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

Aug 5, 2015

Processed Food: Are You Eating it Without Knowing It?

Recently, I've bumped into a handful of people who've made me realize that not everyone understands what processed food is. Since even the most conservative health experts agree that processed food is bad for us - and since many believe that processed food is the number one cause for ill health in the United States - let's examine the issue a little.


I know one woman - I'll call her Linda, though that's not her real name - who's fond of posting photos of her meals - and her grocery shopping goods - on social media. She considers herself a coupon queen, and is devoted to staying home to raise her children; her bargain hunting is all about making it possible to live on her husband's salary alone. However, Linda also often complains about her health. Although she's only in her mid 30s, her body often aches. She's usually exhausted. She has heart palpitations and other life-altering health issues. Tell her she eats processed food and she scoffs. To her, processed food is something from a fast food chain, or "junk food," like chips and candy.

Jane (again, not her real name) suffers from hidradentis supparativa (HS), a condition that causes many painful boils in the most private areas of her body. Doctors don't understand this condition very well, but it's been proven that HS can go into remission if patients eat a whole food, autoimmune diet. In an online group for those who suffer from HS, Jane got excited when someone popped into the group trying to sell food that could "help cure" HS. The food was in boxes and plastic bags.

James (also not his real name) considers himself a healthy eater. If someone offers him a doughnut for breakfast, he makes a big deal of saying "no thank you." He'd rather eat organic cereal, thank you.

All of these people are real. And all of them have no clue what processed food is.


Is cereal really healthy?
So What Is Processed Food?

Processed food is anything that has been manipulated from it's natural state. It's the opposite of whole foods like apples, wheat berries, or whole squash. For example, if you buy pre-sliced apples, chopped squash, or wheat flour - these are all processed food. But what most experts mean when they talk about processed food is food that has been changed chemically, or has chemicals added to it.

Much of the food in the average American grocery store is this type of processed food. The organic cereal James loves, for example, is chemically processed with many additives and preservatives. The food that Jane thinks will cure her HS is also processed: Boxed meals that only require the addition of water, canned soups with preservatives and other chemicals, and meal replacement bars. And the food Linda buys so inexpensively for her family? Mostly boxed meals, laden not just with GMO ingredients, but with many chemicals used to artificially flavor, color, and preserve the food.


Frozen vs. Canned
Frozen salmon label.


I was on Pinterest the other day, and saw a pin claiming that frozen foods were healthier than canned because they don't have added ingredients. But the fact is, many frozen foods do have added ingredients. For example, I cannot buy frozen fish locally, because the only brands available to me have added chemicals designed to make the fish look fresher and last longer.

Canned foods are about the same. Sometimes I can find them without added ingredients, but mostly I can't. (Another good reason to can your own food.) Salt is the most commonly added ingredient, and experts used to think that if you ate little to no processed food, this wouldn't be a health problem...but now we know  processed salt (anything other than sea salt) is directly linked to autoimmune disorders.

But don't think that just because you're in the refrigerated section or the produce aisle you won't encounter processed foods. Sadly, this just isn't true.


Macaroni and cheese label.
Labels

To really know whether or not you're eating processed food, you must read every single label. Every. Single. One. If you start doing this, you'll discover a shocking number of foods that many people think are healthy are actually highly processed.

Usually, anything with an ingredient list is processed. The longer the ingredient list, the most processed the food typically is.


Ingredients

I do still buy some processed foods for my family (like catchup and milk) - but I choose carefully. Here are the ingredients I refuse to compromise on:

1. High fructose corn syrup. This is used as a cheap sweetener in most processed foods. However, it's made from GMO corn, and is linked to obesity and whole body inflammation, the precursor to all disease.

2. Bad-for-you fats. Last year, I was diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The cause? My
Diet bar label.
genes - and eating bad-for-me fats. I grew up on margarine and Crisco and vegetable oil. All the wrong things. When thinking in terms of fats, think about what is processed the least: Real butter (especially grass fed, if you can afford it), extra virgin olive oil, and extra virgin coconut oil.

3. GMO ingredients. Currently this includes any corn or soy product - both extremely common in processed foods. For more about GMO ingredients and the problem with GMO food, click here.

4. Artificial colors. My daughter is sensitive to them, as many children are, but they aren't good for anyone. They are artificial. That means they aren't real food.

5. Artificial flavorings. Again, this is fake food, laden with innumerable chemicals.

6. Sweeteners other than real honey or cane sugar. Agave is highly processed and high in fructose, corn syrup is GMO and linked to health problems, and artificial sweeteners...well, they're fake food, linked to many health problems. Yes, cane sugar is processed, but my family isn't ready to completely give up sugar (though we don't eat much of it), and at least cane sugar isn't GMO.

Hamburger meal label.
7. Low fat foods. If it's low fat, it's highly processed. This includes low fat milk and milk products. (Actually, and sadly, cow's milk from the grocery store is always highly processed.) The good news is, a growing body of evidence shows that low fat diets are bad for our brains, bad for our bodies. (Nourishing Traditions explains this thoroughly.) It's better to eat natural fats.

8. Processed salt. I've completely switched to no-ingredients-added sea salt, now that other salts are linked to autoimmune disorders.

