Coffee Alternative: Buddha’s Hand with Cherries Tea

 

My piece de resistance blend of the moment, now that I’ve quit coffee, is new crop sencha green tea, sour cherries, dried Buddha’s Hand, and fresh ginger. Sometimes I’ll add teensy bit of raw honey, just to give it a little more sweetness and body.  Other times, I’ll leave out the green tea and use tulsi instead.

As you can see, this has a lovely rich color, it is light but has substance, and when I drink it I sigh.  I always sighed while drinking my coffee and eating my chocolate, so I know this is hitting something deep within that my body is saying “yes!” to, and an attempt at correcting an imbalance.

(For those of you who want to know what sighing means in Chinese Medicine, it’s a sign of Liver Qi Stagnation.  The sigh after drinking this means that there is a release of stagnant Liver Qi, and that I clearly still have a stagnant Liver. Sigh, always something to improve upon.)

 

Get a large glass heat-proof pitcher or other vessel (to fit 8 cups)

  • Into your pitcher, place:
    • 1 piece of Buddha’s hand
    • 1 small handful of dried sour cherries (unsweetened) about 8-20 cherries*
    • 2 slices of fresh ginger
  • Bring a quantity of water to a near boil in a pot (7-8 cups), add 3 teaspoons of Sencha green tea (I use flatware teaspoons, not measuring spoons). Cover and let steep for 2 mins.
  • Strain the tea into the pitcher with the herbs, and let steep for 10+ minutes.
  • Pour into a mug and drink with a touch of honey, if desired.
  • Store in the refrigerator up to four days.  Remove the piece of Buddha’s hand after 12 hours.  (You can leave the Buddha’s hand piece in the tea, but I have found that it makes the tea a little too bitter for my taste. You may also remove it sooner than 12 hours if you would like to experiment with the flavor profile.)
  • Reheat the tea on the stovetop, in the quantity as desired; or, drink slightly cool or at room temperature.

 

By the third or fourth day, the tea will become ruby-tinged.  Enjoy the different flavors that this tea progresses through!

I might even add cardamom for those days that are chilly or wet, especially since it is one of my favorite herbs/spices.

 

Some notable benefits since drinking this tea: clearer and more luminous skin, warmer hands and feet, better body temperature regulation in general, overall better digestion and assimilation, absolutely no cravings for chocolate or coffee whatsoever, the desire to eat breakfast first thing in the morning, and better distribution of energy and focus throughout the day.

Did you make the tea?

What do you think about it?

What have you noticed about how it behaves in your body?

Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

 

 

Here are the Chinese Medicine reasons why each element is included in this tea blend:

 

Green tea (lu cha in Chinese) – is sweet, bitter and cooling.  It is affiliated with the Stomach, Heart and Lung Organs/Meridians.  It clears the head, harmonizes the Stomach (symptoms: nausea, indigestion, diarrhea), reduces fidgetiness and thirst, and dispels Dampness (this is due to a weak digestive system, and can be caused by external environmental factors such as a damp climate or eating dampening foods). While green tea contains caffeine, the benefits of the polyphenols, EGCG and l-theanine outweigh most adverse effects from caffeine for most people.  Your mileage may vary.

 

Cherries, Sour (shuan yin tao) – are warming, moistening, sweet, and they tonify the Qi and Blood while also moving Blood. They are associated with the Spleen, Stomach, and Kidneys and some sources cite the Liver or Heart also being part of the equation. Cherries are known to help eliminate excess body acids, and are beneficial for those who feel cold on a regular basis.  They are also a rejuvinative, benefit the skin and body, strengthen the Spleen and stimulate the appetite, quench thirst and prolong life. Additionally, cherries are high in iron and help with anemia.

 

Buddha’s hand (fo shou) – is less drying than dried orange peel, and is fast becoming one of my favorite gentle Liver Qi regulating herbs.  It is acrid and bitter; it is also warming, and penetrates to the Liver, Spleen, Stomach and Lungs. Compared to coffee’s Qi dredging properties, Buddha’s hand spreads and regulates Liver Qi providing long-lasting benefits without the mess left behind.  It is commonly used to harmonize the Stomach and strengthen the Spleen (meaning: the key symptoms of this pattern are: epigastric pain, fullness and distention, lack of appetite and belching and/or nausea).  In other words, this herb not only gets and keeps your Liver’s energy/Qi moving smoothly, but it also wakes up your digestive system.

(Note: this herb is not to be used alone, or in large amounts over a long period of time.)

 

Fresh ginger (sheng jiang) – is a warm, spicy herb that is affiliated with the Lungs, Spleen and Stomach.  It is often used in formulas to circulate the herbs through the body, and to relieve any digestive discomfort or toxicity of the other herbs in a formula.  In this case, ginger is used to warm the Stomach and Spleen.  Dried ginger may also be used, but it is much warmer (hot!) and acts differently enough in my body that fresh ginger is best used.

 

Honey is utilized as a remedy for dryness (throat, mouth, bowels), and is considered a panacea by many. Here, it tonifies the digestive system (Spleen/Stomach in CM).

 

In short: Between Buddha’s hand and cherries, there is Qi and Blood movement, and the cherries tonify Blood, which make for a more balanced combination than coffee can offer. Fresh ginger has the added benefit of increasing the flow of bile, something that coffee does offer! Green tea can perk you up with the minimal amount of caffeine, but also help create balance and not draw upon your Kidney’s reserves, when combined with the other herbs in this blend.

 

*Cons: I have found that this does not stimulate peristalsis the way that coffee does.  If you are reliant upon coffee to promote your morning constitutional, you will meet with an interesting transitional period.  If you tend towards constipation, use the smaller amount of cherries in this recipe.

 

My advice during this transitional period between being a coffee drinker and a non-coffee drinker? 

– Ensure that you are getting enough fiber in your diet – this makes a world of difference!

An easy way to get enough fiber is to have a cooked salad of greens (I like kale), avocado and tomato with a small amount of salad dressing as your “salad” during lunch or dinner.  This yields approximately 12g of fiber (nearly half of your fiber intake for the day).

– Move every day, walk, run, bike, dance, yoga, qi gong, whatever works for you, do it.

Additionally, pick one and give it a try for a week:

– Eat 2-3 dried plums after dinner, take 2 tablets of Triphala before bed, or have a cup of hot water with a squeeze of lime (or lemon) and a pinch of salt upon rising to get things moving.

– Take digestive bitters before meals.

– Include small amounts ferments and probiotics into your daily dietary intake. (Avoid kombucha as it is yeast based.)

– You can also rub your belly in a clockwise direction with or without oil.  If you would like an oil to use, I prefer St. John’s Wort as it has antispasmodic properties that can help soothe an irritated gut.

 


Sourcing Buddha’s hands and possible alternatives:

Buddha’s hands may be found in specialty markets and “high end” food stores as a fresh citrus.  Dean and Deluca, Gourmet Garage, Fairway, Whole Foods are all stores where I have found this fruit fresh. Look for firm fruits that are free of blemishes, with a nice color that has no green.

If you are using dried fruit, as I am, you can head to your local Chinatown herb shop and ask for “fo shou”. It should be in the $20/lb range.  It should be green/yellow in color, and free of debris.

