Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Influenza Epidemic & Herbal Approaches

    ’Tis the season:  following the joyous events of the holidays, we all return to our adult lives and promptly come down with a miserable influenza bug.  Right now in Washington state influenza is circulating at epidemic levels:  one-third of school aged kids are currently sick.  You no doubt have heard a lot about how to manage this flu from a modern medicine perspective;  in this blog I will cover herbal & other approaches to keeping yourself healthy and protected.

     First of all, you need to have a sense of which viruses you are dealing with. Here’s a general overview:

• Influenza viruses such as H1N1 pandemic or seasonal flu influenza A: these flu viruses can vary in symptoms, but two symptoms are almost always found: flu viruses cause (in adults) a fever of 100+ that sticks around for a few days, AND some level of significant aches and pains, whether it is muscle aches, backaches, headaches, etc. These are key diagnostic features.  The virus that is currently circulating not only has fever and bad aches, but also runny eyes and nose, sore throat and often a hellacious cough.  When this virus first emerged, the cough was so bad that people were getting tested for whooping cough. This year’s influenza is more serious than usual and there have been more fatalities than normal.
• Gastroenteritis, or what we call stomach flu. These sorts of viruses cause primarily nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea, usually in a violent brief burst that lasts 24 hours. Usually there is no fever associated with these, or if so, it is brief. Muscle aches would not be expected here.  People with gastroenteritis feel icky, but it is not fatal as a rule.
• Cold viruses, also called rhinoviruses. These involve a wide range of possible symptoms (sore throat, congestion, runny nose, cough, etc.) but again it is rare to have a high fever or muscle aches with the common cold. 
     If in doubt, consult your primary care provider. 

     Here are some herbal approaches you can try: 

Prevention of Viruses:
     During peak cold/flu season of September through May I find it very helpful to take a daily dose of herbs that help build up the immune system, and keep the viruses at bay. My current favorite herbs for this include a blend of equal parts of astragalas and elderberry. You can find each of these herbs in a liquid tincture (alcohol) form, taking it that way. Herb Pharm is an excellent commercial brand.  You take 1 dropper (30 drops) of both herbs daily.
     The tincture approach can get expensive, so my preferred low budget method is to take powders of each herb, blend them together and take 1 tsp a day in tea, or put in capsules. Powdered astragalas and black elderberry are available at Mountain Rose herbs or Starwest Botanicals.  Sometimes your local herb store carries them as well.
     Another approach is to use medicinal mushrooms. These mushrooms are very effective at stimulating the immune system in the gut, making viruses less likely to succeed.  A mushroom blend I prefer is the 14 mushroom blend by Mushroom Harvest; this can be bought as a bulk powder, which you then take as tea, capsules, which is a lot cheaper. 
      Many people use echinacea very successfully. It has not worked well on me, so I tend to avoid it. Find the plants that work best for you.

Viral Raids: 
      If a virus sneaks past your herbal defense shield, here are some approaches that will help you launch an early raid and stop the virus before it can really get going. These raids have to be done within 24 HOURS OF THE FIRST SYMPTOMS in order to be effective. This requires a certain level of alertness on your part. 
     The viral raid approach varies, depending on which viruses you may be dealing with. 
• Influenza virus: my favorite remedy is a homeopathic formulation called Oscillococcinium (OSC). I have used this for years and it usually works very well. OSC comes in packets of three vials, which you are supposed to take every 6 hours. My homeopathic practitioner friends tell me you do not need to use three vials. Instead, take one vial, divide it in thirds, and take 1/3 every 6 hours. This works just as well, and saves money.

• Stomach flu virus: ditto Oscillococcinium. It usually works very well against stomach viruses.  Even if you wake up in the middle of stomach flu, OSC will shorten the course.

• Cold viruses: These viruses require a different approach. My first herbal teacher KP Khalsa taught me this approach and it works very very well. It requires three things:
1) Large doses of Astragalas: either tincture 12 droppers all at once, or capsules: 20 all at once, or 5 teaspoons of bulk powder, made into tea, or just chugged in water. This floods the system with a large dose of this herb, which is very effective at stimulating the immune system.

Astragalas root

     2) Vitamin C: I usually take 1000 - 2000 milligrams of this; some people take more. High doses can cause diarrhea, so you have to figure out what your level of tolerance is.

     3) Zinc lozenges: take ~15 lozenges, suck on them slowly over several hours. They coat the throat membranes, making it hard for viruses to replicate. Lots of zinc lozenge brands taste horrible; I have found Zand’s to be very effective and they taste great. 


