Friday, June 29, 2012

Back Pain

When our bodies are under stress they react as to any other threat, tightening muscles and pushing us into fight-or-flight mode. Depending on history and genetics that may cause other things, such as muscle pain.

The simplest solution might be to find the source of the stress and eliminate it, but unfortunately eliminating stress from our lives is a lost cause. Mitigating the stress, finding other outlets, would be next, but that has to wait until the immediate symptoms have been taken care of.

Flat on your back, fighting pain with every breath is not the ideal time for starting a new hobby.

Identify the cause of the pain. You might have thrown your back out, but why? Often this kind of injury wouldn't have happened if the muscles weren't already tight from stress.

Second, identify the true source of the pain. Is it physical damage? Is it muscles? Bones? Joints? If the pain comes in waves it might be a simple muscle-spasm problem and taking an anti-spasmodic or muscle relaxant might be the solution to at least get you on your feet. If it's constant, it may be swelling around the nerves and an anti-inflammatory would be your best bet.

There are a number of herbs that work as muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories. Most of them are relatively safe and can be taken in large doses if necessary. This includes most of the mints, but specifically

1 part chamomile
3 parts lemon balm
2 parts catnip
1 part thyme.

Just be careful combining them. When I threw my back out (not the first time, and not the last) I started taking chamomile and thyme on top of an ibuprofen and acetominaphen cocktail and it actually made the muscle spasms worse. Taking the herbs alone was not a problem, it was only when I took them with the pharmaceuticals.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chronic pain

Most types of pain--muscle spasms, headaches, backaches--are easily handled. Taking a muscle relaxant will take care of most muscle spasms (which includes the majority of backaches). These types of pain relief I'll address another time.

But some people live with chronic pain, to the point that they have difficulty sleeping and rely on either massive doses of pain killers or chemical sleep aids. Or both.

I try not to take anything chemical, or anything that is considered pharmaceutical. I have people in my family who have serious reactions to certain chemicals, and we have a family history of addiction, so I stay away from anything that might lead in that direction.

Pain is a difficult problem with herbal medicines. If it can't be resolved by a simple anti-spasmodic or anti-inflamatory, there just aren't many choices. Most of the choices for true pain relief are dangerous and addictive.

Sometimes the choice is between pain and sleep. Below is a simple sleep aid, but valerian is an addictive anti-depressant. It should not be taken regularly, or for more than a week at a time. It should also not be taken with other anti-depressants.

1 T valerian leaf
1 T catnip
1 T lemon balm

I choose not to use the valerian root. The leaf has the same effect, it's just not as strong and I still have the plant after. Catnip and lemon balm are both relaxation aids.

Monday, June 18, 2012


Wildcrafting is a term used for going out into the wilds (i.e., any land that wasn't deliberately planted) and harvesting wild plants.

While we may consider many of the things that grow on their own weeds, most of these have other uses. Some you can eat. Some make good rope, or shelters, or medicine, or weapons.

Every step that you take into a wild area disturbs the animals and plants that live there. Next time you go hiking, take a look at what's beyond the trail. That thick brush to your left probably hides half a hundred different types of animals. The wild berries you stuff in your mouth would normally feed a number of birds, which would spread the seeds to other places where they could grow.

Look at the crushed grass where someone scrambled away from the trail, at the lizard perishing out there in the sun because his shade is taken by a pair of hiking boots. The deer hovering in the forest above a spring waiting for people to leave so that they can drink.

Wildcrafters take this a step further. They actually go out into that thicket, into the forests, looking for the plants they need, either to sell or to use.

Many plants have been overharvested in our desire for a more "natural" lifestyle. Unethical wildcrafters will go out into a stand of a rare plant and harvest it all, with no care for the next generation, no seeds replanted, no concern for the animals that would normally live in or off of those plants.

A rare find to them means either more money or "I got my share."

Ethical wildcrafters will never take more than they can personally use, they will always replant if seeds are available, they will not take more than can be easily replaced in a season.

