Category: Blog

I can’t afford to eat healthily

"I can't afford to eat healthily"

I feel like I have written about this topic quite a lot, but in these times, I am keen to revisit it.

I am still a fan of Jamie Oliver’s £1 meals etc, and there are some good tips that he has about saving money not only on the ingredients, but also the way you cook it as well. I think that’s useful, however, not every recipe is great, and I don’t agree with everything he uses but I think you can take some tips from it and there are some good recipes on his website.  (I am a big fan of the Cauliflower curry with roti).

There are of course lots of websites to help you reduce the cost of food and I think now there are a lot more options to reduce waste, from wonky veg boxes at places like Lidl, to websites/apps that have reduced cost food at the end of the day like Too Good to Go And Olio.

There are also groups like freecycle where people are giving away free food that they don’t want, so if you have one of those local to you that’s an option.

Buying in bulk and when on offer is a way to save money (and the environment) but I find even this is still expensive and not everyone can afford to do that. Maybe the £12 bag of rice does work out a lot cheaper in the long run but you might not have £12 at that time.

Frozen fruit and veg is my new favourite, frozen spinach (who knew?!) is something I now use all of time. I think there is still a stigma with using frozen foods but things have really moved on and the nutritional status of frozen foods now is really good. Not everyone has a freezer big enough for large amounts of these but pick a couple that you know you’re going to use a lot of and go for those. Then whatever you’re making add that veg in too.

The important thing I want to address is the guilt, “Surely I should be providing more or taking care of myself more, I wish I could make healthier choices etc”

It’s really easy to go down that rabbit hole, but we’re really not in a place where there is room for that, we are all just doing our best and that’s important to remember too. This might not be forever, and you are making the choices that you are able to afford and live with at this time.

I am definitely guilty of this myself, especially as a healer and someone who promotes healthy eating. You know sometimes, fish and chips are ok! Everything in balance and all that. Feeding the soul can be just as important as the body and I think you do need to take that into account.

Do not look at recipes on Instagram!
Some days, if you can manage to do all the things you have to do and put food on the table and they/you eat it, then that’s a good day! I do not go in for the health shaming.

Me and Endometriosis

Me and Endometriosis

I have always had painful periods, and as this runs in my family I didn’t think much of it until I was really in my 20s and things were worsening not getting better. I had all of the usual investigations and at that time endometriosis was not something that was easily diagnosed or talked about and it was never mentioned.

I went from GP to GP and eventually got referred to a gynaecologist and I saw a few of those who ruled out various things and told me if I’d just go on the pill, all of this would go away. Sadly this is a typical experience, especially then, of not believing how bad symptoms are in women patients.

When I started being investigated for endometriosis I had terrible period pain and nothing could stop the pain, I had to be very careful of when my period fell and if I was able to be at work during that time. Thankfully my boss at the time was understanding and I was able to be flexible for the most part.

Then as the endometriosis progressed, the pain was also at ovulation as well, 1 – 3 days around that time, I would also be in excruciating pain.

Eventually the adhesions grew so bad in my abdomen that I was struggling to be able to walk every day without pain. Every time I took a step I had severe abdominal pain, regardless of the time in my cycle. It was worse at certain times but always there and it meant that I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t do anything really.

I was keeping track of the pain and took charts and data to my gynaecologist, thinking that this would be helpful if I was talking the same language. Surely this was scientific? But he laughed and said we’ll send you for a laparoscopy and the wait at that time was around 6 months.

Thankfully by this time I was able to get my diagnosis, following a laparoscopic operation (where they also lasered the endometriosis they found). They confirmed the adhesions as well.

After I had healed from the surgery it was like being a different person, I couldn’t remember a time when I could bend down and put on shoes without pain. I could suddenly live my life again and thankfully, using herbs, diet and exercise, for the most part I was able to keep the endometriosis at a really low level for around 8 years.

Around this time I was just starting my herbal practice and was able to use my own experience to help other people. I treated a lot of people with endometriosis over the 10 years I was in practice. 

Every person had a different experience and that is the joy of holistic treatment, each treatment was different and tailored to that person.

After this point, I started to get flare ups again and as I am approaching peri menopause the symptoms are getting worse again, I’m back to having excruciating ovulation pain and for several days during my period the pain can be very bad. But this is for the most part manageable but I have noticed that things are worsening.

I am still trying to keep on top of things and I am not keen to go under the knife again, having a second surgery and severely worsening endometriosis symptoms because you are creating more scar tissue and adhesions every time you have the operation.

