Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Health. Show all posts

Feb 7, 2017

11 Ways We Should Have Known I Had Diabetes

8.1 million people have undiagnosed diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 9 out of 10 people are unaware they have pre-diabetes, and current American Diabetes Association stats say 1 out of 3 people will develop diabetes in their lifetime.

Sadly, the more I learn about my diabetes, the more I realize I spent years suffering needlessly when someone should have recognized I was diabetic. If I can help even one person get a proper diagnosis of diabetes - thereby giving them the chance to live a truly healthy life - then I want to do that.

So, how should someone have known I had diabetes? Let me count the ways:

1. I'd had gestational diabetes while pregnant with my last child. Gestational diabetes puts women at a 36 - 60% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.* Every doctor I saw (and there were many) knew I'd had gestational diabetes...and because of this every one of them should have tested me for diabetes. To my OB/GYN's credit, she did want to test my blood sugar - but she insisted it couldn't be done through a blood test; she wanted me to spend the greater part of the day drinking a glucose solution and then waiting around for a result. I had two small children and no babysitter; I told her that kind of test just wasn't going to happen. She refused a blood test. And, sadly, a blood test would have worked just fine.

2. Most of my weight was in my middle. This should scream to every doctor that the patient probably has blood sugar issues. It might not be diabetes yet, but it's almost assuredly insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes.

Gestational diabetes puts women at higher risk for developing diabetes later.
3. I was utterly exhausted. Diabetes often isn't the first thing one thinks of when someone says they're fatigued all the time; however, it is a definite symptom of the disease.

4. My testosterone was high. After my son was born eight years ago, I never quite felt well again. I felt my hormones were out of whack and the one hormone test my GYN would do was for testosterone. It was high; she did nothing about it. High testosterone in women often leads to diabetes.

5. I felt terrible after exercising. I don't know how many doctors told me I should feel great after exercising, but I do know I told them all the opposite was true; after exercising I felt even more exhausted and sick. Now I know that when your blood sugar is high, exercise makes your blood sugar even higher; therefore, exercise makes you feel terrible when your blood sugar is out of control.

6. My feet were always cracked and dry. You may know that diabetics tend toward foot troubles, but you may not realize one of those troubles is dry feet.

7. My memory was terrible. This is a common side effect of diabetes.

8. My eyesight kept getting worse and worse. My ophthalmologist literally told me last year, "Huh. Your eyes seem to get worse every year. Hmmm..." and left it at that. But this is another classic side effect of diabetes.
Eyesight that worsens early can point to diabetes.

9. I'd had a magnesium deficiency. Most diabetics are low in magnesium, and researchers think a deficiency may lead to insulin resistance.

10. I was grumpy. Some diabetics say they feel like Jekyll and Hyde because part of the day they feel angry and grumpy and the next part of the day they feel like themselves. This is due to blood sugar spiking and dropping. Once my blood sugar was lowered, my routine grumpiness disappeared.

11. I have a family history of diabetes. On both sides. There is a link between your genes and your chances of getting diabetes, so doctors should regularly test patients who have a family lineage of diabetes.

Many people avoid thoughts that they might have diabetes because they fear the consequences of the disease, which are truly awful. BUT you don't have to suffer from the consequences of the disease if you take your condition into your own hands and reduce your blood sugar. Many thousands of people have done it, and gone on to live long lives.

To learn about more symptoms of diabetes, see the American Diabetes Association website. However, don't follow their dietary guidelines, which push lots of carbohydrates - you know, the carbs that turn to sugar in your body. To reverse diabetes or pre-diabetes (meaning to return to your blood sugar to normal levels - the 80s - and possibly come off insulin or diabetes medication, I recommend the Facebook Group Reversing Diabetes, which has been instrumental in my quickly lowering my blood sugar to normal. If you aren't on Facebook, trust me - this group is worth creating a Facebook account just for the information and support they offer.

* Children whose mothers had gestation diabetes while pregnant with them are also at higher risk for developing diabetes. (As well as learning disabilities and autism.)

Nov 7, 2016

Why Magnesium Might Be Making You Feel WORSE, Not Better

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information. Thank you for supporting this sit

All over blogs and social media and even medical websites, you'll find a ton of information encouraging you to take magnesium supplements, especially if you're having trouble sleeping. They are not wrong; taking a magnesium supplement can be an excellent way to sleep better at night. But here are a few things I've learned about magnesium that might surprise you.

What You Don't Know About Magnesium Supplements

1. A lot of blogs insist magnesium is better absorbed by the body when it's in lotion form. I  asked my naturopath about this, and she confirmed this is a myth. If your body needs magnesium, you'll absorb it just fine with a good quality complex supplement like that made by Professional Formulas (the brand my naturopath recommends). (Incidentally, I've used both magnesium lotion and magnesium in pill form, and my body absorbs magnesium much better in pill form)

2. How much magnesium your body needs may vary from week to week and month to month. If you start having diarrhea, this is one common sign you need to back off on magnesium. If you take a supplement right before bed, but are still having trouble sleeping, you may need to increase your dose a little.

