All Natural Snacks and Drinks

The newest New Hope Blogger Box had some great options for gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, health-minded people. Whether you are Paleo or a prefer a house of carbs (like I do), there’s something here to suit your snacking needs.

Oats are one of those things that cause confusion in the gluten-free world. There are two issues to consider: 1.Oats do not have gluten in them, but they do have a protein that is similar to gluten and it can cause problems for those who are both gluten-intolerant or celiac. 2. Oats are mostly processed on the same equipment as wheat and therefore there is a high likelihood of cross-contamination unless they are certified gluten-free. This makes granola off limits for many, especially those that follow a grain-free Paleo diet, or at least it did until now. The #NewHopeBloggerBox had this delicious sample in it from Grandy Oats, and it really is a fantastic substitute for oat-based granola. I’ve happily never had a problem with oats so I eat granola pretty much everyday, and this one tastes just like any other I’ve munched on lately.

If you are gluten-free and soy-free, finding a protein bar is nearly impossible. These Hi-Health bars are both, and some are vegan as well, using pea protein, while other flavors contain hormone-free whey. I probably should have used something other than a soy candle to prop up the bar since they are soy-free, but hey, it was handy.

Turmeric is all the rage these days, and with very good reason. It helps with inflammation, has adaptogenic properties, and is probably the most rigorously tested herb out there. Gaia makes taking your Turmeric easy and enjoyable with this golden milk powder. Just add it to warmed milk or milk alternative, and reap the benefits.

The literature with Gaia’s golden milk encourages the drinker to add one of their tinctures to the golden milk for extra health benefits. They suggest Ginger for digestive support, or Holy Basil for easing stress. Raw and Root puts extra herbal support right into their golden milk powder, with Ashwagandha, Gotu Kola, and others. (Gaia’s actually has Ashwagandha in it too. Turmeric has reigned supreme for some time now, but I think Ashwagandha’s star is rising if this box of samples is any indication.)

This is the second time Jackson’s Honest has been part of the New Hope Blogger Box so my kids were eager to dig into this bag. They have a heartbreaking story behind their mission based brand that has directly resulted in clean, organic, simple ingredient lists. This chip has only three ingredients: Organic Yellow Corn, Organic Coconut Oil, and Salt, and that’s clearly all a chip needs because these are delicious. Love to Jackson’s family.

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Speaking of clean ingredients, have you looked at your mayo jar lately? Chosen Foods Avocado Oil Mayo is clean, soy-free, non-gmo, and made with cage free eggs. Real food.

Cascadian Farms has a new flavor of granola and it tastes like a lemon blueberry muffin. I’ve never had lemony granola before and was skeptical, but it actually really works. This granola is not made with certified gluten-free oats though, so if you are following a gluten-free diet then this won’t work for you. I tried it because I’ve been systematically working to get over my gluten-intolerance so I figured a little cross-contamination wouldn’t cause me harm, and it hasn’t.

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Have a great holiday weekend! Do something special and try something new.

New Supplements for Self Love

Happy Valentine’s Day! Valentine’s falls on ‘Wellness Wednesday’ this year, so this is a great day to think about showing yourself some love. The #NewHopeBloggerBox happens to be full of supplements this time around that can definitely improve your health and beauty, and even your breath! Valentine’s isn’t supposed to be only about self-love after all. So let’s start there~

At first I thought this package from Lively Up Your Breath was gum, but it is actually a capsule full of liquid that you break open in your mouth, then chew or discard the capsule. (I discarded mine.) It has powerful ingredients such as peppermint oil and menthol crystals, as well as chlorophyll to provide both instant and long-lasting results. They are free of refined sugar, artificial colors and flavors, gluten, aspartame, and no preservatives.

Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but great skin never hurts. Neocell’s Super Ceramindes helps hydrate the skin from the inside out, which is helpful any season but especially in winter.

This is where self-love is important because if you are unhappy with the quality of your skin, especially when it comes to aging, there are different supplements out there that can offer help. Neocell also makes great collagen powders and supplements that I swear have kept my skin from getting the grey cast it always has by this time of year. I’ve been drinking a glass of the powder mixed in water first thing in the morning for a couple of months and it has helped my skin look alive in the dead of winter. It’s really just a matter of figuring out what works best for you, and no one is going to give you permission to take care of yourself, you just have to commit to doing it. (Trust me, I know it isn’t easy.)