The thing that really annoys me though, is how it affects my cold water swimming, I can’t swim for the first 3 days of my period as it makes me lose my cold water acclimatisation. I’m fine in warmer water, so I do try to switch to pool swimming at this time and I have been able to compensate but it does make training for swim events more difficult.

I am pleased to say that I will be joined by other healers who also specialise in endometriosis in our healing retreats. More on that soon.

My Healing Journey

My Healing Journey

So where have I been over the past 6 months?

I really wanted to take the time to heal myself fully, to take the time away and really focus on finding a new normal after the pandemic.

Being a healer and someone who works in a spiritual and energetic way, things take their toll, often in ways that I am not always conscious of at the time. For me, I knew that it would take several years to get back to this new normal.

I knew that I would be healing on a much deeper level and it was going to take time to feel myself again, or a version of myself at least. I think we are ever changing and it’s natural to change and grow in all aspects of life.

A huge part of the healing was on an elemental level and I think this is why cold water swimming has been such a lifeline for me. The feeling of being held by the water, in this vast expanse, it’s something that speaks to me on an elemental level.

And yes I have become one of those people, so I will be mentioning the benefits of cold water a lot! (Sorry!)

I was definitely suffering from burnout and had been for some time, but that can be difficult accept in yourself to really say, no, I’m not going to do that anymore. I was limping on and hoping that things would improve but of course they never do.

So really I was struggling on all levels and that is difficult to accept, because I knew that I would be facing a lot of challenges and would have to make changes, some of which were going to be uncomfortable and I felt that I might be judged for that too.

I am keen to help others heal in this same well, particularly healers and therapists, or those people who feel drawn to that role. We have been put through the ringer and I want to help us get back to our new selves. That is why I am running Heal the Healer workshops and programmes. More on that soon.

Learning more about the health benefits of fermented foods

Yesterday I attended a fantastic workshop with Katie at Tracebridge Sourdough bakery and fermenteria.

I learnt all about how fermented foods and drinks are not only delicious but good for health.

There is a lot of research now on how gut health affects most of the systems in the body (e.g. the immune system and mood), so fermented foods are a great way of keeping your gut healthy in a natural way, no supplements needed.

We began by looking at milk kefir and how it can be made, using both raw milk and plant milks. We tasted a fermented milk kefir with oats as a possible breakfast option, but that was a little too sour for me. I very much enjoyed the 2 day fermented kefir milk as a yoghurt drink though, which was our next taster.

So what is kefir?

Kefir comes from the Turkish word ‘keif’ meaning ‘good feeling’, but describes a probiotic milk/yoghurt drink that is full of good bacteria for the gut. It is made from kefir ‘grains’, which are a combination of bacteria, yeast, lactose and sugars.

The grains when added to milk and left somewhere warm, will ferment and it’s the product of this fermentation that is known as kefir. It can be drunk on its own or added to smoothies, porridge etc, or if you leave it for a day or two more you will get curds and whey and soft cheese is only one further step away.

You can also get water kefir that is fed on sugar water or coconut water.

For more information on the health benefits of kefir, I highly recommend this blog by Dr Axe.

kombuchaWe then moved on to kombucha, which is a drink made from fermented black or green tea and sugar. A SCOBY (symbiotic community of bacteria and yeasts), is needed to bring about the fermentation process, converting the sugar to acetic acid and alcohol (a small amount).

Kombucha has a two stage fermentation process, and on the second ferment you can add fruit or spices to provide natural flavouring and health benefits of their own. The fermentation process produces carbon dioxide so the fruity drink can be slightly fizzy, a great alternative to chemical sodas.

You can find out more information about the health benefits of kombucha here.

My favourite kombucha was definitely the raspberry, a beautiful deep pink colour, and a mix of sweet and sour flavours.

After a beautiful vegan and vegetarian lunch we moved on the sauerkraut and kimchi.

squeeze-juiceI have forayed into the world of sauerkraut before but with mixed results so I was keen to learn some great fermenting tips from Katie. I made a white cabbage and horseradish sauerkraut to take home but we tried many different types in the class, from a version of kimchi to pea, nasturtium, white cabbage and fennel (a big favourite in the class).

If you’re looking for a fool proof sauerkraut recipe, I can highly recommend Katie’s simple recipe from her blog.

