The Great Migraine War


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

Summer Safety: Bites and Burn Remedies

Tomorrow (or this weekend if you couldn’t get off from work) many Americans will head outdoors, undeterred by scorching sun and active insects. Most people who have avoided those downsides of summer so far will get their first bad burn or insect bite this week. So how do you keep your friends and family from spending the day after the fourth lying on the couch moaning over sun burn or itchy bug bites?

Well, the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” definitely applies in this case. To naturally deter bugs, there are some great repellents on the market such as Burt’s Bees. Or you could make your own using this recipe:

2 parts oil (extra virgin is one of the best and easiest to find)

1 part beeswax (available at craft and health food stores)

10-15 drops citronella essential oil

5-10 drops of cedar wood essential oil

5 drops of lavender essential oil

5 drops of tea tree or lemongrass essential oil

Directions: Heat oil over a double boiler (a glass bowl over a small pot of water makes for the easiest clean up). Add in the beeswax, stirring  until it melts into the oil. Then add essential oils, stirring gently, and use a pipette to transfer mixture into tubes, tins, or jars. You can pour it straight into a jar as well, but the wax will be hardening inside the bowl as you do.

This creates a soft but thick balm that is easy to toss in your bag for travel. Apply the balm to your arms, legs, neck, and any of your pulse points.

Note: In this recipe, one part equals one ounce. To make larger batches (1 part= 3 ounces for example), you should increase amount of essential oil accordingly.

Some essential oils in this recipe may be too strong for women who are nursing or pregnant.

Now, you are covered in strong natural oils, but there’s still the sun to contend with. The best way to prevent a burn is to use coverage like a hat. A baseball cap will help shade your face, a wider brim cap like a floppy sun hat or “booney” hat will give you more all around protection, helping shield your next and shoulders as well. A light, long sleeve shirt thrown over your tank top will also give protection.

Sunscreen is also a must. Here’s a great guide to choosing the best sunscreens that give protection without flooding your body with chemicals.

You might do all these things, but still end up with a painful strip of burn or a few itchy bug bites. What to do then? Being perpetually pale, thanks to my Scotch/Irish heritage and apparently possessing delicious, insect inviting blood; I’ve been in that position.

-For bites and stings, making a paste of baking soda can help draw out any venom and help reduce pain. This paste should be wet, but not runny. Just baking soda and a little water are all you need.

-If itching is persistent, apply a few drops of lavender essential oil straight to the bites. If you can come by it, geranium oil is one of the best at reducing itches, and it also helps sanitize the area. I recommend keeping it in the cupboard.

-For bad sunburns, within a few hours of the reddening, bathe the skin with a soft cloth soaked in a water/white vinegar solution. This will help draw some of the heat out of your skin, relieving some of the discomfort and hot feeling.

-Cool, unsweetened green tea can also be applied to sunburned skin within 24 hours after burning.

-24-72 hours after a burn your skin will likely start peeling. When this occurs you want to put back as much moisture as you can. Fresh aloe plant juice or unscented gel aloe from the drug store does this quite well. I’ve seen many people make the mistake of applying the aloe gel directly after being burned, you should use the vinegar or green tea cure before applying the aloe. The thick store bought gels can trap some of the heat  against your skin and cause more discomfort. I don’t usually recommend it be used until 24 hours after the burn. Home grown aloe can be used earlier with less risk because of its thinner consistency.

-My older brother swears by Jewelweed for treating bites and burns. It’s also recognized as a great poison ivy treatment. It grows wild in many yards and is often pulled with the rest of the weeds. Read about it here and you many be convinced to let a few stalks keep growing wild.

Hopefully these tips and recipes will make your summer celebrations as painless as possible.

Crunchy Manifesto

Living a healthier, more natural life is something we hear a lot about lately. It seems like every other magazine and talk show tells us to eat more seaweed or use paper made from kangaroo poop. (Next week of course, they might tell us that the seaweed will kill us! Statements to be retracted the week after that.)

The problem most people have is trying to find balance. Can we really shed some of the chemicals from our life without having to take drastic and time consuming measures? And can these small changes make us healthier and happier? I think they can. No doubt, you’ve realized that it can be hard work to live more consciously. Not all of us can sell up and move out into the country to raise chickens on our own homestead. Not all of us would even want to do so.

Finding the way to balancing natural sensibilities in a crowded modern life is what this blog is here for. Each week I will post recipes, tutorials, product reviews, and consumer tips to help you sort through the piles of options out there. Learn from my mistakes and my triumphs, all splayed across the internet to make your journey easier. Each post will be accompanied by extras like photos, links, notes from friends and family that kindly let me experiment on them, and even the occasional interview with local farmers and herbalists.

So, welcome and please feel free to join the conversation.