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

Aug 25, 2014

Medicinal Uses for Vanilla Extract

According to Johns Hopkins University, 50 to 80% of American adults get cold sores; a study at the Louisiana State University Health Science Center found 98% of all adults carry the virus that causes them. So a great many people are seeking relief from these painful sores - even spending $24 or so for a tiny tube of medicine that reduces the length of time they'll have the sore by about 2 days. What most people don't know is there's a natural, very effective, much less expensive medicine for cold sores - and most people probably already have it in their house: Vanilla Extract.

Vanilla extract has bee used as medicine for thousands of years - and for a variety of ails. It is well worth keeping a bottle in your family's medicine cabinet:

To Reduce Inflammation

Vanilla extract has long been used on teething babies' gums and for temporary relief from toothaches. Scientists today know it as a good inflammation reducer - which is why some people even rub vanilla extract onto joints to reduce pain.

To Reduce Stomach Problems

Europeans often use vanilla extract for morning sickness - though, of course, it shouldn't be guzzled (!) since there is a small amount of alcohol in it. Be sure to ask your doctor how much is safe to take - and explain how much alcohol is in your particular vanilla extract (it can vary; read the bottle label for an exact amount). You can also make your own vanilla extract without alcohol. Usually a small amount is added to water, tea, or coffee to reduce nausea and stomach pains.

To Give the Brain a Boost

Scientists known that smelling vanilla is reduces stress - and once stress is removed, we all think more clearly. (Don't want to go around sniffing a bottle of vanilla extract? I don't blame you. try putting a little in your coffee, instead.) There is also even some indication vanilla extract may help alleviate depression - and relax you enough that you can fall asleep naturally.

For Antioxidants Action

Vanilla contains "vanillin" and "vaniillic acid," which a number of studies (including a 2007 study published in
the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry), found are mild antioxidants. That means they help remove damaging free radicals and toxins in the body known to lead to illness.

For Antibacterial Action

Vanillin is also antibacterial, which makes it helpful in treating acne and minor skin abrasions.


To Treat Headaches

The use of vanilla extract to treat headaches goes back to the times of the ancient Egyptians. Try adding 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract to 8 ounces of water.

For Cold Sores

It may be that the alcohol in vanilla extract is the primary reason it heals cold sores so quickly. Or maybe it's the inflammation-reducing properties of the extract - or something else scientists don't yet understand. But if you apply vanilla extract to a cold sore as soon as you notice it's first tingling sensations, it will heal several days faster. (Cold sores normally last 7 to 10 days; vanilla extract heals cold sores in 4 to 5 days, in my experience.) Apply it with a Q-tip, and use it as often as the cold sore bothers you - or at least 3 times a day. Be sure to immediately dispose of the Q-tip in the garbage, since the virus that causes cold sores is easy to catch.

Real vs. Imitation Vanilla

For the medicine cabinet, use only real, pure vanilla extract, which is made with vanilla beans and alcohol. Imitation vanilla extract does not have the healing properties of real vanilla. (But it's mostly false that secretions from beavers are used in making imitation vanilla.)

Aug 8, 2014

Back to School Ideas

A whole week is nearly gone and I've only posted once. I do apologize; I just haven't been feeling great. Plus, I'm busy preparing for a duo birthday party (hubby and daughter). But school is starting up again for some of you, so I thought I'd point you to some older posts that are still relevant for school days. Enjoy!

* Back to School Breakfast Ideas - Quick, healthy ways to get your kids off to a great start each day.

* Back to School = I Love My Crockpot - Make school time easier by making good use of your slow cooker.

* Why Homeschool Preschool? - Why I, and so many others, choose to homeschool during the preschool years.

* Homeschool Preschool: Thoughts on Readiness - How do you know when your child is ready to learn?

* 5 Safety Rules for Every Kid - School time means more time away from mom and dad. Be sure your kids know these important safety tips.

* Keeping Toddlers Busy While Homeschooling - Tips from a mom who's been there!

* Sleep Deprivation: The Childhood "Epidemic" - Poor sleep means poor learning; here's how to help your child sleep better.

* Our Favorite Kids Education Programs Streaming on Netflix - Why not let TV time be education time?


May 16, 2014

Dandelion Medicine: Using the Common Dandelion Medicinally

The more I learn about the common dandelion, the more I'm amazed at how unappreciated it is. If you're a regular reader, you already know what an excellent food dandelions are. (In fact, I wrote a whole  cookbook packed just with dandelion recipes.) But did you know that dandelions are great medicine, too? In Canada, dandelion is a registered health product, and for many, many centuries, the dandelion has been prized for its medicinal properties.

Dandelion roots, before dehydrating.
Dandelion Root Medicine

Perhaps the strongest dandelion medicine comes from the plant's roots, which are used to detoxify the liver (I can personally attest to how well this works), kidney, and gallbladder. Some believe the root may also help treat diabetes, yeast infections, gout, PMS (again, I've had great success here), and eczema. Dandelion root and the herb uva ursi have also been shown to reduce urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women. (Uva ursi is not safe for long term use, however.) The roots are also rich in inulin, which is a prebiotic that encourages healthy microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract, so the root is great for upset stomach, too, and may be beneficial to diabetics.

Perhaps the most exciting use of dandelion root is the treatment of cancer. There are many anecdotal accounts of the root curing cancer (click here to read one), and currently the root is being studied scientifically for the treatment of cancer.

In addition, the roots are packed with beta-carotene, calcium, vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, B12, C, E, P, and D, biotin, inositol, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.

