Spring: Sip on a Simple Harmonizing Habit

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Enjoy this guide to springtime kitchen medicine I wrote last year. -Kirsten

It's spring in the Northern hemisphere! Spring corresponds with the Wood element in the 5 element system, and looking at the energetics of the Wood element can give us lots of great ideas for staying balanced at this time of year. The cycles of the earth influence all of us earthlings! Temperatures, daylight hours, vegetation... all the things that make up our environment have an impact on us, and traditional practices can be really helpful in maintaining health and balance, even in our modern world. 

The sour flavor corresponds with the Wood element, and many of the first spring fruits like berries and citrus have a tangy sourness in contrast to the full sweetness of summer fruits. The sour taste is relaxing and softening - it has an astringent, drawing inward function (think of puckering up your lips after tasting a lemon!), which pulls fluids into the system, helping our tendons and skin be more moistened and flexible. After a winter of bulky clothes, indoor heating, dry air and being stuck inside, the sour flavor helps restore flexibility and refresh us from the inside out. Folks who have issues with hypermobility and joint laxity are advised to stay away from sour foods, especially in excess.

Spring Sour Habit: Lemon Water! Start your day with some room temperature water with lemon juice or a wedge of organic lemon, and sip it through the day to keep you hydrated and flexible. Seasonal foods like dark green veggies, berries and fresh veggies with a vinaigrette are other tasty seasonal ways to access the power of sour.

The Five Elements - Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, are powerful energetic metaphors to help us be in harmony with ourselves and the natural world. My friend and colleague Denise Cicuto L.Ac and I have created a line of Healing Anointing Oils using aromatherapy in sync with the elements.

I'll be talking more about healing practices for Spring at Spring - Intro To Hatha Series - Alignment + Acupuncture - with Misia Denéa of Hatha Holistic Wellness . Early morning yoga and healing learning at @theworkingbodyoakland #SpringTimeWellness Series will begin in a few weeks and REGISTRATION is OPEN and closes next week April 5th 2019 ! I'll be the guest Monday April 15.

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Summer Wellness Series: Moving into Fall

This article is the final in a special Summer Wellness Series I've collaborated on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Read all the installments here or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

With the Fall Equinox this week in the Northern hemisphere, we are deep in the transition moment from Late Summer in Fall. The days are perceptibly shorter, there may be a nip in the air in the morning, and even in the Bay area where there are still hot days to be had, the sidewalks are beginning to have piles of leaves, and our energy is turning inward and slowing down.

It’s an oft-noted irony that the time when the Earth is encouraging us to slow down and go inward is the time in our external calendar when things are getting busiest - back to school, the ramp up to the holiday season, and for us in the United States this year, an extra layer of work and anxiety around the mid-term elections and all that is at stake.

Your body might express this experience of cross-purposes with trouble sleeping, digestive upset, and as the Fall moves on, skin complaints, allergies, colds and sinus trouble. Seasonal self-care through the Summer (see the #tcmsummerwellness series !) can help buffer some of these, and here are a few self-supporting practices to consider incorporating this month;

  • sleep more. The days are shorter, and our energy is waning. In pre-industrial times (ie most of human history), we went to sleep and woke with the sun. Even 15 minutes earlier can make a difference. Chronic sleep deprivation is one of the most serious health issues facing modern people.

  • eat cooked foods. Save your raw salads and melon for next summer - save your body some energy by transitioning to cooked foods - if a salad is a must-have for a lunch on the go, try making one with cooked veggies - blanched greens, roast zucchini and peppers topped with chickpeas under a dijon vinaigrette, topped with a few toasted seeds or almonds for crunch. Very chic and easy to transport in a mason jar!

  • Give your lungs extra TLC. The Fall is the season of the Lung - they are especially vulnerable to allergens and viruses at this time of year. Improve the quality of the air indoors with an air purifier, air purifying plants and give your pillows a wash to eliminate allergens. Ask your acupuncturist about allergy treatments (best started before you are sneezing!) and buy or make some natural cold remedies to keep on hand so you can take them at the first signs of illness. Try Fire cider, Ginger-Scallion tea and this go-to list from Erin on natural remedies and herbal formulas for cold. My fave essential oils to keep on hand at this time of year, especially for steam inhalation: Rosemary verbenone, balsam fir and sweet thyme (linalool).

  • Going deeper: I wrote this essay on resting in sync with the earth a few falls ago. What does it mean when we don’t get enough rest? What are the personal and global consequences of our exhaustion and burnout?

