On Different Cross-Cultural Uses of Shared Herbs

Equisetum × moorei, Brno - Židenice, Czech Rep...
Horsetail image via Wikipedia

When I was in Chinese Medicine School, my herbal teacher and I got into an intense discussion of plantain seed.  In Western medicine, plantain (a related species to psyllium) seed is used as a mild laxative.  In Chinese medicine it is used as a diuretic to guide fluids from the small intestine and to stop diarrhea.  Usually I’d expect that different parts of the plant would have such different uses, but in this case we were both talking about the seeds.  As I was dropping off to sleep that night it hit me:  in Western medicine we eat the seeds with all the roughage.  In Chinese medicine we make a decocted tea and strain it out.

When I was in Guatemala last week, I spent time talking to herbalists who used the same herbs I do, differently.  One Continue reading On Different Cross-Cultural Uses of Shared Herbs

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How to Store Your Emergency Meds

A few years ago I had food poisoning with severe diarrhea.  After a couple of days, I found myself home alone, collapsed on the floor, unable to pull myself to standing.  I knew I needed fluid and electrolytes.  I even had made up oral hydration salts, proud of my cost-savings venture.  But they were high in my medicine closet and I wasn’t able to pull myself to standing to get them or the faucet or a container to mix them up in. There were no sodas or juices, since I don’t use them.  Now I keep a bottle of Pedialyte in drinkable form on the floor of my pantry.  If I can crawl, I can get to it.

We have all heard that we should keep medicine locked in a medicine chest, if not in the humid bathroom, then somewhere out of reach. (For those of us who have both conventional and herbal medications, the sufficiently large medicine chest hasn’t been built! )  That is fine for infrequently used toxic  prescriptions.  But don’t do that with emergency medicines.  Keep those where you are most likely to use them.

Plantago major Image taken by me on 20 March 2...
Image via Wikipedia


That means that if you are deathly allergic to bee stings, you might want to carry an epi-pen in your gardening apron (and make sure you have lots of plantain around.)  Or your emergency asthma inhaler if Spring pollens leave you gasping.  If asthma strikes at night, keep the inhaler near your bed. Wear a nitroglycerine pendant for cardiac emergencies. If arthritis is worse in the morning, keep your turmeric honey and a spoon in the bedroom.  Get extra prescriptions so you can keep emergency medicine where you need it.

Bandages and disinfectant should be located near your power tools and in your kitchen.  They don’t all have to be in one spot, and you can have them in the bathroom too.  Arnica gel or a die de jiao (trauma liniment) is well-located near the bathtub or stairs, if slipping is an issue.

If you are diabetic, carry glucose with you.  I don’t recommend carrying insulin unless you have to (if you must use it.)  If you do, label it in obvious letters:  Not for emergency use, administer sugar instead.  I recently role-played a diabetic slipping into a coma for a first aid class of medical professionals, and nearly everyone reflexively wanted to inject me with insulin instead of giving glucose, which could have killed me.  This actually happened to the brother of a Facebook friend, and he was in a long term coma because well-meaning friends didn’t understand that glucose is for emergencies, while insulin is designed for long term problems.  Indeed when I was training as an EMT, we were taught that all diabetic comas should be treated with glucose- even if the person had ketoacidosis, lowering sugar was a long term strategy, whereas withholding glucose could potentially kill some one.  Follow with food that has protein, fat and fiber so the diabetic won’t crash.

With atopic allergies like penicillin or latex, a medical alert bracelet is a good idea.  I might carry a tiny CPR kit with a nonlatex glove on my keyring.

Even a toddler can be taught to dial 911 and ask for help if a parent or babysitter is not responsive.  An elder who lives alone may be better off with a medical alert pendant that will automatically dial for help.

Most of my medicine is herbal.  Herbal emergency products should also be located where they will be used.  But most herbal medicine is best for long term use.  There are times when speed will be of the essence.  Make sure your emergency medicines are at hand where you will need them.


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Statin Drugs Can Increase Diabetes or High Blood Sugar

This article by pharmacist Suzy Cohen, originally published at Mercola.com  is very important because doctors are told that diabetics especially need to go onto statin drugs on the unproven theory that cholesterol causes heart disease.  But by increasing blood sugar, lowering Vitamin D and lowering the anti-inflammatory CoQ10, statins can make matters worse.

