Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Green Smoothie Addiction

Green smoothies are one of my favorite things to drink, and its one of those things that is good to be addicted to. Salad in a glass. As I have hinted at here before;  greens have the potential to really get you supercharged, super quick. Raw green leafy vegetables help digestion, improve blood quality, provide huge amounts of nutrients (Vit K, iron, calcium, magnesium and so on), alkalinize your body, are good for your teeth, are full of antioxidants, and don't bog your system down with a bunch of calories. Get as much of them in your diet as you can.

Green smoothies seem to have a reputation for being intense and reserved for health food fanatics only. I am guessing this based on the looks and comments I get when people see the color and taste some of the smoothies I end up with. The usual is a blender stuffed with kale and spinach and a banana to make you remember that its a smoothie. It doesn't have to be that way, and I recently discovered a piece of green smoothie paradise. This unlikely concoction is inspired by Ryan's "Ginger Sours" from The Cornerstone Café in Olympia, WA (on Franklin and 4th downtown if you haven't discovered this gem yet).

Greens on the Beach
1 cup pineapple juice (no added sugar, please)
1/2 cup water
1 handful cilantro
2-3 handfuls arugula
2 handfuls fresh or frozen mango (Ryan uses peaches sometimes)

Blend pineapple juice and water with greens on high until they are well broken up. Then add mango and blend until completely smooth. Yum! Leave the cilantro out or replace it with parsley if you are one of those people who despises it.

Cilantro is a great tonic for the blood and urinary system (including kidneys). A Japanese study right after the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombing found that cilantro binds to heavy metals and removes them from your body. I eat cilantro all the time because I think it is one of the best things in the world. Arugula is great for improving blood quality, increasing energy, and improving digestion. Both are potent superfoods.

The Whole Food Dessert Revolution

I have always been an eat-dessert first kind of human. This has historically put me into some sticky situations with massive amounts of cake and ice-cream. If it wasn't for my revelations about whole foods, I'd probably be the size of Texas by now. My dessert binges always came with a sense of taboo and guilt. I knew that eating a whole bowl of ice cream wasn't the best for me, but my dessert alarm rings undeniably every day after dinner.

Two key catalytic realizations came to me in the past few years. One: I don't have to feel guilty about eating dessert. Two: I can make desserts that are more nutritious than all of the food some people eat for the whole day. This totally changed my idea of what dessert could be.

My approach to making sweet things involves using plant-based, nutrient-dense, whole foods that are unprocessed and uncooked where possible. Much of my inspiration has come from the raw food world (a movement where the majority of the diet involves whole foods that have not been heated in any way in order to retain maximum nutrition). Raw food desserts blew my mind by using nuts, dried fruit, raw honey and various other tricks to create decadent yet healthy creations. We are talking pecan and date pie crusts with coconut creme and cacao filling topped with fresh raspberries. Some raw foodists quip that in the raw food world, you really can eat cake for breakfast. A slice of raw cake is probably 40 times more nutritious than a bowl of captain crunch.

Here are two recipes for bite sized candy-like desserts that are storable and portable (if there's any left).

Whole Food Snickerdoodles
1 cup shredded coconut
3 tbsp almond butter (creamy is preferred)
1 tbsp honey (local and raw is the best)
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Superfood add-ons to supercharge the situation:
1 tsp mesquite powder (a superfood powder that has a creamy, sweet taste)
1 tsp maca powder

Put all ingredients in food processor and pulse until they adhere into cookie-dough like consistency. Roll into balls and serve. Store in the refrigerator. Feel free to experiment with measurements. I always eye-ball it.

Next is an old favorite that I always find myself trying to teach people at parties, but we get interrupted in the middle of the recipe and the transmission is never complete...

Elf Dirt Level I
This recipe looks like dirt, but is highly tasty. This means that elves must make it. The name was created a long time ago by someone I inherited the concept from. As you become more creative and adapt the recipe to your taste, you will develop your own flavor of elf dirt. It is amazing how no two people's elf dirt is the same.

