Easy Peasy Fancy Hot Chocolate

Dairy-free, Vegan, Gluten-Free (it is a drink!)

This hot chocolate is fantastically warming, delicious and flavourful without being too sweet. What a great treat for a cozy winter afternoon!

Easy Peasy Fancy Hot Chocolate

Easy Peasy Fancy Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • ~5 cardamon pods, crushed
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • ~3 cloves
  • 3 chilli flakes (or more, to taste)
  • Water (~1 L)
  • Cocoa powder (~1/4 cup)
  • Non-dairy milk (almond/hemp/rice/soy/coconut)
  • Maple syrup

 

 

Add spices to a pot of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 min. Add cocoa powder and whisk. Simmer a bit longer. Ladle into mugs with your choice of non-dairy milk and a tbsp of maple syrup. 


(photo from “overacupofhotchocolate” on tumblr)

Marinating in Gratitude

Feeling good is good for you. More specifically, feeling good emotionally & spiritually is beneficial to your mental AND physical health. While this may seem straightforward, there is a gap between knowing this truth, and being able to actually get there. Right? Without elaborating, it can sound suspiciously like telling someone who is depressed to smile. I assure you I would never say that! One thing that makes a measurable difference to health – that is possible no matter what your current circumstance – is having an active, authentic gratitude practice.

As we approach Thanksgiving here in Canada; and as we celebrate the arrival of our little one in my family; I thought I’d share some new research findings on the health benefits of gratitude. Of course, I’d also like to offer some concrete suggestions for how to incorporate more gratitude into your life.

How can we “marinate in gratitude” more often – and why would we want to?

gratitude-heartWell, both physically and emotionally, “a grateful heart is a healthy heart”. Practicing gratitude is associated with increased well-being, less fatigue, improved sleep, decreased inflammation, and fewer symptoms of stress.

Recent studies to add to the evidence:

Managing Workplace Stress, Depression

Taking stock of thankful events reduces stress and depressive symptoms. In this 2015 study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers looked at stress and depressive symptoms in health care workers at 5 hospitals. The participants were divided into 3 groups. The gratitude group wrote down something they were thankful for in their work twice a week, the hassle group wrote down hassles, and the control group did not note hassles or good things. Assessing participants’ mental health and stress at the end of the four week study, researchers concluded that a gratitude practice was an effective intervention for managing stress and depression in health care workers.

Heart Health, Inflammation, Fatigue, Sleep, Mood

Another interesting 2015 study found that practicing gratitude – in the form of writing down gratitudes most days for 8 weeks – improved health outcomes in people with stage B heart failure. Not only did a gratitude practice result in better mood, better sleep and better energy, but it led to a measurable decrease in inflammatory markers associated with heart disease progression. And all from an intervention that is free and has no negative side effects!

Gratitude Practices

Writing

gratitude journal paperMany people choose to write down one to three things they are grateful for from their day. Some days it may be that only the snuggles you had with your cat move you to true gratitude. And, that is ok. Other days, you may find your gratitude expands to include helpful strangers and supportive friends, a moment of noticing sunlight filtering through the leaves, or even access to clean drinking water. The important thing is that it is something you are authentically moved by, and feel thankful for. Let yourself feel that. You may choose to start or end your day with this exercise. If you know that you are unlikely to keep it up without encouragement, why not take it to social media, and post your gratitude(s) each day?

Out Loud: Sharing with Loved Ones

1) In bed: Share 3 gratitudes from your day with your partner before you go to sleep. What a nice way to shift into a better headspace at the end of a stressful day! And what a great way to support each other in this health-promoting practice.

2) Over dinner: This is a great way to connect with kids and create a simple family ritual. Some people will frame it as “best thing that happened to you today”, which is more concrete for younger kids. No matter how you label it, going around the table and sharing something positive from your day can be a great way of shifting attention to the good things, and celebrating that. Some days it might open up a conversation about something challenging that is happening, too, and this is also important.

Read more about gratitude’s gifts here.

