How to manage your asthma naturally

 I've been dealing with asthma my whole life. I had my first asthma attack when I was two years old and I had a pretty rough childhood after that. My asthma attacks were almost daily and were triggered by allergies and excessive motion. So no running for me and no house plants and pretty carpets for my mom. My family had to relocate to a more suitable climate and rethink a lot of their daily choices in order to keep me healthy. I've tried every treatment possible - medicine, shots, steroids... Nothing really worked long term. The attacks kept coming back and all the various treatments left my immune system in a terrible shape. I was sick all the time. I had a tonsillectomy at age five because the doctors were convinced that it will help me avoid constant inflammation. It made things even worse and I was constantly suffering from pneumonia and even the tiniest of colds would affect my lungs, my weak spot, and trigger an attack. My poor parents!
  I was in high school when I started doing my own research and I was able to change things. I was able to control my asthma at that time by avoiding most allergen triggers and vigorous exercise, but I still had periods of daily attacks that left my body weak and exhausted. I found a doctor who treated chronic illness with food. It included a period of fasting and then specific food choices , that were going to help me manage my asthma. It did not include medication so I decided to give it a try. It has been life changing! I am mostly symptom free. I've had only two attacks in the last 4 year! I don't use any prescription or over the counter medication. I use food and herbs to manage my asthma. I do not follow a strict diet and can handle a lot of my triggers without provoking a full blown asthma attack. 

  Here are 5 ways you can manage your asthma naturally:
  • Do a cleanse at least once a year
 I find that this is the best way to let your body restore its balance. My first cleanse was very intense. It was 20 days of just juices and herbal teas. I lost about 25 pounds and I felt great at the end , but it required a lot of will power. I desperately needed this drastic change as I was having daily asthma attacks and I was suffering a lot from allergies. This was seventeen years ago and I've only done it one more time. I usually do a milder version of it every year. I still incorporate a lot of fresh juices and herbal teas, but I eat a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables and some cooked veggies and beans as well. If you eat pretty healthy , you can probably add some wild caught fish and organic chicken. I like to do a two week long cleanse in early spring, in order to get ready for the "active" allergy season. I also go into a cleanse mode when I get sick in the winter.
 If your asthma is triggered by allergies, as is mine, you have to avoid eating a lot of mucus forming foods.When you do a cleanse, your body has a chance to get rid of the excess mucus that has built up throughout the year. If you think you can't handle two whole weeks , just give your body a break one day every week. I had a friend who would eat fruit only on Tuesdays and that was his way of keeping his body clean and well balanced.
Remember, if you want to start a more intense cleanse, make sure you find a doctor who can advise you according to your body's needs. I had to visit my doctor every few days during my first cleanse so she could check my vitals and make sure it was healing rather than damaging to my body. If you have any fluctuations in blood pressure, blood sugar, severe headaches, or extreme weakness, you might want to take the gentler approach and do a longer cleanse, until your symptoms disappear.

  • Keep mucus forming foods to a minimum
 Think of mucus as sludge for your body. It captures and stores toxins and allergens.It makes your organs sluggish and prevents them from functioning normally. If your systems of elimination are not efficient enough, your body will not be able to expel all the mucus and it will bring on conditions such as excess weight, constipation, sinus problems, joint pain, headaches, and allergy and asthma symptoms. Doing a cleanse once a year will help you keep your balance, but it is good to keep mucus forming foods to a minimum throughout the whole year.
As part of my initial recovery , I had to avoid wheat, dairy and meat. It was a kind of continuous cleansing of the system until my body recovered its balance. Today, I don't shy away from those foods, I just try to make healthier choices. I make my own sourdough bread or purchase from a local artisan bakery. I eat cultured dairy and raw cheeses , rather than processed milk and cheese. I incorporate a lot of probiotic foods in my diet, such as fermented veggies, sauerkraut, kombucha , yogurt and kefir. This keeps my digestive tract working well , which is one of our major channels of elimination. A healthy gut means a healthy body!
There are a lot of alternatives to gluten and dairy and it is a lot easier to enjoy wholesome, delicious foods, while staying away from major allergen triggers ( asthma triggers). It wasn't easy in the early 90s when I first started. But the biggest lesson I learned throughout the years is: HOMEMADE! This is the only way to guarantee the purity and quality of your food. There are too many uncertainties and gaps in the official regulations and I never trust the claims on the box. Usually a healthy claim in big print on the front is not reflected in the ingredient list on the back! Check and you'll see what I have in mind!
  • Avoid toxin exposure as much as possible
 Avoiding toxins is one of the hardest thing to do. Our surroundings are harder to control and manage than our bodies, despite the fact that most people believe the opposite. There are, however, steps you can take that will help you reduce your exposure significantly. Here is what we did in our household:
  1. Switch all your Tupperware to glass - Glass is more expensive but it is worth the investment. You can start with just a few containers and expand according to your needs. I still use some BPA free plastic containers to keep cold food, but never put anything hot or heat up a plastic container. Glass is very durable and you can put it in the dishwasher without being afraid that it will start leaking toxins in your food after the first wash.
  2. Use a water filter - We use a PUR filter for our drinking water and for cooking. I like to fill up a reusable bottle of water when we go out. We sometimes purchase bottled water when we are traveling but try to avoid it as much as possible. A lot of the plastics used for packaging and water bottles leak estrogen like chemicals which we ingest. This can wreak havoc on our bodies, and most importantly our children's bodies. Little boys don't need synthetic estrogens!
  3. Use natural body products - Allergies and asthma are often accompanied by dry skin or eczema. It is a whole body condition and people often forget that the skin is our largest organ. It is not an impenetrable wall between you and the world . It is a living, breathing thing and it is one of our most important channels of elimination. Women often apply over 60 chemicals on their skin daily. So, choose wisely. Use products without any harsh chemicals, synthetic perfumes, dies, phtalates or parabens.  There is a great variety of products out there and often you can create your own for just pennies. 
It is very simple and you don't have to become obsessed with every little thing. Start small and bigger changes will inevitably follow.
  • Avoid all triggers of asthma attacks until your body is well balanced

 Even though I haven't had an asthma attack in a couple of years, I still try to avoid any triggers when possible. For example, we put in hardwood floors when we moved into our house; we don't have any down bedding or pillows. We use only natural, scent free laundry detergent and wool dryer balls instead of harsh smelling dryer sheets. I avoid certain flowers and plants in our house, and we don't have pets. So, there are some sacrifices you have to make but I love being able to breathe! You just have to find your strongest triggers, the things that will bring on an attack for sure , and eliminate those. You will be able to tolerate any milder triggers after you balance your body. A lot of things will even disappear as causes of an attack.
 If you often get asthma attacks when you try to exercise , run , climb, or when you are under stress, you might want to talk to you doctor about Exercise Induced Anaphylaxis. It is often misdiagnosed as asthma and is caused by the body's reaction to certain foods like gluten , dairy, shellfish or peanuts. You don't have to be allergic to those foods in order for them to trigger an attack. The easiest way to find out if you have Exercise Induced Anaphylaxis is to do an elimination diet/cleanse and then add the most common triggers back to your diet one at a time. Try any rigorous movement before you add them back in to see if you will have an attack. Then eat any of the triggers before you exercise and see if this will affect you.