That goes for weight issues too. If you have a problem with sugar cravings, you are certainly not alone, and you don’t have to fight them alone. Redd Remedies’ Crave Stop uses the herb Gymnema Sylvestra and the mineral Chromium along with other ingredients to help balance the blood sugar peaks and dips which helps control cravings.

CBD oil has been getting a lot of press lately for, well, just about everything. It seems to have an endless list of benefits from fighting inflammation, to balancing hormones, to reducing anxiety and much more. This one from CV Sciences is made with non-GMO ingredients, is gluten-free, and vegetarian.

Whether you are the type of person who has problems falling asleep or if you are the type that wakes up in the middle of the night to stare at the ceiling for hours on end, Utzy Naturals’ Utzzz’s Stay Asleep Natural Sleep Aid can help. This formula has great ingredients such as Ashwagandha, Chamomile, GABA, Calcium and Magnesium, and more, plus it does not have gluten, yeast, nor artificial colors or flavors. I’ve taken this already for a couple of nights in a row and it really has helped me fall asleep, and stay asleep through the night instead of waking up at 2:30 for one to two hours. I don’t feel any kind of residue upon waking like I have in the past with some other natural sleep aids, and in fact have awoken fairly bright and ready for the day. Well, ready for the walk to the coffeemaker anyway.

In the “Welcome to the Modern World” category, Source Naturals stays at the cutting age with their Screen Time Stamina, helping us collectively adapt to the age of technology. This may be a modern formula, but it’s chock full of time-tested traditional adaptogens, and plenty of other herbs, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to support brain and eye function as well as stamina. Gutenberg would be proud.

Speaking of adaptogens, Oregon’s Wild Harvest Ashwagandha is organic and is simply the herb in a vegetarian capsule with no fillers. Ashwagandha is a classic adaptogenic herb that is best known for increasing stamina by balancing energy levels, which includes helping with sleep. (It is in both Utzy’s sleep formula and in the Screen Time Stamina above.) Adaptogens are popular right now and it’s not surprising considering they help our bodies, minds, and emotions manage stress and adrenal fatigue, and are known to have a very low likelihood to causing harm.

Another herb with adaptogenic qualities is Turmeric, and it is also anti-inflammatory with high anti-oxident activity. Natural Factors has paired Turmeric with L-glutamine for a post-workout recovery powder. These two ingredients are also highly helpful for the digestive system and I’m excited to try it as part of my quest to completely heal my food intolerances.

May your heart be full and healthy on this Valentine’s day and every day. XOXOXO

 

Natural Support in a Classroom Setting

My friend suggested I write about what, if anything, a teacher could do in his or her classroom to help students learn. There are definitely things one can do in a classroom, but what exactly can be done has a lot to do with who and where you are teaching. This friend of mine is actually in her home country of South Africa right now but we lived in Prague together as English teachers many moons ago, so that got me thinking about the differences in cultural classrooms and also the differences in ages being taught. We taught adults in Prague but we both have experience with kids too, both as teachers and parents.

DB4A47C5-BB47-4296-ACC9-D268FC499839[1]One thing just about anyone can do is to bring in fresh plants. This is something parents or students themselves can actually take the initiative on to freshen up the air in a classroom and depending on the plant, actually have added benefits. There are certain plants that cleanse the space of specific toxins, and the fragrance of herbs and flowers can actually benefit the moods and brain functioning of people. One year when my two kids were still in elementary school, I gave their classroom teachers each a pot of Rosemary before the state testing began, thinking the teachers would already know that Rosemary is great for brains, benefiting focus, clarity, and memory.  The teachers were surprised to hear that Rosemary was traditionally used in such a way and I’m not really sure if they believed me or not, but the plants stayed in my boys’ classrooms for the rest of that year.

If you travel from classroom to classroom, then plants might not be practical. Luckily, essential oils are portable and can be used in a couple of different ways. Diffusing essential oils in the classroom can help promote positive mental and emotional health. There are different options when it comes to diffusing, including plug-in ones, light bulbA59AF0A5-9A2C-4D76-B61A-3D62814D9DC0[1] rings, ceramic discs, and candle fueled ceramics. Orange or Bergamot essential oils would be good uplifting choices for returning to school after a long break. When it might be necessary to keep a class calm, Lavender is the obvious choice. When taking a big test, nothing beats Rosemary essential oil for clarity, focus, and memory help. When going through a study guide, if you have any essential oil scenting the room, it will help to have that same scent in the room during the actual test. (Just as at home studying can be amplified with essential oils and then the brain triggered during the assessment with the same scent.) It’s important to switch up the essential oils if used in this way, so assigning certain subjects with certain essential oils can help the brain function best. Also, doing blends might be the best option of all so the scents will be truly unique to a certain class and its specific material, so that way students won’t automatically think of the pythagorean theorem every time they smell Cedarwood for the rest of their lives, or whatever scent has been married to whatever subject. It’s truly something to consider! The role scent plays in memory cannot be overstated, due to the construction of the brain, so making use of it is wise, but being thoughtful about it is kind.