1 cup sunflower seeds
2 tbsp raw honey
1-2 tbsp coconut oil or extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil.
2 tbsp raw cacao powder
pinch of good salt
1/2 tsp powdered ginger

Put sunflower seeds into the food processor and process until as small as you can get them. Then, add the honey and oil and pulse until mixed. Then add all other ingredients. Roll into balls and store in the fridge.

Elf Dirt, Level II
This version of the recipe is for those more equipped or ambitious, who might have some of these ingredients around already. It is important to me to have accessible recipes (above), but also be honest about what's really going on in my kitchen (below). This is my current embellished elf dirt recipe.

1 cup sunflower seeds
2 tbsp raw honey
1-2 tbsp coconut oil or extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil.
1 tbsp raw cacao powder
pinch of good salt
1 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp spirulina (high in protein, chlorophyll and nutrients. Get this into your life asap.)
1 tsp maca powder
1 tsp mesquite powder
pinch of cayenne
bit of natural vanilla extract

Grind sunflower seeds thoroughly in food processor. Add honey and oil, process. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until fully mixed. Roll into balls. Journey to mystical lands.

Friday, February 24, 2012

One Step Closer to Liberation

One minute it's flaxseed meal, the next minute it's stem cell implants, and the next it's eating like cave-men. Whatever it is at the moment, everyone jumps on the bandwagon with dogmatic gusto without much regard for the bandwagon that they jumped from. If that sounds totally absurd, that's because it is. We get faithfully sucked up in these single solutions one a time and can't integrate anything to save our lives.

A "panacea" is a remedy for all diseases, or a "cure all." Most of us are instilled with this quest for the holy grail of solutions that will make it so we can all live forever, not have any problems or sicknesses, never be in pain, and never have to lift a finger or change anything. Sounds boring, drugged, lame, bland, repressed, and depressing. No room for growth, no room for mistakes, no consequences, no rewards, no fears, no stimulus, no excitement. People often ask me for miracles that won't take them any effort, and I find myself afraid to mention anything that would involve any sort of discomfort. There isn't space to have the conversations that really matter.

Here's the deal: If you really want to be a super-hero and live a radiantly fantastic and awesome life, you might have to step out of your comfort zone and lift that proverbial finger. You have full permission and ability to do exactly that at any moment. I highly encourage a daily dose of gumption and willingness to jump into the unknown. You and no one else (especially not me), must embark on this path. Your boyfriend/ dog /wife / mother/ son/ teacher/ therapist/ teddy bear/ author of favorite blog can support you in the process, but you've got to open the door, and you can do it.

What you don't see when you see me jumping around like a blissed-out 4-year-old is time I have spent ferociously conquering my fears and crying my eyes out to beat emotional repression. You don't see the hard, uncomfortable work I've put in to forgive myself, let go of self-judgement, break free of societal molds and flower into exactly who I am, doing exactly what I need to do.

You can choose to keep living with the wild hope that some panacea will save you (reminiscent of the Bible), or you can hike the do-it-yourself salvation plan.

Let's get clear. You have permission to dance in elevators, to yell at the top of your lungs, tell people what you really think rather than what they want to hear, write love letters to strangers, scream, ask for support, literally burn things that don't serve you, cry for no reason, do a job you love, choose to love the job you're doing, forgive everyone who scarred you in your childhood, drive somewhere random and get totally lost, be late for things, laugh really loud, draw cartoons even though you're not good at drawing, rest when you need to, cook with things you've never heard of before and eat it even if it doesn't taste good, burn dinner, talk to yourself, rehearse your award acceptance speech in the shower, plan elaborate events and have no one show up, buy 5 pounds of spirulina and eat it by the spoonful, offend people on accident, talk in weird accents, tell stories that make no sense, sing in the shower, listen to the smarmiest music ever and lay on the floor with all the blankets and pillows in the house. Whatever you choose to do with this radical freedom to do exactly what you need to do to be you, forgive yourself--for God's sake.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Making and Using Herbal Tea

Simply said: tea is an ancient concept. We have had tea as long as we've had tools to make it. All herbal medicine systems in the world make some sort of water-plant preparation. Tea can be weak and gentle, and it can be strong and powerful. It is versatile and adaptable, and incredibly effective at getting healing done when it needs to.