  • Use herbs to prevent asthma attacks
 I used to carry an inhaler with me all the time. But I hated using it! It made me jittery and light headed for the rest of the day and I couldn't function properly. I had to find a natural alternative to the inhaler which was easy to use and worked quick enough to relieve an attack. Let me tell you, it does exist! During my herbals studies I discovered a common herb which changed my life - Mullein. I use a ready preparation with Mullein and other herbs by WishGarden called Deep Lung. I love it ! Two dropperfuls of the tincture bring air back into my lungs in minutes and I can avoid getting a full blown attack. I take it every time I feel tightness in my chest. 
 I also use aromatherapy as a way to relieve any discomfort or difficulty breathing. I use eucalyptus oil when I have a cold or any sinus issue. It helps me sleep better and breathe better. I also carry some peppermint oil with me and rub it in my palms and inhale when I feel a little bit of a difficulty breathing. Drinking strong peppermint tea will do the trick as well.
 I know asthma and lung issues can be very hard to deal with and be very limiting. But living a full life and enjoying every minute of it is possible. It just requires a little effort and lots of determination to get better. Remember, only you can heal your body, it is all up to you!

 How do you deal with the every day challenges of asthma?

The Winter Herbal Pantry

Cold and flu season is upon us. I know it because I've been opening that bottle of echinacea tincture more often lately and the tea pot is always full of steamy goodness. Herbal recipes are pulled out of the archives and new formulas are created. Then, today, I started thinking. Healing shouldn't require complicated formulas and herbs we've never heard of. It doesn't have to be complicated. I looked in my pantry. What does my husband and kid ask for when they have the sniffles? What is my go to item when I feel down? How do I keep my body strong? I wanted simple answers, things that I can buy in any store the minute I need them.
 This is what I came up with. A list of seven items that I always have at home, that are available everywhere ( I have a Walmart, Walgreens, Kroger,Safeway and a local grocery store close by) and are easy to work with.
Here is what I keep in my Winter Herbal Pantry:


People think of thyme as an herb used in cooking but it has some great medicinal properties as well. I remember the fragrant carpet of wild thyme in the woods by our summer house. It is one of my favorite herbs for tea and I often use it in my infusions. My husband loves it as an infusion on its own, with added honey and lemon.
Thyme is wonderful for wet, hacking coughs. It helps you expel the mucus and it strengthens the lungs. Many herbalists recommend it to people that have proneness to upper respiratory infections. A cup of thyme infusion a day, taken on a regular basis, will strengthen the lungs and protect them.
Thyme is part of the mint family which means it will also help you with any stomach issues, painful bloating or gas.


I prefer spearmint in my herbal infusions and I often substitute spearmint for peppermint when I prepare my formulas. It has a sweet, milder taste and it works better for my body.
Peppermint / spearmint tea is one of my go to items for digestive problems. I use it for my toddler son when he has tummy troubles. He likes the flavor of the infusion sweetened with a little bit of raw honey.
I also find that spearmint tea gives me a sense of refreshed energy and clears my head when I am coming down with a cold.
In Bulgaria, where I was born, we often add spearmint to our bean dishes to help with digestion and prevent bloating and gas.
I also keep a bottle of peppermint essential oil on hand. It is great to add to your bath or to do an inhalation with it, if your head and sinuses feel stuffy. I use it externally as well on itchy rashes and hives. It will relieve the itchiness and the swelling from mosquito bites. Peppermint essential oil is pretty strong and it can burn the skin, so if you are planning on using it externally, you have to dilute it in another oil, like olive, coconut or almond oil. This diluted oil can be used to massage sore muscles. It will bring blood to the area and act as a warming agent to relieve tightness and pain.

Ginger is one of the oldest herbs known to man and it has wonderful culinary and medicinal properties. It will soothe an upset stomach and chase away a cold. I used to take ginger daily during my pregnancy and I had no problem with morning sickness. I also like to take a nibble of a Ginger Chew ( I always keep those on hand) after a heavy meal to ensure proper digestion.
Ginger is great when you have one of those colds that leave you weak and miserable. I make a strong decoction of fresh ginger root by boiling a two inch piece of ginger in two cups of water until the water is reduced by half. Then, while still hot , I strain it and add the juice of 2-3 lemons and three tablespoons of honey. Drink this as hot as you can handle and wrap yourself into a warm blanket. You'll break out in sweat in no time, fever will be gone and those unpleasant body aches will be a thing of the past. I like to do this whole procedure at night , after I take a hot shower, so I can stay in bed as long as possible. Plus, the relief from fever and aches, can bring a peaceful night of rest, which is the best medicine for your body.

Cayenne is one of my favorite healing plants. It has such an amazing ability to heal our bodies where they need it. I combine cayenne with raw honey and mashed garlic when we get a sore throat. The honey helps to soothe the throat, the garlic acts as a natural antibiotic and cayenne warms up the area and pulls more blood to it , so the healing process can begin.
Cayenne is a wonderful herb to take when you have a blood pressure problem. My husband was diagnosed as being pre - hypertension with his blood pressure consistently staying higher. The doctor gave him a couple of weeks to follow his blood pressure daily and establish a pattern so they can figure out if he needs medication. As you can imagine, medication was not in my plan for the situation. I started using cayenne in our food, and he started taking even more cayenne in capsule form , as well as a few other herbs from my stash. Two weeks later he managed to show lower blood pressure levels and the doctor agreed to leave him off of any medication. Success!

I consider garlic a miracle plant. I love it in it's green spring form and in it's mature form, which most people are used to. It is a natural antibiotic, without the harsh side effect of the prescription drugs. It does not disrupt the good flora in your gut as synthetic antibiotics do.
Eating garlic daily can ensure flu free winter. I prepare it in many forms, but the easiest way is to sneak it into your daily cooking. It is great with veggies, meat , legumes.The options are only limited by your imagination. I like to make lacto- fermented veggies and I always add a whole head of garlic. It's healing and delicious!
One the most popular uses of garlic as medicine is for children's ear infections. I infuse a few crushed garlic cloves in olive oil for three days (or a few hours, if you warm up the oil) and keep it in the fridge to have on hand. I warm it up before I use it.
Garlic can cause some bloating and gas in some people, so find your level of tolerance before ingesting a large amount of it.

It's important to purchase a good quality raw unpasteurized apple cider vinegar with the mother in order to reap the benefits. If you purchase pasteurized vinegar it will be void of all beneficial organisms.
Apple Cider Vinegar is a great detoxifier of the body. It brings the overall pH of the body to more alkaline levels. Viruses and all "bad" bacteria thrive better in an acidic environment. When your body is alkaline you are more likely to NOT get sick.
 I have two favorite preparations that include Apple Cider Vinegar. The first one is great when you have any sinus issues and has only two ingredients - the vinegar and grated fresh horseradish root. Chew on a teaspoon of this mixture and your sinuses will be cleared in no time.
The second preparation is called Fire Cider and is something that I always keep on hand. It is basically vinegar, infused with garlic , onion, horseradish,and cayenne. I make a slightly different version which I plan on sharing with you soon.
I always add Apple Cider Vinegar to my crockpot when I make bone broth. It helps extract the minerals from the bones and makes the broth even more nourishing.

I call honey "liquid gold". It is one of the most precious items in my pantry. It is alive and vibrant. Of course, we purchase honey from a local farmer and it is wonderful to taste the changes from season to season.
Try to find raw unpasteurized honey and make sure there is no sugar or corn syrup added to your jar.
Honey is an ancient food. It connects us to the healing arts of our ancestors. It is full of minerals and is antibacterial. In ancient Egypt it was used to dress wounds so they will heal faster and avoid infection. It is very soothing for the throat and I love to take a tablespoon of honey instead of the cough drops that you normally get in the store. I also like to infuse honey with different herbs like sage, lavender, and thyme. It is delicious and very healing. Sage and thyme honey do wonders for coughs, and lavender honey is very relaxing in a cup of warm milk.

