Should you ever visit Montpellier the Saturday market at Arceaux (beneath the aqueduct) is well worth a trip. The aqueduct is very interesting to see too and was the first means of bringing water to the city.
However, I am constantly trying to improve my French so visiting Montpellier market and learning French common names for medicinal plants was a wonderful way to spend a morning.
The market offers an inviting array of fresh fruit and vegetables. The fresh and inspiring aromas of a French producers market.
The herb stall was particularly fascinating for me. Although the scientific names for plants are the same worldwide common names vary considerably. Even between England and Scotland there are differences in some common names for plants.
Learning French …
Some names I knew such as pissenlit, frêne, souci and bourrache. However there were some new ones too. Whenever I write a plant profile for the blog I try and remember to add the French common name to make it a little easier for anyone trying to source in France.
I knew menthe poivrée was peppermint but I didn’t know menthe pouliot was pennyroyal. I was also unaware that cynorrhodon was the French common name for rosehip. I’m not even sure where you would start pronouncing that one! Coquelicot is poppy though I was unsure which poppy. The most bizarre of all chiendent is wheatgrass and here I was looking at it hoping it wasn’t some sort of dogs tooth!!!
Always something new to learn. I really enjoyed the Montpellier market and learning French common names for some medicinal friends.
Essential Oils to Help with Breathing Difficulties and Congestion
At this time of year there are so many winter bugs. Using essential oils for vaporisation in the home or workplace helps support the immune system. If the dreaded lurgy has already hit select essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion.
The following are some of the popular essential oils to support the respiratory system. Incidentally, many of these are trees.
Frankincense – Boswellia sp.
Boswellia carteri contains approximately 40% monoterpenes. Monoterpenes are antiseptic, bactericidal and antiviral (Clarke, 2002). However, Lawless (1995) notes constituents vary dependent on species of Boswelliaused. West (2003) recommends frankincense for mucous conditions like catarrh and bronchitis. Monoterpenes aid in fighting infection.
Renowned for its ability to slow down and regulate breathing. This is probably why it is often used as incense in meditation. Perhaps this effect on breathing, combined with the anxiolytic action, is why it is frequently found useful for asthma.
This was always one of my favourite oils. It has got quite expensive though so I tend to use it less frequently these days.
Cajeput, Eucalyptus, Niaouli, Ti-Tree – The Myrtaceae Family
Melaleuca leucadendron, Eucalyptus globulus, Melaleuca viridiflora andMelaleuca alternifolia are members of the Myrtaceae family. Price describes this family particularly beneficial for the respiratory system and highly antiseptic tonic stimulants.
As mentioned these essential oils tend to be more stimulant in action. Although these are great oils to use when you are under the weather if you find them too stimulating it is best to avoid bedtime use.
Balz (1999) notes 1.8-cineole is found in Melaleuca leucadendron, Eucalyptus globulus, Melaleuca viridiflora and Rosmarinus officinalis ct cineole*. This constituent strengthens airways and is expectorant. Price (2000) suggests the major action of 1.8-cineole is its mucolytic property. This property is beneficial for coughs and congestion in the respiratory tract. Penoel (1992) adds although 1.8-cineole often shows a strong bactericidal action, particularly against Staph aureus, it is generally considered much more effective in the treatment of viruses.
So oils with 1.8-cineole definitely win a position on the list of essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion.
*Note: Rosmarinus more commonly known as rosemary is a different botanical family. However, dependent on the growing conditions some plants are particularly high in 1.8-cineole.
a little more specifically on … the different eucalyptus essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion
Davis (1996) describes Eucalyptus globulus a purifier and recommends using in a burner where there are negative energies. Some sources (including Price, 2000) suggest Eucalyptus globulus too strong for use with babies and young children and generally recommend Eucalyptus smithii as an alternative. I personally would agree and would add Eucalyptus radiata as another alternative.
Price (2002) consider both smithii and globulus high in cineole. However globulus is usually a little higher and may be as high as 85%. The smithii type is considered to have better quenching properties for aromatic medicine/ aromatology use but the globulus type is considered an excellent expectorant and antiseptic with the antiseptic property also beneficial for urinary tract infections like cystitis.
Eucalyptus citriodora has a lemony scent. Frequently added to anti-mosquito blends. This has a very small amount of 1.8 cineole. The chemical composition is predominately aldehydes. Although a useful oil not so beneficial in a winter congestion blend.