3. Magnesium could actually be making you feel much, much worse.

Why Magnesium Might Be Making You Feel Worse

For years, I've been taking a magnesium supplement to better my sleep, but in the last few months - especially this last month - I've been so very, very, very tired. I felt like I was getting plenty of sleep, but I could hardly drag myself out of bed. And to do anything - even think! - felt like a huge thing. In addition, my muscles almost felt weak. Going up the stairs in our house, for example, just wiped me out.

So I asked my naturopath about this. Her first question was: "How much magnesium are you taking?" I was well within her guidelines (and under the guidelines on the bottle). But she said, "Magnesium is a natural sedative and muscle relaxant."


And when I mentioned this on my private social media page, a few friends contacted me right away. They'd been exhausted, too, and never thought to condemn their magnesium supplement.

I stopped taking magnesium and the very next morning I could feel a difference. I was much more wakeful and my muscle weakness was gone. I'm giving my body a break from the supplement. Maybe I don't need it any more. Or maybe I just need to lower my dose. My sleep will tell!

Oct 11, 2016

Yarrow: A Common Weed That's Good Medicine

Back when we lived in the suburbs, my neighbors sometimes gave me some preeeetty strange looks. Imagine me knocking on a neighbor's door: "Hi! How are you today? I was just wondering if you'd mind if I picked some of your weeds. I use them to make medicine for my family."

No one ever said no, and a few even smiled and told me stories about how their granny used to do the same thing, but most of them raised their eyebrows, muttered something about it being okay, and then shut the door, shaking their heads at me. I'm sure a few even started referring to me by my strange hobby: "Look, honey! It's the weed lady!"

But in the suburbs, I systematically learned to identify local weeds (mostly by using Google), then researched them to see if they were useful in any way. Now I have the pure pleasure of learning the useful weeds on our rural homestead. So when I spotted a certain wildflower - a very common weed called yarrow - I was pretty darn excited. It's an extremely useful herb.

Identifying Yarrow

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.) is a plant that can be found both in the wild and in gardening centers and domestic gardens. But, as with all medicinal herbs, the wild versions are far better medicine. (The medicinal qualities have largely been bred out of domesticated versions.)

Unlike their colorful domestic siblings, wild yarrow is a white or pale lavender flower - actually, clusters of tiny umbellate-shaped, five-petaled flowers with yellow stamens. Yarrow usually blooms between June and September, tthough in mild climates it may bloom further into fall. The flowers sit on long, straight stalks and the entire plant is aromatic, smelling a bit like chamomile. The leaves are feather-like, and grow all along the stem. The stems can grow to about 3 -5 feet tall. The roots are rhizome-like and are near the surface of the earth.

Yarrow is common along road sides, in grasslands, on rocky beaches, in meadows, and in the open areas around woods. It is also known as warrior plant, squirrel’s tale, mille foil, thousand leaf, wound wort, and nosebleed plant.

NOTE: Do not consume any plant you cannot positively identify.

Close up of yarrow flowers.

Harvesting and Preserving Yarrow 

Yarrow flowers, leaves, and roots are all useful. The flowers are high in aromatic oils and should be gathered when dry and fully open (but not turning brown). The leaves are higher in tannins and may be harvested any time, though herbalists say they are more potent in spring and early summer. The root is primarily used for toothaches and is usually harvested in fall.

To facilitate using yarrow all year long, the roots, leaves, and flowers are typically dried before use. People have been air drying medicinal herbs for thousands of years, and you certainly can preserve them that way today; but if you have a food dehydrator, I recommend using it (at about 95 degrees F.). It will dry the herb more quickly and retain more of the medicinal qualities of the plant. Store in a glass jar with an air tight lid in a cool, dark, dry location. The dried herb will last several years; as long as it is still aromatic, it has some medicinal qualities left in it.

Drying yarrow with an electric dehydrator.

How to Use Yarrow 

Yarrow is antibacterial, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain relieving), astringent, vulnerary (heals wounds), and styptic (ends bleeding). Herbalists consider it cooling, drying, and a bitter.

Yarrow flowers and leaves.
Bleeding: For thousands of years, people have used yarrow to help stop bleeding. (One of this plant's common names, "warrior plant," even hints at this important historical use.) Today we know yarrow contains alkaloids that are proven to reduce clotting time, and achilletin and achilleine that help blood coagulate. Use dried, powdered yarrow, or chew fresh leaves until the juices are coming out of the plant. (Traditionally, the wounded person was encouraged to do the chewing so he could swallow the juices in his mouth.) Apply as a poultice directly onto the wound. Traditionally, a strong yarrow tea was used for internal bleeding. (Of course, if you have serious bleeding, you should go to the emergency room.) 

Fevers: Another very common use for yarrow is reducing fevers. Yarrow tea causes the body to sweat, which naturally helps reduce fever. 

Heart: Yarrow tea is also often used to dilate peripheral blood vessels and treat high blood pressure.

Sedative: Yarrow tea relieves anxiety and insomnia.

