Thursday, February 25, 2010

Moving, moving, moving!  I hope to be back here with an inspired post soon.  In the meantime, I am LOVING my ashwaghanda and holy basil tinctures.  Adaptogenic herbs have been my friends for years, but I am especially appreciative right now.  Oh, and dark chocolate.  It definitely has it's indications ;P

Herbal lovin' to you!


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Homemade Oral Care Recipes

So today was a catch-up-on-making-the-necessities sort of day.  A move is impending (just over a week from now) and we were running low on toothpowder and my oral rinse.  I did not want to find my family with nasty mouths in the middle of a move, so I got to work.  Well, it isn't really work is it?

We use tooth powder to avoid the unnecessary additives in toothpaste.  Of course fluoride, being toxic and all, is on our "no" list, as is glycerine.  Apparently glycerine coats the teeth so they can not re-mineralize.  Yes, that is possible.  Dr. Weston A. Price observed that native peoples with the greatest immunity to dental decay included the organ meats of animals in at least one meal daily.  The foundation includes dietary guidelines for healing dental caries on their website.  I am in the process and will let you know how it goes periodically.  There are many other online sources for healing tooth decay.  I know that many promote the use of xylitol, but I am not a fan.  Xylitol is not a traditional food or an herb, but an alcohol sugar, and something not acceptable in my diet.  

The basic recipe I use is from Heather Nic an Fhleisdeir which I tweak from time to time depending on what I want.  I will include here what I made today:

Tooth Powder
1/4 c fine sea salt
1/4c baking soda
1/4c kaolin clay
2 T sage powder
2 T prickly ash powder
30-50 drops essential oil of peppermint, spearmint, or clove (I mix peppermint and clove usually)

Mix all dry ingredients.  Add essential oils and mix with a fork.

This makes enough to last our family of 5 brushers for a few months.  I keep it in a pint jar with a lid, of course.  I find that the essential oils will evaporate over time, so I tend to add more when I taste them less. 

The oral rinse is my own, excellent in place of a conventional mouthwash.  It is effective at killing bacteria as well as supporting gum health and re-mineralization of teeth.

Mouth Rinse
2 parts sage
2 parts rosemary
3 parts calendula
3 parts propolis
2 parts echinacea
3 parts myrrh
1 part peppermint

I use tinctures I have made from my own garden (which affect which ingredients I choose), with the exception of the propolis made by friend Lou Mckenzie, which I get from Sale Creek Honey Co at the Wednesday Main St market, and the echinacea and myrrh are from Gaia Herbs.  I also recommend the use of spilanthes in the rinse, though I did not have any on hand today.  A "part" being any unit of measurement you choose, I have just provided the ratio.  Depending on how much you want, one part could be 1mL or 1/2 cup.

Again, this rinse is designed for general oral health and gum disease.  Add two droppersful to a sip of water, or better, a bit of chamomile infusion (or calendula).  Swish for a minute or more.  Best results are achieved if you rinse 2-4 x daily.

Remember, the health of your mouth and teeth are indicative of the general health of your digestive tract, so if you have serious tooth decay there are other issues that must be addressed.  Bacteria and viruses find their way into the bloodstream through unhealthy gums and tooth decay and many health issues, including heart disease, have been linked to gum disease.  Healing your mouth is a good step in healing your whole person.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Family Herbal Class Series

I am a little late getting this out to the world, but I have a class series beginning this Saturday, February 20th.  If you are interested in making your own herbal remedies but feel intimidated, then this intimate, hands-on class is for you.  Many of the herbs I will focus on in the classes are growing right under our feet, so herbal care for your family can be virtually free!  Feel free to attend one or all, but I hope to see you there so we can share some medicine-making and good times!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Feeding Baby: When, What, and Where

Questions concerning the introduction of food to babies have been popping up all around me lately.  As the dominant diet paradigm mounts a great push against the re-emergence of traditional wisdom, the information to be found is more divided and confusing than ever before.  When? and What? seem to be the main questions, but I think that Where? and How?  might be just as important to creating a positive food experience and culture early on.  We are definitely living in a society that struggles figuring out what to eat.  Let's take the time to sort something out for ourselves, develop a food philosophy of our own, and pass it on to our kids so they at least have a foundation when these food questions become their own.