There are now 900 studies proving  adverse effects showing complications from increased risks of moderate to serious liver dysfunction, acute kidney failure, moderate or serious myopathy, and cataracts.  (This particular metastudy did not look at the effects of statins on blood sugar.)  But if your doctor wants you to go onto statins let him or her know that they increase blood sugar, corrosive blood insulin levels and diabetes.


The Hidden Diabetes Link No One is Telling You About…

By Suzy Cohen, R.Ph.

Statin DrugsCoronary heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States, killing one in five adults, and doctors are very quick to prescribe statins. In fact, statin drug sales rank in the billions each year globally. Continue reading Statin Drugs Can Increase Diabetes or High Blood Sugar

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Snow Day! Redux.

The Day After #DCsnowpocalypse #Thundersnow #s...
Image by ShashiBellamkonda via Flickr

Last night we had a thundersnow, a snowstorm complete with thunder, lightning and hail, that managed to drop almost two feet of snow in 8 hours.  Today I awoke to a fairyland of snow, with thick coats of snow on windows and trees, and few signs of the cars buried under drifts.  I filled a thermos with Darcy’s spice chocolate, bundled up and sidled between four foot snow embankments  towards Prospect Park.  Trees with thick branches were weighted down with up to a foot of snow.  Cross-country skiers and sledders  were scattered across the park.  The soft snow sank below my boots, as I sought out packed snow, trying to avoid the cross-country paths.

I love snow, as only someone who grew up in the mild climate of California’s San Francisco Bay Area can do.  We had a dusting every five years or so, but it generally melted off within a couple of hours.  I love the way snow transforms the city, covering dirt, cleaning the air,  glistening in the sunlight, causing tree branches to sparkle.  The reflections of sunlight off the snowdrifts in an otherwise dim season cheer me immeasurably.

This is something like the seventh major snowstorm of the season, closing down schools, roads and above-ground transit.  But we haven’t had a big snow season for a few years and I missed out on the December snowstorms when I visited family, so I haven’t burned out on it.

I crossed the Long Meadow towards the forested Ravine, stopping to sit on a cleaned bench that barely cleared the snow.  Children lined the ridge behind the Tennis House where sledding areas were demarcated. A mother on cross-country skis with a rope around her waist pulled a toddler on a sled.  Dogs were chasing Frisbees, reveling in the drifts.  Wind caused snow showers as trees unburdened their limbs.

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 27:  A man cross countr...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I trudged along the path by the Amberkill, where I watch feral goldfish swim in warmer seasons.  The stream peeked through where the water ran fast but was covered by ice and snow in the pools.  I stopped to watch the falls and an elderly birder photographing in the forest.

A woman on cross-country skis with a black lab stopped to ask me if the trail was crowded.  I warned her that it was uneven, but she was already cutting through new snow, allowing the lab to walk in the existing path.  Urban cross-country skiers are a hardy lot, purchasing sturdy fiberglass skis that can stand up to asphalt or stones peering through the snow.  I used to be one, before my feet outgrew my boots and the available bindings changed, meaning that I would need an entire new setup that I could only use in cold years.  I left the path and walked up the hill to the ice-covered ponds, stopping to shake snow from the holly so the plants wouldn’t break under the weight.

The children’s calls of delight from the sledding slope filled the air as I emerged.  A woman in snowshoes sat texting on the bench where I had rested.  As I crossed the meadow, I found a valley behind a tree grove filled with snowmen and half an igloo.  Two teens threw snowballs, but everyone else seemed to be engaged in building, using plastic sleds as snow scoops.  The trees had significantly less snow and slush was starting to form at the corners as I left, cheered by the experience.

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 27:  A woman walks her ...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

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Recovering from the Feast

A bottle of Angostura Aromatic Bitters.
Angostura Bitters Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, before Thanksgiving, I advised my Facebook readers to start their meals with some bitters- Angostura bitters, Fernet Branca, radicchio or dandelion greens to stimulate their liver and gallbladder to secrete digestive juices.  I also suggested taking a little lemon juice or vinegar in water before the meal to prevent blood sugar spikes and to help with liver detoxification.  It also helps to leave a little room in your stomach when you eat.  But what if you didn’t? Continue reading Recovering from the Feast

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Getting Your Minerals from Herbs

Equisetum telmateia (Equisetopsida) at Cambrid...