     Finally, it is important to remember the things that keep our immune system well tuned up:
• Get to bed by 11 pm each night and get the hours of sleep that your body needs. This is crucial.
• Limit your intake of sugar: sugar is documented to suppress the immune system. This is crucial.
• Wash hands, cover coughs, stay home and get the rest and relaxation from stress that your body needs. 

When to see a medical practitioner
•  If you have a persistent fever greater than 103°.
•  If coughing is severe and you develop shortness of breath.
•  If symptoms are significant are not improving after seven days.

Janet

Resources:
Mushroom Harvest:  www.mushroomharvest.com
Herb Pharm tinctures:  available at most herb and supplement stores
Oscilliococcinium Homeopathic:  widely available in herb and supplement stores
Mountain Rose Herbs:  www.mountainrose.com
Starwest Botanicals:  www.starwest-botanicals.com



     

Monday, January 2, 2017

An Ancient Herbal Remedy for Modern Pain Relief

Boswellia serrata tree
   I was talking with my friend James the other day.  He is in his sixties and recently retired.  We go to exercise class together and try to keep each other motivated and on track.  But for him, keeping motivated is a real challenge, because of pain in his joints:  he has the usual wear and tear osteoarthritis that many people develop as they age. His shoulder, neck and feet are all affected, and this makes exercise difficult.
     He has relied on ibuprofen as a pain reliever for years, but recent blood tests showed that his kidneys were not doing well, so his physician recommended he discontinue the drug ( this is a common issue with medications like ibuprofen).  Tylenol is safer, but doesn’t seem to work for him, and he was getting a little panicked about what he could do.  He knew I was a professional herbalist, so he asked me for suggestions.

     I suggested three different herbs that he could try out.  Since every person is different, not every herb works for every person.  I provided some capsuled samples:  Willow bark, Chinese Corydalis and Boswellia serrata, also known as Indian Frankincense.  I suggested he try each herb, one at a time and see what worked best.  I expected Willow would be most effective, but was surprised when he reported that Boswellia was most effective.  He took it at bedtime and noticed that he was sleeping much better.  He finds that it is a good alternative to ibuprofen and also his doctor reports that his kidney function is much improved.  

    Boswellia is a medium sized tree with spreading branches;  it grows up to 45 high in its native northern India.  The medicinal part is actually a resin:  the wild crafters take off strips of bark.  The tree then oozes out copious amounts of a clear yellow resin, much like pine sap. This resin is allowed to dry and is then collected.  In India they typically powder the resin chunks, roll it up into little pills and swallow it.  Here in America it is probably best to take a capsuled product.

    Boswellia is also known as Frankincense; there are at least 45 different varieties of it.  Boswellia Serrata comes from India;  it is also the variety most commonly used in herbal healing.  Ayurvedic medicine in India goes back at least 4000 years and there are written records of Boswellia as medicine going back 2000 years.  So it has a long traditional use.  


    Modern medicine is beginning to do research on boswellia and results are promising: it seems to be effective in reducing pain and stiffness.  It may be useful for a wide range of musculoskeletal issues, including arthritis, bursitis & tendonitis, low back pain and more.  It may be especially useful for people who have autoimmune diseases with inflammation, such as colitis or rheumatoid arthritis.  Since it is a potent anti-inflammatory it may also play a key role in preventing cancer.  

     Chronic pain is a huge problem for many people and modern medicine is not fully effective in addressing it.  It is worthwhile to look at ancient remedies to see if we can find safer and equally effective alternatives.

Janet

Resources:
=Starwest Botanicals sells bulk powder:   http://www.starwest-botanicals.com/category/frankincense/
=The Capsule Connection sells a great capsule making machine here:  https://www.capsuleconnection.com/
=Youtube has a great video on how to make your own capsules:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xo92dGCt1Rc
=Or you can buy pre-made Boswellia capsules:  two brands I recommend are Now brand Boswellia Extract and Source Naturals brand.  


    


     

Monday, October 19, 2015

At Tongue Point: Goodbye to Summer

     It is the end of September.  Glen and I are sitting on the viewpoint  at Tongue Point, a rocky finger of land poking  north into the Straits of Juan de Fuca, just west of Port Angeles.  We have been camping at this lovely site for a few days, enjoying the last days of a fading summer.

