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

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:
* 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 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.
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

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.

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.


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.


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.

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).

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.


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.

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.) 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.


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.


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.

Oct 27, 2014

Honey as Medicine

Since biblical times, honey has been used as medicine. The first written record of it's medicinal use is from 1900-1250 BC. Today, doctors - even conventional ones - are coming back around to using honey as medicine. That makes honey an excellent addition to the home medicine cabinet.

Raw vs. Pasteurized Honey

First, it's important to differentiate between pasteurized honey, which is typically what you purchase in grocery stores, and unpasteurized or raw honey, which mostly is available at farmer's markets or direct from those who raise bees. For medicine, most experts recommend raw, unpasteurized honey. Pasteurization kills most of the medicinal properties of honey.

Honey for Wounds

Honey is well known as an excellent treatment for wounds. In particular, Manuka honey, which comes from bees who feed on New Zealand's Leptospermum scoparium plant, is well studied. A layer of good honey helps protect and seal the wound while it kills bacteria. (Specifically, the honey makes the area too acidic for bacteria, plus it produces hydrogen peroxide to kill bacteria...and it probably has other antibacterial properties that scientists are only beginning to discover.)

The FDA has approved MediHoney - sterilized Manuka honey, which many doctors consider safer than raw honey. Many wound centers use MediHoney. Some doctors claim that, unlike untreated Manuka honey, it burns while going on.

Most studies have found that cleaning the wound first, applying a thick layer of honey, then wrapping the wound in gauze works best. However, it's probably a really bad idea to treat anything other than minor wounds yourself - so consider using the honey's natural healing powers for things like cracked skin (including nipples - but please be sure to thoroughly wash off the honey before nursing *), and minor cuts and mouth ulcers.

Honey as an Antibacterial

Scientific studies have proven honey is an effective antibacterial. It's known to fight E. coli, salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa in the laboratory. However, the antibacterial qualities of honey varies depending upon what kind of pollen the bees were using, and perhaps other unknown factors. Generally speaking, though, the darker the honey is, the better medicinal properties it has. Once again, Manuka honey, which has been well tested over the years, is a reliable source for antibacterial honey.
Honey for Stomachs

Taken internally, honey is scientifically proven to prevent the growth of Helicobacter pylori  - an organism that causes ulcers and much abdominal discomfort. It's also known to ease some stomach pains.

Honey for Allergies

If you or someone you love has seasonal allergies, you may have heard that eating raw local honey can relieve symptoms - and in fact, some studies back this up this claim. Some doctors are skeptical because bees don't collect pollens from ragweed and grass (the two most common seasonal allergies). Others argue that while bees don't intentionally pick up these pollens, they "accidentally" do - and it's already proven that small doses of an allergen builds up resistance to it in your body. Skeptics say honey gets broken down too much in the stomach to benefit allergy sufferers.

Honey for Coughs and Colds

Taking a tablespoon of honey when your throat is sore can feel soothing and help slow down coughs. There is even some evidence that honey helps reduce inflammation in membranes. In one study with "139 children, honey beat out dextromethorphan (a cough suppressant) and diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) in easing nighttime cough in children and improving their sleep."

Honey to Decrease Harmful Effects of Carcinogens

Honey is an antioxidant, and studies suggest ingesting honey decreases the cancer-causing effects of many carcinogens - and may even have potential as a cancer vaccine.

Honey as an Anti-Inflammatory

Studies also show that honey works as an anti-inflammatory, reducing pain from inflammation when taken internally.

Honey for Burns

Treating burns with honey works better than using OpSite dressings, according to the British Journal of Plastic Surgery.  This treatment also makes the burns less painful and leaves less scarring behind. MediHoney and Manuka honey are considered the best for burn treatment.
Honey as a Moisturizer

Honey works well for adding moisture to dry skin. Just a small amount massaged into a dry area provides instant relief, and over time, may eliminate dryness.

*A Word of Caution

Small children should not consume any type of honey. Infants don't have a well developed immune system, and if the honey has botulism spores in it (and it often does, even with pasteurized honey), adults are typically fine, but infants are likely to suffer serious health issues, and may even die. Jatinder Bhatia, MD, who heads the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Nutrition, says: "It's been shown very clearly that honey can give infants botulism," a paralytic disorder in which the infant must be given anti-toxins and often be placed on a respirator in an intensive care unit."