Last but not least was kimchi, and while there are lots of versions and ways to make it, Katie taught us an easy recipe that you can make at home without anything more fancy that a food processor and a couple of bowls.

sauerkrautSauerkraut and kimchi are both made using an anaerobic fermentation with good bacteria, these live on the skin of vegetables, and so once you chop them up and add salt to get the juices out, and you’ve packed your jar as full as you can without any air in it, the juice should be spilling out of the top of the jar. Once a bit of warmth is added the bacteria do their thing and fermentation begins, gas is produced so depending on the jar used you may need to release the gas built up each day. Anything from a few days to 5 weeks is considered a good fermentation length. Once it’s fermented to your liking you can pop it in the fridge and it will last indefinitely.

You can then add it to salads, or as a side vegetable with any dish for some lovely probiotic goodness.

You can find more information on the health benefits of fermented vegetables here.

 

Katie and Gordon run sourdough baking classes as well as fermentation, take a look at their website for more details.

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As a follow on – you may find this article on Kombucha helpful by Lisa at Happy Happy Vegan.

What is Polymyalgia rheumatica? Can herbs help?

What is Polymyalgia rheumatica?

Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is an inflammatory condition, often linked to Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA). The condition occurs mainly in women over 60, and the cause is not known.

Symptoms include muscle aches, stiffness in hips, shoulders, neck and mid body, weakness, general tiredness, and weight loss. Some people get swelling in their feet, ankles, wrists and hands. (Vasculitis UK)

PMR is becoming increasingly common, with an estimated 1 in 1,200 people developing the condition each year.

How is it treated?

The standard medical treatment for PMR is steroids, usually prednisolone, to relieve the symptoms. The NHS state that high dose steroids are used to start with and then the dose is decreased, and treatments can last for two years or more to prevent symptoms reoccurring. (NHS website)

Are there alternative treatments?

There are three main aims to alternative treatments.

  1. Reduce the side effects of the drugs

The following are the main side effects that patients of mine have experiences from taking prednisolone.

  • Higher blood sugar
  • Weight gain
  • Sleeplessness
  • Osteoporosis
  • Cataracts
  • Thinning of skin
  • Bruising

While these things can be addressed individually through a 1 to 1 consultation with a medical herbalist, here are some ideas for home treatment.

Herbs for side effects

Digestion

There are many very safe herbs to aid digestion and protect from damage the delicate tissues that are prone to ulcers. Examples are peppermint, chamomile, meadowsweet and marshmallow leaf.

Balancing blood sugar

There are several safe herbs that can be used to naturally bring blood sugar into balance. Examples are cinnamon and dandelion leaf.

Aiding sleep

There are several safe herbs that can be used to aid a good night’s sleep. Examples are chamomile, lime flower, passion flower and valerian.

Improving circulation

There are many herbs that can improve circulation. Examples include ginger, chilli, hawthorn and lime flower. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables can also help to improve the functioning of arteries and veins.

Increasing cortisol

Often when taking steroid drugs for long periods of time the adrenal glands can stop producing cortisol. Cortisol is needed to fight infection and allow the body to cope with stress.

When you stop taking steroid drugs your adrenal glands can begin making cortisol again but it can often take time. There are a couple of things you can do to help, cortisol needs cholesterol so eating fats in your diet will help, cod liver oil and vitamin A is also important. It’s also important to reduce sugar, caffeine and alcohol.

  1. Reduce general inflammation to reduce pain

This is something that you can address yourself if you have PMR, there are some very useful studies on the use of herbs to reduce inflammation.

Arthritis Research UK lists the three main herbs for reducing inflammation as Devil’s claw, Frankincense, and Rosehip.

I agree with them, and these herbs are available as over the counter products, it is important to follow the directions for each individual product as directed on the bottle.

I would also add turmeric to the list, it is a very useful anti-inflammatory and is also available as an over the counter product.

  1. Get to the root cause of the problem

The key to a holistic treatment is treating the cause of the problem rather than just the symptoms; this is something you can work towards with a medical herbalist.

Remember to check with your doctor and/or medical herbalist before taking supplements or herbs, and it is important to source good quality ingredients.

To find a qualified, registered, medical herbalist near you they can be found on the following lists:


As an update to this blog, I actually gave a talk for a local branch of Polymyalgia Rheumatica & Giant Cell Arteritis UK and that really gave me a much greater understanding of the condition and the problems patients were facing.

The main thing I really took away from that was that people wanted help to reduce their medications, and almost every person in the room was already taking turmeric. I explained about how it is often not bioavailable in the body and ways to increase that (adding black pepper and or ginger).