Eucalyptus staigeriana has slightly more 1.8 cineole than citriodora but not nearly as much as globulus or smithii. However, it is still useful as it has approximately 30% monoterpenes. However, it will not be just as clearing as globulus or radiata varieties.
and a little more specifically on cajeput…
Melaleuca leucadendron or cajeput contains between 45-65% of cineole (Davis, 1988). Davis believes cajeput clears nasal passages by reducing mucus production and inhibiting bacterial growth in colds, flu, catarrh and sinusitis. In addition, it has a pain-killing action beneficial for the aches and pains associated with flu, head colds and sore throats.
and on to a European pine tree….
Members of the Pinaceae family are effective for respiratory disorders particularly catarrh. Pinus sylvestris, more commonly known as Scots Pine, is a powerful air antiseptic and therefore beneficial used in a vaporiser or burner. It has been used for this purpose on burns units as a preventative against infection in severe burn patients (Price, 2000).
A study discussed by Nicholls (1998) highlights its anti-infective action. The study used aromatograms, 50 essential oils and 175 patients with infectious conditions. Pinus sylvestris was one of the oils in the top 10. Definitely a tree oil worthy of a sniff! It is high in those infection busting monoterpenes.
It is one of my personal favourite essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion. I like it blended with a little sweet orange essential oil. In addition it blends well with eucalyptus and lavender. In Scotland I liked walking in the pine forests when feeling a little under the weather.
So how best do you use essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion ?
If travelling, whether air travel or simply the daily commute to work, a handkerchief works well. Simply add two or three drops of your chosen essential oil or blend of oils to a tissue or handkerchief. Ideally keep the tissue in a sealed bag to retain the aroma throughout the day.
Some essential oils will stain so if a favourite cotton handkerchief perhaps add the oil to a paper tissue or handkerchief-sized piece of old cotton sheet instead.
There are so many vaporisation options for the home. A wide range of electric oil diffuser are now available to purchase. The price range of these varies greatly so shop around. Ideally try to find one in use. Some shops selling them often have a model or two you can try in the shop.
If seeking a cheaper option, ceramic burners using tea-lights to warm the essential oil and water mix work well. The disadvantage, for safety, you must remember to blow out the candle if going out or when going to sleep.
I would also recommend you choose one with a large enough water and oil well bowl. Some are particularly small. If the bowl is too small the mix often evaporates before the candle has had chance to burn down. The result is a gloppy mess on the bottom of the ceramic bowl.
You can also add four or five drops to a bowl of hot water. Lean over this bowl for steam inhalation. Please take great care to avoid stinging eyes or burning your face. Keep a safe distance and keep your eyes closed. Some of the stronger more potent oils may sting your eyes. Steam inhalation is a great way to help clear congestion in the nose and head.
Essential oils do not disperse in water. Blend a couple of drops in ether a tablespoonful of oil or full fat milk. Add this to the bathtub for a soak, sit back, relax and breathe.
These days fewer and fewer homes have bathtubs. In these situations use a basin and prepare as a foot or hand bath instead.
A decongestant salve is ideal to rub on your chest when you go to bed at night. Choose an oil you find relaxing to aid sleep in addition to helping breathing. I like frankincense in a decongestant salve with a little drop of warming ginger too. Experiment with blends to see what works best for you.
Finally if you would like to find out a little more about using essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion look out for the next Thyme Breaks essential oils course.
In many of the individual medicinal plant profiles on this blog I often include a small section on the plant energetics. So exactly what is herbal energetics ?
Well, at the very basic level, it is how to best match a herb or selection of herbs to an individual patient rather than solely looking at the disease state.
Putting this in very simple terms. Lets make up a person called Joe Blog. Joe has painful joints. He is always cold. Joe never leaves the house without a jacket or warm layer, even in summer. He prefers summer and hates the winter. Joe needs warming herbs. He needs spices such as black pepper, ginger or even chilli to warm up those cold joints.
Our second made up person is Joan Blog. Joan also has painful joints. She likes the cool, fresh winter. Joan switches off the central heating after Joe has switched it on. She prefers the bedroom window open at night. Her painful joints are hot to touch and she describes them as burning. She needs cooler herbs like willow bark and comfrey.
Whether a person is warm or cold, dry or moist is part of their constitution. Their vitality, strengthen and very nature are all important in correct herb selection. Equally the energy of the herbs chosen is important. In the example above black pepper and ginger are warming and chillies especially so!