When:  There are lots of guidelines available out there, but I'll share my personal criteria here.
  • I would never feed a child under 6 months old anything but breastmilk.  With my oldest I started them on solids at exactly 6 months.  Because of our formula dilemma I was in a bit of a rush.  I regret that.  I did however, start them out on what I feel are appropriate foods still.   My youngest child did not even begin to experiment with food until 9 months and was not really eating until much later.  I really feel that 6 months is a bit young and the longer you wait, the better the outcome usually.
  • They should show independent interest in food.  I mean, they should be trying to knock you down to get to your plate or fork.  Give 'em a bite and see how it goes (as long as the food is appropriate of course). 
  • Teeth.  A baby does not need teeth to eat.  Gums are great.  In some African tribes, the first baby food was raw pre-chewed liver.  Do not be grossed out.  I chewed chicken for Stone for quite awhile before he could do it himself (so did every other member of the family for that matter).  He really digested it well, where a carrot, not so much.  He wanted and needed that animal flesh and fat so we had to help him out.   
  • Observe your baby.  Even if you do not know if they are ready or not, they do, and they will let you know.  If you can not trust your own intuition, trust theirs.
Where and How: These are pretty intertwined...
  • Bring the baby to the table early on!  Let mom or dad (or grandma if you are fortunate enough to have one in the home) hold baby during dinner.  Almost from birth we passed Stone around like a hot potato so we could all eat in peace, but share the experience with him at the same time.  He had a sixth sense for knowing when I was eating and had to always be awake.  He knew what was best!  He has always been keen on feeding himself and is pretty adept with utensils at a young age.  Not that we care around here.  Dad often eats with his hands as he did in India and Stone shares the love of a tactile food experience.  I think that texture and appearance is often more important to him than taste, though he happily eats a wide variety of foods.  My oldest began their eating experience very differently.  I sat Sophie and Emma down in their highchairs at "meal time" and spoon fed them, generally not sharing a meal with them myself.  How could I?  I was too busy feeding them.  I think not having a family meal atmosphere hindered their experience and forming of opinions.  They didn't have a table full of food to experiment with, but only what mom offered on a spoon.  No choices, no family socialization and a lot more stress on mom! 
  • As did his older sisters, Stone now has his own chair at the family table, which is where we have most of our meals.  I feel that family meal time is essential in developing positive eating habits.  I am so thankful that my mother also found this so important.  Seperate meals were the exception growing up.  We had busy schedules and places to be, but we almost always had dinner together.  I now feel awkward eating anywhere else.  Some find it formal, but I find the dining table comforting.  Food and family are so enmeshed, I think that trying to create a strong food culture without family involvement would be like swimming up stream.
  • Never feed your child in front of the TV.  They are not paying attention to what they are eating!  Mindful eating is the first and most naturally occurring step to making good choices.
What: And here is the real controversy...
  • I think egg yolks are the perfect first food for baby.  Soft boiled, a squirt of breastmilk and a teeny pinch of sea salt.  If you have ever thrown away or shunned an egg yolk for health reasons (or any reason) get up right now, walk over to the mirror and solemnly promise yourself that you will NEVER do anything like THAT again.  Seriously, what a sacred life giving food for all of us.  The vitamins, minerals, cholesterol and choline in an egg yolk are exactly what a baby (or anyone) needs for developing healthy neuro-endocrine function.  Every pregnant or nursing mother should eat eggs daily and they should be given directly to baby as soon as you decide to introduce solids.  This could be preventative for mood and learning disorders.  As for sea salt, it is full of trace minerals we need for robust health.  In intuitive food tests babies and toddlers often reached for and ate handfuls of sea salt.   They chose it over synthetic, nutrient devoid table salt and a banquet of other choices.  I say listen to the babies!  Test yours with a bit of egg with and without salt.