Gratitude’s Gifts

Gratitude’s gifts are several. It gifts us with a moment or few of heart-uplifting, thankful, good feelings. Psychological studies find that practicing gratitude enhances well-being. If we share that gratitude with another, it makes us feel (measurably!) even better. As well, hearing someone express their gratitude for you is delightfully affirming.

With a nod to the arrival of Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, it feels timely to share inspiring research findings on gratitude and well-being.

Practicing gratitude is good for your mood.


There are many books on the subjects of gratitude, thankfulness and wellbeing, and there is a whole field of psychology – Positive Psychology – studying this sort of thing. Cool, right? Think yourself into happiness. Easy? Sort of.

Now, don’t swallow the shaming, blaming kool-aide, please. Whenever I talk about this kind of research, in the realm of “thinking positive thoughts is good for you”, I mean AUTHENTIC positive thoughts. Lying to yourself is never good for you. Never. There is even research on that, in women with breast cancer. Realistic thoughts, even if they are negative, are associated with a better prognosis.

I learned the authentic thoughts lesson well some years back, when I was living in a leaky, mouldy, basement apartment, going through a breakup, and broke. Truly, those things all suck (yes, in a first world problems kind of way). I couldn’t summon gratitude for the fact that I had shelter, for instance, though I dutifully tried to be more “positive”. But I hated that apartment. And the mould was making me sick, and the darkness wasn’t helping me heal my heart. In that case, I COULD be, and WAS grateful for the unending support of my family, whose faith in me buoyed me when I didn’t have that faith in myself, and who were solidly there for me when I needed them. This was authentic for me at the time. And you know, changing my thoughts and – with great mental discipline – shifting to more positive thoughts, really helped me get out of that apartment and out of that hard phase in my life. Practicing gratitude was an important part of this process.

In honour of the true spirit of Thanksgiving, of gratitude for the gifts in our lives, I invite you to make space for gratitude more often. What would happen if you shifted from focusing on the daily annoyances, to daily gratitude? This study found that a gratitude intervention measurably improved mood for study participants, as well as improving their sleep. Cool, right? Taking a moment to find something you are authentically grateful for, be it the scattered autumn beauty of coloured leaves on the pavement, or the huge support a friend provides, or the delightful curiosity of your child, taking a moment to bathe in that feeling will make you happier, and it may help you sleep. Isn’t that something to be grateful for? 🙂

This thanksgiving, I hope you will be inspired to intentionally practice gratitude. Write a letter to someone far away, share your gratitude around the table, keep a gratitude journal, or simply be present to gratitude.

I invite you to share your approach and your results over on my Facebook page. May we inspire one another with our stories.

PS: Here is a great short video on the power of sharing your gratitude, from the folks at SoulPancake.

If your period is kicking your ass, kick back

No More Painful Periods

So, it turns out that menstruating doesn’t have to hurt. Is this hard to imagine?

In this instalment of the Natural Medicine for Painful Periods series, I share some stats and underlying causes, and present evidence for another way to minimize period pain, naturally. In other words, If your period kicks your ass every month, kick back!
 
Dysmenorrhea – difficult/painful menstruation – affects more than half of all menstruating women (estimates range from 45-95%). 7-15% of women experience debilitating to incapacitating dysmenorrhea monthly. Symptoms commonly include painful uterine cramps, pelvic heaviness, aching, and/or uterine spasms, and may be accompanied by low back pain or pain down the backs of the thighs. The pain may begin with the start of menstrual flow, or a couple days before. Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches and migraines can also occur as part of dysmenorrhea. What a party, every month!
 
Treat the cause
Endometriosis, ovarian cysts, fibroids, adenomyosis, IUD use, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), and interstitial cystitis (IC) can all cause dysmenorrhea. If your symptoms are related to an underlying condition such as these, it is called Secondary Dysmenorrhea. In order to truly resolve your painful periods, a naturopathic physician will not only address your immediate discomfort but will also work with you to uncover and address the cause(s).
 
