3 Tips for a Springtime Cleanse

Spring time cleanse

To cleanse or not to cleanse seems to be the question come spring time in my clinic.

We know that some detoxing or cleansing methods can be great after a weekend away with the girls or when you have started to feel a little stagnated and backed up. Most often, cleansing programs highlight the benefits on the liver and flushing out toxins that have accumulate over time.

In Chinese medicine, the season of spring brings us into the wood element and connect with the Liver organ and meridian system.

 

Can you see the connection here? Considering clearing out lingering toxins in the body involves the liver, then spring would be the best time to incorporate some daily cleansing rituals.

Now juice cleanses or fasting may not be appropriate for everyone but there are a few things you can try at home.

Drink warm water with lemon first thing in the morning.

Warm water is more absorbable and easy to digest, especially first thing in the morning when you have been warm and cozy all night. (Please avoid cold smoothies and cereal first thing in the morning, no matter what season!) The lemon flavor is sour which connects with the liver and acts as a mild diuretic to flush out toxins from the day and night before.

Eat an artichoke!

Consuming artichokes can help clear liver heat. The plant also contains a compound called cynarin, which promotes bile production and urination.

Pick some weeds!

You likely know dandelion as a pesky little weed that pokes up through cracks in the sidewalk. Did you also know that we can use all parts of the plant medicinally as well? Considered the ideal liver remedy because it is completely non-toxic and gently restores liver function. It enhances the flow of bile and supports the kidneys during cleansing and detoxification of the liver and bowels. I like to send my clients to the farmers market to pick up some organic dandelion greens to toss into a salad or stir-fry.

Happy cleansing!

Herbal Medicine During Cold & Flu Season

herbal tea for cold season

Back to school season has arrived, and likely along with it, the influx of cold and flu germs

Herbal medicine is an extremely effective way to help boost your body’s immune system and also help rid the body of pathogenic illness, if and when it does arrive.

Most of us are familiar with the concept of boosting or building up our immune systems.

Have you ever fallen ill and then been advised to load up on Vitamin C, Echinacea, ginseng etc.?

You can understand that those herbs, in theory, would be helping to build up the immune system, so that you get better faster and start to feel better… right?

Let me explain the theory from a TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) perspective:

Your body’s immune system is on and in action 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

That’s its purpose, to protect you from bacteria and viruses, otherwise known as external invasions. If, for whatever reason, your immune system is compromised or weak, cold or flu viruses are able to invade into the body and cause illness.

The first step to getting better, would be to rid the body of that outside factor.

Imagine for a moment, a small village, swarmed by villains suddenly. Would you want to get those villains out of the village as soon as possible, or would you want to build up a surrounding wall to lock in the villains with the village people?

This is essentially what is happening when you take immune boosting herbs when you are sick with the cold and flu. You may, in fact, building up and tonifying the illness instead of your immune system, causing you to be sick for potentially worse and longer than you would have been otherwise.

What we want to do, is, first, get the illness out of the body and then, work on restoring our health.

For that same reason, it is always better to be supporting your health and your immune system pre-emptively and pro-actively so that your defense systems in place can the best job they can to protect you.

Herbal medicine offers effective, safe, and side effect free treatment of common ailments like cold, flu, strep throat, sinus infection, cough, and more.

One of my favorite herbal formulas coming into cold and flu season is Immune Defense by Dao Labs. This offers 2 immune boosting herbs, paired with a single herb that helps dispel any pathogens that do try and invade your body’s immune system.

*Herbs to be taken during illness should always be prescribed by a licensed herbalist.

Food is medicine – part 10

Its parsnip season!

Admittedly, they are not one of my favorite vegetables, but I am on a mission to find some delicious parsnip recipes! Also, because I have a fridge full of local farm parsnips that I don’t want to go to waste.

While some people think that parsnips are simply white carrots, and while they are from the same family, they are a difference plant species. They have a nuttier taste and typically a larger size than carrots, and parsnip nutrition does differ from carrot nutrition.

What’s so good about parsnips?

