Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Healthy Shots - Boost and Strengthen Your Biosystems

I recently did some research for an article about herbs for runners. Since my two sons are both runners, competing in track and field and cross country running at their high school, and my husband has just started running, I was interested in finding natural substances that would help them during this strenuous physical activity. One piece of information I came across was a blurb from a runner about cayenne pepper. This runner takes a teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a glass of water every day.

Cayenne has some amazing health benefits, and I was surprised to learn that it can stop a heart attack in 30 seconds. It has also been shown in clinical studies to kill cancer cells. Wow! The University of Cincinnati is studying cayenne's effects on cardiovascular health and healing. Cayenne clears and opens blood vessels and veins, ridding them of plaques and build up that can cause strokes and heart problems. It clears bad cholesterol. It stimulates the circulation and breathing systems, promoting clearer, deeper breathing which in turn provides oxygenation of all your bodily systems, a very important benefit while running. This kind of health benefit is not only valuable to runners though. As a female who has three close female relatives with a history of heart problems, I need to be doing things now to protect and strengthen my heart to avoid problems later that my mother and aunts are facing. I do not want to have strokes, heart attacks, arteriosclerosis or congestive heart failure in my future.

Wheat grass juice is another healthy resource that provides concentrated nutrients including iron, magnesium, selenium, calcium, amino acids, chlorophyll and vitamins A, C and E. Although the Mayo Clinic says that there aren't any studies to support claims that wheat grass juice protects against cancer, boosts immunity, improves digestion or rids the body of toxins, the Clinic acknowledges wheat grass's nutritional benefits as a green food. Chlorophyll's molecular structure is similar to the hemoglobin in human blood which may make it compatible with blood processes. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center reports that small studies of wheat grass juice indicate that it may alleviate colitis and reduce toxic effects of chemotherapy in breast cancer patients.

With such powerful natural health attributes, I looked at how I could incorporate cayenne and wheat grass juice into my family's health and nutrition. We start every day with a small glass of orange juice with breakfast for a little extra vitamin C and fiber, so it's a natural extension of that to add a wheat grass juice shot and a cayenne shot. Now we each drink 3 ounces of wheat grass juice and 6 ounces of water with 1 teaspoon of ground cayenne along with our orange juice for an extra boost. I add a few ounces of mango nectar to the wheat grass juice to make it more palatable, although it doesn't taste bad taken straight. The cayenne has to be blended in the water with a fork or it just sits on the surface of the water. We down the cayenne water first, not that it tastes bad, but it does have a slight burn to it, so drinking the other juices after the cayenne really minimizes that.

My husband and sons needed a little convincing that drinking green juice and water with hot pepper powder was a good idea. When I explained the health benefits, they agreed to try it, and the first time we all took the shots together, they were surprised and pleased that the taste wasn't bad at all. It's a small addition to our daily health and nutrition routine that will pay big dividends now and in the future.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Finally Friday – Make Some Sleep Sachets

Lavender
photo courtesy of off2riorob/wikimedia commons

Another week is done. What challenges and stresses did you face in the past five days? Are you looking forward to the next couple of days or are they as overscheduled as the week you just survived? Do you worry about getting to sleep tonight? Have you had problems sleeping before? If you are restless at bedtime or just can’t get the restorative sleep you need, consider making some sleep sachets.

If you grow lavender, you have a fresh, organic source for a natural sleep aid. If you don’t grow lavender, you can get it from growers like River Oak Lavender and  Local Harvest. The scent of lavender’s essential oil increases slow-wave sleep, the deep sleep that slows the heartbeat and muscles, helping the brain organize memory.

Research shows that lavender also relieves anxiety, depression and fatigue, and has antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic and antiviral properties. Freshly cut or chopped lavender flowers and leaves release the plant’s essential oils. Lavender essential oil contains camphor, eucalyptol (also known as cineole) and pinenes. It has sedative and antidepressant properties that act on the brain when inhaled, its molecules absorbed by nasal mucus and scent receptors and affecting the olfactory area of the brain and acting on the limbic and endocrine systems that control memory and emotion. 

With basic sewing skills, a few simple supplies and fresh lavender, you can make lavender sleep sachets to help you sleep better naturally, calm you down and help you think clearly.