Chaga – remember to be sustainable

It’s interesting to revisit this blog from a couple of years ago as I think things are starting to change. There does seem to be more awareness of sustainability, how to source herbs (and mushrooms safely).

If you’re in the UK I highly recommend checking out the work done by the UK Herb grower network and if you’re in the US the Sustainable Herbs Project.

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If you’ve ever read any of my blogs you will know I have a real passion for medicinal mushrooms, especially British ones.

Just as we need to protect our medicinal plants from over harvesting, the same goes for our medicinal mushrooms. Chaga has become a ‘wonder treatment’ for just about everything and it’s being added to smoothies left right and centre. This is extremely wrong and irresponsible.

1. Chaga needs to be extracted in hot water for it to extract it’s medicinal properties, so unless your smoothie is heated to over boiling point for at least 15 minutes you aren’t getting any benefit from it.

2. Chaga is black and course mushroom when ground and powdered, so if your chaga isn’t either a dark brown to black and course, it’s highly likely it’s not chaga!

3. Chaga is rare (growing on birch trees usually in Scotland or further north), it takes skill to harvest it sustainably.

Here’s a picture of real chaga powder on the left (dark and course), and on the right is a sample of chaga powder from a well known high street health food shop. I will allow you to draw your own conclusions about that!

Chaga is becoming endangered and imported specimens from the USA, Canada and Eastern Europe are often contaminated. Chaga a fantastic restorative medicine and is a great treatment for things like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and people recovering from chemotherapy. That said, it should be harvested correctly and from a sustainable source.

There is growing research for the use of chaga which is only exacerbating the problems with supply. In laboratory studies recently, an extract of the medicinal mushroom Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) was found to protect liver cells.

If you have chaga powder in your kitchen or medicine cupboard, check the quality of it, it should be a black and course powder. If it’s not, it’s not chaga!

As of yet I have not found a sustainable source of chaga, but my hunt continues.

Making herbal gifts for the festive season

If you’re into making presents, take a look at the following ideas for some herbal themed gifts.

1. For budding cooks and chefs – herbal oils and vinegars.

A really simple one to start, simply add a herb such as rosemary, thyme, chilli or garlic to a bottle of oil or vinegar and it will infuse into the oil/vinegar giving it great flavour, some of its nutritional benefits and also a hint of its medicinal properties. (It also looks great in the kitchen!)

You can use a fancy bottle or reuse an unusual shaped one that you have around the house.

Make sure that the herb you’re adding is dry, or it may start to ferment in the bottle. A great tip is to add 2 tsp of lemon juice to the oil to prevent mould growth.

2. For anyone who likes a tipple during the festive season

The old favourite sloe gin is a great present but you do need to have gathered the berries beforehand and popped them in the gin or vodka to make your herbal liqueur.

Another great favourite is hawthorn brandy, and often something people won’t have tried before, made in exactly the same way as sloe gin (but without the sugar), you add hawthorn berries to brandy and leave it in there for a month or so. (Again you will have needed to collect the hawthorn berries beforehand).

If you want to make a herbal liqueur but you don’t have sloes or hawthorn to hand, why not spice up some vodka with cardamom, cinnamon and ginger? Great in festive cocktails.

There’s also the classic mulled wine (or cider if you’re not so keen on wine), wrap up the following spices in some muslin cloth and tie to a bottle of wine (or cider), as an instant herbal gift.

  • A bay leaf
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (or a tsp of ground cinnamon)
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • ½ tsp black pepper corns
  • 1 tsp of ground ginger

3. Why buy expensive (and often chemical filled) toiletries as gifts, when you can make a lovely natural one instead.

Peppermint Sugar scrub

Use one cup of sugar (preferably brown and organic) to one cup of oil (olive or coconut is good), and add in some peppermint essential oil (10-20 drops). Mix together and store in a kilner jar to give as a lovely present.

Take a look at my natural cosmetic information sheet for more ideas.

4. Lip balms

Lip balms are easy to make and a lovely homemade gift.

Here is my festive lip balm recipe.

Basic lip balm recipe

10g oil

5g cocoa butter

5g beeswax (or carnauba plant wax for vegans)

(Makes 2 – 3 tubes of lip balm)

Melt the oil, cocoa butter and beeswax together at a low heat, in a double boiler (glass bowl over a pan of water). Allow to cool slightly before adding essential oils. (If adding essential oils stir well).