Pearson Ranch in California appears to have finger citron/Buddha’s hand for $45/5 fruits.  http://www.pearsonranch.com/buddhas-hand-citron.html  If you slice then dry them yourself, you will have tea for many years to come! They are harvested for a short time beginning in October, and the quantity is limited.  (I have not ordered or worked with this company in the past, if you do order from them please comment on your experience with them here, please.)

 

If you cannot find, or afford, this delicacy:

Try combining dried rose petals (or rose buds) with dried orange peels and use those instead.  I would suggest something like 3TB rose petals and 2TB dried orange peel to help mimic the actions of Buddha’s hand.

As fo shou/Buddha’s hand is spicy, bitter and slightly warm, the orange peel and rose petals will also contribute spiciness, bitterness, warmth, sweetness and an aromatic quality to the tea.  Between these two herbs, you will also get the benefits of opening up the Liver, Lung, Spleen and Stomach meridians/Organs.  I would not have this as a daily tea in the long-term though, as dried orange peel is quite drying to the Yin of the body, whereas Buddha’s hand is not.

If you try this alternative combination, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

 

 

Some of the sources I referred to when writing the coffee series of posts:

itmonline.org/arts/coffee.htm

http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/20/health/coffee-liver-cirrhosis-irpt/

https://acupunkyoga.wordpress.com/acupuncture/coffee-and-chinese-medicine/

https://www.nicodermcq.com/products/how-to-use-nicoderm-cq.html

https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/chocolate-pros-and-cons-of-this-sweet-treat

http://ispub.com/IJPHARM/9/1/4575

http://blogs.plos.org/speakeasyscience/2012/02/14/the-curious-toxic-chemistry-of-chocolate/

https://academic.oup.com/aje/article-pdf/149/6/550/570818/149-6-550.pdf

http://fairtradeusa.org/what-is-fair-trade

https://teabuddy.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/the-dirty-secret-about-decafs/

https://happyearthtea.com/blogs/tea-101/17953352-can-caffeine-be-rinsed-from-tea

Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods Revised Edition

Ni, The Tao of Nutrition 3rd Edition

http://www.pingminghealth.com/article/761/cherry-and-arthritis/

East West School of Planetary Herbology Professional Herbalist course materials

http://www.shen-nong.com/eng/lifestyles/food_property_food_tcm.html

http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/herbcentral/ginger.php

Bensky, Materia Medica 3rd Edition

https://www.sacredlotus.com/go/chinese-herbs/substance/fo-shou-finger-citron-fruit

http://www.acupuncturetoday.com/herbcentral/greentea.php

http://www.shen-nong.com/eng/cm/cm10.html

http://www.americandragon.com/Individualherbsupdate/LuCha.html

Kamwo’s Herb App

TCM ClinicAid App

Nourish (or Deplete) Your Blood

I’ve been turning over the idea of living life with more Blood: passion, spirit, vivacity, courage and wisdom and how what we do creatively and in connection with others can be a source of nourishment and expression of what we feel.

From an emotional and spiritual perspective, we can nourish our Blood through the experiences that we have and in which we engage that bring us a sense of joy or fulfillment. Physically, we can nourish our Blood (or deplete it) based on the activities we choose to engage in, and the food we ingest on a regular basis.

Here, I touch upon a few points about the activities and lifestyle choices we make that can affect our Blood and I go into greater depth on my favorite topic of discussion (aside from Chinese Medicine): food.

 

We can deplete our Blood, physically, through several ways.  These include:
Overworking – using coffee, soda, sugar, caffeine, stimulants, etc. to push through tiredness, working despite exhaustion, trying to do it all without adequate rest
Over-exercising or too much physical work – some folks can exercise every day for an hour, for others a half hour of aerobic activity is plenty, and some others still need small regular bursts of activity.
Overthinking – this includes worry and anxiety, excessive mental work (including spending a lot of time futzing around on the computer, playing games, reading, etc.)
Staying up too late, not getting enough sleep – sets one up to be in a vicious cycle that is hard to get out of (see list of Blood depletion signs below)
Not eating according to your body’s unique needs – this includes eating processed/fast/junk food in lieu of healthier options, and being on a restricted diet that does not adequately provide key nutrients for you and your needs (for example: some folks do great eating a paleo diet, others thrive on vegetarianism)

As we know, Blood in Chinese Medicine is more than the blood in modern medicine.  In Chinese Medicine, Blood is an alchemical mixture of our body, mind and spirit which penetrates to all parts of our bodies (organs, vessels, down to the cells themselves).  With blood in modern medicine, it is the physical manifestation of oxygen, plasma, minerals, nutrients, and cells.

 

In modern medicine, you may be told that you have iron deficiency anemia, but the anemia and Blood Depletion are not necessarily interchangeable as iron deficiency anemia signs include:
Sore and/or swollen tongue
Shortness of breath
Headache
Irritability
Fatigue (lack of energy, or quick to fatigue)
Cravings for non-foods (ice, dirt, etc.)
Blood-test results

 

Blood Depletion (or Deficiency) signs in Chinese Medicine are:
Dry skin, hair and/or nails
Lusterless and/or pale face, nails and/or lips
Numbness and/or weak tremors in the limbs
Tiredness
Insomnia (when you are so tired you cannot sleep, you are tired-wired, or you have trouble falling asleep but then sleep well)
Poor memory
Thinness, or emaciation, of the body
Dizziness
If you menstruate: scanty menses, or lack of menstruation altogether
You may also experience: heart palpitations, anxiety, unusual dreams, restlessness (these indicate that your Heart doesn’t have enough Blood for your spirit/soul to be calm and settled); muscle spasms, spots in the visual field, or possibly other signs of impaired vision(your Liver is likely to be implicated here); mental fatigue, and/or the tendency to be easily startled

How do you know if you have a depletion of healthy Blood according to Chinese Medicine?
If you have at least three of the above Blood Depletion symptoms you are in the running for making some changes to your diet and lifestyle.

As you can see, even from a non-practitioner perspective the solution to the problem is likely to be vastly different.


What you can do about Blood Depletion (aka Deficiency)

Adjust your diet:
I’m sure that everyone is sick of me writing this, in fact I anticipated a groan whilst typing this (maybe that was me groaning to myself though…)

But, we are what we eat and if we are tired and run down, and dry and pale and lusterless, it’s a good idea to take a look at not only one’s water intake, but one’s diet.

What have you been eating lately?

Does your diet need a tune-up in the form of more nutrient-dense foods like:
Liver (chicken, beef, calf – from local, humane, grass-fed, organic sources only)
Beef, eggs
Bone broths – medicinal (see below for a recipe)
Mussels, oysters, sardines, tuna and octopus
Molasses
Aduki and kidney beans
Dates, figs, raisins
Goji Berries
Apples, apricots
Longan berries, mulberries (especially the dark ones)
Black sesame seeds
Sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin
Artichokes, cabbage, celery, dandelion (greens), mushrooms (shiitake, button mushrooms)
Watercress, wheatgrass
Cooked spinach, dark leafy greens, and beets

Minimal consumption of these items is recommended:
Alcohol
Caffeine
Greasy, heavy or oily foods (fried foods included)*
Dairy products*
Refined carbohydrates (white flour, white sugar)*
Grains (yes, grains!  A couple of times a week is okay if they are whole grains like quinoa or brown rice.)
Tofu, soy milk*
Raw foods (green juice, smoothies, salads, etc.)*
Cold foods (iced drinks, beer, ice cream, etc.)*

*This is because these items are cold and “dampening” – meaning they slow your digestion down and thus make it much more difficult to extract the vital nutrients from your food.  For more  reasons why these items (including alcohol and grains) are recommended to be minimally consumed, if at all, please refer to my article on Elimination Diets and Spleen Qi Deficiency with Dampness (it’s free!).