May your Fall be filled with love and health, and time for darkness, rest and contemplation! For help with specific health challenges, including scheduling treatments or finding a practitioner in your area, contact Erin and I!

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Summer Wellness Series: Summertime Herbs

This article is third in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: self-care practices and essential oils. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

Summer is the most sunny, energetic, and yang time of the year.  And as we mentioned in previous posts, the season of summer is associated with the fire element, which is linked to the bitter flavor.  That cooling and detoxifying bitter taste clears the heat in the summertime. Kirsten talked about foods and beverages that you can consume in the summer to balance that rising fire, like an escarole salad or cacao nibs sprinkled on diced peaches.  Below are some bitter herbs that you can also use both medicinally and in your kitchen. And since heat can cause irritation, agitation and insomnia, we can also take calming herbs like valerian root or passion flower and minerals like calcium and magnesium that will help settle and anchor the spirit.  

The bitter taste is pharmacologically active and stimulates digestion and our taste receptors.  We even have bitter taste receptors in our sinuses and nasal passages that can protect us from bacteria and viruses!

Bitter subdues the rebellious Qi that is moving in the wrong direction, like nausea or belching.  The bitter taste can also be strong and cold, which can injure the spleen system that helps our digestion absorb nutrients properly.  Once again, it is finding the balance of regulating the energy without overdoing it. Always remember to chew well! This helps the spleen system begin the breakdown and absorption of all the nourishment we need for each of our cells.  Also, don’t take in too much liquid during your meal, especially cool liquid or ice water, which can slow down digestion and dilute digestive enzymes. If you are going to have an iced beverage, melt it in your mouth, almost like chewing your drink, before swallowing it.

Bitter counteracts heat.  Heat can invade from the exterior, causing both chills and fever as your body tries to defend you.  Exterior heat can also come with headaches. Wind tends to bring heat in through the sinuses or back of the neck.  Heat can be internal, only causing fever, since the heat has already reached past the skin level. Once it is internal, you might see symptoms like dark urine, dry mouth, and either constipation or diarrhea.  Below are quite a few common bitter, heat-clearing herbs used in Chinese Medicine. If you have specific symptoms that aren’t resolving or you have any questions, please ask your acupuncturist for a custom formula.  Western herbs are often used alone, Chinese Herbs are mainly used in formulas that can be tailored to you. There are Chinese herbs that go to certain areas of the body, like the head or the skin. Heat can also combine with other factors, like dampness, wind, or toxins and there are specific herbs for each of those situations.  

Common Chinese Herbs that can be easily used in the summertime to cool down the system are mint, chrysanthemum flowers, various parts of the lotus plant, mung beans, and watermelon fruit.  Barley tea is easy to find at Asian markets and makes a tasty sun tea. Note: If you are gluten sensitive or intolerant, skip the barley tea

Read more about herbs for summer ailments at www.erinwoodacupuncture.com

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Plant Support! Herbal Help For Healthy Changes

(I wrote this article a few years ago but I'm referring back to it as my patients and I look to let go of some habits with the fresh air of January...-Kirsten)

It's January! A time of year when many people think about changes they'd like to make in support of the life they'd like to live. Making healthy changes is great - when it's done with love and in a way that's sustainable! Enjoy the video version with a TCMTalk on this topic!

So you've decided to let go of some habits that don't nourish you - or cultivate some that do. Great! One of the keys to sustainable change is enlisting support.  While you're getting cheered on by the people in your support network, you can also add some herbal cheerleaders to the mix. I've rounded up some herbal and essential oil allies that can give you a boost at some of the changes you might be making this month.

(Important message: herbs and essential oils are powerful medicine! This article is not intended to diagnosis or treat you. I strongly recommend that you enlist the support of a licensed physician of Traditional Chinese Medicine or other qualified professional so you can fully experience the benefits of herbal medicine!)

Quitting: smoking, alcohol, sugar and other substances

Acupuncture and acupressure are very helpful in reducing withdrawal symptoms, and your TCM physician can also prescribe a customized herbal formula for you that can reduce anxiety, withdrawal and cravings, no matter what substance you're eliminating. Generally, regulating the flow of energy in the body is the goal, as we support the body through the discomfort of cravings and learning to produce the feel-good chemicals we relied on our drug of choice for.

Easy to access herbs to try at home during this time include: spearmint leaf, dried orange peel, cinnamon, clove, lemon balm and fennel. Look for these herbal allies in a pre-made blend, or make your own tea with bulk herbs (try a tablespoon each of the leafy herbs, and a teaspoon of the denser ones). You can also try an infusion bath - use tea bags or cheesecloth to steep herbs in your bath water.

