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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Plants with Benefits Part II: Essential oils for a satisfying sex life


Herbal medicine and acupuncture offer a lot of support for those experiencing any kind of sexual problem, physical or emotional. This article is intended to introduce you to some plant allies and offer some simple home and traditional applications for gentle support. For effective treatment of ongoing or serious issues, consult a qualified herbalist (email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area).

Warning: radically-inclusive, sex-positive, body-positive language spoken here

(I cribbed this tongue in cheek warning from Denise's most recent article about Acupressure for Good Sex. Learn more about sex-positivity)

Perfumes have always been used for their aphrodisiac qualities! You can harness these powers yourself using essential oils as perfumes, room sprays or in bath or massage oils. Essential oils are the 'spirit' of the plant - and they can have a powerful effect on our spirits. Many of the traditional aphrodisiac oils work by addressing emotional issues that are so often at the root of sexual dissatisfaction. (Wondering how to find quality essential oils? Check out my earlier article for guidance)

Spicing it up

In Part I of Plants with Benefits, I talked about Yang tonics - herbs and foods that stoke the energetic fire that governs sexual desire. Some essential oils have the ability to tonify Yang and are suitable for low libido with sensations of coldness, low back ache, knee problems and low energy. These spicy essential oils can be irritating to the skin. Never use them undiluted, and you can DIY gentle versions by simmering the spices together on the stove or in a potpourri diffuser. 

Basil: this essential oil is a potent Yang tonic, addressing infertility, impotence, and low self-esteem and confidence

Cinnamon, Clove, Black Pepper and Cardamom: cinnamon and clove (in the form of pumpkin pie) were famously found to increase penile blood flow more than any other scents (Source) All are very powerful stimulants, and can lead to exhaustion if overused, and definitely cause skin irritation - use them in very small proportion in a blend, or as whole herbs rather than essential oils for a more balanced effect.

Calm, heart centering oils

Other essential oils work as aphrodisiacs by helping reduce stress and anxiety and encouraging us to feel relaxed and unguarded - necessary for good sex! All these oils make fantastic massage or bath oils, or can be added to a diffuser or room spray. Hydrosols of these oils are much more affordable than essential oils and spritzing them over the sheets will add their aphrodisiac gifts to your bedroom. 

Rose: the Queen of Flowers, she has been used to enhance sexual connection for millenia. Her lush, accepting fragrance is especially beneficial where sexual life feels blocked by lack of confidence or a sense of inadequacy.

Neroli: from the flowers of the bitter orange, neroli is a powerful anti-anxiety oil, and physically is an anti-spasmodic, relaxing both emotional and physical stress and spasm.

Patchouli: Patchouli can be a love it or hate it scent, but if you haven't smelled real, quality patchouli essential oil, you should give it a chance. As a herb, patchouli is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to 'transform dampness' and relieve symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. Emotionally, the oil serves to transform and release pent up emotions, which is the source of its aphrodisiac power. Perhaps that is why folks tend to react so strongly to it!

Ylang ylang: the sweet, heady floral scent of ylang ylang is a sedative, and is used by medical aromatherapists to lower blood pressure and heart rate. It serves to break the cycle of sexual anxiety and soothe anger, frustration and jealousy. Best used in combination with other oils lest you find yourself so relaxed you fall asleep!

Bringing the Balance

These final two oils may have a hormone balancing action in Western terms, and energetically serve to harmonize and bring balance to our physical and emotional states - centering us in our own truth so we can reach for another from a place of solidity.

Jasmine: precious Jasmine essential oil is most accessible as part of a blend from a quality manufacturer. Her gifts in the physical realm are powerful, she is traditionally used during childbirth to promote relaxation and opening, to encourage milk production, and to help heal the after effects of a traumatic birthing. According to Peter Holmes,  "emotional vulnerability from any cause and emotional disconnection (or dryness) from repression or trauma are its key indication." Those with trouble opening up, expressing needs and desires will benefit from jasmine's healing touch.

Sandalwood: a powerful, complex scent, sandalwood has been used in temples and monasteries to enhance meditation and prayer practices. It's aphrodisiac qualities help us stay grounded, in the moment and present with our partner, letting go of past experiences, insecurities and fear of inadequacy.

