Thursday, September 29, 2011

helping a headache without pills- day 1

skullcap- great for headaches!

Headaches are annoying. They get in the way of feeling productive and healthy, and frankly, are no fun. And they are unfortunately common because of their many causes, including low blood sugar, dehydration, allergies, constipation, eye stress, emotional tension, too much alcohol, not enough sleep... the list goes on.

But I also hate taking a pill every time a headache appears. Most pills may give relief eventually, but take time to get into the blood system. Also, they may treat the pain, but they do not get to the root of the problem. One pill cannot help every cause of every headache. Based on the many causes above, if it did it would be a wonder drug.

Because there are many headache triggers, there are also many solutions that can better treat each headache depending on its cause. So, when a headache hits, you first need to take an inventory of what is going on in your life.

1. Did you not sleep well?
2. Did you eat too many sweets or cold foods such as ice cream or drink too much alcohol?
3. Did you eat something that may have triggered an allergic reaction?
4. Have you been under a lot of stress, either physically or mentally?
5. Have you not eaten enough or skipped a meal?
6. Have you been staring at the computer or television screen all day?
7. Have you been drinking water or tea during the day?

me and my journal

At one point in my life, when my headaches began to get out of control, I began to journal my habits during the day. I would note what I ate, how I felt in the morning and at night, and if and when a headache hit. It helped me to realize that my eating habits were not as good as I thought they were, and that sometimes I did not drink enough water. Since then, I've found that many of my headaches are caused by a) not drinking water or b) eating something that triggered an allergic reaction.

If you've never kept a food/habit journal, I recommend trying it if you suffer from frequent headaches. If possible, have a small one so that you can have it with you during the day, so that you can write down notes without having to remember them when you get home. You never know what you will learn about yourself in the process!

Now, what to do about a headache if one happens to rear its ugly head?

Well, it's a little complicated, so bear with me. I'm going to deal with some remedies and activities first, and then follow up with another post on some other remedies and herbal blends. Otherwise, this post will be way too long.

Also, I'm not an expert herbalist or health practitioner, and so whatever I say is not the end-all be-all. There are many ways to relieve a headache, and some of them involve seeking other alternative help such as massage, chiropractic care, or other practices. However, based on my own experience, many of these remedies are worth a try and have no harmful side effects as long as they are taken in moderation.

lavender oil

1. Didn't sleep well? Try to find a way to fall asleep and stay asleep this evening. Take a lavender oil bath by adding lavender essential oil to a tub, or at least do a footbath with lavender oil. Convince your loved one to give you a shoulder or foot massage, and then cuddle up in a warm bed. Try a cup of chamomile and lavender tea while you are taking your bath too, and sprinkle a little lavender oil on your pillow before your head hits the pillow.

2. Had too many drinks or too much of that ice cream sundae? And then, afterwards, experience a craving for pickles or salty fries? You may be experiencing a "vascular" headache. Rosemary Gladstar recommends quickly eating salty foods such as a cup of miso soup or briney olives. Or, try an alkalizing tea such as a mixture of dandelion root, burdock root, and yellow dock root with some skullcap tincture. Now, I'm not familiar with this particular herbal blend, but I am of the believe that a cup of miso cures anything. And it's tasty too. You can find a recipe for that on my other blog if you click on the link!

3. When I ingest wheat, I get a headache that lingers. Headaches caused by allergies can be complicated to identify, but with some persistence and care they can be identified and prevented. If your allergy is pollen and mold related, it's best to try to control your surroundings. I'm no expert on this, but a cup of Headache Tea made with lemon balm, feverfew, and lavender will help (recipe to follow soon).

If it's a food allergy, first identify the culprit. This may mean going to an allergist and having them do a test, and possibly going on an elimination diet. These diets are a pain, but are extremely helpful in identifying foods that are triggers. I would have never realized I was allergic to wheat unless I had done it myself.

However, sometimes a headache is triggered unknowingly by allergies, and so drinking some chamomile and lavender  tea, relaxing, and eating simple foods such as vegetables, brown rice, and drinking lots of water can help to relieve this kind of headache.

If you like this post, you'll love my next one. Stay tuned and next week I'll talk more about stress headaches, dehydration, herbal tea blends, and the lovely herb skullcap. Can't wait to have you stop by again soon!

A Modern Herbal- Chamomile
Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

spice of life- cayenne pepper

Capsicum minimum. Also known as cayenne pepper. You may find it on your spice shelf or in a bowl of curry, or better yet, in a bottle of hot sauce served with that burrito. I have come to enjoy the feel of cayenne pepper in my mouth, that little tingle when there is just enough to feel the burn after a few bites of something spicy. My fiance is apt to pour hot sauce on many a dish, and I've begun to follow suit.

Here's why- cayenne pepper is more than just flavor. Capsicum can also be a remedy used to treat many ailments, including arthritis, digestion, fibromyalgia, headaches, coughs, and pain caused by nerve damage.

First and foremost, the energizing feeling you get from eating cayenne pepper goes back to its most important properties- its ability to increase circulation. It's why you might like to eat a big bowl of yummy curry on a cold winter's day. If you eat enough, you begin to sweat and can feel heat coming off of your body.