Besides diffusing essential oils, making sprays can be another way to scent the room, and also to combat germs. Thieves oil is the classic germ buster, but many essential oils have anti-bacterial properties, and some are even anti-viral. Thyme is especially good for cold and flu time of year, and besides being antiseptic, antibacterial, and antiviral, it is antifungal too. You can use the spray you make not only as an air freshener, but also to wipe down desks and tabletops. You can also use sprays made from distilled water and essential oils as a body spray to help keep yourself or your student healthy. Just diffusing the essential oils into the air will help keep down the germs, and almost all the essential oils have some antiseptic properties so you can’t really choose badly in that respect. While more essential oils are antibacterial than antiviral, the following have both antibacterial and antiviral properties: Cinnamon, Clove, Lemon Eucalyptus, Garlic, Lavender, Onion, Oregano, Tea Tree, and Thyme. (Reference: Valerie Ann Wormwood’s The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy.)

For more about what students and parents of students can do to combat anxiety and increase their study power, click the links, and here are two more posts on immune boosters for winter.

Although winter is an especially good time for bringing plants and essential oils into the classroom, students and teachers can benefit year round from a bit of nature in their shared space. Instead of gifting teachers apples, a potted plant or a bottle of essential oils might be the healthier option for all. Wishing you all the best in health and happiness~ do what it takes. You are worth it.

 

 

How to Make an Herbal Oil Part 2

Herbal oils are one thing that are not easy to find ready-made. They are instead extremely easy to make though, and once you have an oil ready, it can be made into massage or body oil, an all natural perfume, balm, salve, or butter. You can even just use it straight as a healing moisturizer and it makes a lovely gift. (Valentine’s day is just around the corner!) Adding some rose buds or petals back into a bottle of rose oil makes for an extra special gift presentation. If you missed the beginning of the process, you will find it here. This method is called the cold method and is very similar to making an herbal tincture.

How to Make an Herbal Tincture Part 2

This is the second video on how to make an herbal tincture. The first one showed the beginning of the process, and the one below shows the end. This is so easy to do yourself and I find the herbal tinctures I make myself to be much more potent and certainly fresher of course. You can also blend herbs together in the beginning of the process to make your own unique, custom blend, or blend your tinctures after they have been made. (Herbal extracts using only one herb at a time are called simples.) A tincture made with alcohol, kept out of heat and light, will be potent for about four to five years, while ones made with vegetable glycerine will keep for one to two years. The video below shows how easy it is to make your own medicine.

Thank You and Addressing the Survey

Just a quick note to say thank you to those of you who took the survey in my last post. The answers are anonymous so I can’t address you personally if you took it (because I don’t know who took it), which means I have to do it here. Two things come up in the survey that I wanted to talk to right away. The first is that someone mentioned learning more about growing and drying herbs. I’m not much of a grower myself with barely a raised bed of edibles each summer, but herbs are notoriously easy to grow. Of course, that depends on if you are growing what is native to your area or if you are trying to grow jungle plants in Alaska, but assuming you are growing somewhat native plants, most herbs are hearty, not too picky about soil, and are a good pick for kids because they generally don’t disappoint. As for drying, if you are in a hurry you can use a food dehydrator if you happen to have one, or your oven on it’s lowest setting (under 185 degrees) with the door cracked open. Those two techniques can dry herbs in a day. All you really need though is some sort of slatted drying rack, a cooling rack from your oven would do if the herbs don’t fall through, and a dry room with good ventilation. You want the herbs to not touch as much as possible, and flipping them over once a day or so is also a good idea. You can also tie small bundles together and hang them to dry which is space saver and less work once they are hanging. Either way will take from a few days to over a week, depending on what you are drying and the conditions of the room. You can dry herbs in the sun if you are just looking for a quick 1-2 day dry but still intend to use the plant as ‘fresh’. Hope that helps, but if not there are plenty of websites that go into detail about drying herbs so you aren’t alone and definitely can find what you need.

