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Archive for the ‘General Well-being’ Category

It’s been such a long time since I’ve written on this blog and I’ve been meaning to give it some attention for a while. Though I’ve been neglectful of this space I have been doing regular updates on instagram which you can follow here: https://www.instagram.com/whispering_earth/

There’s so much anxiety right now around the coronavirus pandemic that I thought it would be a good time to share some straightforward tips on how to maximise your wellbeing with simple advice and easily available foods and herbs that you might already have in your kitchen cupboards or gardens.

I’m not going to tell you how to prevent or treat coronavirus, we don’t know at this stage what treatments will prove most effective. However there is much we can do to help support ourselves and each other during what is a worrying time for many.

If you are already on medication for existing health conditions you can still apply some of the advice and use some of the recipes mentioned but do check with a health provider before taking any internal herbal remedies.

For those with a good working knowledge of herbal medicine and a well stocked dispensary I recommend reading these posts by US herbalists 7song and Stephen Harrod Buhner. There is also good advice from Matthew Wood on his facebook page.

However if you have a small collection of home remedies or none at all then I hope to share some things you can do to support yourself and feel a little more empowered. My focus here is very much on strengthening the body through care, attention and simple remedies so it can do the work it needs to. There is lots of good advice on preventative measures and good hygiene from the NHS so please do read that if you haven’t already.

Though all these areas are very much interconnected I’ll consider them one at a time for ease:

  • General health and wellbeing
  • Supporting immunity
  • Caring for the respiratory system
  • Paying Attention to mental health

General Health and Wellbeing:

Unless we take care of our general health and wellbeing any other practices we do will have limited value. This advice is mostly common sense but it cannot be emphasised enough. It really involves listening to our bodies and taking care of ourselves, even when we would usually push through. Sometimes it’s hard to do, especially when we have others to care for, but my hope is that, as people stay home more over the coming weeks, they might have more time to attend to these simple measures.

  • Sleep – this can’t be over emphasised! As a mum of young children I know how easy it is to become chronically sleep deprived but now is the time to rebalance our sleep debt, before we get ill, so that our bodies are best able to cope with whatever comes our way. Going to bed a little earlier each night can make a big difference to our overall state of health and it’s a good idea to turn off electronics early and read/ chat/ meditate before bed to allow yourself time to wind down.
  • Hydration – Another cornerstone of good health, getting adequate fluids helps keep our bodies clear and functioning at an optimum level. Water and herbal teas are good options right now, see below for ideas.
  • Quality nutrition – the building blocks of our health are made from the food we eat. This is a huge topic which is beyond the scope of this post but making sure we include plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables rich in vitamin C in our diet is a good place to start. This is especially important to remember if you are isolating and relying on stocks of dried or tinned foods. Limiting or eliminating sugar and fried foods is also a good idea.
  • Fresh air and gentle exercise – this is important to remember when we are home more. It’s easy to become stagnant which stops the flow of lymph and impairs immunity. If possible get out in the garden or a local wild space and breath deeply. If not then be sure to open a window at home, dance, stretch (seated if need be) and move when you can.

Supporting Immunity

The general care discussed above is the foundation of good immune function and everything else is secondary to that. Bearing this in mind there’s lots we can do to help care for ourselves and give our immunity a bit of a boost.

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Kitchen cupboard Remedies – Even if you have never taken herbal medicine before it’s likely that you have some in your kitchen cupboards. Spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric and ginger can all be helpful in building our resilience. Apparently doctors in China who were working with affected patients were given decoctions of herbs including ginger, cinnamon and liquorice to boost their defences. The warming spices help to clear mucus, deepen breathing and keep the circulation flowing, all of which can be helpful in this illness.

Herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme also have anti-microbial and warming properties.

Two ways I like to include these herbs and spices in my daily diet are in decoctions (a tea that’s allowed to simmer for 20 mins or more) and in stocks which can regularly be added to soups, stews and sauces.
Mushrooms contain beta-glucans which enhance immune function and are an excellent addition to the stock recipe. I tend to use medicinal mushrooms that I have foraged and dried but you can also use mushrooms like shitakes or even button mushrooms that are easily available in the shops. An added bonus is that if you leave shitake mushrooms with their gills up in the sunlight for a few hours they will dramatically increase their levels of Vitamin D, an essential vitamin for immune function.