9. Anything with a long ingredient list or ingredients I don't recognize as real food.


Getting Started with Whole Foods

If you've been eating processed food all your life, chances are the idea of ditching them is overwhelming. My suggestion is to start little by little. Read every food label and stop buying the worst offenders. Slowly learn to make your own foods from scratch. (It doesn't take as much time as you think!) Don't expect to feel better suddenly. It will take time for your body to detox. Eat foods that help your liver function better (dandelion root tea or coffee; dark, leafy greens like dandelions, collards, and kale; radishes; onions; and artichokes). Consider omitting wheat products, linked to "leaky gut." Add some fermented things to your repertoire of foods. In time, you will feel better.



May 28, 2015

My Top 4 Favorite Herbal Medicine Books

Once upon a time, all medicine was herbal, and most women understood enough herbal medicine to treat their families for many illnesses (though certainly not all). Gradually, this changed until Americans began seeking help from allopaths (modern doctors) for nearly every health complaint. Yet these days, as more and more people are unable to find help or answers through modern medicine, and as many people suffer from the side affects of prescription medicine, ever more Americans are turning to herbal medicine for many of their health complaints.

Interestingly, more scientific studies are being done on herbal remedies - but very few look at the herbs in their natural form, which means even those studies aren't necessarily all that helpful. Still, science often finds that those old time herbal remedies really do work. My personal experience tells me they do, too.

But learning about herbal medicine can be overwhelming. The internet is full of information, but how much of it is accurate? And even those who wish to pursue herbalism professionally discover there is no official certification for it - no set study that is sure to teach you all you need to know. Fortunately, however, there are a number of excellent books for the Proverbs 31 Women who wishes to learn how to treat her family with natural medicine. Here are my four favorites.

Forgotten Skills of Backyard Herbal Healing and Family Health by Caleb Warnock and KirstenSkirvin. This is a good book to start with because it focuses on just a few herbs, and therefore isn't overwhelming. Warnock is the author of several "forgotten skills" books (including one on winter gardening, which I reviewed here), and he adds plenty of personal anecdotes to this book, explaining how much herbal medicine has changed his life. His co-author Kirsten Skirvin is a Master Herbalist, with some compelling herbal medicine stories of her own. This book gives a good explanations on why you might want to use herbal medicine, and why it's important to take you and your family's health in your own hands. It explains the difference between medicinal grade herbs and varieties of those same herbs that are pretty in the garden, but not of true medicinal value. You'll also learn to make two basic forms of medicine: teas and tinctures. (The best and longest lasting tinctures are made with alcohol, so I like that the authors teach how to make such tinctures non-alcoholic for children or those who are sensitive to alcohol.) Then the authors focus on some basic herbs to start with: Cayenne, lobelia, cinnamon, garlic, and onion - plus apple cider vinegar. The next section gives formulas and examples of how to use these and other herbs for various applications, such as "healing flesh and bones" and "women's health and pregnancy." I appreciate that the authors encourage readers to learn more through some trustworthy online sources. And while I've read a lot of books on herbalism, I still learned some helpful things from this book - including how to use a weighted tuning fork to detect broken bones. (Buy this book.)


10 Essential Herbs by Lalitha Thomas. This is a nice supplement to Warnock and Skirvin's book, as it goes into greater detail about 10 herbs: Cayenne, chaparral, cloves, comfrey, garlic, ginger, onion, peppermint, slippery elm, and yarrow. Thomas gives some amazing stories of how she's helped heal people with these herbs, and gives plenty of specific examples of how and when to use them. Later in the book, she talks about using a specific mixture of herbs as a good remedy for many ails, and offers bonus information on using honey and echinacea as medicine. My only criticism of this book is that the author suggests using garlic directly on the skin. You can do this - I have done it - but it must be done with a great deal of care, or you will burn the skin horribly. The author gives no such warning - which is odd, because elsewhere she's good about explaining precautions. (Buy this book.)


Herbal Medicine by Dian Dincin Buchman, Ph.D.  This is an older book, but it's easy to find on Amazon and other used book sources. It covers a much wider variety of herbs than the two books I've already mentioned. Here, again, the author lists some of her favorite herbs for healing, then gives a wide ranging list of health issues - from acne to worms, with information on how to treat them herbally. Finally, there is an excellent section on how to make herbal medicine: How to dry herbs for medicine; and how to make infusions, waters, decoctions, tinctures, herbal oil, medicinal wines, vinegar, ointment, suppositories, poultices, and more. This is by far the best book I've seen for learning how to make various types of herbal medicine. (Buy this book.)

Rosemary Gladstar's Herbal Recipes by Rosemary Gladstar. This book is for the more advanced amateur herbalist, since it's focus is on combining herbs to make medicine, rather than teaching the medicinal value of specific herbs. In fact, this is a book of medicinal recipes - which are mostly broken down into four basic categories: for children, for women, for men, and for "elders." I especially appreciate the section on children, because it covers safety precautions and how to make herbal medicines appealing to kids. Cradle's cap, diaper rash, iron deficiencies, liver ailments, menstrual cramps, yeast infections, ulcers, migraines and other headaches, earaches, and a host of other common health complaints are discussed in this book, with recipes for treating each. The book ends with a brief section on specific herbs and their medicinal uses. (Buy this book.)

 

May 12, 2015

How I Used Potatoes to Help Heal an Infection

Sometimes there are personal things I don't like to talk about online, but feel compelled to share because certain information might be helpful to someone else. So I share that personal information anyway. This post is a good example of that.

Part of my ongoing medical difficulties include reoccurring bacterial infections, something my naturopath says can be cured, but will take some time to completely go away. Over the past couple of weeks, I've specifically been fighting a large, painful Staph infection. When my naturopath saw it, I didn't expect her to perscribe antibiotics, like the average MD would. But when she told me to fight the infection with a potato...I admit, I laughed.


