Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This Warm Weather

Sixty seven degrees today,
at 1 o'clock when I climbed into the car
hair wet from sweating and even hotter still as I felt the stale car air.
Sixty seven degrees and sky so blue the mountains stood out sharp--
the rocks jagged and broken alongside the blackened remnants of trees holding tight to the horizon.
What is this weather?
The bees gone now for over two weeks may start buzzing around again looking for nectar.
A lone purple aster jetting out from the morphing patch of thyme that is slowly consuming my strawberry patch.
And the sky!
No clouds there, only the vast emptiness that causes a blue so deep it pierces my soul.
My soul that has begun its annual longing for the sky's gift of snow.
A longing that can be soothed only with the darkest gray of snow-filled clouds that continue to provide for hours on end.
A longing that rears up once the skies begin to clear--even if only for a moment.
Where is that snow?
Those clouds?
I am yearning to trod through trails laden deep with cover...to feel my heart rate climb while walking at altitude.
To stand at the top of an open run, the trees splayed apart as if beckoning me to fall free.
And yet, I am ever hopeful. Hoping that soon this will not simply be a longing in my mind, but reality.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Happy 91st! Grandma!!

My Grandma is truly awesome. There really is no other way around it.

Today she celebrates her 91st year on this planet, and I think that's just fine.

Of all the people who have influenced me in a positive manner, I'd have to say she was top of the list. A numero-uno.

I'm so fortunate to have grown up with my wonderful grandparents. My grandma took us under her wing many a summer, winter, spring, and fall day. And she sure did haul us around with her. Back then, there were no seat belt laws, car seats, or any of that safety stuff. But we did have Grandma!

The best memories?

Hot dog pita bread sandwiches, with home-made tomato relish while reading Mad magazines and Sunsets, out in the hammock. Tomatoes, corn, and apples. Apricots, peaches, and cucumbers.

Trying to keep up with Jim and Denise riding horses in the pond, coming in to eat, going back out to the pond, and then spending the rest of the day riding horses in the river. Did Grandma ever complain about sand on the floor?

(I think I better recuse myself from that answer, or else I better learn from example.)

Knowing she was making jewelery while I was lounging in the hammock.

Wandering around getting stickers in my socks, nearly falling into the wells I didn't even know were wells until I was on top of them, slinking back into the house to pretend I hadn't been climbing over the wells, and then begging for a snack--usually peanut butter crackers, so that I could cool off and chill out. Until the next time, that is...

Riding in the back of the Ranchero to Santa Fe.

Riding to the dump in the back of the Ranchero.

Ghost stories under the stars.

Sleeping on the roof.

Walking back home after ghost stories on the roof!! SCARY!!!

Listening to stories about driving to Mexico in the Ambulance.

Ghost stories in the Ambulance. SCARY!!!

Going to lunch with your friends.

Rancho de Chimayo.

Going to lunch with my friends. (Remember Julia?)

Yesterday.

Today.

Tomorrow.

You rock, Grandma!!!

(Too bad we never got a picture of my head all wrapped up in those bandages the day my ear got ripped open on the playground...I just remember you coming in to the nurse's office to get me, and by some stroke of karmatic luck there had to have been about 22 other kids all bandaged up and broken apart and hoping that the next grown-up to walk in the door was their own...and there you were, which made my heart open wide, and you took one look at the sorry lot of us, shook your head, and said, "what have we here, a war zone?" I couldn't help but beam with joy walking out of there with you. Thanks for picking me up that day!)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Of Viruses and Antivirals

Cold season has already hit several home runs within my family circle. After the mass humanity of Vegas, and surely what must have been armies of billions of germs, I brought home a lovely virus that began with an iron fist clamp down in my throat, muscle pain in my cheeks and neck, and a headache that felt as if I'd swallowed a gallon of ice cream in one gulp.

Fortunately, my aresenal of herbs was well stocked, and I began taking Gan Mao Ling right away, along with teaspoonfuls of echinacea ever 2 hours, and a specific tea blend that helped to open my pores and initiate sweating. The tea blend I chose for this particular cold was yarrow, elder, eucalyptis, and mint. I alternated this tea with another beverage of hot water, 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, and honey. Additionally, I took 4 capsules of olive leaf 4 times a day for about 5 days. I drank no coffee, consumed no alcoholic beverages, and drank only soup for 3 days. By day 2 I felt okay. Within 4 days I felt nearly as good as new, and within 7 days I was back on the pony feeling as if nothing had invaded my body or my previous week. Pretty good! I thought. I have only been successful at warding off a cold so quickly only one other time.

I guess all those hours poring over the chinese herbal manuals and discerning the differences between an invasion of wind-heat vs. wind-cold and internal pathogens vs. external pathogens helped me after all.

Of course, when things wnet south less than 3 weeks later, I thought "oh great! a repeat of last winter!" So, off to the acupuncturist I went, this time for some professional opinionating about my own theories. The stress load I'd been dealing with didn't seem to be helping. Between work, a child undergoing her own extreme anxieties and emotional turbulence, a dog that unexpectedly died, and trying to balance work, exercise, keeping up my home, tending to the family, a few outside projects, and a before winter To-Do list the size of Texas, I was starting to feel as if my body was falling apart.

My problem, it turns out, is that I am an extreme optimist. Not only do I think I can do it all, I try, and I don't slow down unless forced to.

The acupuncturist took one look at my tongue, and in her broken English said "You under too much stress." "Thank you," I said, "for noticing." She gave me a strong dose of a calming formula, put me up on the table, and began treatment immediately, even though she had first said the treatment would come later this week. "I must be messed up," I thought, but felt immediate relief once the needles were in.

"Go home and take naps two times week," she ordered. Knowing better, I still said, "but I like to exercise at lunch...you know, get out and be alone, on the trails, running." She nodded and mumbled, and said "I know. But you rest. You need nap two times week." I promised to try.

And I will. It just hasn't worked out with my schedule yet this week.

But during the strength and conditioning class I enjoy on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I felt like my lungs were sodden with peat moss, and I just couldn't get my legs to not feel like anvils, and my head still felt a bit swooshy and weezy. I don't feel sick. Just...tired.

So, maybe tomorrow, instead of going to class, I'll just go home a take a nap.

The antivirals I'm keeping stocked up on, however, for the kids, as well as the adults include:

Olive leaf
Andrographis
Lemon Balm
Isatis



Gan Mao Ling and Yin Chiao are two Chinese formulas that are recommended at the first sign of colds. They contain antiviral herbs as well as diaphoretic herbs that help to open the pores and stimulate sweating.

The theory behind diaphoretics is that they help to eliminate sickness more quickly and prevent a sickness from travelling deeper into the body, where you tend to get more of the awful symptoms and a lingering illness.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

Travels and Tribulations

There is the Vegas in my mind's eye, and there the Vegas that is not. The Vegas of my embedded body memory is the Vegas where tortoises walk across your front lawn after a desert downpour, and where you travel out to the desert to see the tarantulas migrate. The Vegas where swimming pools are a dime a dozen, and breakfast on Sunday is delicious and cheap. The Vegas where the Strip means glamour and success, and is special place to go.

There are the Vegas memories I received from hearing the conversations of my parents and their peers when I was just a Vegas tot scrambling over ashtrays with still-burning butts while I played with my Fisher-Price 8-wheeled ride-on truck.

The Vegas of last week, however, was the Vegas of Mass Humanity. The word Zoomanity kept erupting in my head over and over as we went up the escalators, down the escalators; up the elevators, down the elevators; up the stairs, down the stairs; through the casinos, back through the casinos; waiting in line for $4.99 coffee, waiting in line for $2.50 banana; waiting in line for a tram, waiting in line in traffic. Endless masses of humanity--hands and bodies, and stinky smells, cigarettes and high heels, tourists and locals, casino workers, porn peddlers, faces, butts, and the unrelenting afternoon heat. Oh yes, and those masses of bodies.

