The Herbal Neti Pot – Using Herbs in Your Sinus Rinse

Neti Pot Rinses are amazing for allergy issues – they can be even more amazing for sinus, colds, and flu issues when they join powers with herbs!

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IMG_1390

*Updated: January 29th, 2016*

This article is dedicated to those funky, dry late-winter months, blending into Spring – a time when cold and flu season seems to be over, and yet you find yourself still blowing your nose, over and over.

You might be a bit unsure about whether you are dealing with allergies, or the last cold of the season to kick your butt.

In fact, at this very particular time right now during late Winter/early Spring, I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot about folks coming down with something: not quite a cold, but not quite something easy to ignore, either.

Think inflamed, stuffy sinuses, allergies, plugged ears, and the vestige of a cough, with some lingering respiratory issues as if they have just overcome a cold.  Sometimes there are even swollen lymph nodes, tonsils, and throat symptoms thrown into the mix.  Sound familiar?

I have found myself hesitant to just recommend the typical cold and flu herbs in these situations.  Immunity is always important to focus on, and the tried-and-true bulls-eye of the practicing herbalist.  But what about the best relief, on top of all that, and with the help of herbs used at home – sinus relief?

Neti Pots and Their Virtues

The past couple years, Neti pots have been my constant go-to when I’m in the midst of cold, flu, and allergy troubles.  Especially when it takes a while for those immune-stimulating anti-cold herbs to kick in, or an herbal steam just won’t get into the sinuses fast enough – I open up my cupboard, and take my Neti pot off the shelf.

It gets rid of all of the gunk, and quickly.  Once I realized I could combine herbs with Neti rinses, I have since chosen this method as a top one in my arsenal for colds and flu fighting.

What’s the low-down on using Neti pots?  If you don’t know, Neti pots (also called “nasal lavage”) are little magical-looking genie bottle-type containers you fill with warm water and a bit of salt. You then hold back your head, put the spout in your nostril, breathe through your mouth, and let the water flow through your sinuses – through one nostril, and then out the other. Read more on the Mayo Clinic’s recommendations on how to use the Neti pot here.

IMG_1396

Is using a Neti pot safe?  Most doctors and health practitioners (including herbalists) dub Neti pots safe and effective, with a few guidelines (that I happen to agree with).

  • Good first line of defense against cold symptoms and allergies
  • Great for thick, chunky mucus
  • Sporadic, non-regular use is best
  • Use boiled, distilled, sterilized, and filtered water
  • If using tap water, make sure it is filtered through hole sizes 1 micron or smaller, or boiled several minutes then cooled before use
  • CLEAN your Neti pot regularly

Why all the concerns?  Some studies have shown that regular use of Neti pots may actually increase the chances of sinus infections and bacterial growth.  Think about it: adding yet more water to a part of the body that is warm, damp, and dark could end up being the fuel to the fodder that bacteria actually needs to get started.

It’s also apparent that Neti rinses may actually remove the beneficial microbes and the body’s natural immune, organism-fighting agents we need to fight infections and illnesses on our own.

That’s certainly not in the spirit of an herbalist or holistic practitioner, right? We want to be aiding the body’s battle, not hindering it.

As a result, I use Neti pots only in a real pinch – and no longer than about 2 weeks at a time in a daily series.  I also make sure that both the water and Neti pot I use is completely sterilized, to avoid adding more bacteria to the fire than before I had even started.

IMG_0374
Photo by Adrian White

My Experiences with Herbal Neti Pot Rinses

I started my use of the Neti pot with the standard salt rinse, as usual, with strong warm water.

Then one day, it hit me: the Neti rinse could easily use a bit of an herbal twist, particularly after I happened upon an herb shop’s Sinus Care tincture: formulated specifically for the Neti pot!

Since then, I can’t resist adding a supporting herb into the mix each time, depending on the type of sinus issue or cold I’m dealing with.

There are so many varieties of herbs and varieties of herbal actions that would suit a Neti rinse perfectly: vasodilating, bronchiodilating, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antimicrobial.  If you have dry sinuses, you can rinse with moistening herbs; goopy sinuses, and you can turn to more drawing and drying ones.  Through my personal explorations with my Neti pot, I’ve found a delightful selection of herbs to include in my rinses – which I will be happily covering in this article.

How I Use My Neti Pot

*Dosage/Preparation: To each Neti Rinse you prepare, use warm (not hot!) water, and add roughly a teaspoon of salt.  

  • Neti solution should not be too salty – to taste, the water should be “as salty as your tears.”
  • Avoid using tap water.  Use filtered, reverse-osmosis, or pre-boiled then cooled water – or bottled and/or distilled water.
  • To each solution, add about 10-20 drops tincture, or whatever you are comfortable.

If you aren’t comfortable with tinctures- or, if you don’t have a tincture of any these herbs handy- you can make a tea, decoction, infusion, or tisane of these herbs, but make sure that the plant matter is WELL STRAINED to avoid putting any thing foreign in your sinuses that shouldn’t be there, and could only make matters worse.

Choice Herbs For the Herbal Neti Pot

GINGER (Zingiber officinalis) – Warm and damp, this culinary root is prime for drier sinuses, with or without accompanying dull pressure – and those dealing with lingering viral infection.

Ginger is also one of an exclusive circle of helpful herbs that can stave off a good deal of viral activity, while modern medicine has yet to come up with anything synthetically antiviral to match.  This makes Ginger great for colds or viral bugs, soothing what feels like inflammation and a lot of pressure – and, overall, quite a perfect addition to the Neti.

Surprisingly, while you might think Ginger could “burn,” the most potent of my Ginger tinctures haven’t caused a single discomfort (though I’m sure you would have to be careful with a decoction).