Scissors
Fresh lavender
Organic cotton, muslin or cheesecloth
Needle and thread
Silk ribbon
Dry rice or buckwheat hulls

Make sure the fresh lavender is not wet, damp or moldy before using it. Cut it into small one-inch pieces.

Cut the cloth into 15-inch by 5-inch sections. To make a sachet, fold a section of cloth in half on the long side, fold down 1 inch of each open edge, and sew the 6 ½ inch sides, leaving the open 5-inch side unsewn.  You will have a little cloth bag. Turn it inside out so the stitches are on the inside.

Fill the bag half way with lavender pieces and rice or buckwheat hulls.

Use a long length of ribbon to tie the bag closed.

Place the sleep sachet inside your pillowcase before you go to sleep.  

Tips
You can use sprigs of fresh lavender without making sachets. Slightly crush leaves and flowers before putting a sprig in your pillowcase before sleep.

Make a lavender spray to spritz sheets and pillowcases before sleep by adding chopped fresh lavender to boiling water and steeping it for 15 minutes. Strain the plant material and put the lavender water into a spray bottle.

Use lavender essential oil in a diffuser in your bedroom a few minutes before sleep to scent the area.

Did you know fresh lavender repels stinging insects and animals such as bees, ants and scorpions? A traditional use for lavender was as a strewing herb, strewn in corners and on windowsills, to rid homes of pests.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What to Eat Now - Be Winter-Ready Before the Snow Flies!

Winter is in the air. Snow will be on us soon, with ice and freezing temperatures as well. Cold temperatures can be invigorating but they can also be stressful, and dangerous. Stoke up your immune system now to be strong and ready to deal with all of winter’s woes when they hit with full force.

Eat wild salmon for the Omega 3 fats that increase the activity of white blood cells. It’s not that exotic; it’s available in the freezer section at Target and most grocers. If you’re not big on salmon, fish oil capsules or a couple of teaspoons of flax oil will give a similar immunity boost. And there’s always good old cod liver oil. It tastes awful but works great.        

Add some green power to your menu. Drink green tea every day, up to 4 cups for the best immunity-boost. The phytonutrients and antioxidant properties of green tea help lower cholesterol, protect the heart, lower blood pressure, help with weight loss and may even fight cancer. For turbo-charged immunity boosting, drink matcha, a concentrated form of green tea with even more green power than regular green teas. Juice fresh wheatgrass and add shots to your smoothies, green teas and fruit juice drinks. Try growing your own wheatgrass this winter for a really fresh, on-hand supply. Seeds are available from many sources such as Handy Pantry.

Eat fresh fruits, including blueberries, papayas, oranges, melons, mangos, guavas and pink grapefruit, and green and yellow veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach and broccoli. Get your vitamin C, antioxidants to boost and support the immune system, and delicious flavor from fruits and vegetables. Eat to strengthen and support your body’s immunity and fend off colds, influenzas, sinus infections and other cold-season maladies. No time to prepare these kinds of foods? Go shopping, and dump them into the sink when you bring in your groceries. Wash them, cut them up, and put the prepped foods into food storage containers in the refrigerator for easy access. No extra money in your grocery budget for fresh fruits and vegetables? Audit your kitchen and your eating habits and don’t buy processed food on your next grocery trip. Use that money to buy fresh foods instead.

Try This Super Immune Boosting Pre-Winter Smoothie

3 large chunks of fresh pineapple
3 large chunks of fresh mango
1 banana
3 large leaves of fresh curly spinach
1 large fresh broccoli floret
1 large fresh carrot
5 ice cubes

Crush the ice cubes on the ice crush setting of your blender and remove. Add fruits and veggies and blend on high speed until thoroughly liquefied and creamy. Add crushed ice to blended fruit in blender and blend for a few seconds until thoroughly mixed. Pour into juice glasses for a morning alternative to orange juice, an afternoon boost, or a pre-workout energy drink. Customize your smoothies by adding other immune-boosters such as crushed flax seed, Greek yogurt or a dash of fresh grated ginger.

To use it as a daily super drink taken with your vitamins and supplements, it requires adding a few things to your weekly grocery list at a cost of $12 to $18: 1 fresh pineapple, 2 fresh mangoes, 7 bananas, 1 large bunch of fresh broccoli, a bag of curly spinach and a bag of fresh carrots.

