Cleansing for the New Year

Is anyone else ready to put away the dairy and desserts and cleanse for the New Year? I personally love a good cleanse, though I’m partial to the low-suffering kind. I know people who think it’s not a real cleanse unless you take in nothing but fresh juice and water, but that never made sense to me. Our bodies like balance, and balance by extremes is not really balance at all at the human level. Just look at how bad yo-yo dieting is for people or how hard it is on the body when there are huge weight fluctuations. Gentle detox is a way to cleanse while giving the body support to adjust, instead of shocking the body and then reeling from its effects. Of course, there is a time and place for everything and if you know what you are doing and have the right support, then by all means juice away your days. If you prefer a cleansing reboot that doesn’t leave your blood sugar levels bouncing and your mood-o-meter permanently set to hangry, keep reading for some options.

Adding powdered greens to your daily routine is one way to activate detox mechanisms in your body. While cleansing you should be drinking extra glasses of water anyway, so adding a scoop or packet to one of your glasses or bottles of water is a great way to get extra goodness. It is worth noting that some green mixes, like Paradise Herbs, are formulated for energy~

while others, like the Food Science one below, are formulated more specifically for cleansing. Greens in general, whether in a powder or in a whole fresh or cooked form, are cleansing though so an energy greens mix will still work towards detoxing your system. Both these mixes came in my New Hope Blogger Box and they are tasty as well as healthy blends, but there are of course other reputable greens out there. Just be sure to read ingredients lists thoroughly.

Adding a cup or two of detoxifying herbal tea a day is another easy way to help your body cleanse. There are plenty of blends out there, such as detox teas by Yogi and Traditional Medicinals that are as easy as boiling water. Flora makes a tea concentrate that you just pour a bit out and add hot water to. They promote their cleanse every year on Facebook so you can actually join a group of others using their product to get tips and expand your knowledge a bit into the world of detox. (Plus if you join in you just might get a coupon or more, depending on if you are one of the firsts to sign up.) They do have a dry blend as well.

If you want to do something a little more involved than greens and teas, making up a batch of kitchari is what one of my herbal teachers drilled into us as the most healing, cleansing, tri-doshic thing you could do. Kitchari is a meal from the tradition of Ayurveda that is made up of mung beans and basmati rice (brown or white depending on your preference), spices, and ghee. You can eat it once a day to support a general cleanse, or you can eat kitchari three times a day and nothing else but herbal teas for 6 days straight for a more intense detox. As with all things herbal, kitchari is a traditional dish that you can find a thousand variations for so this recipe can be modified as you like. What follows is how my herbal teacher told us to make it and it has never failed me. It’s a calming meal, easy on the digestive system, and healing.

Kitchari Recipe:

1 C mung beans

1 C brown basmati rice (my herbal teacher actually used white basmati rice, so your choice really)

1 tbsp. ghee (vegans can use coconut oil)

1 tsp. each turmeric, cumin, and coriander

After soaking the mung beans overnight (or at least 6 hours), cook them in 4 C of water until they are thoroughly soft, about half an hour.

Cook rice according to its instructions, depending on white or brown, then mix together with beans.

Warm the ghee in a sauce or sauté pan and add the spices, cooking until fragrant, about 2 minutes or so.

Mix the spices and ghee with the rice and beans and you are finished. Eat as often as you like.

I’ve never been big on resolutions, but I do like the spirit of renewal that January sweeps in. A gentle cleanse sets a nice tone for the year~ a reminder to think better, feel better, act better, and be better. Best wishes for health, fulfillment, beauty, and peace to everyone for the New Year.