On the other hand, primary dysmenorrhea refers to painful periods without any of the above conditions. Note that primary dysmenorrhea may still be aggravated by food allergies or sensitivities, which will also be addressed in treatment. 
 

Tip #2 in Natural Medicine for Painful Periods:


living room dance party cat on couchMove your body. Regularly. Have you noticed that this advice shows up for the prevention or treatment of virtually every chronic condition? Regular aerobic exercise (the sort that gets your heart rate up) decreases stagnation of liver qi in the pelvis. And stagnant qi is a major cause of dysmenorrhea according to the Traditional Chinese Medicine paradigm. Of course, there are studies to back this up in western science terms.  Regular yoga practice, and specific yoga poses have both been studied and found to reduce pain during menstruation. Yoga-on-the-Mountain-You know, given that yoga and other forms of movement also improve mood, and oh, decrease your risk of heart disease and cancer, the top two causes of death, I really can’t see why you wouldn’t try it. Move your body, please. If you don’t feel comfortable going to a gym or studio, and you can’t imagine doing yoga as instructed in a youtube video, start with a daily 3 song dance party in your living room and build from there. Or take up hula hooping. Or volunteer to walk a dog. Move. Kick back.

If PMS has you down, see my 10 Tips for a Happy Menstrual Cycle.

For more, personalized, strategies to ease your monthly cycle (including energy medicine, herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture and therapeutic nutrition),contact Mahalia for an appointment. 

Holy Basil

holy_basil

Tulsi, or holy basil, is a great ally for winter, for cold and flu season, for when you are feeling stressed and sad.
Holy Basil is a restorative and tonic herb. It is uplifting, calming, and supports a balanced stress response. It is also antiviral. This is a herb I look to often for clients who are stressed, wired, and having trouble sleeping. As well, I like to include holy basil in mood formulas. I blend it into tinctures, teas. I will share a secret: I think it is an important part of what makes the potions I offer people “magic potions”.
Think of holy basil for stress management, for anxiety & depression, for insomnia, and for fending off winter’s supply of viral infections.
This month, try it as a tea. You can drink it straight, or blend it with other ingredients like lavender, rose petals, hibiscus or chai spices.
Cautions: avoid during pregnancy/if trying to conceive. Monitor your blood sugar if you are on insulin – you may need to lower your dose while using tulsi tea.
For more about this amazing herb, check out this monograph by Rosalee de la Foret.

PMS Prevention Plan: 10 Tips For a Happy Menstrual Cycle

by Dr. Mahalia Freed, ND


Umm, happy? Isn’t that taking things a bit far? No, no it is entirely possible and reasonable. Read on. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is not inevitable or unavoidable. PMS is common, but it is not “normal”.
 
Did you know that PMS can include over 100-300 different symptoms? While mood changes like anxiety, depression, irritability and lability (moodiness) are the most recognized, other common symptoms include breast pain or swelling, bloating, bowel changes (e.g. constipation, diarrhea), insomnia, headaches, migraines, food cravings, acne, back pain, fluid retention in the legs, and fatigue. For some people, PMS takes the form of increased clumsiness and brain fog. For others, it means less vocal range (an issue if you are a professional vocalist!), or even seizures. Finally, many women notice that their immunity is decreased at this time of the month. It is a time when cold sores or genital herpes might erupt, when asthma symptoms may flare, or when a yeast infection could make itself known. It is considered PMS if the symptoms occur in a cyclical pattern, related to the menstrual cycle, over several months. Symptoms may begin at ovulation (around day 14), or 1-2 days before the period begins.
 
The majority of women will experience PMS symptoms at some point in their lives.
 
So, shouldn’t we all know how to stay healthy, happy and stable in the face of Premenstrual Syndrome?  

Here are my Top 10 Tips for PMS Prevention:

 

  1. Nourish yourself with food. Eat lots of vegetables, eat home-made, eat clean protein. Eat organic whenever possible (in this case because xenoestrogens in pesticides impact your hormone balance). Remember that organic junk food is still junk food. Enjoy your treats.

