It’s no secret, that I love summer. The ocean, sand between my toes, warm weather, the mountains and hiking foraging for herbs.
Nonetheless, the winter has a lot to offer our spirit as well. In Chinese medicine this is yin time. It is a time to go inward, reflect, rest, cultivate quiet and rejuvenate. This year especially, I think collectively people are struggling with the continued pandemic and social distancing. Here are some tips to cultivating the yin in winter months and thrive.
Take a walk, a winter hike, go skiing, snow shoeing or ice skating. Even if it’s only 15 or 20 minutes, the benefits will be felt. The fresh air and the movement will all benefit your body and well being, emotionally and physically.
If you are inside, using a Sun Lamp during the day will help with with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Studies show that indoor sun “happy lamps,” help with seasonal depression and lack of vitamin D during the winter months. Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms. Using a light therapy box may also help with other types of depression, sleep disorders and other conditions. Light therapy is also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy. With a 10,000-lux light box, light therapy typically involves daily sessions of about 20 to 30 minutes a day. Here is a Sun Lamp I recommend.
Vitamin D is essential during the winter months, especially with our focus on virus prevention.
Vitamin D is nicknamed the sunshine vitamin because your body produces it after sun exposure. It has long been known to help build strong bones by increasing the body's absorption of calcium and phosphorous.
Vitamin D has an immune modulating affect, thereby lowering the rate of respiratory infection and possibly affecting the cytokine storm. Observational studies coming from 3 South Asian hospitals have found lower levels of Vitamin D3 being linked to more severe cases of Covid-19.
Research has also shown that Vitamin D plays an essential role in regulating mood and preventing depression in winter months.
Nordic countries have long touted the idea of cultivating coziness. Norway and Sweden, have only 6 hours of sunlight during the winter months. I have found cultivating a coziness in our home is especially important during the winter months. Wood stove fires, simmering warming herbal teas, creating a cozy corner with warm blankets and a comfortable chair. Of course the continued quarantine is wearing on everyone, adults and children. At times the Covid saga seems endless, but cultivating some simple pleasures may help a great deal. Get creative and create a space in your home you can enjoy, read, draw, meditate or spend quite reflective time.
Warming Herbal Teas
One of my favorite parts of winter is warming herbal teas. There is an endless variety you can be creative with to find a combination that is not only nourishing, but comforting.
Here are a few blends I love during the winter months.
2 parts Cardamom
1 part Rose
2 parts Black tea
1 part Goji berries
2 parts Fenugreek
1 part Cinnamon
1 part Cardamom
1 part Chaga
1 part Ginger
1 part Nutmeg
Essential oils have the amazing ability to lift the spirts and transport us to another place.
Using essential oils in a diffuser during winter months can not only help with seasonal depression but can help with sleep, clarity and focus, positive outlook. A few of my favorite oils for this are Juniper Berry, Bergamot & Geranium.
Juniper Berry is a coniferous tree in the cypress family, which grows throughout North America and is native to Bulgaria. The oil is ideal for diffusing because it is calming and grounding.
Bergamot is one of the best essential oil pairings for Juniper Berry, and will enhance the benefits of this aromatic fusion by providing a calming and uplifting effect. Together, this blend will enhance positive feelings and create a calming atmosphere.
The participants were able to reduce sleep medication when also using a diffusion blend of these oils. . The smell of juniper berries has been known to offer emotional support and reduce stress. Juniper oil is a powerful oil for reducing stress when inhaled.
Juniper is also an antiseptic herb and can be added to a carrier oil such as coconut oil and applied to the skin which will help combat dry, itchy, flaky skin which is very common in the winter months.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease and for educational purposes only.
September is always a time for new beginnings. This year brings some new challenges to the forefront of our minds.
The past six months have been challenging between Covid19, protests, wild fires, unrest, uncertainty, it hasn’t been easy. At the same time there have been many blessings. A chance to slow down, reflect and time with family.