Digestive Herbal Blend

Most of the herbs in our kitchen cabinets, such as basil, fennel, and ginger, not only taste delicious, they also promote healthy digestion in one form or another. I like to make up a powdered blend of digestive herbs that is basically a version of chai without the tea but with cacao. It not only improves digestion, helps balance sugar levels, improves circulation, and is anti-inflammatory, it also is anti-aging because it is chock full of antioxidants. Those are a lot of benefits for just a half teaspoon at a time, twice per day in smoothies and coffee! It could also be sprinkled on granola, added to oatmeal, fruit, or yogurt. You can add turmeric to this mix, or really any other powdered herb that you would like, and in fact all the ingredients are subject to personal tastes and can be reduced or eliminated if desired. As with all things herbal, this recipe is to be used as a rough guideline, not something that needs to be followed exactly, though you certainly can if you want to. The cacao has a bit of caffeine in it and is not a traditional component of chai, but I add it because I like the depth it gives the flavor profile, plus it is full of antioxidants. If you are mostly looking for an evening, after dinner tummy tonic, then leave the cacao out.

 

My blend is equal parts cinnamon, ginger, and cacao powder, then half the amount of cardamom, then about 1/2 again (1/4 cup) of ground cloves and nutmeg combined, with a few turns of a black pepper grinder added at the end.

So here’s an example mix:

1 cup cinnamon powder

1 cup ginger powder

1 cup cacao powder

1/2 cup cardamom powder

1/8 cup cloves powder

1/8 cup nutmeg powder

A bit of fresh ground black pepper to taste

I use it in morning smoothies and in my after lunch coffee. If my stomach needs a bit of digestive help after dinner, I tend to eat a small handful of fennel seeds and if that doesn’t help, drink an herbal infusion of whatever I have on hand that is caffeine free and has digestive benefits. Of course taking bitters 10-15 minutes before a meal helps start the digestive process off on the right track, and taking a probiotic can ease tummy woes as well. This blends smells amazing and is tasty enough for gift-giving. Please share with anyone who might need a little digestive support during the holidays.

Happy Solstice!

 

 

 

 

 

Herbs and Supplements for Students

Students have specific needs whether they are in middle school or pursuing their third Master’s Degree. Some of these suggestions meet the needs of all students, while some are just for the older set. Most of these herbs and products are focused on either brain function or stress management so people other than students can certainly benefit from them as well.

There are several herbs known for brain functioning enhancement, and interestingly enough, a few of them happen to be adaptogens too which help with overall stress management. Adaptogenic herbs Ashwagandha, Tulsi, and Gotu Kola have also been traditionally used for brain functioning as well as their adaptogenic over-all body balancing benefits. Ginkgo Biloba is another herb known to enhance brain functioning with benefits to clarity, mood, and memory also traditionally observed and is especially good for the aging brain.

Blends are a great option for getting several ingredients that work together in a synergistic way in one supplement. Gaia Herbs makes one that comes in capsules, while Herb Pharm has one in tincture form. Herb Pharm also has an alcohol free one for kids to help with concentration. There is another tincture option from Anima Mundi which is a newer line of herbal products that are well-formulated and well-made. The video below has a brain function supplement from Neurohacker Collective that actually came to me through the New Hope Blogger Box of which I am a member. The packaging of this supplement called Qualia is so beautiful that it is gift-worthy, and honestly, pictures didn’t do it justice so I made the video below. You should check out their website for more information because these supplements are packed with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, and surely other ingredients I didn’t even catch.

Also in that video is Spice Pharm‘s Chocolate Elixir which is a great herbal drink that tastes like hot chocolate, has Ashwagandha and Turmeric in it, and helps reduce stress and hunger pangs. They also make a Golden Chai which is another delicious, healthy option for students and anyone else who is a chai lover.

Other herbs for stress management include herbs under the classification of adaptogens and nervines. Adaptogens are for long-term balancing and should be taken on a daily basis throughout a lifetime, while nervines are more for getting through specific events or tough times, unless there is a continual need to fight anxiety or depression, in which case the nervines can be taken long-term as well. I have rather lengthy posts already on adaptogens and nervines so click the links if you haven’t already read your fill about those. If I were to send a care package to a college student, I would definitely include a powdered mix of adaptogens that are also brain specific like the three mentioned above, and a tincture or two of an anxiety/stress-buster blend.

Other products that can help students, especially those living in dorms, are powdered greens. It’s hard to get all the fresh produce that a working-hard brain needs when living away from home, so a greens mix is a nice supplement to include to enhance daily nutrition. There are several good ones out there but this one by Food Science of Vermont which I received recently in that same New Hope Blogger Box is doctor formulated and enhanced with probiotics and enzymes. Just mix half a scoop in 8 oz. of water or juice.