Careful with caffeine. Most of us have figured out the therapeutic power of good chocolate, and I won’t be the one to take this away, but caffeine does make breast tenderness worse, and it can destabilize mood and worsen digestive symptoms. Consider cutting down on coffee.

  1. Cut the sugar. Refined sugar and processed foods aggravate pain and mood issues, even though they seem like a good idea in the moment. (Except a bit of good, dark chocolate).

 

  1. Move your body. Regular movement of any kind is effective, but yoga stands out in its efficacy in the clinical trials.

 

  1. Increase target micronutrients with supplementation:
  • B6: especially helpful for mood symptoms, B6 is essential for the metabolism of estrogen. Take it as part of a good-quality B complex.
  • Cal-Mag: Both calcium and magnesium are proven effective for managing premenstrual symptoms, from fatigue to depression to cramps. Consider supplementing with one or both.
  • Fish Oil (especially EPA): while more researched for other health concerns, fish oil is known to be effective for mood balance, and for shifting physiology to decrease inflammation. Thus, it is a good choice for certain types of PMS.

 
5. Work with an herbal ally or few

  • Herbs to consider for PMS include: St John’s Wort, Vitex agnus-castus, gingko, black cohosh, kava, motherwort, skullcap, passionflower. The specific herbs best for you will depend on your particular symptoms. Some people use combination formulas, while others see great results with only one or two herbs. Ask me for a personalized herbal prescription.

 

  1. Regulate your sleep schedule. Women with a regular sleep routine have more stable hormone levels than those whose sleep patterns are all over the place. Go to bed at the same time every night. For maximum benefit, go to sleep well before midnight, and sleep in total darkness (see melatonin, below).

 

  1. Increase your melatonin. You know how it feels like your hormones are crazy when you have PMS? Well, in fact the only hormonal difference scientists have found between women with severe PMS and controls is melatonin levels. That’s right, no estrogen excess or deficiency, no progesterone excess or deficiency. The other hormone issues are believed to stem from changes in hormone receptor sensitivity. But, this is still theory. In the meantime, you can increase your melatonin naturally:
  1. Sleep in complete darkness (blackout curtains, an eye mask if light is unavoidable)
  2. Start sleeping sooner. Melatonin production is higher before midnight.
  3. Ensure you give your body the building blocks. Pumpkin seed is a great source of tryptophan, the amino acid precursor to serotonin and melatonin. The reaction requires B6 (see above).
  4. Alternate nostril breathing can stimulate the pineal gland to increase melatonin production (and generally promotes calm when done before sleep).
  5. If you have been diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), consider supplementing with melatonin. Start with 3 mg per day before bed. And, contact me for more (nonprescription) options.

 

  1. Honor the wisdom within you. If you are exhausted and feel irritated by anyone talking to you, maybe this is the time of the month to carve out a couple hours to curl up with a novel, or journal, rather than pushing yourself to maintain your usual pace. For those who experience intense shifts in mood, think of PMS as the time when the tide is out, and all the feelings and nagging thoughts that you can push down (under the water) the rest of the month are exposed. Sometimes PMS emotionality is just PMS, but often there are important nuggets of truth buried in the sad or mad or irritable state. Look for these truths and give them space at other times in the month. If the nagging thought is “this (job/relationship/etc.) doesn’t feel right”, then make space to explore that. Make changes. As things in your life shift in response to you listening to your inner voice, watch your PMS symptoms abate.

 

  1. Cultivate a happy microbial community:
  • Eat fermented or cultured foods regularly (e.g. unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, kosher-style dill pickles).
  • Consider reseeding your flora with a quality probiotic supplement, especially if you have taken antibiotics.
  • (Good gut flora are associated with better mood, and good gut flora are also important for hormone balance)

 

  1. As always, I highly encourage you to seek out personalized naturopathic care to help map out the big picture, and tunnel down to the right supports for you. Constitutional homeopathy, acupuncture, flower essences, therapeutic nutrition and custom formulated herbal medicines can all offer incredible healing & resolution for PMS symptoms. With professional guidance and the advantage of an outside eye, meet your health goals faster, with less time lost to the contradictory information offered by Dr Google.