Lovers' Blend:

  • 8 drops sandalwood or patchouli
  • 4 drops ylang ylang
  • 2 drops sweet orange or tangerine

For massage or bath oil, add the oils to 1 oz of carrier oil such as apricot kernel, jojoba, coconut or sesame. For bath salts, toss with 1 cup of epsom salts. Don't use essential oils undiluted on the skin. For inspiration on where to massage, check out Acupressure For Good Sex by Denise Cicuto L.Ac! And tune in tomorrow at 4 pm PST to TCMTalk on Periscope for more holistic sex talk!

Here's to good sex!


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Friday Roundup - April 22, 2016

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

My charoset - yum!!

My charoset - yum!!

Paleo Passovers: Tonight marks the beginning of the eight day festival of spring and liberation celebrated by Jews all over. Many of those Jews are gluten free, grain free or have other dietary restrictions - I wrote a blog post with some ideas on navigating the holiday with those constraints.

I say charoset, you say energy balls. I made a special Passover treat this week: charoset! A symbolic food that represents the mortar the Israelite slaves used to build the pyramids, I make a variety traditional in communities in North Africa and the Middle East. I used this recipe from The Kitchn as my basis, used 1 cup dates:1 cup toasted almonds: 1 cup mixed dried apricots, raisins and figs, and added fresh ginger and pomegranate molasses. Blend the food processor until it's a chunky paste and then roll into balls (or eat directly on matza, your choice!)

Imagery of Love: I spent some blissful time on the website of photographer Jade Beall, who's portraits are rooted in 'Truthful Beauty & Self-love"

It's Earth Day today! Hurray to the activists who make this day happen, and all fighting for the future of our beautiful planet.

Have a great weekend!

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Friday Roundup - March 18, 2016

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

Measuring toxic cosmetics: This new study showed a large drop in detectable chemicals in the bodies of teenage girls just three days after they quit conventional personal care products. This study is also notable because the teenage subjects helped scientists to design it!

More teenage health issues: growing numbers of teenagers are using the Pill and other hormonal contraceptives, for birth control and for issues like menstrual regularity, cramps and acne. This article by naturopath Dr. Lara Briden gives some of the reasons why that's not great news.

Technology Pick-me-up: I probably look at my phone between 1 and 2 gajillion times a day. While I work on keeping technology in its place, I also tricked out my phone with some thoughtful and pretty wallpapers I found here.

Organs at Play: The Awkward Yeti is a favorite comic of mine, following the adventures of impulsive Heart and sensible Brain. This strip called 'overindulgence' features a guest appearance by Liver and made me laugh out loud.

I'll be gone on a ten day meditation retreat starting next week, so no Friday Roundups for a bit. I'll be back to rounding up on April 8!


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Friday Roundup - February 12, 2016

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

This isn't Peseshet, we don't know what she looked like.

This isn't Peseshet, we don't know what she looked like.

Overseer of Female Physicians. That's the title held by a woman named Peseshet, who lived in Egypt in 2500 BCE. I learned about her and a bunch of other interesting facts about the history of medicine in this article.

Kicking out the chemicals. My colleague Denise and I declared February 'Holistic Skin Care month' and that's what we're talking about all month on TCMTalk. I spent a few hours reading through the horror show of chemicals that are found in virtually all conventional personal care products in the US (where our regulations are heinously lax compared to other countries.) If you want to know more check out The Story of Cosmetics, a great video by the Campaign for Safer Cosmetics and Annie Leonard, who created The Story of Stuff.

You are enough. Transitioning to natural, non-toxic skin care also means accepting ourselves, something dominant culture and advertising messages often work against! I got a big lift this week from this breezy but inspiring listicle on overcoming imposter syndrome.

Have a great weekend!

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New Year, New You! Periscoping with TCM Talk - Thursday January 14, 5 pm PST

My friend and colleague Denise of Cicuto Acupuncture and I have been enjoying the new live video social media network Periscope for months now. We scoped through the holidays and created a permanent Pinterest board where we collect links to everything we talk about and recommend in our scopes.