Warming apple tea recipe: These herbs can be simmered in two cups of water to make a simple tea or in half water, half natural pressed apple juice (with no added sugar) to make a tasty mulled apple tea. You can omit any spices that you don’t have or use powdered instead of whole ones.
1 cup water
1 cup pure apple juice
2 cinnamon sticks
8 cardamom pods
Half an inch of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 star anise
Simmer together for 20 mins, strain into mugs and enjoy.

Immune enhancing stock: I make this stock in the slow cooker overnight but if you don’t have one it can be easily done in a pan on a low heat over the course of several hours. (Obviously do this in the daytime when you are around and keep checking the water has not boiled away, adding more if and when it’s necessary.) This is a guide only and you can play about with the ingredients that you have on hand. If you don’t like chilli for example you can leave it out.
Basic Stock ingredients:
1 pack Shitake mushrooms
Veggie peelings and leftovers such as carrot, squash, leek
Turmeric finely sliced or powdered
Black pepper
Garlic
Ginger
Chilli
Greens such as cabbage or kale
1 tablespoon coconut oil
Enough water to cover and for all the ingredients to move around freely.

Additional herbs that can be included in this preparation if you have access to them include: Medicinal mushrooms such as birch polypore, turkey tail, ganoderma and chaga; Astragaulus root; berries such as elderberries*, rosehips or hawthorns.
*There is some concern over the suitability of elderberry for COVID-19, this is mainly theoretical at present but, even if it is an issue, in this quantity I would consider it safe.

Once the stock is done and strained I like to freeze it into ice cube trays then add one to my cooking or to a cup of hot water to drink a couple of times a day.

Wild plants:  With spring bursting forth in the hedgerows there are some commonly growing herbs that can be harvested now to help support our lymphatic system, which in turn allows for the proper functioning of the immune system. Perhaps the most widely available of these is cleavers, Gallium aparine, otherwise known as sticky weed or goosegrass. Here is an old post from 2010 which gives a bit more detail about how to use this herb. Wild garlic is also growing plentifully at the moment and is a wonderful plant with anti-microbial properties which also moves circulation and thins mucus.
Though not so specific for the immune system, wild greens like nettle and chickweed will supply you with plenty of nutrients which in turn will support the whole body.

Caring for the Respiratory System

COVID-19 affects the respiratory system with many patients experiencing a dry cough and breathing difficulties which can lead to further complications. Here are some simple ways we can take care of ourselves and strengthen this vital part of our bodies.

Deep breathing is important to open the airways and clear out the lungs so they are functioning optimally incase illness comes our way. Gentle movement also helps with this.

There are many herbs that can help support the health of our lungs and move out congestion. These recommendations are based on those that are easily available but please do consult with a herbalist in cases of pre-existing conditions.

Liquorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, tea is excellent for supporting the lungs and is now available in some supermarkets, though care must be taken for those prone to high blood pressure as it can exacerbate the condition. Opt for one of the other herbs in this case.
Cinnamon, Cinnamomum spp., opens the airways, is anti-microbial and deepens breathing.
Plantain is a wild plant that is commonly found in gardens and grassy areas. Both broadleaf plantain, Plantago major, and ribwort plantain, Plantago lanceolata, are useful herbs for strengthening and soothing the lungs. They can easily be made into a tea to drink three times a day and are especially useful for a dry cough.
Thyme, Thymus vulgaris, is a wonderful warming lung herb that helps to calm the cough reflex, clear mucus and open the airways. It’s another common garden herb and is easily available in supermarkets both fresh and dried.

Essentials oils can also be very useful as they generally have an anti-microbial effect and can help to deepen breathing.

Aside from teas, here are some more suggestions for incorporating these herbs and oils into your day:

  • Footbaths: Make a strong infusion of lavender and thyme herbs or use a few drops of the essential oils diluted in a tablespoon of base oil and add to a hot footbath to make a lovely treatment which will de-stress and support the immune and respiratory systems all at the same time.
  • Diffuser: Most essential oils will have a cleansing and anti-microbial effect when used in a diffuser or oil burner. Frankincense, thyme, lavender, silver fir, pine or eucalyptus all make great choices for the respiratory system. A little diffuser on your desk if you are still working in an office is particularly useful to purify the air around you.
  • Inhalation: Steaming your face over a bowl of hot water containing a strong tea or a few drops of thyme, tea tree, eucalyptus or lavender can be a lovely way to clear the sinuses and support the immune system. Cover your head and the bowl with a towel to keep the steam in. Chamomile is a great choice where tissues feel sore and inflamed.
  • Chest salve: A chest salve makes an effective immune and respiratory supporting treatment that is great for adults and children alike, though care must be taken with the oils chosen and the strength of the blend for children. I would recommend a blend of herbal infused oils rather than essential oils for very young children under the age of 2.