Speaking of bodies, both the highlight and the lowlight of the trip was a trip to the Bodies Exhibition that is currently showing at the Luxor. I have been interested in seeing the exhibit since I first heard of it from my physical therapist friend who flew to LA just to see the showing a few years back. In viewing the slideshow that the Luxor provides, I was psyched to see the first image of a mother with her small children discovering what our insides are made of. I should've taken closer note of the constrained baby in the backpack.

The Vegas family vacation all began with picking up my Kindergartner from school, rushing home to down some lunch, quickly packing the final necessities into her pack, and heading down to Albuquerque to catch our plane. My other half, who had already been in Vegas for 3 days, had smartly carried all our luggage, liquid containers, etc. so I hoped for an easy transition through Airport Security with my two pups. No problems!

We arrive at the gate, two eager kittens quivering in anticipation hot on my heels, each wheeling their wheely backpacks full of snacks, toys, and books. We fill up our water bottles in the nearest fountain, and check in at the gate. "Looks like the plane is running early," I thought to myself as I glanced at the board and saw a 5:15 arrival time under our flight number. The girls pretended to be patient for about 5 minutes, when my youngest started wailing in frustration. The young college kid next to us shifted uncomfortably and logged into his laptop. "I need go poop!!" She shouted out at about 98 decibels, at which point the college kid, popped in his iPod earphones. "When's the plane going to be here, Moooommm, when????" My oldest started in with full whining bravado. "Should be any minute," I whispered, hoping they'd take my cue. The next few minutes seemed to ebb and flow with whining, crying, moaning, mock laughter, and lots of hushed whispers from me. My oldest threw herself on the floor, and knocked into the shoes of an elderly gentlemen across the aisle. With grandfatherly grace, he simply moved his feet aside and continued reading his NY Times without so much as a glance. I asked that she respect other people's space, and she inched closer to me, but still sprawled out in the middle of the floor.

I sighed. "What was I thinking, haven't I told myself I wouldn't do this by myself again?" I sighed again and checked my watch. I checked my boarding pass again to make sure of the time of departure--4:35 pm. Wait, wait, wait, I thought, what am I thinking?? I did the quick calculation in my head and realized the plane was running late. Cripes! I thought. How did I get that messed up? We were already over an hour early, now we'd have to wait another 40 minutes? Actually another 65, but by that time, who was counting?

In my delirious haze, I neglected to turn my phone on, or call my Honey to let him know we'd be late...we'll only be a few minutes late, I kept thinking.
I made the brilliant decision to take a shuttle for $20 to the hotel, instead of a taxi. Whoops. We were nearly the last group to be dropped off, after enduring rush hour traffic on the Strip with a crazy shuttle driver. I have to give him props, though, for maneuvering that bus through places I would've taken out the quarter panels on. Finally we get to the hotel, hook up with Daddy, and set out to find out room. The girls are starving, we have nothing but Tootsie Pops and Fruit Leathers.

After an hour of walking and bypassing eateries with no lines, we ended up back where we started, and waited in line. The food was mediocre, but provided some sustenance. Our 6 yr. old hid under the dining table for the duration of the meal, but fortunately we we in a corner booth, so nobody but the waiter seemed to notice, or care.

Back to the room to make plans for the next day. Swimming, Interbike, F.A.O. Schwartz toy store, shopping at a grocery store, and dinner. Pretty simple stuff. After a morning of swimming in the pretty fancy pool, we headed to the Venetian to find Papa and stroll through Interbike. After 88 minutes of driving 2 1/2 blocks and doing 188 passes through the Venetian parking garage, I finally found a spot. The girls and I headed through the Venetian to find the Interbike show.









Entering Bicycle Madness at Interbike 2008
Waves and Waves of people passed all around us and eventually we made it to the show. I got badged up, and we headed into the hall. "I'm staaaarrrrrvvvving" both girls wailed in absolute pity at the same moment. A hustle-shuffle-buffle-bustle moment ensued, and my oldest somehow managed to boot my youngest from the stroller and stole her spot. We had barely entered the doors, when we decided to turn around and find food. It was straight up noon.

The Venetian is a lovely hotel, and for all the massive amounts of consumption that Vegas offers up each day--the Venetian is one of the finest. We made our way to the central palazza and proceeded to wait to be called to a table. Little did I know, but the Venetian offers up entertainment for those strolling and waiting. As we proceeded to take a break by sitting down on a small stage housing a statue, I discovered the statue was a real person. I should've taken more notes about my youngest child's potential, as she shot straight up onto the stage and stood next to the Statue, and refused to come back down. The kind statue moved gently, probably trying to shoo her away, but my stubborn one stood her ground. Finally we convinced her that we were going to eat and she should come along. This is when I discovered that my oldest daughter was trembling in fright about the Statue. I never cease to be amazed at what will turn a perfectly grumpy and hungry child into a sniveling pile of drivel.

Fortunately, the rest of the day went as planned.

Friday we enjoyed the Shark Reef at the Mandalay Bay, which the girls and I had been to before. It rivals most far-from sea aquariums, and has some pretty cool creatures, as well as architecture.









The "Siginator" enjoying the second tunnel at Shark Reef.

My nearly 3-year old had found a stuffed sting-ray she named Towel while we were at the 3-story toy store the previous day, so we had fun meeting and petting some real sting-rays named "Towel" like this little guy...














After spending a whole lot of money to go through the Shark Reef and eat at the Mandalay Bay Garden Buffet, we decided to take the tram over to the Luxor and go through the Bodies Exhibition . My squeamish sweetie decided to "wait it out" so the girls and I bought tickets and went on in. Being a museum exhibit, and not your typical Vegas photo-op, all visitors are asked to turn off their cell phones and put all cameras away. We entered the first room which housed several small Plexiglas displays and one real skeleton. There were probably 30 people or so in the room. Everyone spoke in hushed whispers. The Docent asked if anyone had questions. I watched the ""Siginator" stroll up to the skeleton, which was not enclosed in any sort of protective case, and knew what was to occur before I could react. Amongst the quiet whispers and quiet sounds of fascination and wonder, I saw this child walk up to the skeleton and reach out as if it were all in slow motion. She clasped the femur of this poor, dead person just as I thrust my arms out in an attempt to prevent the connection. I grabbed my child just as she threw down the iron grip around the femur. As I pulled her away, the skeleton's leg came with us. She released her grip and an amazing crash enveloped the room. The entire room heaved an enormous collective gasp and then utter and complete silence. Eyes pierced through my skin from every direction. In astonishment, I stared wide-eyed at the Docent and she stared wide-eyed back at me. "I'm sure we can fix it," she stammered at me, and I prayed that they could. Thoughts of being ushered away, casino security, payments in the thousands all ran through my head. But suddenly, the skeleton was made whole again.

And just as quickly the entire room emerged into a sound of hurried, hushed whispers of scorn and wonder. I felt my face turn seventeen shades of red and then my baby, my youngest child, erupted into a 100 decibel wail. Obviously the entire series of events had stunned and frightened her. I felt like running away, crawling under a rock, departing the exhibit--well except for the fact that the tickets cost so much. I comforted her as best as I could, endured the remaining minutes of embarrassment, and then we continued on through the rest of the displays, my child clinging to me like a monkey. Thankfully.

The show was fascinating, however. And I do recommend it to most anyone.

After all the day's excitement, after returning to our room, we decided to go escalator hopping for a couple hours. Nothing like going up and down and up and down to make everyone feel better!














We decided to get married, too.

The next day we headed off to Red Rocks to attempt a route before the temps climbed above 95. We got up there around 9 am, and the girls and I strolled leisurely up to the climbs, while their Climber Daddy booked it up in order to secure a route, just in case of crowds. The heat was already unbearable, but once at the climbs we managed to settle into a lovely shady
nook. Some teenage kids were climbing outside for their first time. Always a thrill to watch! (While secretly hoping that someone taught them how to get down safely.) We enjoyed the morning, and the escape from the cigarettes and casino noise. Once the heat became thoroughly too much, we went off to lunch at BJs Brew House--a very delicious option! The food was delicious and reasonably priced, and the freshly brewed beers were craft and tasty.