 

Rest enough, but not too much:
Make sure you get 7-8 hours of sleep per night if you are an adult, and that you exercise but not to the point of exhaustion.

Take time at night and on the weekends to relax, “do nothing” (meditate, yin yoga, take a bath, go for a quiet walk in the woods, sit outside and watch the neighborhood or birds, have lunch at the café and watch life go by, listen to relaxing music, etc.), in short: give yourself permission to take a breath and not be productive.

Set up a bedtime ritual such as: dimming the lights as the evening develops, changing into your pajamas, brushing your teeth to calming music, taking care of your skin, meditating, then getting into bed without your phone/iPad/laptop/other back-lit device.

 

I have a secret: if you are run down and you keep going anyway, your productivity levels will not be as high as when you give yourself that half hour to “do nothing” and you’ll eventually feel that wear and tear in the form of the list of signs above!

 

Put herbs in your food (see below for recipe ideas)

Goji berries are a popular Blood Tonic (tonics are herbs/foods that build something that is depleted), so are raisins!  I love the green Hunza ones, as they are often rated to have higher iron contents than a lot of the other dark raisins.  Let your taste-buds be your guide here.

Goji berries can be steeped with hot water (1TB berries per mug) with a slice of ginger, to provide a lovely herbal tea that is easy on the wallet, tasty, and particularly good for the Liver and eyes.  When you are done with your tea, you can eat the softened berries.  I often drink this when I am working at the computer a lot.  (Dragon Herbs’ goji berries are my favorite: they have the best taste and consistency out of all the other goji’s that I’ve tried.)

You can make chai with turmeric and raisins, leaving out the honey, which results in a strangely delicious drink too.

 

Speak with a practitioner if you would like to have more detailed information about how to handle your health situation.

Speaking with a practitioner is especially helpful if you have a pre-existing condition that requires medication, if you have been trying different approaches on your own for more than three months with little to no positive results, or if you feel overwhelmed with all of the (often conflicting) information out there.

((It goes without saying that I recommend you consult with a physician if you have health concerns.))

 



Recipes:

Nourishing Bone Broth, to be used as a base for soups or stews -or to drink on its own:

Bones – preferably beef or chicken, or even pork – organic, local, humane, all that jazz – two pounds of bones or the carcass of at least two chickens.  (If using beef or pork bones, roast in the oven at 425F for 15-20 minutes to brown – to help develop the flavor of the broth.)
Water – the amount depends on the size pot you have
Ginger – 1″ piece sliced into 1/8″ rounds
Rice vinegar – 1/3 cup

Carrots – 6 large, roughly chopped
Onion – 1, roughly chopped (or 3 leeks sliced up)
Celery – 3 ribs, roughly chopped
Goji berries – 1 handful (approximately 1/3 cup)
Mulberries – optional, 1 handful (approximately 1/3 cup)
Dang gui – 6 slices
White peony – 4 slices
Shiitake mushrooms – 8, fresh or dried
Ginger – 1″ sliced into 1/8″ rounds
Bay leaves – 3
Thyme – optional, 3 sprigs
Parsley – 1/2 bunch

  1. Place the bones, vinegar and ginger in a large stock pot, cover with water by at least 3″.
  2. Cover the pot, bring it to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for at least 24 hours.
  3. After the first 24 hours, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for another 24 hours.
  4. I like to let the bone broth (bones/water) simmer until the liquid turns white, then I’ll add the remaining ingredients.
  5. Let the broth cool to room temperature then strain and place into freezer-safe containers for later use.

It’s a bit of time/work, but when you make a giant pot of it it is worth having all of the broth in the freezer!

I’ll use this broth as a base for soups, stews, even miso soup and hot chocolate!

My favorite way to have it is as a sulung tang type of soup.


Bone Broth with Meatballs, Vermicelli and Greens

1 handful of cooked vermicelli (rice) noodles
Small beef meatballs (see recipe below)
2 scallions – chopped
1-2 handfuls of the greens of your choice – I like spinach, baby bok choy, and other greens available at the Asian markets
Bone broth to cover
Himalayan pink salt or grey salt, and pepper – to taste

Bring a small pot of water to a boil, season it with salt.
Wash and coarsely chop (if need be) your greens.
Heat the meatballs in the bone broth in a separate pot.
Place your greens in the boiling water, boil for 2-5 minutes (depending on the greens you use, they may take more time to cook through – I like them just tender for soup.  If you are using baby spinach, you can skip this step entirely.).  Once cooked, strain  the greens.
Place the noodles in the bottom of a soup bowl, sprinkle the scallions over the noodles, then add the greens, the meatballs and broth.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Enjoy!

 

Beef meatballs:
1lb beef (I use local, organic and humanely raised, pasture fed beef)
2 eggs
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1 clove garlic – minced
1 1/2″ piece of ginger – chopped
2 fresh scallions -chopped- OR 1/2 onion sautéed until brown with the garlic and ginger added at the end to heat through*** (*** this way is my favorite)
2-4TB gluten-free tamari sauce – to taste

  1. Preheat your oven to 400F
  2. Place the brown rice and eggs in a food processor and whiz until smooth.
  3. Once smooth add the garlic, ginger, scallions (or onions), tamari sauce, and beef.
  4. Pulse until blended and sticky-smooth.
  5. Make walnut sized meatballs, and place on a parchment lined tray.
  6. Roast for approximately 10-15 minutes until just cooked through.
  7. Cool and store in the refrigerator up to five days or freeze.

 


Black Sesame Hot Chocolate:

You may know this by now, but my favorite “herb” for rebuilding Blood is black sesame seeds.  As mentioned in this recipe post, “black sesame is regarded as great food to keep hair healthy and dark, which is no wonder since this tiny seed is filled with a plethora of nutrients. It tonifies the Kidneys and Liver in Chinese Medicine (CM), helping to build Blood and Jing, and lubricates dryness in the intestines.”

I like to have black sesame seeds ground (in a spice grinder, mortar and pestle, or food processor) with cocoa powder and a pinch of cardamom as a base for hot chocolate.  It’s delicious with a splash of milk (dairy, non-dairy) first thing in the morning, and there is a nice body to the cocoa that is just satisfying enough for those who are not keen to eat soon after waking.  I notice my skin looks more vibrant and plump when I drink this on a regular basis, and the energy it provides it far more sustainable than a cup of coffee or tea.

Sometimes I’ll make this as a snack when I get home, and instead of using cocoa powder, I’ll add cinnamon, ginger and a pinch of nutmeg to make a mock-chai.

Ingredients:
2TB ground black sesame seeds (toast the seeds before grinding)
1TB cocoa powder (note to those who avoid caffeine, cocoa powder has anywhere from 8mg to 12mg of caffeine vs 163mg in a standard cup of brewed coffee)
1/4tsp cardamom – or more to taste
Honey – optional, to taste
Milk of your choice

  1. Bring a kettle of water to a boil
  2. Place sesame seeds, cocoa powder and cardamom in a mug, stir to combine
  3. Pour boiling water into your mug, stirring as you go
  4. Add milk and/or honey if you choose
  5. Enjoy!