Reproductive: Yarrow tea is said to help regulate the menses, bring on a late period (not caused by pregnancy), reduce cramps, and reduce heavy menstrual bleeding. (Scientific studies show yarrow contains phytoestrogens, which act like estrogen in the body; this means that in women who have a good balance of hormones, prolonged use might lead to a hormone imbalance.)
Circulatory: Yarrow is said to help improve varicose veins, hemorrhoids, phlebitis, thrombosis, and generally improves circulation.

Diuretic: Yarrow tea is a mild diuretic and may relieve cystitis, irritable bladder, and stones. 
Yarrow's feathery leaves.
Anti-inflammatory: Yarrow is said to relieve painful joints, hemorrhoids, and is known to generally reduces swelling.

Colds/Flu: Yarrow tea is recommended at the first sign of a cold and is said to relieve sore throats and act as a decongestant. Herbalists say the tea is not only warming, but stimulates the immune system and helps you "sweat out" the sickness.

Astringent: Yarrow is a mild astringent, good for oily skin. (Make yarrow tea and allow it to cool before splashing it on the face or applying it with a cotton ball.) It also helps tighten pores. 

Minor cuts/scrapes/rashes/bug bites/stings: Yarrow is excellent for all these minor complaints. It reduces the swelling and pain and will help prevent infection. Chew fresh leaves and apply to the affected area. 

Toothache: Yarrow root helps relieve the pain from toothaches and may help any infection in the area. Hydrate dried root with a little water, then apply to the tooth.

Digestive: Yarrow tea soothes spasms and cramps in the digestive tract, including those from IBS or gallbladder attacks. It's also good for the liver and gallbladder.

Bug repellent: Yarrow tincture or essential oil helps repel insects. 
Closeup of yarrow's leaves.
Immune System & Infection: Yarrow has long been used to stimulate the immune system. It also has antimicrobial properties and may prevent infections, including viral and urinary. 

Good Food: Yarrow is good food, too! The young spring leaves and flowers are sometimes used in salads and soups.

Good for Plants: Yarrow is great for other plants. It's roots seek out and readily absorb potassium, copper, and phosphorus; therefore yarrow is sometimes chopped up and used as mulch around the garden. 

Basic Yarrow Tea
Place about one tablespoon of chopped flowers, or leaves, or both, in a tea ball. Place tea ball in a cup and cover with boiling water. Cover cup with a saucer until steaming stops. Steep at least 10 -15 minutes. Drink up to three times a day. To help with fever, reheat and drink as hot as comfortably possible and take hourly until fever breaks.


According to The University of Maryland Medical Center's website (and other sources), yarrow has not been tested on children or nursing infants. Pregnant women should not take yarrow because it could potentially cause miscarriage. One study has also linked yarrow use in pregnant women to low birth weight in infants.

Allergies are possible; if you are allergic to anything in the Asteraceae (aster) family (that includes chrysanthemums, daisies, and ragweed), you should not consume yarrow.

Yarrow may interfere with iron absorption or the absorption of minerals. Do not use yarrow if you have gallstones. Yarrow may negatively interact with blood pressure and blood thinning drugs and should not be taken if you are already taking a diuretic or sedative. It may also counter-act drugs used to diminish stomach acid.

Yarrow may cause contact dermatitis (rash) in some people. It may cause your skin to be more sensitive to sunlight. 

It is always wise to consult your physician before taking any type of natural supplement

I am not a doctor, nor should anything on this website ( be considered medical advice. The FDA requires me to say that products mentioned, linked to, or displayed on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified medical advice or care. There are no assurances of the information being fit or suited to your medical needs, and to the maximum extent allow by law disclaim any and all warranties and liabilities related to your use of any of the information obtained from the website. Your use of this website does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. No information on this website should be considered complete, nor should it be used as a substitute for a visit to, consultation with, or the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider.  

May 24, 2016

How to Repel Mosquoitoes Naturally

We hope we are soon moving to beautiful acreage - where mosquitoes are more prevalent than they are where we currently live. I really don't love the idea of spraying my family with DEET on a daily basis, so I've been researching some more gentle, natural ways to deter mosquitoes from biting us.

I have not yet tried any of these remedies (because we haven't moved yet), so the information I'm sharing here is strictly from researching trusted herbal sites, university pages, and the like. Experiment with me, and please let me know what works for you!

Plants that Repel Mosquitoes

In my research, I found many sources that claimed simply having these plants growing in your yard would repel mosquitoes. I am skeptical. It's believed these plants work by having a strong scent - a scent that covers up the smell of you to mosquitoes passing by. But most of these plants have a far stronger scent when the leaves are crushed (which is why they work in homemade mosquito sprays; more on that later.).

Nevertheless, I think it's probably worth placing these plants in areas where you are most likely to be troubled by mosquitoes - like a picnic table or grill. Just know that these plants will all work far better when crushed and rubbed on your skin. (But do use common sense; before you cover your whole body, it's a great idea to rub a little over a small area of your body and wait to see if you have any type of reaction.)

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
This is an easy to grow herb that has many medicinal uses, too. It likes sun or part shade, and can grow to 2 feet high. Like most herbs, it can take over the garden if left to it's own devices, so I recommend putting it in pots. Zones 4 -9. Learn more here.