So much of the 'new year' talk is about hating on our bodies, our 'lack of willpower' the 'bad' foods we ate and how we're going to be renewed and purged of our health related sins in January. Yuck! That's not how we roll! We're both physicians of Traditional Chinese Medicine, healthcare practitioners with a truly HOLISTIC perspective - and that's the theme of our first 2016 broadcast: healthy changes without the self-hate. 

We'll be scoping on our brand new channel, TCMTalk! @tcm_talk on Periscope and twitter. Hope to see you, and please send in questions or topics you'd like us to cover in future episodes (we scope about 2x a month).

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Acupuncture for Beauty - "I'm Loving my Face!"

My friend and colleague Prajna Choudhury L.Ac, is a healer, herbalist and thinker that I love and respect - so I’ve been wanting to share some of her wisdom with Angelica & Peony! We chatted a few days ago about the acupuncture facial rejuvenation work she does in her practice - and dove into issues of Chinese Medicine, healing, feminism, self-acceptance and the vibrational frequency of facial serums!

Prajna practices in Oakland California at Energy Matters Acupuncture and Qi Gong, and she’s my acupuncturist as well as my friend.

How did you first become interested in facial rejuvenation acupuncture?

I began doing facial rejuvenation as a student intern at Yo San University. I studied with Dr. Yue Ying Li, a gifted dermatologist and facial rejuvenation practitioner, and patients began asking me for it. I continued my training and practice of facial acupuncture after graduation when I worked on a cruise ship.

In the first years of my practice, I began studying with Virginia Doran, teacher of constitutional facial acupuncture.That really changed everything! Her techniques are amazing. Her teaching is truly grounded in the medicine, and politically and spiritually I really resonated with her approach.

Can you say more about the politics and spirituality of  facial acupuncture?!

People hear about facial rejuvenation acupuncture and they sometimes put it in the same box as surgical face lift, or botox, which are the opposite of what we do here.  I’m thrilled to give people safe, natural, and health-promoting alternatives to these kinds of treatments.  We all care about beauty - and we don’t need to buy into the belief that that requires doing harm to ourselves, physically or psychically.

There’s a certain feminist philosophy, rooted in the second wave of the seventies, that really opposed practices that were perceived as being about external looks or conventional ideas of femininity. It was the “flip side of the coin” of notions of feminine beauty that came from a patriarchal system. In most things, I’m more interested in the ‘grey areas’ between black and white thinking.

Instead of rejecting beauty altogether because of oppressive standards that exist, third wave/post-colonial feminism celebrates and encourages our diversity and external expressions of our inner life. To me, it's about reclaiming what beauty is: that beauty is not skin deep, not superficial, not about making ourselves into something that we're not. Beauty to me is really about allowing the radiance of our spirits shine through our countenance. Beauty is all around us in nature. And that beauty is also inside of us.

It bugs me that beauty is so gendered in our society… true beauty is important for people of all genders! I've had cis-gender, straight and gay men, as well as transgender men come to me for facial rejuvenation - it's not just for women. To me facial rejuvenation is about increasing happiness and well-being of body, mind, and spirit and allowing that to radiate outward through our face, through the spirit that shines out of our eyes.

Wow! That’s a great way of framing it. Can you say more about what the experience of this kind of treatment is like?

Well, we get body work on our bodies, massage, acupuncture - but who touches our face?! It's very nurturing and nourishing - we use our facial muscles more than any other muscles - and we hold a lot of stress and tension in our faces. So it's about allowing some relaxation of the tension in our faces, allowing nurturing and nourishment. From a Chinese medicine standpoint, dealing with excesses like muscle tension, and also deficiencies, allowing the yin and the blood to really innervate the face. You can see that by way of increasing collagen and moisture.