What staples do you keep in your Winter Herbal Pantry?

Woman vs Food

I am a woman. I am a mom. I am a healer.
All those things inevitably bring food into my life. As a woman,I want to look good in my husbands eyes. As a mom, I want to nourish my family. As a healer, I want to keep my loved ones in their best state of health. All those things have brought me on a journey and my companion is often food . Food indulgence. Food deprivation. What is the right diet? Should I diet at all? Is this nutritious? Where do I buy quality food? Good fats vs bad fats? Low carb anyone? Paleo and Trim Healthy Mama. Gluten Free and Raw.
I've read too many books, watched too many documentaries, and had too many experiments in the kitchen. Does it seem like I've made up my mind ? Not at all.
Still, as this journey continues, and the puzzle slowly comes together, I am sure of a few things and I wanted to share those lessons with you. Maybe we can help each other.

I grew up with home made food. Real food. Made from scratched. We ate seasonal fruits and veggies. We ate the whole animal when we had meat available. Nothing was wasted. My mom canned, preserved, fermented. We had a root cellar full of pumpkins, apples, onions and potatoes. We even made our own wine ( and my parents still do). I never had an issue with food. Then I moved to the States and the struggle began. It seems that for the past years any food that goes in my mouth, even the healthiest version of it , would stick to my thighs. I had to go into research mode, there was no other way. I tried everything out there and it all lead back to the traditional foods of my childhood. My body craves those foods and deals with them better. So, next time, instead of buying a diet book and spending a bunch of money on supplements, just pick up the phone and talk to your mom, or grandmother,. You'll be surprised how many stories they have. Go back even further to find out where you came from and what your nutritional history has in store for you.

I've made my peace with skinny jeans. I am never going to own a pair and I don't want to. I want to be a healthy woman and I am definitely not 16 anymore. Every day I see beautiful young girls struggling with acne, irregular menstrual cycles, hormone issues, food intolerance, allergies. While I was pregnant , I seemed like the odd exception of the rule among other women around me , with no cravings for junk food, I was full of energy , free of pain, no blood sugar or blood pressure issues. I've decided that health is more important than size for me. Skinny doesn't equal healthy, and healthy is my priority. I have to be healthy to be here for my kids. I have to be healthy to live a full life.

It seems ironic that we constantly come up with shortcuts that save us time and then we never make good use of that time. Call me old fashioned but I would rather spend 30 minutes making a nutritional breakfast for my family and 10 minutes putting make up on, than the other way around. Many people think that making traditional food  and everything from scratch is time consuming. And I will challenge those people to time themselves ordering pizza, Chinese food, or driving to ...( insert fast food here) , and then time themselves making a salad or putting a whole chicken in the oven.  It seems like home cooking is a lost art that's seeing a resurgence , and I am proud to be part of the movement. Spending a few extra minutes in the kitchen saves me a lot of time that I don't want to spend at the doctor's office.

 Thank you for letting me rant! The journey is never done and the learning continues. More books await and more dinnertime surprises for my husband. I wish you all health and a happy journey of your own!
 Care to share a learning experience? :)

Traveling with kids

  We just came back from vacation. It was great to spend two weeks away from work and to wake up with the smell of ocean in the air. It was our first really "big" trip since we had our son in 2011 and it was his first time on an  airplane. Before we left, I was a little worried about the flight, the changes in altitude, the humidity, the heat. Florida is a great place to be if you were born there. If you are a Colorado native , Florida is a little strange and hard to get used to. So I was worried about my little man, who has never been below 5000 feet of altitude, or on an airplane. I had to be prepared for everything that could possibly come my way.
  My biggest concern was the flight. I have heard horror stories of kids crying in excruciating pain during take off and landing, from the pain in their ears; or of children roaming the plane and parents administering unnecessary dose after dose of children's Tylenol and Benadryl , just to keep the little beasts in their seats.
Needless to say, I turned to herbs and alternative methods of handling those situations, if they should arise.
Traveling can be stressful to a little body. The long hours of sitting in a tight space (car seat or an airplane seat), the change in altitude and climate, the time change, the humidity, and don't forget being around hundreds of people, who expose you to anything you can think of.
 So, here is what I did to  make sure that my family will stay healthy and happy during our trip, and may I add, mission was accomplished.

  • Bach Rescue Remedy - This is one of the things I would recommend to everyone as part of their well-care remedy chest. I really like it because it is not a medicine. Edward Bach,was yet another medical doctor disappointed by the medical system who, in the early 1900s, created a series of 38 plant essences that focused on the patient mental state. They are often labeled "vibrational " medicine since they focus on the energetics of the plant/ flower. The Rescue Remedy series combines flower essences with homeopathy and herbs to bring whole body balancing. There is a designated kids series but if not available, I would not hesitate to use the adult version as well. I started giving my little guy a couple of doses of the Rescue Remedy drops for kids a couple of days before our trip and on the day of the actual trip he took a dose every couple of hours. This helped his body deal with the stress and he never got cranky or overstimulated. Stress reduces the ability of our immune systems to function properly and increases our chances of getting sick when exposed to viruses or bacteria. Bach's Rescue Remedy is non drowsy and very safe. It supports the natural function of your child's body without the exposure to chemicals or unnecessary medication.
  • Echinacea Tincture - I've talked about Echinacea Tincture many times on this blog and I am not going to repeat it all here. This is something that I carry with me everywhere. It is part of my Herbal Health Care Kit and is my go to remedy when I notice the first symptoms of a cold. It is not something that should be taken as a preventative measure since it can overstimulate the immune system. It is a great "first responder" to any signs of a cold or the flu.
  • Ginger Chews - Those are real life savers in our family. We are used to home cooked meals and snacks and that's why we prefer to drive and not fly. This way we can pack a cooler with our favorite things. Flying on the other hand comes hand in hand with packaged foods and snack. Our tummies were not happy as you can imagine.I really like to use The Ginger People brand for Ginger Chews. They alleviate any gas or stomach pain quickly and are delicious. They are a little spicy so if you give them to a child try a small piece first.
  • Saline Spray or a Neti Pot - I have allergies to dust so staying in an enclosed , air-conditioned space all day is not an ideal situation for me. I do not use allergy medication or any other nasal spray. But I love my Neti Pot. It is a great way to flush away any allergens that you might inhale. With my almost 3 year old boy I use saline spray since he is not old enough to use the Neti pot. Air conditioned air is pretty dry and the air in the airplane has been recycled multiple times. Nasal irrigation is a great practice not only if you are traveling , but if you work in an office or other enclosed space. It helps flush any debris in the nasal passages and it moisten the mucous membranes so they can function properly..

Those are a few of the things that I always carry with me when we travel, even if it is a trip just a couple of hours away. There are also a few tricks you can learn and things you can pick up along the way that can serve the same purpose when you are in a situation with no access to these particular items. You can have your little one drink a cup of warm milk with honey. Not with syrup from the coffee shop,real honey. This is very relaxing and most kids do well with dairy while traveling. If you don't want dairy, you can rely on chamomile tea to calm you down and peppermint tea to soothe tummy trouble .

What tricks do you use when you travel with kids?

Are you ready for cold and flu season?