For medicinal purposes, the roots are usually dried and made into a tea (click here for a complete how to). The dried root can also be ground up in a coffee grinder and added to water or juice. In orange juice, there is no detectable flavor. Drink 2 - 3 times daily.

Dandelion Leaf Medicine
Dandelion leaf.


Dandelion leaves are a scientifically proven diuretic - meaning they increase the amount of urine the body produces, and thereby reduce swelling and bloating. And unlike most other diuretics, dandelion leaves won't cause a potassium deficiency. Dandelion leaves are also thought to improve kidney function and strengthen the immune system, as well as sooth an upset stomach and put an end to constipation.

The leaves also happen to be packed with vitamin A, B, C, and K, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc, carotenes, and fiber.

You can eat dandelion leaves, just like you'd eat any other greens (like kale or collards). However, you have to catch them in the early spring, before they flower and become bitter. (Bitter leaves can be made less bitter by boiling them for a minute, then changing the water and boiling again for a minute, then changing the water again and boiling for one minute...but this process also decreases the nutrients and medicinal properties in the leaves.)

You can also puree the leaves in a smoothie, or make an infusion of the leaves. For the latter, Dian Dincin Buchman, Ph.D., writes in her book Herbal Medicine that you should use one pint of boiling water for every handful of leaves (and flowers, if available). Steep for 10 minutes, then strain. If desired, add a little honey to offset bitter leaves. Drink the infusion 2 - 3 times a day. Leaves may also be dehydrated and crumbled into a tea ball to brew medicinal tea.

Dandelion flower.
Dandelion Flower Medicine

Dandelion flowers are a known diuretic and are thought to improve the immune system. The flowers are also packed with antioxidants and are a superb source of lecithin - which is believed to maintain brain function and may slow or stop Alzheimer's disease. Lecithin is also supposed to be good for the liver. Additionally, dandelion flowers are a good source of vitamins A, B, and C, beta-carotene, iron, zinc, and potassium.

For the best medicinal results, use the flowers to make a simple tea that you may drink 2 - 3 times a day. Click here for a how to. The leaves may also be dehydrated and made into tea, but bear in mind older flowers will burst into seed in the dehydrator.

Dandelion Stem Medicine


Dandelion stems are traditionally used on scrapes and cuts, to speed healing. Just break open a dandelion stem and apply the sap to the affected area.

CAUTIONS

According to the website of Andrew Weil, M.D., "Dandelion is one of the least problematic medicinal herbs, especially given the fact that it has long been consumed as a food. However, people with ragweed allergy should be cautious when using dandelion, as it may cause an allergic reaction. In addition, people with an infected or inflamed gallbladder or blocked bile ducts should not use dandelion." The site also indicates that dandelion may decrease the effectiveness, or "adversely interact with" antibiotics; may "change the rate at which lithium medication leaves the body," and "the rate at which the liver breaks down certain medications."

For more information about harvesting and using dandelions for food, see these posts:
"Ah Sweet...Dandelions?"
"How to Make Dandelion Tea"
"Eating Dandelion Flowers"
"Making Dandelion Jelly"
"Teaching Children to Forage" (with dandelion cookie recipe) 

Want to learn more about eating and cooking with dandelions? Check out The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook!

NOTE: I am not a doctor. Before taking any herb, it is always best to talk to your doctor about it.

Jan 15, 2014

Is Your Birth Control Causing Abortions?


Most Christian women would be horrified to learn the birth control method they are using causes abortions - yet that's exactly what's happening in many, many cases.

This is such an important issue, I'm reposting - with updated information - this article from 2011.


* * *


Recently, I read a passing comment on a blog saying birth control pills cause abortions. Whoah! I thought. Could that be true? I certainly had never heard anything like that before. After a lot of research, here's what I discovered.

How the Pill Works - and Causes Abortions
According to Web MD, hormonal birth control (including the pill, the mini pill, the combination pill, Depo-Provera, the patch (Ortho Evra), and vaginal rings) work in several ways. They may inhibit sperm from traveling through the cervix by thickening the cervical mucus, and they may prevent women from ovulating (releasing eggs). Hormonal birth control also makes the lining of the womb "inhospitable."

The Association of Prolife Physicians has stated "there is an impressive amount of medical literature" backing up the last mentioned way the pill is known to work - by preventing eggs from implanting in a woman's uterus. The hormones in the pill do this by making the endometrium thinner and drier. Through in-vitro studies, most doctors believe a thin uterus makes it difficult to become pregnant. But if the pill works in this fashion, that means an egg has already been fertilized and the act of preventing it from implanting means the pill isn't actually working as a contraceptive. Instead, it's causing an abortion.

The combination pill and mini pill are the most popular forms of the birth control pill used today. The combination pill specifically works by usually preventing the pituitary gland to stimulate a woman's ovaries into ovulation. The mini pill doesn't usually stop ovulation (because it contains only artificial progesterone and no estrogen). Instead, it works by causing an abortion. It makes the lining of the uterus "inhospitable" for the fetus. Again, it causes abortions.
  LinkFertilized Eggs on the Pill?
Most of us were taught the pill works by preventing ovulation. Yet the pill is not 100% effective in this area. Even when you consider the best possible statistics physicians offer - that, as Planned Parenthood reports, 1 out of 100 women who take the pill perfectly get pregnant anyway - it's clear the pill does not always prevent ovulation or fertilization. (Other sites offer a lower effectiveness rate; for example, Feminist Women's Health Center says the pill is 91 to 99.7% effective. Mini pills are even less effective than traditional birth control pills, preventing pregnancy about 95% of the time.) So while hormonal birth control won't always cause an abortion, they sometimes will prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb, causing an abortion.