You can replace Ginger with native Wild Ginger if you’d prefer, though Wild Ginger is not reputedly anti-viral.

IMG_1018
Photo by Adrian White

CHAMOMILE (Matricaria chamomilla)Or, along the same lines, Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium).  Sinus headaches/pressure with either drip or dryness could call for either of these two white-flowered, dainty and aromatic herbs, especially if there is sneezing involved.  They are both relatively easy to find in herb gardens and herbal sections of food stores.

Sinus allergies are a good target – whether runny or dry, these two plants are known to prevent histamine reaction in a unique way, and a rinse with these is quite gentle.  Check out this research on both Feverfew and Chamomile, supporting their uses for allergies.

If you have sinus issues or allergies that often transform into migraines, these could be your buddies especially.  A warning to those allergic to Ragweed pollen- avoid these herbs and anything in the Asteraceae family altogether.  They will most likely make you feel much, much worse.

RAGWEED (Ambrosia artemisifolia/trifida) – Before you say “What?  Why?!!?”  Ragweed can be amazing for sinus allergy symptoms, particularly for those who are NOT allergic to its pollen.

Yet for those who are allergic to Ragweed, there is strong supporting research out there nonetheless, revealing that the antidote to the poison might be just a bit of the plant itself.  To top it all off, the FDA did approve a drug that contained a bit of Ragweed itself in a pill for allergy relief symptoms due to Ragweed pollen itself in 2014.

Again- if you know you are allergic to Ragweed or other Asterids, it might be wiser to steer clear.  For those who aren’t (including myself), a tincture or tea of in-season Ragweed blooms can provide amazing relief, particularly when you feel a histamine reaction going on.  I experimented with some tincture last Summer for some dusty-stuff sinus problems, and wow- just, wow.

IMG_1182
Goldenrod Flowers in Driftless Region, Iowa – Photo by Adrian White

This is best aimed at allergy-related sinus issues specifically, and less so for cold or viral stuff.  If you are the brave sort of Ragweed-allergic, I’ve been told that Ragweed leaf (NOT flower) can be alright and less harmful to Ragweed-sufferers…but that is not a recommendation or suggestion.  Experiment at your own risk please.

GOLDENROD (Solidago canadensis + other species) – The dried blossoms of Goldenrod are similar to Chamomile or Feverfew in action, making it best suited to allergies once again – but more so the damp and drippy kind.  For whatever magical reason too, this plant has a stronger affinity to pet allergies, and sinus flare-ups that might happen as a result.

Another great thing about it: it’s well-known support of Ragweed allergies in the empirical knowledge of herbalists.  Growing right next to Ragweed in the Fall and blooming twice as “showily,” not many folks know that a well-worked herbal cure to Ragweed allergies might be growing just a couple feet away. What more – preliminary studies are showing that Goldenrod has some marked anti-inflammatory activity.

Goldenrod flowers have a sweet, astringent, and pleasant flavor that I love adding to herbal allergy blends of any sort.  Out of all the possible Neti, sinus and allergy herbs altogether too, Goldenrod stands out as my very favorite- combine this one with Ginger if you’re having a viral cold with a fever, and it could help bring the fever down.

IMG_2004
Usnea – Photo by Adrian White, Cape Cod Massachusetts

USNEA (Usnea spp.) – Along with Goldenrod, Usnea is one of my favorites for a sinus rinse.  Its astringency and anti-microbial action are very highly desirable for the average sinus infection!

Best for damp and runny sinuses only, this lichen contains usnic acids that pack a punch against notorious bacteria including staph and strep (with studies to prove it).  While fighting off infection, this plant will also aid in drawing and pulling out the nasty gunk you’re trying to forget, helping airways unclog and clear.

MULLEIN (Verbascum thapsus) – You can never do without Mullein.  Whether raspy or goopy, this fuzzy, common plant can be of help – although I do think it stands out best in situations where the sinuses are much drier.

First Year Mullein (no flower stalk, just a rosette of leaves) ~ Photo taken by Adrian White
First Year Mullein (no flower stalk, just a rosette of leaves) – Photo taken by Adrian White

This plant is simple; and in being so, there really isn’t much else more to say about it.  It’s a top pick among herbalists for such things having to do with colds, flu, and sinuses.

A tincture of the root may be effective, but a fresh, hot tea of the leaves or flowers (without having reached the boiling point) can help loosen stuff up when your stuffed up, too.

Allergies and colds can be relieved with Mullein as well –  and some studies support not only that Mullein’s plant “mucilages” could be what truly relieves sinus inflammation, but also that there are compounds in the plant that have been seen killing viruses on contact.

PlantainPLANTAIN (Plantago major) – Like Mullein or Ginger, I like to put Plantain in practically all of my Neti rinses as a feature role of the blend.

This is because Plantain leaf does something special that the remainder of these herbs don’t do as well: Plantain is a “drawing” agent in herbalists’ experience, which can help pull foreign objects out of the sinus while helping neutralize the amount of irritation or goop you have going on.  

So if you simply feel like you’ve got “stuff”- any kind of stuff- lodged in your sinuses, Plantain is your go-to remedy.  Beyond allergies, colds or normal sinus issues, you could turn to this herb for the weirder stuff: inhaling a bug, food, or something else accidental.  Plantain can help you pull that out.

The other great thing about Plantain?  You can use it for both wet and dry sinuses.  Plantain is both mucilaginous and astringent: it will help draw up and pull out any excess mucus, but at the same time soothe, moisturize, and tonify the soft tissues of the nasal cavities.

Studies are also beginning to support this plant’s use for inflammation, too – even showing that it could have protective capabilities against certain bacteria perilous to the nose and throat, such as strep bacteria and others included!

herbalneti

This article is not meant to diagnose, prescribe, promise, or suggest cure.  It’s purpose and intent is to be purely educational.