Back to the pool for some serious swimming and meathouse-watching before it closed. The slide was fantastic, but I sure do wonder how those half-asleep lifeguards deal with all those drunken swimmers. Between drunk grandmas, drunk frat boys, drunk old men, it was astonishing to see that no one had biffed it.

After another night of escalator hopping and strolling around Caesar's Palace and the Bellagio, we got packed and ready to go. Enduring one more round of insane Zoomanity while traveling to the airport and through security, we managed to get to the gate without too much wear and tear--with the exception that we lost Signe's shoes somewhere along the way. We discovered the small-town joys of being a New Mexican when we ran into an old friend at the gate and passed the hour away chatting about home. The girls were much more accustomed to waiting, and not a single wail erupted during our wait to catch the plane.
Now, I need a vacation to recover from my vacation...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Woefully Behind

But intending to catch up soon!
In the mean time, it's off to Vegas...the land of my birth place, tortoises, tarantulas, and wild burros. Maybe we'll see some!

The 15-acre pool oasis at the Flamingo ought to be tops for the girls. What is Vegas if not an exploration of absolute consumerism, wastefulness, and enjoyment all wrapped up into one tidy, pretend-we're-not-in-the-desert package?

Interbike festivities, and climbing at Red Rocks. Looking forward to a long-overdue vacation.

Perhaps I'll be able to post some while there.

Cheers!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Herb of the Day -- Lemon Balm

Lemon Balm
Melissa officinalis
Family: Labiatae (Mint)

Description: Up to 3’ high, 2 ft diameter. Leaves oval and serrated and come to a point. Flowers are small, white, tube-shaped, approximately 1/3 of an inch long. Whole plant smells strongly of lemon.

Melissa, in Greek, means Bee. The name seems fitting. Each morning for the last several weeks, I’ve woken up to the gentle buzz of bees working their magic from the Lemon balm flowers growing immediately outside my bedroom window. Lemon balm has a lengthy herbal history, and has been cultivated in the Mediterranean for well over 2000 years.

Lemon balm has historically been acclaimed as an herb “to make the heart merry,” according to Avicenna. Paracelcus called it the “elixir of life” and it was called the “heart’s delight” throughout southern Europe.

Lemon balm is considered to be cold, dry, sour, and slightly bitter in energetics. It’s actions are considered to be sedative, anti-depressant, diaphoretic, antiviral, antibacterial, carminative, antispasmodic, a restorative nervine, and a digestive stimulant.

Lemon balm has been indicated for a variety of uses that run the gamut from skin care to respiratory to digestive to circulatory to genito-urinary to nerves and emotions. It is especially useful for asthma, bronchitis, colds, and flus—and even more-so in children. It is helpful for indigestion, nausea, vomiting, and flatulence. It has been prescribed for painful menses and other menstrual problems—often as a result of emotional imbalance. It is often used for anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, migraines, nervous tension, shock, and vertigo. Lemon balm is said to help one to revitalize the inner self, assisting in promoting calmness and centeredness. It helps to dispel dejection during times of grief or bereavement, engendering a state of quiet peace.

In Chinese medicine, Melissa is said to be sour, spicy, and cool. It affects the lungs and the liver. Its primary action is as a tranquilizer, however it is very gentle, albeit effective. The hot tea helps to bring on a sweat that can help to relieve colds, flu, and fevers. It has been prescribed for mumps, cold sores, and other viral conditions.

Ritual uses of Melissa have primarily been the pursuit of romance. It was often made into a charm to help bring a lover into one’s life and is said to attract romance.

I’ve got more Melissa officinalis than I need, so much, in fact, that this year, I’m going to experiment in every possible way. Apparently Melissa is quite useful as a culinary herb. I’ll include a few recipes to tantalize the taste buds. The French employ this herb in custards and both green and fruit salads. Just a few of the young leaves chopped and added over the top. It is also used to enhance the flavor of fresh steamed or sautéed vegetables, light grains, roast chicken and fish. It can be added to cooked rice, or in the dipping butter for artichoke leaves. Mmmm….Another suggestion is to stuff a handful of fresh leaved with minced green onions and garlic under the skin of chicken breasts, sprinkle with lemon-pepper and olive oil, and roast, bake, or grill. Fresh leaves can be chopped and added to yogurt with fresh berries, or added to a tall chilled glass of white or rose wine. Melissa is known as a traditional wine herbs, and is often used to flavor liqueurs and cordials. It can also be added during the brewing process for flavoring wheat and lemon-scented beers.

RECIPES

Blueberry Lemon Balm Muffins

12 lemon balm leaves
1 cup superfine or powdered sugar
6 Tbsp fresh lemon balm, minced
1 ½ cup fresh blueberries
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup milk
1/3 cup safflower oil
1 egg

Bury the 12 lemon balm leaves in the superfine sugar in an airtight container. Let stand overnight. Combine all ingredients, waiting to fold in the fresh blueberries until last. Divide batter into muffin tins. Sprinkle each muffin with a little of the lemon-scented sugar. Bake at 400 for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden. When cool, sprinkle lightly with additional lemon-scented sugar. (An Herbal Collection)

Herb and Vegetable Stir-Fry

1 head cauliflower, cut into florettes
5 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
1 bunch broccoli, cut into florettes
1 White onion
(OR ANY COMBINATION OF STIR-FRY VEGGIES OF YOUR CHOOSING)
1 tsp ginger powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dillweed, snipped fine
6 fresh lemon balm leaves, cut small
2 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
4 Tbsp Tamari
4 scallions chopped fine
1 Tbsp brown sugar or honey
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1 cup cooked rice or vermicelli noodles

Prepare sauce of oil, vinegar, tamari, scallions, sesame seeds, and brown sugar or honey. Set aside. Mix vegetables and herbs and sauté at medium heat in oil. Continue to stir slowly until tender crisp. Mix in the sauce and simmer slowly for a few more minutes and spoon over cooked rice or noodles.

Tropical Smoothie with Mint and Lemon Balm

1 medium banana, peeled and slices
1 medium mango, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 medium papaya, peeled, seeded, and chopped
3 cups skim milk
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup fresh lemon balm leaves
2 Tbsp honey.
Combine all ingredients in a blender,
puree, and serve immediately. Garnish with
sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm, if desired.
(The Herbal Palate)

REFERENCES:

HERBALPEDIA™ by The Herb Growing & Marketing Network

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Herb of the Day -- Hawthorn Berry -- An herb for the Heart

On Friendship and Communication

While swimming the other day I found myself lost in deep thought. I find this happens to me frequently while swimming, which I suspect is better than being lost in the deep end. So, there I was, counting my laps, and mulling through this ever-perpetual, consistently annoying confliction that has been plaguing my brain for the last 21 months. “Why can I not resolve this issue?” I asked myself for the seventy-seven-thousandth-three-hundred-fifty-second time. And thus began my memory replay of important people and good friends, acquaintances, and friendships turned bad; as well as a reflection upon myself as a human, colleague, acquaintance, enemy, woman, and a friend. Deep thought in the shallow end!

I thought all the way back to my first really close friend. Sarah was 1 year older than me, a brunette with big front teeth, and she lived with her dad on a hill above the ancient adobe house my parents were renting. That was the first stunning revelation I had as a child—that some kids didn’t live with BOTH parents. Divorce was seemingly uncommon, and the fact that my friend’s mother lived more than half a continent away was difficult to swallow. “She didn’t want me.” Sarah would say bluntly, while smacking chewing gum between her teeth. But given the tone of her voice I knew that was just her 5-year old way of showing off in a convoluted and sad kind of way. Apparently it was much more complicated than that, but I’ve never been told the whole story, and thus I’ve been left to my own fabrications.

Sarah and I, however, had a long and tumultuous friendship that had many periods of extreme joy and elation, and definite periods of difficulty. We played together a lot, and we were fortunate to have an ideal childhood set-up of ponds, a ditch, massive amounts of space to roam in, hundreds of trees, a gaggle of dogs, a smattering of chickens, and a couple of ducks. Given the large acreage of all the houses surrounding us, our absolute remoteness away from the real world, tucked in as we were in El Rancho, New Mexico; as well as our minority status as Anglos in a community that was largely Hispanic, we stuck together like glue.