I do two kinds of treatment - Virgina Doran's style which is very intensive and at Energy Matters we call ‘Facelift Acupuncture’. I also do Acupuncture Facial Rejuvenation or AFR which is less intensive, uses fewer needles, and is combined with an herbal facial treatment. The AFR series brings an overall glow to the face, increases collagen, reduces fine lines, and evens out colouring. Facelift Acupuncture really addresses the effects of gravity and a lifetime of stress and emotions showing up in our faces - so, deeper wrinkles as well as sagging. It lifts everything - in Chinese medicine terms it treats the falling of spleen qi constitutionally, not only in the face. It's a strongly raising treatment - so I screen out folks with yang rising symptoms including high blood pressure or migraines - they are better suited to the AFR series. And in both treatments, I incorporate facial massage. In AFR, the herbal facial is followed by a tuina massage, which is gentle and has an energetic healing component, and with Facelift Acupuncture, it's more of a deep tissue massage to help release muscle tension in the face, using essential oils that are beneficial for the skin.

How do people typically respond to the treatment? And what age can folks start this kind of care?

Yes, that's me getting a treatment!

Yes, that's me getting a treatment!

As with all acupuncture, different people respond differently, and people respond better when they do a course of treatment and follow that with maintenance. In general, I see all of my patients have increased collagen and a ‘dewiness’ to their faces. You can start at any age! I used to sometimes say 'you don't need this!' to younger patients, recommending the milder AFR rather than the more intensive Facelift Acupuncture treatments. But one of my Facelift patients, who is 60 years old, said to me ‘I wish I knew about this 20 years ago - it really works and would have been a great preventative!’ And she is right! In classical Chinese medicine texts, around 30 is when the yang ming channels of the face stop bringing nourishment to the face, so that would be an ideal time to begin - that age would be a great time to start, with a preventative focus - once a season, or once a month, and then incorporating a treatment series/course if needed as time goes by. Preventative treatment is always the best!

What are some unexpected benefits you see? 

It's acupuncture! Every facial rejuvenation treatment, we're doing a health intake, I'm looking at tongue and pulse, recommending herbs if needed, so it’s just regular healing acupuncture with an added focus on the face. So patients find that their energy is better, stress and aches and pains reduced, digestion and sleep improved; everything acupuncture is good for, this is good for!

Patients also often tell me, 'I'm loving my face!' which makes me so happy to hear! Unfortunately, what often brings people in to this kind of treatment is that they're not feeling happy with themselves and their faces. Besides the tangible or visible results, something happens where people are able to be more loving towards themselves. I often hear patients say they 'feel their face' - they used to feel a disconnection between their head and their body, and now they feel the energy in their face. One of my long term patients decided to stop colouring her gray hair following treatments - she discovered a new place of self-acceptance, feeling good about herself and loving herself as she is. And this is something I see again and again. It's not like people are getting facial rejuvenation and then progressing to botox or facelifts. I don't really see that. In other words, the benefit of these treatments is not just superficial, but is happening holistically and on a deep level. These treatments can harmonize the shen or spirit and address underlying issues of non-acceptance and lack of self love. 

As a practitioner, these treatments are also a gift! When It's a busy day and I'm going from patient to patient, the pace can be intense. Doing facial acupuncture gives me a time out to really be present, loving the patient - touching their face with intention and channeling love. I really enjoy giving that kind of nourishing treatment - and of course my patients love receiving them! Facial treatments are my patients’ favourites - health, beauty, and pampering all in one!

You're a long time user of and inspiration for Angelica & Peony products. How do they connect with your facial rejuvenation practice?

I use A & P facial oils in my AFR kit, with the jade roller massage.  I select the serum most suitable for each patient.  And I recommend them to my patients for their own at-home care.  I use the Nourishing Serum for myself, which I love for everyday use. Besides being awesome for my skin, I actually feel happy when I use it! The more experienced I get as a practitioner, both of Chinese Medicine and of meditation, I feel very sensitive to the energies of things - if I use products that are not good energy, I can feel the difference. I know the quality of the ingredients that you use and the love you put into it, and I feel that in my face - the serum vibrates at a high frequency (I know that is so woo-woo!). It's very similar thing to what we’ve been talking about with facial acupuncture - putting loving attention towards the face, morning and evening, and combining effectiveness with a more spiritual or soulful dimension - they are a great adjunct and support to my facial acupuncture treatments.

Read more about Facial Acupuncture with Prajna (and book a treatment!) on her website

If you’re a practitioner and would like to incorporate the loving energy of Angelica & Peony products into your services to patients, visit my practitioner page and contact me to receive samples or place an order!


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