Benefits your eyes – high in vitamin C, research shows vitamin C can help prevent macular degeneration

Benefits digestions, prevents constipation – high in dietary fiber, helps things keep flowing smoothly

Beneficial during pregnancy – high in folic acid which aids in prevention of birth defects and fetus health

Improve heart health – high in potassium which acts as a vasodilator and reduces blood pressure, as well as stress on the heart

Try them out in this simple recipe:

  • 3-4 parsnips cut into large pieces
  • 1 head of cauliflower cut into large pieces
  • 1 small yellow onion diced
  • 4 garlic cloves minces
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1-2 cups vegetable broth

Directions

  • Roast root vegetables at 350F for 30 minutes
  • Sautee onion until translucent
  • Add garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes
  • Pour in coconut milk and broth, add roasted veggies and simmer until soft
  • Blend all ingredients together until smooth
  • Add dried herbs (like parsley) to taste and garnish!

Food is medicine part 9

You may know dandelion as the pesky little weed that shows up when you forget to mow your lawn.

It is unfortunate that we try to rid the world of these yellow flowers with harsh pesticides, as dandelions are actually very nutrient dense and the whole plant is edible and medicinally rich.

In Chinese medicine we use dandelion (pu gong yin) as a bitter and cold herb that connects with the liver and works great for intestinal abscesses (or any signs of internal heat) or if there is urinary difficulty (it is a diuretic).  Because of these traits, and the fact that this herb connects with the liver, means that it is often used for detox. You may have heard that the liver stores toxins and should be flushed out.

Occasionally I am weary of this thought process; yes your liver is likely working hard and does filter through toxins, yet that also is part of its function, and your body is specifically designed to do this, on its own, and this “detox” craze can sometimes do more harm than good. Because of the specific functions of this herb it is good to be mindful of what is presenting in your body and if a cold and bitter herb is what you need in this moment.

For example if you have a weak digestive symptoms with signs of cold already (loose stools, undigested food in stools, rumbly/noisy tummy, flatulence with no odor) using dandelion (or extreme detox) may in fact aggravate your symptoms instead of make it better.

Dandelion tea works great as a mild liver tonic.

The liver plays a big role in metabolizing hormones and keeping the liver happy helps regulate hormone balance.

An interesting thing to note is that while the entire plant is edible, each part may contain slightly different properties and uses. The leaves, flower and root are all edible. If you decided to try your hand at wild crafting, it is important to source from an area you know has not been exposed to chemicals, as people will often spray dandelions trying to get rid of them.

“But like all good rebels, the dandelions are irrepressible” Guido Mase

The root is the classic “liver tonic” and blood purifier.

Its bitter compounds can help signal to the stomach that food is coming and helps stimulate the production of bile (helps break down fats). It is also high in inulin (a prebiotic) which helps nourish the digestive tract.

The leaf is a mild diuretic (makes you pee), which can help with fluid retention and edema, it is a good source of potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium and trace minerals.

The French often refer to dandelion as pissenlit (literal translation “pee in the bed”), which is a testimonial to its diuretic nature.

The flowers are often made into dandelion wine and contain a milky latex quality that has been used as a remedy for warts.

Fun fact: dandelions leaves make great pesto! Use them in place of basil for a slightly more bitter flavor that is softened by the nutty and lemon flavors.

Have you used dandelion before? Let me know how you like to use it!

Food is medicine part 8

Raise your hand if you like garlic?

You can’t see me from where you are sitting reading this, but I am over here frantically waving my hands around!

We all know garlic is delicious right? But do you also know that is has many health benefits as well?

In Chinese medicine, we will use garlic often in cooking to enhance flavor with its pungent and spicy qualities. Medicinally, we will use it to kill intestinal parasites, use it topically and orally to expel toxins from the body.

Garlic is a vermifuge.

Meaning it is used to treat intestinal worms in humans and animals.

Garlic is also great for digestion (everything in moderation though). It is a carminative herb, which means it can help with stagnant digestion symptoms like bloating, gas and constipation. Garlic contains inulin which is an important prebiotic (this helps the flora of the large intestine), disrupted gut flora is linked to many health concerns such as inflammatory bowel disease, hormone imbalances, weight gain, and more!

Garlic has antimicrobial, antibiotic, and anti-viral properties and has been used for a long time as a medicinal herb for infections. Garlic poultices (externally applied garlic) were used during the plague in Europe and on soldiers during World War I.

A fascinating trait of garlic for use as an antibiotic is that while pharmaceutical antibiotics wipe out any and all bacteria from the body, garlic not only kills any “bad” microorganisms in your body but it’s also stimulates your immune system (and you would need to take a ridiculously large amount for it to negatively affect the good bacteria).