Sticking together saved our gringa butts a few times as kids, like the day the bus driver decided he didn’t feel like driving the extra mile to our bus stop when I was 6 and she 7. We held hands and trembled most of the way, fighting off mongrel dogs and hiding from a number of high-school-aged cholos driving their lowriders along the dirt road. The first one we didn’t hide from scared us so silly we were sure would end up knifed in the river, like in the stories my brother told on occasion. As we made it closer to home, we could hear her dogs barking, and she wisely said, “They’re barking to let us know they can smell us and they are waiting for us.” This seemed somehow comforting, although I did wonder why they didn’t just run down the road to greet us. They chased cars all day long, anyway.

In reflecting upon my current conflicting emotions, I wondered if my ability to interact with people was influenced by these ups and downs with my childhood friend. Perhaps at the root of it all, I mused. There is no doubt that Sarah and I taught each other a lot about relationships. We had a remarkable ability to cause our whole world to explode around us, and then minutes later clamber up a big cottonwood tree, or wade through the ditch as if nothing bad had happened. “Why can’t it be like that now?” I pondered.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen master whose work I’ve become very fond of. If only I could maintain all his teachings in the up-front region of my brain so that every one of my interactions with others could be maintained with a positive, smooth, outflow of awareness and without reaction and the subsequent negative thoughts that may arise when communications head south. I’ve never U-Tubed any of his talks, but I imagine that he’s a calm and collected person whose awareness, joy, and centeredness is contagious.

In his understated book, Peace is Every Step he has a chapter titled “Internal Formations.” When I first read this chapter I realized how perfectly it described my recent conflicting events. Such a simple concept-- that knots are being tied up inside me, and all the thoughts and communications, emotions and feelings I have only seem to make them stronger and more complex.

Mr. Hanh is simple in his statement, “When we have a sensory input, depending on how we receive it, a knot may be tied in us.”[1]

“If we practice full awareness, we will be able to recognize internal formations as soon as they are formed, and we will find ways to transform them.” [2] and finally,

“If we know how to live every moment in an awakened way, we will be aware of what is going on in our feelings and perceptions of the present moment, and we will not let knots form or become tighter in our consciousness.” [3]

It sounds so graceful and simple and I understand fully what must be done. But I am simply a mortal human, and not a Zen Master. I work and have kids, and I focus on my personal goals and priorities, as well as maintain the health and well-being of my family and household. I’m not seeking out excuses, but what am I to do? I’ve been struggling to untie these fetters in my soul for over a year now!

The convoluted intertwinings of friendships and acquaintances that take place in a small town cannot be adequately explored within a few paragraphs. I’m hoping that this, too, shall pass…

Now, back to the plants.

Hawthorn Berry
Crataegus spp.

Hawthorns are a widespread group of shrubs, which in our area are quite indistinct...that is you probably wouldn't notice it if you tripped over it, and even then you would be likely to mistake it for something else, namely a rose, even though it has nearly no thorns and really doesn't look like one.

I found my first Hawthorn last summer, while exploring a lovely section of the East Fork of the Jemez River. I had mistaken it for a rose. And then, upon inspecting it closer, my heart, so to speak felt drawn to it. Look at it's lovely purple fruit, I wondered to myself, taste it...Mmmm...sweet, yet tart, Yes! This is the lovely herb I'd been hearing so much about the previous year amongst my herbal classmates.

It is a notably small shrub, although I suspect it could grow to be about 10 or 12 feet in height. It has small, coarse-toothed leaves, hairless twigs that appear almost mauve in color behind the typical brown bark. The flowers are small, white, and in clusters, and the fruit are small, and range from red before they are ripe to a nearly purple-black, and they appear apple-like and very similar to rose hips--but with a much more delicate skin. It is a genuinely attractive little shrub, but has no airs about it.

ACTIONS

Medicinally, Hawthorn is considered to be an excellent nutritive tonic and a restorative tonic for heart and blood vessels. It dilates the coronary artery and improves blood flow to the heart. It strengthens the heartbeat and regulates its rhythm. It normalizes blood pressure. Additionally, it is considered a connective tissue tonic. Hawthorn is safe during pregnancy, and can be used during the later stages of pregnancy if the blood pressure tends to run slightly higher than normal.

USES

Hawthorn has been indicated specifically for degenerative heart disease, arteriosclerosis, aging heart, smoker's heart, heart weakness due to debilitating or infectious disease; weak or irregular heartbeat, and high blood pressure. It has also been prescribed for injured connective tissues such as injured ligaments and tendons, arthritic joints, varicose veins, and degenerative diseases associated with these. 4

CAUTIONS

Hawthorn may potentiate the effects of Digitalis. Patients taking digitalis heart medication should seek consultation with their Dr. before taking Hawthorn, or supplements containing Hawthorn.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Hawthorn has long been associated with the heart, both physically and metaphorically. Many herbal cordial recipes include hawthorn amongst the primary ingredients, especially for romantic cordials--aphrodisiacs among them!


References:
1 Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step, page 64
2 Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step, page 65
3 Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step, page 67

4 Ed Smith, Therapeutic Herb Manual, page 44

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Peak of the Summer

Summer, for me, is the pinnacle of the year. Whether this is due to my birthday being in July, or whether this is simply the manner in which my brain categorizes the year, I’m unsure. Each season is full of its own beauty and wonder and I appreciate them all (except, possibly, the wind in the spring, which I could live without; but I suspect it is vital to many aspects of this region.).

Summer, though…summer is it. The scent of chlorine saturated towels and sunscreen, the sound of flip flops and the buzzing of bees. The flowers waving in light breezes, and the coolness of the evening as the sun slowly disappears behind the mountains…these things satiate my summer satisfaction.

Six years ago today, my first baby was born—without pain blockers, medical interventions, or being taken away to be placed in some plastic container down the hall. Having kept several people awake all night long, I was left on my own with my new baby while everyone else went home to sleep. I, however, was buzzing with energy, despite my 31-hour marathon. Additionally, I felt about as motherly as an acorn lying in the dirt—what was I supposed to be doing? Thinking? Saying? Singing? I wasn’t quite sure. And nothing miraculously came into play once I was an actual Mom, and not just another pregnant lady. The motherly instincts didn’t suddenly come “on-line” like my satellite TV did once hooked up.

I was amazed, however, at how remarkably beautiful this teensy-tiny baby looked, at how long her fingernails were, and that she had not one, but two sets of dimples on each tiny cheek. I did feel remarkably better to have space around my abdominal organs, and I certainly knew that it felt great to finally be done being pregnant. I guessed that I would be able to figure most things about being a parent out, and that whatever I couldn’t, there would be books, other mamas, and grandmas to consult with.

Looking down on that remarkably perfect little face, I really didn’t know how I would change in the future. None of us can forsee the future anyway, whether we are parents or not. I had adamantly said that becoming a Mom wouldn’t change my lifestyle or interests, and for that most part that has been true. I did not, however, expect the deep realization that comes with knowing that should something happen to me, I would certainly decide to become a ghost so that I might have some influence on my kids’ day to day lives.

Reflecting back a short six years ago, I certainly never anticipated how much more motivation I would have to pursue my own interests, while nurturing the interests of my little ones. I didn’t realize that kids can be so remarkably goofy without anyone teaching them how to be, and that they come up with creative ways to say things through nothing more than their own working brain. My favorite? “I have a monster in my foot,” is what this oldest one says when her foot falls asleep. Who would’ve guessed?