This morning I woke up to a crisp 28F outside. There is snow on the hills. Hats,mittens and scarfs are coming out of the closet . The smell of burning wood is in the air. Our beautiful Colorado fall is turning into winter.
I think it's time to get ready for cold and flu season. For most people this means stopping by their local Walgreen and getting a flu shot. For my family this means stocking up on some essential foods and making use of the herbs we so carefully picked all summer.
 I wanted to share some of the thing we do to keep healthy during the long winter months. Sure , we get the occasional sniffles sometimes, but we have not seen the flu in this household for years.None of us has ever had a flu shot and we don't ever plan on getting one. And here is our little secret : prevention.
It has nothing to do with expensive supplements. It has everything to do with food and spending a few extra minutes in the kitchen.
Our ancestors did not have the abundance of fresh foods we have during the winter months. Ironically they were a lot healthier than we are today. The secret was that since they used natural methods of preserving their crops , that actually increased the nutritional value of their food and helped them stay healthy during months of unfavorable weather conditions and inactivity.
Here are some of the staples in my great grandparents diet  that I still use today to keep my family healthy and strong:
  • Lacto- fermented vegetables
Lacto-fermentation is a process through which you capture naturally occurring bacteria in the air and on the vegetables themselves, and create the perfect environment for them to transform your healthy vegetables to a miracle food. A lot of people are terrified of the word "bacteria" but we are talking about the good guys here - probiotics. Pro-life. The process of fermentation produces lactic acid, which kills all putrefying bacteria.It also increases the vitamin levels of the food and its digestibility. 
The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables also produces numerous enzymes and different antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances.
Traditional lacto-fermented foods include sauerkraut,pickled cucumbers, fermented carrot sticks, kim chi, fermented beets, fermented vegetables like cauliflower,peppers, and celery, and fermented garlic. I like to use a mix of cabbage and carrots ( any of the beautiful colors nature creates and your heart desires) and I also make lacto-fermented carrot sticks with garlic. Yum!
After all this praise, I really have to warn you, pickles and sauerkraut from the store will not work. First of all , they are pasteurized, which kills anything living and allows for a long shelf live without refrigeration.Second, they are not even fermented, they are pickled, a process which uses vinegar and modern canning techniques , which do not produce the same results as lacto-fermentation. So you have to roll your sleeves and maybe get the kids to help you, but the process of making lacto - fermented veggies is easy and fun. I really recommend getting a book like " Nourishing Traditions " by Sally Fallon or "Real Food Fermentation" by Alex Lewin. They are full of delicious recipes and describe the process of fermentation and its benefits. 
 Deliciousness aside, here are some of the benefits of  eating lacto-fermented foods:
  • A teaspoon of sauerkraut juice gives you a dose of probiotics  higher than any expensive supplement available on the market today.
  • Sauerkraut has 4 times higher anti cancer nutrient levels than regular, non- fermented, cabbage.
  • If you follow the Standard American Diet ( SAD) , you most probably have some kind of gut imbalances and discomforts.Fermented vegetables will help re-populate your gut with beneficial bacteria , which in turn strengthens your immune system and keeps your body healthy. 
  • The high levels of probiotics in fermented foods will jump start the detoxification of your body which in term will improve immune function, reduce any chronic inflammation and will make you less susceptible to infection.

  • Eat Cultured Dairy
Normally, if you are prone to sinus and ear infections, I would recommend you stay away from dairy. The kind of dairy that produces mucous in the body is the highly processed stuff, that has been high temperature pasteurized and homogenized. What I recommend instead is another living food, cultured dairy. Cultured dairy includes yogurt, milk kefir, raw cheeses, cultured cream, buttermilk, and cultured butter. When high quality milk, preferably from pastured cows or goats, is inoculated with different bacteria , it produces another healthy living food
The benefits of cultured dairy are similar to those of fermented veggies. They improve gut function and can be a great way to enjoy dairy if you have any intolerance to regular milk. The process of fermentation actually produces the enzyme lactase, which is destroyed during pasteurization, and which allows our bodies to process cassein, one of the most difficult proteins to digest.
Fermented dairy also contains enzymes which help the body absorb calcium and other minerals. It lowers cholesterol levels and protects against bone loss.In many traditional societies, cultured dairy is often given to the sick , the elderly , and nursing mothers, since it improves digestion and the absorption of nutrients from food. This brings nourishment and healing to the body.

  • Consume healthy fats
Forget the low fat diets. Your body needs healthy fats in order to absorb many minerals and vitamins. Without healthy saturated fats like coconut oil and grass fed butter we cannot properly utilize essential fatty acids like omega-3. They are also important for brain function and support the immune system. 
The healthy fats I have in mind is extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, grass fed butter, ghee. You can also incorporate raw nuts, seeds, nut butter and avocados in your diet.
Here is what Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions discovered about saturated fats in our diet:
  •  Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of all cell membranes
  •  Healthy saturated fats help our bodies to properly incorporate calcium into the skeletal structure
  •  Saturated fats help protect the liver from toxins
  •  Saturated fats enhance the immune system.
Eating healthy fats also keeps you satisfied longer after a meal and it keeps you away from sugary snacks that can lower the immune system. It does not require a lot of effort to feed your body healthy fats. Skip the nasty artificial stuff like margarine next time you do your grocery shopping. Fry your eggs in a little bit of butter in the morning, add coconut oil to your muffins and avocado to your salads. Building a healthy body can be this easy ... and delicious!

 It is so simple! Give your taste buds a tour and discover a world of forgotten miracle foods! I wish you many inspirational moments in the kitchen and good health to you and your family!



Backyard medicine : Plantain

Common Name: Plantain, White Man's Footprint

Botanical Name : Plantago spp

Parts used: herbalists use mainly the leaves and seeds but the whole plant is useful

Energetics: cool and moist

Plantain is wonderful herb to know. I look at it as nature's secret gift to us in difficult situations. It is always around us when we need it and it will grow anywhere. As a mom of a very active toddler , I always carry a small first aid kit with me, and plantain is one of the plants that I don't leave the house without. We live in Colorado and nature is our playground so sometimes is hard to keep those little knees bruise and scrape free. Plantain is the "boo-boo" plant. It will do miracles for minor scrapes and cuts. It draws the sting and the poison out of the skin when you have a bug bite .
 Every summer I pick a big jar full of plantain leaves and infuse it in olive oil for a few weeks until it turns bright green and absorbs all the wonderful healing power of the plant. Then I strain it and either make it into a salve or add some vitamin E to the oil in order to extend its shelf life.I use the plantain oil as a base for a wonderful Healing Salve. My little boy knows to ask for it every time he falls. Sometimes even without having any scrapes or bruises, just because it is so much fun to smear salve all over your arms and legs. ;)
 When we are playing outside , I always look around to see if there is any plantain growing around, just in case. And nature always gifts us with the healing power of her plants when we need them. You can find plantain almost anywhere - look in the grass by your kids playground, or by the small creek near the trail you are hiking. And when you need it , just grab a leaf and crush it between your fingers and apply to the sting or cut. It is nature's "band aid".
Plantain is easy to recognize since its leaves have five parallel veins that run down the length of the leaves. It grows close to the ground and adapts well, that is why you can find it even in lawns that get mowed on a regular basis.
 Use plantain for any insect bite, it has the power to draw the sting of a wasp or a bee out. Use it to soothe and relieve the rashes caused by poison ivy or poison oak. Plantain will heal minor cuts and scrapes in no time. It can also be used instead of a diaper cream for babies to prevent and heal diaper rash.
 Herbalist and Wise Woman Susun Weed recommends carrying dried plantain leaves with you if you are allergic to bee or wasp stings. Using the dried leaves in a spit poultice and applying immediately after you get stung can prevent an allergic reaction. ( A spit poultice is made by chewing on the herb - dried or fresh- until you create kind of a paste. Then you apply it topically to the skin.)
 You might be familiar with another use of plantain without even realizing it. Most of us know about the benefits of fiber and have heard about psyllium fiber/seeds/husks. Metamucil is a brand that uses those seeds in its products. Psyllium seeds come from a variety of plantain ( Plantago psyllium) that grows mainly in South America. It is a great source of fiber and it helps with regularity. The truth is that the seeds of any of the plantain plants can be used in the same way. They are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and make a wonderful addition to any baked goods or oatmeal. Instead of flax seeds you can add plantain seeds.
 Plantain is a great tissue healer and it will work for the internal tissues of the body. Plantain infusion or tincture will help with the mucous membranes in the body. It is a great rinse that you can use in a Netti pot, just add 1/4 tsp of salt to 8 oz of the plantain infusion and make sure that it cools down to room temperature so you don't burn yourself.
 Plantain infusion is also helpful for any stomach upsets that are connected to irritated tissues and can even have a positive effect on leaky gut. It heals and strengthens the gut lining.