As we head into fall the air is crisp the days are cooling off and the evenings come sooner. For some we are sending kids back to school in person and others virtual. Others are heading back into the office and this brings its own set of concerns. Under the surface I think we are all grappling with some anxiety and fear of the unknown we are stepping into.
Addressing our nervous system is essential not only for adults but for our children and teens as well.
Some of my favorite herbs for anxiety and stress are: Ashwagandha and Passion Flower
Ashwagandha has a clinical history of over 3000 years, originating in India. Its botanical name is, Withania somnifera, and it’s also known as Indian ginseng. It is a well known adaptogen herb, meaning it has the ability to regulate certain hormones or metabolic functions in the body, it helps the body adapt to stressful situations and also improves our natural response to anxiety.
Ashwagandha plant is a small shrub with yellow flowers that's native to India and North Africa. Extracts or powder from the plant's root or leaves are used to treat a number of conditions.
Chronic stress leads to elevated levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a stress hormone that your adrenal glands release in response to stress, this also happen when your blood sugar levels get too low. When adults and children have chronic stress cortisol levels may become elevated over time, this can lead to high blood sugar levels and increased fat storage in the abdomen.
In one study in chronically stressed adults, those who used Ashwagandha had approximately a 30% reduction in cortisol, compared with the control group. In another recent study Ashwaganda had the ability to block the stress pathway in the brains of rats by regulating chemical signaling in the nervous system. In yet another study, people with chronic stress were observed for three months , those in the group that supplemented with Ashwagandha reported a 69% reduction in anxiety and insomnia, on average, compared with 11% in the placebo group.
Several studies also show Ashwagandha can also help decrease inflammation in the body. Inflammation is toxic in the body for many reasons. There is acute and chronic inflammation. Acute inflammation happens over a short period of time and the body is usually able to resolve this and bring the body back to homeostasis.
Chronic inflammation is more problematic. It lasts longer than 6 weeks and does not always resolve on its own, it has been linked to autoimmune disorders, depression, fatigue, insomnia, weight gain, pain, mood disorders, frequent infections and gastrointestinal issues.
Ashwagandha also has brain boosting properties as well. Historically it has been used to boost memory and it promotes antioxidant activity that protects nerve cells from harmful free radicals. In one study healthy men who took 500 mg of standardized extract daily, found significant improvements in their reaction time and task performance, compared with men who received a placebo.
Ashwagandha also increases the activity of natural killer cells in the body, these are immune cells which fight infection. This is especially important as we move into cold and flu season and Covid19 the need to stay vigilant in protecting our ourselves from outside pathogens is essential.
Here's an ashwagandha I use in my clinic click here for details.
Passion Flower is a climbing vine that is native to the southeastern United States and Central and South America. Native cultures have used Passion flower historically as a sedative herb. Passion Flower has many uses from anxiety to insomnia, in addition it has also been used for pain conditions, menopausal symptoms, ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and heart problems.
Passion flowers chemical components such as alkaloids, GABA and bioflavonoids are what aids the body in calming the nervous system. Studies show passion flower may increase levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical the brain makes to help regulate mood. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which counters neurotransmitters that cause excitement, as a result it has a calming effect in the body.
Passion flower can easily be made into an infusion (strong tea) and sipped throughout the day. This a an excellent remedy for kids and teens. It tastes great and can be refrigerated and used for a few days.
Several clinical studies have shown that passion flower has anxiety-calming effects in the body. In one study they found results similar to anti-anxiety medication in mice. There were also two clinical trials in that found it had sedative effects in the body as well.
Here's a passion flower I like you can click here for details.
Supplements I also like for anxiety and stress are L-theanine & 5 HTP.
L-theanine is an amino acid found naturally in tea leaves and in Bay Bolete mushrooms. It is found in green, black tea and Oolong tea.
L-theanine has been used for stress and anxiety, increased focus and also improves immunity.
Recent studies have found L-theanine reduced stress and anxiety in people who were experiencing elevated stress levels in their life.
In addition, l-theanine is unique in that it increased relaxation without causing drowsiness or reduced resting heart rate.