A very simple chest rub can be made with the following ingredients:

  • 90 ml sunflower oil
  • 10 ml beeswax
  • 50 drops essential oil –  for example; 25 each of thyme linalol and eucalyptus radiata

Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the sunflower oil, mixing well. Remove from the heat and pour into a 100ml jar. Allow to cool slightly (but not set) and stir in the essential oils. Allow to set properly before using by rubbing a generous amount over the chest area and upper back. Breathe deeply.

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Paying Attention to Mental Health

One of the most important aspects of caring for ourselves and each other during the coming months is looking after our mental health. There is a huge amount of collective anxiety at the moment and many are feeling it. Being comfortable with the unknown is deeply challenging for many of us and it’s important to recognise these feelings and seek support from friends, family and professionals if need be. Many people struggle with isolation, especially those who live alone and it is easy to forget how many people there are in our society without a good support network. Reaching out to those who may be feeling low or anxious is our collective responsibility though it can be hard to know who is really in need in our fractured communities. Some areas are starting facebook groups where people can access support and community groups may know of elderly people who need supplies or someone to talk to on the phone.

There are many herbs that can help us with anxiety and low mood and it is best to seek professional advice if you are really in need. However there a few plants commonly grown in gardens or easily available as teas in the shop that can help soothe our minds and brighten our day. These include:

Rosemary – a very common garden plant, rosemary is both stimulating and calming, helping us feel more awake but more grounded. It’s also uplifting and warming and has anti-microbial properties making it an ideal choice at this time.
Lemon balm – also often found in gardens and growing wild lemon balm is a lovely relaxing herb that also has anti-viral properties. It’s just coming up in my garden and soon I will be able to harvest it for teas. It combines really well with rosemary to make a delicious brew.
Chamomile – is a lovely soothing tea and is readily available in the shops. It’s also useful for calming low grade fevers, especially in children.

Deep breathing is not only great for keeping the lungs healthy but also for calming the nervous system.

Wishing you all health and happiness.

N.B. Please remember to make sure you have a good guide book and are 100% sure on your identification before you pick and use wild plants. Also be sure to forage mindfully being aware of the wildlife that also depends on the plants and to avoid areas that may be sprayed, such as some parks.

 

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After a very wet summer and autumn and a similar start to this year, everything is feeling decidedly damp. Our snow melted after a couple of days and it seemed that was the only taste of real winter we have had. Now everything has returned to the general dampness that has characterised most of the last year, a perpetual grey autumn leading on to a somewhat murky spring. The path from our house hasn’t dried out in months, the few bright days we have had not being enough to combat the effect of months of wet!

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Whilst it may sound like an obvious point to make, the environment and weather patterns outside our door play a vital role in the patterns of health and disharmony that we experience at any given time. So it’s little wonder than this year has been especially prolific in damp, phlegmy colds, chesty coughs and stuffy noses. The milder temperatures also allow bacteria to thrive and the general feeling of stagnation that comes from a water logged environment contributes to stagnation in our own bodies. So many people I have spoken to this winter have had colds and coughs that have hung on stubbornly for longer than usual and, even after they are feeling much better, there has still been some lingering phlegmy-ness!

While mucus is a natural and important part of our bodies, lining and protecting delicate membranes, phlegm is essentially the mucus of the respiratory passages gone bad! Whilst a balanced amount of mucus is essential to health, phlegm is often thicker, stickier and more related to states of disease or disharmony. Often when there is infection, the body will produce more mucus to help cleanse out the membranes but this can become congested or stuck leaving us with blocked passages along with a general sense of tiredness and malaise.

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Fog bank rolling over the escarpment

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) conditions of ‘phlegm’ often arise from excess ‘damp’, but whereas damp is thin and watery, phlegm will be thick, sticky and cause obstructions. There will usually be a more obvious thick coating on the tongue along with other signs of congestion. Phlegm can also cause a whole host of other symptoms from dizziness and swellings to palpitations and a feeling of detachment. Dietary measures are often recommended to combat excess damp or phlegm including reducing or eliminating damp causing foods like dairy, bananas, pork, wheat products, beer and sugary foods. Foods to add in often involve root vegetables, garlic and onion, warming spices and teas of orange or lemon peel.