Birthdays are special days for most people. A time to reflect on the past and to hope for the future. Perhaps a time to receive a welcomed gift, or to splurge a little on oneself. When I think back on the day that I brought this particular child out onto the planet, I am in awe of the magic of a growing and developing life. SO much to look forward to, and so many potential possibilities!
Happy Birthday, Honey Bee!!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ethnobotany and the Origins of Plant Knowledge

I'm reading a fascinating book by Harvard ethnobotany scholar, Wade Davis, better known for his book-turned-movie the Serpent and the Rainbow. The book I'm currently in the middle of, One River, Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest, is mind blowing. Having spent a good deal of time studying the ethnobotany of the Pacific Northwest native people, I have an interest in the topic. Having never been to the Amazon, and never really having a desire to travel there, I've suddenly changed my mind. Pictures in my mind of "savages," muddy serpent infested rivers, and thick, dark jungles must be a result of the sort of "history" that was given to my schoolmates and I during the 70s and 80s. Not only is this book re-educating me as to the real horrors of the Amazonian jungle--the Spaniards and Europeans and their "missionaries" who infested the jungle as early as the 1500s and continued their atrocities through the late 1800s, but it is also sparking some creative interest in reflecting on theories and ideas of how people came to know the many properties of plants and then created their own rituals for use and teaching.

The section of the book that caused me to again consider the origins of plant knowledge had to do with the late Harvard Ethnobotanist Richard Schultes, who is reknowned for his extensive studies of the Amazon flora and who lived amongst many different indigenous tribes during his time there in the first half of the 20th century. Dr. Schultes had already been living amongst the Amazon peoples for well over a decade, and had already identified and collected thousands of species of plants that were commonly employed for food, crafts, and intoxicant use. He had undergone a multitude of different ceremonies during which a vareity of different psychotropic plants were consumed or otherwise and made remarkably scientific observations about each of his experiences. A hippie of the 60s he was not--this man was all scholar and science. After having recently discovered the Amazonian beverage yage, Banisteriopsis caapi, and learning that a variety of different plants were used as admixtures to alter the effect of the original blend, Dr. Schultes began to ponder what most botanist don't often write about:

"The Amazonian flora contains literally tens of thousands of species. How had the Indians learned to identify and combine in this sophisticated manner these morphologically dissimilar plants that possessed such unique and complementary chemical properties? The standard scientific explanation was trial and error--a reasonable term that may well account for certain innovations--but at another level, as Schultes came to realize on spending more time in the forest, it is a euphemism which disguises the fact that ethnobotanists have very little idea how Indians originally made their discoveries.

"The problem with trial and error is that the elaboration of the preparations often involves procedures that are either exceedingly complex or yield products of little or no obvious value. Yage is an inedible, nondescript liana that seldom flowers. True, its bark is bitter, often a clue to medicinal properties, but it is no more so than a hundred other forest vines. An infusion of the bark causes vomiting and severe diarrhea, conditions that would discourage further experimentation. Yet not only did the Indians persist but they became so deft at manipulating the various ingredients that individual shamans developed dozens of recipes, each yielding potions of various strengths and nuances to be used for specific ceremonial and ritual purposes."

"The Indians naturally had their own explanations, rich cosmological accounts that from their perspective were perfectly logical: sacred plants that had journeyed up the Milk River in the belly of anacondas, potions prepared by jaguars, the drifting souls of shamans dead from the beginning of time. As a scientist Shultes did not take these myths literally, but they did suggest to him a certain delicate balance. 'These were the ideas,' he would write half a century later, 'of a people who did not distinguish the supernatural from the pragmatic.' The Indians, Schultes realized, believed in the power of plants, accepted the existence of magic, and acknowledged the potency of the spirit. Magical and mystical ideas entered the very texture of their thinking. Their botanical knowledge could not be separated from their metaphysics." (pp. 217 - 218)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Truly, the real question of how these native peoples learned of the variety of uses of a multitude of plants will most likely never be answered. The use of a few intoxicating plants may have lead to the knowledge of thousands of plants is the unstated premise. Now, as the rain forest is razed, and the individual native cultures and their millenia of traditions are being lost or westernized, I find only sadness. The fact that only a few students of the botany of South America have had such a short span of time to do their studies (far less time than is necessary for such a magnitude of botanical treasure), and that the jungle is now being destroyed faster than could have been imagined even a few decades ago is just stunning.

The sadness at the loss of habitat is overwhelming. Therefore, I plant my own habitat to surround my domain. Plants for food, plants for medicine.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Beat the Heat

Summer finally seems to be ramping up, even if those pesky winds don't seem to be leaving for summer vacation. This past weekend proved that once it warms up, it gets downright HOT. Of course, Spring also decided to prove that summer is still not officially here by unleashing a dose of snow at my house yesterday morning, and cooling the temps down once again.

However, I'm optimistic that summer will eventually decide to stay a while, and therefore I thought I'd write about herbs and foods that can help the body cool off after a nice round in the sun.
As we start to get into the swing of summertime activities our bodies may naturally be seeking things that are cool, especially if we tend to participate in activities that heat us up and then leave us parched and dehydrated--like mountain biking, road cycling, rock climbing, running, hiking, etc.

Some local residents are fortunate enough to have a membership to one of the lovely outdoor pools in the area, and others choose to head inside to the local aquatic center for a nice cool down swim.
Kiddie pools, sprinklers, and mud puddles are long known as the choice of cool down for most kids...I think kids just simply have an innate sense of how to have fun and regulate body temps all at the same time. As my daughter demonstrates so naturally...

Many foods and herbs are cooling as well, and can be enjoyed while one is sitting near the pool or the sprinkler...whatever the case may be! Many of these foods are obvious coolers that often end up on the table due to seasonal availability--like cucumbers and watermelon. However, most people probably don't realize that watermelon seed can be taken internally for "summer heat," which is characterized by symptoms of fever, ruddy skin, rapid pulse, and great thirst.

Most mints are cooling because they open the pores of skin and allow for a better transfer of sweat to the outside layer of skin, which will subsequently cool the body. Mint sun tea is often a hit at backyard BBQs and parties! Of course, if we want to have fun with mint, there are all kinds of recipes it can be added to: strawberry salsa with mint, thai soda, mojitos, ice cream, coconut and mint popsicles--you name it!

Chinese medicine has identified the inherent energy of all herbs and many foods into the categories of hot, warm, neutral, cool, and cold. The taste of individual foods often indicate its energy. Bitter foods, like endive or dandelion greens, tend to be cooling. Sour foods, like lemons, are refreshing and cool. Spicy foods, such as jalapenos, tend to be stimulating and heating. Salty foods, like seaweeds and miso, are cool and softening. Full and sweet foods, such as barley and winter squash, are considered neutral to slightly warming.

Summertime cooling foods can include whole-grain salads made from barley, wheat kernals, and mung beans. Tofu is also considered cooling, as is edamame. Vegetables that are cool include eggplant, lettuce, radish, spinach, mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts, summer squash, celery, asparagus, and broccoli.
Cold vegies include tomato, bamboo shoots, seaweed, and snowpeas. Most seasonal fruits are cool, such as pear, apple, peach, and apricot. But watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe are considered cold.

So, in light of all these ideas, it seems that the standard American summer BBQ sampler of fruit salads, green salads, iced tea, and watermelon all help us cool off. Good old potato salad and homemade ice cream help too!

Mmmmm...that all sounds too good!

Feel free to share your recipes for good old summer fare!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Brainy Maneuvers


I've had a link to my very brainy neuroscientist cousin's blog for quite some time. Sandra Aamodt and another neuroscientist, Sam Wang, recently published an informative and witty book called "Welcome to Your Brain, Why you Lose Your Car Keys, but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life" that is tailored for everyone, not just the neurophiles. Sandra and Sam were recently highlighted on NPRs All Things Considered, and given that I'm very excited for their success, I thought I'd share the links!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Herb of the Day--Yarrow

Wind, Rain, Cold, Snow, Sun, Heat, and do it all again! We've had a mixed bag of weather around here lately. Mostly, we've had months of cooler temps and lots of wind, but the last 2 weeks have been a roller-coaster of changes, that seem a little off for this time of May--something more commonly seen in April.
It started with some seriously cold wind the weekend of May 10th, that evolved to some much needed rain showers during the next week, which turned to snow, and then back to some lovely calm, sunny days for the weekend, to a seriously rapid rise to the mid-80s mid week, back to rain, and snow!
The heat felt more worse than pleasant as the HVAC unit in the building I work in was out, so while it was a lovely 78 degrees outside, it was nearly 90, stagnant, and sweltering in my office. To go home to a little hot-burning ember of a 2 year old with fever for two of those days, made the heat seem practically unbearable! Then the winds came back with a vengeance, and the snow, sleet, and hail came down with a roar all day yesterday. Currently--a gentle rain. Timing is a remarkable thing...