Lemon balm. (Courtesy JoJan and Wikimedia Commons.)
Catnip (Nepeta faassenii)
In  a 2010 study by the Iowa State University Department of Entomology, scientists discovered that oil from catnip is 10 times more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes. This is another easy to grow herb that needs to be potted or it will take over your garden. Use with caution if you have one or more cats. Not only will kitties eat and roll in this plant, but it acts as a hard drug for them and, much like LSD, will give them flashbacks. Zones 4 - 8. Learn more here.
Catnip. (Courtesy of Kurt Stüber and Wikimedia Commons.)
Pyrethrum (Tinacetum cinerariifolium)
Pyrethrum is said to be excellent not just for repelling mosquitoes, but also many other insects, including aphids, bed bugs, leaf hoppers, cabbage worms, spider mites, and ticks. Zones 3 - 7. Learn more here.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Another easy to grow herb that should be potted, but which is thought excellent at keeping mosquitoes at bay. It grows in full sun or part shade and can get up to 18 inches high. Zones 3 - 7. Learn more here.
Peppermint. (Courtesy of
French Marigold (Tagetes patula)
French marigolds contain pyrethrum, which is used in many natural commercial insect repellents. Marigolds are very easy to grow, and gardeners often plant them near vegetables to repel aphids, too. Zones 1 - 10. Learn more here.
French Marigold. (Courtesy of Joydeep and Wikimedia Commons.)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lavender is an attractive herb with some medicinal uses. It's also said to repel mosquitoes. There are about a gazillion different types of lavender, so choose one that has a strong scent and fits your growing requirements. Zones 4- 9. Learn more here.

Lavender. (Courtesy of
Basil (Ocimum americanum)
This herb is best known for it's important role in the kitchen, but it also acts as a mosquito repellent. Zones 4 and up. Learn more here.
Basil (Courtesy of
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Eating garlic may repel mosquitoes - but only if you eat enormous quantities. However, the plants themselves are said to keep mosquitoes at bay - and garlic is not only a healthy addition to your diet, but medicinal, too. Zones 3 - 9. Learn more here.
Garlic. (Courtesy of
Floss Flower (Ageratum)
This pretty flowering plant grows between 6 and 20 inches tall, depending upon the variety. Choose a variety with a strong scent. Zones 3 - 9. Learn more here.
Floss Flower. (Courtesy of Thomas R Machnitzki and Wikimedia Commons.)
Rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) 
Rosemary is an excellent cooking herb, has medicinal properties, and is said to repel mosquitoes. It loves a warm spot and will grow up to 5 feet tall. Zones 6 to 10. Learn more here.
Rosemary. (Courtesy of H. Zell and Wikimedia Commons.)
Snowbrush (Ceonothus velutinus)
This shrub grows up to 10 feet high in full sun or part shade. Zones 3 - 10. Learn more here.
Snowbush. (Courtesy of Walter Siegmund and Wikimedia Commons.)
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
entha pulegium

Read more at Gardening Know How: Growing Pennyroyal: How To Grow Pennyroyal Herb
Mentha pulegium),

Read more at Gardening Know How: Growing Pennyroyal: How To Grow Pennyroyal Herb
Mentha pulegium)

Read more at Gardening Know How: Growing Pennyroyal: How To Grow Pennyroyal Herb
Mentha pulegium)

Read more at Gardening Know How: Growing Pennyroyal: How To Grow Pennyroyal Herb
This old timey flower is a great ground cover, and is said to repel mosquitoes while attracting butterflies. It's also medicinal. Zones 5 - 9. Learn more here.
Lemon Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Some people say any thyme will repel mosquitoes; others say only lemon thyme will. Regardless, thyme is an easy to grow herb that I recommend putting in pots so it doesn't spread. Thyme is also an excellent kitchen herb, and medicinal. Zones 4 -11. Learn more here.
Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
Another excellent kitchen and medicinal herb said to repel mosquitoes. Zones 9 - 10. Learn more here.
Lemon Verbena. (Courtesy of H. Zell and Wikimedia Commons.)
Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus)
Most likely you've heard of this plant, because it's the main ingredient in many mosquito repelling products sold in stores. Yet despite citronella's reputation, some people who've tried growing the plant to repel mosquitoes say citronella doesn't work at all, even when the strong-scented leaves are crushed. I include it here because plenty of others disagree. Citronella grows to be about 5 feet tall, but can be grown in containers, as well as directly in the soil. Zones 9 - 11. Learn more here.
Citronella. (Courtesy James Steakley and Wikimedia Commons.)

DIY Natural Mosquito Repellent Sprays

I've looked at a lot of homemade mosquito sprays, but these three (or variations on them) appear to be the most effective.

Four Thieves Herbal Mosquito Repellent Recipe

Place 2 quarts of apple cider vinegar in a glass jar. Add 12 tablespoons of The Bulk Herb Store's Vinegar of the Four Thieves mixture. Put the lid on the jar and store in a cool, dark location, shaking once a day. After 2 weeks, strain, reserving the liquid. Pour the liquid into a clean jar; crush a few cloves of garlic and add to the jar. Allow to soak for 3 days in a cool, dark location, then strain again, reserving the liquid. Store in the refrigerator. Shake before every use.