Essential oil helpers include carrot seed oil (especially for marijuana),  roman chamomile, lavender and lemon (this duo is especially good for sugar cravings) Here's some guidance on different methods of applying essential oils.

Healthy Habits: regular exercise and quality sleep

Looking to make exercise a habit this year? Chinese medicine, broadly speaking, helps you have more energy by either boosting insufficient energy, or moving stuck energy. Try energy boosters like ginseng, jujube, Chinese yam, goji berries and reishi mushrooms, or energy movers like dried orange peel, fennel and cardamom. Essential oils like patchouli and grapefruit help move and transform energy as well.

Herbal helpers for restful sleep include mimosa flower, lemon balm, lavender blossom, chamomile and zizyphus (jujube seeds). A supplement like Natural Calm is an easy alternative to traditional sedating herbs made from oyster shell and fossilized bones. Essential oils known as sleep aids include lavender, sandalwood, mandarin, chamomile and ylang ylang.

Attitude Adjustment: self-love and self-discipline

Thinking about a new attitude this year? Support some self-love with heart-opening herbs like mimosa flower, zizyphus, or the traditional formula, gan mai da zao tang: licorice root, jujube fruit and wheat berries. Essential oils for self-love include patchouli, rose, geranium and ylang ylang.

Self-love starts with self-care: if you're trying to amp up your self-discipline and keep your health a priority, herbs and essential oils to firm your resolve include walnuts, fenugreek, black sesame seeds, and essential oils of rosemary, ginger and vetiver.

If you have questions about using herbal allies in the new year, or would like some help finding a Physician of Traditional Chinese Medicine in your area, email me!

Some sources used in this article:

  • Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, Revised Edition, Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble.
  • Clinical Aromatherapy, Peter Holmes
  • Healing with the Herbs of Life, Lesley Tierra
  • Materia Medica of Essential Oils, Jeffrey Yuen

 

 

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January Detox?

This is an article I wrote when I was a senior intern at acupuncture school, over ten years ago - it still pretty much sums up what I think about 'detoxes' and 'cleanses' and I hope you find it useful! -Kirsten

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The flurry of the holidays has died down, and even here in California there is a certain dreariness to the months of January and February. The days are still short, it's cool (or downright cold), we're probably all broke and a little bloated after overindulging in every way through the month of December.

A question I am often asked is "should I 'detox'?" Many people feel that their bodies are clogged with toxins, and that some tough love is in order. Fasting, gallbladder flushes, high colonics, herbal 'cleanses' and other methods are all popular. I would wager that sales of those products, many touting weight loss benefits, peak at this time of year. So what does Chinese Medicine have to say about 'cleansing'?

In Chinese Medicine we view the body as an interconnected and balanced system. The digestive and eliminative system is analogous to a pot on a stove. Food goes in the pot, and the fire underneath cooks it, producing steam that rises up. In an ideal situation, the fire burns hot but not too hot, and there is the right amount of food in the pot, with the right amount of moisture to produce lovely, fragrant steam. (as a side note, the Chinese character "Qi" or "vital force" is of a rice pot with steam rising out of it.) When we have overloaded or underloaded the pot, or if the fire is sputtering, or burning out of control, we have an imbalance, and uncomfortable symptoms result.

The body has its own mechanism for restoring balance. In western terms this is called homestasis, or self-regulation. In the acupuncture clinic we facilitate this with herbs and acupuncture, but most important is letting the body return to its own natural balance. If we suddenly empty the pot, it can all too easily be scorched or cracked. And scrubbing it out with clorox is similarly too radical a solution. Personally I feel many of the more 'radical' detox methods contain an element of self-disgust. We feel we have overindulged so we punish ourselves by starving or taking harsh herbal brews that keep us in the toilet, contemplating our sins.

The student of Chinese Medicine views the body as something to be treated gently and with love and respect. Alright, fine, you say. But what do I do about feeling maxed out after 3 weeks of canapes and candy canes?

Acupuncture and herbs can both be used by your practitioner to ease symptoms like constipation, bloating, gas and heartburn. At home, try digestive herbal teas like mint, ginger, citrus peel and fennel seed, or hawthorn berry tea, a tasty and traditional remedy for digestion, especially helpful for fatty foods.

