Monday, December 24, 2012

Horse Chestnut

Today is a rather gray, slithy day. Or maybe the sky just got covered with oobleck.

I was reading through one of my herb books the other day, and I ran across the horse chestnut.

Aesculus hippocastanum

The traditional american chestnut is nearly extinct due to a blight about 75 years ago. The horse chestnut is NOT related. I've been trying to talk my sister into getting rid of hers (she has two) with little success.

The nuts fall and litter the ground like tiny durian (and if you know what durian are, good for you! If not, look it up). The leaves smother everything, the shade kills the rest and I basically consider them a garbage tree.

However, just like other garbage plants (see here for my rant on Morning Glory) it has chemical compounds that are useful.

The seeds and the bark of young branches are used medicinally. It is used in tea or tincture form. Its main purpose is as an astringent, for problems of the digestive tract or the surface skin. Things like hemorrhoids, vericose veigns (used externally) or external ulcers and sores.

Horse Chestnut is extremely poisonous. It can cause kidney or liver damage, severe bleeding and bruising, or shock. Allergies are possible, resulting in hives, itching, muscle spasms and nausea. Most people who accidentally eat Horse Chestnut will spit it out before even swallowing, and the body will reject it forcefully.

There are less toxic astringents available, so horse chestnut would not be one that I would use. It appears to be excellent for external problems, though, and as an external astringent. Keep in mind that if you're allergic to anything else in the family it shouldn't be used externally either.

Because Horse Chestnut is a blood thinner, do not take this if you are taking other blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder of any kind.

Interactions: Coumadin, aspirin

Friday, December 21, 2012

Garlic Experiement Update

I got the first garlic yesterday, but for some reason the cloves didn't split. When I pulled it, only one root was still in the water--the rest had dried out and broken off. It was a small bulb, about at big around as my thumb.

A little larger than the original.

I've tried to keep the water level up so that the roots won't dry out, but it also has to be low enough to keep the moss from getting wet. It's an odd balance. I've got gnats in there now, because the moss needs to stay wet until the roots are developed enough to support the plant.

It's totally different from what happened the last time I tried this--the one time I did manage to make garlic grow, the root mass was so huge it pushed the tray up out of the water. Not sure why the difference, so I planted some more.

I'll keep working at it until I find the right balance.

On a side note, my stored garlic has been growing so I've been drying a lot of it.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sleep disorders

A while ago I had a friend contact me regarding what she thought was adult onset attention deficit disorder. She asked a bunch of people about drugs, and I promptly responded with alternatives. Of course.

Attention deficit disorder mirrors the effects of a number of other problems, most of them related to sleep. Several studies have made a connection between ADD and the inability of the brain to turn off the dreaming function when a person is awake.

Most of us go through periods of inattention or distractability. This coincides, in many cases, with an inability to sleep or a lighter sleep cycle, where we don't get all the REM sleep our brains need to stay in top shape. Our brains respond by trying to drop into REM sleep while we're awake. If we get enough sleep, everything works better.

While there are other possibilities, I tend to work with what I can affect. The simplest solution is getting enough sleep, but who has time for that? :) Meditation and exercise increase endorphins and wake up the brain. Many people who exercise enter a state similar to meditation without even thinking about it, a sort of resting state while fully awake.

I learned many years ago that if I could force my brain into a resting state I could make myself fall asleep.

When you're right on the edge of sleep your brain starts to run at random through images, sometimes sounds or snippets of conversation. Almost like a sorting process. One second you're looking at a field of sunflowers, the next you're listening to a snatch of Mozart. Then a child's face pops up, or a conversation overheard. In essence, your brain goes into an ADHD state where anything could be noted and called up. Everything becomes significant.

I found that if I could duplicate this form of random thought, never keeping my mind on anything for more than a second or two, I would drop into sleep without a problem. It does take practice (rather like my technique for getting rid of headaches) but if you're not sleeping well it's worth a try.

If you have random periods of inattention, or find yourself wondering who this person is you've been talking to for the last hour (You know you were introduced, but the name, the name!) it very easily could be a sleep problem.

Sometimes this happens during the day. The trick there is to force the brain to focus on one thing--it usually brings my attention back, and generally it is a clue that I didn't get enough sleep the night before. A fifteen minute power-nap may be helpful.

A tea made of equal parts of catnip, valerian and lemon balm usually helps me to calm down as well, but don't use the valerian if you're taking any kind of chemical anti-depressant or for more than a week at a time. If I need to relax but don't need to sleep, I skip the valerian or go for a smaller dose.

LR Note: YES, catnip is a human tranquilizer. Maybe it affects us differently because cats are alien...or maybe we are.

Additions to your calming pharmucopeia:
Most mints
turkey (triptophan)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Old Age

I worry about my cat. He's ancient for a cat and sometimes he doesn't want to eat. It appears to be simple picky eating, since if I empty out his bowl and give him a different kind he wolfs it down like he's starving.

He still has plenty of energy, he's always purring, but he's old.

Old age is something that most of us will have to deal with sometime, and with that comes a lack of appetite. Not necessarily because we don't want to eat, or because we don't care, but simply because nothing tastes good any more.

Animals and people react the same ways to old age--lack of appetite, loss of weight and energy. Pain becomes a constant companion, and many of us end up in nursing homes. Sight goes, hearing goes, we sleep more and eat less.

"Old age ain't for sissies," as the saying goes.

There's really nothing that can make old age easier. However, there are some things we can do that make the inevitable run a little smoother.

Using my cat as an example again:

1 For the first eighteen years of his life he was an outside cat. He came in at night, but during the day he was patrolling, hunting, walking fences. Lesson: Stay active as long as possible.

2 He ate the normal cat diet, with catfood thrown in. Lesson: High protein, low fat, and some variety. Since cats are carnivores, just say a balanced diet for humans. They say variety is the spice of life, and it's really true.

3 He had a pretty stress-free life. Lesson: While we don't always control the amount of stress, we can control what we do about it. i.e., don't STRESS about it.

4 When his eyesight started to go I made him an indoor cat. Naturally he resents it, and a couple times a week he gets past me and goes exploring--at least as far as the front porch. Lesson: We all need someone who cares enough to make sure we're safe, even when we don't want to be.

Of course, my cat has more of a sense of humor than I do, so I'm guessing he'll live...oh...another fifteen years?