Herbal Mosquito Repellent Recipe

Coarsely chop mosquito repelling herbs like lemon balm, catnip, lemon verbena, and lavender. (See the list of plants, above, for more ideas on what you could include.) Chop enough to fill a glass jar. Pour rubbing alcohol, witch hazel, or vodka over the herbs, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Place a lid on the jar and put it in a sunny location for 2 weeks, shaking the jar every day. Strain, reserving the liquid. Pour liquid into a spray bottle. Shake before every use.

Essential Oil Mosquito Repellent Recipe

Fill a spray bottle 3/4 full with either witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, or vodka. Add the following essential oils:
  • 10 drops mint
  • 10 drops citronella
  • 5 drops rosemary
  • 5 drops eucalyptus
  • 5 drops lavender
  • 5 drops cloves
Add distilled water until the bottle is full. Shake before every use. (If desired, you can experiment with the essential oils of other plants mentioned above.)

Homemade Mosquito Trap

This DIY trap is all over the internet. All you need is a 2 liter plastic bottle, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup warm water, and 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast. See the complete instructions over at DIY & Crafts.

Title image courtesy of icools.

I am not a doctor, nor should anything on this website ( be considered medical advice. The FDA requires me to say that products mentioned, linked to, or displayed on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified medical advice or care. There are no assurances of the information being fit or suited to your medical needs, and to the maximum extent allow by law disclaim any and all warranties and liabilities related to your use of any of the information obtained from the website. Your use of this website does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. No information on this website should be considered complete, nor should it be used as a substitute for a visit to, consultation with, or the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider.  

May 2, 2016

Foraging Cleavers for Food and Medicine

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

Even though I don't have a garden right now, I'm still finding food to harvest from my yard. That's because God has provided us with a bounty of weeds that are good to eat - and most of them are "super food," packed with nutrients.

My season for eating fresh dandelion leaves is over because now the plants are blooming. (This makes the leaves awfully bitter - though there are ways around that. See my Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook for details.) Currently, we're eating the flowers. (Here's a favorite recipe.) Plantain is out and about, and is both good to eat and medicinal. Yellow dock is beginning to appear. Sow thistle, which is best when young, is cropping up. But lately, we've been focusing on cleavers (Galium aparine) - one of my children's favorites.

How to Identify Cleavers
Cleavers cling to nearly anything, including other plants.
(Courtesy Hugo.arg and Wikimedia Commons.)

In my yard, cleavers are among the easiest weeds to identify. Cleavers is a vining plant with long, thin leaves, and little bristles ("hooks" that bend toward the bottom of the plant) that tend to cling - or "cleave" - to just about anything it touches. (There's even a rumor that cleavers inspired the creation of Velcro.) The lowest leaves of the plant are petioled and rather round, whereas the upper leaves are sessile and shaped rather like narrow ovals. Cleaver plants can be 2 or 3 feet long when mature, and while they sometimes climb nearby plants or fences, they tend to grow horizontally across the ground. 

Cleavers are also sometimes called clivers, goose grass (because geese love to eat them), catchweed, or sweet woodruff (the latter being it's own variety of cleavers that is medicinal, but toxic when consumed in large quantities). Cleavers grow throughout the United States, and through much of Canada and Mexico, as well as in many other parts of the world.
Cleaver leaves have distinctive, oval shape leaves that appear on the plant in a circular pattern. (This photo and title photo courtesy of Harry Rose.)

What Do Cleavers Taste Like?

To me, cleavers taste like many other greens you are probably familiar with, like kale. They have a slightly bitter taste, much like some slightly bitter salad greens and not nearly as bitter as, say, dandelion leaves. Don't let that slight bitterness scare you, though. Even my children like to eat cleavers!

How to Eat Cleavers

Most often, my kids and I pick the young tips of cleavers and eat them raw. You'll see where the newest leaves grow in a cluster at the end of each vining end of the plant. Pinch these young leaves off and chew well before swallowing.

The newest leaves, or tips, of the cleaver are most edible. (Courtesy of Harry Rose.)
(I remember reading once that a foraging expert ate some raw cleavers during a class and didn't chew well. The plant clung to his throat, causing him to choke a bit before couching the plant back up! I have never had this happen, and I think it's because I eat only the youngest leaves, or "tips.")

But if you want to make absolutely sure cleavers stop clinging, you'll want to cook them. Pinch off the younger leaves and boil them for about 10 - 15 minutes. This will remove the clinging "hooks." After cooking, cleavers can be used like any green. For example, you can add them to omelets, rice, enchiladas, or smoothies.

As the plant ages, the leaves are less and less edible, becoming tough and more hairy. If there are buds or flowers on the plant, it's much too mature to eat.

I've also read that cleaver seeds - roasted at a low temperature - can be brewed into a caffeine-free coffee substitute. (Find complete directions here.)