Add fresh immune supporting foods to your menu now. You’ll be happy you did when the temperatures have dropped and the snow is knee-deep and everyone around you is coughing and blowing their noses.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

3 Easy Ways to Green Your Life Now

Kris Carr, wellness warrior and author of “Crazy Sexy Cancer” and “Crazy Sexy Diet,” urges us to “make juice not war and remember, you are the change you’ve been waiting for.”  Change happened to her big time when she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, turning her world upside down and setting her on a quest for health. She promotes eating your veggies, minimizing animal products and educating yourself about food, nutrition and health. That’s a lot of change for those of us used to eating on the run, depending on convenience and fast foods, without an unlimited budget for fresh produce. But thankfully, there are a lot of easy (and cheap) things you can do right now to green your diet and your life.

Drink 1 Cup of Green Tea Daily
Many people are die-hard coffee drinkers. I get that. I was a coffee fiend for many years too, and one of my favorite treats is a caramel machiatto. Mmmmmmm. But I don’t drink coffee every day all day long anymore. I do drink a cup of green tea though. I either drink it in the morning to start my day, or have it with lunch or dinner, iced and garnished with something yummy like a juicy orange slice or fresh mint leaves. The health benefits of green tea are many and generous, including powerful antioxidants from polyphenols that protect cellular health and may protect against cancer, cholesterol-lowering properties, inflammation-reducing properties and blood sugar control. If you don’t make any other health or lifestyle changes in your life, get your green on and drink a cup of green tea every day starting right now.

Add 1 Green Veggie to Your Week
Many people claim they don’t like green veggies, and many have at least one they absolutely HATE, such as broccoli or Brussels sprouts. Don’t eat the one veggie you really, really hate, the one that makes you gag just touching it to your lips, the one that turns your stomach just thinking about. Don’t eat that one! Add a different one, maybe one that you like, or one that you’ve always wanted to try. Maybe buy half a pound of fresh green beans with groceries this week. Lightly sear them in olive oil with half a clove of minced garlic, or if you love onions, a finely chopped sweet onion. Or buy a large bunch of curly spinach, and prepare it two or three times this week. You can steam it lightly with sweet red onion slices and carrot coins, or toss it with a few ounces of shaved carrot, chopped tomato and a teaspoon of your favorite salad dressing. Veggies, especially the leafy green ones, boost your health and immunity with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. So don’t eat the veggies you hate, but add one to your week and green your nutrition now.

Eliminate 1 Plastic Item from Your Life
Contrary to what the plastics industry wants us to believe, plastic is scary. Most plastic containers leach bisphenol A, a chemical that mimics estrogens when in the body, promoting cancer cell growth and affecting reproductive health. The Ocean Conservancy reports that plastic bags are one of the top pollutants in our oceans, second to cigarette butts. There are almost 50,000 pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also called the Pacific Trash Vortex, floats between San Diego and Hawaii, a huge collection of pollutants, mostly plastics, breaking down into toxic sludge and tiny plastic particles that enter our food chain when eaten by marine life. Experts report that 80 percent of ocean plastic is from land-based pollutants. Stop adding to this floating toxic island today. Look around your home, take inventory of all the plastic and eliminate one plastic item from your life. You could stop using plastic bags and carry your own reusable shopping bags, or stop buying bottled water and fill stainless steel canteens with filtered water instead.  Or stop buying plastic, recycle all your plastic food containers and use glass and metal instead.

Sometimes, it seems like a big, overwhelming commitment to change is necessary to “go green.” But in reality, any change for the green is good change, no matter how small. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Start walking toward the green today.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Finally Friday – Calming Tea to Wind Down Your Week

German Chamomile in my Garden - summer 2011

At the end of the week, especially a busy or challenging week, transitioning from a busy schedule to a more relaxed, anxiety-free weekend can be difficult. Give yourself a little natural advantage with calming tea. If you grow German chamomile and English lavender, you have two main ingredients for a gentle, natural tea. Fresh or dried chamomile, lavender, lemon grass and licorice steeped in boiling water and strained, mixed with a teaspoon of pure organic honey, makes a wonderful afternoon or bedtime tea. Blend your own calming tea from herbs you grow yourself, or get herbs from sources such as Bulk Herb Store or an herb farm like Pacific Botanicals.