Dry herbs are most commonly used for tea, because water can enter the empty cells easily and extract the good stuff inside. For the most part, fresh herbs do not yield as much medicine because their cell walls are already filled with water and therefore allow less water into their cells for extraction. However, some herbs are better fresh, like chickweed. Some herbs must be dry for them to have an effect, like mullein leaves. You can dry your own herbs by hanging them in a dark, dry place, or laying them out on a horizontal screen. Dehydrators with low settings speed up the process and prevent mold. Avoid exposing the herbs to light, heat or water. Smell check them for mold before storing them. Store in immaculately clean and dry jars in the dark (or in amber jars). 

There are two methods for making basic hot tea:

Pour hot water over dry herbs in a mug or teapot, cover and let sit for 20 minutes. Generally, the ratio is 1 tsp of dry herb per cup of tea, but it isn't rocket science. Strain herbs out with a metal tea strainer when ready, or use a french press. This method is most often used for leaves, flowers and other delicate plant parts. Ex: nettles, mint, dandelion leaf, plantain leaf, linden flowers, chamomile.

Cooling Infusion
  1 part dried nettle leaf
  1 part dried peppermint leaf

Lemon Verbena and Tulsi Infusion
The flavors of these two herbs (together or separate) are simply delectable. They make you feel good, and are a great combo when feeling melancholy. 
  1 part lemon verbena leaf
  1 part vana tulsi leaf

This mix will chill you out, ease the nervous anxiety and brighten your day.
  1 part chamomile flowers
  1 part lavendar flowers
  1 part lemon balm leaf
  1 part wild oat tops
  1 part skullcap leaf

Add 1-2 tablespoons of dry herb per quart of cold water to a pot. Slowly heat and bring to a simmer over low heat for 10-20 minutes. The harder and more impenetrable the plant material, the longer to boil it. Decoctions can be made in larger batches and reheated throughout the day. Decoctions are appropriate for harder plant parts like roots, seeds and berries. Examples: Ginger, yellow dock root, dandelion root, licorice root, milk thistle seeds, astragalus, ashwagandha, devil’s club root, Oregon grape root, schizandra berry. Some herbs need to be simmered for them to have maximum benefit; reishi mushrooms, ginseng root and gingko leaf being among them.

Cold and Flu Season Decoction: 
Best for sipping preventatively during wet, dark months. Very earthy flavors that are grounding. Simmer for 30 minutes. Astragalus root and licorice root especially like to be simmered for long periods.
  1 part astragalus root
  1 part licorice root
  1 part Echinacea purpurea root
  1/2 part cinnamon

Decocted Herbal Chai
This is a great flavorful blend that has a lot of good digestive tonic herbs, which makes it appropriate for before and after meals to help with digestion. It is also incredibly warming, stimulating, earthy and tasty. Simmer for 20 minutes, and then add milk and sweetener if wanted. Invest in some good local, raw honey to have in your tea, as it adds huge healing benefits and feel-good properties.
  1 part cardamom
  1 part fennel (or star anise, or aniseseed)
  1 part cinnamon
  1/2 part licorice root
  1/4 part cloves
  1/4 part black pepper (optional- please don't torture yourself with it)
  1 part ginger (dried or sliced)

Add: Stevia, honey and/ or unsweetened hazelnut milk

Decoction of Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
This recipe applies to any hard polypore fungus (artist's conk, red-belted conk, turkey tail, oregon reishi).  Reishi is a great immune tonic, is beneficial to the lungs and helps as a long term treatment for anxiety. Mushrooms as a whole love to be simmered in water for maximum benefit. Raw mushrooms don't do much for us because of the protective coating of chitin the mushrooms cells have that make it indigestible. Heating the mushrooms deconstructs the chitin.

  handful of sliced reishi mushroom fruiting bodies
  1 quart of water

Put the mushroom slices in cold water in a pot and set heat to low with the lid on. Let it simmer for 1-24 hours. You can add more water and boil more if you've drank the tea. Add licorice root if you need something to take off the bitterness.