Making Medicine with Cleavers
Courtesy NATT at NKM.

Traditionally, cleaver leaves (old or young and dehydrated) were used to make a tea or tincture to treat kidney problems (including kidney stones), to help treat fever, and to act as a diuretic. They were also mashed up and applied to stings and bites. Most herbalists also believe cleavers improve the immune system and act as a cleansing tonic; cleavers may also act as a gentle sleep aid.

Mountain Rose Herbs says cleavers are good medicine for hypertension, psoriasis, eczema, and general skin care (including rashes). The plant's leaves also make a nice addition to hair rinses.

Many sources claim cleavers have been scientifically tested and found anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, too. First Ways also recommends clever tea for swollen lymph nodes.

You can read more about the medicinal properties of cleavers at The Homeopathic Information Service website.

CAUTIONS: Most herbalists recommend consuming only small amounts of cleavers, since it's considered strong medicine. People on blood pressure medication should not consume cleavers (since it the combo of cleavers and their prescription may lower their blood pressure more than is safe). Those on diuretics or kidney medication should consult a physician before consuming cleavers. In addition, pregnant women should avoid cleavers. Some people are allergic to cleavers and may get a rash (contact dermatitis) when they touch the plant; if this happens to you, do not under any circumstances eat cleavers. As with all new-to-you plants, when trying cleavers for the first time, it's a good idea to crush a few leaves and rub them over your skin. Wait 24 hours before consuming any cleavers. It's also smart to eat just a few leaves the first time you eat cleavers, or any other wild food. If you are allergic to plants in the Rubiaceae family, you should not consume cleavers.

I am not a doctor, nor should anything on this website ( be considered medical advice. The FDA requires me to say that products mentioned, linked to, or displayed on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified medical advice or care. There are no assurances of the information being fit or suited to your medical needs, and to the maximum extent allow by law disclaim any and all warranties and liabilities related to your use of any of the information obtained from the website. Your use of this website does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. No information on this website should be considered complete, nor should it be used as a substitute for a visit to, consultation with, or the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider.  

Apr 18, 2016

How I Cured an Irregular Heart Beat...Naturally

The women in my family have a problem. (Well, probably more than one...Ha!) We tend to have irregular heart beats. That is to say, we experience heart palpitations. Our hearts will lope quickly one minute, skip beats another. It's a bit unsettling, and has caused many of us to seek the help of a heart specialist.

But the heart specialists always say the same thing: "There's nothing wrong with your heart." One of my sisters was given medication to help regulate her heartbeat, but the drug made her depressed. So she does what so many doctors suggest: Cough hard. This "resets" the heartbeat.

But last year, I discovered an actual cure for my irregular heartbeat, via my naturopath: Potassium. This was fascinating to me because the women in my family also tend to have low potassium levels.

Turns out, potassium is "crucial to heart function" and, despite the fact that no MD or heart specialist ever mentioned this to any of the women in my family, low levels of potassium (known as hypokalemia) are recognized as causing an irregular heartbeat.

The thing is, I found it tough to get enough potassium through my diet. (Click here for a list of foods with high levels of potassium.) But as soon as I started taking a quality potassium supplement? My irregular heartbeat went away almost immediately.

Such a simple fix!

Now, a couple of caveats:

1. Heart palpitations can be a sign of a serious health problem, so if you experience them, you should definitely see a physician.

And 2: Not all supplements are created equal. You may have read in the news that some common supplements are complete frauds. So I always ask my naturopath to recommend a brand of supplement that's high quality and trustworthy. She recommended Designs for Health K+2 Potassium supplements.

How much do you need to take? Adults need 4,700 mg of potassium daily. I usually take a 300 mg tablet daily, and try to eat lots of potassium rich foods. But if I notice I'm experiencing muscle cramps or twitches, I take two capsules a day for a couple of days.

Do be smart about taking potassium, though. You should discuss it with your doctor because too much potassium (hyperkalemia) can lead to heart palpitations - and in severe cases may even make the heart stop beating.

I am not a doctor, nor should anything on this website ( be considered medical advice. The FDA requires me to say that products mentioned, linked to, or displayed on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information on this web site is designed for general informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for qualified medical advice or care. There are no assurances of the information being fit or suited to your medical needs, and to the maximum extent allow by law disclaim any and all warranties and liabilities related to your use of any of the information obtained from the website. Your use of this website does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship. No information on this website should be considered complete, nor should it be used as a substitute for a visit to, consultation with, or the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider.  

Mar 8, 2016

How to Get More Vegetables in Your Diet - Easily!

When the kids recently spent a couple of weeks at their grandparents' house, I admit I slacked off when it came to cooking. I still cooked from scratch, but somehow there was a lot less cooking to do when the kids weren't around - and I found myself not always eating very healthy. The main issue? Lack of vegetables! And did you know that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say ½ of every plate of food we eat should be covered with vegetables? Whoah! I was way under my quota - and probably you are way under that quota, too. That's why I wrote A Vegetable for Every Season Cookbook. But even with that recipe-packed paperback, you might be wondering how to easily get more vegetables into your daily diet. Here are some ideas.