Dietarily, it is important that your body have nourishment to continue its work. To ease the burden on your digestive system as you recover from a period of overindulgence, one of the best foods is congee: traditional chinese porridge. Usually made with rice, it can be made with any grain or legume, and can be quite convenient when you use a slowcooker. (A great book about using congee as medicine is Bob Flaws' The Book of Jook). Slow cooked whole grains,  proteins like fish and chicken, and steamed vegetables are all nourishing, easily digested foods that will feed your body without taxing it. Foods to avoid are cold and raw foods, including vegetables like salads. Many people are surprised at this advice, but salads and raw veggies are actually quite hard to digest. We are not herbivores like cattle. Our bodies have to 'cook' the vegetables once they are eaten. Many patients find they have more energy and less digestive problems when they switch to cooked veggies. Steering clear of heavily flavoured foods is restful for your system, and of course artificial and processed foods are always best avoided.

In the end, remember that January is just a month like any other. Certainly it is an opportunity to 'start fresh,' but so is every day, every moment, every breath.

ess in gezunterheyt/eat in good health
Kirsten

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Candy corn, pumpkin spice, and seasonal eating

Scroll to the end for seasonal recipe ideas if you don’t want to read my rant!

We crave the foods the earth offers

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What’s the deal with pumpkin spice flavored everything? Why do we go so nuts for manufactured foods like candy corn, Shamrock Shakes, Cadbury Creme Eggs and so on? I’ve seen this insight attributed to Michael Pollan - that ultimately we crave seasonal eating at a deep ancestral level so we flock to these commercial substitutes (let me know if you have a source on this - it’s not original to me).

Once strawberries, oysters, pheasant, asparagus, peaches and fresh churned butter were transient seasonal delicacies, enjoyed for their fresh, once a year flavor, as well as the health benefits that our ancestors reaped from eating seasonal foods. Modern agribusiness has cut us off from the rhythms of the earth and sold our ancestral heritages back to us as pumpkin spice m&ms.

My family in Canada sometimes mocks my commitment to seasonal local eating, given that I live in California, with a 12 month growing season, surrounded by farms producing some of the world’s tasty produce all year long. I ate seasonally and locally when I lived in Toronto as well, and there were a lot of apples and beets during the winter, I’m not going to lie. On balance eating seasonally is generally tastier (and more frugal) as we eat the foods when they are at their best, and can enjoy heirloom varieties that won’t withstand the rigors of transport and supermarkets. We also gift ourselves with the intense pleasure of eating a food for the first time in the year (in Judaism, we have a special blessing to acknowledge the wonder of that moment - the taste of the first strawberry of spring, the first peach of summer, the first pomegranate of fall)

Your perfect diet

A central tenet of Traditional Chinese Medicine and many traditional and holistic approaches is that there is no one size fits all approach. In modern Western culture, we quest constantly for the ‘perfect human diet’ (in fact there’s a best selling book by that name) but let me break it to you. There is no such thing.

Western science is only starting to understand the barest glimmer of how food and nutrition actually interacts with our body processes, and is continually exasperated by contradictory findings when it tries to study whether a particular food or macronutrient or diet is ‘healthy’ or not. The dualism of dominant western thought endlessly strives to judge whether a food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ but this profoundly misunderstands the nature of reality. Your genes, your age, your lifestyle, the climate where you live, your history, what you ask of your body - all of these deeply affect what is ‘’healthy’ for you. Fortunately, we don’t need to wait a couple of thousand years for Western dietitians to figure this out - we have the wisdom of all our ancestors and traditional knowledge available to us.

One thing I have come to understand in recent years is that the toll of modern ‘foods’ including food processing, additives, intensive hybridization, genetic modification, as well as environmental degradation and toxic exposures has resulted in an even more challenging situation for many people, where what appear to be natural whole foods cannot be tolerated. There are folks whose health restricts them from certain foods - like wheat - that are cornerstones of traditional diets. But is it really wheat as our ancestors or even other countries know it? Witness the common phenomenon of North Americans with wheat or grain intolerances who are able to eat bread and grains in Europe or Asia without symptoms. Undoubtedly being on vacation can reduce our stress load and improve our digestion, but in fact there are measurable differences between American and European wheat and bread.

Understanding the properties of food

In Traditional Chinese Medicine we learn that all foods have different properties. These are based on the Five Flavors, each of which has different effects in the body. This enables us to understand foods as active, interactive substances that we can combine and use for pleasure, nourishment and healing.