Contact me for information on becoming a client/patient.

Your antacid medication is causing more digestive problems than it solves

Are you taking a drug for your stomach? Chances are, it is a proton-pump inhibitor (PPI), a class of drugs designed to decrease the amount of acid in your stomach. In 2012, 157 million prescriptions were written for PPIs in the US alone, making them the third most commonly prescribed drug. Prevacid, Nexium, and Prilosec are common examples of PPIs. Brilliant, right? Too much acid = pain, so decrease acid, decrease pain. Well… not quite.

You see,

Drugs don’t heal. People heal.

Continue reading

Can Stress Be Healing? Resiliency, Body Wisdom, and Oxytocin

by Dr Mahalia Freed, ND

Yes, I have come to believe that stress can be healing. Your body knows what to do. Even in the midst of true health crisis, we retain the ability heal. The wisdom within our bodies, and our innate capacity to remain in and return to balanced health, is incredible. It deserves highlighting, and celebrating.

 

Have you ever read an article, or been to a lecture about stress and health, and left feeling even more stressed afterwards, as the consequences of stress on your body sound so dire? Yeah. I have given those lectures. It turns out that there was a crucial missing piece in the oft-cited “facts” of stress increasing risk of everything from ulcers to heart attacks, high blood pressure to depression, hives to infertility. I would like to share some of this missing information today, and leave you with an empowering and uplifting message about resilience and connection in response to stress.

 

Oxytocin the Connector

Oxytocin is famous as the hormone of bonding, as it is released in high concentrations when people are breast-feeding. It is also released by the mere presence of a baby, whether you are breast-feeding or not, as well as with hugging, and with regular massage.

Oxytocin is a POSITIVE STRESS HORMONE. It counteracts the effects of cortisol in some incredible ways. Firstly, it is released during the stress response. Oxytocin is so calming, and so important for emotional regulation, that it is being investigated as a treatment for people with difficulty in emotional regulation, such as in borderline personality disorder. It helps us feel more emotionally stable, and eases anxiety. As well, oxytocin is a hormone of connection. It actually encourages us to reach out and ask for help, or reach out and connect with others in our situation.

 

There is body wisdom, building in a way to help us through stress with social support. Importantly, oxytocin is released when you both give and receive support. According to health psychologist and researcher, Dr Kelly McGonigal, people who help others in their community are less likely to die, given the same high amount of stress and its known negative health effects, than people who don’t reach out to others.

 

Oxytocin Heals a Broken Heart

Oxytocin is more than just a feel-good intimacy hormone. It also directly counteracts some of the inflammatory damage associated with stress. It is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and it helps keep our blood vessels relaxed (and our blood pressure normal). It has been shown to have a healing effect on atherosclerotic arteries, and it stimulates stem cells to produce new heart muscle cells, mitigating any heart-related stress effects. Did you catch that? Oxytocin actually helps regenerate damaged heart cells. Wow. How amazing is that? Just when you need it, when you are in the midst of a physiological stress response with its corresponding increased heart rate and increased pressure on the vascular system, there is the wisdom of the body giving you the protection you require.

 

In her June 2013 TEDx talk, Dr Kelly McGonigal puts this way: “Your body has a built in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection”

 

Isn’t that beautiful?

 

Our bodies truly do have the capacity to heal themselves.

 

Immune-Boosting Oxytocin

 

Another area where oxytocin plays a role is in the immune system: Numerous studies have found that wounds take longer to heal in the presence of psychological stress – be it academic pressure as a university student, or the demands of being a caretaker for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. The reason for this is that cortisol selectively suppresses the immune system. In lab studies, anti-inflammatory oxytocin improves wound healing, and decreases ulceration in colitis. Again, here is our innate body wisdom, stepping in to take care of us when we need it.