Pancakes, eggs and toast, cereal…The most common breakfast foods don’t contain any vegetables at all. But it's not that hard to add some to the breakfast table. For example, try making an omelet with vegetables in it. Common veggies to add include diced tomato, diced bell pepper, sliced mushrooms, chopped chives or green onions (scallions), sliced leeks, chopped spinach, and/or diced onion. (Have trouble making omelets? Try following these directions. For me, though, the key is simply to use a smaller pan; this results in a smaller omelet that's easier to flip.)
Vegetable omelet. (Courtesy Wendy.)

If you don’t like making omelets, make a scramble or hash instead; here are directions, but basically you just mix scrambled eggs with a bunch of veggies (and maybe some meat, like chopped ham or bacon). Just be sure to add vegetables that take a little while to cook (like potatoes, onions, and bell pepper) toward the beginning of cooking. More tender veggies, like greens or tomatoes, should be added toward the end of cooking.

Another idea is to add shredded zucchini to some flour-based breakfast foods, like pancakes or waffles, or muffins. You really won't taste the zucchini, but you'll get it's added nutrition. In fact, this is a great way to sneak veggies into the breakfast of a picky eater. I've not tried it myself, but many readers tell me shredded yellow summer squash works just as well as zucchini for this kind of thing.

Lettuce wrap "sandwiches." (Courtesy of

Unless you're more ambitious than I am, sandwiches are probably your go-to lunch food. You can make them healthier several ways. One is to omit the bread entirely and substitute large leaf lettuce. Another is to keep the bread, but instead of using iceberg or other pale-colored lettuce (which doesn't pack much punch when it comes to nutrition), use dark leafed lettuce - or maybe even other greens, like cabbage or kale. Also take a look at what you're putting into your sandwiches. You can easily add things like cucumber slices, sliced tomatoes, sprouts, sliced olives, thin-sliced onion, sliced peppers, thin-sliced (or shredded) kohlrabi, shredded carrots, sauerkraut, or shredded cabbage leaves.

Salads can also make an excellent lunch, and are filling if you make them large and include some protein, like sliced egg or chunks of ham, chicken, beef, or fish. Again, avoid light-colored lettuce and choose dark lettuces for more nutritional punch. You can also add things like cauliflower or broccoli, diced chives or green onions (scallions), sliced cucumber, sliced celery, sliced radish, shredded carrot, sliced mushrooms, sprouts, diced peppers, shredded cabbage, snow peas, sliced olives, fresh or sun dried tomatoes, sliced or shredded kohlrabi, artichoke hearts, and cooked or pickled asparagus spears.

Raw veggies, like carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, radishes, and snow peas are also excellent on the side - maybe with homemade Ranch dressing, vanilla yogurt, or hummus.


Parsnip fries (from A Vegetable for Every Season.)

I think it's easiest to find a way to use vegetables at dinner time, especially if you use them as a side dish. Right now, my favorite side dish is roasted vegetables. (Click here for the how-to.) Or, if you roast a chicken, for example, you can easy peasy toss in some chopped veggies, like carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, rutabagas, sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), winter squash, onions, and/or asparagus. The only trick here is to chop them so they are all approximately the same size; that way, they cook evenly.

If you like to serve stews, soups, or casseroles, be sure to add tons of veggies to them. I try to double the number of veggies called for in such recipes. Just remember, more dense vegetables (like potatoes and


I try to serve vegetables as snacks before I offer anything else. Not only are veggies a very affordable snack (compared to more common, processed snacks), but they are so much healthier, too. Raw veggies are an easy choice, of course. Or you can make veggie chips at home with a food dehydrator (or your oven). Good choices for chips include kale and dandelion leaves (picked before the weeds send up flowers and stems), zucchini and summer squash, parsnips, carrots, beets...and yes, potatoes.

You can also make "snack sandwiches" by substituting bread for slices of cucumber. (I prefer to cut them into rounds, which makes them "snack sized.") Add a little mayo, a tomato slices, and a strip or two of bacon. Delish!

A similar idea is to make snack sized pizzas, but instead of using dough or English muffins for the crust, use a sliced zucchini round or a large mushroom as the crust.

And, last but not least, an easy peasy way to add more veggies to your diet is by making smoothies. In fact, I'd go so far as to say you should avoid smoothies that are mostly fruit; they will spike your blood sugar, making you more tired and prone to snack. Instead, pack the veggies in, and then add a banana (my favorite) or a handful of berries to sweeten up the drink.

Now it's your turn. What are YOUR favorite ways to add more veggies to your diet?

Feb 16, 2016

The Truth About Salt

Recently, I had a conversation with someone that made me realize there's a lot of misunderstanding about salt out there. "The only healthy salt is pink sea salt," this person insisted. "All other salts have been bleached and the nutrients removed." I was stunned...because, well, that's not true at all.

So which salt is the healthiest? How much should we be eating? And how is sea salt really processed?

