Monday, November 29, 2010

Naturopathic Health: Ocimum Sanctum for Stress Relief

J.Chasse Dr. Jaclyn Chasse, N.D. is a licensed naturopathic doctor and the Medical Educator for Emerson Ecologics, a distributor of dietary supplements to medical professionals. Dr. Chasse’s clinical practice, Northeast Center for Holistic Medicine (, focuses on women’s health, pediatrics and infertility, with an emphasis on botanical medicine. Dr. Chasse is also a master gardener and spends her free time cooking, playing in the woods with her family and taming her small yard into an urban permaculture oasis. 

I love practicing as a naturopathic doctor. I knew this before I even saw my first patient, but every day since has reinforced that for me. I have always been a nature-lover and a scientist, and the use of herbs as medicine allows me to take those two loves and apply them to help others. It is incredibly fulfilling. But even more than that, I am consistently surprised, taught and humbled by the plants that I use in practice. Like trusted friends, their potent actions exceed what I could expect of them. They go above and beyond to heal in ways that I would not have expected.

One example of this was with a patient who came in to see me for fertility. No clear medical cause for the couple’s difficulty conceiving could be found, but in speaking with them it was very clear that at least part of the problem was the incredible stress the couple was under. On top of the stressors of trying to start a family, they each had stressful jobs along with typical financial and relationship stressors. For the husband, the stress seemed to roll off his back, but the woman was clearly overwhelmed. She complained of anxiety and trouble sleeping, and felt like she was less effective at work and at home than she used to be. 

I ordered the testing that I typically run on couples who come in for fertility and started them on a basic multivitamin and fish oil. I also started the woman on holy basil (one of my favorite plants). Ocimum sanctum, also known as sacred basil, is a well known adaptogen that comes from the Ayurvedic tradition. It has been reported to support almost every system of the body including the cardiovascular system, the digestive tract and the endocrine systems. It is most famous for its effects on the hormones that manage stress—cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine.

11-18-2010-holy basil
Holy basil is a versatile herb used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic healing.
Photo by Jaclyn Chasse

At their follow up visit a few weeks later, we met to discuss their laboratory test results. When I saw the couple again, there was a visible change in the woman. She reported feeling more grounded. Her anxiety had subsided and she was sleeping again. She noticed that whenever she forgot her holy basil, her feeling of being overwhelmed would creep back.

This plant has had a profound effect on her hormonal system, and I’m happy to report that the couple now has a 1.5 year old daughter. But the holy basil that the woman started on that first visit is what allowed her to heal and to be able to be more present in her own life. Pretty amazing for a little plant!

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Many (Many) Uses for Beeswax

L.HoltI’ve recently gotten very attached to honey as my sweetener of choice, especially for tea, hot breakfast cereal and homemade bread. But today I want to share some information about another precious honey bee product: beeswax.

Bees use their wax to build honeycomb cells for the raising of young and storing of honey and pollen. For humans, beeswax has had many versatile uses throughout history. The ancient Egyptians used it to seal everything from boats to perfumes to sarcophagi. The ancient Greeks sculpted with it and the Romans used wooden tablets covered with beeswax for easy message writing and erasing. More recently, you consume beeswax every time you indulge in a handful of Jelly Bellies or Haribo Gummy Bears.

The Ancient Greeks used beeswax to make statues.
Photo by Shovelling Son/Courtesy Flickr 

Through the ages beeswax has come to be used for a variety of other purposes in both professional and domestic domains. Perhaps the most pervasive and recognizable presence in our lives is in beeswax candles, whether you’re more familiar with the dipped and herb-infused aromatherapy pillars, tiny tea lights or the often uneven hand-rolled sort you can make with a simple craft kit. Beeswax candles are often preferred for their pure light and scents without smoke. Due to the high price, however, many candles are made of a combination of beeswax and other candle waxes such as tallow.

The popularity of beeswax candles aside, this wax can be used in a number of home projects and crafts.

Herbal uses for beeswax include both cosmetic and medicinal applications. In cosmetics, beeswax is used to make lip balms such as this peppermint orange recipe and stains like this beet root coloring. Medicinal salves (try this one with skin-healing calendula), ointments and plasters also use beeswax to give the product texture, form and easy application as well as to moisturize and condition your skin. 

In the garden, beeswax can be used to make pest deterrents such as this deer-repelling tonic “stick,” and can also act as a polishing finish for granite, wood and wrought iron either outside or in your home. Beeswax combined with oil-eating microbes can help clean up oil spills

Do you have heavy clothes or shoes that need to be repaired? Thread coated with beeswax is sturdy and waterproof. Old furniture joints and hinges getting unwieldy? Oiling them with beeswax can provide smooth, quiet motion. Beeswax-based saddle soap can condition and seal leather, and beeswax alone will keep your copper and bronze from oxidizing.