     Around dusk we decided to finish off our day by taking our camp-cooked bean tacos and sitting out at the  outlook.   This day  has been a dream of a sunny day, now fading into dusk.  The sunset in the west is sensational.  I remark that this is a watercolorist’s dream (I dabble in watercolors).  Glen shoots back, “Or a nightmare!”  And I have to laugh.  How is possible to catch and hold such unearthly colors?

     This place  is that rare thing along the the Washington seacoast: an easily accessible rocky shore.  This is  very different  than the long sandy stretches of Ocean Shores or Long Beach: here the salt water from the Pacific rides east for  60 miles in great rolling swells that crash upon the rocky shore.  All night, bedded down in our warm camp beds, we hear and feel the BOOM POUND THUMP of big swells pushing in a full tide and breaking at last on the stony reaches of the point.  

     These rocky beaches provide an excellent place for a sea garden of kelp to establish itself and flourish.  We were here last spring for a brief visit and there was no sign of this garden; we have the photo to prove it.   Upon our return this fall, the bull kelp is thick, floating and swaying  some 20 feet from shore. 

    During its summer life,  the kelp provides a floating mat island, and many birds take advantage of it; several gulls with crops  full after a day’s feeding, perch on the kelp, facing west and watch the sun sink into the hills.  A lone Great Blue Heron manages to balance itself on the mats !*! and continues to fish even in the last minutes of light.   The bobbing bulbs of kelp look like so many seal heads and we are fooled, over and over again.  

      The rocks provide another  feeding habitat that many rock shorebirds specialize in using. This is the country of Black oyster catchers: as we watch the sunset, they vocalize back and forth  from rock to rock, a mournful piping call.  

     This is a season of migration and transitions:  we watch Pigeon Guillemots in their white winter coats, getting ready to fly to the north Pacific for the winter.  Other birds come in to stay:  small bands of Scoters and other sea ducks move into the Straits for the winter.   

    This is a place of breathtaking beauty.  This is a time of saying goodbye to summer.  There are so many feelings:  a feeling of mourning for summer lost, of reveling in in the beauty laid out before us, of anticipation for  the change of the season.  My heart is full.  

      The sun continues to sink, painting the sky and the water, too, in ever-changing colors.   We watch and wait, until finally, the water turns black. 

Janet


Resources:
•  All photos by Glen Buschmann  


Monday, September 28, 2015

The Barrida

     As an energy healer, I am always keeping an eye out for good ways to clear out the energy field, cleansing and revitalizing it.  There are many ways that the shamanic healers know & use: the barrida is one of my favorites.  It is simple & effective and you can do with herbs right out of your own garden.

     Barrida is a Spanish word and refers to a broom.  In this technique, we take powerfully protective and cleansing herbs, bundle them together in our hand and use this makeshift broom
  
Barrida Herbs:  Rosemary, Bay, Rue & Mugwort
to sweep through our energy field.  We move from the top of the head down, directing the energy back into Pachamama, Mother Earth.  It is similar to smudging with burning herbs such as sage, but I prefer the barrida in many ways because I love the smell of the fresh plants.

    
    I have favorite herbs I put into the barrida.  Here are some of them:
 Mugwort:  this herb grows all over the planet, in different varieties.  And nearly everywhere it grows, the indigenous people used it for protection.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, our local variety is called Coastal Mugwort or Artemisia suksdorfii.  But any variety of mugwort does the job.

 Rosemary is one of three herbs that the curanderas of Mexico put into their barridas.  Though Rosemary came from the Mediterranean coast, the Spaniards brought it with them to Latin America, and the indigenous tribes immediately embraced it.  It is one plant I grow near my front door, for its protection qualities.

Rue is yet another key herb in the barrida, providing powerful protection.  It has a strong, almost noxious scent and thus it thought to repel harm.

Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) is one of my personal favorite protection herbs.  It too grows near my front door, and I rely on it for to help keep me safe.

     Once you have used the barrida to sweep through your energy field, you then discard the branches.  I put them on the compost pile and simply leave them in the garden, where the earth
will cleanse and recycle them.

    This is a great technique. Give it a try!

Janet

Resources:
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs               Scott Cunningham
A Kitchen Witch’s  World of Magical Plants & Herbs    Rachel Patterson

You Tube on Limpia & Barridas:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1zSFyN8I4M

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Cookie Lady


     Some years ago I got a call from a friend of mine.  She had just moved into an old house in Olympia;  this house was about 80 years old and throughout its long history, had been built and lived in by one family.  The last member of this family had lived in this house for most of her life, but had recently died.  So my friend was able to buy this wonderful old home, which sits on the Eastside hill of Olympia, overlooking Puget Sound.

