Post-Election Stress (post #2): Anxiety

Many people report an increase in anxiety since the election. Several articles have noted that this is affecting children as well as adults.

While it may take years to change our society enough to eliminate the reasons for this anxiety, we can do things to provide relief. When we reduce our strimageess levels and take our anxiety down several notches, we become more effective at planning strategies for making the changes we want to see.

Shiatsu, qigong, and chair massage are all very effective at reducing stress and anxiety. Getting regular shiatsu treatments helps us prevent many stress-induced health problems, and lessen others. People tend to feel far calmer by the end of a session, and the improvement usually lasts for at least a few days. Establishing a regular qigong practice helps as well. Other forms of exercise and meditation are also useful.

The standard advice is to maintain a daily practice that involves doing either the same practice or the same practice with slight variations daily, and for many people, this is a useful approach, as it allows one to deepen one’s understanding of the practice.

For others, however, doing the same thing daily, or even something similar daily, is simply anathema. That’s fine; if you do qigong on Mondays, yoga on Tuesdays, Tai Chi on Wednesdays, and jog on Thursdays, and have a shiatsu treatment on Fridays, you’ll have done something to address your stress every day for five days. You may not become as good a yogi or qigong practitioner as you would with daily practice, but you’ll be maintaining a practice that works for you, which is far more important. And you may be able to delve deeply into those aspects of your practice that are common to all the activities.

img_0753Increasing the nutritional profile of our diet is another important part of enhancing our ability to cope with stress. In particular, we want to make sure that our diets include adequate minerals and vitamins. Copious dark leafy greens, seaweed, and nettle infusion are excellent allies. A cup of chopped seaweed added to a pot of soup or stew increases the nutritional umph of your meal substantially. So does a handful of dried nettle, which also helps restore the adrenals. Nettle and seaweed are not specific remedies for anxiety, but by building us up and strengthening us, they help us handle the stress without becoming as anxious.

The nervine herbs are medicinal herbs that help with anxiety, depression, sleep, pain, and general emotional turmoil. Many herbs fall into this category, and they range greatly in strength. What herb or herbs will be best depends very much on the individual and the circumstances, and it’s easiest to figure that out through one-on-one sessions with an herbalist. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find the optimal herb or combination.

One herb that I find agrees with and relaxes most people is catnip. Put about half a cup of dried catnip into a quart-sized jar and then slowly fill the jar with water just off the boil. Let it steep for half an hour or so. The longer you steep it, the stronger it will get, and the more bitter notes in the flavor will come out along with the minty. If you’re steeping it for hours, make sure that it vacuum seals when you cover it. Serve with honey. My students request this so often that we nickname our Wild Herb Week program “Camp Catnip.”

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Politics and Stress (part 1)

Four weeks ago, I hoped that the election stress was about to go away and that I could avoid writing this series of posts. I admit that I was fairly caught up in the drama of the situation and experienced the stress it created first-hand, as well as second-hand through my clients. But I thought it would end by November 9, and we could go back to life as usual.

Unfortunately, the stress caused by the elections has not gone away. For many of us, it has increased. With stress come various physical and emotional symptoms that I am witnessing in clients, friends, and family. The symptoms vary, but there’s a lot of overlap.

Many people are experiencing sleep trouble. For some people, the problem is in letting go, going to bed on time, and / or falling asleep promptly. For others, the challenge is to sleep through the night, or to get truly restful, restorative sleep.

There are numerous herbs that can help with this, and, of course, the choice depends on the specifics of the person and the full complex of symptoms. Shiatsu can help enormously. I also have a few favorite qigong practices for sleep.

One of my favorite ways to address sleep trouble is with an herbal foot bath. Herbal foot baths can help the entire person, not just the feet. The can address chronic health problems and emotional issues. To make an herbal foot bath, first choose a vessel, preferably made of an inert material, such as steel. Many of my clients use pots or steel mixing bowls.

Put a handful of dried linden leaves or flowers into the vessel together with a handful of Epsom salts. Put enough water to cover your feet into your kettle and bring it to the boil, and then let it cool for a couple of minutes. Pour it over the herbs and salts, and then cover for 30 minutes if you can, or less if you can’t.

When it cools off enough to be tolerable to the touch, start soaking your feet. Keep them in the bath until it cools too much for comfort, and then either reheat or pour into a jar to store in the fridge. Keep the herbs in the foot bath; they will let the bath grow stronger. You can keep reusing your foot bath for up to a week.

Herbal Gift Making

We’ve rescheduled the upcoming Herbal Gift Making workshop. It will take place on Monday, Dec. 19, 3:30-7:30. We’ll begin with a quick weed walk, during which we’ll harvest one or two of the ingredients we’ll be using.IMG_1207-1

As darkness descends, we’ll head indoors, make some wonderful hot herbal beverage to share, and proceed with the gift making.