Those are some of the basic uses of plantain. Next time you are outside, look for this wonderful plant. It is a great addition to any herbal first aid kit and great remedy to have around if you have children or you love to play in nature.

Healthy moms, healthy babies - herbs in pregnancy

 I am planning on writing a few posts on children's health and I though the best place to start is at the beginning. Mom's health and nutrition during pregnancy is very important for the future health of the baby and a lot of women are trying to avoid any exposure to potentially toxic ingredients in their diet, including OTC or prescription medications.
 Every time I think of motherhood, or even womanhood, I am reminded of the beautiful words of herbalist Rosemary Gladstar :  " As a woman, I feel the answers for our inner balance come to us from our relationship to the Moon, the Earth, our relationship with the feminine and masculine energy within us, and our ancient memory as "green women", healers of the Earth....By reclaiming our heritage as healers , by loving the Earth and listening to her teachings, and by caring for ourselves with loving compassion, and with the use of gentle, natural remedies, we create the balance that brings well-being and vitality in all its fullness."

Pregnancy for me was a magical experience. I always tell other women that ask me to share experience or give them advice, that I am the worst person to ask. I enjoyed every day of my pregnancy and I felt a constant sense of fulfillment and pride ( which I find is not that common and women often thing of pregnancy as something unpleasant they need to go through). I was tired a lot during my first trimester but had an amazing amount of energy for the rest of my pregnancy . I craved only fruits and vegetables and tried to be on the go as  much as possible. Yoga helped me keep my body flexible and pain free. I can't say that I did not experience any discomfort. My belly was so big by the middle of the third trimester that I thought it almost impossible for my skin to stretch any further. Max was a very active baby even in the womb and he would move from side to side , making it hard to sleep and eat . All of this I consider part of the miracle of life. It is impossible to describe the feeling of being a vessel of creation or the look in my husband's eyes every time he looks at me , even now, when our son is almost three.
 If you are on this magical journey , or are planning to be a parent one day, I can't emphasize how important it is to make friends with a few useful herbs.Pregnancy is a natural process and who's better at providing nourishment and all the building blocks for creation than the Earth, the ultimate Mother.
 There is a wonderful recipe that I've seen shared by herbalists for a nourishing tea for women. It is called Yoni Tea and  has all the amazing herbs that support a woman's reproductive system before pregnancy and nourish her whole body during the time of change and growth. It also supports the transition from pregnancy to motherhood by helping the body to heal.
 This recipe you see below is from the book "The Roots of Healing : A Woman's Book of Herbs" by herbalist Deb Soule. I recommend this book to any woman that wants to know her body and how to use herbal medicine to be healthy and strong.
 And here is the recipe :
It is easy to buy herbs in bulk and  make a bigger batch of the tea blend and keep in an airtight container. Drink a few cups a day. This tea is useful for women in any stage of their life , so you can benefit from it even if you are not pregnant or trying to conceive.
 Red Raspberry Leaf is a wonderful uterine tonic. It will strengthen the uterus and keep it healthy. It works with you body to prepare it for the birth and will strengthen the muscle in order to make contractions more productive and the birth easier.
 Alfalfa is an amazing herb. It is full of nutrients and minerals that are easily absorbed by the body. Women often say that they are "eating for two" during pregnancy. This is partially true , since we don't need the extra calories as much as the extra nutrients. So I am sorry to say this, but put the pint of Ben and Jerry ice cream down and drink your alfalfa. It is rich in vitamins and minerals, like vitamin K , calcium, and magnesium, that are essential for building strong bones. It helps to regulate blood sugar levels, which is very important during pregnancy. If you drink this tea during and post pregnancy, alfalfa will also help you build and maintain a healthy breast milk supply.
Nettles and Red Clover are wonderful blood building herbs. They will gently cleanse any toxins out which is why is good to start drinking this tea before you conceive. A lot of women become anemic during pregnancy or after birth, especially if they loose a lot of blood. Chlorophyll is the best way to prevent becoming anemic and to build the blood up after a hard delivery.Nettles is a wonderful source of chlorophyll. It will also bring more oxygen into your blood, which is important during pregnancy, in order to develop a healthy, strong baby.
Peppermint will tame those weird bouts of nausea that every woman experiences during her pregnancy. It will calm down the digestion and help deal with the occasional heart burn.

In addition to this tea , I will also recommend getting a good whole foods vitamin supplement. I used Rainbow Light Prenatal during my pregnancy and my doctor very much approved of it. It has all the vitamins and minerals, that you would get from a prescription prenatal vitamin, without the artificial dyes and sweeteners, and whatever else they add. It also has whole herbs like Red Raspberry Leaf and Ginger added to it. If you experience a lot of nausea , Ginger should become your best friend. Taking it in a prenatal formula is easy and it actually helps you stomach the supplement. I know a lot of my friends , that were taking prescription prenatal vitamins, had problems with the supplement itself causing nausea. This was never an issue for me , while taking  a whole foods prenatal vitamin.

 Whether you decide to have the baby at the hospital, or at home;whether you decide to have anesthesia or not, it is a very personal choice. But you can still bring herbs with you and use them to assist you during delivery. Most hospitals and birth centers will respect the mother's preference to create the atmosphere she is comfortable with in the birth room. Lavender oil in an infuser or mixed in a massage oil blend is great. It will help you relax and release the tension in your body. Make a little pillow filled with lavender flowers and a grain , like rice, to use as a massage tool that will help you get through painful contractions. Stress can affect labor in many ways , even to the point of slowing it down.
 Another great herb to have with you during delivery is Shepherd's Purse. Tincture of the fresh herb has been used by midwives for centuries. It will stop vaginal bleeding and hemorrhaging. Modern doctors often don't wait for the placenta to naturally detach itself and try to get it out as soon as the baby is born. If the body is not ready , this can cause heavy bleeding and can lead to a surgical intervention. Shepherd's Purse tincture can help slow the bleeding and lower the risk for the mother.