I love to read old household guides, so I knew that in the old days, a potato poultice was often used to fight infections - but I guess I assumed this was among the old timey medical ideas that was nonsense. Boy, was I wrong.

This infection has been extremely painful. Bring tears to your eyes painful. The most painful pain I'd ever felt pain. But those potato poultices felt so soothing. And I do believe they are healing. For example, at first my infection was black, blue, and green. I put on my second potato poulstice, and when I removed it - all those colors had completely disappeared! The infection was now pink. And slowly, as I applied the poultice several times each day, the infection got smaller and smaller.

(Important note: My infection really started to do some serious healing, however, after I asked for prayer on Facebook. Within 45 minutes, the terrible pain was gone, and a day later, the infection was draining, and half it's original size.)

Then I had an even bigger surprise: Not only do herbalists and naturopaths use potatoes to fight infections, but modern scientists do, too! Scientists know that more and more bacterias are becoming resistant to antibiotics, so they are studying different ways to fight these types of infections...and they are looking to the humble potato for help. It turns out, a substance in potatoes prevents bacteria from attaching to human cells - preventing infection. Soon, doctors may have us use a potato extract to prevent and reduce bacterial infections of every kind.

The Legal Stuff

It's important to note that I'm not a doctor of any kind and that this post shouldn't be mistaken for medical advice. Go ahead - use a potato poultice. But check in with your doctor, too.

How to Make and Use a Potato Poultice:

1. Scrub your hands with warm water and soap for 30 seconds.

2. Using a vegetable brush and warm, running water, scrub the potato. And organic is best - fresh from the garden is even better. Do not peel the potato! (The compound being studied as a way to treat bacteria is found in the first few millimeters of the vegetable.)

3. Using a grater just washed in hot, soapy water, grate a small amount of the potato - just enough to cover the infected area about 1/4 in. deep.

4. Apply the grated potato to the skin. Cover with a clean hand towel. Keep in place for 20 - 30 minutes.

5. Gently remove all the grated potato and dispose of in the trash. (It's not a bad idea to dump the used potato in a plastic bag, seal it, and toss it in the trash can.)

I used my potato poultice three times a day.

Of course, infections of any kind can be quite serious. My naturopath advised me to take my temperature twice a day - once in the morning, and once in the early evening. If I'd developed a fever, I would have rushed to the doctor. In addition, if the infection had spread or took a long time to heal, my doctor would have prescribed more medical intervention.

May 11, 2015

What is Kombucha? And Why You Might Want to Make It

Perhaps because I'm doing so little gardening this year (because we're preparing for our move), I find I'm spending more time experimenting in the kitchen. One of my recent successes has been kombucha (hear how to pronounce it) - a drink I'd heard of, but never thought much about until a friend of mine said she was using it to wean her family off sodas and fruit juices. I tried a store bought version and wow! It was fizzy and delish! Then I learned the drink has health benefits, too. I knew then I had to try making some at home. I did. And it was easy. And even better-tasting than store bought! And even my kids like it.

So over the course of the next few weeks, I'm going to blog about kombucha: What is is, why you may want want to drink it, and how to easily make it at home.

Today we start with...

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is an ancient Chinese drink made by fermenting tea. I find it tastes similar to apple cider (or, if you use green tea, it supposedly tastes similar to champagne...I've only made black tea kombucha). It may or may not be effervescent (bubbly), depending on what steps you take when making it.

Why Drink Kombucha?
Kombucha fermenting.


Throughout history, people have tried to claim kombucha is a cure all, but studies don't back up the vast majority of these claims. One study on rats showed kombucha aided liver function, and since the tea contains probiotics, the drink is good for your digestive system. Also, kombucha contains anti-oxidants, which boost the immune system.

Many sources, such as the Mayo Clinic, tell readers not to make kumbucha at home because they might poison themselves. Of course, any food you make at home could lead to food poisoning - and sometimes commercially prepared products are recalled for serious contamination issues, too.

People have been fermenting foods and drinks since ancient times. Today, with the ease of keeping things clean, it's even more do-able, in my opinion. But you must decide what the risks are for yourself.

Also note: Those who are allergic to tea, or have histamine or yeast intolerances shouldn't drink kombucha.
Histamine or Yeast Intoleranc

What is in Kombucha?

Green or black tea and sugar, which are then fermented.

Most of the sugar in the drink is eaten by the wild yeast you'll capture during the kombucha-making process. The longer you ferment the drink, the less sweet it will be, the less sugar will be in your finished drink. Some sources say the average, no-flavors-added kombucha (fermented for 7 - 10 days) contains about 1 - 2 grams of sugar per 8 oz. glass.  (In comparison, the same amount of orange juice contains about 24 grams of sugar.)

Cane sugar is widely considered the best choice for kombucha. For one thing, it's been used for thousands of years. For another, it does a great job during fermenting. (And, unlike beet sugar, or granulated sugars that don't indicate what they are made from, it's non-GMO.) It's also possible to use molasses or pasteurized honey in place of granulated sugar. (However, it's vital not to use raw honey; it contains bacteria that may adversely affect the fermentation process.)

In addition, homemade kombucha contains a tiny amount of alcohol (between .5 and 3%). According to the Federal government, that means it's non-alcoholic. Nevertheless, if you are an alcoholic or are sensitive to alcohol, it makes sense to not drink kombucha.

