It’s that season of the year again and so time to share some of my favorite herbs and therapies. The following I’ve found extremely useful over the last year. Some are herbs, others formulas, while still more are important therapies. All of these I have found to be healing clinically and helpful for many people. A few are new to my tool kit while others I have shared in some way or another in the past but are still primary in my current use. Most can be made at home or inexpensively purchased. These make great gifts for yourself or others and they’ll truly improve one’s health and life. May they help you and yours through the holiday season and beyond!
If you want to give a useful homemade gift, this is the one to make. Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) treats lower back pain, joint pain, low adrenal function, stiffness in the joints, weak legs, arthritis and rheumatism, all due to coldness (feels better with heat and worse with cold and doesn’t look red). Teasel is also used for pains associated with Lyme disease. It probably works for joint pains associated with other conditions, too, although I have yet to try it.
The Chinese use Dipsacus asperi (xu duan) for these same purposes as well as to stop white vaginal discharge and bleeding, especially uterine, bleeding during pregnancy, to calm a restless fetus and to treat threatened miscarriage. Because teasel moves blood, alleviates pain and promotes growth of flesh, it is used for traumatic injuries, healing of bones (as its name implies) and skin sores when it may be applied externally and taken internally.
If you use the tincture, you only need from 3-10 drops and can experience relief within minutes. Once I gave it to a woman who woke every morning in excruciating back and hip pain. She took 5 drops of teasel tincture and not only did she feel tremendous and quick relief, but her ankle swelling reduced so she could eliminate medication she was taking for that condition.
Moxibustion is one of my favorite therapies. A powerful technique of burning herbs, typically mugwort (which creates a far infrared ray penetrating heat), on or above the skin, it alleviates blockages, stimulates Qi, Blood and Fluid circulation and warms cold areas. It is especially effective for sprains, traumas and injuries, although it treats other types of pain, such as arthritis, rheumatism, sciatica, menstrual pain and muscle aches and pains. In addition, it stimulates and supports immunity and eliminates cold and damp, thus promoting normal organ functioning.
I recently learned about a new moxa-type tool called Therapik. It also uses far infrared ray energy but is conveniently battery operated. Sold as a device to treat non-venomous bites and stings, I’ve found it a wonderful smokeless moxa substitute. Not only is there no smoke but also no odor, fuss, or muss, and can be used anywhere, anytime, plus it travels well AND is very inexpensive. What could be better than that?!
Of course Therapik is great for clinical use, yet it’s terrific for home use as it increases client compliance for doing moxa on themselves ten-fold. I used it myself on a bruise after running my hand into a door. Normally I would have immediately applied moxa but I decided to try this instead. After several moments, the pain dispersed and the next day I had no bruising or marks of any kind, which would have occurred if I had not used moxa or this tool. I also have a client who has been using it on a long abdominal scar from surgery four months prior and the scar is disappearing. Therapik has passed the test!
To use, touch the Therapik tool directly on the skin and press the button. Hold in place until it feels too hot, and then remove. It may be used exactly where and how moxa is used.
For more on moxibustion and how to use it, see chapter 11 in my book Healing With the Herbs of Life.
To find Therapik, use Google (Amazon.com carries it of course!).
Noni leather/Noni lotion
The most recent addition to my herbal medicine kit, these products quickly belie the myth that noni smells and tastes too bad to enjoy its enormous benefits. Noni leather (by Real-Noni) tastes great, is convenient to use, easy to take, and has multiple uses. It’s also extremely high in antioxidants.
Made from pure fresh noni in the valley where traditional Hawaiians grew and lived on it, this noni leather is made of 100% pure organic noni. It is processed at very low heat for a long time, which increases its antioxidant content tremendously so it’s 14 times stronger than the juice. In fact, fresh noni is where the fruit’s healthful properties lie and not in the tincture, juice, or fermentation since these latter forms destroy most of its properties. That means you only have a small window to enjoy its fresh sour, astringent and slightly sweet flavor because if it’s exposed to heat or pasteurization, then its properties are lost
You can suck on it, eat, it, roll it into a little ball and swallow it like a pill, or dissolve it in water and drink as a tea. You can take it internally, wet and apply it as a bandage, or dissolve it in water and rub on as a lotion. This product is incredibly versatile.
But why risk trying the flavor of this noni? Because it has amazing healing properties and in fact, could be called a medicine chest in one herb:
- It is 75% as strong as morphine.
- Applied topically it quickly disperses wound pain. Also taken internally, it speeds the healing of tendons, ligaments and bones. Athletes who would normally take weeks to recover returned to their sports within 1-10 days after using noni lotion!
- An anti-inflammatory analgesic, noni lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, supports immunity, enhances skin tone and texture, is a sunblock and alleviates sunburn, increases energy, and treats joint pain, diabetes, open wounds, cardiovascular complaints, pulled or torn muscles and ligaments, muscle pain, tendonitis, cramps, bruising, fractures, bursitis, eczema, psoriasis, dental infections and receding gums, constipation, polyps, IBS, acid reflux, toxicity, parasites, thrush, fungus, acne, scar tissue, and tumors.