If you’re artistically inclined you might want to try my personal favorites for the use of beeswax in art: batik and Ukranian pysanky, a detailed egg-decoration technique. It takes some special tools and dyes, but it’s a style of art that’s always appealed to me. Besides, the finished eggs would make beautiful gifts.

The art of Ukranian pysanky uses beeswax to create intricately colored designs.
Photo by Kateryna Naumova/Courtesy Flickr  

I’m sure there are more uses for this versatile wax out there. What have you used it for or seen it in? What use is your favorite? 

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Rosmarinus Officinalis: Growing Rosemary for Food and Health

H.Cardenas Heidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and gardener in Lake County, Illinois, with a background in human resources. She has written about gardening for various online venues and enjoys The Herb Companion’s valuable resources. 

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is an herbaceous perennial plant related to mint. It is used for culinary, medicinal and personal care products. It has straight, pointed green leaves that grow on long branches. The plant’s leaves are very aromatic, releasing a strong pine scent when touched, cut or crushed. Depending on the variety, rosemary grows anywhere from 3 feet to 8 feet high with upright branches that grow from a central base and produce tiny blue, pink or white flowers. Usually grown as a potted herb, rosemary will grow as large as your pot allows.

Potted rosemary will grow as large as you allow it; 
it is kept small and bushy by clipping the tips.
Photo by Heidi Cardenas

Rosemary needs well-drained soil to grow well. Sand and finely crushed gravel should be added to the garden soil where rosemary is planted. In areas where the soil freezes in winter, rosemary will not survive and should be either dug up and brought indoors or transplanted to a winter shelter, such as a cold frame or a greenhouse.
Rosemary has been used since ancient times to season foods, to make personal hygiene products, in religious traditions and for protection from evil. Sprigs of dried rosemary were burned to clear spaces of negativity, evil spirits and illness. Fresh rosemary sprigs were placed in pillows to encourage good dreams and ward off nightmares. Rosemary crowns were worn in the spring and fall during festivities. It was used as a strewing herb to repel fleas, lice and other vermin in homes. Today, chopped fresh or dried rosemary is sprinkled or rubbed on meats, added to stews and soups and used to flavor herb breads. Dried rosemary sprigs are attractive additions to dried flower arrangements and herbal wreaths and braids. Rosemary is used in many herbal preparations such as salves, creams and rinses. One simple preparation that I particularly like is rosemary water hair rinse.

Rosemary steeped in filtered or distilled water, or boiled in water,
is a pleasant hair rinse to use after shampooing.
Photo by Heidi Cardenas

Steep a couple of sprigs of freshly cut rosemary in filtered or distilled water for a couple of days, or boil them in water, add an equal amount of clear water and use it to rinse your hair after shampooing for a fresh, clean, natural shine. Boiled dried rosemary can substitute to make this hair rinse. A stronger preparation from fresh rosemary sprigs makes a good disinfectant.

Rosemary has long, pointy leaves that grow from its branches.
Photo by Heidi Cardenas

To make a natural, pine-scented disinfectant spray chop up fresh rosemary, add it to boiling water for about 3 minutes, strain, and put into a spray bottle. Use it in your kitchen and bathroom.

Rosemary is a sturdy, fragrant herb to grow in the garden or indoors for many uses, including culinary, hygiene, cleaning and even topiary. It’s readily available at garden centers, nurseries and grocery stores; it's an easy herb to grow and use year round indoors and out. 

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Turmeric: Health Benefits with a Kick

L.HoltAs the weather turns cooler I dream of foods that are piping hot inside and out: warm and spicy, spreading comforting heat from my zombie-blue fingertips (my hands get cold as soon as the temperature threatens to drop below 60 degrees) to my numb toes. My favorite is curry, be it Indian, Thai or Japanese, and it was while I was investigating new recipes to try that I stumbled across turmeric (Curcuma longa). Distracted from my desire for mouthwatering spice blends, I decided to investigate.

Turmeric powder is one of the primary ingredients in curry powder.
Photo by Carlos Lorenzo/ Courtesy Flickr  

Curcuma longa is one of the primary ingredients in standard curry powders and the source of its bright yellow coloring. Native to South Asia, this herb’s introduction to the West came primarily through dyes and occasionally food as a cheaper substitute for saffron in medieval Europe. It is the yellow that tints many prepared mustard condiments, butters, cheeses, yogurts, pickles and fruit drinks today, and it is still used in dyeing saris in India and Pakistan.