Essential oils can also be used for students of all ages for stress reduction and also for clarity and memory enhancement. Rosemary essential oil is the best known scent for memory, and actually the fresh or dried herb can be used for cognitive functioning as well so it’s a great plant to have in study areas, although not the best for sleeping rooms since it is stimulating. Any essential oil can be used for studying though, and in fact it is best to change up the oils used according to the subject being studied. If you or your student is studying for a math test for example, you could diffuse the essential oil of orange in the room while working on it, then during or just before the test sniff that same scent. Then when it’s time to study for History, you would use a different scent, such as cinnamon, then again have the scent available to smell during or just before taking the test. In other words, it doesn’t matter what scent you use as long as it is a scent you can smell at the time of studying, and then again at the time of test-taking. You can take the scent along with you by putting it on a cotton ball, sticking it in a sealed plastic bag, then sniffing it before the test, or even better, you can make an oil with it and put it on your neck before the test. (Use 6 drops of essential oil per teaspoon of base oil.) Scent really helps with memory so it is a great tool to use for studies.

Students of all ages are working hard and handling stress to differing degrees. There is plenty of help for them in terms of nutrition, brain functioning, and stress management. Please share this with any student or parent of student that you know who might be looking for natural help with the hard work associated schoolwork.

Gluten Free Snacks

These are new snacks that arrived in my New Hope Blogger Box that would be great additions to a holiday gift basket or as party food. These are all gluten and dairy free, with clean ingredient lists that you can feel good about sharing.

My favorite of these products is the Thrive Tribe Paleo Bites. These aren’t the kind of product I normally buy so they surprised me with how delicious and snack-able they are, uh, actually were. My oldest son and I finished them off quite quickly. The vanilla in these is the predominant taste and we’ll be buying these again for sure.

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My son also loved these gimMe Seaweed snacks. He likes to snack on the regular seaweed so I gave him these which have extra crunch with the added ingredients, and he really enjoyed them. I’ll be getting more of these too and with only 100 calories per package, that’s quite a healthy lunch box addition.

Jackson’s Honest  chips are as clean as you can get, and the colors are incredibly vibrant which speaks to the quality of the foods and their minimal processing. The sweet potato chips are just sweet potatoes, coconut oil, and salt. The purple potato chips are just potatoes, coconut oil, and salt. That’s it! Their company is on a mission to bring more healthy oils to the table because they have helped the owner’s oldest son who has a rare autoimmune condition. This is a company you can feel especially good about supporting, and about eating and sharing.

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The R.W. Garcia Co. chips are a nice change from a regular tortilla chip. They are flavorful on their own with the hummus coming through much more than the red pepper. Both my sons gave their thumbs up and my youngest is an extremely tough customer to please so these are sure to be crowd favorites.

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Happy snacking and merry-making!

Immune Boosters for Winter

The samples I received from the natural marketing co-op I belong to were so good this time around that I’ll be doing two posts with some of the contents. We don’t get any compensation for these posts by the way, we’re just asked to write about anything that we like, and I like quite a bit this time around. These are the immune boosting supplements that came in the #NewHopeBloggerBox which we’ll be using this winter to ward off the seasonal sickies.

New Englanders have a traditional herbal tonic that is catching on around the country which I’ve been wanting to try, but honestly been too nervous to make myself. This one is from Shire City Herbals and the ingredients include: Apple Cider Vinegar, Honey, Oranges, Lemons, Onions, Ginger, Horseradish, Garlic, Turmeric, and Habanero Pepper. So now you know why it has the name ‘fire cider’ and why I was hesitant to try to make my own. If a shot of this a day doesn’t keep the ickies away, I’m not sure what will, because it’s wicked strong.

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For a more travel-friendly vinegar option, these apple cider vinegar shots from Vermont Village have a variety of flavors and can be thrown into your gym bag or backpack. I had to add the shot to water myself because downing vinegar, even with ginger and honey added, is still not my favorite thing. With water though, it was tasty and apple cider vinegar is so good for your digestion (as long as it has the mother, which these do.)

