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/

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.

 

 

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Lifestyle and Diet Strategies for PMS and Menstrual Irregularities (Part Three)

Lifestyle and Diet Strategies for PMS are a vital part of resolving PMS.

If you aren’t moving enough, from being sedentary or from fatigue and lethargy, this can contribute to PMS symptoms.  Moving is key to keeping the blood flowing in the body. If we don’t move, our blood and energy gets stuck and stagnated.  Remember the river analogy from before?  Think of your body’s blood and energy as being a river, if the river doesn’t move (whether it be blocked by a dam or rocks, or not enough water to keep it flowing) – the water stagnates and turns slimy and gross.  This is especially true with your Liver and moving, the Liver loves it when you walk because it helps the Liver do its job of keeping everything moving and flowing smoothly that much easier.  Help and love your Liver by moving, whether it is walking or some other kind of movement.

Movement is not “exercise” (I don’t really like “exercise”.) Movement can be walking, hiking, bicycling, swimming, dancing, gardening, household cleaning, playing with the kids or dog, anything that gets your heart-rate up and your blood pumping!   I particularly like movement outside in the sunshine, the sun is like a light shining through to the innermost part of you. Couple movement and sunshine together and you have a fantastically simple way to benefit your self and body at the same time.

Whittaker Falls Park, Lowville, NY

Lack of creative expression and lack of emotional expression and release is a surefire way to guarantee PMS every month – find a way to release your emotions and express yourself creatively.  As the Liver is the seat of creativity, when you express yourself Liver loves you for it! Suppressing emotions stifles the Liver’s ability to ensure the smooth flow of Qi and Blood. Remember that Qi is energy? Positive and negative thoughts and emotions are also energy, and thus affect the body.

Some examples of expressing yourself: journal, draw, paint, garden, sculpt, knit, stitch, cook, clean, move, talk, sing, scream, make music, dance. Sometimes I’ll color in a coloring book, draw mandalas with crayons, or doodle circles and squares if I’m not feeling particularly creative; other times, I’ll rearrange my closet or create a playlist to listen to during the day. Rearranging furniture, decorating the house, and cooking a new dish all help to express your creativity. The advantage to creative expression is that it allows the mind to take a backseat, while letting your self, your soul, come to the forefront. The mind gets quiet, and you are connected to your true self.

Emotional expression is vital to the healthy body and soul.  When you do not release the emotions that are within you, and instead keep them under a lid, your body is forced to shuttle those bits to different parts of the body.  How this manifests is different person-to-person the consistent factor with everyone is that the Liver is affected, and with women often the lidded emotions “erupt” as PMS.  If you are unable to express how you feel with your loved ones in a supportive and non-judgmental environment, find someone who you can work with (be it a therapist, spiritual advisor, doctor, mentor, teacher, herbalist, etc.)  Helpers, as I like to call those who help us on our paths, often appear just as we realize we need help.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who you think may understand what you are going through.

We are what we eat.  If you are not eating a nourishing diet that is rich in whole foods, foods high in omega-3 rich foods (such as wild salmon, grass-fed organic humanely raised meats, evening primrose or borage oil), and fresh vegetables, you can become sluggish and your body is unable to support the demands that is placed upon it.  A good metaphor is to think about what happens to a car when you put the wrong gas in the tank – the car can’t perform the way it is supposed to, and develops lots of problems!

 

Here’s a simple healthy-PMS shopping list for you:

Foods to avoid:

  • Dairy
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine (coffee, black tea, colas, chocolate, mate)
  • Nuts and nut butters – small amounts are okay
  • Avocados
  • Chips
  • Flour products
  • Fried, fatty, greasy foods
  • Sugar
  • Refined and processed foods
  • Turkey and red meat that is not grass-fed organic

Foods to enjoy:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Cooked vegetables
  • Whole grains and seeds (quinoa, rice, barley, amaranth, millet, wild rice, etc.)
  • Legumes, beans, lentils
  • Meat, eggs, omega-3 rich fish – as appropriate for your needs
  • Small amounts of fresh fruit

In other words, cook your own food, purchase your food in as close to its original form as possible. This ensures that the food you ingest is easier to assimilate and nourishing to your body. Eating this way does not have to be boring, monotonous, or distasteful (nor does it have to be a lot of work.) Look at eating this way as the ultimate gift to your body and self.

From the women that I’ve spoken with regarding PMS, removing dairy was one of the number one helpers for relieving their PMS symptoms.  It took less than two weeks for one woman to notice the positive effect on her menses at the end of the two weeks.  Are you the part of the population that gets phlegm or mucus after eating dairy?  If so, I suggest removing it for at least two cycles, preferably three, and reassess how you are feeling at the end of that period of time.

 

The key with cravings is to figure out what it is that your body is asking for, in many cases your body is asking for nutrient dense foods, vitamins, and minerals. Cravings can also indicate a “lack of” emotional support or expression.