Chamomile calms anxiety, eases stress, improves focus and attention and aids sleep. Lavender slows the activity of the nervous system, improves sleep quality, relaxes the body and elevates moods.  Lemongrass aids sleep, calms nervous and upset stomach and relieves headaches. Licorice is a sleep aid and is considered an adrenal tonic that stimulates the adrenal glands and helps the body recover from stress and anxiety.

Essential oils of chamomile and lavender have many constituents in common, including sedating phytochemicals, coumarins and flavonoids. Chamomile, lavender, lemongrass and licorice all contain flavonoids that are considered to be responsible for sedative effects on the gastrointestinal system, olfactory system, circulatory system including the heart, and the brain.

A Few Cautions
Chamomile is a member of the aster family, related to chrysanthemums, sunflowers, marigolds, celery and ragweed. Those allergic to chrysanthemums  and ragweed should not use chamomile. Those taking coumarin or  recovering from recent surgery should not use chamomile or lavender because they both contain coumarin, a blood-thinning agent. Large quantities of licorice should be avoided, using only small amounts occasionally, to avoid overstimulation of adrenals.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cosmos - Great in the Garden

Cosmos is an annual daisy-like flower that's related to asters. It produces plants with delicate green foliage that create an airy green backdrop for numerous flowers. The plants get tall on this wildflower native to desert areas of Mexico, between 3 and 6 feet high, although there are dwarf varieties. They grow well in many conditions in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10 in full sun. Cosmos bipinnatus has pink, maroon and white flowers, and cosmos sulphureus has yellow and orange flowers.

Cosmos is very easy to plant and grow. Just scatter seeds on the soil in spring after the last frost in the area you want to grow them, water lightly and watch the seedlings grow. Cosmos produces flowers mid-summer through the very end of fall, until hard frost kills the plants.


The multitudes of flowers produce unique seedheads of long, spiky brown seeds that are easy to pull off the plants and save for the following spring planting. Seeds should be removed as the flowers wither if you want to plant again in spring, otherwise they may sprout as they fall to the ground in the autumn and the tender seedlings will die over the winter. Or package them and give them to friends in greeting cards, as part of  eco-gifts with gardening tools or as part of flower kits with a pot, potting soil, seeds and watering can. I collected 2 full gallon-size ziplock bags full of cosmos seeds from my garden this fall, pulling them from plants each time I arrived home from going out.

While cosmos doesn't have any culinary or medicinal properties, this lovely flowering plant is perfect for naturalizing large sunny areas or as an anchor planting at the back of a flower bed. It is also a great plant for screening undesireable views such as compost bins or utility areas, or for spectacular patio and deck displays in large containers. Try growing cosmos next spring and you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Easy Natural Lip Balm

Do you like putting petrolium by-products, benzyl benzoate and red dye #5 on your lips? You don't have to with this quick recipe using natural ingredients.

- 1/2 cup beeswax
- 3 vitamin E gel capsules
- 1 teaspoon of 100 proof vodka
- 1/4 cup organic sunflower or sesame oil
- organic, food-grade essential oil of peppermint (or vanilla or other favorite essence)

Melt the beeswax in a double boiler or stainless steel pot over very low heat.

Warm the oil in a separate stainless steel pot over very low heat; do not let it boil or burn.

While the wax and oil are still warm, just after removing them from the heat source, pierce the vitamin E capsules and squeeze their contents into the warmed oil. Add the vodka and a few drops of the essential oil to the warmed oil.

Pour the warm oil mixture into the melted beeswax and blend thoroughly, using a wire whisk or a frother.

Pour the blended mixture into lip balm tubes or cosmetic tins and let them cool and set before putting on caps or lids.

This recipe makes 6 tubes or tins of lip balm, 1 ounce each.

Tips

Use the best quality organic ingredients you can find for the best results.

You can use essential oil of spearmint, organic vanilla, or tangerine instead of peppermint. Or, alternatively, if you grow mint in your garden, you can use it to make an infused herbal oil instead of using essential oil. Just add mashed or chopped peppermint leaves to the oil while it's warming, keep it over low heat for an hour or so, then strain out the herbs.

If you want tinted lip balm, add a drop of red food coloring. Or experiment with natural mineral powders. If you grow raspberries, squeeze the juice from one into your warmed mixture for a pink tint.

Make a double recipe to have lip balms to give as gifts.