In Ayurvedic medicine phlegm would be seen as a disorder of kapha and treated with warming, drying herbs and lifestyle advice, as it would in Western energetics where the appropriate term, ‘phlegmatic’ sums up the constitution that is prone to an excess of the humour ‘phlegm’.

Depending on the nature of the client and their disharmony, there would be a few herbal categories that we would want to consider when treating people with excessive phlegm including mucus membrane tonics, immune tonics, expectorants, anti-catarrhals and possibly diaphoretics.

Firstly, if possible we would want to think about eliminating causes. This is relatively easy if they are dietary but much harder if they are environmental (a nice long holiday perhaps?). Then we would generally think about treating symptoms with a mix of herbs. Bearing in mind that everyone is different and each person’s unique symptoms and constitution must be considered, here is a list of a few herbal helpers that you may find useful when phlegmy-ness strikes.

Warming spices and aromatics: For many problems involving phlegm, these will be our first herbs of choice. Most warming spices will also have a slightly drying quality and many of the best ones can already be found in your kitchen cupboard such as ginger, cayenne, cinnamon and cardamom. Regular doses of these as tea or tincture will help to warm your whole body which will thin mucus and enable it to be expelled more easily. You can also add them to foods- think of how your nose runs after a spicy curry!

Aromatics will open up the channels and move stagnation and some are still harvestable over the winter months, even though they may not be at their peak in terms of taste or constituents. In particular I have been using rosemary and thyme from the garden this winter to add to foods or to make simple teas that warm body and mind and disperse congestion. Among the most useful of the aromatic herbs for phlegmy coughs is elecampane, Inula helenium, which has a wonderful combination of warming stimulating essential oils and soothing relaxing mucilage.

Mucus membrane tonics: In this category, goldenseal reigns supreme for treating the sinuses, however it is not a native herb and is highly endangered in the wild. Luckily there are some who are trying to grow it in this country. If you do use goldenseal, make sure you always buy from reputable suppliers who are making efforts to protect this valuable herbal ally. Elecampane is once again a very valuable asset for the lungs, as is hyssop, another wonderful aromatic with expectorant, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties.

Anti-catarrhals: These include elecampane, aniseed and goldenseal as well as goldenrod, eyebright and elderflower. Elecampane and aniseed are wonderful where phlegm has settled in the lungs whilst the others are more helpful for upper respiratory congestion and sinusitis. Ground ivy is one of my favourite herbs for clearing catarrh and is very prolific in this region.

Immune stimulants and anti-microbials: These herbs can help stop infection from occurring and turning a stuffy nose into a full blown sinus infection. Echinacea root is useful as an immune stimulant in general but I find it particularly useful where problems of the upper respiratory tract are involved – you can often feel a good extract tingling all through your sinuses. Garlic and onion are also very valuable allies, lots of chopped, raw garlic sprinkled on food is wonderfully anti-microbial and very warming. Elderberry is well known for its ability to improve immunity also and thyme pairs well with it as a warming ant-microbial.

As always if you are unsure of anything or have pre-existing health concerns it is wise to consult a local herbalist. Bearing that in  mind, I hope this has given you a few ideas for how to help yourself feel bright and well during these dark, damp days.

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Several people I know have had a nasty cough this autumn that they are finding difficult to shift. As it seems like there is something going around, I thought I would share this herbal cough syrup recipe incase any of you are struggling with the same thing.

A syrup such as this one is lovely if your cough has both dry, tickly phases as well as wetter, more productive ones, as there are herbs here that wll address both states. As a syrup is slippery and sweet in nature though I would avoid it if your cough is very wet and you tend to be an all round damp sort of person. In this case tinctures and teas would probably suit you better.

As I have said before, don’t be put off if you don’t have all these herbs. A classic cough syrup recipe contains just liquorice and thyme herbs so you could try this if you wanted to make it more simple.

I don’t normally use a lot of sugar in the recipes I make but it does work best for this syrup unless you plan to use it all up within a couple of months and store it in the fridge, in which case honey should be fine as an alternative, sticking to equal parts raw honey to herbal liquid.