Garlic has been used for centuries to ward off the common cold and flu.

In Chinese medicine, garlic connects to the lung meridian, meaning for certain lung ailments (like cold, pneumonia, bronchitis etc.) garlic can be very useful.

Fun fact: while travelling around India in 2009, I would carry around a clove of garlic to consume a raw bulb before each meal.

Did you know? You can also eat the flowering stalks of garlic, the scapes. These are great for stir-fry’s and pesto’s, slightly less garlic flavor but nice and aromatic. YUM!

Food is medicine part 7

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I do have a strong affinity to chocolate. Due to the fact I have a hard time resisting devouring a few too many pieces of chocolate after dinner I have been on the hunt for better options.

Which brings me to today’s herb: cacao.

Yes, technically all chocolate has cacao in it, but, often by the time that cacao has made it to your store bought chocolate bar, it is not a strong enough percentage to reap the benefits of this magical plant AND is often combined with a whole lot of sugar and other less desirable ingredients.

Most commercial chocolate bars have too much sugar and not enough cacao content to be supportive to health.

So yes, what I am saying is this: cacao is good for you!

Again, moderation, as with everything, is key. Also, with cacao, it is important to be aware of where it is sourced from. Unfortunately, planting and harvesting this plant is often tied to child labor and unfair labor practices.

So, be on the look-out for fair trade and ethically sources products!

Cacao has a very distinct flavor and can take some getting used to. Some like to work their way up to consuming 100% cacao, but try to find dark chocolate that has a minimum of 70% cacao. This information is easy to find and is usually on the front label. Once you are ready, the healthiest way to use this herb in your diet is with 100% cacao, like cacao nibs or cacao powder.

Curious about the difference between cacao and cocao?

Some of cacaos amazing benefits are:

Mood enhancer – well duh, chocolate is delicious! But seriously, with constituents like theobromine and caffeine, it’s a definite pick me up! (use moderately is sensitive to these things)

Heart health – high in flavonoids and antioxidants, improves blood flow to the heart, lowers high blood pressure, prevents clots.

Energy boost – high polyphenol, plus low caffeine content

Blood sugar levels – improves insulin resistance and glucose metabolism

One of my favorite summer afternoon treats with cacao:

  • One frozen banana
  • One cup coconut milk or cream (I like mine thick so I use 85%)
  • Cacao nibs

Place all ingredients in food processor and combine until creamy smooth and enjoy!

Food is medicine part 6

Ever wonder why a restaurant will often give you a mint at the end of your meal?

It is because mint stimulates digestion and helps relieve nausea and that overfull feeling.

The type of mint I want to share with you today is peppermint.  This is the type of mint you will most often see in teas and cooking, and is easily found in your local grocery store.

Mint is most widely known for its cooling effects.

I would invite you to brew yourself a steaming hot mug of fresh peppermint tea and observe what happens when you are drinking the hot liquid.

Does your tongue feel cool? Then your throat and stomach?

That is because of the volatile oils within the peppermint leaf.

This cooling effect makes it a great herb to use if you are feeling overfull, nauseous and especially after eating hot and spicy food.

Peppermint is also aromatic, meaning it has a strong aroma.

Because of this feature, mint has a great effect on helping rid the body of external pathogens (i.e. toxins) and relieving pain, especially in the head, with symptoms like headaches, sinus and throat pain. You will often see this herb used in formulas during cold and flu season for this reason.

If you have a red, sore throat, peppermint tea is a great way to clear any excess heat and reduce pain and inflammation in the area. Because mint leaves are light you don’t want to over cook them, you want to keep the aromatic properties.

It is best to steep the fresh or dried leave for 5 minutes only, stir in some honey and let it sooth your throat.

Mint is also a great breath freshener, as you know, mint is the most common “flavor” of toothpastes, mouthwash and breath mints. The cooling and refreshing feeling not only helps soothe the stomach but also helps with any foul odour after belching or vomiting.

There are no known reactions or side effects with peppermint which makes it a great herb to experiment with at home!

Food is medicine part 5

You are likely familiar with licorice, but perhaps not the kind I want to share with you today. Maybe you have had the red twizzlers candy or black jellybeans that taste like “.

Fun Fact : that black licorice flavor is actually extracted from the anise plant and not the licorice plant itself.

The medicinal part of the licorice plant is the root.

It is a Mediterranean medicinal plant, meaning it prefers hot weather and full sun.