I had been making overnight infusions of herbs for several years when David Winston opined that infusing a mineral-rich herb like oatstraw or horsetail was a waste of herb because the minerals were locked up in the structure and that they were not released by steeping in water unless you waited several days.  He claimed that his labs had found that simmering for 20-30 minutes (decocting) was necessary to release the minerals.  So long as my overnight infusion isn’t aromatic, which would be damaged by simmering, I now decoct my mineral herbs instead of infusing overnight.  In fact I often mix herbs, decocting the roots or mineral-rich herbs first, turning off the flame and infusing the aromatics overnight afterward.

I had started making my herbal preparations as tinctures.  Tinctures are great.  They last for years, they are handy and I enjoyed them.  Tinctures grab resins and aromatics, but don’t get minerals at all.  Continue reading Getting Your Minerals from Herbs

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Cloves for Preservation and to Lift the Spirit

Fresh cloves in hand
Raw Clove Flowers-Image via Wikipedia

Two months ago I made a chai tea redolent with cloves, but without milk or sugar.  I put it in my water bottle to drink during the day, but it was pushed behind other bottles and I forgot about it.  Two weeks later there was not one spec of mold floating in the liquid and a quick smell and taste of a few drops revealed no souring.  I was curious and put it back.  Two months after making it shows no growth of organisms or off taste or odor.  Which got me thinking about the Spice Route.

In the ancient time, refrigeration was unavailable, especially in cities where cellars and ice were generally unavailable.  Spices were important not only for food preservation, but to fortify the digestion and to cure food poisoning.  In Europe where there was little tradition of fermenting meat, spices or smoking (often with spices or aromatic wood) were the primary way of dealing with meat that might not be fresh.  Cloves were one of the most important. Continue reading Cloves for Preservation and to Lift the Spirit

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How to Make Turmeric Honey For Inflammation

Turmeric root. Photo taken in Kent, Ohio with ...
Image via Wikipedia

Turmeric honey is one of my favorite ways to give turmeric.  Turmeric is an adaptogen, a nontoxic herb that regulates the immune and endocrine systems.  It also is antiseptic, is hepatoprotective, invigorates the blood, and helps prevent or treat infection.  Regarded as a panacea in Ayurveda, turmeric is widely used in food, medicine and skin care.  Indian curries, Persian dishes like masak lemak, Thai and Indonesian dishes like rendang use curry to color and impart flavor.  In skin care, its golden color and medicinal properties enhance dark skin.  (I have had people react in alarm when a turmeric foot soak turned my pale legs yellow!)  It is used ceremonially throughout South Asia, including Bengali weddings where it adorns the married couple or Pujas where the powder is moistened and formed into an image of Ganesha.  Rich in pigments it is used for dyes and to color food.  It is one of  my favorite herbs. Continue reading How to Make Turmeric Honey For Inflammation

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How to Make Thieve’s Vinegar To Protect from Respiratory Infections

For medicinal use you need much higher ratios of herbs to vinegar

The traditional story is that during the Black Plague, a group of men were going into houses where people had died, stealing their goods.  The authorities figured that they would soon be infected and die, so did not pursue them until it became clear that they were resistant to the disease.  And then the motivation was to find what protected them.  Finally the thieves were apprehended and one confessed that his mother, a midwife, had provided them with a protective vinegar that they drank and washed with after handling the cadavers.  And in exchange for freedom, shared the recipe. Continue reading How to Make Thieve’s Vinegar To Protect from Respiratory Infections

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What Does Pulse Diagnosis Show?

In an article on electronic fetal heart rate monitoring (EFM)  Traditional Healers, External Fetal Monitoring, and the NICHD, Academic OB/GYN wrote:

Continuous fetal heart rate monitoring is at its core an almost laughable idea. We are checking a single vital sign and using that vital sign to extrapolate a host of ideas and meanings. OBs that have read strips for years can make some sense of them, but would we give so much meaning to any other single vital sign? Would we do it with an adult? Of course not, but there are people who do. In fact, there are entire countries where this is a major methodology for determining the etiology of illnesses.

But the people doing this are not physicians – they are the healers of various cultures. Throughout the world there are practitioners who claim to divinate illness through feeling a person’s pulse for several minutes. This is particularly prominent in Asia. They describe using the rate, strength, and character of the pulse to make all manner of determinations. This practice is fairly laughable to physicians, as it seems crazy to get so much meaning from feeling someone’s pulse.

But is this so much different than EFM? In fact its quite similar….

Here is an elaborated form of my reply: Continue reading What Does Pulse Diagnosis Show?