Herbal Cough Syrup:

25g Thyme leaf
25g Mullein leaf
25g Marshmallow root
25g Licorice root
25g Aniseed
25g Echinacea root
2 sticks Cinnamon

Water 1 litre
Sugar (organic soft dark brown is nicest) 750 g – 1 kg (depending on amount of liquid left after preparation.)
Peppermint EO – 8 drops (be sure you have 100% pure, preferably organic, essential oil, not fragrance oils which can be cut with all kinds of chemicals. Buy from a reputable supplier like Neal’s Yard or Materia Aromatica.)

Method:

Place the roots in a pan along with the aniseed and cinnamon sticks and cover with 1 litre of water. Bring to the boil and then turn down immediately to a gentle simmer, putting the lid on the pan to prevent too much evaporation. Simmer for 20 mins then turn off the heat and add the thyme and mullein allowing to infuse for a further 15 mins. When cooled enough to handle, strain the herbs out and measure how much liquid you have. You should be left with between 750ml and 1 litre.

Return this liquid to the pan along with an equal quantity in grams of soft dark brown sugar. So if you have 800ml liquid you will need to add 800g sugar and so on. Return to a simmer, stirring continually then remove from the heat and stir as it cools and thickens. Add in the drops of peppermint essential oil and stir well to ensure it is properly mixed in. Bottle in sterilised bottles.

You can take a tablespoon of this syrup as needed up to 8 times a day. For children younger than 12 make this a teaspoon and those between 2 and 6 a half teaspoon.

It makes a delicious mix so is a most pleasurable way to banish the season’s ailments.

Wishing you all good health!

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Stretch marks are something that many many women are keen to avoid in pregnancy and there are a number of ways we can support the integrity of the skin to minimise their presence. Stretch marks in themselves are not harmful to us and could be seen as a beautiful testament to our journey to motherhood but, for better or for worse, we live in a culture where the archetype of the ‘maiden’ is held up as the ideal of beauty and most of us are not keen to loose it too quickly. Leaving aside such philosophical debate, in this post I hope to share some information with you about what stretch marks are and how we can help to prevent them, as well as sharing some nice recipes for bump balms and oil blends that you can make up at home.

Stretch marks, or striae, occur in somewhere between 50 and 80% of women during pregnancy, depending on which sources you believe, and result from a tearing of the dermis. This is the middle layer of the skin which is made up of connective tissue and contains collagen and elastin fibers which help the skin to stretch and heal. The tears leave scars which appear purple or red to begin with but usually fade to silvery white. Our skin is designed to be able to stretch and if there is adequate support in the dermis then marks will not occur.

Despite youth being on their side, stretch marks are most likely to appear in teenage mums, possibly because of the hormonal changes that are already going on in their bodies. Steroid hormones called glucocorticoids limit the production of collagen and elastin leaving skin more likely to tear as it becomes less elastic. This is why stretch marks can also occur as a side effect of prolonged use of steroid creams.

Many books and websites claim that whether or not you get stretch marks is entirely genetic and no amount of applying creams or oils will make any difference. This is not completely accurate as, though genetics do play an important role, the few studies done have shown that topical application does help to prevent stretch marks occurring. A German study found that one third of women using a specially formulated cream developed stretch marks as opposed to two thirds in the control group and in one review, two studies were compared and both showed beneficial results. The conclusion was, “stretch marks may be prevented in some women by daily massage but it is unclear if any particular ingredients bring special benefits.” You can read the full review here if you so wish.

Luckily there are foods, herbs, base oils and essential oils which all help to prevent stretch marks and aid in keeping skin supple and supported.

Two of the most important herbs used to prevent stretch marks are calendula (Calendula officinalis) and gotu kola (Centella asiatica). These can both be used in massage as herbal infused oils. Antioxidant rich herbs such as hawthorn, elderberry and bilberry are useful in preventing the breakdown of collagen and these can be taken in teas whilst other deeply coloured berries can be enjoyed as part of the diet. Vitamin C is an important co-factor in collagen production and is found in peppers, tomatoes, dark green leafy veg, berries and many other fruits. Anyone pregnant at this time of year is in luck as rosehips are abundant in Vitamin C as well as abundant in the hedgerows right now. Adequate protein intake is also very important.

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Bump Rub Recipes and Ingredients:

Here are two simple recipes that you can make up with a variety of different ingredients to suit yourself. First I’ll give the basic outline of the recipe and then a list of possible options below. In the past many people have asked me if they can substitute some of the ingredients in a recipe for others so hopefully this will show you some of the many possibilities. Of course there are many more base oils that you could use but these are the ones I have found to be most useful.