Lastly, I adore calf’s liver and for a deeply satisfying meal (albeit one that may take some time to learn to appreciate):

Calves Liver with Sauteed Onions and Cranberries, with Cooked Greens
1 calf liver (organic, local, humanely sourced)
1 onion – sliced
1 cup frozen cranberries
1 sprig of thyme (fresh or dry)
Splash of vermouth

2-3TB bacon fat
1 package of fresh baby spinach – washed and set aside
Dijon salad dressing (2 parts olive oil, 1 part rice vinegar, 1/2 part dijon mustard, salt and pepper) – optional
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Clean the liver, rinsing it under cool water, and remove any vessels or membrane – pat dry with a paper towel
  2. Salt and pepper the liver on both sides
  3. Place 1TB of bacon fat in a large saute pan and heat on medium
  4. Add the onions to the hot pan, and saute until golden brown (adjusting the pan’s temperature as needed)
  5. Once the onions are golden brown/caramelized, add the cranberries, sprig of thyme
  6. Cook until the cranberries have burst and released their juices, then move contents of pan to a bowl then cover.
  7. Set the cooked onion and cranberry mixture aside, add the splash of vermouth the the pan to deglaze the pan.
  8. Once the pan is deglazed, pour the remaining liquid over the onions and cranberries in the bowl
  9. Add another lump of bacon fat to the pan, heat over medium high heat
  10. Place the liver into the hot pan, and cook on each side for 3 minutes.  (It should be nicely browned on each side, and just cooked through.)
  11. Move the liver to a plate, cover, then add the spinach to the pan with another splash of vermouth (or water) if the spinach is dry.  Let steam through for 1-2 minutes.
  12. Place the spinach onto the plate with the liver and onions/cranberries.  Dress the spinach with salad dressing.  (I like my greens with a bit of dressing, especially with a rich meal such as this one)
  13. Enjoy!

Sources:
itmonline.org/arts/iron.htm
Lotusrootacupuncture.com/nutrition.html

https://tughillholistics.com/blog/tcm-terminology-for-all-part-1/

Breast Tenderness: PMS & Menstrual Irregularities Part 8

Dandelion

This post is for you if you experience breast tenderness associated with PMS and the menstrual cycle, varying from mild to severe, and see your doctor regularly for checkups. If, after trying these methods for three cycles, you do not see results on your own, get in touch with me and book an appointment/consultation.  These are what Bob Flaws and Honora Lee Wolfe call “free therapies” in that you do them on your own, at no cost to you.  Herbally, there are many herbs and formulas that can help you; working with an herbalist ensures that you are getting the herbs that most align with your constitution and imbalances, thus I won’t be discussing formulas today.

By now, I hope that you have noticed that between the causes of PMS, and the different types of menstrual cramps, there are recurring patterns of imbalance.  Basically, if you keep returning to the patterns lists, and cross-checking those with your set of symptoms, you will be able to work more effectively with the information presented here.  In short, refer back to the lists (here and here), pick whichever one (or two) patterns most align with your presentation and go from there with the internal recommendations!

Without further ado, here are my top tips for working with recurring breast tenderness associated with PMS, regardless of your pattern of imbalance:

Tip #1: Daily Breast Massage

This may sound odd, but daily breast massage to alleviate breast tenderness can and does help!  If your breasts are very sore, do not force yourself to do this and deal with the pain, wait until the worst of it has past.  You can apply an herbal oil to help soothe the tender and sore breasts, or apply compresses that are cooling and soothing (such as a epsom salt/lavender compress.)

How-to:

  1. When you are in the shower or bath, use the lubrication that your soap/body wash provides to massage your breasts, alternately sans-shower – use an oil for its lubrication and health-benefits.
  2. Use your left hand to massage your right breast, and your right hand to massage your left breast.  Work in a circular motion, from the nipple outward to the underarm and breastbone area.  I recommend 20-30 circles in clockwise and counterclockwise directions.
  3. Stroke your breast up and down like a wave from the breastbone to the underarm area.
  4. Lift the breast from underneath with your opposite hand, and place the other hand on top of the breast.  Gently apply pressure, massage, and knead – you do not need to use more than a moderate amount of pressure as your goal is to move the fluids in the breast.
  5. Then, gently twist each breast.
  6. Do this to each of your breasts – it should take a few minutes.
  7. To maximize the effect, massage the breastbone area in small circles 100-200 times. This point is the Conception Vessel 17 point, it regulates the Qi and Blood of the body especially of the breast and chest.

 

Tip #2: Daily Meditation

Practicing some sort of daily meditation or other form of relaxation helps us to process, let go, and release the stress that is held in the body. I recommend finding a mantra to repeat or listening to a meditation track. Amazon Prime has a lot of meditation albums on their new Prime Music section that are free to listen to if you are a Prime member. I’ve been enjoying Steven Halpern’s work.

 

Tip #3: Daily Exercise

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how important it is to exercise. When you get your heart pumping, your blood gets moving – getting that blood moving is of vital importance for our health and well-being!

For some people, walking at a fast clip will raise your heart rate, and for others jumping jacks or running will accomplish this.  Keep that heart rate up for 20 mins, and do what is best for you that is also engaging – meaning: if you have knee problems, and running aggravates the problem, don’t run! Or, if you find walking on a treadmill to be tortuously boring, listen to music, an audiobook, or find something interesting to watch/read. Get out there, get your blood pumping and moving!

 

Tip #4: Diet Modification

It goes without saying that we are what we eat, especially if you’ve been reading this series from the get-go, and having breast tenderness/PMS can be improved with dietary changes!

Here is my list of foods to eat and foods to avoid for optimal breast health (aka “no more breast tenderness!”)

Avoid:

  • Coffee, black tea, chocolate, colas – these are xanthine containing foods, and exacerbate breast lumps and pain)
  • Alcohol – in small amounts okay, limit your consumption
  • Spicy, hot foods
  • Sour foods (ie orange juice, tomatoes) should also be avoided because they astringe and constrict, thus they hold in and prevents the body’s Qi from flowing properly.
  • Sugar, simple carbohydrates (potatoes, pasta, breads, etc), and processed foods – while sugary and carbohydrate laden foods provide quick bursts of energy, and possibly emotional comfort, they ultimately leave us emptier in the end – empty of energy and nutrition, and unfulfilled emotionally
  • Raw salads, iced foods and drinks, fruit juice – all of these foods hinder the digestive fires and create what is called Dampness in the body. (Dampness means that our digestive fire –aka Spleen- is unable to properly digest foods into the useable portion and the waste portion, so when something is Damp it means that there’s waste accumulating instead of being eliminated.)
  • Dairy – also a Damp-forming food, many women find that when they eliminate dairy from their diets, their symptoms resolve.

Now that you know what to avoid, you are probably thinking, “that doesn’t leave me much to eat, you’ve suggested all of the foods that I eat regularly are now to be avoided!” Here’s the list of foods to enjoy:

  • Green tea – a world-renowned beverage, highly prized for its health benefits
  • Beans, lentils – I like to soak beans and lentils for 24-36 hours before cooking, this makes them more digestible and they have the added benefit of cooking faster
  • Whole, unrefined grains – barley (coix, yi yi ren, pearled), quinoa, amaranth, rice, millet, etc.
  • Lightly cooked vegetables – broccoli, spinach, kale, cabbage, sweet potatoes, carrots, string beans/haricot vert, swiss chard, celery, eggplant, etc.
  • Fruit – berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries) are fantastic, to name but one group of fruits
  • Meat/Fish – small amounts of meat and fish (ie 2 oz a few times a week) beef, pork, lamb, chicken, fish, etc.

