fighting fatigue to preventing cancer.

Ginseng’s Two Most Beneficial ConstituentsBig Piece Of Ginseng Root

Most ginseng benefits are thought to be the result of two important groups of compounds: ginsenosides and polysaccharides. The ginsenosides are the most-studied ginseng constituents and have been found to have regulatory effects on the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, immune system, reproductive system, and more.[1] While both Asian and American ginseng contain ginsenosides, there are some key differences in types and amounts of these compounds which create some of the variation in terms of their therapeutic effects.[1] The older the plant, the more ginsenosides generally contained in the root. Roots must typically be at least 4 years old before harvest in order to have adequate ginsenosides for medicinal effects.[1] Ginseng’s polysaccharides, meanwhile, are antioxidants with immune-regulating effects and are thought to be partly responsible for its anti-cancer benefits.

Research-backed ginseng benefits include the following:

Ginseng Combats Stress and Reduces Fatigue

Ginseng is best known for its ability to boost energy and relieve stress. Both American and Asian ginseng can be perfectly classified as “tonic” and “adaptogen” herbs. Both ginsengs have nutritive, restorative, and normalizing effects which enhance homeostasis and counteract negative effects brought about by stressors. They do this mainly by helping to restore normal functioning of the body’s main stress response system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis).

The results of one of the largest studies to-date demonstrating ginseng’s anti-fatigue effects were recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.[2] This double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial by Mayo researchers evaluated a daily dose of 2000 mg American ginseng extractor placebo for 8 weeks in 364 fatigued cancer patients or survivors from 40 different clinics. After 8 weeks, those taking the ginseng showed a statistically and clinically significant difference in their levels of fatigue compared to those taking the placebo. The results for the patients who received ginseng and were undergoing chemotherapy or radiation during the study were especially surprising to the researchers. Those patients had significant improvements starting at 4 weeks rather than 8 weeks.

Like American ginseng, Panax ginseng has also been shown to improve fatigue associated with various conditions in double blind studies. One recent study in adults with chronic fatigue syndrome found that 2000 mg per day of Panax ginseng extract significantly decreased fatigue compared to placebo.[12]

Ginseng Improves Cognitive Function

Both Asian and American ginseng have been shown to improve cognitive function and memory. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in healthy young adults found significant improvements in working memory 1-6 hours after administration of an American ginseng extract standardized to 10.65% ginsenosides.[3] Other studies also found that standardized extracts of American ginseng significantly improve aspects ofmemory.[7,8]

Like American ginseng, Panax ginseng also improves cognitive function. In one study, a 200 mg capsule of Panax ginseng enhanced performance of a mental arithmetic task and ameliorated feelings of mental fatigue during the later stages of a sustained, cognitively demanding test.[13] A series of studies by researchers in South Korea found that high doses of Panax ginseng (4.5 to 9 grams a day of Korean Red ginseng) lead to significant and long-term improvements in cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.[14]

Ginseng Improves Blood Sugar Regulation

Ginseng has traditionally been used to treat high blood sugar and diabetes, and some recent studies support its ability to help regulate blood sugar while other studies do not. At this point in time, researchers believe that certain compounds in both Asian and American ginseng may be beneficial for blood sugar regulation. Among the two, American ginseng seems to work better. Studies indicate American ginseng may help improve blood sugar control in both healthy people and people with type 2 diabetes. Most of the studies with American ginseng have used a dose of 1-3 grams of dried powdered root.[9-11]

Ginseng Prevents Colds and Flu

In addition to ginsenosides, ginseng contains certain polysaccharides that have been shown to have immune stimulating effects. In one study, 200 mg capsules twice a day of a proprietary American ginseng extract called Cold-fX for 4 months during the cold and flu season reduced the risk of respiratory symptoms by 48% and the duration of symptoms by 55%.[5] Another study using 400 or 800 mg per day of the same extract for six months found that both doses significantly reduced the incidence of upper respiratory infections compared to placebo, with the higher dose working best.[6]

Additional ginseng benefits

In addition to the benefits listed above, ginseng has been shown to improve erectile function[15], decrease blood pressure and arterial stiffness[4], improve antioxidant functioning and glutathione levels[16], help prevent cancer recurrence[17], and decrease menopausal symptoms. With more studies currently underway, the possibilities for ginseng seem endless. For overall health and vitality, this herb is it!