Turmeric has long been used as a fabric and food dye.
Photo by PrincessFroglips/ Courtesy Flickr  

In addition to its yummy hot-pepper flavor, this member of the ginger family has recently been noticed by Western scientists for the curcumin it contains—a compound that has been shown to suppress tumors, boost the cognitive strength of people struggling with Alzheimer’s and kill cancer cells. Asian medicinal practices, such as the Indian Ayurvedic tradition, have long recognized turmeric as a useful healing herb, but the benefits were largely ignored by Western culture until well into the 20th century. Unlike ginger, it’s only recently that turmeric has joined the ranks of our Western spice racks and acknowledged health-boosting herbs.

As a healing agent, turmeric has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties. It boosts the immune system and is rich in antioxidants that aid in the body’s fight against cancer, heart failure, cataracts, dementia and ulcers. Recent studies show it to be effective in reducing arthritis pain and lowering cholesterol levels.

According to Ayurvedic practice, turmeric is a whole-body-cleanser, and an infusion of turmeric and hot milk is a common home remedy for colds and coughs. (Recommended Dose: 1 teaspoon turmeric per cup of milk.) This herb has long been used in India to prevent food poisoning and other digestive disorders, and it is traditionally considered to keep disease away from the body.

At a traditional Bengali wedding, turmeric paste is applied to the face of both the bride and groom.
Photo by Rajiv Ashrafi/ Courtesy Flickr  

Chinese medicine historically used turmeric to treat wounds, primary syphilis, menstrual disorders and digestive worm poison. Today, Chinese scientists consider turmeric to aid the flow of qi (a body’s natural energy) and blood; they use it (in conjunction with other herbs) to treat both viral hepatitis and pain of the chest and abdomen.

If you would like to use turmeric as a health measure, try the infusion mention above (up to three cups a day), or consider a capsule supplement (400mg 3 times per day). Of course, my favorite way to reap the benefits of this rhizome is through the spicy goodness of a bowl of curry. But be cautious, as turmeric can upset the stomach if consumed in large amounts and may interfere with prescription and over-the-counter drugs. If you have any concerns, speak with a health care professional.

Resources: The Healing Power of Chinese Herbs and Medicinal Recipes by Jouseph P. Hou, PhD and Youyu Jin, PhD.
Ayurvedic Herbs: A Clinical Guide to the Healing Plants of Indian Medicineby M.S. Premila, PhD
The New Healing Herbsby Michael Castleman

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

In the News: Dallas Woman Promotes Herb Benefits Through the Years

/uploadedImages/Blogs/L.Cleek.jpg What do you think you’ll be doing when you’re 92 years old? Seventy years from now I’d like to picture myself happily retired and relaxing on a warm beach somewhere without a care in the world. The last thing I imagine I’d be doing is maintaining a thriving community garden filled with more than two dozen herbs. But this is just how Lane Furneaux spends her days at North Dallas’ Edgemere retirement community. I was inspired when I read Betsy Friauf’s article At 92, Dallas woman is the Johnny Appleseed of herbs in The Dallas Morning News. Furneaux has spent the last 30 years working to make Dallas a world class herb education center and she isn’t looking to give up anytime soon.   

Furneaux first started actively pursuing this goal in 1980 when she convinced the Preston Royal Shopping Center to hold Dallas’s first ever week-long fresh herb celebration. The first 500 copies of her 1989 book Heavenly Herbs: Enjoy Them!quickly sold out and copies have now been sold in every state and continent in the world. When Furneaux’s husband Bill passed away eight years ago, she recruited a longtime friend to help convert a landscaped area of the Edgemere grounds into her own special gardening space.

 11/19 herbs
Photo by John 'K'/Courtesy Flickr

Furneaux has not let age slow her down, despite a myriad of health issues including macular degeneration and sciatica, she continues to spend hours each day in Edgemere’s herb garden and is committed to educating as many people as she can on the culinary and health benefits of fresh herbs.

According to Friauf, John Falldine, Edgemere's managing director, plans to start expanding the community's garden plot soon.

Click here to read the original article At 92, Dallas woman is the Johnny Appleseed of herbs.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Studies Find Increasing Health Benefits From Vitamin D

The US Institute of Medicine is involved in a study that will likely result in an increase in the recommended daily intake of vitamin D. VOAs Carol Pearson reports that research shows vitamin D affects nearly every area of the body and low levels of vitamin D can have serious

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Vitamin D from UV Exposure Can Decrease Cancer By 80% - ABC NEWS

The facts and fiction about Vitamin D, the sun, and tanning. Health Expert Dr. Marc Sorenson interviewed by ABC

Vitamin D uv exposure

Vitamin D - The Forgotten Vitamin

Dr Robert Carlson of Sarasota, FL explaining the benefits, dosing, and other issues surrounding vitamin

vitamin d - the forgotten vitamin