Abortion - or Not?
So why don't doctors warn their patients about this? It comes down to definitions. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists insists a woman isn't pregnant unless the fertilized embryo implants in the womb. So does the National Institutes of Health. Implantation, however, doesn't happen until about three to four days after conception, according to Planned Parenthood
 
As the Association of Prolife Physicians website states (emphasis added):

"One of my patients informed me recently that her gynecologist insisted that the morning-after pill prevents pregnancy 100% of the time and does not cause abortions. This may be true given the gynecologist’s definition of 'pregnancy,' but she is dead wrong in...implying from that this is when her baby’s life begins. Though designating this stage as the point at which pregnancy commences and life begins is convenient, it is arbitrary, palpably erroneous, and deceptive. Implantation into your mother’s uterus did not make you any more alive or human than did your first breath of air, your first meal, your first bowel movement, or any other arbitrary event in your life....

[When I was at college] I publicly challenged [a professor's view of the morning-after pill] and he reluctantly admitted that the morning-after pill worked by preventing implantation of an already-conceived embryo, but he resolved the dilemma with the statement, 'I don’t consider it much of anything at that stage.' It came down to his unsupported bias against the humanity of small human beings!"
More Info
In addition to all the other links in this post, you can read a referenced article by a physician at Eternal Perspective Ministries. Two more references worth reading are Prolife OBGYNs' article "Birth Control Pill: Abortifacient and Contraceptive" and "Hormone Contraceptives Controversies and Clarifications." The latter argues there isn't enough proof hormonal birth control causes an inhospitable environment for fertilized eggs. You can also use the Prolife OBGYN's website to find a prolife doctor in your area.

 Link Do Other Birth Control Methods Cause Abortions?
This post may lead some of you to wonder what other "contraceptives" might cause abortions. Me, too. After some research, it seems the IUD may also cause abortions. Despite the fact that
Planned Parenthood's website states,

"Both the ParaGard and the Mirena IUDs affect the way sperm move, preventing them from joining with an egg. If sperm cannot join with an egg, pregnancy cannot happen. Both types also alter the lining of the uterus. Some people say that this keeps a fertilized egg from attaching to the lining of the uterus. But there is no proof that this actually happens."
Studies do indicate that thinning ("altering") the uterus may prevent implantation, as referenced above. All the other websites I researched acknowledge this. For example, the Central Michigan District Health Department website states, "As with birth control pills, there is no single explanation for how IUDs work. Studies have shown that the presence of an IUD interferes with the movement of sperm, fertilization of eggs, and implantation." So if sperm does manage to fertilize an egg, the IUD's thinning of the uterus will cause an abortion.

What birth control methods definitely never cause abortions? Condoms, diaphragms, spermicide, cervical caps - and of course
abstinence. But should Christians use birth control at all? What does the Bible say on that topic? It has plenty to say! And on that issue, I highly recommend Nancy Campbell's Be Fruitful and Multiply.
 

Oct 7, 2013

Be Ready for Cold and Flu Season!

Now that cold and flu season is upon us, are you prepared? Here are some articles from the archives that will help your family stay well - and make sickness a little bit easier.

Medicine Cabinet: Safety & Stocking - Having the right things on hand makes dealing with illness a lot easier!

Prepping for Sick Days and Nights - Few things are more draining than having a child who is sick at night. Be prepared and those nasty nights become a bit easier.

Preparing for Family Illness - Have an inkling someone is getting sick? Make your life easier by getting a few things done before the illness really hits.

Staying Healthy When Your Kids Are Not - Yep! It's possible!

Keeping Sick Children Occupied - Make illness a little easier on your children.

Keeping Your Family Healthy This Winter - Simple steps that can prevent illness.

Herbal Healing for Colds and Flu - A simple remedy that really keeps me well during cold and flu season.

Why I Drink Apple Cider Vinegar - Another easy way to prevent illness.

May 1, 2013

Calendulas for Beauty and Herbal Healing

Calendulas* are one of my favorite garden plants. They are among the first flowers to bloom in the spring, and they keep going strong until the first hard frost of fall. They spread (if you allow them to) and have cheerful flowers. And they are good medicine.

The yellow or orange petals are the most-used part of the plant - and they are sometimes called "Russian penicillin."  Calendula officinalis has astringent, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiviral, and immunostimulant properties. It's often used to clean cuts and scrapes; heal chapped skin; ease burns, bruises, and bee stings; treat acne; cure rashes, athlete’s foot, and yeast infections; sooth diaper rash and more. It also stimulates the body's production of collagen - which means you're less likely to scar if you apply calendula.

You can also gargle with calendula-steeped water to ease sore throats - and it's good for painful periods, too. It's traditionally used to add color to butter, cheese, and sauces, and can be sprinkled atop salads, cakes, and...well, whatever you wish.

Plus, the plant is pretty as can be in the garden, and easy to grow from seed. It's even said to repel aphids, tomato hornworms, eelworms, and asparagus beetles. And, according to Discovery Health, there are no known side effects when using calendula as food or medicine.

How to Harvest Calendula
Ideally, wait to harvest until the morning, after the flowers have opened up and the dew has dried from them. But, truly, it won't matter much if you get to the harvesting later in the day. Use scissors or pruning shears to snip off the flower heads just above a double set of leaves. This ensures the plant will continue blooming. Don't be afraid to harvest the flowers often; it will only encourage the plant to bloom more.


How to Dehydrate Calendula
Dried calendula petals are perfect for tea. They can also be used in cooking (rehydrate first) or medicinal recipes. Place full flower heads on the tray of a dehydrator set at 105 degrees F. Dehydrate until the petals are completely dry and crispy. Pull the petals from the flower heads and place in an air tight container stored in a cool, dry, dark location.