References:

  1. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2008 Sep;29(9):1103–1108.
  2. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2013 Aug 21;105(16):1230-8.
  3. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2010 Oct;212(3):345-56.
  4. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Oct 28;150(1):148-53.
  5. J Altern Complement Med. 2006 Mar;12(2):153-7.
  6. Influenza Res Treat. 2011;2011:759051.
  7. Phytother Res. 2012 Aug;26(8):1166-72.
  8. Abstract-Pilot study-Remember Fx. Presented at June, 2007 Can Coll Neuropsychopharm Annual Meeting.
  9. Diabetes Care. 2000 Sep;23(9):1221-6.
  10. Am J ClinNutr. 2001 Apr;73(4):753-8.
  11. Coll Antropol. 2012 Dec;36(4):1435-40.
  12. PLoS One. 2013 Apr 17;8(4):e61271.
  13. J Psychopharmacol. 2006 Nov;20(6):771-81.
  14. J Ginseng Res. 2011 Nov;35(4):457-61.
  15. Asian J Androl. 2009 May;11(3):356-61.
  16. Food ChemToxicol. 2011 Sep;49(9):2229-35.
  17. J Med Food. 2010 Jun;13(3):489-94.


2/7/2014

While arctic temperatures hover over New York state like a stubborn fog and the weather forecast announces another fresh snow blanket covering the Northeast by tomorrow, I like to huddle up in front of the wood stove and think about the herbs I am going to grow at Raven Crest Farm this season. It lifts my spirit, gets me into spring mode and is something I enjoy doing and sharing very much. And so I like to share a series of blogs with you that introduces easy to grow medicinal plants with powerful healing properties that are a feast to the eye, make delicious herbal teas and effective tinctures, attract beneficial insects and wildlife and are good companion plants for vegetables and fruit trees. Planting a medicinal herb garden will bring new and exciting aspects to your green world with many healing benefits to reap.

This 5-part blog series will cover herbs that are highly beneficial for different body systems: the immune system, the respiratory system, the digestive system, the female reproductive system, the nervous system, and the integumentary system (the skin).

The majority of the medicinal herbs introduced here are perennials that die back in winter and re-emerge in spring, or self seeding annuals that become well established after the first year and will keep beautifying your garden for years. I am adding just a couple of tender annuals because their strong medicinal properties and delicious taste in tea is simply worth the effort of planting them again and again.

No matter if you are buying seeds or seedlings, check the Latin name of the plant and make sure you are buying the correct medicinal variety. The ornamental varieties bred for extra showy looks often lack the medicinal properties we are after.

With these versatile and beautiful plant spirits in your garden you can fill your medicine cabinet with home made, affordable herbal remedies for the cold and flu, respiratory infections, sore throat, toothaches, candida, gastrointestinal infections, ulcers, herpes simplex, sleeping problems, anxiety, stomach upset and indigestion, cuts, wounds, burns, insect bites, allergies, stress, ear infections, headaches, PMS and menopause symptoms, and mild pains.

Who needs to go to the pharmacy? I don't. And neither do you with these green alleys in your backyard.

Echinacea (Echinacea pupurea)

echinacea

Yes, echinacea - the oh, so well known purple cone flower. This easy to grow, 3-4 foot tall perennial, hardy in all temperate zones, prefers full sun but will tolerate part shade. Echinacea is a self seeding, beautiful showy wildflower that attracts many butterflies, such as monarch and swallowtail. Harvest the young flowers and upper leaves in late summer. If you have enough plants in your garden and you can part from some of them, harvest the root in late autumn after the plant has died back.

Echinacea Benefits

This is a very versatile herb and all parts of the plant - blossom, leaves and root - have anti-viral properties, give great immune system support and are soothing to the mucus membranes.

You can combine Echinacea with sweet Annie, elecampane and spilanthes for even more anti-bacterial action. It is a good remedy for urinary tract infections when combined with Oregon grape root, horsetail, and uva ursi.

When you blend echinacea tincture with other herbal extracts, use at least 2 parts echinacea and 1 part of the other tinctures each, as echinacea requires a higher dosage to be effective.

How to Make a Tincture

Make a tincture of the fresh plant to prevent and shorten the flu and cold. If you are tincturing the root, wash it thoroughly and cut it into small pieces. 

Rosemary Gladstar's instructions for How to Make Echinacea Tincture can be used to make other herb tinctures as well. The basic steps are always the same, simply substitute echinacea with a different herb.

Elecampane (Inula helenium)

Elecampane is a very large perennial from the sunflower family that grows 5-7 feet tall and does best in full sun or partial shade. It is hardy to zone 4-9 and its pretty yellow flowers attract an astonishing variety of butterflies and other pollinating insects. It will shade smaller plants with its very large leaves so give it ample space. You will be amazed how enormous it becomes after the first year. Since you will most likely end up planting it to too close to other plants, it is accommodating that you harvest only the roots and thinning the plant in the fall or spring in this way also provides you with its powerful medicine.

elecampane 1

Health Benefits of Elecampane

Elecampane root has strong anti-bacterial properties and is also an expectorant, meaning that it helps to expel phlegm during respiratory infections and heals the lungs. I can be used for bacterial infections, asthma and bronchitis. The tincture has a bitter taste and therefor a good digestive aid.