We’ll makeimage an herbal shampoo, soap, dream pillow, and vinegar. Most of the gifts we make will be ready right away, but one or two will need some time to mature, and so will work best for an end of Kwanzaa or New Year’s Eve present.

Come join us!!

Immune-boosting Yumminess to Fend Off Fall Colds

This is the time of year when people are starting to get colds. It’s also the time of year when many of us begin to participate in more indoor activities that bring large numbers of people into small spaces but can also make it easier for people to catch viruses and other “bugs” from each other. And it’s the season when we may find ourselves still dressed for a warm afternoon as an evening chill sets inImage 3

Fortunately, there are herbs to help us meet these challenges. The sharper  cooking spices, such as garlic and ginger, help warm us physically while activating our immune systems to fight off whatever bugs are surrounding us. Shiitake, maitake, and many other mushrooms help both to stimulate and to strengthen and “train” our immune systems, but please remember to cook your mushrooms before eating them. You can make a wonderful, immune-boosting soup with shiitake mushrooms, seaweed, oodles of ginger, and your favorite vegetables. Astragalus powder helps thicken the broth while adding another immune support. Miso can be a lovely addition after the soup has stopped cooking.

IMG_0089Goldenrod tincture helps treat both colds and allergies, so if you find yourself sneezing, sniffling, or coughing, it’s a great remedy to grab. I also use it when others in my household have colds. For my family, the usual dose is about 3 droppersful, but I have clients who find 2 droppersful effective, and others I have worked with do well on minute doses in the 2-5 drop range.

Fire cider is a wonderful warming beverage popularized by Rosemary Gladstar. It can improve the circulation to help ward off the chills while revving your immune system to stay on guard against whatever bug is going around. There are many recipes for it; one of my favorites follows below.

One last immune-boosting favorite of mine is honey infused with herbs. I like to make ginger honey and ginger elder honey.

Ginger or Ginger Elder Honey

  • 2-6 inches of ginger
  • 1/2-1 cup of elderberries (optional)
  • 1 pint of honey

Chop as much ginger as you dare, and then put it into a pint-sized jar. If available, add a handful or so of elderberries. Pour on the honey and close the jar. Turn the jar upside down at least once a day to help the ginger and elder berries permeate the honey. The ginger juice will rise to the top, mixed with a thinner layer of honey. While this is delicious by itself, the entire jarful of honey will be more potent if you mix it with the thinner syrup that’s on top.

Fire Cider

  • one large onion
  • one head of garlic
  • three inches of ginger
  • one whole hot red pepper, fresh or dried
  • one to three inches of horseradish
  • one cup of pine needles (optional)
  • one quart of apple cider vinegar

Mince the onion, garlic, ginger, pepper, and horseradish, then put them into a quart-sized canning jar. Add the pine needles; these are optional, but they add significant yumminess and vitamin C. Pour in the apple cider vinegar. Cover, preferably with a plastic lid, although you’ll probably use the Fire Cider before the lid corrodes. Set it aside for one month, but give it a good shake every once in a while.

Optional second step:

After a month, strain. Take all the solids and put them into a stainless steel, ceramic, cast iron, or glass pot. Add two quarts of water, and simmer it until it reduces in half. Strain once again. You may now compost the remaining solid part, unless you made it without pine needles, in which case save it to add by the spoonful to soups, stews, and anything else you’d like to spice up.

Combine the liquid from the first two steps.

Some people like to drink their Fire Cider “neat,” i.e. undiluted, by they shot glass. Others mix it with honey, about half and half, and then imbibe as is or diluted further with water. I like to put a tablespoonful or so into a mug, pour on hot water, and then add honey to taste; that way, different people can drink it with different proportions of honey, or without any.

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Holistic Ways to Address the Stress of the Election Cycle

The presidential election is coming up soon, and many of us are stressing out about it. There’s a good reason for that, under the circumstances, but the consequences may interfere with our ability to sleep, make sound decisions, or feel comfortable in our bodies. We can address that with herbs, exercise, and lifestyle choices.image

Getting enough sleep helps us to take more in stride. Most people assume we need less sleep than we really need. If you wake up needing caffeine to get going, chances are that you’re not getting enough sleep.

Try going to bed half an hour earlier and see whether your morning gets better. Try using darker curtains over your windows to help yourself sleep late. Before going to bed, try bathing your feet in a footbath with half a cup of Epsom salts and half a cup of linden leaves and flowers before bed to help you fall asleep more easily. You can refrigerate the footbath when you’re done and reheat it again for a week.

