Here in the northern hemisphere, spring has officially sprung! And so have my chamomile sprouts. Today, the Earth’s axis tilts neither toward nor away from the sun, resulting in equal parts day and night across the globe. In my biology class I’m learning about photoperiodism, the physiological response of an organism to changes in the photoperiod. The photoperiod is the relative length of day (light) and night (dark) periods in a 24-hour cycle. Flowering plants like chamomile use a photoreceptor protein to sense these changes and signal the buds to bloom. Some plants require longer night periods to bloom, while others require shorter night periods. My chamomile plants will open their potent flowers when the days are long and the nights are short. Well, first they have to survive the nursery period. Here’s hoping I can prove to be a proficient caregiver!
Tag Archives | herbal remedies
While working in the woodshop this past week, I had a strange allergic reaction to something I came in contact with. The skin around my joints and on my torso became inflamed and and swollen—like a really bad sunburn. It’s difficult to determine the exact cause of this reaction because there are a few variables at play, like the foods I ate and the materials I was working with, but I suspect it may have been a result of working with MDF (medium density fiberboard) to build a jig to cut some mortises. It hadn’t occurred to me that the binder used in most MDF is a formaldehyde resin.
It took me a couple of days to identify the MDF as a possible cause and then limit my exposure to it. Meanwhile I looked for ways to ease my discomfort without using oral or topical medication. Besides the obvious concerns about packaging waste and further exposure to chemicals my body has long gone without, sedative antihistamines and power tools don’t mix well. I mentioned my condition to my teacher Tim at lunch and he asked me if I was aware of the botanical farm just up the road from the school. What? I’ve been here this whole month—how did I miss that one? I headed straight to Avena Botanicals at the top of a steep hill exactly one mile from my classroom.
When I entered the main visitor building, a young woman named Jill appeared from the back to greet me. I introduced myself and explained my predicament. She asked me some questions about my symptoms, recent activities and food intake and then suggested that I start a nettle tea regiment to flush my system of toxins. Nettle tea is also known to be a calming agent for inflamed skin. She also recommended turmeric and ginger root for their anti-inflammatory properties.
I didn’t have a container or produce sack with me so I purchased a brown paper bag full of dried nettles. The bag is labeled with a company sticker that also indicates the contents. I sipped the tea throughout the days and evenings this week and it really helped to sooth the burn. I’ve also been using a salve purchased in a small tin that contains calendula, lavender, and beeswax. I am through the reaction at this point and my skin is healing.
My first calendula flower is starting to open up. I’m always amazed at how vibrant colors look under an overcast sky.
On the night of my last post I started to feel like I was coming down with a cold. I woke up on Wednesday morning with the flu that I had managed to dodge all winter. Armed with some cotton hankies, herbal teas and elixirs, I hunkered down for what I decided would be my first time dealing with such an illness without taking any over-the-counter or prescription drugs. Luckily my work situation allows me to take the time I need to recover and I’m not under pressure to show up and perform on the job despite illness. My bathroom cabinet is now empty of all the decongestants, cough syrups, and expectorants I used to have stocked, and lately I have been trying to practice more natural forms of healthcare. This bout of the flu has been a good test of my new self-imposed systems.
Back in November, I wrote a post about medicine in the face of the No Trash Project. My friend Kory wrote a comment in which he talked about fever suppressants potentially being harmful to the body’s recovery in times of illness. Since writing that post I made the personal decision to see a naturopathic doctor who I was able to ask about that concept. She explained that in most cases a fever is not something to fear—that it is a normal self-preserving mechanism of the body. Increased temperatures will serve to neutralize and eliminate toxemia brought on by a viral or bacterial infection. What I learned is that instead of suppressing a fever, it may actually be more beneficial to “assist” the fever.
This concept is new and strangely exciting to me. Helping the body in its natural functions as opposed to fighting it makes sense to me on an intuitive level. So when I woke up with a fever on Wednesday I chose not to start popping Tylenol to try to bring it down the way I always used to. Instead I called in sick to work, drank some yarrow and mint tea and simply slept through it.
When I woke up on Thursday the fever was gone. I was still run down but I was already feeling much better. By the end of the day I felt well enough to go outside and experience the remarkable 80-degree weather we had. I took a book to the woods and sat reading on a rock in the sun. Since then the flu is has been running its course and I’m trying to take it easy (though I did go back to work yesterday, which may have been premature). I feel that I am on the road to recovery and my suffering hasn’t been any greater than when I’ve used medication to relieve flu symptoms in the past. In fact, I can say that I really appreciate not feeling any of the side effects that come with so many cold and flu medications.
There’s a rock by the pond in Lincoln Woods that I like to go to—some of you locals may know it. That’s where I went Thursday afternoon. Not a bad place to sit and recover from the flu. I brought water in a bottle, tea in a jar, a couple cotton hankies, and a book (Murmurs of Earth: The Voyager Interstellar Record) to this spot and sat reading, sipping, and sniffling in the afternoon sun. I still can’t believe how warm it got this week.