There are several constitutional frameworks recognised worldwide. You may have heard of humoral medicine, Ayurvedic medicine or traditional Chinese medicine. They all have similarities and, of course, differences.
As a student herbalist we undertook a module on each of these three systems. We were very fortunate to have three incredible teachers. All medical herbalists and all experts in their chosen system. The following is a brief description of each of these.
Relates to the four bodily humors – phlegm, black bile, blood and yellow bile. Phlegmatic constitution is moist and cold whereas Melancholic is dry and cold. Sanguine is moist and warm and Choleric dry and warm.
Sanguine relates to Air, Melancholic is Earth, Choleric is Fire and Phlegmatic naturally, is water. An individual may predominate in one constitution, although they may have elements of others.
This system is of Greek origin. It is the basis of Unani Medicine. Often astrological influences are incorporated.
If we look again at Joan Blog above Salix alba (willow bark) is a herb of the moon. Where does it grow? Frequently found growing by the water. Willow bark is cool and moist. The London herbalist Nicholas Culpeper followed this method. I have a personal preference for humoral medicine.
Whereas humoral medicine has four constitutions, Ayurvedic looks at three doshas and most importantly your prakruti. The three doshas are Pitta, Kapha and Vata. Your prakruti is the balance of these three doshas when you were born into the world.
This system is of Asian origin, popular in India. There are similarities with both humoral medicine and TCM. The Pitta constitution is warm, Vata is cold and dry and Kapha is moist.
If we look at ginger, black pepper and chilli, mentioned above for Joe, in Ayurvedic medicine they all reduce Vata and Kapha and increase Pitta.
Furthermore, if we incorporate preparation in more detail you can enhance specific qualities. For example dry ginger is hotter and drier than fresh ginger.
Going back to Joe. If he is slightly more Kapha than Vata and has fluid accumulation in the joints dried ginger would be preferred. However, if Joe is more Vata than Kapha, perhaps with dry scaling skin around the painful joints, he would fair better with fresh ginger root.
Ayurveda is probably the most popular method. Of the three here, I believe it is possibly the more straightforward and easiest to grasp.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
TCM has a wider range of ‘constitutions’. Everyone has heard of Yin and Yang. Yin is cold whereas Yang is warm.
A Yin deficient person tends to prefer cold drinks, often complains of warm hands or feet. They are uncomfortable in a hot and dry environment. They don’t have enough cold. The menopause is often considered Yin deficient. I mention Yin deficiency in the red clover profile.
The Yang deficient person has a dislike for wind and cold. They have cold hands and feet. They don’t have enough warm. There are many more terms in TCM such as Qi stagnation and Qi deficient. Diseased states also have descriptions and may be described as due to wind heat or kidney Qi stagnation.
This method is naturally of Chinese origin. Although I find TCM fascinating it is the one I find most difficult to understand. I find it quite a complex system.
So what is herbal energetics ?
Often, I feel, we are bogged down by science. While it is interesting to know salicin, a constituent of willow bark, is pain relieving no individual constituent within a plant can give the full picture or true nature of that plant.
The above is simply a basic guideline in answer to so what is herbal energetics. If you are interested in learning a little more please do contact me. If this subject is of particular interest I offer a half day course looking at herbal energetics in a little more detail. Please feel free to contact me for further information.
Often, on herb walks, people are surprised to discover beech and oak trees are related. Both the beech and oak are botanical members of the Fagaceae family. The scientific name Fagaceae means beech family.
Whenever I add a new medicinal plant profile to the blog I include the botanical family and scientific name. That way readers can easily identify other plants within the same family.
The plant scientific name generally includes two names, the Genus and the Species. Medicinally it is important you have the correct Genus and often, species. That being said, for some plants similar Species are used medicinally interchangeably. Others not. For example if we look at the lime flower or linden blossom tree medicinal use of three different Tilia species is interchangeable.
However, today we discuss some of the Fagaceae or beech family.
Fagaceae botanical features
Members of this family
Are trees or shrubs and either deciduous or evergreen.
They have single nuts attached to scaly or spiny caps.
Leaves are simple, alternate and often toothed or lobed.
Fagaceae medicinal properties
Members of this family
Contain varying amounts of tannic acid – astringent and diuretic.
Genus and Species
The following are some of the more common examples of botanical members of the Fagaceae family with Genus and species scientific names provided. Common names included within brackets.