 

Tip #5: Herbs!

This would not be a post from an herbalist without discussing the uses and benefits that herbs can bring to your situation now, would it?!

 

Roses

I have been completely addicted to roses lately, and its no wonder, roses are known worldwide as a menstrual regulator. Here’s my recipe for rose petal paste (it is an excellent spread, or stirred into tea) – every year I collect rose petals to infuse in honey which I use throughout the year.  I also have a rosewater spray that I mist into the air whenever I feel particularly tense.

A tea made of rose petals, orange peel and green tea is a great combination both for regulating menses, alleviating lumps (mucus, and vaginal discharge), and for the boost of antioxidants. Steep for 5-10 mins, then drink. You may re-steep until the flavor is greatly reduced.

  • 9g/1TB rose petals
  • 3g/1tsp orange peel (fresh or, preferably, dried)
  • 3g/1tsp green tea
  • Steep for 5-10 mins, drink 2 cups daily.

 

Dandelion tea

Dandelions, the bane of many homeowners who want pristine lawns, is an amazing Liver cleanser (or Liver tonic, depending on which tradition you have been trained in.)  After all, the Liver is in charge of all things cyclical, and if you are experiencing cyclical breast tenderness (and/or other PMS signs) then, your Liver probably needs a bit of help.

  • Take 1tsp of dandelion root
  • Pour over 1c boiling water
  • Cover, let steep for 15 mins
  • Drink!

You can get pre-packaged dandelion root tea – be aware that there is less than 1/4tsp per teabag, and you will need to increase the number of bags to bring the tea from a beverage to a medicinal-strength beverage.

 

What have you found to help with breast tenderness associated with PMS the most?   Share your insights in the comments section!

 

Sources:

 

Internal Remedies for Menstrual Cramps (Part 7 of the PMS and Menstrual Irregularities Series)

I hope that you’ve been able to see that PMS and menstrual cramps, along with any other menstrual irregularity that may be bothering you, are all tied together.  Symptoms do not exist in a vacuum, by figuring out which pattern most resembles our current state of being, we are able to address the whole body more effectively than one symptom at a time.  Sure, there are times when no matter what we do those individual symptoms are a huge nuisance (like menstrual cramps)!  That’s why I offer long term options like diet and lifestyle factors, as well as long-term herbal options, and short term options for when you need help the most.

To review, we have four patterns that we’re discussing in relation to menstrual cramps:

Qi Stagnation is kind of like “roaaaaarrrrrr, I am stuck, get me out now or get outta my way!!!!” – it is frustrating, lumpy, and irregular.

Blood Stagnation is more akin to “you ain’t moving me, don’t you even think about it, oh heck no. You will be keeled over in pain before you think about moving me” – it is very painful, lumpy and fixed.

Cold Stagnation is “I’m going to freeze you out, you aren’t going to be able to do anything about this because I’m frozen inside of you, I’m so cold, I’ve turned part of you into an iceberg. Warming me up isn’t going to do jack” – it requires heat, but heat isn’t always enough, because it is so cold, it is sore, scanty and bright.

Blood Deficiency is “maybe, I don’t know, I don’t think I have it in me to do this. No, no, I’m too tired, I’m dizzy, I’m spent, I’m all wrung out, I just don’t have it in me” – it is dull, needs pressure to be relieved, and is a huge drain on the body.

Yarrow

Whether you suffer from Blood Deficiency, Qi Stagnation, Blood Stagnation or Cold Stagnation type cramps, what you eat is a major impact in how you feel from month to month. Refer back to the PMS post on diet for the foods to eat and foods to avoid for optimal Qi and Blood flow. In short: eat whole foods, lots of leafy greens, eat lentils, beans, whole grains, fish, grass-fed humanely raised organic meats, cooked vegetables; avoid nuts, nut butters, dairy, turkey, fried foods, alcohol, caffeine (especially coffee and sodas), sugar/sugary foods, processed/refined foods. Why no nuts, nut butters or dairy? Well, because the Liver needs to work harder to process these foods, and when our Liver function is imbalanced (resulting in Qi and Blood Stagnation) we are unable to properly assimilate these foods – they lead to further congestion and stagnation. I recommend avoiding juicing or eating raw foods as well – they are a drain on the body’s digestive capacity when most of the time we are trying to ramp up the digestive capacity (aka metabolism) through eating these foods.

Here are my favorite Internal Remedies for Menstrual Cramps!

If you have cramps, and are unable to eat anything at all, I recommend miso broth with vegetables.  Here is a recipe that I use often:

1TB miso paste (I like mellow white miso paste, try a bunch of different ones to find your favorite)
2TB cold water
1 scallion, sliced into 1/4″ rounds (optional)
2c boiling water
1/2c frozen peas – thawed
1 strip of nori seaweed – cut into fine shreds

  1. Put the miso paste into a bowl, whisk the water into the paste until it is smooth
  2. Put the peas, scallions, and nori into the bowl of miso paste
  3. Pour the boiling water over the miso and vegetables
  4. Stir until all are incorporated evenly
  5. The boiling water cooks the peas through without overcooking and ruining the miso

 

Qi Stagnation, Blood Stagnation:

Cramp bark tincture

Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus???) is a premier antispasmodic – it is ideal for when you feel like your body is trying to squeeze your insides out of you, or like you have a pulled muscle. It is warming and circulating in addition to its antispasmodic properties – if you tend to run hot (meaning: heat tends to worsen your symptoms, or make you feel not optimal in general), carefully monitor your response to cramp bark. As always the best option is to work with an herbalist one-on-one who can give you recommendations suited exactly to your needs.

Take 30-60 drops 3x/day starting 1 week before menses are due to begin.

Cold Stagnation Tea*:

Whether you suffer from Cold Stagnation or lack of heat, including a cold, sore lower back, watery loose diarrhea before menses with heat improving menstrual cramps and a cold lower abdomen; this tea is sure to warm you up.

Ingredients:
1 cinnamon stick
4 slices fresh ginger (or 1/2tsp dried powdered ginger)
1/2tsp fenugreek seeds (fry them in a frying pan with a little salted water until the saltwater is evaporated first, may be left out if unable to find)
1tsp fennel seeds
1 green cardamom pod, crushed
1TB goji berries

  1. Bring 2 cups of water to the boil with the fenugreek, fennel seeds and goji berries to the pot
  2. Let cook for 15 mins
  3. Add the ginger, cinnamon stick, cardamom pod to the pot
  4. Cover
  5. Turn off the pot
  6. Let infuse for at least 20 mins.
  7. Strain then drink

An “all-purpose” menstrual cramps tea for Qi, Blood, and/or Cold Stagnation patterns:

Chamomile/Ginger Tea *

  1. Place 1oz chamomile and 4 slices of fresh ginger (about 2mm thick) into a jar, pot, or other container with a lid (1oz of chamomile is about 2 large handfuls)
  2. Pour 1pt/250mL of boiling water over the herbs
  3. Cover and steep for 20 mins.
  4. Strain, then drink while hot.
  5. You can re-steep the tea up to two times, with weaker effects each consecutive time.