Many ethical wildcrafters will leave something else in exchange for what they take. Some present this as a thanks gift to the spirit of the plant, but it's usually something that will help the plant recover, such as planting a seed.

Still, if twenty wildcrafters find the same stand of something rare like goldenseal, and they each take 5% of the stand, by the end there's only a third of the stand left. (No, my numbers are correct--figure it out.*) That stand won't recover in a year. It may never recover. Even if the wildcrafters replant, the territory taken by those plants will not remain empty for long--other species will move in.

One thing that a lot of people are working on is using domesticated stocks rather than wildcrafting, so that the wild plant populations get a chance to recover. Whenever I'm in the plant stores I look for seeds that say "Plant Savers." I can plant these in my yard (many of them are quite decorative) and create a refuge for these endangered species.

The "at risk" list at UnitedPlantSavers includes goldenseal, black cohosh, american ginseng, echinacea and many more.

* For simplicity, let's say that the stand contains 100 plants. The first person to find it takes 5%, or 5 plants. The second person takes 5% (four) of the remaining 95. The third person takes four. The fourth person takes 3, the fifth takes 3, each taking 5% of what is left. After 20 people have taken 5%, the stand is down to about 37 plants.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Cranesbill Geranium

Family: Geranium

Last year I went on a nature walk. I got all curious about a number of things that grow in the canyons here, then returned to find that the same things were growing wild (i.e., weeds) in my yard!

Just weird. One of them was the wild geranium, or cranesbill geranium. It's called cranesbill because the seed pod (i.e., the burr) cuts off at a right angle and looks like a long skinny bill--like the bill of a crane. The flowers are tiny tiny tiny, the plant itself so small that collecting enough to be useful might be a chore, but somehow they managed.

Actually it's rather funny. The information I've been able to find states that wild geranium is found east of the Mississippi and that it's one to two feet tall. The version I've identified here in the Rocky Mountains fits the description for all but the size. Try two to three inches. :)

Cranesbill is an astringent, which means it tightens and constricts blood vessels, skin, etc.

Apparently the cranesbill geranium was used in any situation where blood vessels needed to constrict, such as hemorroids (I always spell that wrong) or excessive bleeding. It was also used for intestinal problems such as diarhea or irritable bowel syndrome. As a surface astringent it might be used for acne and as an addition to facial cleansers. It is also a blood coagulation agent, but I'd guess that this is again at least partially a matter of the blood vessels constricting that are letting the blood through.

Interactions: I still don't have my drug interations book back, but the usual advice is to avoid anything that will cancel out or duplicate the results. I would never use over the counter or prescription astringents, or blood thinners at the same time I was using cranesbill geranium.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Drug Interactions

A lot of the "common wisdom" about herbs is wrong.

A lot of people are under the impression that "herbs," being natural, are by definition safe. The idea of an herb-drug interaction (or an herb-herb interaction for that matter) is met with derision and contempt. Many people take herbal medicines in massive doses and mix and match plant types as if the plants were some kind of jigsaw puzzle.

They think you can safely combine a pharmaceutical blood thinner with an herbal blood thinner and not have them effect each other? Oh, come on! It's a double dose. Or take an anti-depressant with alcohol and not have them interact? Alcohol is a depressant.

Really, anyone taking any kind of herbal medicine, whether a simple vitamin supplement or a full regimen prescribed by a licensed herbalist should be paying attention to the interractions just as you would if the medication was from a pharmacy.

Chemicals create changes in the way our bodies react. That is the basis of pharmaceutical medicine. In a laboratory or a factory they create a particular chemical chain that has a certain effect on the brain or the body. They package it up, stick a fancy name on it and call it medicine.

That same chemical chain, or one very much like it, is created by the growth of a plant. It has the same effect on the body--the only thing it's missing is the fancy name and the bottle. Logic would dictate that the same precautions should be taken, the same drug interactions should apply.