L-theanine also elevates levels of GABA in the body, as well as serotonin & dopamine. These chemicals are neurotransmitters and they work in the brain to regulate emotions, mood, concentration, alertness, and sleep, appetite and energy. L’theanine is also associated with increased levels of Alpha- brain waves . These are the same brain waves that are increased during meditation. L-theanine promotes healthy sleep, by lowering anxiety which thereby aids in falling asleep more quickly.
One study also found that doses of 250 mg and 400 mg of L-theanine significantly improved sleep in animals and humans.
In addition, L-theanine has been used in ADHD. A study done in 2011 looked at the effects of L-theanine on 98 boys aged 8 to 12. A randomized group was given two 100 mg chewable tablets of L-theanine twice daily. The other group received placebo pills. After a six week period the group taking the supplement was found to greater concentration and focus than the placebo group.
Some research suggests L-Theanine may also boost immunity by decrease the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections.
L-5 hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
5-HTP is derived from Griffonia simplicifolia. The common name is Griffonia, which is a common shrub native to West Africa, Sera Leone and the Congo. 5-HTP has been used for depression, anxiety, weight loss, headaches, motion sickness and insomnia.
5-HTP is a compound, which is a natural precursor to the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Serotonin helps produce the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain and body. Serotonin can affect sleep, appetite, pain, and mood. Since 5-HTP increases serotonin, Griffonia simplicifolia is used for disorders where serotonin is is effected, such as depression and anxiety.
5- HTP has also been studied for its use for motion sickness.
A study evaluated the safety and efficacy of a Griffonia seed extract and magnesium combination in two groups of children with motion sickness. The combination was comprised of 50 mg of G. simplicifolia and 200 mg of magnesium, intended as prophylactic therapy. The supplement was given by mouth twice a day for 90 days to the treatment group. The other group did not receive treatment for motion sickness.
A few essential oils I love for stress and anxiety.
The first is Frankinsecence, Ru Xiang resin - from Boswellia tree
currently produced in middle eastern countries. This oil dates back to ancient times, mentioned throughout history as an oil used for healing and as a sacred gift.
In aromatherapy, inhaling the scent of an essential oil (or absorbing it through the skin) sends messages to the limbic system, a brain region that influences our emotions and nervous systems.
Frankincense enters the Lung, Heart, Kidney. It is an excellent mood balancer. It will help with feeling of anxiety and boost immune function. It is also an excellent anti-inflammatory and can be used on inflamed muscles, healing broken bones and arthritis. It has a sweet woody smell, its aroma is ancient it diminishes feeling of stress and anxiety while improving concentration as well.
With spring flowers in full bloom how can we use these magnificent flowers in our everyday life for healing and balance? Here are some powerful flowers you can most likely find in your backyard and can integrate into a healing routine.
Wild Violet - Zi Hua Di Ding
Wild violets can be found easily in your backyard, on a bike path or between sidewalk cracks. Violet goes to the heart, liver and lung channel. Wild Violet is very common throughout North America. There are approximately 550 species in the Viola genus. The flowers and leaves are edible and can be added to a salad. Flowers can be collected and any number of preparations can be made, such as violet vinegar, syrup, tincture, lemonade, body butter, infused with aloe, the possibilities are endless.
In Western herbal medicine violet has been used historically for respiratory conditions, it can be used in a syrup for sore throats, dry hacking cough, dryness, yin deficiency in the upper respiratory tract and swollen lymph nodes. It has also historically been used in Western herbal medicine to soften tumors and has a long tradition as an adjunct treatment for cancer. Violet is an alternative herb, meaning it cleanses the blood. It is cooling in nature and moistening making it good for yin deficiency. The leaves are high in vitamin A, C and rutin and quercetin. Both in Chinese and Western medicine Violet has been used for skin disorders such as eczema and can be used as a poultice or compress for inflammatory skin disorders.
Lilac - Yuan Hua
This is one of my favorite flowers in Spring! Lilac is an aromatic and bitter herb. The aroma is absolutely an antidepressant and it is used for depression and anxiety. In North America we see the Lilac flower bloom anywhere from early to late May. It is also known as Mountain Lilac. The flowers are edible. Historically in American folk medicine Lilac has been used in wound healing, for rashes or sunburns, inflammatory skin conditions and the treatment of parasites.