If you still can’t fall asleep, try taking half a dropperful of valerian tincture before bed. If that doesn’t work for you, try taking some skullcap tincture instead; first try a few drops to make sure you don’t have a strange reaction, and then increase to a dropperful. You may need up to three droppersful, and you may even need to combine that with the valerian. If you find yourself waking up earlier than feels good for you, try using a dropperful of ashwaghanda tincture before bed, or try taping a lentil or a grain of rice to the center of your heel before you head for bed.

Exercise can help to release stress. When we feel anxious or worried, we go into the fight or flight mode and our bodies produce the adrenaline we would need to run from a hungry grizzly. When we flee, we use up the adrenaline, and then feel better. When we do relatively hard or fast forms of exercise, we release the adrenaline also. When we do more meditative forms of exercise, such as qigong, yoga, or tai chi, we reset the body from the sympathetic, adrenaline-producing mode to calmer parasympathetic mode. Both forms of exercise help us handle stress, as do meditation and shiatsu. While many advocate for a regular practice, which helps to build skills and endurance, it’s also fine to practice meditation one day, do yoga the next, have a shiatsu session the following day, and the day after that, go for a run the next. Qigong, of course, helps most when you do it daily, but once you know a few forms, you may rotate them on days when you  don’t have time to do them all. (Daily meditation and yoga help too,  of course.)

If you wind up missing a day, forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness also helps to reduce stress, and serves as an important model for our relationships with other people, too.

Adequate nutrition is also essential for handling stress well. Certain nutrients, such as B vitamins and vitamin D (which is rarely adequate among northerners), help us handle stress directly, while we need others to maintain wellness more generally. A deficiency that causes physical stress will also ultimately add to our emotional stress. Exactly how much we need of what and what diet works best is fairly personal, but we all need an abundance of vitamins and minerals, a significant amount of protein, and healthy fat. For most people, a plant-based diet with copious cooked vegetables will be the best way to achieve this.

While there may be many variations on a plant-based diet, some more suitable for any given person than others, nobody benefits from a diet featuring mostly fast foods, junk foods, or sugar, and very few people will benefit from a diet consisting primarily of grains. Most people will also benefit greatly from including seaweed and cooked mushrooms in the diet. (N.b. Always cook mushrooms before eating them.) More about nutrition, diet, seaweed, and mushrooms will have to await another post.

Most people enjoy warm tasty beverages, and herbal teas easily meet the bill. A strong cup of catnip tea with a little honey can work wonders for one’s state of mind. I have seen a toddler go from throwing sticks at his brother while screaming his little lungs out to cuddling with his mother on entering a kitchen where catnip was brewing; his drink helped preserve the calmer state. I have yet to see anyone dislike this delightful drink, and many of my students demand it whenever we meet.

Chamomile also helps, of course, and for people without hypothyroidism, lemon balm is another excellent choice, also improved by a little honey.

If your stress continues unabated even after a few cups of strong catnip or lemon balm, then you may want to try a stronger nervine herb, such as motherwort or skullcap, both of which I find easiest to take in tincture form.

Doses are highly individual; some people respond to only a few drops, while others may require a few droppersful. Both are safe herbs with a broad spectrum of use, but any time you try anything for the first time, it’s best to use only a minute amount and make sure that you don’t have any adverse reactions. People can be allergic to just about anything, so it’s always best to test first.

Wild Herb Days Coming Soon

This summer, when we were planning our two Wild Herb Weeks, many people asked for more one-day programs. We listened, and now we’re planning several Wild Herb Days for the coming year. Wild Herb Days will include plant walks and various other herbal activities, such as tincture making, salve making, syrup making, spa treatments and product making, making and eating wild herbal salads and soups, and making and drinking wild herbal beverages, and herbal gift making.

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Many hands preparing sumacade.

We’ll start off the season on Sept. 18 with a weed walk and tincture making. Exactly what we’ll do depends on the plants, but likely activities include making and drinking sumacade, making goldenrod tincture, and making burdock tincture.  If we have time, we may also make a salad.

In November, we’ll do herbal gift making. You’ll go home with four or five lovely herbal gifts, including at least one herbal vinegar, herbal shampoo and soap, and an herbal dream pillow.

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Everyone loves the herbal beverages.

One of our traditions at both Wild Herb Week and Wild Herb Day is to make delicious herbal beverages whenever we can. In the winter, we’ll be making warming drinks to nurture ourselves while we have our herbal spa day and make syrups and salves.

In the spring, we’ll explore the new growth and prepare food and medicine from what comes up. Most likely, this will include a spring salad and a celebration of nettle, manifest in soup and nourishing nettle vinegar.

 

Click here for more details about Wild Herb Days.

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Autumn olives.

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A Wild Herb Week student with her goldenrod harvest.

 

 

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Herbal tinctures and oils.

 

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Baskets made by participants in Wild Herb Week I, July 2015, filled with herbs we gathered for making tinctures and medicinal oils.