The Herbal Neti – Sinus Care, Herbs and the Neti Pot

IMG_1390

*Updated: January 29th, 2016*

This article is dedicated to those funky, dry late-winter months, blending into Spring – a time when cold and flu season seems to be over, and yet you find yourself still blowing your nose, over and over.

You might be a bit unsure about whether you are dealing with allergies, or the last cold of the season to kick your butt.

In fact, at this very particular time right now during late Winter/early Spring, I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot about folks coming down with something: not quite a cold, but not quite something easy to ignore, either.

Think inflamed, stuffy sinuses, allergies, plugged ears, and the vestige of a cough, with some lingering respiratory issues as if they have just overcome a cold.  Sometimes there are even swollen lymph nodes, tonsils, and throat symptoms thrown into the mix.  Sound familiar?

I have found myself hesitant to just recommend the typical cold and flu herbs in these situations.  Immunity is always important to focus on, and the tried-and-true bulls-eye of the practicing herbalist.  But what about the best relief, on top of all that, and with the help of herbs used at home – sinus relief?

Neti Pots and Their Virtues

The past couple years, Neti pots have been my constant go-to when I’m in the midst of cold, flu, and allergy troubles.  Especially when it takes a while for those immune-stimulating anti-cold herbs to kick in, or an herbal steam just won’t get into the sinuses fast enough – I open up my cupboard, and take my Neti pot off the shelf.

It gets rid of all of the gunk, and quickly.  Once I realized I could combine herbs with Neti rinses, I have since chosen this method as a top one in my arsenal for colds and flu fighting.

What’s the low-down on using Neti pots?  If you don’t know, Neti pots (also called “nasal lavage”) are little magical-looking genie bottle-type containers you fill with warm water and a bit of salt. You then hold back your head, put the spout in your nostril, breathe through your mouth, and let the water flow through your sinuses – through one nostril, and then out the other. Read more on the Mayo Clinic’s recommendations on how to use the Neti pot here.

IMG_1396

Is using a Neti pot safe?  Most doctors and health practitioners (including herbalists) dub Neti pots safe and effective, with a few guidelines (that I happen to agree with).

  • Good first line of defense against cold symptoms and allergies
  • Great for thick, chunky mucus
  • Sporadic, non-regular use is best
  • Use boiled, distilled, sterilized, and filtered water
  • If using tap water, make sure it is filtered through hole sizes 1 micron or smaller, or boiled several minutes then cooled before use
  • CLEAN your Neti pot regularly

Why all the concerns?  Some studies have shown that regular use of Neti pots may actually increase the chances of sinus infections and bacterial growth.  Think about it: adding yet more water to a part of the body that is warm, damp, and dark could end up being the fuel to the fodder that bacteria actually needs to get started.

It’s also apparent that Neti rinses may actually remove the beneficial microbes and the body’s natural immune, organism-fighting agents we need to fight infections and illnesses on our own.

That’s certainly not in the spirit of an herbalist or holistic practitioner, right? We want to be aiding the body’s battle, not hindering it.

As a result, I use Neti pots only in a real pinch – and no longer than about 2 weeks at a time in a daily series.  I also make sure that both the water and Neti pot I use is completely sterilized, to avoid adding more bacteria to the fire than before I had even started.

IMG_0374
Photo by Adrian White

My Experiences with Herbal Neti Pot Rinses

I started my use of the Neti pot with the standard salt rinse, as usual, with strong warm water.

Then one day, it hit me: the Neti rinse could easily use a bit of an herbal twist, particularly after I happened upon an herb shop’s Sinus Care tincture: formulated specifically for the Neti pot!

Since then, I can’t resist adding a supporting herb into the mix each time, depending on the type of sinus issue or cold I’m dealing with.

There are so many varieties of herbs and varieties of herbal actions that would suit a Neti rinse perfectly: vasodilating, bronchiodilating, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antimicrobial.  If you have dry sinuses, you can rinse with moistening herbs; goopy sinuses, and you can turn to more drawing and drying ones.  Through my personal explorations with my Neti pot, I’ve found a delightful selection of herbs to include in my rinses – which I will be happily covering in this article.

How I Use My Neti Pot

*Dosage/Preparation: To each Neti Rinse you prepare, use warm (not hot!) water, and add roughly a teaspoon of salt.  

  • Neti solution should not be too salty – to taste, the water should be “as salty as your tears.”
  • Avoid using tap water.  Use filtered, reverse-osmosis, or pre-boiled then cooled water – or bottled and/or distilled water.
  • To each solution, add about 10-20 drops tincture, or whatever you are comfortable.

If you aren’t comfortable with tinctures- or, if you don’t have a tincture of any these herbs handy- you can make a tea, decoction, infusion, or tisane of these herbs, but make sure that the plant matter is WELL STRAINED to avoid putting any thing foreign in your sinuses that shouldn’t be there, and could only make matters worse.

Choice Herbs For the Herbal Neti Pot

GINGER (Zingiber officinalis) – Warm and damp, this culinary root is prime for drier sinuses, with or without accompanying dull pressure – and those dealing with lingering viral infection.

Ginger is also one of an exclusive circle of helpful herbs that can stave off a good deal of viral activity, while modern medicine has yet to come up with anything synthetically antiviral to match.  This makes Ginger great for colds or viral bugs, soothing what feels like inflammation and a lot of pressure – and, overall, quite a perfect addition to the Neti.

Surprisingly, while you might think Ginger could “burn,” the most potent of my Ginger tinctures haven’t caused a single discomfort (though I’m sure you would have to be careful with a decoction).