The No Trash Project has rather naturally led me to a territory previously unknown to me–medicinal herbs. How can I treat illness, heal injuries, or relieve pain and discomfort without making trash? This past weekend I finally visited Farmacy Herbs in their Providence shop. I mentioned the business in an earlier post about trash-free medicine, at which point I had only ever seen their products at my local farmers markets. The shop is in a small one-room building across from North Burial Ground Cemetery. Mary Blue (Farmacy’s founder) helped me find the herbs I was looking for on the shelves and gave me some recommendations for herbs that may help relieve menstrual cramping. At the self-service table setup next to the wall of dried herbs, I scooped my selections into my own glass jars and weighed them. I was surprised to find that my purchase of nettle leaf, raspberry leaf, cramp bark and ginger root (3oz or about 85 grams total) only cost me $6.00. In the half hour I spent in the shop, many customers came and went. I was excited to catch a glimpse of what seems to be a community of people taking advantage of this wonderful resource. I spoke briefly with a woman named Suzie who is enrolled in Farmacy’s Herbal Education and Training Program. She was helping to tend the store as a part of a work-study arrangement. She told me that classes take place in the shop. On their website you can see a list of topics covered from herbal terminology to wild fermentation techniques. Browsing these topics motivates me to learn about growing, harvesting, preparing, and using medicinal herbs.
Many people have asked me how I deal with medicine in the No Trash Project, and as cold and flu season descends on New England, the issue becomes more pertinent. The truth is that there are no ‘quick tip’ solutions to filling medicinal needs without making trash. Over-the-counter drugs come packaged in number two plastic bottles or in plastic and aluminum foil blister packs inside paper boxes. Though I’ve looked, I have not been able to find a single glass bottle on a drugstore shelf. Orange tinted prescription bottles are made from number five plastic and you can’t refill your refills in bottles that have been used (however, many pharmacies will take your bottles back to be recycled-not reused). Of course there are strict health codes at work here. Recently, while visiting a friend in the hospital, I was struck by how much trash is made in the effort toward maintaining a sterile environment and toward making caregiving more efficient.
I want to be careful in the discussion of this particular topic because I realize people require many different kinds treatment to fight ailments and diseases of varying severity. I understand that there are instances in which producing trash cannot be avoided to meet individual healthcare needs. I feel that the best way to address this issue is to present my own personal experience regarding health and wellness in the context of the project. I don’t want to suggest that mine is a system that should be adopted by others, but rather share some of the questions and discoveries I’ve come across.
A reoccurring theme of these posts is my goal of simplifying my lifestyle to become more efficient. As with all other aspects of this project, the search for trash-free medicine has led me to reevaluate my needs. By now we’re all familiar with the idea that fortifying our bodies with a healthy diet and regular exercise is a fundamental form of preventative medicine. Growing up, I was relatively active and my parents raised my siblings and me on well-balanced meals. In the summer we ate vegetables from our garden. As an adult I have continued to focus on taking care of myself. But since I was very young, I have used prescribed and over-the-counter medication for both the prevention and treatment of illness. I could not name all the different antibiotics I’ve taken in my life if I tried. And there was a time when I would not hesitate to take a pain reliever to ease even mild discomfort. I feel now that those tendencies were largely based in habit. The idea of straying from systems that work reasonably well can be unsettling especially when it comes to healthcare.
The project has led me to become more interested in ‘alternative’ medicine. I’m drawn to naturopathy, which is centered on the belief that the body has an innate ability to heal itself. The idea of using diet, exercise, lifestyle change, and natural therapies/remedies to enhance the body’s ability to ward off disease makes a lot of sense to me on an intuitive level. I’ve been trying to incorporate more natural healthcare practices into my life.
The no trash effort naturally supports eating a healthy diet of whole foods (I imagine it would be challenging to get junk food and processed food without some kind of packaging). I’m very sensitive to the way that the foods I ingest make me feel. I eat a mostly plant-based diet supplemented with some seafood and poultry. I have been experimenting with all the whole grains in the bulk section. My meals are colorful and delicious and I am never left wanting. I run almost every day. I sometimes notice the mental health benefits of running even more than the physical. It’s the best way I’ve found to manage my own stress.
I haven’t filled a prescription in nearly seven months. I stopped using oral contraceptives as a means of regulating my cycle, and have begun to look at herbal remedies to relieve cramps, treat colds, ease headaches, settle an upset stomach, etc… Chamomile tea for instance, can be used not only as a mild sedative, but also to relieve stomach and intestinal cramps, menstrual cramps, and headaches. I purchase it loose in bulk at the co-op. I’d like to learn the medicinal uses of all the fragrant herbs and teas stocked on the shelves. It wasn’t until starting the No Trash Project that I took notice of another wonderful resource in Providence called Farmacy Herbs. They come to the local farmers markets but they also have a store location here in town that I’ve been meaning to visit.
My medicine cabinet still contains ibuprofen, acetaminophen, some over–the–counter cold and flu medicine, and an inhaler-all of which were acquired before starting down the no trash path. I’m hanging onto it for ‘just in case’ reasons, especially because I tend to get sick more in the fall and winter than in the spring and summer. It’s a schedule that seems to be directly related to working at a university. I have not sworn off western medicine, and I don’t intend to put myself through any unnecessary suffering in an effort to avoid using over–the–counter and prescription drugs. But I am interested in learning about many different healing practices and I hope to be able to lean on those that are more environmentally healthy when I am faced with illness.