A lot of women think that once they have the baby , things will be back to normal in no time. This is not exactly the case. For some women , the transition happens naturally. I didn't feel stressed at all during my delivery ( even though I was in labor for 36 hours and had a 9 lbs baby , and a pretty bad tear). I think creating an instant connection with your baby is very important and if you have the option , you have to do it. The first time I held my son, he was still connected to me with the umbilical cord. I breast fed within maybe 30-40 minutes after delivery. This first connection is important for both the mom and baby. Your body continues to change hormone levels, now that it is no longer pregnant, but the natural process of breastfeeding and the hormones produced by your body when you connect with your baby , help you to transition smoothly from one stage to the next. A lot of women miss the opportunities that i was lucky to have and their bodies need something extra to help them make the transition.
 Continuing the Yoni Tea after delivery is very beneficial. You can also add an adaptogenic herb like Astragalus root to the mix. Adaptogens will bring balance to the body wherever it is needed. They will regulate stress hormones and adapt your body to this transition period before things go back to normal.
 Some women will also benefit from taking Wild Yams as a supplement in order to help regulate any hormonal imbalances. If you are experiencing any symptoms of anxiety or depression,or if you have headaches, you might want to try Wild Yam.
 Remember that during pregnancy and when breastfeeding pospartum, everything you put in your body goes into the baby's body. If you think that enough rest will help you deal with any discomfort, try and rest while the baby is sleeping. also try gentle teas like Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Catnip. Those will even benefit the baby  if she/he has colic or any other discomforts in the digestive tract.
 Another helpful postpartum tool that has somewhat been forgotten are Sitz Baths. It helps speed up the healing process, especially after delivering a heavier child and a bad tear. Sitz Baths use herbs and are very similar to using a cold and warm compresses but instead you sit in a special tub ( if you have a tub at home you can create your own makeshift Sitz Bath). Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar has a great video explaining the benefits of Sitz Baths. ( click here for the link)

 As you can see, the topic about the benefits of herbs during pregnancy, can be very extensive. This was just a brief overview and I hope it will trigger your desire to do some more research and bring healthy , happy babies into this world.

What herbs do you use during this time of change and creation?

Backyard Medicine : Mullein

   Today I wanted to share with you some information about one of my most beloved herbal allies - Mullein. Let's start with some basic but important information.

Common name: Mullein, Candelaria, Hedge Torch, Our Lady's flanel, and others

Botanical Name: Verbascum spp. ( most commonly used by herbalists is Verbascum thapsus, but you can use the species that grow locally with the same effect)

Parts used: use the whole plant - leaves, roots, and flowers

Energetics: The root is neutral, slightly drying; the leaves are cool and slightly moistening ; the flowers are cool, neutral.

 Mullein is not native to the United States but it adapted very well to all the different micro climates. Since it is kind of an invasive species,it is actually considered a noxious weed. But, what's a noxious weed for some, is often a treasure for the herbalist.
 Mullein is a good friend of mine and I have to tell you a little story in order to tell you why. I was a sick child. I've had allergy triggered asthma since the age of two and my parents tried everything to make me feel better - every medicine , every procedure, even relocation to a more suitable climate. Nothing really worked in the long run and I still suffer the consequences of some of the treatments ( like too many antibiotics at an young age and a tonsillectomy at age 5). When I was in high school I discovered that I can manage my asthma and allergies by eating clean , real food , detoxing my body at least once a year and avoiding adding toxins back by choosing all natural body products. I still carried my inhaler in my purse and unfortunately I had to use it every once in awhile. If any of you has ever used an inhaler you know that horrible jittery feeling you get after you use it. I hated it, it made me lightheaded and shaky, and I needed a day or two to recover from a single dose. And then one day I met Mullein. This wonderful herb, that I have known for so long, but have never thought of taking in my body. I was browsing through the tincture section of the health food store, since I had forgotten my inhaler at home, and I found a Lung formula that had Mullein as a primary ingredient. I took it and ten minutes later I could breathe, my lungs opened, I could take deep fulfilling breaths. It doesn't have the instant effect of the inhaler but I take some when I start to feel a tightness in my chest and I haven't had a full blown asthma attack since.
 So, here is the first application of the Verbascum species. Mullein does a wonderful job alleviating any lung problems. If you have a lot of mucous and a wet cough , Mullein will dry it up. If you have a dry cough and a tightness in the chest, Mullein will open your lungs .
 I prefer to take Mullein in tincture form. It is quite bitter and unpleasant ( sure sign that it will work, right ;)), so it is easier to take the necessary dose, than drinking cup after cup of the tea. Some people smoke the leaves or light them up , like you would a smudge stick and inhale the smoke.
 If you decide to make your own tincture , you can use the whole plant and infuse it in 80-100 proof alcohol for at least six weeks. Make sure you strain it really well after that, like through a cheesecloth and a coffee filter. You don't want any of the fuzzy hairs to remain in the tincture as they can be irritating to some people.
 Ever since I became a mommy, Mullein has another use in our household. I started making Mullein infused oil in order to deal with ear infections and swollen lymph nodes. My little boy is pretty healthy, he loves his Echinacea tincture and bugs don't stand a chance with him, but we had to deal with an ear infection and badly swollen lymph nodes once. The Mullein oil worked amazingly well. He was almost back to normal within 24 hours. The swollen lymph nodes were almost the size of walnuts , visibly sticking out of his tiny neck. Poor baby, he was in pain. I rubbed Mullein oil over the glands and did a couple of drops of the oil in each ear a few times a day, and he was back to his wild self within 24 hours.

 Mullein oil is easy to prepare but is a little more time consuming than other preparations. It is made from the flowers of the Mullein plant which are collected one by one and infused in olive oil for at least a couple of weeks. Mullein is a biennial plant and during its second year it shoots this long stalk ( up to 6 ft tall sometimes) that is covered in tiny yellow flowers. You can gather the flowers and infuse them in olive oil. It take a while to collect enough flowers since they don't all open up at once , but a few open each day.
 If you are an enthusiast like me, gathering hundreds of tiny flowers might actually sound like fun. But if it seems like too much trouble , I would definitely recommend GaiaKids Ear Drops. They have a wonderful blend of Mullein and Garlic oil, with a few other herbs added.
  Those are basically the two most common uses for Mullein. Herbalist Jim McDonald  uses Mullein root to re-align his achy back and swears by this particular benefit of the plant. I haven't had any experience with this particular application, but guess who's digging some Mullein roots this fall. ;) If you want to try making Mullein root tincture, you will have to dig up the plant in the fall of its first year or the spring of the second year. This is when the root is most potent. It is a good rule to remember - dig roots up in the spring or the fall , when the vital juices and all the nutrients are actually in the root.Once the plant shoots up and starts blooming all the vital powers are focused in those aerial parts and in the production of seeds.

So make Mullein your friend ! The plants love sharing their healing power , if we only dare to ask. Be happy and healthy, and one with the Earth!

Do you have a Mullein story?

What is Backyard Medicine?