Fagus sylvatica (European beech)
Castanea sativa (sweet chestnut)
Quercus robur (pedunculate or common or European oak or English oak)
Quercus petraea (sessile oak)
In addition, botanical features and medicinal properties break down further within the Genus and sometimes species too. You can see from the examples below the similarities and the differences between each medicinally.
Genus – Fagus
Medicinally utilised historically. However, beech is now generally out of favour. Branches or bark of 2-3 year old branches were utilised. A decoction was brewed as an astringent and disinfectant mouthwash and gargle. Some older sources suggest use as a quinine substitute.
Beech nuts, or masts, contain high saponins and an alkaloid called fagin. Therefore, in quantity, they can make you feel unwell although pigs seem to thrive on them. Horses are particularly susceptible to beech nuts.
Beech nuts are becoming quite popular in wild foraging courses. Remember not to eat in quantity and perhaps avoid if you are prone to an upset stomach.
Genus – Castanaea
Leaves, bark and the nuts of the sweet chestnut can be utilised. Leaves are expectorant and sedative. Historical use of leaves for coughs particularly whopping cough. In addition also for dandruff. The bark is antidiarrhoeal and febrifuge. Therefore, traditionally utilised for dysentery.
As we know chestnuts are nutritious eating. Another popular find on a wild foraging course. Traditionally decocted for mild diarrhoea.
Genus – Quercus
Oaks and alcohol…
Finally the oaks. There are lots of different oaks within Europe. As a result of my living in one of the largest wine regions in Europe a mention of oak in the wine making industry is pertinent.
Wine makers prefer sessile oak (Q.petraea) for casks. While the peduculate (Q. robur) is preferable for cognac. However, the sherry makers choose the Portuguese oak (Q. pyrenaica) for their casks.
Finally, last but not least, one needs a cork for that wine bottle, not a nasty screw top, and that is from the cork oak (Q. suber).
Pedunculate and sessile are the native oak trees in the UK. The medicinal uses of these two species are interchangeable. The dried inner bark and dried leaves are medicinal. Medicinal use, as with most of the Fagaceae family, is predominately externally.
Traditionally used topically for haemorrhoids in an ointment, or in a lotion for cuts and abrasions. Also used as a douche for leucorrhoea or a gargle for tonsillitis and chronic sore throat. The gargle use similar to the beech above.
Internally both oaks were used, like sweet chestnut, for dysentery. In addition, Maud Grieve recommended as a quinine substitute, again a similarity with beech.
The above gives an indication into the benefits of learning a little about a botanical plant family. Furthermore, in the above example, you can clearly see some similarities within the botanical members of the Fagaceae family. In conclusion, medicinally, this is largely due to the astringency (tannins) generally toning and beneficial for conditions ranging from sore throats to diarrhoea.
This post is the fourth in the menopause series of articles. While the advice is predominately natural remedies to help with menopausal itching it may be helpful for any itchy skin conditions. If your menstrual cycle is beginning to change and your skin starts to itch it is often an indicator of approaching menopause, the peri-menopause phase.
The medical term for itchy skin is pruritus. It may be mild or may be severe enough to disrupt sleep. It can be due to any number of factors or medical conditions. Sourcing the cause is equally important in treatment.
If your itching skin is due to peri-menopause or menopause it can cause misery especially if coinciding or aggravating other menopausal symptoms. In addition, if you have previously struggled with problem skin the onset of the menopause often aggravates this.
So why does your flesh feel like it is crawling?
Peri-menopausal or menopausal itching skin is unfortunately, still not completely understood. What is known? There are a variety of changes to the skin due to declining hormone levels. The main declining hormone being oestrogen.
Scientific studies of post-menopausal women found a lack of oestrogen associated with atrophy, dryness and poor wound healing. This reduction in moisture and elasticity of the skin, also unfortunately, leads to those dreaded wrinkles!
So … the natural remedies to help with menopausal itching
First up dietary …
Many of these have been covered in an earlier nutrition based article for menopause. Certainly reduce ‘drying’ alcohol and increase ‘moisturising’ water. Drinking a glass of water with some added freshly squeezed lemon juice every morning rouses the liver. This can be warm water, after boiling, if preferred.
Increasing omega 3 in the diet is another important one for skin health. Foods to increase include salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines.
These are great sources of omega 3 but not so great if you don’t like fish or choose not to due to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Hemp seeds, chia seeds and walnuts are other sources.
I would also include avocados or avocado oil in the diet. Although not an ‘essential’ omega, avocado does contain omega 9 and vitamin E. Both have an important role in skin health.
and herbal remedies to help with menopausal itching …
There are several natural remedies to help with menopausal itching that spring to mind. The following are some of the more effective and easily obtainable.