The Five flavours are: Pungent, Sour, Bitter, Salty and Sweet. Different seasons have affinities for different flavors, and we benefit from emphasizing that flavor in the right season. This approach to food can be a study in its own right, but I really believe it is accessible to any home cook who is interested in this approach. Soon it becomes second nature to choose and modify recipes in harmony with the season or with particular needs or conditions of those who will be eating. It’s really just part of cooking to think about complementary flavors and properties - you are already doing it when you choose what to make for dinner!

There are a variety of cultural approaches to this, and I recommend exploring Ayurvedic sources like Acharya Shunya’s Ayurvedic Lifestyle Wisdom or the works produced by the Weston A. Price Foundation which promotes traditional eating from a European perspective. The Tao of Nutrition by my teachers Dr. Maoshing Ni and Cathy McNease is a friendly introduction to the specifics of the TCM energetics of foods, and I love the recipes in Daverick Legget’s Recipes for Self-Healing. California based Jessica Prentice’s book Full Moon Feast is probably my number one recommendation for the North American resident looking to eat seasonally.

So, where to begin? Where you are of course! If you’re in the US, visit www.seasonalfoodguide.org for a fun interactive listing of what’s currently in season in your area (you can even get the app!)

Foods and flavors of Late Summer:

The Earth element rules late summer, and conveys a sense of both transitions and neutrality - neither here nor there. The direction associated with the Earth element is none -  the center. Foods that support the Earth element often carry its associated color of golden orange or yellow, as well as being relatively neutral or sweet in taste, grounding, comforting and calming. As we move from the expansive activity of summer to the challenges of Fall, and the often frantic pace of modern life including returning kids to school, projects on overdrive to finish out the calendar year, accelerating towards the frenzy of the holiday season, these weeks are ones where emphasizing simple, comforting and easy to digest foods is a blessing.

Gorgeous golden seasonal foods in California right now include persimmons, cantaloupe, winter squash, carrots and sweet potatoes

Meals to try could include squash soup (or squash curry with meat or legumes for a one pot meal), carrot salad with raisins, or lentil dal over baked sweet potatoes. All of these are easy to make ahead, pack for lunch, or heat up quickly at the end of busy day for a peaceful, centered meal that will nourish you body and soul.

Foods and Flavors of Autumn

The Metal element rules autumn, and conveys an energetic sense of contraction, withdrawal, the harvest and the in-breath. We are gathering-in and preparing for winter, darkness and the quiet and restful time of the year (in theory!). Metal and autumn are associated with the lungs, skin and respiratory system - and we certainly know this as the onset of cold and flu season. The pungent or spicy flavor, which warms the body and opens the lungs is the associated flavor - our friend pumpkin spice, with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger and allspice does both these things, and is a wonderful example of a medicinal, seasonal food (when not in m&m form!) Metal is associated with the color white and many white foods help alleviate dryness, considered the most common cause of illness and dis-ease during autumn. We can cook longer, slower dishes, infusing them with warmth and helping us to slow down.

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Seasonal autumnal foods which reflect the autumnal white color - the blanching of the vibrancy of late summer and the contraction of the natural world include pears, apples, bok choy and cabbage, celery root, cauliflower, fennel, leeks, endive, turnips and mushrooms. Most of these are also beneficial for the lung system. Pears are a traditional remedy for lung ailments and western researchers have identified a mucus thinning component in pears which helps people with asthma breathe easier

Meals to try are roasted cauliflower soup (roast florets in the oven at 400 for about 30 minutes, then puree with chicken stock), chopped celery root and fennel salad, leek and potato soup, and poached pears. Here’s my recipe. (Oh and pick up some good quality pumpkin spice blend or make your own - a wonderful addition to poached pears or baked apples!)

Poached Pears - serves 4

4 pears, any variety
Water or tea to cover, about 4 cups (try Earl Grey for a taste of elegance)
Spices to taste: try cinnamon stick, fresh ginger, and star anise

For Asian pears, use an apple corer to hollow them. Regular pears can be cut in half and the core scooped out. Bring water or tea to a simmer in a medium sauce pan - add the pears and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, until the pears are soft and easily pierced with a fork. Lift out with a slotted spoon. Delicious with a drizzle of honey, a natural antimicrobial and lung moistener.

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TCMTalk for 2017 - Holistic Healing for The Times We've Been Given

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo.
"So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

This quote has been front of mind for me many times in my life, but never more so than in the months leading up to and following the American presidential election of 2016. These are grim days for those of us committed to a vision of world filled with diversity, with mutual care, with celebration, with love of our planet, and commitment to the future we leave for generations to come. Angelica & Peony and my work in the world is about healing - so even though being a potion maker and an acupuncturist may not seem inherently 'political,' it absolutely is.