- It is also used for animals to treat worms, mange, hip dysplasia, and many other conditions.
- Caution: do not take during pregnancy
I know a lot of herbalists may be rolling their eyes by now – is there really something to all the claims made about noni? Or is this just the latest hyped herb that cures everything? All I can say is that my limited experience so far validates certain uses. Michael and I are about to try it clinically and we’ll let you know in a future blog!
In the meanwhile, I’ve already use noni lotion successfully on those annoying chiggers, and recently ‘had’ to give it the acid test of course. While writing this I waded barefoot through a muddy stream and cut my foot on a rock. I found it had gouged a chunk of my skin from the edge of my heel. Red, raw, and sore underneath, I immediately ate some noni leather and then applied it externally as a small bandage (by licking it and sticking it on while holding its edges in place until sealed).
Within a minute, the pain and redness were gone. After 4 hours, the bandage was still in place and I could walk normally. After showering, I found the cut almost healed and no pain ever returned! If I hadn’t used the noni, I would have had pain and walking limitation for at least a day, in not more, even with using my favorite healing salve.
This superfood comes in 1 and 2 oz. sizes. One 2-oz packet lasts one month when you take the 2” X 2” sized piece dose two times daily.
You can purchase Real Noni leather, lotions and salve at: www.real-noni.com.
(Note: I do NOT get a kickback from this! I just think it’s fabulous stuff everyone should know about!)
Based on the famous Chinese formula, Liu Wei di Huang Wan, Planetary Formulas’ Schisandra Adrenal nourishes the kidneys and adrenals and yet simultaneously helps filter and retain fluids. It is basically Rehmannia Six Combination (Liu Wei Di Huang Wan) with several astringents added – schisandra, plantain, and rubus – along with the blood and yin tonic, lycii, and the yang tonic, cuscuta.
The result is a formula that binds essence in the kidneys and astringes and holds yin and fluids. The overall effect is to boost kidney and adrenal function, alleviate low back and hip pain, and stop frequent urination, all due to poor kidney function and weak adrenals. Since it is now winter and we are in the kidney/adrenal time of year, it is a perfect formula to take now for these purposes.
Schisandra Adrenal is also fabulous for helping the kidneys to filter and hold their energy better. At the same time it eliminates back pain when nothing else works. This means the kidneys no longer hurt and weakness and pain disappear, no matter where it was felt – the sacrum, hips, and knees. I give this formula to my back pain patients and their pain releases. In a few cases I increase the normal dose, which is usually important to do short-term in acute conditions to get results. As well, women in menopause and men in andropause will find this formula very useful for leaking urine or frequent urination.
Schisandra Adrenal works well for both kidneys, but especially for left-sided pain since that is the Kidney Yin side. If the pain is more right-sided, then Kidney Yang needs to be tonified. This is easily done by adding in a small handful of walnuts daily and/or ¼ - ½ teaspoon of cinnamon powder – or take 1 Planetary Formula cinnamon tablet with the Schisandra Adrenal.
This underrated spice has a very powerful healing property – it clears the stomach, resolves phlegm and dampness and subdues reflux. As an aromatic damp-drying herb, it is powerful for treating GERD, acid reflux, nausea and indigestion in those with coldness and white phlegm. It is the main ingredient in the Ayurvedic formula, Avipattakar, which is hands-down the best remedy I’ve found for GERD, especially when nothing else works.
Use after eating heavy holiday or other big meals with symptoms of fullness and distention of the abdomen, vomiting, nausea, foul breath, belching, heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD. Take directly, mix with a little honey, or put in capsules.
For a holiday treat, make cookies or biscotti with it, cinnamon, nutmeg and dried ginger to help your holiday meal digestion!
Facial suction cups
Cupping is a fabulous technique that treats disease by suction. It is done by creating a vacuum in small jars and attaching them to the body surface. The vacuum draws the underlying tissues into the cups, pulling inner congestion and heat out of the body. Cupping is done over areas of swelling, pain or congestion, edema, asthma, bronchitis, dull aches and pains, arthritis, abdominal pain, stomach-ache, indigestion, headache, low back or menstrual pain and places where bodily movement is limited and painful. I have also seen cupping relieve depression, anger and moodiness.
While most cupping techniques use either fire or a plunger to produce the vacuum suction so the cups stay on and work their magic, I’ve discovered a new type of cup that has an attached rubber ball on top. All you do is place the cup on its desired location and squeeze the ball. Voila! Instant suction! Easy to use and convenient for travel, they come in many sizes. I especially love the tiny cupping set as these can be used places that normal cups won’t fit or hold, plus they come in shapes other than round.