You can replace Ginger with native Wild Ginger if you’d prefer, though Wild Ginger is not reputedly anti-viral.

IMG_1018
Photo by Adrian White

CHAMOMILE (Matricaria chamomilla)Or, along the same lines, Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium).  Sinus headaches/pressure with either drip or dryness could call for either of these two white-flowered, dainty and aromatic herbs, especially if there is sneezing involved.  They are both relatively easy to find in herb gardens and herbal sections of food stores.

Sinus allergies are a good target – whether runny or dry, these two plants are known to prevent histamine reaction in a unique way, and a rinse with these is quite gentle.  Check out this research on both Feverfew and Chamomile, supporting their uses for allergies.

If you have sinus issues or allergies that often transform into migraines, these could be your buddies especially.  A warning to those allergic to Ragweed pollen- avoid these herbs and anything in the Asteraceae family altogether.  They will most likely make you feel much, much worse.

RAGWEED (Ambrosia artemisifolia/trifida) – Before you say “What?  Why?!!?”  Ragweed can be amazing for sinus allergy symptoms, particularly for those who are NOT allergic to its pollen.

Yet for those who are allergic to Ragweed, there is strong supporting research out there nonetheless, revealing that the antidote to the poison might be just a bit of the plant itself.  To top it all off, the FDA did approve a drug that contained a bit of Ragweed itself in a pill for allergy relief symptoms due to Ragweed pollen itself in 2014.

Again- if you know you are allergic to Ragweed or other Asterids, it might be wiser to steer clear.  For those who aren’t (including myself), a tincture or tea of in-season Ragweed blooms can provide amazing relief, particularly when you feel a histamine reaction going on.  I experimented with some tincture last Summer for some dusty-stuff sinus problems, and wow- just, wow.

IMG_1182
Goldenrod Flowers in Driftless Region, Iowa – Photo by Adrian White

This is best aimed at allergy-related sinus issues specifically, and less so for cold or viral stuff.  If you are the brave sort of Ragweed-allergic, I’ve been told that Ragweed leaf (NOT flower) can be alright and less harmful to Ragweed-sufferers…but that is not a recommendation or suggestion.  Experiment at your own risk please.

GOLDENROD (Solidago canadensis + other species) – The dried blossoms of Goldenrod are similar to Chamomile or Feverfew in action, making it best suited to allergies once again – but more so the damp and drippy kind.  For whatever magical reason too, this plant has a stronger affinity to pet allergies, and sinus flare-ups that might happen as a result.

Another great thing about it: it’s well-known support of Ragweed allergies in the empirical knowledge of herbalists.  Growing right next to Ragweed in the Fall and blooming twice as “showily,” not many folks know that a well-worked herbal cure to Ragweed allergies might be growing just a couple feet away. What more – preliminary studies are showing that Goldenrod has some marked anti-inflammatory activity.

Goldenrod flowers have a sweet, astringent, and pleasant flavor that I love adding to herbal allergy blends of any sort.  Out of all the possible Neti, sinus and allergy herbs altogether too, Goldenrod stands out as my very favorite- combine this one with Ginger if you’re having a viral cold with a fever, and it could help bring the fever down.

IMG_2004
Usnea – Photo by Adrian White, Cape Cod Massachusetts

USNEA (Usnea spp.) – Along with Goldenrod, Usnea is one of my favorites for a sinus rinse.  Its astringency and anti-microbial action are very highly desirable for the average sinus infection!

Best for damp and runny sinuses only, this lichen contains usnic acids that pack a punch against notorious bacteria including staph and strep (with studies to prove it).  While fighting off infection, this plant will also aid in drawing and pulling out the nasty gunk you’re trying to forget, helping airways unclog and clear.

MULLEIN (Verbascum thapsus) – You can never do without Mullein.  Whether raspy or goopy, this fuzzy, common plant can be of help – although I do think it stands out best in situations where the sinuses are much drier.

First Year Mullein (no flower stalk, just a rosette of leaves) ~ Photo taken by Adrian White
First Year Mullein (no flower stalk, just a rosette of leaves) – Photo taken by Adrian White

This plant is simple; and in being so, there really isn’t much else more to say about it.  It’s a top pick among herbalists for such things having to do with colds, flu, and sinuses.

A tincture of the root may be effective, but a fresh, hot tea of the leaves or flowers (without having reached the boiling point) can help loosen stuff up when your stuffed up, too.

Allergies and colds can be relieved with Mullein as well –  and some studies support not only that Mullein’s plant “mucilages” could be what truly relieves sinus inflammation, but also that there are compounds in the plant that have been seen killing viruses on contact.

PlantainPLANTAIN (Plantago major) – Like Mullein or Ginger, I like to put Plantain in practically all of my Neti rinses as a feature role of the blend.

This is because Plantain leaf does something special that the remainder of these herbs don’t do as well: Plantain is a “drawing” agent in herbalists’ experience, which can help pull foreign objects out of the sinus while helping neutralize the amount of irritation or goop you have going on.  

So if you simply feel like you’ve got “stuff”- any kind of stuff- lodged in your sinuses, Plantain is your go-to remedy.  Beyond allergies, colds or normal sinus issues, you could turn to this herb for the weirder stuff: inhaling a bug, food, or something else accidental.  Plantain can help you pull that out.

The other great thing about Plantain?  You can use it for both wet and dry sinuses.  Plantain is both mucilaginous and astringent: it will help draw up and pull out any excess mucus, but at the same time soothe, moisturize, and tonify the soft tissues of the nasal cavities.

Studies are also beginning to support this plant’s use for inflammation, too – even showing that it could have protective capabilities against certain bacteria perilous to the nose and throat, such as strep bacteria and others included!

herbalneti
This article is not meant to diagnose, prescribe, promise, or suggest cure.  It’s purpose and intent is to be purely educational.