The humble dandelion. Often neglected as a garden weed, dandelion is a wonderful herbal ally. Taking two or three cupfuls of a dandelion root decoction each day supports the liver aiding the natural cleansing processes of the body.
Red clover is a herb I initially studied for the skin. It is so much more. A herbal lymphatic best taken as a herbal tea for fluid retention. I also included it in an earlier article for menopausal hot flushes. Make up as a herbal infusion, allow to cool, strain and soak a flannel in the liquid and dab over itchy skin.
Stellaria media (chickweed) is frequently used by medical herbalists in a lotion, cream or ointment to help with itching skin. It is a common wild medicinal. If you know the plant you can gather and harvest yourself.
Alternatively you will often find pre-made products available to purchase from herbal stores online (Neal’s Yard Remedies are one of the larger stores) or from your local medical herbalist. Here in France there are some consultants selling Neal’s Yard Remedies Stellaria cream.
Coconut oil is utilised in Ayurvedic medicine for persons of a Pitta constitution. In some individuals it can bring a cool relief to an itching skin or scalp. Source good quality coconut oil. Melt the coconut oil in your warm palms and massage into your skin.
Any keen porridge eaters are certain to have oats (Avena sativa) in their kitchen cupboard. Oats naturally moisturise the skin, remove dead skin cells and are effective in healing and relieving dry and itchy skin.
Take a bath with a handful of oats in a cotton sock or tied in a muslin cloth. Squeeze the sock in the water over the skin to soothe the itch.
Showers have often become more popular than baths. As a result many homes no longer have a bathtub. Alternatively use a warm basin of water and apply to the skin.
some final suggestions to reduce that itch …
Soaking in a warm bath with two cupfuls of Epsom salts is an age old remedy for relief of itching sunburn or insect bites. It works equally well for relief of any itchy skin conditions including those of a peri-menopausal or menopausal origin.
In addition, Epsom salts baths soften skin, reduces stress and eases sore, aching muscles. It is important to avoid the use of any soaps or body wash products which may interfere with the benefits of the salt bath.
However, remember that overly hot showers and baths can aggravate itchy skin and hot flushes. Ensure the water is warm but not hot.
Many synthetic highly perfumed products may also aggravate the skin. Products containing SLS (sodium laurel sulphate) are widely known to cause skin sensitivity and dermatitis in some individuals. It is best to avoid shower gels and lotions containing SLS with any skin conditions. Should you suffer with an itchy scalp seek out shampoos without SLS.
The above are a few natural remedies to help with menopausal itching. A combination of the above factors will bring welcome relief. If your problem is more severe or persistent you would be well advised to consult with a medical herbalist or your family physician.
Free food foraging of wild edible plants, a popular pastime
Over the springtime I am frequently asked about plants for wild foraging. Free food foraging of wild edible plants is a popular pastime.
Naturally my main interest lies in the medicinal properties of plants. However, often there is overlap where these plants have nutritional virtues. Wild flowers in foraging recipes may be added for nutritional value, colour or texture.
Some more common wild foraged foods such as dandelion many have heard of adding flowers, or particularly leaves, to a salad. The leaves are rich in potassium. A favourite diuretic herb of many herbalists. There is a reason the French common name is pissenlit!
Also well-known, the humble nettle. A great spring time tonic whether prescribed by a herbalist, added to soups or cooked similarly to spinach in a recipe.
I have added a wild foraging tag. Although these are not, strictly speaking, wild foraging posts some such as elderflower and red dead nettle include forage recipes.
Common sense must prevail. Be a courteous and cautious forager. Check out the rules of your own country. Ensure you have the correct plant. If even the slightest doubt, leave it. Never pull roots. Take care where you gather plants from.
Most importantly free food foraging of wild edible plants is fun, a popular pastime so, enjoy!
There are a number of conifer species throughout the world. Conifers are trees or shrubs with needle or scalelike leaves as opposed to broadleaves such as oak, ash or beech.
In the UK there are only three native conifer species. These are Pinus sylvestris (Scot’s Pine), Juniperus communis (common juniper) and Taxus baccata (yew). There are a wide range of introduced and naturalised species. These naturalised conifers seem to have a somewhat tarnished reputation in the UK. Many think they are permanently altering the traditional woodland landscape. In France, as with most of Europe, there are more native conifer species than in the UK.