Calendula Menstrual Tea
Place dried calendula petals in a tea ball. You may either pack the entire ball with calendula or you may pack half the ball with the petals, filling the other half with another menstraul-relief herb like dandelion root, red raspberry leaf, or sage.


Place the tea ball in a cup and pour boiling water over it. Cover the cup with a saucer and allow to steep until the water stops steaming.

Soothing Calendula Oil
This oil is appropriate for cradle cap, rashes, or  chapped skin. It can also be used for massages, or it may be added into lip balm, cream, or lotion.

Pour some dried calendula petals into a non-reactive double boiler. Pour organic olive oil over the petals, covering by 1 inch. Stir. Place the double boiler over low heat and keep at 100 degrees F. for 5 hours. (Alternatively, put the calendula and oil in a glass jar and place in a warm location, like a sunny windowsill,  for 6 weeks, shaking the jar every day.) Strain, lining the sieve with cheesecloth. Pour the resulting oil into a clean jar and store in a dark location.

Calendula Salve
It's easy to make a healing salve out of calendula oil. Just stir together one part calendula oil and approximately one part melted beeswax. Pour into a glass jar and cover with a well fitting lid. The mixture will thicken and can be used for rashes and abrasions.

Calendula in Cooking Recipes
The easiest way to use calendula petals is in a salad, but for more ideas, check out the recipes at the bottom of this article.

To Allow Calendulas to Spread in the Garden...Or Not
 If you want Calendulas to spread in your garden, filling in blank spots, make sure you let some flower heads go to seed in the fall. To prevent calendula from spreading, just cut off the flower heads when they look spent. Planting calendulas near driveways and other areas of cement will also help limit spreading.

WARNING: Calendula should not be taken internally during pregnancy.

* Calendulas are sometimes called "pot marigolds," but they are not truly a type of marigold.



Mar 4, 2013

An Unexpected Warning about Milk

I've always buy milk at a certain grocery chain because the brand it sells seems to last longer in the fridge. I thought this was because it was fresher - but when I finally tried my hand at making cheese last week, my mozzarella came out rubbery. After a lot of research, I learned it was because of over-processed milk.

In her book Home Cheese Making, Ricki Carrol makes it clear you can use pasteurized milk for making cheese. However, you can't successfully use ultra-pasteurized milk for cheese making.

No problem - I thought. The milk I buy is pasteurized, but not heated to death through ultra-pasteurization. Yet this page by Carrol's company (New England Cheesemaking Supply) makes it clear that my milk was heated higher than it should have been, even though it wasn't labeled ultra-pasteurized.

Ultra-pasteurized and traditionally pasteurized milk are both heated to kill bacteria, but traditional pasteurization heats the milk to a minimum of 161 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds (or 145 degrees F for 30 minutes). Ultra-pasteurizated heats the milk to at least 280 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of two seconds.

This quick, hot heating keeps the milk from spoiling as quickly (with a shelf life up up to 6 months). But wait. The milk I normally buy goes sour in about 2 or 3 weeks. Well, according to New England Cheesemaking Supply, more and more milk is not marked ultra-pasteurized but is heated over the temperatures used in traditional pasteurizing. This explains why the milk I normally buy lasts longer than other brands - and also why it doesn't work for cheese making.

Worse, ultra-pasteurized milk isn't as healthy. It has broken protein bonds - which means our bodies don't absorb it well, according to a 2008 study from the Journal of Nutrition. Ultra-pasteurized milk also has less nutrition than raw or even traditionally pasteurized milk: about 4% less thiamin, less than 5% vitamin E, and less than 10% biotin. Ultra-pasteurization may also make it hard for our bodies to absorb B12 in milk.

Conclusion? Avoid shelf stable milk, or any milk labeled UHT or Ultra-Pasteurized. (Organic milk is often the worst culprit.) But sadly, it seems, you may still end up with over-processed, over-heated milk. And you won't know it until you try to make cheese...


This post featured at Homestead Abundance.

Mar 1, 2013

GMO Wheat - It's Not Where You Think!

I was shocked and delighted to be proven WRONG today when I learned that GMO wheat is not sold in the U.S. or elsewhere.

I could hardly believe it, since every article I've ever read about genetically modified wheat - including those from reliable news sources - lead me (and many others) to believe otherwise.

But it seems quite clear, after additional research, this is false. Check out this article at the Candian Biotech Network, for example, or this one at GMO Compass, or this one at Natural News (scroll down to the end of the article).

This is not to say I'm going to start feeding my family lots of processed wheat products (because they still tend to be full of preservatives and other nasty ingredients), and we still need to be vigilant about other GMO ingredients, but now, at least, I can relax about the fact that I've been unable to find organic wheat flour!
 

Jan 28, 2013

Herbal Healing for Colds and Flu

Nearly everyone we know has had the flu this season, in addition to several colds. Last weekend, my husband came down with the flu, too. I love him and of course I feel bad that he's sick - but as a mom my first thought was: "Oh no! I hate having mommy duties when I have the flu!" So I went into hyper drive, trying to make him more comfortable while keeping the rest of us well.

Now, I don't claim to have a cure for a cold or the flu - but I do know two recipes that can help.

The first is from Dian Dincin Buchman, Ph.D.'s Herbal Medicine (which I highly recommend). It's a recipe I've been using all winter - and so far, every time I've used it, I've avoided getting sick. There are two powerful ingredients in this recipe: Cayenne pepper, which is widely used for warming the body and providing nutrients, among other things) and raw apple cider vinegar (which I've written about before).