Coming to the United States in my late 20s from Canada via Israel, I encountered a country without universal public health care for the first time. I was shocked to treat people as an intern at TCM school who would ask for herbs to treat serious infections. "I want you to see an MD, you may need antibiotics." or "I'd like you to have some tests so we can rule out some things" to be told "I don't have insurance, I can't afford to go to the doctor, that's why I'm getting treatment for my pneumonia at a student clinic for acupuncturists." I also vividly remember one of my first patients, a woman in her 70s with a severe heart condition. She was desperate for help to get back on her feet so she could return to work before she got fired. Every acupuncturist and healer I know has suffered with their patients for whom crushing economic and social realities stand in the way of health and well-being.

Denise and I have spent time discussing how we can contribute to what is and must become a growing national and global movement for the human future. As well as our personal activism, we are dedicating this year's episodes of TCMTalk, our video series about Traditional Chinese Medicine and holistic healing, in support of activists - all of us.

Join us through the year as we explore the energy of each season with a special focus on connections to activism and resilience, and ideas for self and other care to help us all stay as sane and healthy as we can. We begin at the beginning with Spring! Denise explores the element of the season, Wood, how to find balance, and common issues that we can be especially prone to at this time of year. Kirsten gets specific with her best advice for getting good sleep - especially when faced with imbalances in the Wood Element characterized by stress, anger and waking in the middle of the night.

You can watch all the TCMTalk videos on our YouTube channel - subscribe to get notified whenever a new video comes out!

You can also find us on social media like facebook, twitter, pinterest and of course e-mail!

Denise and I will also be combining our activism and our healing at a great event on April 30th - Karma Clinic. We'll be offering Element balancing aromatherapy acupressure treatments, using unique essential oil healing blends that we've developed over the past year. All proceeds go to benefit Planting Justice. See the schedule for the day and book now with Energy Matters.

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6 strategies for an easy (well, easier!) whole foods or elimination diet

What’s the most important part of a ‘healthy diet’? That you do it! Finding a way of eating that nourishes your body appropriately, but is also realistic and can be maintained over the long term through busy work lives, family demands, unexpected changes in routine, budget and energy, can be daunting! I don’t claim to have it all figured out, but in my years of developing a sustainable way of eating for me and my family, I’ve come to rely on a few foods, recipes and strategies that I’d like to share - you don’t have to go from zero to making your own coconut milk from scratch in one day (although it’s actually pretty easy!)

My partner and I mostly avoid grains, processed foods, sweetened foods and dairy, and emphasize loads of organic veggies and fruit, grass fed and organic meat and eggs, unprocessed fats and bone broth and organ meats. From a Chinese Medicine perspective, we eat a diet emphasizing damp reducing foods and seasonal eating. These tips and recipes reflect that, and I hope will be especially valuable for those who have been precipitated into dietary change by illness and need easy and immediate ways to start eating in a way that helps them feel better.

Number 1: Planning and Prepping

How much of this you need to do depends on where you’re starting from. If you’re doing an elimination program or following a whole foods diet for the first time, you might need to invest in a kitchen overhaul to have some basic equipment and pantry supplies. Here’s some great advice from the Whole30, and my must-haves include:

  • A good knife and cutting board
  • Storage containers so you can make food ahead. I like mason jars and tiffins or glass ware, but you can also put a plate over a bowl like granny did before tupperware!
  • A good basic cookbook like Whole30, Practical Paleo or 30 Day Guide to Paleo. These three all have helpful ideas and instructions for ‘building blocks - see below!
  • Spices! Get a few mixes if you are starting from scratch, and honestly, quality matters with spices. If you don’t have a local fancy spice shop or that’s a pain, shop at mine! Think curry, chili, pumpkin pie spice and italian seasoning

2. Building blocks

This is my single most important recommendation. If you’re pressed for time or energy, don’t worry about following complicated recipes. Cook simple single foods that can be combined to make a meal. Think proteins, carbs or starches, veggies, toppings and sauces. If you have a couple from each category on hand, you can always throw together a yummy meal that fits your food needs without having to create anything from scratch. Here are a few of my faves and check out my Healthy + Easy pinterest board for more.