  • Fat:  Once baby is eating other solid foods, like say sweet potatoes or apples, throw some good ole fat in there!  Grassfed of course, as the fat stores the most pesticides, antibiotics, etc.  Butter, ghee (butter w/the whey and casein removed, good for those with allergies), and lard are my favorites.  I always sacrifice that most delectable bite of fat on whatever cut of meat I have to my babies.  Coconut, cod liver, and flax oil are great too, as are avocadoes and olive oil.  Check out the Nourished Kitchens post on appropriate fats for cooking here and for eating raw, here.  My babies have always loved avocadoes, and recently I started giving them small fish like sardines and kippers.  Even if you think they are gross, remember, your baby hasn't developed his or her palate just yet and may find these delicious.  Now you take out some good mustard, a flax seed cracker, and some cheese and try it yourself.  Unbelievably fishy goodness (and I am NOT a fish person)!  If you can not offer a food based fat to baby at every meal I would strongly consider a little cod liver oil on a daily basis.  If you are vegetarian, I urge you to examine why.  If it is not a spiritual or ethical belief, but based more on health or disgust for the taste/texture of meat, contemplate introducing high quality animal fats to your baby.  A healthy fat filled babyhood diet is still possible as a vegetarian, but you will have to be much more vigilant in getting nutrient dense foods into your baby.  Fat not only feeds the brain and endocrine system, but keeps cell walls pliable (essential for proper nutrient uptake and waste removal), helps stabilize the breakdown of our foods into the bloodstream, helps us to digest and utilize minerals as well as providing them.  And one can not downplay the importance of the fat soluble vitamins A,D, E, and K in good health.  
  • Introducing baby to fermented foods early is a wise choice.  So many of us reject the sour taste when it has so much to offer nutritionally.  All of my kids love kraut, and I am not talking kraut from a can, but a truly fermented, live, probiotic food: sour, bubbly and delicious!  Stone was drinking the juice from our kraut at just 8 weeks as part of our protocol for acid reflux caused by food intolerances in my milk (I removed those foods from my diet of course too, but healing was still necessary).  Cultured foods like kraut, kefir, beet kvass and kombucha are much more efficient at colonizing bacteria than supplements at the health food store.  It is not only the good bacteria themselves, but chemicals they secrete into their environment, called bacteriosides, that are responsible for the seeking out and killing of bad bacteria, viruses, and parasites in the gut.  Most commercial probiotics seperate the organism from their growing medium, therefore eliminating these important bacterial secretions.  Introduce them to baby early and not only will he/she just LOVE them, but your child will enjoy robust health from birth onward.  Pregnant and nursing mothers should definitely be eating probiotic foods on a daily basis as you are the source of your little ones bacterial colonization and birth and beyond.  There are numerous studies, who knows which is "right", but some say that bacterial communities are established and unalterable as early as two years old (Mary Bove 2009).  I don't know how absolutely I believe that, but it is definitely motivation for building a good foundation.
  • Bone broth is an excellent choice even before introducing solids.  Baby doesn't even need teeth!  Check out my previous post for nutritional info here
  • Fruits and veggies:  Homemade applesauce is the master of blending!  I have stirred in everything from blueberry puree and spinach to spirulina, slippery elm and strawberry cod liver oil.  Applesauce is great in season and through the winter as is winter squash and a wide variety of root vegetables.  In spring, thoroughly cooked greens blended w/bone broth and some fat are great.  Some hold off on greens, but I have always found them easily digested and palatable to my babies.
What not to do:
  • Introduce grains too early.  Hold off on the grains.  Yep, they are super convenience foods for sure, but that is just it.  You trade nutrition for convenience.  Introducing grains too early is depriving your baby of more nutrient dense foods and conditioning their palate to carbs.  I go as far as to say that grains are harmful.  Introducing them to immature intestines and immune systems is to set up perfect conditions for gut damage leading to food allergies and learning disorders, not to mention that dry starches are great for growing bad bacteria and yeast in the gut.  Furthermore, there is strong evidence that with the introduction of grains into the human diet came degenerative disease.  Dental caries, bone density problems, and inflammation of joints starts to show up in the fossil record at this time.  Other problems linked to grain consumption are smaller brain size and pelvic circumference.  There are a million sources on the dangers of grains, especially when prepared improperly.  Check out or this page of gluten links.  This is not about food allergies, but the effect of grains on the population as a whole.
  • Do not be scared of raw local honey.  I have given all of my kids honey from early on (it is a great way to deliver herbs) with nothing but wonderful results.  Do not introduce cane sugar to your child out of fear of honey before one year!  One report of botulism in a group of kids in California in the 80's started the whole honey scare.  They never even narrowed it down to the honey exclusively, there was also Heinz ketchup involved.  Raw local honey from a reputable beekeeper is one of the great sacred foods.  Honey itself is antibacterial when high quality.  Industrially raised bees, being moved across the country seasonally, pollinating and making honey from pesticide laden and GMO crops will make inferior, possibly dangerous honey.  Do not go to Publix and get the cheap plastic bear.  Go get local honey in a glass jar.  Get to know the beekeeper if possible.   One of my favorite people in my community is "my" beekeeper, Eddie Mckenzie of Sale Creek Honey.  His product is widely available in southeast Tennessee.  