Whatever your personal feelings about conifers many are majestic beauties.
So are conifer trees important medicinals?
Yes, many are. In the UK the three native conifers have a long history of medicinal usage. Many introduced conifers have documented medicinal uses too. Even better you don’t need to have knowledge of the individual tree species. Simply spending some time in a forest, with many trees, has its own health benefits.
Interestingly the Japanese practice what they term “forest bathing“. Forest bathing is basically relaxing wherever there are trees.
It may sound like another crazy Japanese fad. However, after $4 million on research, science has proven forest bathing lowers heart rate and blood pressure, reduces stress and boosts the immune system. These benefits were found to be due to the therapeutic benefits of the volatile oils of the trees i.e. essential oils.
Tree bathing includes various trees, not simply conifers. However, many conifers produce essential oils. Essential oils make it possible to bring a little bit of the forest into your workplace or home even if you live and work in a city. It may not be quite as good as relaxing in a forest but there are still health benefits.
Some popular conifer essential oils…
The following are more popular and well known essential oils from conifer trees. I have written about some of these either individually or within the content of an article or post.
I had the following article published when I was practicing in the UK. I just came across it in my files and thought well hay fever season shall soon be upon us!
Rhinitis is defined as an inflammatory condition of the lining of the nose. It is characterised by nasal obstruction, nasal discharge, sneezing and itching.
Rhinitis may be perennial (all year), seasonal (hay fever) or infective (acute or chronic).
Both perennial and seasonal rhinitis can be caused by allergens. Seasonal rhinitis may be due to grass pollen or certain trees. Perennial allergens could be cats or house dust mites. Nutritional deficiencies and imbalances may also aggravate, or even promote, an allergic response. Acute infections with the common cold or chronic sinusitis are other triggers.
There are other non-allergic and non-infective reasons for rhinitis. In some instances the cause may be emotional or hormonal although there are others.
Herbal treatment begins by considering the cause or trigger. Treatment is tailored to each individual. No two people would present with exactly the same symptoms or trigger(s) and so no two people can be treated with the same herbs.
Symptoms may be dry nose and dry eyes while others may complain of constant nasal discharge. Remedies with moistening or toning actions would be selected accordingly. Other patients may describe congestion as hot or burning requiring cooling and soothing remedies.
Boost the Lymphatic System…
Often, with rhinitis, the lymphatic system requires a boost. This can be achieved by using herbs or alternatively with a course of manual lymph drainage.
Manual lymph drainage (MLD) is a specialised therapy which is designed to improve the functioning of the lymphatic system.
Nutritional Factors to Help with Menopausal Symptoms
So first up the sad part … those to reduce or avoid
In clinical research, caffeine has been shown to cause more frequent flushes and night sweats. Unfortunately, research does not show how many cups of coffee a day it takes only that it does! So try cutting back or cutting out the coffee for a couple of days and see if it has any benefit for you.
Remember tea includes some caffeine too so if you are a heavy tea drinker you may well benefit from reducing consumption of your favourite cuppa. Finally some fizzy drinks also contain caffeine too.
It is not only night sweats and flushes that are aggravated by caffeine. Caffeine intake may be part of the problem for other menopausal symptoms such as joint pains, panic attacks, anxiety or trouble sleeping.
Coffee exacerbates symptoms of bloating and fluid retention too. This is thought to be due to enzymes in the coffee rather than the actual caffeine.
Just one more glass of bubbly…
Alcohol is another culprit. We all know that alcohol increases body heat and flushing.
Unfortunately in women prone to hot flushes alcohol is sure to trigger a flush. So if you are out at lunch with a potential new work client you may want to reduce or avoid the alcohol consumption or risk resembling a Belisha Beacon.
In addition, alcohol is drying. If you feel like your skin is crawling and itchy alcohol will exacerbate this symptom too.
Feeling a little fruity…
Some women find acidic foods aggravate hot flushes and night sweats. Foods we more commonly think of as being acidic include fried foods, beef or seafood, sweeteners and sugar, processed cheese and processed foods. However, many fruit juices are acidic too. Indeed, some women find some of the more acidic citrus fruits and even tomatoes (mildly acidic) increase flushes or night sweats.
Some women struggle with stiff joints or even joint pain when menopausal. Some foods are believed to aggravate joint pain. This can vary considerably with individuals however, citrus fruits and tomatoes are often condemned.
