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

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 FreeImages.com.

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.

CAUTIONS

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

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

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

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

Jan 15, 2014

Is Your Birth Control Causing Abortions?


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

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


* * *


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 7, 2013

Be Ready for Cold and Flu Season!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 1, 2013

Calendulas for Beauty and Herbal Healing

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

WARNING: Calendula should not be taken internally during pregnancy.

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



Mar 4, 2013

An Unexpected Warning about Milk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This post featured at Homestead Abundance.

Mar 1, 2013

GMO Wheat - It's Not Where You Think!

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

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

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

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

Jan 28, 2013

Herbal Healing for Colds and Flu

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

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

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

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

Anti-Cold & Flu Remedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fight the Flu (or Cold) Tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post featured on Homestead Abundance

Dec 14, 2012

Why I Drink Apple Cider Vinegar


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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




Why Does it Work?

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 26, 2012

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

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


What is GMO Food?

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

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

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

Why You May Want to Avoid GMO Food

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

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

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

Where Will I Find GMO Food?

Sadly, almost everywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do I Avoid GMO Food?

There are a few ways:

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

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

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

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

* Buy grass fed meat and dairy. 

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

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


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