I would say that the most widely used reason for using this herb is for its anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties. The licorice root has a naturally sweet flavor (50 times sweeter then table sugar – although it is not actually a sugar, just sweet tasting) and is slightly warm.

This makes it a very neutralizing herb and is often combined in herbal formulas to harmonize all the other herbs together.

Licorice root has anti spasmodic properties, making it great for abdominal cramping, stomach and bowel irritations.

This herb is most often consumed in a tea, after being steeped for a minimum of 15 minutes. Steeping roots (denser herbs) is required to receive the full medicinal benefit.

Licorice root has also been used as a tonifying herb, which means it builds up the body, boosts immunity and has been used as a remedy against adrenal exhaustion.

A simple tea blend for a sore throat is as follows:

One part licorice root

One part mint leaves

½ part honey

Steep the licorice root for 15 minutes before adding the mint leaves for an additional 5 minutes.

Strain out the herbs, stir in honey and enjoy!

Curious to learn more? Lets chat!

Food is medicine part 4

Have you ever suffered from motion sickness and nausea while travelling, only to down some Gravol and immediately feel extremely drowsy? That used to be what I turned to on early morning road trips or long overnight flights, but I could never get used to the groggy feeling that lingered. Now when travelling, if I can’t prepare something myself I will pick up the Gravol ginger chews, whose only ingredient: ginger; and you know what, it works even better!

Ginger is an extremely effective remedy for cramps, nausea, morning and motion sickness.

The rhizome (or root – which is the part of the ginger plant we use medicinally) contains a proteolytic enzyme that has been shown to reduce inflammation and help repair damaged joints and cartilage tissue.

Clinical studies have shown that ginger rivals antinausea drugs used during chemotherapy, but without the side effects. It also has antiseptic properties which make it highly effective for treating gastrointestinal infections and can help during a bout of food poisoning.

As you have probably tasted, ginger is warm and spicy.

Because of these qualities, in TCM we will often use ginger to warm up the digestive system and stop vomiting, as well as during particular symptoms of cold or flu, as it helps to release the exterior (i.e push out any pathogens/toxins that have invaded your body).

Ginger has also been shown to help get rid of migraines, if taken immediately at the onset of any symptoms, in a large dose (i.e 2 tbsp. of ginger powder into hot water), as it is invigorating, stimulating, and anti-inflammatory.

A simple tea recipe to enjoy the benefits of ginger below:

  • 1 tbsp. grated or finely minced fresh ginger
  • Squirt of lemon juice
  • Honey to taste (about ½ tsp)

Place the fresh ginger in a mug with the lemon juice and honey. Pour boiling water over the ingredients, cover and let steep for 15 minutes. If desired, strain before drinking.

Enjoy warm!

Food is medicine part 3

Are you familiar with the spice cinnamon?

You have most likely enjoyed a cinnamon bun, apple pie or chai tea; all of these have a strong cinnamon flavor, but did you also know it is used as a medicinal herb?

Cinnamon is a common house hold spice, often used in powder form. Perhaps you have also seen cinnamon sticks in the spice section of your grocery store. The cinnamon stick is actually the inner bark of the tree which is peeled off and curls up as it dries.

Cinnamon is sweet, spicy, and hot.

Because of these warm and stimulating properties cinnamon is often used to improve circulation (alleviate pain) and ease digestive complaints. It is a powerful antiseptic, and has antiviral and antifungal properties.

There have been numerous clinical studies that show cinnamon can dramatically decrease glucose and insulin levels. Which means it may be a great herb to consider if you are diabetic.

Because cinnamon can also connect with the uterus, both in a warming and invigorating fashion, it can be used to bring on a delayed menstrual cycle but should be used with caution in high doses during pregnancy.

A personal note:

A few years ago, I spent time in India, a country that uses a lot of cinnamon! A woman I met along the way, would have us over a few times a week to practice henna, and would also invite us into the kitchen to help prepare chai tea. Here is a simple and delicious recipe which can be consumed to aid digestion and warm up the body.

  • 1 part crushed cinnamon bark
  • 1 part crushed ginger root
  • ¼ part crushed cardamom pods
  • ¼ part cloves
  • ¼ part crushed black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp. Black tea (Darjeeling if available)
  • Honey to taste

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add the first 5 herbs and let simmer about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, add black tea, cover and steep for 5 minutes. Strain, sweeten to taste.