Mama’s Bump Rub Massage Oil:

Massaging your abdomen is such a beautiful way to connect with your own body and your growing baby and is the perfect opportunity to send love to you both.

To make 100ml:
40 mls light oil such as jojoba (or substitute any of the light oils listed below)
30 mls macerated oil such as calendula
20 mls rich oil such as rosehip and/ or avocado (or substitute any of the rich oils listed below)
7 ml GLA rich oil – borage or evening primrose
2.5 mls vitamin E Oil
0.5 ml Essential oil – optional. (Usually this works out to be about 15 drops per 100ml though this depends on the size of the dropper in the bottle. It is always wise to measure essential oils in a pipette until you get to know how much your droppers dispense.)

Mix all ingredients together and bottle. Massage onto abdomen hips and breasts once or twice a day.

Mama’s Belly Butter:

22ml light oil such as jojoba (or substitute any of the light oils listed below)
20 ml herbal macerated oil such as calendula
20 ml rich oil such as rosehip and/ or hemp seed (or substitute any of the rich oils listed below)
30 g Shea Butter (or any of the butters listed below)
5 g beeswax or candellia wax
2.5 ml vitamin E oil
0.5 ml Essential oil – optional

This makes for a rich balm so only a small amount is needed but it’s very nourishing and one I really enjoy using.

Melt the butters in a bain marie then add the liquid oils in a slow drizzle until fully incorporated. Let cool a little but not enough to begin setting then add the vitamin E oil and essential oils. Mix well, pour into jars and allow to set fully before using.

Variations:

One tip when choosing base oils is to check for the smell as some high quality oils will have a strong smell of nuts or seeds. If so make sure to mix small quantities with other oils that don’t smell so strongly otherwise you will mask the aroma of the essential oils as they are in a low dilution. Be aware that no oil should ever smell off or rancid however.

Rich Oils: These oils are particularly nourishing and high in nutrients that can literally work to feed the skin. They have a thick texture however which is why I always recommend mixing them with lighter oils. Rich oils that would be particularly nice in a bump rub include avocado, rosehip, macadamia nut, hemp seed and wheatgerm.

GLA rich oils: Evening primrose or borage both contain high levels of GLAs and are a useful addition to a bump rub in small quantities. Make sure you buy these oils very fresh as they have a shelf life of only six months. It is always wise to store them in the fridge before use.

Light Oils: Jojoba, apricot, almond, hazelnut or grapeseed (refined) would all work well as lighter oils to make your finished product easier to apply. They also contain many nutrients of their own.

Macerated Oils: herbal infused oils such as calendula or gotu kola are the obvious ones to go for but chamomile, lavender or rose would also be lovely choices here.

Butters: Coconut, cacao, shea or mango butter are all lovely on the skin. Choose coconut or mango if you want something lighter, cacao for a firmer texture and shea for a creamy feel.

Essential Oils: Many essential oils are best avoided during pregnancy until the birth itself when they can play an important role. However there are several that are very safe and fine to use from your second trimester on in low percentages like in this recipe. For these rubs I would stick to one or a combination of the following oils; mandarin, neroli, tangerine, lavender and ylang ylang. If you want something refreshing I would use mandarin and tangerine or something more relaxing for the evening could perhaps contain lavender and neroli. Ylang ylang gives a beautiful floral and exotic smell. Neroli is a very expensive essential oil but it is prized for it’s regenerative abilities so is ideal in preventing stretch marks.

Do leave a comment below if you have any queries or anything I have said is unclear.

Happy bump massaging!

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Last January I wrote a post outlining how I like to approach the topic of detoxing at this time of year. It is essentially about finding a middle way between the extremes of cleansing and indulgence and you can read it here. This year I’d like to expand on this a little and talk about how cleansing and nourishing, which are so often considered to lie at opposite ends of the scale, are essentially the same thing when approached with a healthy attitude.

All our organs of elimination, the bowel, the liver, the kidneys, the skin and the lungs need good nutrition to function properly. The liver requires nutrients such as magnesium, amino acids and antioxidants to be able to effectively break down the toxins in our bodies. So we can see that when we eat a simple but varied and wholesome diet, cleansing and nourishing both happen at the same time and are taken care of naturally by the body.

Unfortunately we live in a culture of extremes. I remember one of my first teachers saying to me, ‘the people who need to build are the ones busy cleansing and the people who need to cleanse are the ones busy building’. He meant it as a joke but there’s a lot of truth in it too. We humans are creatures of habit and we also get very invested in ideas which can stop us from achieving a more balanced approach to our health as we let our minds overrule what our bodies are telling us, often through attachment to one idea or style of eating.