Be aware of and learn when  your craving is from an emotional lack, boredom, or need to express (or stuff) versus a physiological need.  It may take time for you to figure out which is which, when you do, you will feel more empowered when it comes to your food and nourishment needs at that time of the month and always.

Carbohydrate cravings also can take over at this time. Carbohydrate cravings can indicate a need for more protein in the diet, if you add more protein to each meal, in the form of lentils, beans, eggs, fish, meat, seeds, etc., you will notice a significant improvement in your carbohydrate cravings.  If plain-old sweets are what you crave, take or eat something bitter, have a glass of water, then wait 10 minutes to see if the craving is still there.  After that, well, the rest is up to you…

For years we’ve been told that chocolate cravings indicate a magnesium deficiency. Why is this?  Raw cocoa powder (a 2.5TB serving) contains 92mg of magnesium (according to the FDA, that is 23% of the RDA.)  That pretty much means that if you eat that whole bar of dark (80%+) chocolate, you are getting a whole lot of magnesium that you are mostly likely not otherwise getting daily.  But, I am not telling you to eat the whole bar of chocolate!  I’m explaining why eating all of that chocolate tastes and feels so good to your body.

Magnesium’s role in the body is to relax the muscles, and it is crucial for enzyme creation and responses, to name but two of magnesium’s many functions in the body.  Do your muscles twitch, are you irritable, suffer from muscle spasms, have tender breasts, or have painful menstrual or muscle cramps?  If so, your body is screaming that you need magnesium!

To address, take strong Epsom salt baths, a magnesium supplement (citrate, glycinate taurate, aspartate, chelated magnesium, malate, succinate, fumarate are the best forms), and eat foods rich in magnesium.

About magnesium supplementation: You can take from 400mg to 1,000mg of magnesium per day, the RDA for magnesium is 300mg/day – the RDA amount is not enough to maintain a healthy balance of magnesium in our stressful day-to-day lives. The more stressed out you are, the more magnesium you lose because the stressed body creates a vitamin B deficiency which then leads to magnesium deficiency because the body needs B-vitamins to absorb magnesium.  Note: ensure you are taking a B-vitamin with B2, B5 and B6, since B-vitamins help the body absorb magnesium. Bonus tip: this information also applies to migraine sufferers!

A possible side effect from taking too much magnesium is diarrhea/very loose stools. According to several sources, magnesium glycinate prevents this from happening. If you do not have magnesium glycinate, but magnesium citrate (for example) start off with a minimal dose (ie 125mg if you are not taking any at the moment) and work your way up over the course of several days and weeks until you reach what is called “bowel tolerance.” Bowel tolerance is a nice way of saying that you experience loose stools/diarrhea. When you do reach bowel tolerance, back off the dosage of Magnesium slightly, and monitor how you feel. I prefer a combination of topical magnesium (Epsom salts, “oil” – which is a super saturated solution of magnesium chloride and water) and internal magnesium.  This two-pronged approach allows for the muscles and parts of the body that need the magnesium the most (i.e. – tight calves) to get the topical treatment -skin is the body’s largest organ- while the rest of the body gains benefits from the internal treatment.

While you are working on your magnesium supplementation, eat Magnesium-rich foods: Figs, dates, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, pumpkin seeds, collard greens, avocado, parsley, beans, barley, dandelion greens, almonds, brazil nuts, filberts/hazelnuts, wheat germ, kelp, dulse, pecans, walnuts, sesame seeds are some foods that are high in magnesium.  (Limit your nut intake, as nuts can clog up your Liver’s works!)  Remember, so much of our soil has been depleted from over-farming, and poor farming practices, that even if you ate a magnesium-rich diet you’ll most likely still need to supplement magnesium.  As with everything, monitor how you feel and react, check in with your healthcare practitioner, and have your blood levels checked by your doctor.

Here’s a magnesium-rich recipe, just for you!

  • Boil one bunch of: organic spinach, swiss chard or beet greens in salted water until tender – drain, squeeze out excess water when cool enough to handle.
  • Grind 2TB pumpkin seeds to a fine powder, set aside
  • In a separate bowl, combine sesame tahini (2TB), rice vinegar (1TB), soy or tamari sauce (1/2TB), and water (1/2TB) – stir to combine
  • Once the liquids are combined, stir in the pumpkin seeds.
  • Season to taste with additional vinegar, salt and pepper
  • Dress your greens with the dressing – enjoy!
  • This is even better if you have it with a piece of wild salmon!

 

When making any changes such as these, give yourself at least 2-3 cycles to adjust and see if changes are happening.  Write down how you feel month-to-month, note any changes you’ve made, have felt, and anything else you think is worth mentioning (out of the ordinary or not.)  When you do this, you’ll see if the changes you’ve made are helping in the long-term or not.  So often we think what we are doing is not working, when we often have made great strides and don’t see it because we are in it.  Having it written down shows us the progress we’ve made.

In Part Four, we will explore herbs and techniques that are commonly used to promote a healthy menstrual cycle.

 

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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!