Some sources suggest it is not only tomatoes but all foods in the Solanaceae or nightshade family. The nightshade food group includes a number of popular foods such as potatoes, peppers, aubergine as well as tomatoes. I’m not personally convinced the whole food group are culprits. For one, people often respond well to chilli (another nightshade food) for arthritic or joint pains. It really is down to the individual but it is certainly worth avoiding these foods for a couple of weeks and reintroducing one at a time to monitor any effects.
How about that bacon sarnie?
Unless you are vegan or vegetarian the smell of bacon cooking undoubtedly tingles the tastebuds. Several years ago I worked in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia bacon was banned. People invariably sneaked it through customs and into the country. I will never forget the smell of someone cooking bacon. It was torture knowing you couldn’t go out and buy some even though I was never personally a great lover of bacon butties but oh that aroma.
We’ve already mentioned fried foods can increase flushes and night sweats so if you really need a bacon sarnie opt for grilled bacon.
However, if you have feelings of anger, grumpiness, irritability, low moods or depression with your menopause then it is definitely best to avoid all fatty foods. Sorry that includes bacon. Fatty foods lower serotonin levels.
Serotonin is extremely important in helping to maintain moods, stabilise sleep and lift libido. Three common menopausal symptoms.
Anyone for a little spice?
This is a difficult one. Countries with hotter temperatures (India and Thailand, South America and the Caribbean) often eat lots and lots of what we would consider hot spices. The irony here is hot foods do make you sweat and of course, sweating is your bodies natural way of cooling you down. So they actually can help cool you down. However, when you are already flushing over your hormones perhaps an added hot flush from your Thai or Indian food is not much fun.
Not convinced the above have any effect on you?
If in doubt keep a food diary. Note what you eat and drink. Add the number and severity of flushes or nights sweats. How did you feel? Were you more anxious, irritable, impatient or tearful?
No two women are the same and so no two women will experience exactly the same menopausal symptoms.
This post is a guideline of nutritional factors to help with menopausal symptoms. Keeping a food diary will allow you to tailor your own nutritional plan to help with your individual menopausal symptoms.
And now the good part … those to enjoy
Craving that Caffeine Fix?
Try replacing with a herbal tea. Often it is the habit of sitting down for a cuppa that people miss most. Opting for a herbal tea you are still having a brew. Try choosing a herb or blend of herbs that will actually help relieve your menopausal symptoms.
Feeling Jaded without your Fruit Juice?
Opt for vegetable juices instead. Cucumber is a cooling refreshing drink. It has so many wonderful health benefits. Add a little apple or a carrot if you prefer it sweeter.
Battling the Bacon aroma?
Instead of destroying your serotonin levels and knocking your moods for six help boost serotonin with good quality fats. Foods highest in tryptophan are turkey and chicken, whole milk, salmon and eggs. Serotonin is synthesised by tryptophan in the body.
Instead of the bacon butties for breakfast opt for ‘tryptophan breakfast’ of poached salmon with a poached egg for a serotonin boost. Delicious and much better for your moods and libido. In addition, salmon is bursting full of omega-3. Much needed for healthy skin to ease itchy skin and beat those wrinkles. Go for a brisk walk after breakfast or on your lunch break to further boost your mood.
Struggling without that Spice of life?
If you want a flavour burst with some spice try some of the less heating spices such as coriander or turmeric. Food doesn’t need to be boring and tasteless.
In Final, a summary of Nutritional Factors to Help with Menopausal Symptoms
Remember if you do find a favourite food is exacerbating any of your symptoms don’t despair. You can still enjoy these foods occasionally and once you have conquered the menopause you can probably reintroduce them without any problem.
In general eating a good, healthy and balanced diet includes all the nutritional factors to help with menopausal symptoms.
Using Herbal Medicine and Natural Methods for Sciatica
Earlier in the week I was contacted and asked for advice on sciatica. As sciatica affects so many people I decided it was worth a post. So here is a posting on using herbal medicine and natural methods for sciatica.
Sciatica – what is it?
The term sciatica actually means pain in the sciatic nerve. It is a symptom and not the cause of the pain. Ideally for the best treatment of the symptom, sciatica, you need to ascertain the cause.
The sciatic nerve runs from the back (lower lumbar region) through the buttock and thigh and down the leg. People can experience pain anywhere along the nerve, even down to the toes.
The pain may be described as burning, searing, tingling, sharp, shooting or cramping. It may cause weakness or numbness. Pain may be sudden onset or gradual. It can be intermittent or persistent.