I'm sure there are about a million things I have missed, so I would love to hear suggestions and opinions!  If any of this seems confusing, just remember to look back before our government and corporations started dictating to us what we should eat.   I always like to use that phrase "technology as servant, not master". 
Look at tradition, at human experience, at your experience and move forward with confidence.

picture property of Rhonda Prince
I just couldn't resist including a pic of one of my babes, healthy and radiant fat lover that he is!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gentle Elder Flowers

One of my longtime favorite herbs for the cold and flu season is elder flower.  I know that everyone has heard of the elderberry, and it definitely has its place (my girls will not go to bed without a spoonful of syrup!), but I have fully transitioned to the use of the flower as my main elder medicine during the dark season.  The flower has the same general qualities known of the berry, but more pronounced.  On a personal note, I experience the greatest of herbal joys when using flower medicines, especially in infusions.  There just seems to be an extra bit of love and beauty in those delicate blossoms.

Besides being a great anti-viral ally, elder gets things moving when a cold or flu settles in.  It is an upper respiratory ant-inflammatory, thinning and drying secretions while simultaneously soothing dry and inflamed mucous membranes.  We rarely have mucous turn thick and colored when using elder.  Copious clear running fluid is a healthy upper respiratory response to infection (keeping those membranes coated and moist) and elder keeps that going.  It also moves the blood.

One of the many categories of herbal action that elder fits in is diaphoretic*.  In other words, it helps to move the blood to the surface of the body so it can release heat.  Elder is a somewhat neutral diaphoretic which is why is it suitable for everyone.  Here I discussed fever and my position of letting it do its work, and the use of herbs to help it along.  Some diaphoretic herbs like peppermint are cooling and lower temperature, while others (ginger for example) are stimulating, or heating, and may increase the fever temporarily to increase its effectiveness.  When neither of these actions is necessary, elder is the answer to assisting the body in times of fever.  Using elder to increase effectiveness shortens duration.

Gentle like a lamb, elder is the perfect herb for treating babies.  Matthew Wood calls it "the great infant remedy", and points to its use in colic as well.  Broadly applicable to the whole family and the entire progression of an upper respiratory illness, elder insinuates itself into the family medicine chest as the patient, soothing grandmother to go to first in times of need.

For comfort and healing during the flu season,  brew some elder at the first sign of illness.  One cup of the fluffy white dry blossoms in a quart of water and steeped for an hour or two will do.  I make it by the half gallon and warm it on the stove as needed.  With a couple of sick kids and/or mom that will last most of the day.  I have found some other family herbs that partner well with elder:  lemonbalm when relaxation and lifting of spirits is needed to aid healing, rosehips for their nutrition, flavor and color, or possibly marshmallow when extra care for mucous membranes is needed.  Keep it simple, elder alone or paired with one or two other herbs is best.  And know that elder is no one trick pony, her applications go far beyond the virus.

Sambucus canadensis, our native elder is a small tree commonly found across most of N. America.  Here in the southeast it can be found along roadsides (even in the city) and other somewhat recently disturbed sunny areas.  Even whizzing by in an automobile one can not miss the large fragrant blossoms that appear in mid to late June. 

*If you are familiar with medical terminology, do not assume that herbal action definitions are the same as what you know.  That is rarely the case, so just pretend you are learning a new language :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What is Better Than Broth?

Absolutely nothing.