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Probiotics are important year-round, but most important after a round of antibiotics. If you do happen to get sick this season, don’t forget to load up on a good probiotic during the antibiotic regimen and definitely after. This one from Ora Oraganic is very clean with no gluten, dairy, soy, GMOs, tree nuts, added sugars, filler ingredients, artificial colors or flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives, plus it has prebiotics which feed the probiotics.

This probiotic from Jarrow Forumulas targets women’s issues specifically, so it is a great one to take if you tend to get bladder or yeast infections, especially after a round of antibiotics. The box even reminds you to take it two hours after taking antibiotics which is a good rule of thumb for any probiotic during an antibiotic regimen. Then when you are all finished with the antibiotics, hit those probiotics hard.

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For an overall immune booster, this powdered drink mix from Oxylent is a great way to take in extra vitamins, minerals, and extra immune-boosting ingredients. It tastes like a liquid sweetart to me which is a nice antidote to the vinegar shots! 13C35F30-B2D6-40DC-9997-F2310C153E1D[1]

Oh dear, I missed one for the group pic! This supplement from Source Naturals is a unique combination of immune boosting herbs and ingredients to help one sleep, which is perfect for when the sniffles threaten sleeplessness. It is chock-full of good stuff so I’ll definitely be keeping this stocked in my medicine cabinet for when someone starts feeling a cold coming on at night. (It always happens at night, doesn’t it?)

Stay warm and stay well everyone!

Nervines and Other Natural Help for Stress and Anxiety

Ahh, the holidays….nothing like high expectations and extra obligations to turn up the heat on stress and anxiety levels. It’s a shame that the most joyful, festive, family-oriented time of year also has to be one of the hardest for many people. Stress and anxiety cause problems all year long of course, but it seems like this time of year people are rushing around much more with longer to-do lists and shorter fuses. Luckily for us, the natural world has plenty of help to offer, so much so that it seems pretty clear that nature would really like to tell all of us to chill out a bit. Since there are so many options out there, I’ve limited this post to just a few herbal and natural choices that cover the range of stress and anxiety from mild to intense but it’s still rather long. If you don’t see what you are looking for, feel free to contact me.

Nervines are a class of herbs that focus on the nervous system. They share similarities with adaptogens, which I posted about earlier, which are a different class of herbs that offer help with stress and anxiety by balancing out the body overall, with specific attention paid to the endocrine system. A great, concise article about the difference between adaptogens and nervines and when to use which can be found here. Nervines are good for any kind of stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and certain types of pain. They range in their strength from gentle tonic (such as Skullcap) to powerful sedative (such as Valerian). Most fall in-between the extremes and you can find plenty of blends that allow the herbs to work in a synergistic way.

Kava Kava is one of the most popular calming herbs, but it’s also an herb that has some warnings attached to it. Although it’s been in use in the South Pacific for it’s relaxing and euphoric qualities since ancient times, there have been a couple of issues recently that could indicate Kava might be damaging to certain people’s livers. It’s all quite inconclusive but some products do come with a warning on it, and some stores just stopped selling it, although it is still readily available in capsules, tinctures, and teas both online and found at brick and mortar stores. If you have an overload of toxins in your body, or a compromised liver for any reason, you might want to stick to other calming herbs or blend of herbs. Also, if you are taking it as a tincture, be prepared for it to numb your lips at first~ that just means it’s a potent product and it is a good sign.

Valerian which is also found in tincture, pill, or tea form is deeply relaxing and often part of herbal sleep aides. If you are not familiar with the herb, be forewarned that it has a strong scent although it doesn’t taste bad at all. More than once I’ve smelled the herb near someone or in their pocket and mistakenly thought the person was ill because it is that strong (and I have an over-active nose). If you need to address insomnia, Valerian is a good place to start.

Skullcap is also found in insomnia formulas but is milder and can be used throughout the day as a tonic for the nervous system. This is a particularly good herb for you if you find that your brain gets stuck on repeating anxious thoughts or has circular patterns of negativity.  Capsules and tea forms are also available.