Note: you can eat the chamomile and ginger slices – I like the strained flowers and ginger slices on top of poached pears. Try it! It satisfied the desire for sweet we often have during our periods, the chamomile provides the soothing minerals we need, while the ginger provides the heat to keep everything moving, warm and easy to digest.

If you have Blood Deficiency:

Add 1TB each of goji berries and raisins, and then molasses to taste and steep with the chamomile and ginger tea from above, for the full 20 minutes. The goji berries and raisins are great eating after the 20 minute steep period – they get nice and soft, and are easier to digest than in their dried state.

 

*All of these teas may be drunk twice daily (1 cup per “dosage” – so 2 cups/1 pint per day) in the week prior to your period starting, then as needed while you have pain.*

 

The above suggestions are based on easy-to-find herbs and spices in your local health food or herbal shop for menstrual cramps based on particular patterns, or combinations of patterns. If you try these options for three months and see no results, please contact me to determine whether or not working together is a good match for us.

 

 

Sources:

Herbal Remedies for PMS – Part Four of PMS and Menstrual Irregularities

Let’s get you on the path to a healthy menstrual cycle with simple herbal remedies for PMS!

All of these suggestions are things that you can do at home, for deeper and more thorough herbal suggestions you need to speak with an herbalist.

 

Lemon Balm

 

Choose the pattern that most fits with your presenting signs and symptoms of PMS, and try that herbal remedy for two to three cycles.

Liver Blood Deficiency

If you tend towards crying and depression, with scantier periods, tiredness, fatigue, dizziness, and poor memory – this is a sign of Liver Blood Deficiency.

Since the Liver controls the smooth flow of Qi and Blood, this means that if there is not enough Blood in the Liver or body-at-large, your period shows as deficient and almost malnourished.  I liken this feeling to your body squeezing out every last drop of energy it can muster, leaving you more and more depleted as each month passes.

To alleviate Liver Blood Deficiency symptoms, eat: blackberries, raspberries, mulberries, huckleberries, black currants, dark raisins.  Consume liver, spinach, beets, molasses, and goji berries, to name but a few.  Drink this simple Liver Blood-Building tea daily.  Both Goji and Mulberries affect the Liver, helping the body build Blood per TCM.  The berries are sweet, soft, and nourishing.  The mint helps to keep your body’s energy flowing, and has the added benefit of being great for Liver Qi.  Ginger helps to keep things warm, helping to move the herbs into the body.

Liver Blood-Building Tea:

  • 1 tablespoon goji berries
  • 1 tablespoon dried mulberries
  • 1 tsp mint
  • 1 slice ginger
  • 1c boiling water
  • Pour boiling water over the berries, let steep for 10-15 mins, drink the tea then eat the berries!
  • Drink this tea every day.

 

Deficient Yin (Liver and Kidneys)

Another portion of PMS in relation to depletion is Deficient Yin (specifically of the Liver and Kidneys.)  Yin is the moistening, nourishing part of our bodies.  Yin provides the lubrication in our joints, and ensures moist skin, nails and hair.  Yin cools the body, it is the feminine aspect and is represented as muscle, flesh, blood, fluids, and our organs.  Yang, on the other hand, is that which is energetic and warming, it is masculine.  Yang is that which moves –bodily functions (such as libido, appetite, digestion)- and is the functional part of the body. Yin is night and the moon, Yang is day and the sun.

If you are Yin Deficient in the Kidneys and Liver, your PMS may manifest as poor memory, dizziness, insomnia (difficulty falling asleep), scanty periods, dry eyes/hair/nails/skin, and irritability.  You may even feel hot in your hands, feet and chest but not anywhere else (this is called “five palm heat”.)  You may have the tendency to dry stools.

To build your Yin, drink the Liver Blood-Building Tea from above, with the addition of marshmallow root (use 1tsp per cup.) and eat black sesame seeds.  Eat nori, seaweeds, oysters, asparagus, string beans, dark berries and cherries.

 

Water-weight

If your PMS manifests with bloating and water-weight gain, drink an infusion of nettles daily.  Nettles is nutritive, being high in minerals, and is beneficial not only to the Kidneys (which control the water in our body) but also to our energy levels as well thanks to those minerals.  It is what is called a “nourishing infusion” herb, in that you can take it every day as an infusion.  Nettles is diuretic (will make you pee), be forewarned!

Nettles infusion:

  • 1oz nettles
  • 1 quart of water
  • Place nettles in a quart jar
  • Pour boiling water over nettles
  • Seal jar
  • Let infuse for 1-2 hours
  • Drink 2 cups or more daily
  • You may re-infuse the nettles a second time using the same method as above.

If the nettles infusion alone does not affect the water-weight gain, add 2tsp of dandelion root to the infusion.  Dandelion is The Liver herb (or one of at least) so you really cannot go wrong with incorporating dandelion into your tea.

 

Stagnant Liver Qi

This is the most common type of PMS: emotional instability, moodiness, depression, breast tenderness, and irregular menstruation present with this pattern.

An easy, at-home, preparation to assist your Liver Qi and emotions is to make rose petal paste.

Roses are used in TCM, Ayurveda and Western herbology.  In India, rose petals are mixed with sugar, and turned into a paste that becomes Gulkand. Roses are considering cooling to the body in Ayurveda, but in TCM they are considered warming.  TCM uses roses to regulate the Qi of the Liver, and finds that roses are specific for premenstrual breast tenderness, menstrual cramps and irregular menstruation in addition to moodiness.  Ayurveda uses roses in a similar way to TCM.  In Western herbalism, roses are also utilized for their menstrual regulating properties as well as a range of digestive symptoms and as a calming, balancing nervine.  Nervines are herbs that affect the nervous system, in rose’s case it is a nervine that relaxes the nervous system thereby calming and centering the individual.

Honey is a Qi tonic (meaning: it builds the Qi of the body), and thus works with the rose petals to both nourish and move the Qi.  It is also drying, and is thus beneficial for fluid retention – an oft-maligned symptom of PMS.

Rose Petal Honey Paste for moving Liver Qi:

  • Acquire fresh or dried fragrant rose petals, the darker and more fragrant the better (organic, not-sprayed)
  • Chop until very fine
  • Mix 1 part rose petals with 2-3 parts local raw honey, stir very well – set in a cool, dark place for two weeks. You may add more honey if the mixture seems dry.
  • Take 1tsp+ every day. You can spread it on toast, stir into congee, have with tea, put in a smoothie, etc.  I really like it stirred into hot milk or tea, or spread on top of homemade rustic bread.
  • You can have as much as desired and tolerated, provided you are not pregnant or nursing!

This is also great with a little bit of orange or lemon peel: finely grate 2 teaspoons of lemon or orange peel per pint of rose petal honey, and stir to combine.  Citrus peel is a great Qi mover of the Liver! With the combination of the three herbs (roses, honey, citrus peel) you have a tasty and powerful herbal formula that is uplifting to the spirit and great for your Liver Qi Stagnation PMS symptoms.

Stagnant Liver Qi with Heat

For PMS with an increased sense of stress, insomnia (with difficulty staying asleep), frustration, depression, and/or irritability, digestive upset, and headaches, I like lemon balm, mint, chamomile, and burdock as a tea blend.  The lemon balm is calming and beneficial for those who are stressed, depressed, and irritable – it is a calmative.  Chamomile is a calming nervine, and alleviates feelings of nervousness (including that “butterflies in the stomach” feeling), spasms, indigestion, and menstrual cramps.  Mint is cooling, and helps to move stuck Liver Qi.  Burdock is a great Liver, blood and lymph cleanser – it is fantastic for Stagnant Liver Qi issues when you feel “hot and bothered”.

