The Great Migraine War

feverfew

As a teenager I began getting  intense migraines. Sometimes there was a hormonal component, but overall my biggest trigger were weather changes. Now in my twenties, I still struggle with them. Basically, a migraine is a headache plus some. For me, it’s often intense sharp pain, along with sensitivity to light, and nausea or stomach aches.

A doctor mistakenly diagnosed them as stress headaches a few years ago without having a psychological evaluation (I guess he thought a 19 year old female college student would have to have anxiety issues) and he prescribed me anti-depressants. I didn’t react well to them, often feeling tired or dizzy. If I didn’t take a dose exactly 24 hours after the last one I would feel sick.

I knew I had to get off the antidepressants and find better way to handle my migraines that didn’t play with my mood. I suppose that was around the time I became more seriously interested in herbalism and holistic medicine. I weaned myself off the medication and began researching natural remedies for migraines.

Keeping hydrated, lowering stress, as well as keeping regular sleeping and eating habits help control migraines, but it’s hard to completely eliminate them.

The weather changes these past few days have me reaching for the herbs again today. I thought I would share my migraine tea recipe with you all. Fresh herbs are the best, but I usually use dried because they’re best for storing in the winter months. I use:

2 parts feverfew leaf

1 part white willow bark

2 parts peppermint

1 part lemon balm

1 part lavender bud

You can mix it as needed, combining it in your tea infuser, or you can make a big batch and keep it in a glass jar or resealable plastic bag. I premix it and use about a teaspoon at a time in my tea-infuser. Maybe a teaspoon and a half if it’s an especially bag headache. I add honey to the tea, because feverfew can be grassy and bitter, willow bark can be bitter too. The mint and lemon balm help to cover the taste while adding their own medicinal benefits.

I give it a 5-7 minute steep and make sure to squeeze the herbs to get any remaining extracts from the herbs.

A jolt of caffeine from coffee or cola can help boost the power of over the counter pain-killers as well. Hot showers and short naps can help, I’ve found. Relaxation is important, stress and muscle tension will only increase headaches.

Announcement!

Hello my small collective of readers,

Sorry this blog has been so sporadic. Not the best of beginnings, but life encroaches as usual.

This is just to let you know that I’ll be bringing you a new tutorial soon, this time on making herbal tinctures. I’ll also be doing some more “Drink Local” spotlights and reviews.

I wanted to extend the invitation to you readers to submit questions, products for review, or subjects you’re curious about. Leave any such notes in the comments section.

Have at it!

Drink Local: Alba Vineyard

Eating locally sourced vegetables, dairy, meat is becoming more popular in the US. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that local wineries and breweries need support too.

Even in Pennsylvania, not an area that comes to mind when one things of vineyards, there are opportunities to support the local businesses. New Jersey and New York also have a rich vineyard culture, making the tri-state area one to sample.

This time, I’ll be taking about Alba Winery in New Jersey. I’ve sampled several of their wines and most certainly have my favorites. They have a wide selection from their silver medal winning Gewurztraminer, to their highly drinkable Old Mill Red (another medal winner). For the sweet inclined, they have an array of dessert wines such as their Red Raspberry.

The vineyard is strives to be a small, independent business dedicated to having a low ecological impact.

I think some of the vineyard’s major standouts are their two blush wines. Their Chelsea Dry Rosé is a great pair with light food. It’s not overly dry, and has refreshing fruity notes that are very pleasant on the palate. If you want something a bit sweeter, they have their Rosa. With berry notes and a clean feel in the mouth, it’s a great summer sipping wine. Very moderately priced, you won’t feel too guilty using it as a base for sangria either. I recommend strawberries, orange slices, and a splash of sparkling water for a Rosa sangria.

The only disappointment I found was their Voyager Malbec. It’s one of their Chelsea Cellars line, from their west coast vines. I found the Malbec to be too oakey. It’s aged in oak for 30 months, which seems a little excessive. The wine feels heavy, dense to me. I am a fan of young reds, so it was out of my comfort zone. My sister in law enjoyed it, but my brother agreed with me that the oak was a bit much. I did find that it made an excellent wine sauce for chicken when simmered down with thyme and honey added to it.

Visit Alba’s website here for information about the vineyard and how to get some of your own Alba wine.

The Perfect Bath

Stress causes all kinds of uncomfortable health problems. Letting yourself carry too much stress is one of the quickest ways to getting sick or shortening your life.

Finding a good way to relieve some of that stress is essential to good health. One of my favorite ways is to take the time to have a hot bath every week. Of course, bath and beauty products can be tricky. I know, once you start reading labels you start playing a game called “now what can’t I have?”

Instead of expensive bubble baths loaded with perfumes, colorants, and detergents, try Epsom Salts. Magnesium Sulfate, also known as Epsom Salts are a great option for soaking in the bath. It’s often used in foot baths and other soaking treatments to sooth sore muscles and reduce inflammation. Pour a half a cup in the bath and use your favorite bar soap to make some suds.

You don’t have to give up a refreshing scent either. To your half cup of salts you can add 10-15 drops of your favorite essential oil. Lavender is, of course, the classic for relaxation. If you’re feeling like you have cold coming on, Eucalyptus is a good option for opening up your sinuses. If a bath to wake you up is your goal, Peppermint will have a cool, tingling effect that’s welcome on hot summer days. Patchouli, Neroli, Rosewood, and others are beautiful soothing scents that you can choose from.