Make a tincture with the fresh roots after 2 years. Combine with echinacea and sweet Annie tincture for a powerful cold and flu remedy.

Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua)

Self seeding, 3-6 feet tall, hardy annual from the wormwood family with feathery leaves that release the loveliest, sweetest aromatic scent when touched. Most likely, you will want to touch and smell it every time you go out into your garden. Deer does not enjoy its scent and it can be direct sown along the sunny edges of your vegetable garden to make a deer repellant hedge.

sweet Annie

How to use Sweet Annie

Although not the showiest plant, as the tiny little blossoms are barely visible to the eye, sweet Annie is a very potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial remedy for deep seated infections, such as a stubborn flu and Lyme disease co-infections. Known in traditional Chinese medicine as qing-hao, it has been successfully used to treat cases of malaria.

Make a tincture from the fresh upper leaves and young blossoms and blend with echinacea and elecampane tincture for broadband anti-biotic action.

Or make a sweet Annie vinegar. Use the tincture instructions above, substitute the alcohol with apple cider vinegar and let sit for 2-3 weeks. Use it all winter long in your salad dressing to prevent infections of any kind and keep the cold and flu away.

Spilanthes (Acmella oleracea)

spilanthes

A frost sensitive annual in temperate climates that grows 1 foot tall and spreads quickly, with red veined leaves and unusual, red and yellow button-like blossoms. You might already grow spilanthes as an ornamental in containers without knowing that you introduced a potent medicinal herb to your garden.

Health Benefits of Spilanthes

Spilanthes earns its common name, toothache plant, from the fact that the blossoms and leaves create a numbing and tingling sensation in the mouth when chewed. Try it, you will be surprised by the intensity. It literally feels like rubbing Anbesol on your gums.

The tincture from the leaves and young blossoms has also shown anti-viral and anti-bacterial action in studies and can be combined with other immune supporting herbs, such as the ones presented here.

Echinacea, elecampane, and spilanthes are all herbs that work well for acute infections. As a long term preventive astragalus is a better choice.

Astragalus (Astragalus)

Astragalus is a hardy perennial in the pea family that has been used in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and Ayurdevic medicine (the ancient art of healing from India) for thousands of years. The plant grows 2-4 feet tall and its sweet pea blossoms become so heavily loaded with bees and bumblebees that the stems are sometimes bent down towards the ground. Only the roots are harvested and it takes 2-3 years for the plant to bloom for the first time and 4 years for the roots to mature and develop the sought after medicinal constituents. Astragalus is best direct sown and then thinned, the seedlings do not transplant well. Find a sunny spot in the outer areas of your garden and let the plant mature, your patience will be rewarded with riches.

astragalus

How to use Astragalus

The sweet tasting root is an excellent medicine that works on the deep immune system by increasing white blood cell production in the bone marrow. White blood cells are then transformed into neutrophils, macrophages, antibodies and T4 killer cells – all important players in your immune response to infections. In TCM astragalus is used a a lung qi tonic to increase resistance to infections and the ability to recover faster from respiratory ailments. It is also helpful in cases of anemia.

You can cook large chunks of astragalus root in soups and stews and turn your food into medicine.

Make a tincture from the root and do not combine it with other herbs. Instead take it as a daily preventive for at least 6 weeks before the cold and flu season starts, so your immune system has been built and strengthened when you need it. Astragalus is a very good herb for the elder, whose immune system is weakened and who face challenges recovering from infections of any kind. Do not take astragalus during an acute infection. Take a break and switch to the herbs mentioned above instead. Wait until the acute condition has subsided and then start taking astragalus again.

Herbs, Seeds, Plants and Books

If you need to buy dried astragalus root or other herbs until your first harvest is ready, this is a high quality organic and bio-dynamic herb farm in Oregon: Oregon's Wild Harvest

To learn more about the art of making plant medicine, read James Green's excellent book The Green Medicine Maker's Handbook or take a class with a local herbalist. You will be surprised how easy, healing, and rewarding it is to make your own medicine with plants that you cared for in your garden.

Good online sources for medicinal herb seeds, root cuttings, and plants:

Horizon Herbs

Well Sweep Farm

Don't forget to check your local nursery as well. Or visit Raven Crest Farm this spring and choose from over 80 different medicinal herb seedlings.

Excited for spring!

Susanna Raeven is an herbalist and medicinal herb grower. Read all of her blog posts by clicking here.












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