If you want to minimize the alcohol content, omit the second fermentation, which is what also makes the drink fizzy. (Incidentally, store bought kombucha usually contains more alcohol than home made, because the drink continues to ferment in the bottle while it's waiting to be sold. To avoid this, most brands pasteurize the drink - which completely kills all the good, healthy stuff in kombucha. But even unpasteurized kombucha must contain less than 5% alcohol, or it can only be sold as an alcoholic beverage. Despite what Lindsay Lohan claimed, you'd have to drink a ton of the stuff to fail an alcohol test.)

Finally, finished kombucha contains caffeine - just as much as whatever tea you chose to use to make the drink already contains.

What Tools Will I Need to Make Kombucha?

You probably already have all the tools you'll need to make kombucha:

* A large, non-reactive pot
* A non-reactive stirring spoon
* Glass jars (I use two 1/2 gallon Ball jars)
* Cheesecloth and a rubber band or string (or a coffee filter and rubber band/string/canning jar screw band that fits your jars)
* And more glass jars/bottles for putting the finished drink in (I use bottles similar to these, because they are unlikely to burst during fermentation, but you can use canning jars or upcycled glass bottles or jars from store bought items)

It may also help to have a non-reactive funnel.

What Else Do I Need to Make Kombucha?
SCOBYs. (Courtesy Simon A. Eugster and Wikimedia)


You'll need:

* Black or green tea of your choice
* Granulated sugar
* A SCOBY

SCOBY is an acronym for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast." I know - sound yummy, doesn't it? But it's essential for making kombucha. If you've ever used raw apple cider vinegar, you'll notice it contains a strange looking "mother" in the bottle. A SCOBY is basically a "mother" - and is the result of wild yeast and fermentation. You can either purchase a SCOBY, get one from a friend who makes kombucha, or make your own - a process that requires some unpasteurized kombucha.

In addition, you may wish to infuse your kombucha to change the flavor. Most often, fruits are use to flavor kombucha. I like to use lemon, or a combo of lemon, blueberry, and strawberry.Some people prefer to add a little fruit juice to the drink.

More in this series:

How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha
How to Make Kombucha
 

Mar 12, 2015

Sleep Deprivation: The Childhood "Epidemic"

03/12/15: I am reposting this article with new information on two additional child-safe sleep helps.

Recently, I've seen a number of news articles stating sleep deprivation is the new children's "epidemic." I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but I certainly know lack of sleep is a growing problem for many kids. My 6 year old daughter has suffered with sleep issues for years, and now her 3 year old brother is having problems, too. I also see sleep difficulties occurring in other families around us.

Sadly, we haven't found much help for our children. Pediatricians tend to offer little or no help. Or, they are aware of only a handful of techniques to help kids sleep better. Specialists are virtually non-existent. In our area (which is the second largest city in our state) there is just one sleep specialist who will see children as patients.

It's precisely because there isn't much information available on this topic that I want to cover it here at Proverbs 31 Woman. I hope some of my knowledge can help other children and their parents; however, do understand: I'm not a doctor, and you should always discuss medical treatments with your child's pediatrician before trying them out on your kid.

Sleep Disorders in Children

Common sleep disorders in kids include:

* Frequent nightmares.

* Night terrors (sometimes called sleep terrors), where the child is seemingly awake and screaming, but can't communicate. This is especially common in children 4 to 12.

* Sleepwalking and sleep talking. Like night terrors, these often runs in families. They are most likely to affect kids 4 to 12.

* Frequent waking or inability to fall to sleep.

Sleep walking is considered the most serious of all these disorders, because it can result in physical harm to the child. Not surprisingly, it's the disorder pediatricians most eagerly offer support for. There is little to do for nightmares and night terrors, except limit a child's exposure to scary media, and offering comforting images near bedtime. There are some things that can be done for kids who just have trouble sleeping - and those are the focus of this post.

Is Your Child Sleep Deprived?

While there are medical guidelines for how much sleep children should get, a child may get less sleep than the guidelines recommend and still be considered healthy. But if your child is constantly fatigued, sleep deprivation is a possibility. The University of Michigan Health System website puts it this way, "If your child can go to bed, fall asleep easily, wake up easily, and not be tired during the day, then they're probably getting enough sleep."

Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation always has side effects. Some of them affect quality of life, some affect health and safety, and some affect school performance. In children, sleep deprivation can be far more pronounced than it is in adults; if you get grumpy when you haven't had enough sleep, imagine how much more grumpy your 4 year old will be. She simply doesn't have the experience or self control to handle her sleep deprivation with grace.

Side effects from sleep deprivation, according to Web MD, include:

* Lack of alertness. ("Reducing your nighttime sleep by as little as one and a half hours for just one night could result in a reduction of daytime alertness by as much as 32%.")

* Difficulties with memory.

* Decreased cognitive ability.

* Increased risk of injury.

* Increased risk of high blood pressure and heart problems.

* Increased risk of obesity.

* Increased risk of depression and mood disorders.

* Increased risk of ADD.


I would add to this:
Link
* Increased disobedience, defiance, and "acting out."

* Increased temper tantrums or crying fits.

* Difficulty with school work.

* Difficulties with friends and classmates.

Behavioral problems, in particular, tend to affect everyone in the family, lowering the quality of life for parents and siblings, as well as the sleep deprived child. In addition, parents of children who don't sleep well often don't sleep themselves, which leads to an even grumpier household, which can affect marriages, friendships, health, and jobs.

When a child is sleep deprived, it's a very serious matter for the whole family.