Have you ever made a bone broth?  This forgotten food used to be a staple of the kitchen.  Most of us no longer slaughter our own farm animals (that will soon change around this house) or even buy cuts of meat with the bone intact.  Not only is this wasteful, but bone-in cuts are usually cheaper and they are definitely more nutritious. 

Back in the late fall we bought an entire lamb from our local urban Williams Island Farm.  They are farming William's Island right in the middle of the Tennessee River right by downtown Chattanooga.  Isn't that fabulous?  Does food get any more local than that?  Well, there is your backyard, but it is hard to raise a lamb in the city limits ;)  They graze lamb, chickens and of course have a rockin' garden.  Chances are, if you live in the area you probably know at least one of these fabulous farmers and it is nice to give your money to people you care for. 

Back to the I pulled out my last bit of lamb yesterday, the bones.  A bag of knuckles, vertebrae, legs and all manner of bit parts not included in the cuts.  That's the benefit of buying directly from the farmer, you get the whole animal as you want it.  I threw this in the stock pot with 1/4c of apple cider vinegar and a just over a gallon of water, brought it to a boil, turned it down on low and let it simmer overnight.  Strain off the scum and presto!  you have broth.  Now add it to soup or anything you need cooking liquid for.  The addition of herbs while cooking (I like the traditional rosemary, sage and thyme team) makes for a very flavorful sipping broth.  Some cool it and skim all the fat off of the top.  Personally, I skim off half (or less) of the fat when barely room temp and never when cool because I do not want to lose the gelatin.  If you are eating a healthy animal (grassfed, locally and humanely raised) then animal fat is GOOD for you.  Yep, that's what I said, good for you.  If the meat is commercially raised, well, I recommend not eating it, but definitely do not eat the fat...fat stores the most toxins, but that is a discussion for another time really.  Soon, I think. 

What you are getting from this broth nutritionally can not be found in muscle meats alone.  There are more available minerals than you could imagine (we used some vinegar to break down the minerals in those bones remember?), marrow, protein, collagen and gelatin from cartilage and all the other wonderful nutritional benefits of meat times one thousand.   The minerals available: calcium, magnesium and potassium, among others, are commonly known as electrolytes.  Does that open up some ideas of how we can use this broth?  It is the ultimate food to revive sick ones, weak ones, old ones, all ones.  After a workout, ditch the gatorade and the protein powder, go for the bone broth.  Right now, we are using this to hydrate and nourish our family back to good health after some of us had violent stomach viruses and others are experiencing an upper respiratory one.  Light and easy to digest, it is the perfect sick food whether acute or chronic.

Broth is also exceptionally healing for anyone with immune disorders, whether over active (like food or seasonal allergies) or auto-immune diseases.  Adrenal deficiency, under-active thyroid, hormonal imbalance or anyone having fertility problems or anything else related to the endocrine system is well treated with this mineral rich food.  Osteoporosis or osteopenia?  Bone broth is the answer.  A daily cup drank alone or used in other foods would be adequate but the more the better really.  Gut damage from candida, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, and food allergies is best healed with broth taken often.  If you feel stressed, fatigued, depressed you need broth.  Did I leave anyone out?  Even if you consider yourself perfectly healthy, all diets will be enriched with this amazingly nutritious food. 

Homemade bone broth needs to be brought back to its respected position in the kitchen and in our lives.   We waste less and gain so much by using the complete animal, showing it more respect than using less nutrient dense muscle meat only.  For more info check out the book Nourishing Traditons by Sally Fallon, and if you want to know more about the benefits of fat, read the book she co-authored with Mary Enig, Eat Fat Lose Fat. 

This post was inspired by the The Nourished Kitchen's Real Food Challenge.  A 28 day program to get you started on a traditional whole food diet or re-inspire veterans.  Click on over and give your cupboard an overhaul.  I will be following along with the program and commenting here in the blog when I see fit ;)

Support  Williams Island Farm and give your local economy an overhaul.  You can contact them for info now or see them at the Main St Farmer's Market this spring.     

Happy healing,

BTW...meat eating can be a source of controversy with those pursuing health.  Know that I welcome ALL comments and discussion on the topic.  That is what a blog is really, right?  Public discussion, not just me blabbing all the time :)