For best results, take this recipe as soon as you have a hint you may be getting sick. Or, you can take it before you have physical symptoms, but know you've been exposed to a cold or the flu. You may also take it once you are ill because the recipe has a warming, calming affect on the body.

Anti-Cold & Flu Remedy

2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (sea salt is preferred, but table salt works, too)
Water
1 cup raw apple cider vinegar (such as Bragg brand, which is available at many grocery stores, as well as health food stores and online)

1. Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil.

2. In the meantime, warm a quart-sized canning jar under hot tap water. If you're using a glass measuring cup, warm it under hot tap water, too. (The hot water will prevent the glass from breaking when you pour boiling water into it.)

3. Pour the cayenne pepper and salt into the prepared canning jar. Measure out 1 cup of boiling water and pour it over the cayenne mixture.

4. Pour the raw apple cider vinegar into the canning jar. Stir.

5. Allow the mixture to come to room temperature. Refrigerate.

Dose: Take 1 tablespoon or 1 teaspoon every half hour.

If you have a sensitive stomach, you can substitute the boiling water for boiling chamomile tea, brewed strong. You'll also probably want to take the smaller dose (1 teaspoon).

I know this mixture sounds horrible, but I actually kind of like it. I love the warming sensation it gives once it's consumed, too.

My husband refuses to even try this remedy because he finds vinegar of any type disgusting. So I've been giving him some special tea, and he says it makes him feel better. It's from Rachel Waver M.H.'s Be Your Own 'Doctor'. Again, one of the most important ingredients is cayenne pepper, but there's also soothing honey and lemon juice, plus additional easy-to-find spices that help fight illness and are soothing.


Fight the Flu (or Cold) Tea

1 whole clove (or a pinch or two of ground cloves)
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cinnamon stick (or about 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon) 
1 teaspoon real honey
juice from half a lemon

1. Fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil.

2. In the meantime, place the clove and sage in a tea ball and place the tea ball in a mug. (If you don't have a tea ball, strain the tea through cheesecloth after it steeps and before serving.)

3. Place the thyme, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon in the mug.

4. Add boiling water to the mug, the quickly add the honey and lemon juice. Cover the mug with a saucer, so most of the steam stays inside the mug. Serve warm.

I will warn you that my husband consumes a lot of hot peppers, but he finds the cayenne in this tea quite  strong. (This might be because I don't have lemons on hand and therefore can't add them to the tea.) So if you have a sensitive stomach, consider adding a little less cayenne.

This post featured on Homestead Abundance

Dec 14, 2012

Why I Drink Apple Cider Vinegar


A couple of years ago, I got a cold. Just an ordinary cold - but it turned into something pretty serious. I thought the cold was just a long, drawn-out one, so I didn't go to the doctor. I didn't want to go to the trouble of arranging an appointment (you moms of little ones know what I mean!) and pay the doctor's fee just to hear, "It's only a cold; there's nothing we can do."

Then one morning, I felt really cold. I cranked up our wood stove and bundled up in a blanket. I got the shivers and could barely walk. I took my temperature: 105 degrees. To make a long story short, my husband came home from work and took me immediately to the doctor, who said I had a "raging" sinus infection. He was so worried about me, he wouldn't let me walk out the door, prescribed a heavy duty antibiotic, and gave me an extra-long dose. Even then, I had to take an additional week of the stuff.

Ever since that serious bout with a sinus infection, it seems every cold I get leads to a sinus infection. The good news is, I now know that if a cold seems to last more than 2 weeks, I should seek medical help. I also recognize the extreme fatigue and sinus issues related to a sinus infection. Nonetheless, as you can imagine, I was tired of going to the doc for antibiotics every time I got a cold.

So I did a little research into preventing sinus infections. A lot of doctors recommend using a neti pot, which I already did. Further research showed that among experts in natural medicine, apple cider vinegar was recommended - but not the ordinary kind typically found in grocery stores. It must be the raw, unfiltered type with the "mother" still in it, like Bragg's.

So I bought a bottle and put it in my pantry.

Soon, I had opportunity to use it. I got another cold (a rather nasty one, in fact), and I began taking the apple cider vinegar every day. I continued until all my cold and sinus symptoms disappeared. And for the first time in years, my cold wasn't followed by a sinus infection! That was enough to make me realize raw apple cider vinegar is a worthy part of my health care.


How to Drink Apple Cider Vinegar
Measure 2 teaspoons of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar into a drinking glass, then add 8 oz. water. Drink.


I recommend trying the drink just like this. For the first two days, I hated the flavor, but found I was absolutely CRAVING the drink. By the third day, I was not only looking forward to my daily glass, but was enjoying the flavor, too.

However, if you really can't drink it like this, you can add 1 or 2 teaspoons of real honey, 100% maple syrup, or molasses.

You may consume this drink 3 times a day - but I chose to do it only once a day. It is, after all, it is a diuretic, and you can expect it to make you urinate more than usual.




Why Does it Work?

It's certainly possible the diuretic action of the vinegar does a lot to get rid of illness. (If you've ever had a doctor tell you to "push fluids," this is why. The more you drink, the more you urinate and the more "bad bugs" your body gets rid of.) But the fact is, no one is exactly sure why apple cider vinegar seems to be so beneficial to health - although we do know it's packed with acetic acid, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.

According to a conservative source, WebMD, raw apple cider vinegar:

* may help diabetes and cause weight loss
* helps lower high cholesterol and blood pressure
* may slow the growth of cancer cells

If you visit alternative medicine websites, you'll also find a great many other claims for what apple cider vinegar can do. (Here's a more moderate example of such a site.)