  • Oven roasted chicken drumsticks + cooked greens + baked sweet potato + mustard vinaigrette
  • Grilled porkchop + mashed butternut squash + steamed green beans with slivered almonds, melted ghee and pumpkin pie spice
  • Baked salmon + chopped romaine lettuce + kalamata olives + chopped apple + capers + balsamic vinaigrette
  • Chopped cooked chicken + mixed cooked veg + coconut milk + thai curry paste + fish sauce
  • red lentils with ghee and curry + sliced hard boiled egg + braised red cabbage + mashed potatoes 

3. Canned Fish is your Friend!

Many ‘grab and go’ foods are grain based, sweet or carb-heavy, super processed, or just not satisfying enough to serve as a meal: granola bars, crackers, protein bars, trail mix. Canned fish is a healthy, fast and economical protein source and more versatile than you might think! (here’s an article about safety concerns with eating fish - upshot, benefits outweigh the risks!) 

My go-to faves: tuna or salmon salad with homemade mayo and mixins like apples, grapes, capers or pickles. Tuna or salmon patties with salsa, vinaigrette or caper mayonnaise. Sardines on a big salad. Canned salmon ‘pasta’ with zoodles. There's loads more on Pinterest.

4. Think outside the bun

Looking for substitutes for super easy foods like crackers and bread? Don’t bother with fussy imitations, think about vehicles for easy speedy proteins. Try the current instagram star, sweet potato toast

Other ideas:

  • Chard or lettuce leaf rollups
  • Thickly sliced oven fried potatoes
  • Baked Potato
  • Cucumber slices
  • Apple or melon slices

If it’s flat, you can use it as toast.

My fave combos:

  • Tuna salad on green apple slices
  • Salmon salad on potato wedges
  • Chicken salad in chard rollups (remove the stalk from a leaf of swiss chard (look for a tender one)

5. Know your search terms

If you’re looking for recipes and inspiration, try using these search terms to get useful results. I used to use “gluten free” but as gluten free has become more mainstream, I now find many of the recipes include premade mixes as well as high sugar content, margarine etc and are really just gluten free versions of standard american foods. If that’s what you want - a fluffy frosted birthday cake for your friend with celiac - perfect, but if you’re looking for whole food, unprocessed and low or no sugar options, try these instead:

Search Terms to try on google or pinterest: Paleo, primal, nourishing, whole foods, whole30 grain free

6. Have a Sh*t Hitting the Fan Plan

It happens to all of us: everything goes to hell, and the time you set aside to chop or shop or cook is swamped by emergencies, work or illness. Now what? Stop right now and think of a few emergency back up plans - they will vary depending on your food restrictions and preferences, as well as the options available where you live, but some of my faves are:

  • rotisserie chicken from the health food store,
  • throwing leftovers in the freezer to pull out in an emergency (cook double for this purpose),
  • pre-chopped and ready to steam veggies or salad from the grocery store,
  • takeout like thai curries, prepared foods from the deli case or salad bar.
  • grocery delivery including ready to eat options such as Good Eggs .
  • ask for help!

I hope this has given you some food for thought in transitioning into a whole foods way of eating or dealing with temporary food restrictions. There’s a mountain of material available in books and online with tons more hints, tips and strategies, but whatever you do, stop and enjoy what you’re eating, keep the focus on your health and the benefits of nourishing your body and the planet wholesomely, and remember that sometimes your best is good enough. Ess in gezunterhayt! (Eat in good health!)

PS why do I talk so much about food? Because I’m a holistic physician as well as a skin care maker. Happy skin comes from the inside out as much as from choosing the right skincare. Stay tuned for my best skin healing recipes coming soon.

 

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Three Herbs for Powerful Pain Relief

Herbs offer effective treatments for pain of all kinds, often as effective as Western pharmaceuticals, with dramatically fewer side-effects and risks. These are three of my favourites, but there are literally hundreds of herbs and combinations with pain relieving abilities. As always, I’m sharing information, not providing medical advice. Email me if you’d like help finding a qualified practitioner in your area.

Ginger

It’s a food, it’s a spice, it’s a healer. Ginger is effective internally and externally for a wide variety of problems, including pain. Stomach pain, discomfort, indigestion and nausea respond rapidly. Sip ginger tea, chew candied ginger or try a topical application on your tummy. I created a topical ginger based treatment for just this type of problem, Ginger Belly Soother Oil with infused ginger and fennel oil and essential oils of patchouli and sweet orange, all of which act to relax the digestive system and relieve gas and bloating, common causes of stomach pain. Ginger oil + massage = relief.