To those that indicated they would most like to learn about a particular disease and what would help it, I highly recommend starting with the book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch CNC. It’s a great resource as a starting place. It does not go too deeply into herbs, but it does give sound herbal recommendations after each disease/condition. An old edition was given to every employee when hired at the health food store I worked at over 20 years ago, and we kept the new editions behind the checkout counter to hand over to customers for when they came in looking for natural help for whatever ailed them. It’s a great resource and I’ve held onto mine all these years despite the fact the cover is gone and the pages are starting to fall out. Here’s a brief video to see what the book looks like:

Also KP Khalsa has some online videos about herbs for specific diseases/conditions so you might want to look into those as well. I love that people are taking their health into their own hands. We hear a lot about self-care lately and that means something different to everyone, but when we apply that notion to our health it means really addressing the imbalances that inevitably occur so they do not go into a disease condition. Sometimes this means getting a diagnosis from a doctor, other times it might mean just thinking about long term conditions, or parts of our bodies that seem most susceptible to disharmony, and then changing daily habits or supplementing accordingly. Be an authority on yourself. You’ll be your own best advocate and it’s the surest way to your best health possible.

Herbal Journey

The other day an acquaintance asked me how long I’d been interested in herbs, and I went into a rambling story of formal and informal studies that were in no way chronological (nor coherent most likely), and it made me realize that I haven’t actually thought through my personal herbal journey, which means I also haven’t shared it here and that just seems wrong. So, the following is my attempt to write down this very organic path that I’ve traveled so far and give some links if anyone else is looking to study herbs and wants to move beyond books and websites.

Although I was the kind of kid who liked to play outside, I was really more of an animal lover than a plant lover, who declared I wanted to be “Caterpillar Queen” when I grew up and was intent on going to ‘dog heaven’ instead of human heaven. (When you grown up Catholic, you think quite a bit about the logistics of heaven.) My favorite thing to do indoors though, was when my sister and I would get out big bowls and mixing spoons and combine all the good smelling products in the house to make ‘perfume.’ This appalled my husband until he understood we weren’t using things like vinegar and baking soda, but instead used all the shampoos, conditioners, liquid soaps, perfumes, after-sun gels, lotions, body sprays, anything scented, and poured them all together. It was great fun to make these concoctions though of course it was all pretend play, and now that I think about it, we probably are indeed lucky we never caused a bad chemical reaction in our reckless mixing. (That would have been one cacophonous-scented blast.)

In high school I was drawn to the local natural foods store and would buy small amounts of herbs from the bulk bins to try as tea, as well as books about natural products and natural living. I honestly don’t remember why or how it all started because it wasn’t something we grew up talking about as a family philosophy or anything. The natural world, and herbs in particular, just resonated with me in a way that was impossible to ignore. It might have had something to do with the fact that I never really felt well, always a headache, constantly tired, always a “nervous stomach”, and the world of herbs and other naturals offered promises of health and well-being while modern medicine seemed stark, rigid, mildly toxic. and lacking creativity. And the natural things did help, especially the cleanses, but it wasn’t until I went off gluten that I got the biggest uptick in health and well-being. With my herbal books I learned to make natural masks and full-on facials with ingredients found in the kitchen, which was very reminiscent of the pretend play my sister and I did as younger children.

Right after college (English major) I worked at the natural foods store where I had once shopped, and started an herbal correspondence course with Wild Rose College. It was a great program that made me study a bit of anatomy, the healing process, iridology, and more (besides the herbs) and it wasn’t easy, so check out their programs if you are interested. At that time the natural foods store also had an employee education program that most people ignored but I dove in and loved it so vocally that I was given it to run when the coordinator couldn’t do it anymore. I felt like the luckiest person ever to have all that great free educational material about vitamins, minerals, oils, herbs, homeopathy, and so much more.

Then I had an herbal internship with herbalist Michael Pilarski who primarily wildcrafted herbs, made medicine with those herbs, and is a well-known authority on permaculture. I enjoyed the medicine-making days the most and also got to attend herbal classes and a conference while interning with him. It was a great learning experience.