According to WebMD, there is also some indication that drinking apple cider vinegar every day for years could lower your potassium and bone density and that the chromium in the vinegar could alter insulin levels in diabetics - so if you choose to drink it daily, please discuss it with your doctor. Personally, I drink it only when I crave it, or at the first sign I could be getting a sinus infection.

Oct 26, 2012

How to Avoid GMO Food (And What's the Big Deal, Anyway?)

As I talk about food with people from all over the world, it's interesting to see what their feelings are about GMO food. Some don't even know what GMO means. Others know and are worried. Others dismiss their concerns. And many people who want to avoid GMOs aren't sure how to. So today I'm writing about just what GMOs are, where to expect them in the grocery store and elsewhere, and what you can do to avoid them if you decide that's what you want to do.


What is GMO Food?

GMO stands for "genetically modified organisms," which is how GM ("genetically modified") food is created. (Sometimes you'll also hear the synonymous term GE foods, which stands for "genetically engineered.") To create GMO food, scientists must make very specific changes to the DNA of ordinary plants; they use engineering techniques that insert genetic material from one species to another in order to give a food a new, desirable quality.

What are these desirable qualities? Originally GMO seed was touted as being more disease and pest resistant; indeed, some GMO plants create their own pesticides. In addition, the makers of GMO seed claimed GMO plants were more productive. This sounds like a wonderful thing, growing more food from the same number of plants.

However, increasing evidence shows GMO plants are succumbing to disease and pests. (For one example, see this Mother Earth News article.) Too, not everyone is thrilled by the idea of consuming food that contains pesticides, even if they are "natural" ones. In addition, GMO plants aren't, in actuality, producing more food than traditional crops.

Why You May Want to Avoid GMO Food

When I first heard about GMO foods, my immediate response was, "More scientists need to read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein!" As a Christian, I believe it's folly to think we can create something better than God can. GMO foods are not (as some like to argue) "just like" hybrid plants. (A hybrid plant is one whose parents are of two varieties in the same plant family. This sometimes results in, say, a tomato that is more juicy or disease resistant than either of its parent plants.) Although humans can make hybrids, nature does, too, through the wind or animal pollinators. GMO foods, by contrast, are accomplished only by humans directly altering a plant's DNA, often with non-plant DNA.

But aside from this, many believe GMO animal feed (which usually contains corn and soy) is causing illness in livestock. (See this example.) Scientific studies also point to health risks when GMO food is consumed, including the recent French study that showed rats fed GMO food grew tumors. There is also some anecdotal evidence that cutting GMO foods from a human's diet seems to cure certain diseases, including IBS, Crohn's, and allergies.

(UPDATE 1/26/13: There's more bad news about GMOs. Apparently, 54 of the 84 currently-approved GMO foods contain a gene that's "toxic" and may be harmful to humans (and animals). Learn more here.)

Where Will I Find GMO Food?

Sadly, almost everywhere.

The most prevalent GMO foods are corn and soy. Even this isn't as simple as it first seems, however, since corn starch, corn flour, corn meal, modified food starch, gluten, syrup, fructose, dextrose, and glucose are all made with corn, and soy flour, lecithin, protein, isolate, isoflavone, and vegetable protein are made with soy.

But there is also GMO honey, rice, sugar cane (including agave), sugar beets, tomatoes, papaya, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash, radicchio (chicory), peas, flax, canola (rapeseed), and cottonseed oil. Even infant formula may be full of GMO products. And this list is growing. For example, GMO salmon will apparently soon be available in markets.

In addition, vegetable oil (including vegetable shortening and margarine) and corn syrup are made with GMO corn and vitamin C is made from GMO corn and soy. Vitamins A, B2, B6, B12, D, and K may also be derived from GMOs. 

If this list seems impossible to navigate, now you must add all the processed foods containing these ingredients, including most cereals, breads, pasta, condiments, and snacks. In addition, we don't know how eating meat or dairy from animals fed GMO feed (as almost all are) affects humans. Mother Earth News has a good (though depressing) graphic that shows just how problematic things have become.

Please note: There is a lot of confusion about the idea that most wheat is GMO. But at this time, no GMO wheat is sold anywhere in the world.

UPDATE 5/21/14: GMO corn and soy products may also be used as a wax coating for apples

How Do I Avoid GMO Food?

There are a few ways:

* Grow your own food - as much as possible. GMO seed is not yet available to home gardeners.

* Purchase produce and grains from local farms you are certain don't grow GMO food. Most small farms haven't bought expensive GMO seed, but you should still question farmers carefully before buying.

* Only buy food marked Certified Organic. No food may carry this label if it has GMO products in it. Even labels that read  “organic,” or “made with organic ingredients,” while not made with 100% organic products, still cannot contain GMO products, according to the True Food Network.

 * Look for foods marked "non-GMO" - but remember that because this sort of labeling isn't regulated, it may not always be accurate. 

* Buy grass fed meat and dairy. 

* Pay attention to produce labels. There is an Internet rumor that those annoying stickers grocery store fruits and vegetables carry identify GMO or organic foods. Unfortunately, such codes are not found on all produce. Still, if you see a five digit number starting with an 8, the produce is GMO. If a five digit number starts with 9, the produce is organic.

* Download the True Food Network's .PDF of non-GMO foods or download their app. But note that this list may fluctuate over time and it's best simply to read labels.


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Oct 17, 2012

How to Get Your Kids to Eat Healthy

I write about food. A lot. Not just at Proverbs 31 Woman, but also in magazines and in other professional capacities. And I can't tell you how often I write an article about feeding children only to hear: "But children don't like that type of food!"