Getting Help

If you feel your child isn't getting enough sleep, first read my general recommendations for helping your kids to get more sleep. If these steps don't help, talk to your child's pediatrician. If the doctor offers suggestions, try them. If they don't work, let the pediatrician know. She may offer more suggestions, or she may refer you to a specialist. If she doesn't do either or these things, seek a specialist on your own. The specialist may focus on sleep, or he might be a behavioral specialist.

Keeping a Sleep Log

Before you approach a doctor, however, it's vital to keep a sleep log for your child. On a calendar or in a notebook, keep a record of when your child goes to bed, when she falls asleep (approximately), when she wakes during the night, and when she wakes in the morning.

I realize this is sometimes easier said than done. Children who are older - and especially children who are used to being up a lot at night - tend to learn to not disturb the rest of the family. Be sure to let your child know that, for a limited time, you want her to wake you so you can create a sleep log. You might also consider teaching preschool and early grade students to read the clock, if they don't already know how. I put a digital clock in my preschooler's room and told her to make a note of the first number on the clock whenever she woke up; this worked pretty well for us.

It can also be helpful to note what your child ate during the day, how active your child was, and what your child's bedtime routine was.

Keep the log for at least 2 weeks. When you see a doctor, be sure to bring the log with you.

Common Fixes

I strongly believe that with children, especially, the safest and most natural remedies should be explored first. Once people know your child doesn't sleep well, you'll probably be deluged with recommended remedies. You can also do Internet searches to find common remedies. Just be sure that before you try any herb or supplement, you first discuss it with your child's doctor. Herbs may be natural, but they can be unhealthy if taken in the wrong doses.


Resetting the Sleep Cycle

The first thing our sleep specialist recommended was keeping our daughter up a half hour later every night until she no longer woke up at night. This surprised me, since I'd repeatedly read that over-tired children don't sleep well. Nonetheless, this physician says his method works for many children by helping parents and kids find the child's "natural bedtime." Of course, if you have young children, this method may not be practical since you can't go to bed before your young child.

Melatonin
Link
Melatonin is a hormone made in the brain. Melatonin levels typically get higher in the evening, remain high at night, then drop in the morning. That's why many doctors recommend trying to regulate children's melatonin levels when they are having trouble sleeping.

There are two ways to do this. One is to have your child eat foods rich in tryptophan - an amino acid that helps create serotonin, which in turn helps create melatonin. But the mistake many people make is to eat tryptophan-rich foods only in the evening. To work properly, your child should consume foods with tryptophan throughout the day: Morning, noon, and evening.
Link
If this method doesn't work after several weeks, you can purchase melatonin drops at a pharmacy (without a prescription). The typical recommendation is to give melatonin drops to children for only a few days; this is supposed to "reset" your child's sleeping patterns. But children with more serious sleep problems may need to take melatonin every night.

Melatonin drops are not without side effects, however. The most negative side effect for children is increased risk of vivid dreams and nightmares. Also, talk to your child's doctor about dosages; I've discovered that higher doses than what are recommended on the packaging work better - but you also don't want to over dose your child.

Cherry Juice

According to a small study, no-sugar-added, pure cherry juice may help people suffering from insomnia. Look for it in health food stores or at Amazon.com.

Clove Tea
Herbalist have long considered clove an excellent but gentle sleep inducer. Make the tea by boiling some water, then placing 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of the freshest whole cloves you can find in the water. Cover for 10 - 15 minutes. Strain. The tea may be flavored with honey or a little milk. According to Lalitha Thomas in her book 10 Essential Herbs, infants to children 10 years of age can have 1 or 2 teaspoons of this tea; children 11 and up, 1/4 cup of this tea. It should be taken within an hour of bedtime.

Magnesium
A magnesium deficiency can cause insomnia. Many children do not eat magnesium rich foods (including nuts, whole grains, beans, and leafy green), but magnesium supplements are readily available. A good magnesium complex should do the trick, but some people find that a lotion or oil works better for them. See this University of Maryland Medical Center article for dosing information. (Magnesium can make us feel quite relaxed; I recommend taking it just before bed.)

Valerian and Lemon Balm

Numerous studies
show this combination of herbs can increase sleep in children. You can buy the correct mixture in Nature's Way Valerian Nighttime. Talk to your child's physician about appropriate doses.

L-Theanine

This is an amino acid found naturally in tea (Camellia sinensis) - mostly green tea. At least one study shows it is effective in helping children sleep, even when ADHD is the supposed cause of their insomnia. My daughter has had excellent results taking just 100 mg a half hour before bed, but doses can go higher, so talk to your child's doctor for a recommendation.

California Poppy

Unlike the Oriental poppy, California poppy is not an opiate. In fact, it's been used as a child-safe sleep remedy for a long, long time. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about appropriate dosing.

Rozerem

The sleep specialist in our area says prescription Rozerem is as safe as melatonin; it's apparently made from a molecule found in melatonin. The pill is tiny, too, which makes it easier for kids to swallow. Like melatonin, however, Rozerem can lead to nightmares and similar side effects. Personal experience tells me Rozerem doesn't work at all if your child doesn't feel at all tired, but it can be helpful if your child is tired but can't sleep.

Clonidine
Link
Prescription Clonidine is a blood pressure medication - but it's also used to treat ADHD, anxiety, and migraines, among many other things. It's sometimes used to help those with sleep difficulties because a common side effect is sleepiness. The dosage for kids is very small - not enough to affect their blood pressure.