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Thoughts on the Loss of Trees

Park Slope Tree Downed by Tornado

New York City doesn’t usually have tornadoes or hurricanes, although we are in the path of such storms.  The city heat produces a high pressure bubble that usually pushes storms away.  Well most of the time.  A freak storm toppled 500 trees in Central Park last August and a tornado dipped into a coastal neighborhood in Brooklyn in April.  Last Thursday we had two small tornadoes which cut through Brooklyn and Queens in a period of about 20 minutes, with winds up to 80 miles an hour and “microbursts” of 125 mph.  One person was killed and a few others injured.  When it finished 3000 dead street trees lay in its wake, with the branches of  untold others ripped from their trunks.

New York City has, or had until Thursday, about 5 million trees including 650,000 street trees.  When I came here as a teen, raised on West Coast horror stories of the city, I was stunned at how green New York City was, especially compared to San Francisco which was relatively bereft of trees at the time.  There are oaks of various kinds, London plane trees, maples, beeches, mulberry trees, Callery pears, lindens, ginkgos, blight-resistant elms, birches, liquidambars, osage oranges, sycamores, horse chestnuts, sumacs, catalpas, alianthus trees, magnolias, weeping cherries, various pines and hundreds of other species.  My neighborhood has trees that range from a seedlings to 150 years old with much older trees in Prospect Park’s secondary forest where at least 100 trees were killed.  But the average life of a street tree is only seven years, making the grandfather trees true treasures.   Continue reading Thoughts on the Loss of Trees

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Book Review: Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat

Hal Herzog is fascinated with our moral relationships with animals, the contradictions we feel and the ethical problems when we avoid contradictions. A dog, he points out, is a member of the household in the United States, vermin in India, and food in Korea. We humans tend not to eat animals we either adore or despise. As Koreans and Chinese have started keeping pets, they have become more ambivalent about eating dog meat and relegate certain species to the dog trade.  The Oglala Indians eat dogs and keep them as pets, but pets are chosen at birth and only pets are named.  This is a tactic that  many farming families use for animals that could be pets or food.

Herzog is an anthrozoologist who studies the interactions between humans and animals. He is also possessed with a quick eye for absurdity and a broad range of interests. In this book he has visited industrial farms and Appalachian cock fights, dogmeat markets, dolphin treatment centers, loggerhead turtle nest- protection runs,animal research laboratories, and rescue refuges for injured animals. Even his family pets come up Continue reading Book Review: Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat

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Two Year Low Cal/Low Carb Diet Study Misleading

A two year, $4 million  studyof 307 people, purporting to compare low carb to low fat diets has been completed, apparently showing similar weight loss after two years, but improved blood lipids for people who followed the low carbohydrate diet. They tell us study results show it doesn’t matter which way we diet.   But the study has several problems:

  • The low carb diet went for 12 weeks, after which people were encouraged to add 5 grams of carbohydrates daily for a week, increasing carbohydrates until their weight stabilized.
  • The low calorie diet went on for 2 years.  So a short term diet was compared to a long term diet. Continue reading Two Year Low Cal/Low Carb Diet Study Misleading
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Vitamin D Researcher Frank C. Garland Passes Away

Frank Garland, an epidemiologist and cancer researcher who studied the effects of Vitamin D in fighting cancer, has died. He was 60. Photo care of Kim Edwards.

One of the greatest contributors to human understanding of vitamin D, researcher Dr. Frank C. Garland, passed away on Tuesday, August 17 at UCSD Thornton Hospital after a nearly year-long illness. He was 60 years old. Science, and the rest of us, have lost a great researcher.

Dr. Garland, along with brother Dr. Cedric Garland, were the first to make the connection between vitamin D deficiency and cancer, igniting the interest of the Continue reading Vitamin D Researcher Frank C. Garland Passes Away

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August Herbal Blog Party: Herbs for Fertility

There are many ways herbs can help a couple deal with fertility.  A simple red clover infusion  can  kick off a pregnancy for many women.   Herbalists can make specific formulas for the five parts of the menstrual cycle identified by Chinese medicine or more simply incorporate menstrual charting with formulas, using herbs to tonify the yin or yang phases of the menstrual cycle as needed.  One may even managed to open a blocked fallopian tube with a phlegm stasis formula.  Or reduce insulin resistance in PCOS.  Or improve sperm quality and motility in the male partner.  Or use flower essences with a frightened first time mother. We can even use plants to deal with the residues of sexual abuse so that a prospective mother can embrace her fertility.