I later worked for a natural foods and products distributor which meant more education and insight into the industry as well as the natural products themselves. It definitely helped to already have a strong herbal background as I remember very clearly going into a shop on Whidbey Island where the skeptical owner handed me a cup of herbal tea which I immediately identified as burdock and I won her over. (I was in sales/customer service which sometimes drew people who knew nothing about the actual products.) Plus, if you know what burdock tastes like, it’s kind of an acquired taste. Thank goodness it was an herb I was familiar with because there are so many herbs out there it’s not possible to know them all and that was the quickest way to earn trust ever!

While working for the distributor I went through a year-long herbal certificate program at Bellevue College which was run by Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa. He has moved from the Seattle area now but was the president of the American Herbalists Guild for several years recently and has online courses mainly for people interested in using herbs professionally, but also classes for people just interested in a specific topic, such as Ayurveda. I believe he even still has some in-person programs like the kind I went through, so if you are interested in online or in-person classes, check out his website. I then had an internship with him for a couple of months where again my favorite aspect of it was making Ayurvedic kits to be used for spa-type rituals and panchakarma.

Afterwards, I started making my own herbal bath and body products with the name Dragonlily Herbs as well as giving classes in making herbal products. That did not last long though as first one baby and then quickly two took over all my time and energy. (And going back to school to get my MA in TESOL.) Now that the boys are older, I guess this is really just my second iteration of Dragonlily, with the addition of making my Luddite-soul fully embrace the online world.

Over the years I’ve also taken several other herbal classes about things I was specifically interested in such as the digestive system, thyroid, essential oils, skin herbs, and herbal crafting. Now that I’ve written all that down, I feel like I really should know a lot more than I do but there’s so much herbal knowledge out there from all different traditions and cultures that it’s hard not to constantly feel like what is left to learn is a vast ocean compared to what I already know. I’ve got a studious streak though so that endless learning aspect suits me just fine.

The links above to KP Khalsa’s site and the AHG will help if you happen to be looking for classes. Also Bastyr University and the American Botanical Council are good places to visit as well. I’ve got some herbal classes in the works myself, both in-person and online, that will focus on my favorite part of herbalism~ medicine-making and bath and body crafting. If you are interested, let me know what you most want covered. The focus will be on simplicity, beauty, and health, with an emphasis on the kinds of products that used to be part of everyone’s daily life before mass-market, chemical-laden commercialization became the norm. We deserve to hang on to our roots and customize our own health and body care as only our own selves possibly could. (Now that’s self-care!)

More on that soon, but in the meantime, could you do me a quick favor? I’ve made a short survey and I’d really appreciate your feedback~ it is just three short questions and I promise it’ll take less than one minute.

Survey here

Thank you so much! I would love to hear what drew you to herbs and where you are on your own herbal journey. Looking forward to hearing from you and best health to you and yours.

Wheat: Is it the Gluten or the FODMAPs?

When I first went to a gastroenterology doctor to discuss my blood tests that were positive for gluten reactions, his advice to me was not to go through the scope for celiac testing because, and I quote, “Lots of people have trouble digesting wheat. You just don’t eat wheat. That’s all you could do if you were diagnosed celiac anyway.” This struck me as mighty unconventional in an industry that loves to order as many tests as possible, but I followed his advice and I think I now understand that he must have seen people with wheat issues day in and day for decades to form that view. (And this was over ten years ago, before the gluten awareness explosion.) It isn’t just the gluten though, people can have trouble with wheat because of the FODMAPs, which makes wheat a particularly hard food for a lot of people since the protein and/or the carb can be the problem. It’s no wonder so many people find some relief when taking it out of their diet, but it might not be the cure-all they were hoping for. If that sounds like you, don’t get discouraged, there’s more you can do.

While gluten, which is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley, is the issue for celiacs and other people with gluten sensitivity, for others it might be the carbs of wheat, which fall under the FODMAPs acronym. FODMAPs stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols, which are molecules in certain carbohydrates that some people have trouble digesting. Wheat is one of the culprits but other items which fall under the FODMAPs category are beans, many dairy products, some fruits like apples and apricots, and a variety of vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. For a complete list, check out Fodmaplife.com but before checking it out you should know two things: 1. the list is extensive and can be overwhelming at first glance, but don’t let it deter you because 2. not everyone reacts to all the items the same. When you start to explore if you are one of the people whose digestive issues stem from FODMAPs, you will need to limit all foods high in FODMAPs, but you then can start adding some back into your diet and experiment with what really bothers your personal system and what can actually be tolerated and at what doses. So, in other words, the list is not a list of foods you can never eat again, think of it merely as a starting point.