Other Medications

In very serious cases of sleep deprivation, more serious prescription drugs may be in order.

Life Tips

Do your best to teach your child to recognize his own fatigue, then act accordingly. This may mean more limited play dates and more quiet time, for example. It might also mean making sure school days (and the day before the first school day of the week) are as relaxing as possible. It might even mean homeschooling, so you can schedule schooling around your child's sleep patterns. Only with experimentation can you discover what will make the days easier for your child while you try to find solutions for your child's sleep deprivation.

Feb 26, 2015

Grow the Dirty Dozen Ebook

Did you know that according to the CDC  90% of Americans test positive for pesticides? Including pesticides that have been banned for home use due to serious side effects? Ugh.

This is why each year The Environmental Working Group releases their famous list of "The Dirty Dozen" - the 12 types of produce that test highest for pesticide residue. Looking at this list, published heavily in newspapers and magazines, can be pretty depressing. A lot of kid favorites are on it.

Theoretically, you can stop your family's exposure to pesticides by buying organic only produce. But not only is this expensive (double ugh!), it may not offer 100% protection. In recent years, there have been several cases where produce labeled "organic" was illegally sprayed with chemicals. (Here is just one example.) And, as I've written about before, even government guidelines for certified organic produce allow the use of chemicals if farmers feel their crop may fail without them. I also recently read that organic produce can legally be sprayed with chemicals as long as they have natural ingredients - but that some of those natural chemicals may be harmful to humans. (Triple ugh!)

So what's a mom to do? One option is to plan your garden according to what foods are the worst offenders. That's where my new book Grow the Dirty Dozen: Stop Buying Produce with Pesticides and Start Growing Your Own Organic Fruits & Vegetables comes in. And by growing the most pesticide-laced foods, you not only know exactly what is in your food, but you'll feel better and save a ton of money.

Grow the Dirty Dozen offers step by step advice for novice and expert gardeners alike. You'll learn which produce is most pesticide-laden, and exactly how to grow it yourself, organically.

You'll also find the best tips for preserving your harvest through freezing, canning, drying, and cold storage. There's even a special section on genetically modified (GMO) produce, how to avoid it, and how to grow it organically.

As our food supply becomes more and more contaminated, growing our own food becomes ever more important. It isn't hard. And it doesn't require acreage. Your kids can even help. And learning how to do it doesn't cost much, either - Grow the Dirty Dozen is only $2.99 at Amazon.

Feb 9, 2015

Mullein: The Common Weed That's Good Medicine

On this blog not long ago, I mentioned giving my sick husband mullein tea; I wanted to include a link to where I'd posted about the medicinal properties of this common weed - but soon discovered I'd never made such a post! Somehow, I'd neglected to share this important plant with you. So although mullein won't appear in your yard or wilderness areas until spring, I want to share information about mullein now. That way, when you do spot mullein growing in your area, you can harvest some of the plant for your medicine cabinet.

Many herbal recipes aren't proven by science - primarily because there is little to no profit in spending time and money on testing them. But mullein, in many cases, has been tested and found beneficial. My family has greatly benefited from this herb - so much so, I let it grow in my yard, wherever the wind and birds plant it's seeds. Yes, even if it's in the middle of the tomato patch!


Identifying Mullein

Mullein is sometimes called "cowboy toilet paper" because it has velvety soft leaves that, could, I suppose, serve as toilet paper. (But those leaves also have little hairs on them, so I wouldn't personally want to use it in place of TP!) In the mullein's first year, it grows a rosette of those soft, elongated, oval, gray-green leaves that stay low to the ground.
Mullein in it's first year. (Courtesy of Hardyplants at English Wikipedia.)
In the plant's second year, it grows a tall stem without branches. Depending upon growing conditions, this stem can get quite high - at least several feet, up to around six feet.
Mullein in it's second year. (Courtesy of Magnus Manske and Wikimedia.)
The plant's stem-less yellow flowers (about 1 1/2 inches across when fully open) grow on this pole-like stem and bloom from late spring to early fall
Mullein beginning to bloom. (Courtesy Leslie Seaton and Wikimedia.)
Mullein blooming. (Courtesy MPF and Wikimedia.
Mullein flower. (Courtesy H. Zell and Wikimedia.)
Mullein Flowers as Medicine

Mullein flower oil (or an infusion of the flowers in olive oil) has long been used as an ear infection cure, and two scientific studies support claims that it works at least as well - and perhaps better than - antibiotics. Mullein flowers are also sometimes used to treat gout and migraines, as well as bruises, rashes, and skin irritations.


Mullein Leaves as Medicine

Mullein leaves are analgesic (pain relieving), antihistaminic (for treating allergic reactions), anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, astringent, antiviral, inhibits bacterial growth, and works as a fungicide. In addition, mullein leaves are traditionally used to treat diarrhea and congestion in the chest. They've been used to treat wounds, hemorrhoids, and skin infections, too. Web MD notes that mullein is used for "cough, whooping cough, tuberculosis, bronchitis, hoarseness, pneumonia, earaches, colds, chills, flu, swine flu, fever, allergies, tonsillitis, and sore throat. Other uses include asthma, diarrhea, colic, gastrointestinal bleeding, migraines, joint pain, and gout. It is also used as a sedative and as a diuretic to increase urine output." In addition, a tea made from the leaves helps relieve hemorrhoidal irritation or perineal itching. (For ease of application, place the tea in a sitz bath.)

Mullein Roots as Medicine

Mullein roots are traditionally used for urinary and bladder control (including problems due to a swollen prostate). The roots are also a diuretic and a mild astringent.