Preparing herb mixes using recipes like the ones above:
The recipes above use "parts" rather than a static system of measurement so that you can make any quantity. The parts are measured in weight. You could make just enough for one batch, or pre-prepare whole jars of it. The measurement is not an exact science, so don't stress about it too much. Eye-balling works great.  Feel free to adjust the amounts as your tastebuds dictate. Pre-made mixes are good for mixes that you enjoy, or are for something specific you are healing.

Tea used as a medicine:
I imagine tea figuratively as the rainstorm that washes away disease. Tea is great for urinary problems, kidney problems, skin problems, internal infections, respiratory issues (bronchitis, chronic coughs), depression, constipation, any sort of stagnancy, lymphatic and blood cleansing, detoxification etc. You might receive a mix of herbs, or a recipe for a mix from an herbalist for with instructions to drink 3-4 cups every day. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Anxiety- Long Term approaches

Long term treatment of anxiety takes some deeper work, and more dedication. Act from a genuine want for a better and smoother life for yourself. The attitude of hating or resenting your anxiety feeds it, so having a loving, patient and positive attitude about it is a good place to start. Self love and faith are the best cure-alls for anxiety. If we love ourselves, and have faith that the world is going to be saved at the last possible moment, then there is no reason to be anxious.

Fear of making mistakes is often rooted in self-love issues. If we think we need to perform perfectly in order to matter, or "be worth something," anxiety is created around a situation in which you might make a mistake (ex. being late, forgetting something). It is important to be worth something, but your worth doesn't have to depend on your performance. You can choose to be unconditionally worthy of your existence. Fall in love with yourself. Write a love letter to yourself, take yourself out on a date, whisper "I love you" to yourself when you're alone, repeat "I love you" over and over and over to yourself in your mind, get smarmy with it. You are your most loyal fan.

Faith is equally key. Carrying around the assumption that life is going to be crappy is the very thing that manifests crappiness. "You get out what you put in" is indeed true. So, I choose to have faith that everything will work out no matter what. As I wrote earlier--the world will be saved at the last possible minute.

Giving  yourself permission to emote freely is also important to dispel emotional tension that can cause chronic anxiety. The need for emotional outlets have created art, sports, music, and dance. Unexpressed emotions can really fester inside, and create hatred and resentment. Our culture discourages a lot of emotions--even laughter is "inappropriate" at times--so giving yourself space to express them is revolutionary. There are many people who have so many backed up emotions that they feel numb. This also shuts out emotions like love and wonder. Living is rather dull without those! For those people, start with laughing, and really let yourself go for it. Try to find some time alone when you won't feel self conscious. Find a comedian on youtube, or just fake it til you make it.  My experience tells me that laughing is one of the strongest emotions, and can shake loose and exorcise all sorts of things. You may find yourself crying while you laugh. Run with it.

Herbs for Long-Term Anxiety Treatment
Drink these teas several times a week.

Decoction of Adaptogens for Anxiety
1 part ashwagandha root
1 part rhodiola root
1 part licorice root
1 part reishi mushrooms (pre-sliced is best)

Put a handful of herb mix in a quart of water in a pot on the stove (reishi may need to be added separately), and simmer for at least 10 minutes. Drink throughout the day, reheating as needed. I add more water throughout the day. The more you simmer the reishi, the better. I will post about making reishi tea soon.

Infusion for anxiety
2 parts tulsi leaf (vana tulsi is my favorite)
2 parts skullcap leaf
2 parts milky oat tops
1 part lemon verbena leaf

Put one teaspoon of your mix into a mug and cover with hot water. Cover the mug and let sit for 10-15 mins. This tea may have a sedative effect because of the skullcap. Put less skullcap to reduce that.