During the arduous, yet fun Jemez Mountain Trail Run, an acquaintance of mine had a mishap on the trail and thought she was through. Fortunately, due to a lack of pain, and a first aid kit at the Mitchell Aid Station, she was bandaged up and back on the trail passing me after no time! Due to the fact that I was suffering in my own way, my herbal repertoire was shoved way to the back of my brain when I came upon her, bleeding leg and all, on the trail. About 50 minutes and 1,540 feet of elevation gain later, I realized that I could have easily helped her stop the bleeding leg with a few simple steps. She hadn't passed me yet, and I assumed she was at ER awaiting stitches. Little did I know she'd come romping up behind me a mere matter of minutes later. Perhaps my subconscious intuition of her presence spurned my thoughts towards healing, rather than the 7.2 miles of running I had left before me. That and the fact that all around me, I kept seeing fresh, green signs of one of my favorite plant allies:
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, the Warrior's herb.
(drawing copyright Mimi Kamp, courtesty of Michael Moore)

In days of old, you know, like Brave Heart and the Knights of the Roundtable, men used to spend their days in battle. Since men were often a long ways from the comforts of their stone hearths, they often had to rely on emergency methods to take care of gaping wounds caused by the blades of their foes. Yarrow was one such tool these warriors could rely on.
A handful of the fresh leaves, chewed up into a green, sticky mess, and applied to a wound is a highly effective first aid to stop bleeding. If one chooses not to chew up the bitter tasting leaves, they can be reasonably mashed up by squeezing the leaves with your fingers. Oak can also be used this way, and oaks are even more easy to identify and be familiar with. The leaves from an oak scrub, or oak tree can similarly be chewed up into a pasty mush and applied to a wound to stop the bleeding and to decrease swelling and pain. The astringent nature of tannin is what makes both these common plants so useful.
So, note to myself, next time you are laboring through an arduous race by choice, don't let your herbal knowledge sink to the bottom of your brain, lost in the sludge of personal suffering and blatant muscle aching! Think about those who may be hurting more than you, and help them to see the little allies that might be growing around their feet--accessible and helpful.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tired Feet and New Spring Growth

After countless weeks of wind: strong wind, cold wind, windy wind, slow wind, and downright nasty wind, I have begun to notice signs of Spring. Real Spring! Not that smokey-hazy-pollen-ridden-wind-swept reality that it has been of late. But Spring...the kind where seventeen different shades of green can be seen as the new leaf buds emerge from their hunkered down curls.

Box Elder beginning to leaf out.

The season where the new spring shoots dive straight up into the air like green swords before unfurling their languid leaves and blossoms into all their beauty. The Spring of nursery rhymes and rhythms where the sight of shoots, buds and blooms invokes a ramble of repeating verses tumbling through my head.
This past Saturday I completed my longest run to date. (I find it amusing that if it had been a mountain bike ride, I would have considered it a "short one.") As I willed myself to continue for the last 1.2 miles, my feet were graciously looking forward to the effort being over. An amazing, and highly recommended 12.8 miles in Bandelier, however, was worth every minute! We ascended the South rim of Frijoles canyon and followed the rim west to the Upper Crossing of Frijoles canyon. Then we descended all the way down the canyon back to the Visitor Center.
Looking West along the Frijoles Rim Trail.
The scenery was stunning! Having never been above the Alcove House (Ceremonial Cave) I had to sometimes simply stop and gawk at the amazing cliff lines that rise straight from the streambed high into the air.
The "Narrows" within the Frijoles Canyon.
The long, gradual climb along the Frijoles Rim trail allows for unmatched views of the ruins within the canyon at the start, and the variety of plants and trees that weather the open and exposed regions on the mesa top. The climb starts in Pinon-Juniper woodland, extends through the recovering portion of burned area from the La Mesa Fire of 1977, and then enters Ponderosa forest before the descent into the canyon. All the way down the canyon I was continually sighing my Ooohss and Ahhhss at the first sightings of my favorite plants--stinging nettles, columbine, chickweed, valerian, clematis, horsetail, and yarrow.
Columbine blooming in the canyon bottom.
The multiple river crossings were lessons in balance and I was continually shocked to discover that I had none each time I had to slow down and work my way across the specifically-placed boulders to ease the progress. As my dear friend and future acupuncturist said, "Running makes you blood deficient, and blood deficiency makes you dizzy," which was the best reason I could find for my lack of any sort of balance at each crossing. Considering she joined in on the run, I figured she knew what she was talking about!
Clematis Vines in the Canyon.
After miles of elegant cliff lines, rock-hopping river crossings, a few surprise hill climbs, and amazing views, I finally reached the Alcove House and was suddenly bombarded with the throngs of mid-morning Saturday visitors. Where I had been previously listening only to the sounds of the river, song birds, the rhythmic pounding of my feet on the dirt, as well as my own gasping, I began hearing the happy chatter of kids walking the trail for possibly the first time, and all the other people making their way up the trail and the ladders. This last 1.2 miles was the most arduous for me, as I knew that the end was near, but I still had to finish that last bit of trail that I knew so well.
The tired-foot treatment began the next day, to allow for all potential muscle swelling to subside. I lit some moxa for moxibustion therapy for my feet and ankles. Holding the moxa rolls close to skin (but not too close!!) helps to increase blood circulation. Remarkably, all soreness in my feet disappeared after about 20 minutes of using the moxa. I was very impressed! This is something I will continue to do between now and shortly after the BIG race I've signed up for--the culimnating event for all this running training I've been doing. Then it's back on the bike for me!
Moxibustion, Traumeel ointment, nervines for the tired muscles, Eleuthero and Rhodiola for stamina, and lots of hot-tubbing and rest!
A solid start to the spring and summer!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Down Time in the Desert



I am remarkably overdue in creating a new post. This is due to the fact that I finally was able to steal away and leave the regular realities of home behind for a few days. After bathing in red desert sand for six days, I'm feeling a bit more centered, calm, and refreshed. Some of this sand came in the form of a sand shower--that is when the wind blows so hard, the very finest sand penetrates every fabric possible (including metal), and scours away the surfaces of skin, hair, teeth, and eyes and you are left feeling as though you visited a fine spa for a whole body scrub, only you didn't have to pay anything at all. And the sand doesn't come off when you're done. However, given that when the wind slowed to a minor squall, and we could hear eachother talk again, it seemed that the coating of sand was just another fine aspect of camping in the desert. After a couple days, you don't even notice it in your drinks and in your food!

Regardless, I've been busily trying to catch up to all that needs tending to, and this blog is one of those things.

I had to jump right back into the training fire this week, especially since I've signed myself up for the grueling Atomic Man Duathlon's Fat Man Course. Ack!! It sounded good three weeks ago when I was feeling very good about my training schedule, but now with nearly two weeks off save for a couple beautiful mountain bike rides, a short desert run, and ZERO time on the road bike, I'm feeling a bit nervous about my whole choice of endeavors.

Plus, thinking I would have some time to ride the long lonely road into Canyonlands while on vacation, my poor road bike endured the sand showers as well, and is likely containing an abnormal amount of sand in places it should not be.

It is quite likely that after Sunday's race, I'll be in dire need of some of the following topical preparations!