The Snakeskin Medicine – Black Cohosh, Women, and Skin Care

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Black Cohosh (Actea racemosa), imperiled and replanted in Iowa City, IA – Photo Credit Mandy Garner-Dickerson, Moon in June Herbs

*Disclaimer* This article is meant to be a shared experience and insight by the author, not a suggested hormone therapy regime.  If you are curious about how certain hormone therapies and herbs could help treat your acne, please refer first to the guidance of a professional healthcare provider, your doctor, or a trained herbalist.

It’s a more interesting topic for the female half of the population: having healthy, glowing skin is a focus for many of us girls and women. Arguably, for the majority of us.

Females are most driven in our society to look good and appealing in the eyes of others.  Quite an unbearable pressure for some of us, but I won’t get into the whole feminist pickle that is here – and instead I’ll just stick to the herbalism.

Ironically, skin problems and acne tend to be the worse for women to deal with than men in our adult age.  Why?  Hormones.

As all of us females know, hormones control many aspects of our lives, and that is barely an overstatement.  Sometimes even our thoughts, feelings, opinions, and reactions during the day-to-day are governed by those crazy things.  Our only hope is to shrug off that idea, and pretend it isn’t true.

But if you ever find the time, sit down and have some tea with the closest woman to you in your life who has gracefully passed through menopause.  She is likely to agree with this sentiment, 100%.

The Hormone-Acne Connection

An herbal client of mine (and voluntary herbalist’s “guinea pig”) came and talked to me not too long ago on a completely non-herb related matter: her pretty much life-long struggles with acne.  What she ended up mentioning was that her doctor recommended she go on birth control pills to help control her skin problems.

I was honestly a bit flabbergasted, and as any herbalist with at least some handle on things would probably blurt out, I said “Why the heck would you do that?”

Followed immediately by “Why don’t you just start taking Black Cohosh?”

A little bit of science first: some women’s acne directly has to do with hormonal imbalance, as I stated earlier.  Thanks to a million different little factors in our modern-day existence, our estrogen gets screwed with – whether it be from “xeno-estrogrens” found in plastics all around us (packaging our food, for example), or from the birth-control pills that we think should be the standard for regulating our reproduction.

Through one way or another, the balance between estrogen and progesterone gets wacky.  This is especially noticeable right before menstruation- when estrogen levels plummet to give way to testosterone, one of the reasons why we get cranky and irritable.

HormoneCycle
Graph of Average Hormone Fluctuations in Women – Women in Balance Institute – National College of Natural Medicine

When testosterone levels prevail over estrogen/progesterone in women’s bodies, that’s when acne erupts.  You get those big chin pimples, or zits on your chest, your cheeks, shoulders, or right underneath your shoulder blades.  Funnily enough, they pop up right where men usually have body hair.  The body secretes oils that it just doesn’t know what to do with.

It’s true – hormones don’t only affect our moods sometimes, but also the health of our skin. Fluctuations of female (but mostly – yes, believe it or not – male) hormones create excess sebum in the skin, which then lead to acne. For an excellent understanding of how it all works, check out this article here by the American Academy of Dermatology.

Back to the story about my client- her doctor told her just as much, that some women may not produce enough estrogen to counteract testosterone levels (this often has a lot to do with body type, genetics, or diet).  So he mentioned the idea of prescribing her birth control pills, something that is actually quite common. Even some dermatologists recommend it.

But what do you do if you want to take something natural, and moreover, if you aren’t sexually active or don’t even need contraceptives?  What if you are wary of the many side effects that birth control pills and I.U.D.’s might have?

Black Cohosh – Its History of Mimicking Estrogen

Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa, formerly Cimicifuga racemosa), along with some other popular herbs out there, is beginning to be an experimental treatment for acne among professional healthcare providers all over the country – not just herbalists.

Cohosh contains “phyto-estrogens,” or plant compounds that are thought to mimic estrogen.  When the herb is taken, the body reacts to it as if there was estrogen present – though it’s still not clear how.

Whatever goes on, human estrogen receptors are in some way affected by the plant’s constituents, making the body respond as if responding to estrogen.There are studies to support this use: here, and here.

Put two and two together – and you have yourself a possible alternative to birth control for acne treatment.

Traditional Use of Black Cohosh

Traditionally, Black Cohosh’s use is rooted in Native American medicine, used for female health and complaints long, long before its capsules have shown up on the shelves of natural food stores.

IMG_1466

One of the other names for the plant was once “Black Snakeroot,” believed to have an affinity to snakes (and specifically rattlesnakes – the flowers of the plant look an awful like the rattle on this venomous serpent).  Eastern First Nation peoples also used the plant as a cure for snake bites.

Now, the plant has a modernized use that emulates its “spirit animal” – for the skin.  Like a snakeskin being shed, Black Cohosh is an herb that can be of immense help to certain individuals to put on a new skin, shed the old, and find a new-found sense of confidence and beauty in their appearance.

Needless to say, my client was grateful and happy that she discussed the idea of taking birth control with me before she went ahead and just did it– sight unseen.  At my suggestion, she decided to give Black Cohosh a try.  A week later she emailed me.  “My skin is beginning to clear up!”

A few months later, I saw her in person, and I had never seen her skin that clear in years.

Mainstream healthcare still dubs the use of many herbs as “experimental” or “unproven,” but this is one where I saw the results right before my eyes.

Please consult with a professional healthcare provider or physician before considering taking Black Cohosh for any reason.

The Snakeskin Medicine

White Pine for Pink Eye

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White Pine (Pinus strobus) ~ Photo taken by Adrian White

**Disclaimer** The information in this article is NOT intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Its intent is to be purely educational; if suffering serious illness, please contact a professional healthcare provider.