Lemon balm, chamomile, and burdock tea:

  • 1TB each of lemon balm, mint, chamomile, burdock root
  • 1 pint of water
  • Place herbs in a quart sized jar
  • Pour boiling water over herbs
  • Seal jar
  • Let infuse for 20-30 mins
  • Drink 1 cup twice a day

Note: if you have hypothyroidism or are taking thyroid medications, please speak with an herbalist and your doctor before utilizing lemon balm as lemon balm is best avoided in hypothyroid situations.  There are other herbs you can substitute lemon balm with, ask your herbalist which herbs are best for you.

 

It is important to mention vitex with this discussion of PMS and herbs as is touted as the best herb for PMS.  I feel that it is best when recommended and used with supervision alongside a qualified herbalist, because not all PMS is created equal or has the same root cause.  Thus, what vitex (or any of the suggestions above) may do and benefit for one person, may prove to not be beneficial for you.  Don’t just take vitex (or any other herb) because it worked for someone else!

Choose the most appropriate herbal remedy for your type of PMS, and combine with the discussion of emotional, dietary and lifestyle factors to consider parts two and three.  If, after two to three cycles you see no improvement, consult a qualified herbalist.  As always, if you can’t take care of it yourself with simple at-home remedies please see your doctor or healthcare practitioner for a medical checkup to rule out anything serious or demanding of medical intervention – working with an herbalist alongside medical doctors is a great way to get truly holistic care.

Next up: strategies for dealing with menstrual cramps! Stay tuned!

On the Winter Blues

Euonymus Europeanus, France

It is February, we’ve had snow here in NYC, bitterly cold days, and some unseasonably warm ones as well.  Needless to say, we are in the deepest depths of winter and some of us are faring better than others.  Even though the days are slowly creeping towards spring, if you are struggling to get through winter, you can support yourself and nurse yourself through the rest of the dark, cold months into the brightness and warmth of spring.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), winter is the Water time of year, the time where our energy comes from the depths of our bodies since the Yin is most predominant (dark, cold, female, heavy) and the Yang is most in retreat (hot, light, male.)  The organ systems associated with Water, in TCM, are the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder.  The taste/flavor that is associated with this time of year is salty. No wonder shellfish taste so exceptional this time of year!  There is nothing like a salty oyster with a fiery shallot mignonette on a winter night.  Nor is there anything like clam chowder on a rainy cold day, or a homemade salty pickle, kimchi or sauerkraut, carrot and ginger soup, I could go on and on about some of the delights of winter foods.  But, you say, I am craving all sorts of sweet foods!  Well, I have a great recipe for you below!

We need more time for rest, have to eat more warming foods to keep our energy up, and take care to keep ourselves warm especially on those minus 10F windchill days!

Some ideas to help propel you into spring:

– Wear a haramaki (belly warmer) around your torso
– Take walks in the sunshine.  Yes, even on those blustery cold days, and especially without SPF.  I like to be in the sunshine until I feel the warmth of the sun, it may take a while on a blustery day, but it will happen.
– Consider a 10,000 lux light box (here is one that I can personally recommend: http://www.alaskanorthernlights.com/specs.php).  A light box has been my personal savior for the past 6 winters, I even use it when it has been raining for several days in a row in the spring and summer.  Read more about light boxes here.
– Try do do as much of your work during the daytime near a window as possible
– Resist the temptation to wear head to toe dark colors – choose brighter colors when you are feeling blue.
– Ensure you are eating high quality food, in appropriate amounts.
– If you are craving something sweet, ask yourself if you’ve been getting enough protein in your diet and enough water.
– Consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement after getting your blood levels checked by your MD.  Many of us are deficient in the winter months in the northern latitudes.
– Consider taking St. John’s Wort or Albizzia mimosa bark/flower tincture, if you are not taking prescription medications (including birth control pills and aspirin.)
– Go do something fun, act like a kid, draw pictures with crayons, dance like nobody’s watching

Here are two of my favorite winter “pick me up” recipes:

Sunny Tea
6 slices fresh ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon (or one cinnamon stick)
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1 pinch saffron threads
2 2″x1/2″ long pieces of grapefruit peel (organic)

Place all but the cardamom and saffron in a pot, cover with 3 cups of water
Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 mins
Turn burner off, add saffron and cardamom to the pot, recover and steep for 10 mins
Strain and add honey to taste

Rice Pilaf with Lamb and Cherries

2.5c. white basmati rice – rinsed in cool water until the water is clear
1lb ground lamb (I am sure you could use another meat, but lamb is very very warming, and is perfect for the winter months and goes beautifully with the cherries)
1 large onion – grated (or put through the food processor to finely chop)
2c dried pitted cherries (preferably sour, but regular bing is fine) – soaked in water overnight, then strained
1tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
salt and pepper “to taste”
1/4c chopped pistachios
fresh mint and parsley
1 pinch saffron
Sesame oil or butter

Combine the lamb, onion, cinnamon, salt and pepper to make a smooth paste.  Roll into meatballs the size of walnuts, bake on a sheetpan in the oven for about 20mins.  Set aside to cool.

Par-boil the rice for 10 mins, strain.

Set a sautee pan on the stovetop.  Add about 2TB of oil/butter to the bottom of the pan, and a small amount of water – heat through and add the saffron.  Turn the heat off.

Then, add 1/3 of the rice to the bottom of the pan.

Place half of the meatballs and 1/3 of the soaked cherries on top of the rice in a single layer.

Cover the meatballs and cherries with half of the rice that is left in your strainer.

Place the remaining meatballs and half of the cherries that are left on top of that rice layer.

Cover the meatballs and cherries with the remaining rice.

Put a tight-fitting lid on the pan, and turn the flame on to simmer.  When the rice is cooked (about 20 mins), place the bottom of the pan in some cold water to release the rice that may have stuck to the sides.  Remove the lid, and very carefully, invert the pan onto a serving dish.  If all goes well, you will have a “rice meatball cake” – with the different layers, and a nice crusty yellow top.

Serve with mint and parsley, the remaining soaked cherries*, and chopped pistachios.

*you can cook the remaining soaked cherries with the soaking liquid and turn them into a syrup/fruit compote if you are inclined to do so!

Summer Heat Woes

Ostrich Ferns - Quaternity Holistics

As much as I tried to avoid getting overheated and succumbing to Summer Heat in the middle of a pretty horrid heat wave, I must admit: I failed.   It has been two years since I’ve had a Summer Heat invasion, the last time was when I decided to bicycle to work in 100F heat on an air quality alert day.

On July 4th, I woke up at 3am with the overwhelming sense that I was both burning up, and freezing.  I woke up only because I was having nightmares.  I was in a cold sweat, yet my body felt like it was boiling from the inside!  This is not a pleasant experience, but at 3am it seemed even more so mixed with my newly awakened foggy state.  Out of bed I crawl, taking a blanket and my pillow with me, and onto the couch.  I got a glass of water, cut a slice of fresh ginger, and started up a movie.  The fresh ginger may or may not have been a good idea, but it was the only thing that sounded appealing to my very unhappy stomach at the time.  I spent the next two and a half hours jumping up from the couch, and running into the bathroom.  I was miserable.