 

We are so supported.

 

No matter what is happening in your life right now, remember that you are being taken care of by your very physiology. And to help maintain good health, choose some fun ways to boost your oxytocin production. See the list below for ideas.

 

Top 10 Ways to Increase Your Oxytocin, Naturally:

1)    Listen to soothing music.

2)    Sing with others

3)    Dance with others

4)    Cuddle, hug, hold a baby

5)    Have sex with yourself and/or others

6)    Treat yourself to some therapeutic massage or shiatsu

7)    Gaze into a loved one’s eyes

8)    Connect with a friend

9)    Participate in a club, charity, or community group

10) Enjoy a delicious & leisurely meal

 

References

 

Carter, CS & Porges SW.The biochemistry of love: an oxytocin hypothesis.

EMBO reports. 2013; 14(1): 12-16

 

Çetinel et al. Oxytocin treatment alleviates stress-aggravated colitis by a

receptor-dependent mechanism. Regulatory Peptides. 2010; 160: 146152

 

Detillion C.E. et al. Social facilitation of wound healing. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004; 29: 1004–1011

 

Ditzen et al. Effects of different kinds of couple interaction on cortisol and heart rate responses to stress in women. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2007; 32: 565574

 

Ebrecht et al. Perceived stress and cortisol levels predict speed of wound healing in healthy male adults. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004; 29: 798–809

 

Gamer, M. and Buchel, C. Oxytocin specifically enhances valence-dependent parasympathetic responses.  Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012; 37: 87—93

 

Grewen K and Light K. Plasma oxytocin is related to lower cardiovascular and

sympathetic reactivity to stress. Biol Psychol. 2011 July; 87(3): 340–349

 

Gutkowska, J. and Jankowski, M. Oxytocin Revisited: Its Role in Cardiovascular Regulation. Journal of Neuroendocrinology. 2012; 24: 599–608

 

IsHak et al. Oxytocin role in enhancing well-being: A literature review. Journal of Affective Disorders 2011; 130: 19

 

Lee et al. Oxytocin: The great facilitator of life. Progress in Neurobiology. 2009; 88: 127–151

 

Light et al. More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Biological Psychology. 2005; 69: 5–21

 

McGonigal, K. How to make stress your friend. TED Talk, TED Global, June 2013. Accessed online, Sept 2013 at http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend.html

 

Moghimian, N. et al. The effect of acute stress exposure on ischemia and reperfusion injury in rat heart: Role of oxytocin. Stress. July 2012; 15(4): 385–392

 

Nilson, U. Soothing music can increase oxytocin levels during bed rest after open-heart surgery: a randomised control trial. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2009; 18: 2153–2161.

 

Norman et al. Oxytocin increases autonomic cardiac control: Moderation by loneliness. Biological Psychology. 2011; 86: 174–180

 

Quirin M. et al. Oxytocin buffers cortisol responses to stress in individuals with impaired emotion regulation abilities. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011; 36: 898—904

 

Simeon et al. Oxytocin administration attenuates stress reactivity in borderline personality disorder: A pilot study. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011; 36:s 1418—1421

 

Smith, A.S.  and Wang, Z. Salubrious effects of oxytocin on social stress-induced deficits. Horm Behav. 2012 March; 61(3): 320–330

 

Szeto et al. Oxytocin attenuates NADPH-dependent superoxide activity and IL-6 secretion in macrophages and vascular cells. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2008; 295: E1495–E1501

 

Tops et al. Cortisol-induced increases of plasma oxytocin levels predict decreased immediate free recall of unpleasant words. Frontiers in Psychiatry. May 2012; 3(43): 1-5

What is St John’s Wort good for?