Historically the flowers have been used for GI disturbances such as gas, bloating and constipation. Lilac has stringent qualities which make it very useful in tightening the skin, fine lines, wrinkles and blemishes. It can be used as a toner or hydrosol. In Chinese medicine lilac is going to the lungs, kidneys and large intestine. The flowers are warm, acrid and bitter. In Chinese medicine they can be used to eliminate phlegm and relieve cough in chronic bronchitis. It is also moving qi in such conditions as accumulation of fluid such as edema and ascites. It can be used for colds and flu to clearing hot phlegm in the body by working to clear stubborn coughs, bronchitis and lung infections. One of my favorite flower honeys to make is lilac honey. Use a honey local to your area. Fill the jar with fresh lilac flowers and leave a small amount of room at the top. Let sit for up to 6 weeks. You can strain the flowers out or leave them in when it is done.
Lavender Flowers - Xun Yi Cao
Lavender flowers have a long history of uses from depression, headache relief, sleep, insomnia, anxiety, skin disorders, menopause and digestive upset. Lavender is a flowering plant in the mint family. Dating back over 2,500 years lavender originally came from the middle east, the mediterranean and India. Lavender is a cooling herb going to the Liver, Lung and Pericardium channel.
Traditionally lavender bundles were placed in the hands of women during labor to give them courage and strength. In addition, the scent, contributed to easing anxiety and stress during childbirth. Lavender flowers have a very high concentration of volatile oils which make it excellent in steam inhalations and herbal baths. Lavender flowers can also deter insects. It can be bundled and added to clothing draws to deter moths as well.
The lavender scent is most widely known for its use as a nervine for depression, anxiety and stress. Dried lavender bundles can be hung in the house or by the bed to aide in sleep. It is also very good for children who have trouble sleeping or with nightmares. Lavender tea can be taken at night to also aide with sleep, calm anxiety and depression. Lavender is also excellent for irritability or a sense of disconnection, conflict or "stuck" emotions.
Lavender essential oil is a very safe essential oil to apply topically and is very effective for minor skin irritations such as bug bites, itchy skin and eczema. The essential oil can also be added to a steam inhalation for headaches or to open the chest in cases of chest tightness. This is also a very common essential oil used with children. Diffusing it throughout the house can help with anxiety or emotions running high in kids and teens. Recents studies have found Lavender essential oil can reduce cortisol levels, in addition to having an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. It has also been used for normalizing blood sugar levels in adults and children.
Lavender is also a respiratory relaxant and bronchodilator, making it very useful for spasmodic asthma, chest tightness, cough and whooping cough. It has also traditionally been used as a digestive herb as an anti-emetic, (vomiting), digestive conditions exasperated by stress such as Irritable bowel, colic, spasmodic digestive conditions.
Lavender lemonade is one of my absolute favorites. Use a handful of fresh lavender and add to 2 cups of boiling water, let sit for 15 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons agave. Squeeze 1 cup fresh lemons. Strain the lavender from mixture and combine with the lemon juice. Add ice and serve.
Why is it so important to build our immunity?
Our bodies are constantly working to balance and fight off various external pathogens they encounter. Herbal medicine is a key component in balancing the immune system. Our natural environment has given us medicinal herbs to bolster our immune system so we can stay healthy and thrive.
Huang Qi - astragalus, is a classic traditional chinese medicine tonic herb used to boost the immune system. What I love about huang qi is its versatile nature. Huang qi is easily added to a soup, it can be taken in tincture, capsule form or used in a decoction (which is a strong tea). When used in traditional chinese medicine, Huang Qi is often paired with other herbs in a formula which work synergistically. It is often paired with herbs such as, dang gui, gou qi zi and tai zi shen (American Ginseng)
Huang qi is a sweet herb in nature and goes to the lung and spleen meridian. Astragalus is known to build “spleen qi.” This would translate as treating digestive upset from spleen qi deficiency such as loss of appetite, bloating, sallow complexion or loose stools. In addition, it is a classic herb for fatigue or exhaustion.