Eventually, I remembered that I had a tincture blend with some cooling herbs, herbs that would help me sweat a little, right on my kitchen counter-top.  I made some hot water, and in the tincture went.  I drank the hot tincture water, ate another slice of fresh ginger, then drew a tepid Epsom salt bath.  I sat in the bathtub, alternating between sweats and chills, until the goosebumps I’d had since 3am went away.  Thankfully, I started to fall asleep in the bath, so I promptly bundled myself up and crawled back into bed to sleep until 10.30am.

When I awoke, I was no longer in a feverish haze, and I made the following tea blend in my French Press:

  • 1 part chrysanthemum leaves
  • 1/2 part mung beans
  • 1/4 part mint
  • 2 slices ginger
  • 1 part qing hao

I let all of this steep for 25 minutes, then drank the whole pot.  By the end of the pot of tea, I felt like I could function enough to figure out something to eat (plain white rice, with some cooked veggies.)  I spent the rest of the day and weekend doing my best to eat a very simple diet, of cooked vegetables, not too much animal protein, and no raw foods.  I ate some steamed bean sprouts each day, which helped tremendously.

Looking back on this, I really wish I had had a packet of this tea blend (or tea pills) ready to go for my middle of the night illness as I believe I could have suffered for far fewer hours than I did if I had made this tea straight away – even though I was in no shape/state to be making proper tea.  I am thankful that I have a good number of tinctures lying about to help in a pinch though!  The day before I got sick, I had eaten a lot of avocado mixed with steamed and raw vegetables, salad with feta cheese, and a ton of watermelon.  I should also mention that I really like beer with ice in it when I get home from work.  I clearly did not follow my own advice.  The combination of food and drink during the heat wave made my body too cold and damp to handle the heat and humidity outside.

Take care during this season of Fire, especially with these very hot and humid days.  Don’t end up like me, feeling like a Baked Alaska, at 3am at the start of a holiday weekend!

Adventures in Herbal Remedy-Making

One of my favorite parts of being an herbalist is the process of making remedies.  Of course, when one wild-crafts one must know the plants they are harvesting, whether or not they are at-risk or endangered, and if they are indeed the plants one thinks they are (vs toxic!)  See 7Song’s amazing PDF on responsible wild-crafting practices here, and of course check out United Plant Savers for their list of at-risk and endangered species.

I love going into the wild and collecting plant material for remedy making.  I love getting my hands dirty, smelling like the woods, and being in contact with the plants that make this type of work what it is truly about – deep connection.  From this deep connection comes healing, and an opportunity through the process of making herbal remedies to continue to harness and maintain the connection and healing from the plants.  Herbalism is so much more than “take this herb to help with this ailment.”  To me, herbalism is, “take this herb to help your body remember how to get better.”  When this remembrance occurs, the body is able to process what it has been avoiding, or unable to process, until that moment in time.  This is what herbalism does for me, for you it may be different!

A few weeks ago, I dug up a rather tenacious skunk cabbage root.  A series of pictures and botanical information from 7Song put skunk cabbage in my brain, and around the same time I ran across Sean Donahue’s lovely posts on skunk cabbage on his blog.  Needless to say, skunk cabbage was calling to me!  Down to the riverbed I go, hearing my husband say, “there’s nothing growing, are you sure you’re going to find what you are looking for?”  Lo and behold, skunk cabbage flowers were peeking up out of the cold ground!  I must mention, that I am using skunk cabbage roots and, really, they should be dug up in the fall or in the spring well before those flower heads poke through the ground (or at least before they start turning purple) when the plant’s energy is circulating in the root vs the flower.  I was not going to let several months pass me by, I just had to have skunk cabbage tincturing in my closet.  It was all I could think about for weeks leading up to harvesting this plant, and bordering on completely irrational thinking.  I am anticipating a weak tincture as a result of my poor harvest timing, but nevertheless looking forward to seeing what skunk cabbage has in store for me.

I plan on marking at least one spot for another skunk cabbage root, to harvest in the fall, as my chosen skunk cabbage did not want to come out of the ground very easily (that’s my first lesson in this adventure.)  The skunk cabbage was in the ground much deeper than I anticipated and really made me work to get it out.  I got mighty dirty, cold, wet and muck spattered.  My hands were very very cold, but for some reason it didn’t bother me the way cold normally does.  When the root yielded to my digging, I thanked it for coming out and carefully washed the roots in the stream, put the whole plant in the bag that I had with me – flower and all – and hiked back up the hill.  My husband did not understand why I did not want to dig up more roots, as there were plenty of skunk cabbages all around us.  One was enough, more would have been greedy for just one person’s medicine.

I let the root dry overnight, then washed and washed and washed the roots with a soft toothbrush to get as much muck off of them as possible.  I swear the roots expanded while I was washing and scrubbing them.  At this point, even with cold water for rinsing the roots, aided by a toothbrush for scrubbing out as much muck debris as possible, my hands began to heat up to the point of burning and then began itching from what must have been the oxalates.  I think the reason my hands did not get so horribly cold digging it out by the riverbed was because of these oxalates, which are neutralized through heating, drying and/or tincturing.  Second lesson learned: wear gloves when preparing raw skunk cabbage roots!

A little background on skunk cabbage, from Sean Donahue’s site, if you are so inclined.

I do not have pictures of the tincture in progress, the whole root/rhizome, being washed, cut up, in the jar, etc.  I’ll do another post in the future with a less messy tincturing plant!

When making tinctures from fresh root material, as I did with skunk cabbage, there are two ways to go about it: one is the folk method, and the other is a standardized measurement. (There is a third method: percolation, but I haven’t tried percolations yet and they are for powdered material.)  I went with the standardized measurement of 1:2 fresh in 50% alcohol, as per Michael Moore’s information.

Here are the steps, once you’ve gathered your material:

1.  Clean then chop up your root material very finely, or as finely as possible (sometimes it is easier to break up the material, let it soften for a couple of weeks int he menstruum and then puree in the blender.)
2.  Measure the material out by weight (I use grams, because I’m a nerd)
3.  Place the herb in a large jar
4.  Cover with the volume of alcohol needed.  In my case I had 250g exactly of root, so added 500mL of 50% alcohol to cover.  My jar was the exact size I needed as well – it was meant to be apparently!
5.  Seal the jar, then label it.
6.  Put it in a nice cool dark place, and shake it daily for the first couple of weeks.  Then, let it macerate for at least 6 weeks.  I have tinctures macerating that are over a year old, some I just wait until the time feels right and then I strain them.

My labels typically look something like this:

Sample Label

After the maceration period, you may strain your tincture and store it in a brown or blue glass bottle.

I strain/press through cheesecloth, and then re-filter the tincture with a fine mesh sieve if there are still plant bits in the tincture.  Modify the label so it has the “strained” date on it.  Some people put pertinent information on the bottle labels, such as energetics, Organs/organs affected, actions, etc.

I will post an update/new blog post on the efficacy of this particular tincture, and what it did for me, after it is ready in June/July.

Update 07/2014: it has been over a year since I first made this tincture, and I still haven’t tried it!  I look at the bottle every week, and still haven’t bucked up to actually try the tincture.  I suppose I’ll have to do that, as skunk cabbage tincture is said to only last a little over a year once tinctured.