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Mahalia Freed, ND

Hypericum

For many years, St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been a top selling plant in the marketplace for depression. Long an important herb in European medicine, settlers brought it with them to North America and Australia, and it can now be found in sunny, dry fields around the world. It is well studied, and meta-analysis finds the herb more effective than SSRIs or placebo in treating mild-to-moderate depression. Hypericum can be an excellent herb for depression, and I regularly incorporate it in my treatment plans for people seeking mood support. But, look at the incomplete list of causes of depression, above. St John’s Wort (or St Joan’s Wort, as herbalist Susun Weed calls it) is not for all depressions. It is for healing.

Viewing at St John’s Wort as an antidepressant limits the power of the herb to what can be understood from an allopathic linear paradigm. An allopathic paradigm question is, what herb can act as an SSRI? But, herbs are not substitutes for drugs. Plants are living medicines, crossing body systems to heal people, rather than addressing diagnoses. St John’s Wort is no exception, and looking at the history of its use along with modern phytotherapeutic trials reveals the breadth of its role in healing.

This herb has long been used in topical applications for wound healing, and it is great for this. Think of it for scrapes, and think of it for healing the perineum post-partum. It is also antiviral against herpes, shingles, and even against HIV. It is famous in homeopathic  form for its efficacy in addressing nerve pain, whether from dental surgery or due to a skeletal issue like disc compression. Hypericum has been studied for PMS, and found more effective than placebo for physical and behavioral PMS symptoms. In clinical trial, it is also effective for menopausal symptoms in combination with Black Cohosh (another misunderstood herb!).

So, what is St John’s Wort for?
For healing.

Who is St John’s Wort for?

Since herbs treat people, this is a question with a juicier answer. Hypericum is for someone with Type A blood more than Type O blood. For someone who needs more sunshine (eg depression in winter), for frayed nerves. For a “weak” stomach, for normalizing stomach acid whether too high or too low, for liver support, for disinfecting and healing wounds (including deep wounds), for nerve damage, for third chakra issues, for emotions influencing the bladder, for radiation burns.

Who Shouldn’t Take St John’s Wort?

Anyone taking any prescription medication, including oral contraceptives, should consult with their herbalist or naturopathic doctor. St John’s Wort is metabolized through the liver and interferes with/decreases the effectiveness of many drugs. If taken at the same time as oral contraceptives, St. John’s Wort can diminish their effectiveness. i.e., this could – and does – lead to an unexpected pregnancy. So please ask your herbally-trained health care provider!

Additional Effects (Cautions):

Cows who graze excessively on Hypericum are known to get sunburns. This is almost never seen in people, as we do not consume it as a dietary staple.

Conversely, St John’s Wort oil is in fact an excellent sunscreen when applied topically (Per Susun Weed).

Selected Sources:

·      Bruton-Seal, Julie and Seal, Matthew. Backyard Medicine: Harvest & Make Your Own Herbal Remedies. New York, NY: SkyHorse Publishing. 2009.
·      Kaminski, Patricia & Katz, Richard. Flower Essence Repertory. Nevada City, CA: Flower Essence Society. 2004.
·      Weed, Susun. Lecture at the Association of Perinatal Naturopathic Doctors annual conference. Toronto: Oct. 13, 2012.
·      Wood, Matthew. Earthwise Herbal. A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. 2008.
·      Wood, Matthew. Herbal First Aide. Accessed online at http://www.woodherbs.com/Indispensable.html. July 7, 2013.

The Original Brands

Nature-literacy, Backyard Medicine

There is an infographic going around on social media that is telling:

*Key at end

We are becoming nature-illiterate, and the consequences reach beyond not being able to identify the trees around us. It is telling that we can identify brands and not leaves. It speaks volumes about the values in modern, so-called ‘Western’ culture. And yet, we know that being outside, being near trees, gardening, being in green spaces are all good for us. There are even studies! (For more on the health benefits of being outside, see http://drmahaliafreed.com/action-in-stillness-stillness-in-motion-inspiration-for-harnessing-the-gifts-of-winter/ for instance).

Clearly, there is a crisis of disconnection.

Luckily, the solution is right outside our doors: right there, in the crack at the edge of the road. Right there in the untended yard. Right here on the café patio where I am writing. Literally.