An easy way to experiment with this and take the guess work out of your meal planning is to try Delicious Living’s Low FODMAP Menus for a Week. They have put together meals that avoid all the high FODMAP foods and instead focus on healthy foods that are easy on the digestive tract. Here’s a preview of what you’ll find:

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If you have gone gluten-free and have found some relief but not total relief, it is worth a week of effort to try low-FODMAP eating to see if you can’t be healthier (and therefore happier). Time to go shopping~

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The low-Fodmap diet is often encouraged for people who suffer with IBS. It is worth trying if you have consistent digestive issues that do not fully respond to other diets or remedies as many people find it to be just what they needed. You deserve to feel your best so don’t give up searching for ways to make you feel great on a daily basis. Best health to you and yours.

How to Make Your Own Toner

Toner is one of those things that I kind of hate buying but I can’t live without. It is used between cleansing the skin and putting on a serum and/or moisturizer, and it balances the pH of the skin as well as helps the serum/moisturizer spread evenly so you get the most out of those more expensive products. Since it is the first layer on your skin after washing it, it has the potential to really help your skin be its healthiest and therefore its glow-iest, but it’s a light product so there shouldn’t be too much in it. Leave it to the serums and moisturizers to pack in the heavier oils and such, but that doesn’t mean toner can’t have some amazing ingredients too. Making your own means you can tweak it for your specific skin needs and even add in ingredients that might be missing from your other skin care products. For example, if you know your skin could benefit from more Vitamin C but you happen to love your current serum which is Vitamin A based, you can make sure your toner is strong Vitamin C by using Hibiscus tea, Vitamin C powder, and/or orange peel.

One of the easiest ways to make toner is by using Witch Hazel as the base. In fact, you can just use Witch Hazel for a toner by itself or by adding essential oils to it. Witch Hazel balances skin, soothes irritations, tightens, firms, and refreshes the skin. You can use it to cleanse your skin by pouring some onto a cotton ball and wiping your face clean. To use as a toner, it’s nice to cut it a bit with distilled water, floral water, a hydrosol, or a glycerin extract of an herb such as rose or orange peels as mentioned above. You can also just use floral waters and hydrosols alone as a toner in which case Rose water is a popular choice.

I happen to be out of toner so I am making some with what I have on hand which is: Witch Hazel, distilled water, and essential oils of Carrot Seed and Geranium. Both of those essential oils have a plethora of beneficial properties for the skin from moisture-balancing to wrinkle-fighting, and are good for dry, oily, mature, and/or combination skin. Their wide-ranging benefits for all different kinds of skin types make them similar to Rose essential oil, but a lot less expensive.

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Toner Recipe:

1/8 C Witch Hazel

1/8 C Distilled Water (a floral water or hydrosol would work beautifully too)

4 Drops Geranium Essential Oil

3 Drops Carrot Seed Essential Oil

2 oz. glass bottle with a spray top

Be sure to label your product and to shake your toner before each use.

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Speaking of different skin types, here’s an infographic from Delicious Living on best natural ingredient for different types of skin. Some of these could be added to a toner, while others work better in a mask, serum, or moisturizer. Borlind_infographic_3

Happy creating and beautifying everyone! You deserve to shine with optimal health.

Cold and Flu Season

A few posts back I wrote about some great immune boosters that had recently been sent my way in the new hope blogger box. Now that we are in the thick of cold and flu season, I thought I’d also post some other natural products that help us fight the good fight against those nasty viruses and bacteria that like to get social this time of year.

Essential Oils:

Essential oils are great germ fighters and immune helpers with some more potent than others in their anti-bacterial and/or anti-viral properties. If you just want to have one go-to blend for fighting all the winter sicknesses that get around, then Thieves oil is what you want. Thieves oil has a great story to it, though whether it is more history or mythology is anyone’s guess. I like to think the story had to start somewhere, so why not in an actual event? The story has several variations, but basically they all say something along the lines of this: During the Middle Ages there were four thieves in France who used to rob the graves (or the houses) of those who had died of the Plague and managed to not get ill themselves. When they were eventually caught, they were given a lighter punishment in return for telling how they did it. The four thieves admitted they used herbs (most likely soaked in vinegar at that time) to keep themselves from getting the disease. They knew how to do this because among them were perfumers and spice traders who at the time understood the anti-biotic and anti-viral properties of their goods. Their blend has passed down to us through all these centuries, though the actual recipes vary depending on who’s making it. Usually the blends include: clove, lemon, eucalyptus, cinnamon and rosemary, and then different makers add in their own special favorites. You can find it as Thieves Oil, Medieval Mix Oil, Bandits Oil, and I’m sure other names as well.