Ideally, of course, we start our babies out with mashed veggies and fruit and as they grow, offer them the theoretically healthy food we are eating. But we don't live in an ideal world - and a great many parents clearly find that somewhere along the line, their children's eating habits become atrocious.

I actually have a personal understanding of this. My eldest was a "micro-preemie" born at 25 weeks gestation. Due to her life-saving treatment, she has real issues with food - and there are some things she literally cannot eat. And it's true, she doesn't eat as healthfully as I wish.

But have no fear. While it's easier to change the eating habits of younger children, even older kids can learn to eat right. Here's how:


They Won't Starve

I'm convinced the number one reason so many American children have bad eating habits is their parents are afraid they will starve. That is to say, when children reach that picky eater stage, many parents give their child pretty much whatever they want to eat - as long as they eat something. But unless your child has a disability linked to eating disorders or your pediatrician says your child is underweight, giving them whatever they want is unnecessary - and potentially harmful.

Children know when they are hungry - and, especially when they are young, they are often not hungry at regular meal times. There are two things we can do about this:

1. Cut back on snacking.
2. Let our children go without eating when he or she isn't hungry.

I guarantee you that back in the old days moms didn't whip out the chicken nuggets because their child picked at his food and didn't actually eat anything. Trust me. Your child will not starve or be malnourished.


Learning to Eat Healthy Food

If you're determined to teach your child to eat healthy foods (and I hope we all are), don't try to make a sudden switch. If previously your child only ate "kid food" and you suddenly only make vegetables and unbreaded chicken breast available, your child is going to rebel. (Wouldn't you if someone tried to force you to change your eating habits?) Instead, gradually begin adding healthy foods to your child's diet. For instance, if your daughter typically eats chicken nuggets and French fries for dinner, tonight, put peas on her plate, too. Let her know she doesn't have to eat them all - but she does need to take at least one bite. Most children will take that one bite without causing WWIII.

If your child claims to hate the food, don't make a big deal out of it. But do continue offering her peas once a week or every other week.

Gradually, replace the French fries with something more healthy. Again, if your child won't eat what you put before her, that's okay. Next, you can replace the chicken nuggets. Eventually, the goal is to have your child eat what you do - but it's important to take baby steps.

Once a week or so, cook only one meal for the family. Choose something healthy, but also something likely to please your children. For example, you might serve chicken breast and a familiar vegetable. Over time, your child will grow more and more comfortable with "grown up" food.


Try it Different

Oftentimes, children (or adults!) don't like a particular food cooked one way, but might love it cooked another way. So be sure to offer healthy foods in a variety of ways. 


Lilongwe, Malawi. Source: Wikipedia.
Talk about the Needy

I'm not suggesting you use the old "starving children in Africa would love to eat your dinner" line - but it does make sense to talk about how the rest of the world eats. Ideally, this is done when your child isn't sitting at the table. Make it a family project instead: Find images online of people around the world and their favorite foods. (Tip: Don't spend a lot of time on Canada or Europe. Head over to more interesting countries like Turkey, Africa, or Iran.) Talk about the fact that most of the world eats rice and beans and not much else. Ask your children what would happen if there was a famine, like in the Old Testament. What if the grocery stores were depleted? What would your family eat?


Grow Your Own

I also find my children are much more receptive to vegetables if we grow them ourselves. So think about starting a garden next spring. In the meantime, you might take your children to a U-Pick farm. This, too, can get them more interested in the food.


Portions Matter

According to Brian Wansink, Ph.D. of Cornell University portions really do matter. He's found that if you offer a child a larger cup, she will drink more than if you give her a smaller cup. Translation: Give your children a larger cup of water than you think they will drink. The same is true with food. "I know a lot of parents who put a couple of carrots or green beans on their kid's plate and tell him just to eat these few," he says. "What happens? He ends up eating one or two. Don't be afraid to pile on one-quarter or even one-third cup of veggies - that's the proper portion range for young kids. But you don't want to put on more than that amount because you want children to get to know what a proper serving looks like."

The opposite is true as well. If you want your children to eat less of something, put it in a smaller bowl or on a smaller plate.


Save it For Later or Hide It?



If your child refuses to eat her peas, I don't think it's effective to refrigerate them and offer them at the next meal. This just makes my kids more stubborn - plus the food is less palatable. The goal, after all, is to help my kids learn to love healthy food. If I make them eat mushy peas, chances are they will hate peas for the rest of their lives.

Hiding healthy foods in familiar favorites (like putting shredded zucchini in spaghetti sauce) is fine, but don't rely on it. Remember the end goal: To teach our kids to eat healthy. If the food is "hidden," there's no way for your child to develop a relationship with that food.


Gone Forever?

In my opinion, another mistake is to completely ban "bad" food. This can lead children to sneak forbidden food - and may actually lead to a fixation on certain foods. Instead, I suggest occasionally indulging in favorite foods that aren't totally healthy. Once a week is often enough; once every few months is even better for true junk food. And if you can find a way to make the food more healthful, all the better. For instance, if your child adores shelf stable pudding cups, you might serve homemade pudding once in a while.



Converting your child from a potato chip munching kid to a child who relishes fresh green beans isn't going to happen overnight. Patience is important - and so is persistence. Doctors say that generally, children must be offered a food up to 15 times before they will eat it! So keep looking toward the long-term goal.


This post featured Wellness Wednesday Blog Hop.

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Oct 12, 2012

The Plague, West Nile, and Thieves' Vinegar

Thieves' Vinegar herbs from the Bulk Herb Store.
Did you know the plague is back? Yes, I mean the same Black Death that ravaged the world in the 14th century. In the last year or so, there have been diagnosed cases of the plague in Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, and California; go back a few more years, and you'll find cases in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, Texas, and Oklahoma. (See the Centers for Disease Control, CDC, website for more information.) It seems most cases are of bubonic plague, spread by biting or scratching insects and animals. (To learn more about how the plague is spread, check out this post by the state of Vermont, as well as this piece at Wikipedia.)