According to herbalist Jim McDonald, “One of my students used an infusion of Mullein root to treat Bell's Palsy that occurred as a complication of Lyme's disease, and it resolved the problem completely. Years after that David Winston told me he'd been using it for Bell's Palsy for well over a decade, and considered it useful in other cases of facial nerve pain…”

More commonly, a decoction of the roots is used to treat toothaches, and to stop cramps and convulsions. The roots may also be used to treat migraines and sciatica.
Mullein leaves. (Courtesy John Tann and Wikimedia).
Preparations

Tea of leavesPack a tea ball with dried leaves. Pour boiling water into a cup, add the tea ball, and steep. Cover with a saucer while steeping, until the tea stops steaming.

Tea of roots: Boil 1 tablespoon of dried root in 1 cup water for 10 - 15 min. Pour the liquid through a coffee filter or double layer of cheesecloth. Drink up to 3 cups per day.

Compress of flowers: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tablespoon of dried flowers; cover. Steep until cool; strain. Soak a clean cloth in the tea, wring it out and place it on the affected areas. Cover the compress with plastic wrap. Change it twice daily.

Steam: Add a handful of flowers to a bowl of hot water. Cover head with a towel and deeply inhale the vapors.

Oil of flowers (for Ear Infections/Ear Wax Build Up/ Infected Piercings/Ear Mites in animals):  Pick fresh flowers and let them wilt for a few hours to reduce their moisture content. Put the flowers in a clean glass jar. Fill the jar with olive oil. (You might need to top it off the following day.) Cap the jar and place it in a warm location for about a month. Strain through a coffee filter or a double layer of cheesecloth. Pour into a clean glass jar. Apply with a Q-tip. (Mullein flower oil is often combined with infused garlic oil.)


CAUTIONS: When using Mullein leaves, always strain them from liquid, since they have little hairs that can prove irritating. The entire Mullein plant is said to possess slightly sedative and narcotic properties; personally, my family has never experienced these. The seeds of Mullein are considered toxic and have been historically used as a narcotic.


Jan 26, 2015

Why You Shouldn't Use Teflon Cookware

I can't tell you how long it's been since I used a Teflon pan. At least a decade. I have stainless steel pots and pans, plus a few cast iron skillets and a cast iron Dutch oven. They work great! But I confess I've grown tired of cooking one pancake at a time, with my children eating them faster than I can cook them. So recently, I decided I should buy a large griddle. Thinking ahead to living in our tiny house motor home, I thought it would be smart to buy an electric griddle with high sides - that way I could use it to cook more things, thereby reducing the need for certain other pans. But it didn't take long for me to realize this type of griddle isn't available without a Teflon coating. In fact, I could only find one electric griddle that wasn't Teflon-coated - and it has rotten reviews. Oh, how I wish they still made electric cast iron griddles!*

When I mentioned my plight on my personal Facebook page, one of my friends wondered why I was going to such great lengths to avoid Teflon. This made me realize that many people are not yet be aware of the dangers of this common cooking product. Hence this post.

Toxic Gasses

Heated Teflon releases 15 toxic gases. Which ones escape depend upon the temperature the pan reaches, but the outgassing begins at 396 degrees F. 

The manufacturers of Teflon already recommend that birds owners don't use Teflon cookware anywhere near birds. Why? Because Teflon's toxic outgassing frequently kills birds. But guess what? There is a name for when the outgassing affects humans, too: "Teflon flu." In fact, experts say most people confuse Teflon flu with...the flu. The symptoms are the same and go away after a time.

But it Gets Worse

In 2005, the EPA announced most humans - and probably wildlife - hada man-made chemical called PFOA in their bloodstream. According to Toxicologist Tim Kropp, PhD, "It would take your body two decades to get rid of 95% of it, assuming you are not exposed to any more. But you are."

Manufacturers claimed PFOA was only used to make Teflon and should not be on or in the finished product. But studies show that Teflon cookware does emit PFOA when heated to 446 degrees F or more.

Now, you might think: "I'd never cook anything at that temperature!" But it takes only 2 minutes for a Teflon pan to reach this temperature. If you accidentally burn something in the pan, or leave the pan, forgotten, on a hot stove, the pan will likely begin emitting toxic gas. In addition, stove drip pans may be Teflon coated, and can reach dangerous temperatures, also.

Health Hazard

PFOA is known to cause cancer, liver damage, growth defects, birth defects, and more in lab animals, according to WebMD. It's also known to cause birth defects in women working in or living near Teflon plants - and might also be linked to high cholesterol. And in 2005, the EPA named Teflon a likely human carcinogen.

Other products contain Teflon chemicals, including clothing, carpets, furniture (most anything water or stain resistant) - even the tape that seals your water pipes. These items aren't normally heated, so toxic gas isn't a concern. (Except Teflon irons. Ugh!) But PFOA does not break down, so whatever we put into the environment isn't going away any time soon.

Manufacturers of Teflon have until this year - 2015 - to remedy Teflon's problem. Manufacturers say their Teflon products no longer contain PFOA - but what about all the other outgassing? And since the inventor and patent holder of Teflon (DuPont) apparently knew about the dangers of Teflon before anyone else did, do you trust them? I don't.

And that's why I won't be buying any Teflon cookware.


* In case you're curious: I do know about non-electric cast iron griddles, but I'm not sure one will work with our motor home's small, three-burner stove. And I do know about ceramic griddles - but in my experience they don't work well after just a couple of uses.