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Blends are a healthy option if you are not sure which herb is best for you. Herb Pharm makes one which has a unique lavender taste and also comes in capsule form.

 

For children, the line Herbs for Kids makes a couple of non-alcoholic blends, a Valerian based one and a milder Chamomile based option. Herb Pharm also makes a kid- friendly blend to help with nighttime and nap-time that is also alcohol-free.

Most people know St. John’s Wort is good for minor depression such as the kind caused by seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It takes two to three weeks to feel the benefits of this mild tonic nervine but it really does have the ability to make one’s outlook a bit sunnier. In fact, St. John’s Wort can increase one’s photo-sensitivity so if you live in a sunny climate, do be aware that your skin just might surprise you with its quicker than usual darkening  or reddening. I actually love this about the herb because SAD is related to lack of sunshine and vitamin D, so what does St. John’s Wort do? Increases your sensitivity to the sun! All the citrus essential oils act in the same way by the way~ they too increase your photo-sensitivity and they are also anti-depressants, so if you are using them in a body oil or body spray you should keep that in mind.

A word about deciding how to take your nervines. Tinctures are a great option because if you put the liquid right under your tongue you will feel the effects almost immediately. (It might burn so have some water nearby to wash the rest down your throat.) Stress and anxiety often lead to less than optimal digestion which may inhibit the results of a capsule or tablet, so if you use a tincture or tea, that alleviates the potential problem of not getting the most out of your supplement (and therefore your money). Of course, use whatever form works best for you because in the end, the best form is the form you actually take.

There are other natural products that help with stress and anxiety as well. B vitamins are important for daily stress management and are often even labeled with the word ‘stress’ right on the front them. If your daily tension levels are high then looking into a total B could prove beneficial.

As discussed earlier, vitamin D plays a role in SAD and is especially important in places where the word ‘overcast’ is in the daily forecast. Using a liquid formula is the most affective way to take D, other than getting at least a half hour of sunshine on some bare skin every day. (And that includes no sunscreen for that half hour.)

For times when your anxiety is high because of a certain event, or you are anticipating something stressful, then GABA might be your answer. GABA is a neurotransmitter already found in our brain that has anti-anxiety action. This study gives a brief explanation of one test and what the results were if you are interested. My naturopath actually first suggested GABA to me for times when I had to take my kids to get shots because of the extreme stress around those situations. (The GABA was suggested for my kids but I needed it too!) We use the chewables or lozenges because they are faster acting and personally, I feel the effects far greater than with capsules.

Essential oils are really at their prime working on stress and anxiety. They are definitely nature’s messengers telling us silly humans to relax, enjoy beauty, and quite literally to stop and smell the roses, or at least the rose oil. Neroli blossoms used to always be part of bridal bouquets because of their calming attributes and the essential oil continues that tradition of being a powerful anti-anxiety oil. Lavender is well-known as a relaxing scent and it combines beautifully with almost any other essential oil. Combining it with Neroli creates an affective anti-anxiety spray or oil, and combining Lavender with a citrus oil creates a lovely uplifting scent for diffusing or wearing. As mentioned above, all the citrus oils are anti-depressant (and also mildly stimulating), but the best ones for uplifting your mood are  Orange, Grapefruit, and Bergamot.

Clary Sage is often referred to as a ‘euphoric’ and it combines well with Bergamot for an uplifting, anti-depressant effect. I like to make body/room sprays that are half Clary Sage and half BergamotF5819F24-E430-43E6-A5D7-C2277A95D067[1]

Making body oils is a great way to wear your anti-anxiety and anti-stress essential oils like a shield. You can put the oil on the bottom of your feet, all over your body, or make a stronger scented perfume oil or spray that you can reapply to your pressure points throughout the day. There are so many natural options for help with stress and anxiety that you really don’t need to just push through those moments, days, or seasons alone. Of course, always consult a medical professional if you are struggling to the point of it disrupting your daily activities, but know there are plenty of natural options to help you enjoy your life fully and with optimal health.

Peace to all of you this season and please share this with anyone who might be looking for a little natural help with stress, depression, and/or anxiety.

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