According to, cayenne pepper extract can be rubbed onto areas of the body that are affected by muscle or nerve pain, fibromyalgia, and arthritis. The pepper both increases the circulation to the area and counteracts the chemical used by nerve cells to transmit pain signals, helping to lessen pain. Cayenne also contains salicylates, which act like aspirin. The warmth caused by increased circulation can often be just as helpful as using a heat pack.

Ok, so you've just ordered a jungle curry from you local thai restaraunt, and after a few bites you begin to wonder- why the heck would anyone make something this spicy?

As I had mentioned, cayenne pepper can also aid in digestion by stimulating muscle movement which helps the acids in the stomach to digest your food. It can also be added to herbal remedies to help improve the circulation and absorption of other herbs as well.

You're starting to feel a little warm, and maybe a little sweaty from your jungle curry. Your nose might be a little runny too. This warming sensation can really help when you are congested or have a fever, as the peppers will release the mucus in your sinuses and help to sweat a fever out.

It can also help relieve the pain of a sore throat. This next recipe may sound disgusting, but so many people swear by it that I'll be trying this remedy when my next sore throat hits, which is inevitably soon as the weather changes.

Sore Throat Gargle

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup strong (triple strength) sage tea
2-3 tsp. salt
pinch of cayenne pepper

To make the sage tea, boil a cup of water and then pour it over 3-4 tablespoons of dried sage. Let this steep for 30-60 min, and then strain it. Combine with the rest of the ingredients. Gargle this concoction frequently throughout the day to relieve your sore throat.

If sage tea isn't your thing, you can try a cup of lemon and honey in hot water with some cayenne pepper sprinkled in it too.

Cayenne pepper is so lovely, that I had to include a second recipe, one that is more tasty and useful for sprinkling on grains or salads. I found this one and the one previous in Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health.

Fire Cider Zest

1/2 cup chopped ginseng root, fresh or dried
1/4 cup freshly grated ginger root
1/4 freshly grated horseradish (this is hard to find, but try, it's really tasty! if not, you can find jars of horseradish at the grocery store, just make sure it's just horseradish!)
1/8 cup chopped garlic
cayenne to taste
apple cider vinegar

1. Place the herbs in a glass jar. Pour enough vinegar to cover the herbs by 2 inches and sea the jar. Let this sit for 4 weeks.
2. Strain the herbs from the vinegar. Sweeten with honey to taste.

I can't wait to hear about any of the herbal remedies that you have tried to cayenne pepper. Let me hear about them!

Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health
Annie's Remedy- Cayenne pepper
Discovery Health- Cayenne Pepper- Herbal Remedies

Sunday, September 4, 2011

bee hive mortar and why it's awesome

propolis resin from a bee hive

Propolis sounds regal, colossal, active. Heard of it before?

If not, you are not the only one, as I've just learned about it this past week. Propolis is the resin that honey bees collect from tree sap, buds, and other botanical sources in order to seal unwanted openings in their hive. It's like bee hive mortar, and looks a lot like ear wax. I recently discovered it in a tiny tin of Golden Salve which featured propolis as a main ingredient.

In the past, it was commonly thought that propolis simply sealed bee hives and protected them from the elements. However, according to Wikipedia and a study done by ecologists at the University of Minnesota propolis is now believed to:
  1. reinforce the structural stability of the hive.
  2. reduce vibration.
  3. make the hive more defensible by sealing alternate entrances.
  4. prevent diseases and parasites from entering the hive, and to inhibit bacterial growth.
  5. prevent putrefaction within the hive. Bees usually carry waste out of and away from the hive. However if a small lizard or mouse, for example, finds its way into the hive and dies there, bees may be unable to carry it out through the hive entrance. In that case, they would attempt instead to seal the carcass in propolis, essentially mummifying it and making it odorless and harmless.
 busy bees and their hive

Yes, well, that's great for the bees, you say. But what does this wonderous bee mortar have to do with me?

Well, the most important feature of propolis is its disease prevention and anti-bacterial properties. It is said that beehives are one of the most sterile environments known due to propolis. This is why propolis is included as an anti-microbial agent in my Golden Salve, along with comfrey, root, calendula, goldenseal root, yellowdock root, and balm of Gilead bud. What propolis kills in a bee hive, it will also kill on a new cut or old infection.

This anti-bacterial and anti-fungal property also aids in strengthening the immune system. However, one should be aware that results can be affected by how local the propolis is. Because its production depends on local trees and plants, the more local your propolis is the better it is. Also, be especially careful if you have a severe allergy to pollen or bees. You'll want to avoid causing a serious allergic reaction.

But for those unaffected by these allergies, don't be afraid to try propolis in capsule, tincture, tablet, or powdered form as many people swear by its ability to keep colds and flus at bay. Unlike antibiotics which can destroy both bad and good bacteria, leaving your immune system weakened, propolis only goes after the bad guys, sparing your good bacteria so that it can do its job.

Propolis also has many potential uses in dental hygiene. For instance, studies have shown that mouth rinse containing propolis has helped to speed healing after some oral surgeries, and may protect against oral diseases and treat canker sores.

As I haven't had any personal experience using propolis in its pure form, I'm not going to include a recipe in this post. But I encourage you to keep your eye out for propolis in tinctures, salves, and other herbal products. If you didn't know what it was before, now it won't be a mystery.