EXTERNAL HERBAL PREPARATIONS
There are a variety of commercial liniments that are extremely effective in relieving sore aching muscles, strains, and bruises:

Po Sum On Oil
Zheng Gu Shui Liniment
Tiger Balm salves, liquids, and oils
Dit Dat Jiao Liniment

Other non-Chinese preparations include:
Arnica gel or spray
Traumeel Cream
Alcis Cream

Topracin Cream

Ginger Compress
Our kitchens often contain all we need to heal ourselves. An easy compress to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and warm cold or painful joints is a ginger compress:

Grate a 2-inch chunk of fresh ginger into 2 C hot water. Cover and let stand until the water turns yellow, or about 5 minutes. Soak a towel in the tea and wring out gently so that the towel is still saturated, but not dripping. Apply to the affected area, cover the wet towel with a dry towel, and place a heating pad or hot water bottle over the top towel. Repeat as many times as needed.

Mustard Plaster
This is a pain relieving plaster, it increases circulation, and reduces swelling.

½ Cup ground mustard seed combined with just enough water to make a thick sticky goo. Spread a fairly thick layer over painful area and cover with a warm damp towel. Allow to set on skin just until you start to feel it burn and then remove the plaster using warm water and soap. Don’t leave on too long, as blisters will form!

OTHER
Homeopathic Remedies and Flower Essences can be very useful if injured. I highly recommend keeping on hand the following preparations:

Arnica 30c—Indicated for Sprains, strains, bruises, trauma. Extremely effective when taken immediately after any kind of accident, trauma, or contusion. Speeds recovery times.
Ruta grav 30c – Indicated for sprains, broken bones, and trauma. Especially useful for more chronic conditions like sprains that are difficult to heal.


Friday, April 4, 2008

Medicinal Herbs for Athletes -- NERVINES

Nervines are my favorite category of medicinal herbs. They are particularly interesting because they affect the mind/body interface moreso than any other category of herbs. Herbalists can often match an individual with a particular herb based on the personality of both, or based on an individual's constitution type. Nervines are often known more for their relaxing and sedating properties, and used for conditions such as anxiety, stress, and hypertension. But many nervines can be useful for conditions which require a more stimulating action, such as with depression or lethargy.

Nervines are used to treat a variety of conditions including neurological disorders, hypertension, restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, nerve fatigue, nerve pain, numbness, and muscular aches and pains. Some nervines work to relax muscle tissue—alleviating spasms and cramping and pain. Others work by supplying specific minerals to the nerve tissues, such as calcium and magnesium, which act to counteract the debilitating effects of stress and pain. Many nervines are calming and sedating, helping to relax nervous tension, easing feelings of stress and anxiety, and assisting in relaxation. Fortunately most nervines have none of the side-effects of typical sedatives or narcotic pain relievers.

Athletes tend to push themselves harder than the average person, and as such often experience more than average aches and pains following hard sessions of training or after races. Many nervines contain antispasmodic properties and can help to alleviate muscle pain, or nerve pain such as sciatica, that may result from periods of enduring physical stress.

The following are some nerviness that may be useful during training:

1. Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) – Considered to be a restorative nerve tonic, is useful in preventing muscular spasms, and is a mild sedative. I call this my Grumpy Mama herb—the one I choose when I start feeling like the Mama I don’t want to be…works quickly! Scullcap is effective for a variety of personalities and constitutions.

2. Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnate) – This herb is considered to be a calmative and sedative, it helps to prevent nervousness and restlessness, is considered an anodyne for the relief of pain, and is antispasmodic. It is especially useful for children and the elderly. Helps to induce a calm, natural sleep, useful for painful menses, muscular twitching, nervous headache, and persistent hiccups. Also useful for teething babies. Used to prevent worry and anxiety.

3. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) – This herb is antispasmodic, calming, mildly sedative. It is also anti-inflammatory and especially useful for external skin eruptions. This is another good choice for children and babies who are teething. This herb is considered for nervous irritability, PMS, nervous stomach, fevers, colds, and flus. Chamomile is said to restore a sunny disposition by driving out darkness and despair.

4. California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) – Safe and non-addictive sedative. This herb is antispasmodic, helps to prevent muscle spasms, is analgesic thus preventing and relieving pain, and is soporific, meaning it induces sleep. It is useful for anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, headache and toothache. This herb is also useful for children and is especially indicated for bedwetting associated with nervousness.




5. Saint John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) – Saint John's Wort is currently more commonly associated as a depression remedy, but among herbalists it is better known as a highly effective remedy for nerve and spinal damage. It is also extremely useful for nerve pain associated with viral conditions such as herpetic inflammation (shingles), as well as trigeminal neuralgia and sciatica. It is considered a long-term restorative for the nervous system as a whole, and can be useful is addressing depressions caused by long-term exhaustion, stress, illness, and injury.

All these nervines can be taken in tea form, tincture, and capsule or tablet. Many can also be applied in tea or tincture form externally to reduce inflammation and pain. There are a variety of other nervines such as Valerian, Black Cohosh, and Lemon Balm that contain many of the above-described properties, and which may be more specifically useful to certain individuals. Lemon Balm is considered to be the Children's Remedy Extrordinaire as it is good for colds, fevers, nausea, vomiting, and restlessness.

My next discussion will be on external remedies for pain, soreness, and injury.

Happy Training!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Medicinal Herbs for Athletes -- TONICS

3 Herbal Categories Useful for Athletes:

· Tonics – increase energy, increase endurance, and stimulate the immune system.
· Nervines – resolve pain, nourish nerve tissues, relieve muscle spasms, and calm and relax the mind.
· Topical Preparations – formulas used to relieve strains, sprains, soreness, and
swelling.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), exercise is essential to maintain health. Physical activity promotes the flow of Qi –which is our life force or energy, and promotes the flow of blood throughout our circulatory system.

However, excessive exercise is considered to be taxing to the body and may lead to “deficiencies” within the body. Rest is considered to be the primary method for preventing deficiencies and to ensure the body has time to rebuild and maintain Qi and Blood.

The concept of Yin and Yang is the foundation of TCM. Yin is considered feminine, fluid, cool, and nourishing; and Yang is considered masculine, drying, warm, and stimulating. Running, is considered to be a Yang activity, and should be balanced with Yin activities such as Yoga, stretching, swimming, easy cycling, or Tai Chi. Cross-training with Yin activities will help to promote balance within the structural body.

The use of herbs as medicine and food has been occurring as long as humans have walked (or run!) the Earth. Ideally, our food should be our primary medicine, and we can supplement our food with specific herbs to enhance the tonifying and nutritional value of food. A diet consisting mostly of whole grains, legumes, steamed or sautéed vegetables, and moderate amounts of protein will help to maintain our health, and support our body—especially during periods of high intensity training. Supplementing our diets with specific herbs can be useful in maintaining our immune system, supporting and tonifying specific organ groups, and enhancing endurance.

Additionally, the use of external herbal preparations can help to alleviate sore muscles, strains, and sprains.

Herbs are biochemically available to our bodies, and our bodies have had millennia to create receptors for the constituents present in herbs. Synthetic pharmaceuticals have been around for about 100 years, and are useful for certain conditions. Herbs generally work by helping to support the body as necessary, enhancing the body’s ability to heal itself without masking symptoms or driving illness deeper within the body.

TONICS
Most people are familiar with the tonic herb Ginseng (Panax ginseng), which is widely used around the world to increase energy, strength, and endurance, as well as to stimulate the immune system. There are actually six kinds of “Ginseng” used in TCM, and only two are actual Ginsengs. The other herbs share similar qualities as ginseng. Ginsengs are considered to be the Kings of all tonics, but each type has specific actions on the body, and not all are appropriate for everyone.

As athletes, we are exerting stress upon our bodies during periods of heavy training. In using tonics, we can help to counteract that stress, and maintain a strong, healthy body.

Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
One tonic that is very useful for most athletes is the Siberian Ginseng. This herb is considered to be a Qi tonic, and counteracts stress and fatigue. Additionally, it is prescribed for rheumatic conditions, and is considered to be antispasmodic—helping to reduce muscle spasms. Siberian Ginseng can be taken daily by athletes to increase stamina.