It is known as a herb for building “wei qi”, which is known as protective qi in the body. In clinical trials we know that huang qi increases the production of white blood cells. It is also used in combination with other herbs for respiratory disorders such as wheezing, cough and shortness of breadth. Huang qi also aids in building blood in the body and carrying that blood to the extremities in the body. This is helpful in conditions of numbness and pain in the body.
Studies show the astragalus is also very effective as a complementary therapy for heart disease this maybe because it is very high in antioxidants. Huang qi also eases blood vessel constriction and is effective in lowering cholesterol.
Huang qi is an excellent tonic herb which can be used post illness to help nourish and build up the body past cold, flu or other debilitating illness when the body is weak.
Reishi - Ling Zhi -spiritual mushroom -As far back as 221 to 207 B.C. there is evidence of the use of Reishi as a medicinal. Reishi which is a reddish brown color and fan snapped grows on dead or dying trees and seems to prefer hemlocks. It was discussed in the the classic chinese herbal texts. Ling Zhi is a mushroom known for its immune boosting properties, known for longevity, cell regenerative and promoting health.
It belongs to the Gandoderma genus. It enters the lungs, heart and liver. Reishi is known for its immune enhancing properties, by increasing macrophages, monocytes a T-lymphocytes in the body. Research also shows Reishi as possessing anti-cancer qualities by producing cytokine, interleukin and tumor necrosis factor. Reishi also has anti-bacterial activities against pneumonia, streptococci, E. coli, and staphylococci.
Reishi protect the body from stress, as an adaptogen, reishi assists the body in overcoming everyday exposure to environmental toxins and immune-boosting potential.
Reishi enters the lungs and aids in stopping cough and resolving phlegm. It is working to dispel phlegm and stop wheezing, making it useful for asthma and shortness of breadth.
Reishi can be taken in tincture form, powder, tea, or added to a formula in combination with other traditional formula for synergistic effect.
American Ginseng -Tai Zhi Shen - There are a few varieties of ginseng, American, Korean, Siberian, Brazilian and Indian Ginseng. The two most widely used are American, Tai Zi Shen and Korean, Ren Shen. One of my favorite varieties is American Ginseng. American Ginseng grows throughout North America and Canada. It is known as an excellent adaptogenic herbs. Although this variety of ginseng is strong it also very nourishing and more moderating in effect.
Studies show that the ginsenosides found in tai zi shen may help to stimulate the immune system, lower blood sugar and slow growth of cancer cells. These same ginsenosides may also help to fight fatigue in the body especially due to chronic illness.
In addition, American Ginseng has antiviral properties which make it useful in fighting against viral respiratory illnesses.
Tai Zi Shen, can be used in a traditional formula in a decoction or powdered formula it can also be taken in a tincture or capsule.
Possible herbs drug interactions are with Coumadin, MAOI inhibitors, Antipsychotic medications, medications to decrease blood sugar.
Echinacea agustafolia - purple coneflower - Echinacea has been used by traditional herbalist in american folk medicine and native american medicine since the early 1800's . It is a quintessential herb for building immunity in the body. There are over 9 species of Echinacea found in throughout the United States and Canada. The most common are Echinacea augustafolia and Echinacea purpurea. Echinacea is very common throughout North America and likes to grow in rocky disturbed soil and open fields. Research shows echinacea increases production of white blood cell in the body, making it useful as an antibiotic herb and antiviral. It is going to the stomach, large Intestine and lung meridian. It treats nasal discharge accompanied by infection in the body. It is supportive in upper respiratory illnesses, it has stimulating and regulating effect in the body. In Chinese medicine we would say it is clearing heat and treating fever in the body as well.
Historically it has also been known as a blood purifier and "cleanser," with this it is excellent at treating boils, abscesses, skin lesions, swollen lymph glands, ulcerative throat and mouth inflammation.