Pink Eye is a nasty thing to deal with.  Especially if you’re someone with kids and then have to keep them home, those little hands find their way all over the place, getting into dirt, eyes, pet fur…you get the picture.  Getting it as an adult is no more fun, because that means “quarantine” and missing who knows how many days of work or other matters, until it gets better.  Some people brave it and forge their way to work, but I like to keep my goopy eyes well out of the way of others potentially contracting it.

As Pink Eye (also called Conjunctivitis) can be potentially either viral or bacterial, there are many different methods of helping treat it with the use of herbs.  California Curandero and herbalist Charles Garcia has his famous pink eye tisane, featuring a motley crew of common antiviral and antimicrobial plants that can be found in the kitchen or the grocery store.

If you are more of the wild herb-gatherer like myself, I have found that White Pine (Pinus strobus) is an immensely helpful ally for pink eye.  The tree is a native denizen of Iowa, although its natural numbers are disappearing with each year.  You can see the last remaining “wild population” of White Pines out by White Pine Hollow State Preserve, south of Dubuque and near the towns of Colesburg and Luxemburg.  Fortunately for herbalists and the species, though, it is common in yards and windbreaks within cities.

You can harvest fresh needles from the tree without harming it, which are incredibly medicinal and known in the world of herbalism as being among the most potent, powerful antimicrobials one can utilize in the plant world.  It is the saps/resins that run through the White Pine and these needles that are notorious for such properties.  Traditionally, White Pine was used for fighting respiratory infections (both bacterial and viral) and as a wound-wash.  White Pine is not the only useful Pine– there are many others, such as Jack Pines, Red Pines and Ponderosa Pines, but the strength of their medicines vary widely.  It is up to the herbalist to determine which one they prefer, as they are all each different, but very usable.

I recently worked with the tree for a case of pink eye, to find the infection on the run in just a couple days– goopiness gone, eyes less red and pain significantly less noticeable.  White Pine helped clear up the issue in just a few days.

 

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Pine resins from the Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) ~ Photo taken by Adrian White

Here are a few methods for using Pine to combat pink eye:

WHITE PINE TISANE

The easiest thing you can make using White Pine is a tea or tisane.  This is simple– throw a handful of freshly-picked needles into water on a metal pot on the stove, and simmer for about an hour, on medium-low.  Turn the heat down of course, and wait for the tisane to cool.  There you have your wash.  The best tisane you could make would be from the tender needles that are present on the tree in Spring.

You can cup your hands in the water and wash it into your eyes, thoroughly rinsing your eyes out with plain cold water afterward.

WHITE PINE TINCTURE

A tincture of White Pine resins is what I have seen do wonders.  Of course, I must emphasize– you absolutely must dilute about 5 drops of this tincture into one fluid ounce of cold water to use it as an eyewash.  Any other method, whether plain tincture or other ratio, and you are going to hurt yourself.  When you first add the incredibly minute amount of drops to the water, you may see the water turn a slightly milky color.  This is normal.

I also find that Pine tinctures are among the most delightful to make.  After collecting tons of sticky resin in the early Spring, when the sap is flowing, you can scrape it off and drop it into your own high-proof alcohol, and watch as days go by the resin slowly and perfectly dissolve into the menstruum.  When the resin completely disappears you know the tincture is ready, and unlike most other tinctures you don’t have spent herbal matter to toil through, press, or strain out!

Note: if you are experiencing pink eye/conjunctivitis symptoms, please consult with a professional health care provider for the best results on how to take care of the issue.

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Mercy from the Grind ~ Herbal TMJ and Bruxism Support

**Disclaimer** The information in this article is NOT intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Its intent is to be purely educational; if suffering serious illness, please contact a professional healthcare provider.

I should also note, this article deals with my own personal experiences with TMJ which are, on a scale, probably more mild .  I cannot guarantee that the remedies I have used will help with a more severe case.

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Deer Jaw Bone with Lavender ~ Photo Taken by Adrian White

It starts with headaches in the morning.  Your sinuses feel crushed, your eyes feel like they’ve been punched as far back into your skull as they can go, and you definitely don’t feel well rested.  Your teeth hurt, your jaw is tense.  Your ears are ringing, or feel full of pressure.  It’s easy to lop this off to the average morning headache, except they begin happening more and more frequently.  Sometimes it’s accompanied with staying up really late, being unable to sleep, feeling tense, mind racing.  You wake up in the middle of the night with your jaw clenched shut like a steel trap.   Your partner, spouse, or others in your house say they hear a loud creaking noise at night– the sound of your teeth grinding intensely in your sleep.

Sometimes teeth grinding (also called Bruxism) is transitory, but others have to deal with it much longer as the result of a  larger system of problems.  When it gets that way, it is called Temperomandibular Joint Disorder, or TMJ.  Through the process of realizing I had this problem, and being an herbalist, I was surprised to find that in the herbal world there was very little insight into the matter.

It’s an amazingly minor issue.  But that’s where half of the agony of it comes from– even I think calling it a “disorder” makes it seem much worse than it actually is.  But I can tell you, though, that as I started to develop the symptoms myself, they were NOT pleasant.  They are hampering, day-ruining, and difficult to alleviate.  When you describe what you are going through to someone, and say that you have a “disorder”, their tendency is to say “Hey– doesn’t sound so bad, for a disorder.”

And– they’re right.  But it sure doesn’t make the situation any better, and something that you can’t always get a grip on with herbal care or home remedies.  It’s a non-serious “illness” that is still really painful, and can easily ruin an entire day.  I would put it in the same category as migraines, cluster headaches, etc. since it impairs you quite similarly.

Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Anatomy
Stock Photo

When I found out I had the disorder and start researching ways to make it better, I only find that there really isn’t a permanent fix or “cure” for TMJ.  There is only palliative care to prevent the pain from reaching intolerable levels.  As of yet, there is still no single, determined cause for TMJ, although there are pinpointed factors that lead up to developing its symptoms.  It would appear that the disorder tends to be a “network” of issues, stemming from many different sources.  There is also no determined cure– save for surgeries and operations costing people thousands of dollars at a time, which sometimes make the symptoms and condition worse, rather than helping it at all.

I didn’t receive an official diagnosis of TMJ from a doctor or dentist because I was terrified of going in to get help.  I learned of the disorder by going through all the symptoms I was having, putting them together, and going from there.  When TMJ popped up, it fit the puzzle perfectly; I immediately knew this was the problem I was having.  However, upon doing further research on TMJ and case studies of people going in to get diagnosed, there were so  many stories I found of patients having products, operations, and surgeries pushed very forcefully upon them.  Some of them were horror stories, with people coming out with permanently disfigured faces and no relief from their pain.  I knew I had TMJ, but did not want a dentist to confirm it for me and then badger me for going against their advice for useless surgery, expensive mouth guards, or even getting braces.  Still, the pain of TMJ continued to haunt me, as many of those who suffer it can also relate.

SYMPTOMS

The symptoms for Temperomandibular Joint Disorder, according to online sources, are as follows: jaw, neck, and shoulder pain; grinding teeth at night, popping jaw, sometimes lock jaw; ear pain, tinnitus, sinus headaches, difficulty chewing, and spine issues.  They really aren’t limited to all that– sometimes other issues may develop.  This is all due to the fact that some sort of problem has developed within the delicate, highly mobile joint of the jaw, where it meets the skull.  It is amazing how, through the association of muscles inter-connected through our bodies, the pain of TMJ can spread elsewhere.  There are a variety of supposed reasons why these symptoms develop.  Of note, the vast majority of TMJ sufferers are women, which at this point is just a statistic with no determined reason why this is the case.

The leading determined cause of TMJ is stress and anxiety, but other reasons have been surmised– such as jaw/face/neck injury, poor bite, or even the result of recent major dental work.  Excessive caffeine and alcohol use are definite factors too.  If I were to apply basic Energetics to TMJ, I would say it is a cold, dry issue of the musculoskeletal system, although sometimes it can seem like more of a hot or warm condition with inflammation getting involved.

I am no doctor– but I am certainly an herbalist with empirical knowledge.  I managed to, without seeing a doctor or dentist, turn to an arsenal of herbs and other support to help rid myself of symptoms of this heel-nipping disorder, and with some pretty lovely results.

 

REMEDIES- HERBS AND OTHERWISE

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1st Year Mullein leaves ~ Photo taken by Adrian White

First things first– herbal medicine aside, get yourself a mouth guard.  Wear it at night and you will find the symptoms of your TMJ about 80% obliterated.  It has worked wonders for me, and is (literally) 100 times cheaper than some of the “front-line” mouth guards a dentist will tell you that you “need.”  Not only does it help with the symptoms, but can help prevent a lot of the inherent damage that comes to your jaw or teeth when dealing with either Bruxism or TMJ– especially enamel wear.

While the mouth guard does help considerably, probably more so than anything, sometimes problems flare up for one reason or another.  When that happens, I turn to certain herbs or other methods.  The plants I find useful against TMJ after some experimentation with my apothecary were all quite interesting and versatile– in general, damp herbs work best, whether heating or cooling.  It seems to depend on the needs, moment to moment.


-Hot/Damp Treatments.
 
From a Western Herbalism perspective, it is hard to slap energetics on TMJ.  But there is one thing I have found: hot and damp feels wonderful, and provides the quickest relief to that joint as well as your sinuses and ears.  As such, you could classify TMJ as “Cold and Dry”– and definitely a constriction or tension issue.

Steams.  Anything involving hot water helps.  A simmering pot of water on the stove (not boiling!) is a great way to relieve the pain, placing your face and even each ear (if you have earaches) over the steam that rises.  Certain herbs, especially mucilaginous and bronchio-dilating ones, put in the simmer can be of great help, too, and I will get to those later.
Teas.  Even something as simple as a hot, steaming tea could help.  Breathe in the steam before you drink.
Baths and Showers.  Taking a hot shower can really help; but especially a hot bath filled with useful herbs, soaking straight through the skin!
Warm Compress.  A warm- or hot-water soaked rag placed against the joint can be relieving.  You may add some topical herbs to it if you like, which could provide a bit extra.
Neti Pot.  This is usually my last-resort method in this vein.  The salt and warmth itself can really help the most directly, making your ears “pop” nicely, providing relief for the time being.  Herbs (especially tinctures) can be added for additional relief.

-Staying hydrated.  Quite basic: drink lots of water, all the time.  This especially helped me with the sinus headaches and earaches, which can feel “inflamed” pretty quick.  Being hydrated alleviates this, helping your body produce a thinner mucus in your sinuses, keeping discomfort down.

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Ginger Root ~ Tincture of the root can be helpful in some instances of TMJ, especially for warming sinus rinses! ~ Photo taken by Adrian White

-Herbs for Relief.  Again, energetically, damp works best, warming is good too.  But I have found that if it is first and foremost a mucilaginous herb, it will help in some way.  So sometimes it can be a cooling herb.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)  Your archetypal warming, damp herb.  5 drop doses, every five minutes or so, can help with ear or sinus pain.  Tincture is especially wonderful put in a Neti Pot (5-15 drops) for a quick rinse.