Carefully pour or spoon the mixture into the lip balm tubes. Because there is no water in this mixture it will last 1 – 2 years if kept well, but remember lip balms tend to re melt in hand bags several times and that will decrease the shelf life.

Festive flavours Lip balms can be coloured and flavoured naturally by ingredients you have in your kitchen cupboards. Why not try adding 3g of dark chocolate with 2g of cocoa butter? (More festive versions can be found here).

5. Give the gift of learning

11157347_10153299676429282_5056230117261585179_oFor the true herbal enthusiast, why not give them an extra special gift, one of my distance learning courses.

From herbal home remedies up to a year long courses, there’s something for everyone, and I do vouchers too if you can’t decide which to get.

Herb and health research – October and November 2016

This month the following research articles on herbs and health have caught my eye.

1. In laboratory studies, an extract of the medicinal mushroom Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) was found to protect liver cells.

2. In another medicinal mushroom study this month Lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus) was found to not only protect against dementia but also gastric ulcers.

3. In a new study of a very ‘old’ herb, ginseng was found to have antimicrobial effects against infections.

4. Turmeric is a fantastic herb and one that’s been researched many times for different reasons. However, one of the problems with turmeric is that is can be tricky for the body to absorb when taken as a capsule, unless combined with black pepper. A new study has just confirmed the traditional way of preparing turmeric (usually in a milk product), makes the turmeric more bioavailable.

5. In laboratory studies, an extract of Andrographis paniculata was shown to reduce breast cancer tumours.

6. In another laboratory study, ginkgo has been found to be a treatment for spinocerebellar ataxia.

Learning to make natural soap – it’s not so scary after all!

untitledYesterday I forayed into an area that I’ve never been before, soap making, using the cold process method.

I’ve made soap before (many years ago), using the ‘melt and pour’ method, where you buy a pre-made soap base and then melt it using a double boiler, you can then add any ingredients that you may want.

I’d researched the cold process method before and it just seemed very complicated, all of those thermometers and the scary caustic soda (sodium hydroxide). So I decided to learn at a workshop so that I could gain the confidence with this temperamental process.

It all began at Elder Farm, where Helen Kearney (who was taught by Dawn Ireland at Green Wyse), laid out our ingredients for the day:

  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Oils (castor, sunflower, rapeseed)
  • Fats and butters (cocoa and coconut)
  • Carnauba wax (a plant wax – vegan alternative to beeswax)
  • Water
  • Essential oils

We began by measuring the fats, oils and waxes into a large stainless steel pan; this mix was then melted slowly, and then allowed to cool.

soap-making-2The sodium hydroxide was added to the water, in a very well ventilated area (outside), as the fumes from the exothermic reaction are toxic. This mixture was then allowed to cool.

When the mixtures were cooled sufficiently they were then combined (very carefully), and mixed together with an electric whisk. At this stage the essential oil was added, in this case lavender.

Once a trace was formed (you can see a line of mixture across the mixture), it was then poured into moulds containing juniper berries.

soap-makingThe saponification process will continue over the next 5 – 6 weeks, the soap will turn from an alkaline mixture to a neutral mixture that is a beautiful and natural soap.

 

For more information about workshops at Elder Farm, take a look here or on their Facebook page.

If you want to learn more about soap making, you can find more information here.

 

If you too are going to venture into the magical world of soap making, please make sure you take the necessary safety precautions, and if you are unsure, go on a workshop to learn how to make soap safely.

Herbal Medicine Research blog – September 2016

It’s been a little while since I’ve written a research blog but here are some research articles that have interested me recently.

1. A new trial is currently taking place in Australia, where young adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are being given water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri) instead of pharmaceutical drugs.

2. A follow up study in Brazil has confirmed that using Calendula can both prevent and treat radio dermatitis for patients undergoing radiotherapy.

3. A new analysis of mistletoe has shown that it could be used to treat arthritis and liver disease as well as to reduce blood pressure and reduce tumour growth.

4. Ginger and artichoke have been found recently to increase gastric motility, in the treatment of functional dyspepsia.

5. New research has confirmed the link between exercise and improved cognition and mood.

6. Onion juice has been found to lower cholesterol in a new study.

7. A new study in China has shown that medicinal mushrooms have a direct action on reducing cancer cells, rather than simply boosting the immune system to fight cancer.

8. Seaweed could be the answer to reducing obesity, a new study has shown as seaweeds change processes in the gastrointestinal tract.