Just because it hasn't been proven by "science" doesn't mean that the interactions don't exist. In the absense of scientific proof, it's our responsibility to use common sense--which really isn't that common, when you think about it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Digestive disorders

I always worry about posting too close together, but I've got a number of blog posts that I just had to write all ready to go and not posting until Monday is going to be a chore. So I'll give in. :)

I went blog hopping this morning (in a sense). I wanted to check on Life With My Aspie to see if she had gotten my message. Blogs aren't good for passing messages when you really want to talk to someone. But she got the message! Thanks!

Then I checked out the others who had followed the blog and found another friend--small world--and found that she has Celiacs, which means (in short) she can't have wheat products.

Have you ever looked at the ingredients list for anything you buy from the store? Flour (i.e., gluten) and dairy. Flour and dairy. Even in the cat food, which is disgusting. They're not vegetarians, people!

But the point is that digestive problems are rampant. We had an interview for WritingSnippets last week with a lady who has Celiacs. And of course I brought chocolate, which usually has flour in it. If I'd known in advance I could have brought something else, but I read the e-mail as I was rushing out the door.

And the hostess made a salad but used a commercial dressing. It's not easy.

I know several other people who have Celiacs and (here's the thing that brings it all together) several of them also have Autism.

People with Autism (which is a spectrum disorder and includes those with Asbergers) often have digestive problems. Celiacs disease is one of the most common. Another is a diary alergy. Put those together, you have vomiting, cramps, running at both ends, and doctors don't think to diagnose it. It's just "the way it is."

Dealing with an autistic child can be challenging enough without having to comfort one who's always sick.

You learn to adjust. One mother took her son entirely off dairy, and noticed a measurable improvement. The mother of another child has him on a "predigested" diet, which means everything is not only in small pieces but actually ground up. Without wheat or dairy. Since his digestive problems have started to clear up, he's improving. (He turned and looked at me the other day when I said his name. Actually looked AT me, met my eyes!) A third is strongly Celiacs and even the tiniest hint of gluten ties his stomach in knots. His parents carry gluten-free snacks for him so he can have his treat when the other children do.

It leads to another question. The sudden increase in digestive disorders has popped up in the last fifty years or so. Prior to that we were eating a diet of mainly organic foods--lots of greens, preserves, freshly slaughtered meats, kitchen garden produce when available. Most people didn't eat huge amounts of dairy simply because it wasn't available. Wheat was important, but only a small part of the overall diet.

Since they started putting preservatives in the food (a particular pet-peeve of mine) lots of things have started cropping up that just weren't serious problems three generations ago.

So here's a list:

Chew your food very small. That's what your teeth are for.
If you have digestive problems, try removing one thing from your diet at a time for at least a week. Preferably a month. Keep a food journal and write down whether there are fewer "incidents" in a day. This is going to be a challenge if the person in question is autistic because they need stability. So take it slow.
Eat more from the produce aisle
Grow a garden if it's possible. You have no idea how much better something tastes picked fresh.
Use substitutions. Sliced zuccinni can be used in place of noodles in lasagna or pizza.
If cheese is a staple (as it is in my family) consider going to goat cheese if you can.
Remember that soy is also a common alergen.

And last, do NOT ever assume that stomach pain is inevitable. It's usually a symptom. Find out what your body is trying to tell you, rather than telling it to shut up.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Morning Glory

Family: convolvulaceae

I hate morning glory.

It's a desperate outlaw weed and should be dispensed with entirely. Seeing morning glory seeds in the stores drives me crazy. Even the shape of the leaves is enough to make me go into an orgy of digging and weed pulling. The other weeds suffer from this mania by association. Poor things.

Morning glory covers a huge range of plants, and there are a number of cultivars that are considered annuals. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that if a cultivar (i.e., a hybrid) goes to seed the baby plants will revert to the parents of the hybrid. So a morning glory that goes to seed will go back to weed status. Those seeds that aren't strong enough for their new climate don't survive the winter.