Here is a good place to buy bulk herbs online. You can also shop at your local herb shop that sells bulk herbs in jars.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Antibiotic Dilemma

There's a lot of awareness coming out these days about the fact that antibiotics--though they often save our lives and perform ridiculous feats of battle--may not be the best long term solution for illness. People are reporting feeling lowered immunity, digestive disorders, chronic yeast infections, allergies and all sorts of other things surfacing after taking strong doses of antibiotics. The truth is, bacteria are our friends, and it takes a lot of time and work to develop the complex community of them we have in our GI tract. It's basically a party in there, and antibiotics are the police that make everyone dash. No fun whatsover.

I admit they can be great. I have more than once had serious infections that had no other solution (that I knew about then), and have been very thankful to have such powerful technology. However, the new paradigm of medicine is upon us, and it's time we started to take antibiotics and their alternatives more seriously.

What are antibiotics?

When I say "antibiotics" I refer to a group of drugs intended to kill organisms in human beings. The most well known of these is penicillin, which is a defensive chemical made by a mold. This chemical is synthesized and concentrated and put into pill form. This is the basic platform for all antibiotics. Stronger antibiotics have been developed over time to make up for antibiotics resistance (when bacteria have figured out how to outsmart the chemical). The reason germs create resistance to them so easily is that there is only one chemical mechanism working, and so it only takes one bacteria that evolves (which happens quickly) to resist that chemical.

What do I do when I'm taking antibiotics to retain my vibrant health and well-being?

Antibiotics kill the beneficial bacteria that is everywhere in our body. Primarily, this effects digestion and absorption.  They are also incredibly taxing to the liver. Here are some things you can do to support your system:

1. Take strong, high quality probiotic supplements with antibiotics and a month after. After this, supplement your diet with probiotic foods. (Saurkraut, kefir, kimchee, kombucha, miso, yogurt etc. Beer does not count.) I recommend these probiotics, as I have taken them and know them to be effective. 50 billion organisms a day is the goal.

2. Support your liver. Herbs that are good for this are dandelion root and leaf (juice, tea, tincture), milk thistle (ground seed, tincture), oregon grape root (tincture or tea). Green vegetables are good also, especially arugula. Avoid alcohol (they mean it when they say it in the directions, so follow it), get adequate sleep, avoid other pharmaceutical drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen and skip the hamburger for now.

3. Take the whole round of antibiotics so that they are fully effective. Otherwise, you may end up with an antibiotic resistant infection, and need  a stronger dose. Taking two rounds is way worse than taking one- so make the one count.

Are there really alternatives?

Yes! It is a sensitive subject to give non-specific advice on, but my experience shows that herbs are incredibly effective against all types of infection. Infections are a great thing to visit an herbalist with. Again, the life-threatening ones should be treated by a doctor for safety reasons.

Quick response, keeping things clean (inside and out), supporting your body so it can fight the infection, taking antimicrobial herbs specific to your infection, keeping blood and lymph moving, avoid heavy excercise and other energy intensive activities.

When should antibiotics be used?

Take antibiotics only when they are really needed. Doctors can prescribe them for minor infections that can easily be treated in some other way. My rule of thumb for myself is that if it's going to kill me quickly, I go for the antibiotics. Otherwise, I treat it myself. However, I am an herbalist and have knowledge and resources available at a moment's notice. Measure your comfort level and resources, and see what's realistic. Understand the effect that they are having you and learn how to make informed decisions. From my experience, most medical doctors push antibiotics without offering alternatives, or explaining what is going on and why they are prescribing them. You must be assertive to get that information from them.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Anxiety- Short Term Approaches

For those of us who struggle with anxiety, we know how ever-present and unshakable it can seem. Overcoming it can seem overwhelming because it neatly straddles the emotional and physical. Many people ask me what herbs are the best for anxiety, and I always trip over the somewhat simple answer, because the real answer is: No single approach is going to dissolve it. For this reason, a multifaceted and intentional approach that encompasses a few different practices is the most effective way to move past your anxiety. This article is based on my personal experience with anxiety, and my own empirical "research", that has come out of a lot of theoretical research.