Here are the results of our August Herbal Blog Party where different people wrote articles on various aspects of fertility: Continue reading August Herbal Blog Party: Herbs for Fertility

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Staging Herbal Formulas to Enhance Fertility

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Red Clover  Image via Wikipedia

Many women respond to single herbs or single formulas in their quest to get pregnant.  A strong overnight infusion of red clover, or red clover mixed with nettles and oatstraw has pushed many women over the brink from infertility to fertility.  This seems to work best when a little extra nourishment is needed in an otherwise healthy woman.   But hormones are complex, and the reasons why they may be out of balance are varied.

But before giving targeted formulas , the first thing I suggest to women is that Continue reading Staging Herbal Formulas to Enhance Fertility

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Vitamin D in Pregnancy and Nursing

Care of Flicker by Mahalie Stackpole

Vitamin D levels are very important to your personal health as well as that of your baby.  I have previously written about how Vitamin D reduces pre-eclampsia, or toxemia of pregnancy.  Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy and infancy prevents childhood Type 1 diabetes.  And low levels of Vitamin D during pregnancy and lactation have caused preclinical rickets which have caused African American women whose skin absorption is lower, to lose custody of children on charges of suspected child abuse.

A South Carolina study of pregnancy complications and Vitamin D  found:

  • The 400 iu level of Vitamin D in a prenatal vitamin was inconsequential
  • 4000 iu of Vitamin D reduced bad pregnancy outcomes by half compared to 400 iu.
  • 4000 iu of Vitamin D is safe in pregnancy
  • Virtually all African American women in sunny SC had serious deficiencies of Vitamin D
  • 30% of all pregnant women in the study were severely deficient

Continue reading Vitamin D in Pregnancy and Nursing

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Is Acupuncture Useful for Labor Induction?

Woman Giving Birth
Image by Travis S. via Flickr

A recent study purports to show that acupuncture does not induce labor.  What it actually showed was that mild stimulation of a specific set of points did not  affect the onset of labor in 125 women who were characterized as “past due,”  at 41 weeks.  The points chosen were the same for all women, half of which got acupuncture with needles and the other half had stimulation of the same points with a blunt needle, described as “fake acupuncture.”  There was little appreciable difference between the two groups, although the acupuncture group which was slightly older ended up with slightly earlier labor and slightly lower birthweights. The headlines proclaimed, “Study: Acupuncture Doesn’t Help Induce Labor.” Continue reading Is Acupuncture Useful for Labor Induction?

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Full Fat Dairy Helps Ovulation in the Infertile

Women who eat at least one portion of high-fat dairy food per day have more productive ovulation, by 27% than women who eat low-fat dairy. Women who eat 2 servings or more of low fat dairy have 85% more ovulation-related infertility.  Is it the dairy, the fat, or a combination?

‎”The risk of anovulatory infertility was found to be 27 percent lower in women who ate at least one portion of high-fat dairy food per day compared with women who had one high-fat serving of dairy per week, or even less. Women who ate two or more portions of lowfat dairy foods a day increased their risk of ovulation related infertility by 85 percent.”      Human Reproduction 2007;doi:10.1093/humrep/dem019.

Butter, A Source of CLA
Butter, A Source of CLA

We live in a world where low fat is treated as the holy grail of health, yet we forget that fats and fats alone contain certain essential nutrients, including those used to form hormones used in reproduction.  The fat from pasture-raised cows contain  has as much as five times the CLA (a fatty acid which is a potent anti-cancer agent, muscle builder, and immunity booster) as fat from grain-fed cows.  The Omega 3 essential fatty acids are found in similar proportions to deep sea fish.  Grass-fed milk contains rumenic acid (a CLA), DHA, vaccenic acid, branched chain fatty acids, butyric acid, lecithin, cysteine-rich whey proteins, calcium, iodine and vitamin D all of which have value from reducing cancer to increasing fertility. Continue reading Full Fat Dairy Helps Ovulation in the Infertile

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Insulin Resistance and Infertility


It is well known that insulin resistance is the basis of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) which is a major cause of infertility, but insulin resistance affects other infertility conditions as well.

Many infertility doctors are aware of this.  I had one, non PCOS, client whose fertility doctor prescribed Metformin, a diabetes drug that improves insulin sensitivity, but failed to suggest to her that she had blood sugar problems  (at a stage in her life where she might be able to make changes to avoid diabetes.) Doctors routinely suggest weight loss for infertility which is also known to correct insulin resistance.

But drugs are not the first resource for insulin resistance.  Diet Continue reading Insulin Resistance and Infertility

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