Thyme oil is another great anti-germ essential oil. You can make a room spray for wiping down surfaces or use it in an diffuser for infusing the air with its strong anti-viral properties. Thyme also repels insects and combines particularly well with Lavender and Eucalyptus essential oils to kill any bacteria or viruses around, which makes it a great blend to have along for classrooms, workplaces, and travel.

If you have congestion in your nose or chest, nothing beats Eucalyptus Oil for loosening it up and helping you breathe. Putting it in a diffuser or flicking some on the back of a shower before starting the water are great ways to get the Eucalyptus into the air. If needed, I’ll put a drop right on the front of a shirt or on a pillow if it’s bedtime.

Herbs:

There are plenty of immune boosting herbs to help you avoid getting sick that also help you get well faster if you do get sick since sometimes it is just unavoidable, but there are two that almost always get center stage in any immune blend~ Echinacea and Astragalus. Tinctures and teas are a great way to take immune boosting herbs if you are already sick, and you can also add Astragalus to soup and you might be lucky enough to find it fresh in your local produce section. (It’s a root.) Herb Pharm makes quite a few immune support blends in tincture form, from a daily builder to use before getting sick, to a rapid defense once you are sick, one specifically for viruses, and one for kids. Yogi Teas has an assortment of immune boosting teas such as this one and this one. I put the powdered root of Astragalus into my adaptogen blend during the winter for daily immune system support and because it also has adaptogenic properties.

Elderberry is another cold season herb that is a must have in your personal natural medicine cabinet. It is in a lot of cold formulas and syrups so it is an easy herb to add. Besides this kind of formula there are lozenges that one of my son sucks on all school year long, though it’s more about the yummy taste in his mind.

A few other herbs to aid the immune system are medicinal mushrooms like Reishi, Oregon Grape Root, Lomatium, and Garlic. Any time you can add any of these to your teas, daily supplement regime, and/or diet help keep your immune system in top form.

Homeopathy:

There are a couple of homeopathic medicines that can really help shorten a cold or flu and lessen the symptoms. As soon as you start to feel flu-type aches and pains, fever, and such, your best bet is to take Oscillococcinum as soon as possible. This means having it on hand at all times, just in case, because it really only works if you get it in you before the flu really takes hold. Follow the directions on the box for how much/often to take it.

Another homeopathic medicine that really should be taken at the first sign of a cold or flu is Umcka, but with this one even if you don’t get it going immediately, it’ll still lessen the duration and intensity of the cold or flu when you do start taking it. I keep a cold formula and a cold/flu formula on hand all winter long because it always seems to be nighttime when one of us starts to feel bad. There are many versions of this medicine from a hot drink to an over-the-counter-style liquid, and it’s tasty enough for kids. (Mine love it.)

Vitamins, Minerals, and Others:

Vitamin C is of course the go-to vitamin for helping the immune system fight little invaders. Be mindful that our bodies get used to the amount of vitamin C we normally take so a large, sudden increase can result in diarrhea. Vitamin D has become more well-known lately for its role in immune system support so it can be found in some wellness formulas such as this Emergen-C fizzy drink, and if you are lucky, in the sunshine. Zinc is also recognized as an important component in immune boosting and can be found in the Zand Elderberry lozenges above as well as other wellness formulas.

Probiotics are an integral part of the immune system. Taking them regularly helps keep you well, and if you go through a round of antibiotics, hit the probiotics hard afterwards, and even during the antibiotic treatment. Just make sure to take them at least two hours after taking the antibiotics.

One more thing I feel compelled to mention is drinking anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar in a glass of water. The bottle must say “with the mother” in order for it to be actively healing. If you feel something coming on, then drinking this three times a day will help your immune system fight it. It is strong tasting at first so starting with as small of an amount that you can get down is fine. I promise it grows on you and you can increase the amount you put in water for greater health boosting. Apple cider vinegar does a host of  good and I drink it every morning all year long (1 tablespoon in a glass of water) to prepare my digestive system for the day.

Keep well everyone and please share this with anyone who needs some immune support this winter.

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