Cordyceps (Cordyceps spp.)
In China, Cordyceps is considered to be virtually essential for athletes who rely on strength, speed of foot, and endurance. Recent Research has shown that Cordyceps is restorative after excessive exertion, and it may improve physical endurance. Cordyceps helps restore cellular energy levels during times of high stress. It helps boost functions associated with the adrenal cortex that aid in the adaptation to stress. Cordyceps increases respiratory capacity and efficiency. Cordyceps is also an immune-stimulant. Cordyceps has been shown to benefit the vascular system, improving the function of circulation at the capillary level. According to TCM principles, Cordyceps is used to tonify Qi, replenish Yin and Yang “Essence”, (which is thought to be the very foundation of our life-giving energy), strengthen the body and mind, and is said to be “anti-aging” and have rejuvenative capability.

Cordyceps is one of the absolute coolest fungi on the planet. The spores invade the pupae of various species of caterpillars, use the infant caterpillar as food, overtake the pupae and eventually sprout a fruiting body.


Lycii Berries (Lycium barbarum and L. chinensis)

This delicious fruit of the Wolfberry bush is very widely used throughout Asia and is thought of as a superb Yin and Blood tonic. The fruit is easily added to cereals, yogurt, and trail mix. You can find it at health food stores in a product called Himalmania. It is sometimes called Goji berry. We have several related species here in the SW, and this popular xeriscape plant is easily found at most local nurseries. Recent research has shown that Lycii fruit has significant antioxidant activity. Lycii berries may help athletes produce more lean muscle mass and experience strength gains. The berries contains substances that protect DNA, they contains polysaccharides that have been demonstrated to stimulate the immune system. Zeaxanthin, a carotenoid abundant in Lycii berries, may produce functional improvement in vision. It has been reported that it could markedly increase androgen levels in the blood, making patients feel more energetic.

In TCM Lycii is used as a Liver and Blood Tonic, it nourishes the vital essence of the body, calms the heart and the nervous system. It is said to brighten the eyes, promote cheerfulness and vitality. It is also said to strengthen the legs.

Reishi Mushroom / Ling Zhi (Ganoderma lucidum)

In China, Reishi is called the Herb of Immortality, and is thought of as the premier herb for longevity and health. Reishi is abundant in chemical constituents known as polysaccharides, which play an important role in strengthening the body's overall immune functions. Extensive research has been performed on the constituents present in Reishi. Research has proven Reishi to be anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, anti-diabetic, anti-hypotensive, and hepatoprotective. It has also been found to inhibit platelet aggregations, and to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. Ganoderic acids in Reishi inhibit histamine release, improve oxygen utilization and improve liver functions. Ganoderic acids are potent antioxidant free-radical scavengers. Reishi may improve the physical condition of the cardiovascular system. Reishi stimulates the production of interferon and interleukins I and II, which are potent natural immunity-boosting substances produced in our own bodies. According to TCM Reishi is a Qi, Essence, and Shen (Mind) Tonic. It is said to protect the entire body, it nurtures the heart, protects the liver, and promotes calmness, centeredness, balance, inner awareness, and inner strength.
Nervines are next...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A few easy remedies

Since, it seems, that many people are currently reeling from the after effects of some noxious nasty or another, I thought I'd provide a few quick and easy remedies for some of these lingering symptoms of colds, flus, etc.

The majority of these can be purchased in health food stores, specialty herb stores, or most chain natural food markets.

Additionally, all these products are Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certified, and if you choose the brand name along with product name, you can be assured that there are no heavy metals, unknown pharmaceuticals, fillers, sugars, artificial colors, or other unknown contaminants. Given that these are Chinese forumulas, and some are manufactured in China, GMP certified products are especially important to herbalists and the herb industry.

Sinus Congestion and Sinus Infections


Bi Yan Pian

Clinical Uses:

allergic rhinitis, acute and chronic rhinitis, perennial rhinitis, acute and chronic sinusitis, post-nasal drip, upper respiratory tract infection, common cold, and influenza.

Ingredients:

Xanthium sibiricum fruit, Magnolia denudata flower, Forsythia suspensa fruit, Saposhnikovia divaricata root, Angelica dahurica root, Anemarrhena asphodeloides rhizome, Glycyrrhiza uralensis root, Schizonepeta tenuifolia herb, Chrysanthemum indicum flower, Schisandra chinensis fruit, Platycodon grandiflorum root.

This formula is espcially useful for chronic congested sinuses--the ongoing stuffed-up nose that simply doesn't goes away, even though it's been 3 weeks since you got the darn cold to begin with. Also, it is very effective for sinus infections, usually clearing them up within a day or so.

Horseradish Root

Another good choice at the early stages of a sinus infection, grate 1 Tblsp. of fresh horseradish root and add enough apple cider vinegar to cover the root. Drink the cider vinegar and discard the horseradish. Like wasabi, it immediately enters the sinuses and provides some immediate relief. Another option, is, of course, to simply go have sushi and eat as much of the wasabi as you can stand!

Low Energy

Does it seem like you're still draggin' your tail, even though that cold or flu is several weeks behind you? It's likely that you could use a little help boosting your immunity and energy after a bout with some of the nasty stuff that's been circulating this winter.

Siberian Ginseng
Not a real ginseng, Siberian Ginseng, or Eleutherococcus senticosus, is especially useful after enduring a particularly hard sickness. It is anti-inflammatory, counteracts stress and fatigue, and is often prescribed for low vitality and a lack of endurance. Siberian Ginseng helps to increase blood circulation and is said to be a Qi (Energy) Tonic.

If using the tincture 40 to 60 drops 3 to 4 times a day for several days should help. This is also a respected plant for athletes, which I am still planning to elaborate on, as it increases endurance and stamina.

Increase Immunity
After a bout with a hard-to-shake illness, it's good to do a short blast of immuno-enhancing to get yourself back on track. My recommendation is a 4-week blast using two simple herbs, Echinacea and Astragalus.

Echinacea has past been in the news in articles where the intent is obviously to debunk or discredit the herb and its benefits. The articles (A quick Google search in the news archives will take you to many of these) often refer to the ineffectiveness of Echinacea at preventing colds, or reducing symptoms of colds. There is much debate about the kinds of scientific studies that have been performed with Echinacea; some are well done, some are not. That's just the way scientific studies are. However, herbalists have long known that while Echinacea does not prevent colds, nor reduce it's symptoms, it is quite effective at boosting immunity.

Generally, it can be safely taken when sick to help reduce the duration of colds and other sicknesses. And after sickness, it is generally regarded as a simple remedy to boost immunity. It is often recommended for two weeks time. Echinacea pupurea is thought to be the most powerful of the Echinacea species. Herbs Etc. make a wonderful tincture called Echinace Triple Source that has all three Echinacea species in it, and it makes your mouth all tingly so you know it's strong! Some herbalists feel that the benefit of using Echinacea to enhance immunity are reduced after two weeks.

Echinacea should not be taken by those allergic to ragweed, those with autoimmune disorders or if taking drugs that can hurt the liver.

The second immuno-blast herb is Astragalus. According to MedHerb, Astragalus membranaceus one of the top fifty herbs used by clinical herbalists in the U.S., where it placed sixteenth. Clinically, it is known for building resistance to colds and infections. It also figures prominently in the herbal treatment of cancer, AIDS, and autoimmune diseases. It builds overall immunity, strengthens the lungs, and improves the digestion. It increases endurance and body weight in animals. American varieties of astragalus are known as “locoweed” because of their overstimulating effects on cattle that eat too much of them. In Chinese medical terms, astragalus is said to build up the protective Qi, also called the Wei Qi. Astragalus is the primary herb in Chinese herbalism used to strengthen Wei Qi.

My instructor Leslie Tierra used this analogy for using Astragalus: use this herb as your "home defense system" as it can help build your body's immunity such that the outer walls are like a fortress, but at the first sign of a cold or other sickness, stop taking Astragalus, as that is like locking the robber in the house...and the last thing we want to do is lock a sickness in!

Astragalus can be used long term and its effects are said to increase the longer it is taken. Post sickeness, I suggest starting astragalus after all known symptoms of the illness are gone, and after the Echinacea has been taken for two weeks. A two-week "blast" of Astragalus should help the body back to it's strong and healthy state.

Cheers to Good Health!