Just be sure that the oil you’re using can be used directly on skin or is properly diluted and as always, not all oils are appropriate for women who are nursing or pregnant.

With a few simple additions such as a cup of herbal tea or glass of wine, a good novel, and some music, you can have a hour that’s all for you. And you can do it naturally.

Herbal Salve Making Tutorial

Herbal salves are one of the easiest and most effective ways to use your garden herbs. Here’s what you’ll need:

— A selection of medicinal herbs (some of my favorites are St. John’s Wort and Lavender, Calendula, Rose, Chamomile, Blessed Thistle), do some research and choose what you think best suits your skin needs.

— An oil base. Extra virgin olive oil works best and is the easiest to come by. Jojoba and sunflower oil also work.

— Beeswax

— A canning jar

— A large glass bowl and a sauce pan (you’ll be using these as a double boiler)

— Cheesecloth or muslin

— Pipettes

— Tins or jars to hold your salve

Step 1: Collect your herbs fresh or dried. If they are fresh, you may want to let them wilt slightly before using them, if there is too much moisture, your oil might mildew.

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Step 2: Place herbs in a clean canning jar and cover with your oil. You can fill to about an inch above the level of the herbs.

Step 3: Wait. You want your herbs and oil to cure for at least a month. Sometimes for maximum potency it’s best to wait two to three months. Every day (or as near as you can manage) you should shake the jar to disperse the herbs. About halfway through the curing process you can drain the oil, discard the herbs, and put a fresh batch of botanicals in to increase potency.

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Step 4: To drain off the oil you need, I like to put a strip of cloth (cheesecloth or unbleached muslin works well) under the ring of the jar– after removing the lid of course. It will need some time to drain. One option is to prop the jar on top of a vase or glass upside down, allowing the oil to gradually collect below.

Step 5: When most of the oil has drained down, pour the remaining herbs out of the jar and into your cloth. You want to squeeze the herbs to wring any remaining oil from them. This is the messiest step of the process.

Step 6: Heat your oil in the glass portion of your makeshift double boiler. Metal bowls will not work as well for this.

Step 7: Add beeswax to the mix. For every 2 teaspoons of herb oil, you will add 1 of beeswax. Allow this to melt, stir to fully incorporate oil and wax.

Step 8: Use your pipette to fill tins and jars with your salve. Let cool.

Now you’ll have an all natural alternative to commercial lip balms and hand salves. These are great gifts and convenient to keep in your bag, especially in the winter when rough patches appear on your elbows and hands. You can always add drop of essential oil to the mix as well to enjoy the scent and medicinal benefits they offer.

Some thoughts on English eating…

I’m fresh from my trip to England. It was great and I can’t wait to go back again.

Between work and play I found time to make a few observations about food in England. Where in the US it’s a specialty thing to have locally sourced food, it’s the norm in England. Go to a pub: many of them brew their own house beer or ale from local wheat and even their taps of brand name beers will be labelled “Made with 100% British wheat.” Their packets of crisps are “Made with 100% British potatoes.” Even the street food vendors, like the terrific crepe man (who cooked the crepes fresh in front of you) used all locally sourced dairy.

Britain is very proud of its sustainability and self sufficiency. Perhaps that’s still left over from the Victory Garden mindset of the 40s. They are a tiny island that is both proud and powerful.

Of course they do import many spices and some more exotic ingredients, but their markets are overflowing from food from their own backyard. Even their beef (I don’t really do beef at home in the US) is from nearby. It tastes so much better because it’s allowed to graze and live.

Amidst all the local food, natural flavors, and their delightful ban on high fructose corn syrup, there is one puzzling thing. That’s their love of aspartame. They use natural sugar in their soft drinks which is great. Then they throw in a dash of artificial sweetener to amp it up which is terrible. It makes their sodas sweeter than sweet. Most of us have heard about the risks of these chemicals, even the US government has to admit they might be linked to brain tumors and cancer , but not definitely enough to ban them. Regardless, it’s not a good thing to put in your body and it’s completely unnecessary to the flavor of the beverage.

Ah well, something to figure out on my next trip I suppose.

Ginger- the Wonder Root

I’m currently in England, hence the lack of posting, but I wanted to drop by and extol the virtues of ginger. When travelling, it is absolutely necessary to throw in your suitcase.

Every time I feel nauseated from unfamiliar food, the stress of travel, or surprisingly strong cider, I find myself nibbling on a slice of crystallized ginger for relief. It naturally helps calm your stomach, which is why ginger is usually a key ingredient in digestive teas. Though it is very hot on the tongue, the crystallized form is one of the easiest to travel with and eat.

Ginger teas are delicious as well, and widely available in the supermarket. Beyond relieving stomach upset, ginger is also an immune booster (which is great for travel) and can help open up clogged sinuses.

The warming sensation of ginger has long been thought to help increase blood flow and help relieve cramps. Some even recommend a poultice of ginger placed over the pelvis to help with especially severe cramps. The warmth can have an energizing effect as well.

If you’re feeling cold, tired, nauseous, or crampy, ginger might just be the perfect way to gently and naturally get yourself back in balance. I know I have come to depend on it.