How Salt is Harvested or Processed

Harvesting salt is fairly simple process, really. First, salt water is driven into a pool. Sun and wind slowly evaporate the water. The salt crystallizes and is harvested - usually with a truck that scoops the crystallized salt into a factory. It may take five years for the salt to go from the pond to the factory. In the factory, the salt is washed to remove impurities. It may also be boiled in water  - which is the most transitional method. What's left is dried, packaged, and sent to stores.

A San Francisco salt pond. The pink color is due to organisms in the pool, not the salt itself. Courtesy Doc Searls and Wikipedia Commons.
In fact, this process is so simple, it's basically what humans have been doing for thousands of years - and what you can still do today. (In fact, it's possible for those who live near the ocean to harvest their own salt. Learn how here.)

Another way salt is harvested is through "solution mining." Here, wells are installed in natural salt beds and water is added to dissolve the salt. The resulting brine is pumped out and taken to a plant where it is evaporated. Salt can also be mined much like minerals, but this type of salt is typically made into rock salt - not the type of salt you cook with.

A mountain of salt in France. Courtesy of  Rolf Süssbrich and Wikipedia Commons.
The Healthiest Salt?

All salt is basically the same: it's sodium chloride. And, until recently, most health experts would have told you no salt is better for you than another. But now studies show that processed salt - any salt with additions to it - is linked to autoimmune disease.

Table salt is highly processed.
The type of salt that's sold for salt shakers - table salt - is the worst offender. It's processed to remove minerals and has anti-caking agents added (actually, any salt that's finally ground may have anti-caking agents, too; read labels carefully), as well as iodine. The addition of iodine began in the 1920s, when many Americans didn't have access to iodine in their foods - or just neglected to eat foods rich in iodine. They didn't know then, as we do now, that adults need just 150 micro grams of daily iodine, which is easily obtained by eating dark leafy greens, seafood, grains, and eggs. (Dairy products are also a good source of iodine, but largely  because of the iodine feed supplements and iodophor sanitizing agents used in the dairy industry.)

However, differences in unprocessed salt are very minor.

Pink Himalayan salt.

What About Pink Salt? 

Contrary to what my acquaintance said, sea salt is not bleached, nor does it have it's nutrients removed. I can only guess she thought all sea salt was pink, and that the white stuff in the store somehow had it's pink removed. I have no idea, however, where she'd get such erroneous ideas.

Pink salt comes from the Punjab region of Pakistan, about 186 miles from the Himalayas. (Hence it's other name, "Himalayan salt.") It does have some trace minerals in it, and while I sometimes buy and enjoy pink sea salt, claims about it are usually exaggerated. The minerals in Himalayan salt are so minute in quantity that scientists say they make zero difference in our diet. Further, the only list I can find of the minerals found in pink salt (which may or may not be accurate, since nobody seems to know exactly how or where the salt was scientifically examined) has a few disturbing items in it, including arsenic, lead, plutonium, uranium, and polonium. Fluoride, too, which I know many people try to avoid.

Trying to find true Himalayan pink sea salt can also be difficult. Many manufacturers lie about the origins of the salt, or add things to it to make it look pink. Also, it's important to know that salt can be colors other than pink or white. There are gray salts, red, black, and so on - it all depends upon the minerals that naturally occur where the salt was harvested.

Perhaps some confusion comes from the fact that the pools in which sea salt are harvested are sometimes pink. But this isn't due to the color of the salt, but to algae and (sometimes) brine shrimp that are attracted to the pool. 

So, long story short, pink salt is not healthier than any other unprocessed salt.

Why Salt Isn't Bad For You

I grew up hearing that salt is terrible for your blood pressure. However, salt is something everyone needs in order to stay healthy. In fact, too little salt can be dangerous, too. Salt only becomes a problem when it's highly processed, or when we eat processed foods.

Yes, it's true. Anyone who eats processed foods (foods not made from scratch) or restaurant food is consuming huge amounts of salt - far more than is healthy, and far more than they'd be consuming if they made their own food and salted it as they cooked.

Putting it All in Perspective

If you want healthy salt, consume only pure sea salt. Read ingredient lists carefully, since salts often labeled "sea salt" may have added ingredients you should avoid.

This is a healthy daily intake of salt. That's a LOT!
If using pure sea salt, you can salt your food liberally and you will eat far less salt than if you were consuming processed food. The CDC recommends adults eat up to 2,300 mg of sodium per day. That's about 1 teaspoon of fine other words, a lot! I can't imagine using that much salt, even for a day's worth of food for my entire family. Another way to put this into perspective: Experts estimate that in the average person's diet, only 5% of their salt intake comes from cooking at home, with another 12% coming from natural foods. 6% comes from adding salt at the table...and a whopping 77% comes from processed/restaurant food!

Courtesy the CDC.
What I Recommend

I personally use Old Thompson's sea salt because I can buy it locally (at Walmart). It comes in coarse form and is sold in a grinder. For most cooking, this works perfectly. But if I need to measure out salt (say, for fermenting or canning) it's a bit of a pain to grind the salt, then measure it. One of these days, I may buy fine sea salt without additives, like Celtic Sea Salt or Real Salt.

Just read labels, my friends, and you'll be well on your way to outing unhealthy salt in your diet.