First, I'm going to go over some tools to use in the moment the anxiety hits.

I find my breathing going haywire when I'm stuck in worry consciousness. The best approach I've found is to do this simple breathing exercise:  Count to 4 slowly as you breath in. Hold your breath for four counts, exhale four counts. During the exhale, consciously relax your muscles. Visualize all of your tension as a yucky cloud rushing out and dissipating into something beautiful. On the inhale, imagine breathing in pure white light. Repeat this until your breathing deepens again and your body relaxes. This also helps me go to sleep when my mind is on hyperdrive.

These herbs are relaxing herbs that help you chill out in the moment. I will speak to long term anxiety herbs in the next section. Time to experiment, because there are choices. Some will work for you, some won't. These are the herbs I have worked with for myself. There are more than what are here.

Passionflower is a gentle relaxer, and I suggest it as a great everyday herb for super-anxious cases. It can make a super stressful time a more bearable, and yet doesn't leave you catatonic. Great for times of particular stress or tension. Tea or tincture. Combine with Lemon verbena or lemon balm in a tea.

Damiana is a tender emotional herb. It is an aphrodisiac in the romantic sense. You may find it making you feel cozy in your body. I can see it working great for some anxious cases where emotional turmoil is the main cause. Tea or tincture. Combines well with rose petals in a tea.

Valerian is a strong sedative herb. However, some people find that it amps them up. Try it out to see if it works for you. Use this for the serious times when relaxing seems impossible. If you struggle with severe tension and things like TMJ, this could be a great herb for you. Also great for insomniacs. Tea or tincture. I use the tincture often. In a tea, it is great combined with lavender.

Chamomile is very mildly sedating. It's a great tea to drink after a long day of work, right before bed. It has a stronger effect on some than others. It is also great for digestion. Many restaurants and cafés carry chamomile tea, so its a good thing to keep in mind when you're out and need some reprieve.

Reminder- rule of thumb for making herbal tea is: one teaspoon of dry herb in a mug, cover with boiling water, cover mug, let sit for 10 minutes and drink.

Some other herbs to look up are skullcap, milky oats and hops.

Shake it out!
If you're feeling overwhelmed with a plate full of intensity, go outside or even in a bathroom stall and shake it out! Dogs are a great model of this. It does a good job of shaking off the muscular tension that can linger all day, and getting the blood flowing to clean all those stress chemicals out. This is especially good if you get a hit of adrenaline- maybe you trip, or nearly get in a car wreck- give yourself a moment to move it through. If you're in the car, give yourself permission to make some loud noises too- totally therapeutic.

Create Calming Practices
Find the things that calm you down. Light a candle or incense, lay on your carpet and stare at the ceiling for a few minutes, sit down while you eat and close your eyes, walk outside and touch a plant, text someone to say that you love them, listen to calming music that makes your heart soar, write about it in your journal, meditate, do yoga, go for a run, have a cup of tea, read a book, make something crafty, cry, laugh really really hard, sing, dance when you're alone, take a bath by candlelight, prayer and so on...

Stay tuned for long term approaches

Vegetable Dip

I discovered a fantastically tasty way to eat an absurd amount of raw vegetables and call it a snack.

Onion breath dip
Onions are great for escorting colds to the door. Burdock is a cleaner-upper root vegetable from Japan. This dip is essentially an immune boost formula in food form.  Make this dip in the winter and have it on celery, as a condiment, dip carrots in it....

1 medium beet, chopped
2 inch piece of burdock root, chopped (leave out if you don't find this)
chopped 1/4 onion (purple, yellow or white)
a couple handfuls of parsley (or cilantro!)
two pinches of salt
1 Tbsp grated ginger
juice of 1/2 lemon

Put all ingredients into food processor and get it going. Scrape off sides and keep blending until chunky, but uniformly smooth. Store in the fridge in an airtight container. Chew on some fennel seeds to get the onion breath down.

The Coffee Button

Hear what I have to say about the controversial topic of coffee.