Lead photo courtesy of Zsuzsanna Kilian and

Oct 22, 2014

Why Nitrates Aren't Evil

Go to just about any cancer organization's website and you'll find information claiming nitrates - which are found in cured bacon, lunch meat, hot dogs, and many other meats - cause cancer. Go to any grocery store and you'll find products bragging about being nitrate-free. But, truth be told, the healthier you eat, the more likely it is you have nitrates in your diet.

What Are Nitrates?

Potassium nitrate (often shortened to "nitrate") has been used to preserve food since the Middle Ages. In the old days they called it saltpeter (Latin for "rock salt"). In the early 20th century, scientists discovered what made saltpeter an effective preservative, and it no longer became necessary to use saltpeter - a pure dose of nitrate was now known to do the trick.

Nitrates work by causing a reaction in the meat that creates nitric oxide. This, in turn, binds to the iron atom in the myoglobin in the meat (the stuff that makes raw meat look bloody even though all the blood has been drained off). This keeps the iron from causing the fat in the meat to oxidize - and it happens to cause cured meat to look pinkish-red. In addition, nitrates give meat a sharper taste and keeps certain pathogens, like botulism, at bay.

Why Nitrates in Meat Aren't Scary

Nitrates, my friends, are everywhere. You can't avoid them. Your very saliva makes up "93% of the total daily ingestion of nitrate" in your diet (your saliva reacts with bacteria in your mouth, creating nitrates), and "foods account for a very small portion of the overall daily nitrite intake."

When it comes to food, you can't avoid nitrates even by eating vegetarian. Vegetables actually make up the largest part of our dietary intake of nitrates (about 87%). The highest offenders are the very same foods health experts tell us to eat more of: spinach, beets, broccoli, leeks, radishes, lettuce, celery, cabbage, fennel, and cucumbers. In fact, one serving of arugula has more nitrates than 467 hot dogs.*

"One serving of arugula has more nitrates than 467 hot dogs."
Are Nitrate-Free Foods Really Free From Nitrates?

Read the label. It usually says something like "No nitrates added." The food itself may naturally have nitrates - and the manufacturers of the food probably have substituted pure nitrate with celery powder or celery juice. Since celery is high in nitrates, food made this way certainly isn't nitrate free.

As an example, a recent look at hot dogs found that "natural hot dogs had anywhere from one-half to 10 times the amount of nitrite than conventional hot dogs contained. Natural bacon had from about a third as much nitrite as a conventional brand to more than twice as much."

So Why Are Nitrates Supposedly Bad?

In huge amounts, nitrates are toxic. But to get enough nitrates to poison you, you'd need to eat thousands of hotdogs in one day.

In 1971, one study concluded that nitrate-preserved meats could cause cancer - "only under special conditions amines are present, nitrite is available to react, near neutral pH is found, and product temperatures reach greater than 130°C, such as during the frying of bacon." In reaction to the study, new laws were passed, lowering the amount of nitrates allowed in foods. Today, ascordbic acid (vitamin C) is used to inhibit the chemical reaction that could lead to nitrosamines. For bacon, regulations are tighter, and inhibitors for preventing nitrosamines during frying must be present. This resulted in an 80% reduction in nitrate levels - and since the 1980s, every decent scientific study (at least 80 of them) has found no link between nitrates in food and cancer.

So Are Nitrates GOOD?

Maybe. They do keep dangerous bacteria out of our food - and scientists are now looking into the idea that nitrates are beneficial to humans' immune system - and maybe even our cardiovascular systems.

Does That Mean Preserved Meats are Healthy?

All this isn't to say we should gorge ourselves on cured meat. There are indications that preserved meats cooked at high temperatures may lead to higher levels of colon cancer, for example. And there is (very flimsy) evidence that nitrates may react with natural amines found in some foods, forming a carcinogen called nitrosamine in the stomach. But, despite what you may hear, nitrates are not to blame.

So while it's probably smart to limit your intake of cure meat, at least now you know not to waste your money on supposedly "nitrate free" foods that aren't really free from nitrates at all.

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.


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.