The cause may be due to any number of factors although it is usually due to pressure on the nerve. This pressure may be caused by a slipped disc or a tight piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle is located deep in the buttock and is important in hip rotation.
It can be very difficult to ascertain the cause and often after a month the pain subsides. The cause remains unknown. In the meantime life can be a misery. Even simple things can exacerbate sciatica. Avoid keeping objects like mobile phones and wallets in the back pocket as this adds more pressure.
Using Herbal Medicine and Natural Methods for Sciatica
There are many natural methods for dealing with the pain. If mobility is an issue then seeing an acupuncturist and or osteopath is essential. You may need to find someone to help you get to the appointment but it will be worth it when you gain some mobility back.
If you have some mobility yoga is an excellent route. The pigeon pose and cow’s face pose both work on stretching the piriformis muscle. You can find information on these poses online but it would be advisable to seek out a qualified yoga teacher to ensure you are carrying out the stretches correctly. In addition, if you find the poses too difficult, a yoga teacher would be able to provide simpler poses and would work with you and your limitations.
Finally help from the plant world. First off some people find using ice packs (or a bag of frozen peas) helps ease the pain. Others find a hot water bottle better. And others find alternating between hot and cold to be most beneficial. Whatever is better for you determines the best herbs for you.
For example if you find heat to help then using warming or heating herbs will be most beneficial.
Two popular herbs with a relaxing effect on the nerves are Hypericum perforatum and Passiflora incarnata. Both of these herbs would be popular choices combined with other herbs depending on the individual.
Topical Use: Hypericum perforatum – St John’s Wort
Anyone knowing this particular plant usually know it as an anti-depressant. Any herbalist will tell you it is so much more. In this post we will focus on its remarkable nerve anodyne action. Hypericum has a longstanding use topically as an anti-inflammatory and analgesic particular for nerve pains such as sciatica.
For sciatic pain, massage with some Hypericum infused oil daily. A few drops of essential oil, or combination of essential oils, added to this will further enhance the properties. For example should you find a hot water bottle eases your sciatica then warm the painful areas first. Follow this immediately by massaging with Hypericum infused oil with a few added drops of a warming spicy essential oil like Piper nigrum (black pepper) or Zingiber officinale (ginger).
If an ice pack helps your pain more than heat then use a few drops of Mentha piperita (peppermint) essential oil in the Hypericum oil for massage.
In addition, add some cold water and ice cubes to a shallow dish. Then add two or three drops of peppermint essential oil. Oil and water do not mix so the oil will ‘sit’ on top of the water. Disperse the oil through the water as much as is possible. Place a flannel on top of the dish and soak up the ice water and oil mixture and place the flannel over the painful area.
Chamomile essential oils are also beneficial for nerve pain. Unfortunately both of these essential oils are more expensive to purchase than the three essential oils mentioned above.
Matricaria chamomilla (blue or German chamomile) is particularly expensive. Anthemis nobilis (Roman chamomile) is the least expensive of the two. So if budget is a factor source the Roman chamomile.
Herbal Tea: Passiflora incarnata – passionflower
A common problem with sciatica is poor sleep. Ngan et al investigated the effects of a Passiflora herbal tea on sleep quality in a clinical trial and found passionflower significantly improved sleep quality. Passionflower has a long traditional use in herbal medicine as a sedative. It is also a nerve analgesic and anti-inflammatory.
Passiflora tea is a little bitter for some palates if you find it is not your cup of tea then try blending with another more palatable herb.
Melissa officinalis (lemon balm) is a particularly pleasant tasting herb and would enhance the overall action when combined with Passiflora.
Matricaria chamomilla herb (mentioned as essential oil above) would also blend very well with the Passiflora in a herbal tea.
Zingiber officinale – ginger
Herbs with an anti-inflammatory action are of benefit here. An easy one to use from home is ginger. Simply slice some ginger root and add to pot of water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for approximately 20 minutes. This tea can be sipped freely during the day. You can also make sufficient quantity for a flask to take to work.
The young bark or leaves and young twigs of Salix alba, or willow, is another anti-inflammatory. Whereas ginger is warming, Salix is cooling. It is energetically a herb of the moon.
As always, anyone on medications would be advised to seek advice from their local medical herbalist prior to self medication. Salix is one herb where this is important as it may accentuate blood thinning medications such as Warfarin, Clopidogrel, Heparin or Aspirin.
The above are a few suggestions in using herbal medicine and natural methods for sciatica. The herbs and oils recommended are easy to source for self use.