 Renowned herbalist and wise woman Susun Weed always says : "Herbal medicine is people's medicine". Unfortunately, nowadays most people are more familiar with the complicated names on the pharmacy shelves than what's in their own back yard. Think about this, we've been here for thousands of years living off the Earth and then , about a hundred and fifty years ago, somehow vanity took over and we decided that we have to be separate from Nature in order to prove ourselves. Today, we are dependent on the word "artificial" - pills, food dyes, sweeteners, oils, genetically modified this and that. But our bodies still keep the sweet memories of fresh mornings with cold dew in the grass and the smell of pine trees. they remember the bright colors of summer when the grasses are waist high and the shade of the oak trees is cool and inviting. It's like a story book childhood that we are meant to have but instead we grew up with the smell of asphalt and the sense of always being late for the most important moments of our life.
 It is time to start a Health Revolution. It is time to reclaim our patch of green. It is time to go back to the roots , sometimes literally. Find a place around you and explore - your own back yard, the park, an empty lot in the suburbs, the mountains, a friend's farm.Use all of your five senses to invoke those memories that are deep in our cells and our heart.
 Medicine is all around us. Nature always give us a solution to our problems. My little boy and I were playing by the river the other day, early evening actually, and there was a lot of mosquitoes out. Poor thing got bit on his ear and was scratching like crazy. I looked around for something that can help and sure enough there was a big patch of plantain growing steps away from the river. Plantain is the most wonderful plant to have around when you have a bug bite. You just pick a leaf, chew on it to release the juices ( or you can rub it in your hands to bruise the leaf) , and put it on the bite. There was barely any trace of the bite left by the time we got home. Isn't it amazing? That is "backyard medicine" in action.
 I started exploring my neighborhood just to see how many healing plants I can find without going out in nature. I have to say , I was more than amazed. Dandelion, Mullein, Alfalfa, Yarrow, Plantain, Red Clover, Nettles, Shepherd's Purse, Willow. I am sure there are many more I haven't found yet.
 I will try and show you all my finds in the next few posts, so we can reclaim our neighborhoods and the connection with the earth, even if it's just a dandelion plant growing by the sidewalk. So think again before you maw the lawn and don't be afraid to go on a treasure hunt in the empty lot in your neighborhood. Wonders await!
 Be healthy and happy! See you soon!

Know your body

   I often hear people say : "I know my body" or "My body is telling me...." I am actually one of those people. And there is nothing wrong with that. If we could all listen to our bodies and follow their direction life will be a lot easier. Unfortunately, a lot of us have developed selective hearing when it comes to our bodies. Some don't even speak the same language. Throughout all the research, and expanding my herbal knowledge, a miracle happened. My body and I started communicating in a way that made me understand. It turns out the different parts of our bodies are like words in a sentence. Together they make perfect sense, create beauty and wisdom. Taken out of context they can be interpreted as anything our imagination can possibly think of. Have you ever tried to diagnose yourself based on one of those website symptom generators where you enter your symptoms and it tells you what you might have? Talk about bringing an extra level of stress!
  As an herbalist one of my most important lessons was to look at the body as a whole. Don't cure the symptoms, heal the whole body. It's sort of a mantra you have to remember. There is another part of this that we must remember, which is sort of the break down of the whole body approach: assimilation, utilization and elimination. I know it sounds complicated but it is actually very simple:
  1.  Assimilation - what do you put in your body? The the first and most important thing is the quality of nourishment we provide for our bodies.Our bodies are part of Nature and only natural things nourish them properly. Do not get caught in the madness of it's made from ... so it is the same as.... Ask how exactly is it made ? If the process has a complicated name and you can't reproduce it in your own home don't eat it. For example to eat lettuce you need seeds, some soil, water and patience. Just pick it when it's grown , wash and eat. Can you make margarine or Splenda at home? So next time you go to the grocery store try to buy foods closest to their original state. Your body will thank you , since this is what it has been asking you for all along. Think of it like this- eating natural foods will bring your body to its natural state of health and well being.
  2. Utilization - does your body absorb the nourishment that you give it? If you eat anything that comes in a package with months of shelf life, the answer is probably NO. Every toxic, unnatural thing we put in our bodies affects our ability to process our food and extract the nutrients that we need. It was quite a shock for me to learn how little it takes to disturb the balance in our bodies. I am a home made kind of girl and I love cooking for my boys. We do buy organic when we can. We eat clean meats and avoid artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring like the plague. We stock our fridge with tons of veggies and fruit. So imagine my surprise when I was diagnosed with H.pylori and an overly acidic body environment. Then I sat down and took account of all the foods that we eat that I don't prepare at home. It turns out little shortcuts cost us a lot more than we think, and also, organic does not equal healthy. A lot of prepackaged organic foods are still highly processed. Take agave syrup for example, it is as processed as white sugar. You don't have to eat complete "junk" to cause damage to your body. Do not be caught in every new miracle health ingredient that gets on the news. It is often just a marketing trick.   My first step towards healing was to heal my gut. I had to take antibiotics for the H.pylori and I admit that it was something I dreaded but had to be done. In order to avoid side effects of the antibiotic I tried to introduce more probiotics in my diet - fermented foods, home made yogurt and lacto- fermented drinks. It takes a while to reverse any damage done to our bodies. Remember that a healing journey is like crossing the country in a horse carriage and not a plane. It takes a long time but the knowledge you pick up along the way is priceless.
  3. Elimination - This is somewhat of a taboo topic and I personally think that is a big problem. How many times have you seen people cringe when they hear the words "bowel movement", or "discharge", or "mucus"? Elimination is the key to a healthy body. I am not going to talk about bowel movements either. I think that everyone that has taken the path of natural healing is aware of the benefits of "regular" bowel movements and proper digestion. I do support cleansing the body as part of the healing process. It is only through a good cleanse that the body can eliminate the toxins embedded in our tissues. A cleanse is like a spring cleaning for the body. And don't forget that the skin is our biggest organ and it also is a path of elimination. It takes about 30 seconds for anything you put on your skin to be absorbed in your bloodstream. A lot of people think about what they put in their bodies and often forget that what we put on our bodies is as important. There is a number of wonderful and fragrant oils you can use to heal and nourish your body from the outside. Use dry skin brushing and self massaging techniques to help your body eliminate any toxins and heal. 
Those are just the first three steps on the path to understanding our bodies. Each of us is unique and we speak an unique language. We need different nutrients, different stages of cleansing, and different stages of healing. Just remember to listen and pay attention. We are made to be healthy, it is our natural state. We are humans and we often forget that we are a part of nature as well. Turn to the Earth and she will provide you everything you need to be strong and healthy.


Herbs for the immune system

 This blog is an addition I wanted to make to the the previous post about our immune system. I am convinced that we don't need to spend tons of money on fancy supplements at the health food store in order to achieve the results we desire. I personally purchase my herbs in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs. They make sure that their products are grown in a sustainable way and offer very good pricing. They also have monthly specials, so you can stock up on herbs, oils and other items if you need to.
 I have experienced great success with three wonderful herbs which I consider our immune system's best friends.  Those three herbs are Echinacea, Elderberry and Astragalus Root. They stimulate the body's immune functions in different ways and can help you prevent or overcome the common cold or flu faster.
 I've told you before that I often give my 2 year old Echinacea glycerite as a preventive measure or in the beginning stages of a cold, like runny nose, slight cough, or even when he seems restless, or when he is in his "snugly" stage before he gets a fever. Echinacea works miracles for his little body and he loves taking it, and even brings the tincture bottle to me when I forget (very cute, my little herbalist).
                       picture by