Muscular pain, acute or chronic, also responds well to ginger, (Source). I use straight infused ginger oil with pure menthol and ginger essential oil in Ginger Menthol Balm, and ginger with cinnamon and mugwort with menthol in Warming Menthol Balm for pain that responds especially well to heat (read Should You Apply Ice or Heat for Pain by Lynn Palmgren L.Ac) 

Ginger also relieves menstrual pain - better than ibuprofen with added anti-nausea benefits (Source). Make a tasty and gentle menstrual cramp relieving tea by mixing chamomile and dried ginger half and half and steeping in boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Use about a tablespoon per cup of water. Externally, both Tranquil Palace Oil and Warm the Palace Oil use ginger’s pain relieving and warming power to relieve menstrual and abdominal pain.

Turmeric

Turmeric has gotten lots of attention as an anti-inflammatory superpower. In Chinese medicine it ‘moves the blood’ ‘moves the qi’ and ‘cools the blood’ indicating its effectiveness for pain related to constraint like digestive and menstrual pain and to chronic internal inflammation and bacterial and viral infections. Here’s a massive overview of research into the abilities of turmeric for stomach pain, arthritis pain, post surgical pain, dental pain, hemorrhoid pain and more!

A meta analysis of research on the zingiberaceae family, ginger, turmeric and galangal, for chronic pain treatment finds them to be effective and safer than NSAIDs (Source)

Turmeric can be taken daily as a capsule for joint health, but check in with your health practitioner before launching into it - it has some contraindications and you don’t want it to interact with an existing health condition or medications you may be taking.

You can get the benefits of turmeric in food form without the worry that comes with large doses or extracts. Add a teaspoon to lentils while they cook, sprinkle a tablespoon onto sauteed veggies for a soup or pilaf base, or make chai or golden milk, the traditional combination with black pepper which modern research has shown increases the bioavailability of active components in turmeric

Here's a golden milk recipe I like.

Mugwort

I use a special moxa box to hold sticks of burning herb over painful areas

I use a special moxa box to hold sticks of burning herb over painful areas

I love mugwort! Called Ai Ye in Chinese, the latin name is artemisiae argyi (although western mugwort, artemisiae vulgaris, is sometimes substituted). Mugwort is the herb used to make moxa - a phenomenal pain relieving technique from traditional chinese medicine, where a cigar or cigarette of packed herbs is lit and held over the painful area or acupuncture points. Moxa powers up all Angelica & Peony’s Healing oils when used together with them, (here’s Denise Cicuto L.Ac explaining how to use moxa at home especially for menstrual cramps

A device called a tiger warmer or lion warmer is another safe and easy way to get the power of moxa at home. We did a TCMTalk about that as well! 

Mugwort makes a great warming and pain relieving bath if you have achey joints in cold, damp weather. It’s also a beneficial addition to a ‘v-steam’ blend for vaginal steaming, especially for pain and heavy bleeding. I infuse mugwort into sesame oil along with ginger and cinnamon to make my Warming Blend, the base of both Warming Menthol Balm and Warm the Palace Oil

There are safety and health considerations with using moxa, so be sure to speak with your acupuncturist or health practitioner before folding it in to your pain management routine. Email me if you’d like help finding a qualified practitioner in your area.

You can get ginger and turmeric at most grocery stores, and certainly healthfood stores. You can ask your acupuncturist about bulk mugwort, moxa sticks and tiger warmers. This is the type of moxa stick I especially like.

Tune in to TCMTalk on Thursday August 4th and 18th at 4 pm PST on Periscope for more discussion about natural pain relief and management, ask your questions while we're live, or email them to us at traditionalchinesemedicinetalk@gmail.com!

Kirsten Cowan L.Ac is a Physician of Traditional Chinese Medicine and CEO and Chief Alchemist at Angelica & Peony, Radiant Natural Health and Beauty. She lives and works in Oakland California.

 

 

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Friday Roundup, May 13, 2016

What I've been reading, writing, thinking about and indulging in this week.

Prince, Pain and Pills: This moving and thought-provoking article from Lorraine Berry questions the conversation about prescription drug dependency and chronic pain in light of Prince's death and how the circumstances of it are being reported.

Ecosystems of Health: the world of the 'microbiome' - the billions of organisms that live on and in our bodies, is increasingly understood to be hugely important in our health and disease. Chris Kesser looks at our skin's microbiome, its role in common skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis, and how we can encourage the health of our skin's microorganisms.

Mandrake Madness: these adorable sculpted Mandrakes with mischievous personalities appeal to both to my herbalist side and my Harry Potter fan side! 

Have a great weekend!

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