    My friend was settling very nicely into this house and really enjoying her new space.  But one day she came home and went into the small office just off the kitchen.  As she walked into that room, she was very startled to smell the distinct scent of newly baked cookies.  She walked around the house, trying to figure it out.   The smell eventually dissipated and my friend went on with her house projects.

     However several times over the next few weeks she came home once again to the smell of fresh baked cookies.  My friend is a gifted intuitive and she began to wonder if her house had some sort of ghost presence.  So she gave me a call and I went to her house to do an energetic space clearing, but also to check in with the possible ghost.

     This sort of work is commonly done by shamanic healers.  We travel via shamanic journey into the Spirit World and invite the ghost in for a conversation.  Now this work should only be done if you have been well-trained and have excellent protection; not all ghosts are benign.  However, this ghost was.

     I met the spirit of a woman who had died very suddenly while living in that house.  Because of the unexpected nature of her death, she did not know she was dying, and she got lost between this world and the next world.  Her spirit was still waiting in the house, waiting for her family members to come home.  This woman was a very nurturing, hospitable sort of person in life;  in death she was making cookies to welcome her family home.  Only of course, they never came.  She was very confused and sad.

   We had a long conversation.  I gently explained to her that she had died.  I offered her the opportunity to make a crossing into the next world, where her family would be waiting for her.  She was happy to accept my help.  I took her to the crossing place and explained to her what to do.  I watched her cross the bridge into the next world. That world across the bridge was enveloped in clouds so I could not see it,  but I could hear the cries of welcome and joy as she made her way.  Her family was indeed waiting for her and they took her in with great love.

     Back here, in the old house in Olympia,  we finished the energetic space clearing.  The wind blew in through the open windows and doors and the sun shone in like a blessing.  My friend had a strong sense of welcome from the house, as if it finally was hers.  

      That was the last time my friend smelled cookies in her house.

Janet

Resources
•  The Unquiet Dead by Edith Fiore
•  Sacred Space by Denise Linn
•  Butterfly photo by Nancy Partlow

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Chasing Winter's Cough Virus

Herbs for Cough Chasing
     At this time in the heart of winter a particularly nasty cold virus is racing around the planet.  In my bioregion in the Pacific Northwest, waves of this virus are knocking people off their pins.
This particular cold seems to start with a slight sore throat and immediately moves into the lungs.  Even people with strong, normally healthy lungs are complaining that they have a major cough:  the phrase I’m hearing is that “ it feels like I’m trying to cough up a lung”.  
     
     People also notice the usual over the counter cough remedies aren’t helping much.  The other issue is that this virus seems to linger much longer that the usual 7-10 days:  many people are reporting this virus is hanging on for three to four weeks.

      This is not influenza;  most people do not have a fever or achy muscles/joints which are two key symptoms of the flu.  However the nasty cough is obnoxious and really interferes with sleep, energy and people’s quality of life.  
      So here is a great herbal remedy that I’ve been recommending;  several people I know and work with have tried it and are getting great results. One friend remarked that her cough cleared 24 hours after using this remedy.  

                    Cold/Cough Chaser tea
•  take one fresh lemon and squeeze out the juice, putting in a sauce pan
•  take one thumb-size piece of fresh ginger and grate into the juice
•  take 3 cloves of garlic and mince or press into the juice.
•  Add two cups of water to the juice/pan.
•  Add honey to taste
       Bring this mix to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 20 minutes so the ginger and garlic is well extracted.  Then cool the tea enough to be drinkable and drink it down.  A word of warning:  it doesn’t taste very good.  But it works!

     If you are concerned that the virus is moving into a bacterial bronchitis or pneumonia, you could also add:
•  1/2 teaspoon oregano
•  1/2 teaspoon sage
•  1/2 teaspoon thyme
•  1/2 teaspoon rosemary

       Though these will not improve the flavor, they are great antimicrobial herbs.  

     Now just a reminder:  if you develop a persistent high fever, chest pain or shortness of breath, seek medical attention.  Herbs can only go so far.  

Janet

Monday, December 29, 2014

The News of Winter

The News of Winter


9th Century Irish Poem

I have news for you
The stag bells, winter snows, summer has gone.
Wind high and cold, the sun low, short in its course.
The sea running high.
Deep red the bracken; its shape is lost.

The wild goose has raised its accustomed cry.
Cold has seized the birds wings;
Season of ice:   this is my news.
 

Janet