By not having language for the plants around us, by not being able to name nor sometimes even SEE the individual species, we lose our access to the medicine the plants offer.

I don’t just mean seeing Hawthorn and knowing it is medicine for the heart, though this is valuable if you are into studying herbal medicine. I mean that, by noticing the plants growing around us we can benefit from the OTHER medicine they offer: the calming, uplifting presence of mature trees; the lesser known edible fruit delights that summer offers (mulberries! Service berries! Hackberries!); the subtle medicinal information for a plant that is determined by WHERE it grows, HOW it grows.

We can observe this. Some herbal traditions advocate choosing one single plant to work with for an entire year. One observes the plant through its different stages of growth, touches and tastes the plant’s different parts, talks to the plant, and listens for what the plant wants to say.

There is immense wisdom and value in this approach, and I have seen profound results when I have gotten to know herbs in this way.

And, the funny thing about herbs is that as you learn their names, and what they look like, you will start to notice them everywhere. They were there all along, but we humans make sense of all the sensory input we receive by limiting what we ‘see’.

We only ‘see’ what we can name.

And if we don’t ‘see’ the plants, we can’t connect to their medicine.

Just as it is much harder to have a meaningful conversation with someone new when you don’t remember their name – ahem, when you weren’t present when they told you their name – it is harder to engage with plants when you don’t know one from the other.

Luckily, we can remedy this situation. Easily, and for free.

My reconnection prescription is simple.

  1. Go outside. Stay a while.
  2. Be present (Ahem… look up from your phone. Or, pause the dialogue you are having in your head as you walk down the street.)
  3. Observe with an open mind & heart
  4. Ask questions (of the plants, of yourself, of others)
  5. Interact with the plants: use your senses to see, smell, touch; eat weeds (once you have safely confirmed their identity), make tea, make bouquets for your kitchen table.
  6. Watch what happens to the quality of your lived experience as you walk from house to car, from car to office – noticing and greeting these new friends growing everywhere in this city.
  7. Notice how you notice life differently as you observe its vitality emerging even from between the cracks in the pavement.

First steps:

 

Mullein
(Verbascum thapsus)

Choose one plant.

Make it one that you just keep noticing, everywhere you go, or one that has some medicine that is relevant for you, or one that you learn to be edible and tasty. Eg, red raspberry leaf, a well-known women’s tonic herb; or Dandelion, ubiquitous medicinal friend of mine. (for a snippet more on dandelion, see http://drmahaliafreed.com/weeds-as-nourishing-spring-food-dandelion-greens/).

Get to know it. If it’s edible, like dandelion leaf or burdock root, try it.

If it is a tree that you choose, hang out underneath it. Meditate, journal, daydream with it. Take notes. Watch the plant grow, watch how it responds to sunlight, wind, rain, temperature changes. Smell it, touch it. Share what you learn.

Want more steps, more info? Learn about harvesting and eating wild spinach.

Resources:

Try here  for online tree & shrub identification if you are in Ontario or somewhere with a similar range of ecological zones.

Here are some books I like, and find useful either for field identification or learning more about a plant:

  • Edible wild plants: Wild Foods from Dirt to Plate by John Kallas, PhD . More.
  • Backyard medicine: Harvest & Make Your Own Herbal Remedies by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal. More
  • Wildflowers of Riverwood: Field Guide to wildflowers of Mississauga’s garden park and the Greater Toronto Area by Nina Karalin Barabas, PhD, and Eva Sabrina Bruni. http://www.riverwoodconservancy.org/items_for_sale.html
  • Lone pine series:
  • Ontario Wildflowers by Linda Kershaw
  • Trees of Ontario by Linda Kershaw

Image key:

Trees: (from left to right, top to bottom): maple, ash, pine with cone, oak, poplar & white birch

(*note that leaves are best used to identify a tree in context – bark matters, how the leaves are arranged matters, how serrated a leaf is matters, shape of catkins or seeds matters, and so on, thus, some of these identifications from the sketches are up for debate)

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