Jan 21, 2015

How to Make a Child Safety Kit

Every once in a while, our insurance company gives us child safety kits - brochures, really, designed to give to police in case our children get lost or stolen. This is not something any parent likes to think about, and such ID kits are not something we're likely ever to need. But...if the need did arrive, we'd never forgive ourselves for not having the information handy.

So last weekend, I finally got my act together and filled them out for the first time. I didn't tell my children what the kits were for; I just told them I was going to take their fingerprints - a statement that was met with happy squeals. I jokingly called the photos I took specifically for the kits "mug shots." And the kids loved comparing their weight and height, too. A fun time was had by all, and in just a few minutes, I had a complete kit for each child.


Where to Get Child ID Kits

If you don't have a current child safety kit for each of your kids, it really is worth the little bit of time it takes to complete them. If your insurance company doesn't give them away for free, you may feel uncomfortable about ordering kits online. (You might think: "How do I know this is legit and not some weirdo collecting info on children with families?) So the FBI recommends getting kits from the National Child Identification Program - although there is a fee for kits from this source. (I do love, however, that churches can order bunches of these kits to give every child in their congregation or community.) The Polly Klaas Foundation (named after a famously abducted child) offers kits absolutely free, and is a known and legit organization.

But wherever you get your child safety kit, it should include:
  • A place to put fingerprints (along with instructions and ink)
  • A place for a current photo
  • A place to record, periodically, your child's weight and height
  • A place to record birth marks and other identifying features
  • A place for recording basic contact information (such as address and phone number). 
 Some kits may even include a place for a DNA sample.


Some Other Important Safety Measures

In addition to having a child safety kit, it's an excellent idea to always have a recent, clear, headshot-style photo of each child in your purse/wallet or on your cell phone. This way, if your child does get lost, security or police have instant access to an identifying photo.

Your child should also play a part in his or her own safety. For a complete list of things you should teach every child from the time they are toddlers - with a refresher every few months, click here.


Dec 8, 2014

Herbal Remedies for Winter Illnesses

Cold and flu remedy.
No matter how great your immune system is, no matter how careful you are about hand washing and not touching your face, you will - at some point - get a winter sickness. At our house, my husband often brings germs home from work - and usually at this time of year. (Blegh!) But there are several natural medicines you can take to either help prevent illness or to shorten the amount of time you are ill.*

Apple Cider Vinegar

If taken as soon as the very first sensations of illness are felt, Dian Dincin Buchman's cold and flu remedy really works! I've never had it fail...unless I waited a day or more to start taking it. The remedy includes raw apple cider vinegar, cayenne pepper, and sea salt. You'll find the entire recipe is here.

Quite popular right now is something called the fire cider remedy, which is also said to wipe out sickness if you take it at the first sign of being illness. I've not tried it yet, but here is a good recipe. (Recipes do vary, but should usually contain raw apple cider vinegar, garlic, horseradish, cayenne pepper, and turmeric.)

Now let's assume you didn't catch your illness early on. You can still use raw, organic apple cider vinegar as a remedy. It is an antimicrobial (meaning it's generally considered antibiotic, antifungal, antiprotozoal, and antiviral), and I've been using it for years to help clear up mucus and prevent sinus infections (which I used to get with every cold). Here is a good recipe.

Honey

Raw honey has anti-inflammatory properties and is also antimicrobial. It makes a sore throat feel better and might even help you fight off a cold or the flu. You can simply place a tablespoon or so of raw honey in chamomile or Fight the Flu tea, or you can pour some on a tablespoon and eat it all by itself. Read more about honey as medicine here.

Mullein tea.
Mullein

If you have cough or chest congestion, you'll definitely want to take some mullein. Although you may not have heard about this common weed, it's powerful, traditional medicine. (In fact, I was shocked to discover I haven't blogged about it before. I promise to give mullein it's own post very soon. You can learn more about it here.) The leaves of this plant have long been used to treat coughs, bronchitis, pneumonia, sore throats, tonsillitis, and fevers.

If you haven't gone out in spring, summer, or early fall to collect and dry mullein leaves, you can purchase them over at Mountain Rose Herbs. The easiest way to use the leaves is to make a simple tea: Crumple up some of the dried leaves, put them in a tea ball, and place the tea ball in a cup. Bring some water to a boil. Pour over the tea ball and cover the cup with a saucer. When the tea has stopped steaming, remove the saucer and drink the tea. The tea may make you feel sleepy.

Garlic

Some studies show that taking raw garlic can prevent colds - and certainly raw garlic is a well known as an antibiotic. But most studies indicate consuming garlic doesn't do much for colds you already have. Nonetheless, if you have swollen glands, or want to use garlic to prevent a cold, peel a garlic clove and cut it into small pieces. Swallow like a pill.

Salt

Here's one natural remedy even conventional doctors recommend: Gargling with salt water, or using salt water along with a neti pot. Natural salt (without iodine) is best. (You can buy special salt water packets for your neti pot, or use this recipe.) Also, when using a neti pot, be sure to use only distilled or sterilized water.

Black or Green Tea

Both black and green tea contain catechin, which some studies show may have antimicrobial properties. Plus, warm drinks feel comforting when your sick and can help break up congestion.


* I am not a doctor and this post should not be construed as medical advice. Be sure to consult your doctor if you have a serious condition like a sinus infection, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, or strep throat, which can all look like an ordinary cold. If your cold lasts more than a week and a half, also be sure to see your doctor.