Sometimes recognising what is going on can be problematic. We may see someone who is feeling tired, sluggish and congested and has signs of liver stagnation, constipation and poor skin. They seem to be crying out for a good detox but first we need to go deeper to find out if they have ended up here through excess or deficiency. Some people really do have an excessive lifestyle and some level of detoxification may well be appropriate for them but others are actually deficient in many of the key nutrients that are needed for the body to do its own cleansing.

Often the pattern may have elements of both, a poor diet which is deficient in key nutrients so the vital organs cannot function properly but is excessive in other things, sugar, refined carbs, grease, additives etc. It can be tempting to throw a bucketful of liver herbs at someone like this but, before we even think about cleansing, it’s vital to build up nutrient levels so the body can effectively deal with what is being moved out. This is where a wholesome diet comes into its own. Having said that, in people where there is a lot of stagnation, mucus and congestion, some cleansing will need to be undertaken before the body will be able to be properly assimilate nutrients from the food. So you see it is always something of a balancing act.

When I studied naturopathy, the approach of cleansing was emphasised and I have certainly seen wonderful results in clinic when people with certain chronic conditions undertake detoxification protocols. Often what was considered a ‘detox’ however was not taking strong herbs such as laxatives and diuretics which is what we see in many commercially available detox products, but an emphasis on the old European naturopathic principles such as fresh air, gentle exercise, a wholesome diet and adequate rest. Essentially it is a focus on the simple principles of life, detoxing from the excesses of our culture which are not just dietary but in our working lives, social lives and the sensory stimulation that many of us are surrounded by. When liver, bowel or other cleanses were recommended they were done so with the specific individual in mind not as a one size fits all solution.

Another thing which strikes me as very important in our approach to this topic is our attitude towards the food we are eating. A plate of vegetables like the one above, deliciously prepared with fresh herbs and a variety of colours looks like a treat to me but to someone whose favourite food is a big mac, it may appear like torture. This is where it can be better to approach dietary changes from the perspective of inclusion rather than exclusion. Encouraging people to add healthy choices into their current lifestyle can be much more helpful than just giving them a list of foods to avoid. Ultimately food should be enjoyed and if mealtimes become associated with misery then it will be much harder for people to heal. And feeling like you choose the changes to your diet rather than having them imposed upon you is much more empowering.

Still there’s always some people that do need to eliminate certain foods due to intolerances but this can be done at the same time as providing alternatives that will help them to transition to a new way of eating.

Whilst different diets may suit different people, a happy and relaxed approach to eating will suit everyone. So what I’m actually getting at here is this: Eat good, wholesome food, enjoy it, listen to your body and don’t worry about it too much!

Wishing you all a happy 2012 filled with delicious food, beauty and simplicity.

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I love to make up blends of herbal oils and often give the people I see a little bottle of something to use externally alongside taking their herbal tinctures or teas. It could be a neck and shoulder rub, a stomach massage oil, a foot massage oil or something for helping to heal scar tissue. I believe that taking some time to massage a part of your body that needs some love and attention is a wonderful technique for healing as it brings our awareness to the places that need it and encourages an attitude of self care and nurturing. The blend I have given out more than any other is my breast massage oil so I thought I would share the recipe with you here.

Before I started to see clients I don’t think I was really aware of how many women suffer from sore or tender breasts, often with lumps and swellings, which can vary a lot with hormonal fluctuations throughout their cycle. The breasts are made up of glandular tissue (which includes lymph nodes and milk producing lobes), fatty tissue and fibrous or connective tissue. The lymphatic system does not contain its own pump so it relies on the movement of muscles to keep it flowing nicely around the body. As there are no actual muscles within the breasts themselves, massage becomes even more important for healthy breasts and lymphatics.

You can use any nice base oils to perform the massage but herbal infused oils add extra therapeutic value alongside that special something which I like to think of as the plant’s own consciousness. The base of my breast massage oil is violet (Viola odorata) infused in sweet almond oil, though a good quality, organic sunflower oil could also be used quite happily.

If you don’t have any violet infused oil (and now is of course the wrong time to be making it from fresh) you can use dried plant material infused into the oil using the heat method which I outlined in this post. I personally prefer the fresh oil because the flowers impart a delightfully gentle aroma but using the dried leaf will still be effective.