People wonder where the strangling vines come from that attack their plants and come back every year? Well, it was the morning glory they planted last spring.

Morning glory is a perrenial weed that can't stand to have anything else alive in this world. It digs its tap roots six feet underground and spreads from that point, so roads and hedges are useless as barriers. It twists around everything it gets close to and strangles whole trees if it's allowed to spread. It holds first place (in my head) for the original devil weed.

Apparently the seeds are laxative, but I can't see that this is sufficient positive to out-weigh the strangling nuisance factor. We have lots of herbal laxitives. Some morning glories are edible, ditto. Wikipedia says "In the USA it is a Federal Noxious Weed, and technically it's illegal to grow, import, possess, or sell." Yay! Now if they would only enforce that...The USDA Noxious Weed website lists its range as California and Florida. Then they go ahead to say that it's a noxious, invasive weed in about 30 states. Duh.

I guess in an odd way I admire it, though. It's sure persistent.

Armed with shovel and gloves, I now go to do battle with the pernicious devil weed.

Monday, June 4, 2012

What topics would you like to see?

Since people seem to be coming by to visit...

Insect control

Several years ago I made this stuff--I figured, insects don't like garlic, they don't like onions, they don't like hot peppers and they don't like vinegar.

So I mixed the four, using onion seeds instead of onions. The second batch I left out the garlic and it worked just as well. The ingredients are better fresh, but dried works.

Let it all sit in the vinegar for a couple days to as long as necessary--no bacteria or fungus is going to be caught dead in this stuff! Then strain it and pour the juice into a spray bottle. Or just pour off the juice and cover the pulp with more vinegar for the next batch.

Mix it with water at 5:1 or more. For a really bad infestation you may need to use it straight, but only if the problem has gotten to that point before you start. Aphids, beetles, spiders, whatever. It seems to work on everything. I never tried it on spider mites, because they're mostly in the house and there are people in the house who don't like hot peppers. :)

Spray it every day until the problem is gone, but watch the plants. Some plants are really sensitive to acids. It's totally biodegradable and you don't need to worry if your kids drink it (although they might end up immitating a fish to get rid of the taste).

Oh, and try to use white vinegar. My understanding is that other vinegars have a lower acid content, not to mention that they're usually made from fruit of some kind. I use a dilution of water and plain white vinegar (10:1) to get rid of fruit flies and gnats on my houseplants.

Note: I've seen suggestions that you should use some dishsoap in your mix, but unless it's biodegradable it might damage the plants. If you use dishsoap, don't get it on the roots and keep a careful eye on the more tender plants.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


My spice cabinet is full of little bottles, carefully sealed, but with the masking tape lables worn off or illegible. While most of what's in the spice cabinet can be easily identified by smell, that is not always the case.

Out in the yard, there are two weeds that look very much alike, except that one has thick fleshy leaves and the other has flat leaves that hug the ground. Which is purslane, an excellent source of vitamin C?

Purslane (the thick fleshy one) is a delicacy in some areas where it is commercially farmed. In many areas, it's a weed.
I'm sure you've seen it, but a former co-worker got all excited about it and asked me for seeds. She keeps it on her porch in a planter. It tastes like bland lettuce, but the texture is weird.

If you have an urge to go out in the wild and see what's there, carry a good identification book and NEVER eat or otherwise consume anything unless you've positively identified it.

Various types of alliums (onion family) are toxic. Others are used everyday in the kitchen. All are virtually identical to the untrained eye. Queen Anne's Lace (Wild carrot) is edible (sort-of) and medicinal but a nearly identical cousin (poison Hemlock) is toxic.

I identify in the wild and if I want to try something I see I buy it from an ethical grower and put it in my herb garden.

Knowing what's around us will be important in the future, but until we can't get what we need from another source I'll leave the wild herbs alone. Ethical wild-crafting is a subject for another day.