 I use the whole Echinacea plant for my herbal preparations. Rosemary Gladstar recommends the whole plant tincture since the different parts of the plant bring different strength of the similar constituents. In her book "Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner's Guide" , she gives detailed instructions on how to make you own whole plant tincture from  plants you grow in the garden. I personally use dried herbs ( since I ,unfortunately, live in an apartment and can not grow echinacea in my back yard) and it still works great.
 Echinacea helps the immune system by increasing T-cell and macrophage activity in the body, thus increasing the first line of defense. It is best if you take Echinacea with the first signs of an illness. It will often help you prevent a cold or even the flu. Prolonged uses of the herbs are not necessary, that is to say that you don't have to take it daily as a supplement in order for it to work. It might even prove to have an opposite effect, since you don't want your immune system to be working overtime all the time. You can take larger doses with the onset of any symptoms and it is a pretty safe herb for children and the elderly.
  If, somehow, Echinacea doesn't do the trick and we get sick, my next line of defense falls on the wonderful Elderberry tree.
I love this plant because it is more of a food than a medicine. Or at least to me. My grandmother used to make elderberry flower syrup as part of her canning/ preserving for the winter. Who knew it had an amazing healing plant, we kids simply thought it was delicious and tasted like summer.
 I use the berries in my herbal preparations. I try to keep a jar of elderberry syrup on hand in the winter time. We use it for the occasional cough and in addition to echinacea when we are fighting away a cold or the flu. The syrup is easy to make and  it keeps well in the fridge.
 Elderberries help the immune system by destroying the ability of cold and flu viruses to infect cells. If viruses can not infect cells, they can not multiply in the body, hence people that take elderberry while sick report a shorter duration of symptoms. The berries are an excellent source of vitamins A, C and  B6.  They also contain calcium, iron , and tons of antioxidants that are known to improve heart health and reduce cholesterol. It's a miracle plant , I know!
 I use Echinacea and Elderberry to treat my two year old boy, but wheen it comes to me and my husband, we often need a little extra kick of something else. This comes from the wonderful Astragalus root. Known as huang qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is recently gaining more and more popularity amongst Western herbalists.
Astragalus is an adaptogen herb, which means it will bring balance to your body where it needs it. Even though it does have the ability to increase the production of white blood cells, I use it in my herbal preparations for a lot of other amazing reasons. Astragalus has the ability to balance adrenal function and to reduce stress levels. It is healing to the gut and it improves metabolism. Those are all great benefits that can help the body heal. Often times stress and intestinal problems will lower our body's ability to defend itself from virus and bacterial attacks. I consider my two year old to still be in the stage of "carefree childhood" but my husband and I definitely need the extra benefits that astragalus provides, in order to battle those everyday stresses.
 I use all three plants to make my "Power Punch" tincture.  Every time i feel like I am coming down with something , I start taking a dropperfull every two hours. It works miracles!

What other plants do you use to keep your body healthy and energized?

Our immune system - do we really know what it is?

I have to admit, I had to deal with the flu and colds more times this year than I thought necessary. In my search of more natural ways to alleviate the symptoms,and help my family get over the pains and aches of being sick, I often will come across things like "immune booster", "it strengthens the immune system", "improves immune function". I started wondering, do we really know what this means? Where is that magical part of our body that can keep us healthy and how does it work? I started asking questions and doing some research. It turns out there is as many opinions out there as experts. Still, they had a few things in common , which I want to share with you and which opened my eyes to a different approach towards what "being sick" really is.
                       image by medicalcenter.osu.

 By definition the main purpose of the immune system is to keep any infectious microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, out of the body or to destroy them if they manage to invade the body. It is comprised of organs called lymphoid organs, which affect growth, development , and the release of lymphocytes ( a type of white blood cells). The picture above shows the organs that roughly comprise the immune system. I really want you to look at it . Did you notice it includes the tonsils, the appendix and the bone marrow? The first two are often deemed unnecessary by modern science and the last one is often forgotten until something goes wrong. But know this, all the cells in the body are formed in the bone marrow and initially they are all the same. The way they mature turns them into the building blocks of you immune system. Some cells move to the thymus and become T-cells. Some cells stay in the bone marrow and mature to become B-cells. T and B cells are the two major groups of lymphocytes which recognize and attack infectious microorganisms. Once mature some lymphocytes stay in the lymphoid organs, while others travel continuously throughout the lymphatic vessels and the bloodstream.
 I am not going to follow every detail of how this complex system of cells work in our bodies. It is not my point. The details I gave above were to prove one thing - the immune system is a whole body experience. Which means we have to keep our bodies whole in order to protect them . Think twice when your doctor tells you that you don't need your tonsils and all those times that you got sick were because this is you week spot. The opposite is true. You were getting sick because the immune response was strong and your body was doing its job. Your skin, your tonsils, your sinuses - those are the first line of defense. We often mistake the symptoms they cause for the disease. The fever, the sinus problems, the aches and pains - it all signifies your body is fighting to make itself better.
 But wait, some of you might say, we've heard that majority of the immune system is in the gut. And you will be right to believe this. It is a whole body experience, remember? The bacteria in your gut determines what nutrients are absorbed by your body , and what toxins or allergens are kept out.There are 500 species which comprise roughly 3 pounds of bacteria in our gut. They help us digest food, regulate hormones, excrete toxins, and produce vitamins and other healing compounds that nourish the body and keep it healthy. An imbalance in the digestive system can cause an imbalance in the whole body.If you are not properly nourished and your body can not absorb the nutrients it needs, all those lymphatic organs will be flooded with toxins and not be able to do their jobs.
 According to Dr. Mark Hyman here are a few things that might cause imbalances in our gut, and respectively imbalances that affect our whole bodies and how our immune system works:
  • Our low- fiber, high- sugar, processed, nutrient-poor, high calorie diet, which causes all the wrong bacteria and yeast to grow in our gut and damages the delicate ecosystem in our intestines.
  • Overuse of medications that damage the gut or block normal digestive function - things like acid blockers ( Prilosec, Nexium, etc.), anti - inflammatory medication ( aspirin, Advil, and Aleve), and overuse of antibiotics, steroids, and hormones.
  • Undetected gluten intolerance, celiac desease, or low grade food allergies to foods such as dairy, eggs, and corn.
  • Chronic low-grade infections or gut imbalances with overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, yeast overgrowth, parasites, or even more serious gut infection. 
  • Lack of adequate digestive enzyme function, which can come from acid blocking medication use, or zinc deficiency.
  • Stress, which can alter the gut nervous system, cause a leaky gut, and change the normal bacteria in the gut.
So, now that we have this basic information, a question comes to mind: how do we make all this better? And the answer is simple: you actually do not need to spend a lot of money on well advertised products that claim to " boost your immune system". The first and most important thing you need to do is cleanse and nourish the body. A lot of people are afraid of the word "cleanse" thinking that it involves starving oneself for a period of time. And some people definitely do that but it does not have to be the only way. I cleanse my body with proper food and herbs. Eat more produce and give up allergen foods such as dairy , gluten, eggs, and meats. In other words bring more easily absorbed nutrients in you diet so your body can focus on detoxing and not on digesting. With the help of herbs such as ginger, dandelion, red clover, we can enhance the process of eliminating toxins from our organs and blood. There are plenty of herbal cleanses available out there and they will all do the job since the main part of your cleansing process will be proper nutrition. Do a cleanse once or twice a year and after awhile your body will tell you when it needs it.
 The second and most important part of your immune support should be proper nutrition. This requires long term commitment and is the only path to a disease free life. Whether you choose to be a raw foodie or eat a traditional diet, it is important to always choose you ingredients well. Make sure your food is as close to its natural state as possible, choose dairy with no growth hormones in it, choose pasture fed meats and butter. All those things are getting more and more accessible due to a higher demand. Even your regular grocery store can provide a wide variety of healthy, nutrient dense foods.
 A clean healthy body will work the way it is intended. You might not even know that your immune system is working since most of the time it deals with invaders so fast that it does not trigger any symptoms to tell us that it is fighting something off.
 So next time you see an offer for an immune support "miracle pill" please keep walking towards the produce department. Food is the best preventive medicine that we have. If you let your guard down, and a few symptoms of a cold or flu decide to show up, do not be alarmed. The foundation you've build through cleansing and nourishing your body is your best support. And , of course, there are always friendly plants that will help you restore your health faster. But I will leave that for another post.
 And just remember : "Let food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food" ( Hippocrates)

What ways do you have of staying healthy and vibrant?