The root is harvested in the fall. This root can be made into a tincture and then used throughout the winter to stay healthy. The dried root can also be used as tea or decoction.
We always recommend you consult an experienced practitioner of Chinese medicine who has studied eastern herbal medicine before trying a herbal remedy, as it may not be appropriate for your constitution or pattern for your condition.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease and for educational purposes only.
Keeping your skin healthy in the winter months can be a challenge but with a few simple tips your skin will notice the difference. There are some super simple steps you can take to help dry, chapped winter skin. Keeping the heat down slightly in your home will help. Winter months are naturally low in humidity, heating systems in your home will only further dry your skin. I recommend lowering heat by a couple of degrees at night when you are sleeping and during the day keeping it slightly lower then your skin will surely feel the difference. In addition adding a humidifier with essential oils will also help you keep your skin hydrated. I like adding rose geranium for dry skin as it's a great balancer of skin, hormones, and moods.
Taking long hot showers will also only contribute to drying out your skin in the winter months. Keep the showers brief and hot water temperatures down.
Staying hydrated during the winter months is essential for your health. Often during the winter we are consuming less liquids than we do in summer months but your skin actually needs more hydration during the winter. Although water alone will not be enough to hydrate your skin in the winter it is part of the equation.
An excellent way to do this is with hot water and lemon. I also love water with fresh ginger and lemon. Ginger (ShengJiang) is a warming herb going to the lungs, spleen and Stomach. Ginger naturally stimulates digestion and reduces inflammation in the body.
Coconut oil an excellent moisturizer for your face in the winter months. Coconut oil fights free radical damage, possibly due to its high levels of ferulic & p-coumaric acid, and its natural antioxidant properties keep your skin nourished in the winter. Apply coconut oil after you shower to lock in moisture.
Essential oils such as vetivere or spikinard can also be added to coconut oil to nourish dry skin.
Do not over exfoliate in the winter this will only further dry your skin.
Eat omega-rich foods. Omega-3s are essential part of your skin’s lipid content and help boost the barrier function, this will act like a seal that keeps moisture in.
Foods such as avocado, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, salmon and walnuts are especially high in these "good fats."
In Chinese medicine spring time is associated with the liver organ and the time to cleanse from the winter and start anew. This a great opportunity to reset the body. Here is what I suggest you try.
Herbal teas have historically been used during the winter months not only to maintain health but also treat winter ailments. The warming properties of these teas make them invaluable during colder months. Often times people feel winter is a time for hibernation! Although winter is a good time for quiet time and self reflection it can also be an amazing time to enjoy the outdoors and all the activities we have only during these months. With a few special herbs we should be confident in our bodies ability to adapt to colder weather and enjoy the wonders of winter.
Fall is Here! 5 Quick Tips To Keep Your Kids Healthy This Fall!
1. HAND WASHING
I know this sounds to simple to be true. Washing your hands is the #1 thing your kids can do to prevent cross contamination. Meaning - if you wash your hands a lot, you are much less likely to get sick. It is best to wash hands with soap, lather and rinse. If you do not have access to soap and water because you are on the run, use wipes or a hand sanitizer with Etheyl alcohol. I have my kids wash their hands upon entering the house, before eating, after getting off the subway or train, and a million times in between. We were recently at an amusement park, I handed out wipes after almost every ride! They laughed at me, but no one is sick. Its simply, fast and usually FREE. Hand washing isn't just for kids! One of my favorites is from Whole Foods and can be found here.
In Chinese medicine Spring is the time of year for detox. A spring cleanse can be very beneficial for the body to detox from the winter. Giving your body a fresh start for summer. What is great about many of these herbs is that you can find them in your back yard! Dandelion for example is a very common herb seen right outside your door! Many of these herbs have been used for hundreds of years as traditional remedies to cleanse the liver. The liver in Chinese medicine is known as the organ responsible to helping to detox the body.
A few simple things go a long way in keeping you healthy during cold & flu season! Something as simple as washing your hands frequently throughout the day will make a huge difference in preventing cold & flu. There are some key herbs and supplements that I use to keep my patients healthy during this time of year.