The set of very small cups is particularly useful for the face and neck. Of the four small cups in the set, the largest one (which is still smaller than the smallest cup in a standard cupping set) works brilliantly over the cheeks and neck. Use by applying the cup and sliding it in a circular motion upward and outward. No lotion or oil is needed, although you may apply some if desired. This technique stimulates blood and energy circulation, which removes dark spots and firms skin. These cups may also be used on the face for headaches, sinus congestion, and more.
For more on cupping and how to use it read chapter 11 in my book, Healing With the Herbs of Life.
You can find facial (and other sizes) cups at: http://www.cuppingtherapy.org
Salt does many important things – explodes bacteria, kills bugs and softens hardness. I use it on my carpets to kill fleas. It does the same on the skin for unwanted pests, although not the burrowing kind. It is also great for making the skin smooth and soft. Salt not only exfoliates skin, but it “kills” any bacteria by absorbing their fluids so they “blow up.”
After rubbing salt on my skin and rinsing it off, my skin feels silky smooth and lustrous. Adding olive or coconut oil and a drop of your favorite essential oil will turn anyone into a Tahitian God or Goddess within minutes, another reason why it is sometimes called a salt “glow!”
I also use salt alone, mixing it with water, spreading all over the body, letting it sit 15-20 minutes and then rinsing off. You won’t believe how soft and smooth your skin feels afterward.
A salt rub makes a wonderful gift, is very simple to make and quite inexpensive. You can get quite expressive and creative, including the jars and labels you choose. The following is one simple recipe. Keep in mind that the amount of salt used will vary according to the grind and type chosen.
- ¾ - 1 cup salt
- 1/8 – ¼ cup oil – try olive oil since it is so good for the skin
- 1-3 drops essential oil
- Oil from 2-3 Vitamin E capsules (used for a preservative)
Mix all together and put in jar.
To use, rub or massage salt mixture into desired skin area. Rinse off.
Travel Neti Pot
Neti, also called nasal wash, is a procedure of rinsing the entire nasal track with a salt-water solution to clear sinus congestion and infections, and treats allergies, stuffy nose, difficulty breathing through the nose, and sore throats. Because bacteria linger in the passage between the bridge of the nose and the throat, neti is especially useful to treat recurring sinus and throat infections as the salt water accesses these areas. Nasal wash may be done on a preventative basis once a day, or several times daily for infections.
This travel neti pot works brilliantly for all of these purposes. Normally neti pots are large, heavy, ceramic pots. While beautiful and functional, they are heavy, can spill and don’t travel well. This small neti pot is plastic, compact, and lightweight. It is great for travel as well as home use, and even comes with packets of a perfectly proportioned salt mix. It also has a lid so you can tilt it farther without splashing water everywhere.
You can find this neti pot at drug stores (I’ve seen it at CVS and Walgreens).
Cnidium and Tea Combination /Fresh Ginger
The fabulous formula, Cnidium and Tea Combination, is not known and used as much as it should be. We all know about colds and flu from heat (high fever, mild chills, sweating, thirst, yellow mucus, throws covers off, severe sore throat) but we don’t always distinguish colds and flu due to coldness (symptoms of chills and low fever, lack of sweating, white mucus, no thirst, desire to be covered up, and achiness), which takes a different treatment approach. Great Western herbs for this include fresh ginger and osha. However, none of these herbs is as effective in treating wind as Cnidium and Tea Combination.
The Chinese patent version of this formulas is Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan, or in the Plum Flower brand, Ligusticum Teapills. The formula is composed of mint, ligusticum (chuan xiong), schizonepeta (jing jie), notopterygium (qiang huo), angelica (bai zhi), licorice, siler (ledebouriella), Chinese wild ginger (xi xin) and is taken with green tea.
This formula treats colds and flu from coldness with chills and low fever, lack of sweating, white mucus, no thirst, desire to be covered up, fear of cold, and chills at the back of the neck and top of the shoulders. It also staves off early onset of colds and flu. It warms and treats pain due to coldness, specifically dull headaches that move around and have a tightening or tingling sensation on the scalp.
This last summer while traveling I was exposed to constant external wind cold. It began after sitting in a room with extremely cold air conditioning. After, I contracted a chill that was hard to clear while traveling. Regularly taking this formula (in teapill form) helped me dramatically to both recover from a light cold and to prevent its recurrence. When I ran out of my stash, I switched to fresh ginger. While not as effective nor long-lasting in effects, it was still a fabulous help when I was exposed to unavoidable wind such as on boats, or in the Tube (Underground), air conditioning, and colder climates. I’d bite off a hunk of fresh ginger root, chew it, and quickly disperse the chill.
Note that dried ginger is not the same as the fresh; it has a hot energy and goes to the spleen rather than fresh ginger’s warming, dispersing energy that mainly goes to the lungs. It is best used to revive the digestion in those with coldness.