Calendula oil, which can be found in many health food shops, makes a lovely substitution, especially when mixed 50/50 with lavender infused oil which can be made from dried flowers all year round. A small amount of yarrow or chamomile infused oil makes a useful addition if there is inflammation. Rosemary infused oil can be added at about 25% if there is a need to increase circulation and many people also recommend dandelion flower infused oil. Rose infused oil is another delightful addition, though I tend to stick with a few drops of the essential oil as it has a stronger aroma which resonates so much with the heart and with feelings of self-love. You can also add castor oil which is useful for removing congestion but, as it’s ridiculously sticky, I’d keep it to around 5%.

If you really want to keep things simple then stick with a plain almond, apricot or coconut oil, all of which have wonderful healing properties of their own.

The recipe I use as an all purpose breast massage oil is as follows:

28ml Violet infused oil
2ml vitamin E oil
2 drops each geranium and rose essential oils
Combine all the ingredients in a 30ml bottle and use to massage the breasts regularly.

Geranium essential oil is one of the best oils for balancing the endocrine system so is lovely for sore breasts due to fluctuating hormone levels. It also has a very balancing effect on the mind and emotions too.

When massaging the breasts I like to do a combination of circular movements with gentle kneading and a sort of pulsing action which is great at getting the lymph flowing. There is a good video here which outlines some techniques for this lymphatic pumping action.

Another great tip for getting the lymphatics flowing well in the breast area is to splash them with cold water after a hot bath or shower. Alternatively you can alternate a few splashes of hot water (though not unbearable of course) with cold water for a few minutes.

Finally, (in something of an aside) while we are on the subject of lovely ladies with voluptuous breasts, regular readers of this blog may remember the rescue hens we adopted during the summer. One of them, the delightful Primrose, has shot to stardom and is appearing in the British Hen Welfare Trust’s 2012 calendar, having fought off hundreds of other hopefuls to become Miss June.

This is how Primrose looked when we first got her:

And this is her calendar girl shot, only a couple of months later.

All the money from the sale of the calendars goes to support the charity, so if you or someone you know is a hen lover, you can pick up a copy here!

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A few people commented that they would like the recipe for the soup and herbal stock that featured at the end of my last post so, somewhat belatedly, here it is!

Herbal stocks are a great way of getting extra nourishment into our diets, especially at this time of year when we can use small amounts of immune supporting herbs to sneak extra medicine into our day through the most natural of all methods, our food.

When making a herbal stock I use whatever I happen to have in the cupboard so it will vary every time. This also means you can be very fluid with it and if you don’t have all the ingredients it’s no problem, you can just use one or two. This stock below had a number of different herbs in it but you could do equally as well using just echinacea root and elderberry or any of the other ingredients listed depending on your preference. You can play about with other herbs too, I remember Danielle mentioning that she uses astragalus root in her soups.

When making stock, I tend to just use herbs that I would not blend into the soup directly such as tough roots and bay leaves etc. The ginger, rosemary, chilli, powdered cinnamon and other soft ingredients I generally put straight into the soup as normal, but as this is merely a guide, feel free to play about as you feel inspired.

Herbal Stock Ingredients (for a soup to serve 4):

1 tsp Echinacea root – for boosting the immune system
1 tsp dried Elderberry – for nourishing the immune system
1 tsp dried Hawthorn berry – for supporting heart and circulation
1 tsp Burdock root – for gentle cleansing and nourishing
2 Bay leaves – for flavour and supporting digestion
4 slices dried Reishi mushroom – for nourishing the immune system (and too many other things to go into here!)

Simmer all ingredients together in about a litre of water for 20 mins approx then strain and add into your soup.

Soup Ingredients:

1 squash or small pumpkin
2 medium onions
6 cloves garlic
chunk of ginger to taste
coconut oil for frying
Herbal stock
1 tsp turmeric powder (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

This soup is an incredibly simple one which just involves lightly frying the onions, garlic and ginger in the  coconut oil, then chopping the squash and adding to the pan with the turmeric, salt, and pepper. Stir for a few mins then add the strained herbal stock. Simmer until the squash is soft, blend and enjoy with any number of delicious, seasonal toppings…

sprinkled with nettle seeds…

topped with steamed kale (as inspired by my friend Deborah)…

or, my personal favourite, a large helping of finely sliced mushrooms fried in a little oil and tamari.

I hope you are also enjoying lots of seasonal and nourishing goodies to keep you strong in body and mind.

 

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