Add to this the news that the West Nile virus (spread by biting mosquitoes) is spreading in the U.S., and you have a case for thinking more about bug spray!

All these recent news stories immediately brought to my mind the legend of the Thieves' Vinegar. For those who are unfamiliar with this story: It's said that during the Black Plague four men were stealing valuables off dead, infected bodies. When they were finally caught, the local law told them if they'd reveal how they escaped becoming infected, they'd set the thieves free. Supposedly, one of the thieves said his sister was an herbwife who gave them a special vinegar to spray themselves with in order to protect them from the disease.

Whether or not there is any truth in the story is something we'll probably never know. The earliest record I can find of the recipe isn't until 1910, in Scientific American. It lists rosemary, sage, lavender, rue, camphor dissolved in spirits, garlic, cloves, and distilled wine vinegar as the "original" ingredients, but it's clear Thieves' Vinegar has many variations and that the original recipe is probably lost to history.

But then I happened upon the Bulk Herb Store's write up on Thieves' Vinegar. What impressed me here was the idea of using modern knowledge about herbs to determine which antique ingredients might be most effective. And then I read the comments at the end of the post, which include stories about using the Bulk Herb Store's recipe to stave off insects in the Amazon.

I plan to can some of this Thieves' Vinegar, according to the directions given at the Bulk Herb Store's website, then transfer the vinegar to a small spray bottle to use as needed. Will it protect my family from the plague? I can't say for certain. But I do believe it will make an organic, safe insect repellent.

This post featured at Joybilee Farm.
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Sep 26, 2012

Sleep Deprivation is Not a Virtue

"It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for he gives to his beloved sleep."


 In 2009, when my youngest was a year old and I was still in a sleep-deprived daze, I blogged about the importance of sleep. Since that time, however, it seems more and more Christian books and blogs are turning sleep into the enemy. Don't give into "the flesh," many say. Instead, get up early and you'll be more holy, many imply. Only moms who rise before the rest of the household keep the house - and themselves - orderly. Somehow the idea of getting less sleep has been confused with being more godly.* Um...really?


While it's true the Bible speaks against laziness and sleeping late all the time, the idea that sleep deprivation is virtuous is not from the Bible - it's from the world. All around our nation, we see moms (and dads and children) who are sleep deprived. This has lead to a host of problems in the U.S., including obesity, depression, grumpiness, inability to respond well to life's difficulties, poor decision making, car crashes, and much more. This isn't a good way to take care of the bodily "temples" God gave us. Even from a purely spiritual point of view, sleep deprivation has its consequences. When we haven't had enough rest, it's harder to behave in a loving, giving, Christ-like fashion. And getting even just an hour and a half less sleep each night reduces our alertness and ability to think clearly by 32%. How can we make right choices for the Lord when our thinking is so impaired? Even our joy can be sucked away when we're sleep deprived. This is not what God wants. Quite the opposite, in fact.

But, some moms say, how can I have time alone with the Lord if I don't rise early every morning? First, know this: The problem isn't necessarily rising early.The Proverbs 31 Woman gets "up while it is still dark," after all. The problem is rising early even though your body calls requires more sleep. The problem is making yourself sleep deprived because of the mistaken notion that doing so will make you more worthy. So if you can rise early, spend time with the Lord, and still get all the sleep you need, fantastic! But if rising early makes you feel dizzy, nauseated, wiped out, and/or impatient and grumpy, then you'll be a wiser woman if you sleep in. There are lots of ways to spend time with the Lord, even when you're home with little children every day. (For a few ideas, go here; and think of Susanna Wesley - mother of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of the Methodist movement - who, with 10 young children underfoot, maintained her prayer life by flipping her apron over her head to create a certain "calm" while she spoke with God.)

But, some moms say, how I can keep the house tidy, homeschool the kids, make myself look presentable, be active in the church, socialize with my friends, run the kids to their activities, do the shopping, have hobbies, and so on, if I don't get up early? There aren't enough hours in the day! You're right; there aren't enough hours to do all that. But as Jesus told Martha, there are many good things to do, but a wise woman carefully chooses the most important activities.

We live in a society that worships busy-ness. Moms buzz around the house and to various activities, always busy, busy, busy. But this isn't the life the Bible recommends. He himself, though he had a very active ministry, found time to spend with his Father, to spend with his family and friends, and to rest. That's because busy-ness has a way of putting a barrier between us and what's important. Moms, especially those with young children, have some tough choices to make. They can run around busily doing a good things (perhaps fairly well, perhaps not), or they can focus on what's most important in their lives right now: God, husband, and children. It's no coincidence that in Titus Paul says, "...urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God." (2: 4-5; emphasis mine)

Being a wife and mother is a full time job. And because of the society in which we live, it's easy for mothers to be distracted from this job. But that distraction costs families a great deal. And it costs many moms sleep - one of the things they most require in order to fulfill their Godly purpose.

So while some moms may wear their sleep deprivation as a badge of honor - and some may even look down their noses at moms who don't rise before dawn - a wise woman smiles and knows that busy-ness and sleep deprivation isn't what makes a Proverbs 31 woman.

* This post assumes you are a reasonably mature person and aren't staying up all hours of the night working or playing. This post also assumes you don't have an infant in the house - because sleep deprivation is a natural part of caring for an infant; however, moms of babies should do everything possible to take naps.


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