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) When it comes to sinus stuff, especially when sinuses are dry and crackly, Wild Ginger can be used in place of Ginger, and can actually work better.  Ginger is more heating, while Wild Ginger just warms and helps the body create sweat and lubricate.  This one is actually perfect in a Neti Pot, tincture form, combined with other herbs such as Dandelion, Plantain, Goldenrod flower or Ragweed flowers as tinctures too.  It soothes the sinuses and can be the best thing for hurting ears, when nothing else works.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus).  In a variety of ways, Mullein is the herb you want around if you have TMJ because of how it helps with the symptoms– which is wonderful, because it grows practically everywhere.  If you are harvesting this medicine, take care to do so in a site where Mullein is not crowded or in a disturbed urban area; it usually means that the Mullein will contain a high level of pollutants.  The more rural and alone Mullein is, the more potent and clean it will be.  Either the first year leaves, or yellow blossoms are what you want.  I have not worked with Mullein root as of yet, but I can make some assumptions on how it could be applicable.  Root tincture would probably be perfect in a Neti rinse!

First Year Mullein (no flower stalk, just a rosette of leaves) ~ Photo taken by Adrian White
First Year Mullein (no flower stalk, just a rosette of leaves) ~ Photo taken by Adrian White

Either steep the blossoms in a pure, organic oil base, or find some way to get your hand on Mullein Blossom Oil.  A few drops in each ear while laying on your side helps.  Once you wait for the oil to get deep in there, lay on you back so the oil can go further into the eustachian tubes.  The relief is quite quick and immediate.  Using Mullein Blossom Oil works especially well right after doing a steam, bath, or shower, since the hot helps open up your sinuses, tubes, and relaxes the muscles, helping the oil get in where it needs to be.

-Herbs for Anxiety/Stress/Tension.  The leading medical knowledge on Temperomandibular Joint Disorder and bruxism points to anxiety, stressful lifestyle, and lack of stability and relaxation in one’s life as the number one culprit and cause.  So incorporating nervines, sedatives, tension-reducing and calming herbs overall is absolutely called for, and can really help to alleviate the source of the problem.  Certain ones are better than others, I have found, but everyone is different.  I would recommend you elect your favorite tension-tamer and use it on a daily basis.  Here are the ones that helped me:

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Blue Vervain ~ Photo taken by Adrian White

Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata).  This brilliant plant is native to Iowa and easy to pinpoint and harvest.  It is useful in more ways than one for TMJ, one of them being tension relief and anxiety issues.  Daily doses of a tincture of the flowers, leaves, or root (1 dropper, up to 3x/day) helped relieve my tension that was associated with and led up to the muscle in my jaw being pulled so tight, resulting in a clenched bite.  I also happen to have shoulder pain on one side along with my own TMJ problem—so for using Blue Vervain, having jaw and shoulder pain together is a good signature for this herb.

It can also help with the headaches, both sinus and muscular, that occur so often with TMJ if taken daily over time.  I find that I prefer a flower tincture the most, as the root can be a bit too strong in these cases and can cause some unwanted hormonal side effects.  Other Verbenas, like Verbena officinalis and Verbena stricta, can be helpful.

Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria, gryposepala, parviflora).  This plant was perhaps the most useful herb for the type of tension that my TMJ stemmed from.  It eases tension without being too drying, which can exacerbate the inflammation of the sinuses and the stiff jaw joint.  It has a gentle and yet noticeable effect over time, and it tastes great!  The tincture I used featured a blend of European and Native Agrimony and it tasted like a subtle, soft raspberry leaf.  Within just a few weeks I noticed tension starting to release.  One night, the muscles of my jaw became so relaxed, I couldn’t find my mouth guard in the morning!  The usual pressure of my bite did not keep the mouth guard in properly, and I didn’t wake up with a headache of any sort, or felt my teeth had been grinding or clenching.  If kept up regularly, Agrimony is of great help.

-Herbs for the Musculoskeletal Aspect.  Temperomandibular Joint Disorder is an issue that arises from tension usually, but the way it manifests is plainly in the muscles.  Especially if you have TMJ as the result of injury, not tension, you need herbs that more directly help that part of it, and taking nervines or sedatives won’t help you as much.  You need something to help you with those muscles.

TMJ, while it is an issue of the jaw, is easily a problem that spreads to the neck, shoulder, and back, as all of those muscles are in some way connected.  Some of us who suffer TMJ have shoulder, back, or neck pain.  Something like a back, neck, or even spine injury can lead up to TMJ, as a muscle out of place there pulls down on others and finally pulling down on the jaw muscle, making it tense and tight.  Such tightness contributes to the jaw  joint eventually popping out of place.  I like to think of it like closing the blinds– if you pull one muscle down, it may cause others higher up to contract, which is basically what TMJ experts describe.

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Solomon’s Seal ~ Photo taken by Adrian White

Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum spp).  This wonderful herb does wonders for the joints and muscles, both problems to which TMJ is subject.  Some experts say that TMJ may be just as simple as an arthritic problem of the jaw joint, so in that case, Solomon’s Seal is exceptional.  Traditionally, the plant has been used to “re-lubricate” joints, making them less painful.  It has also been noted this plant helps muscles achieve the right amount of tightness or looseness, and since part of TMJ is a jaw muscle that is clinched way too tight, it is certainly worth a try.  Internal tincture may be used, but a salve of the root, applied directly to the Temperomandibular Joint, would probably be most direct.

Blue Vervain.  Besides being a nervine for easing tension, Blue Vervain comes in handy for some of the muscular complaints, too.  If you are having neck, back, or shoulder pain accompanied with TMJ, give this one a try (flower tincture preferably).  Especially if you have that little “stitch” of pain right behind your shoulder, at the tip of your scapula (like I do)?  I take Blue Vervain and the pain subsides in a matter of days.  One client of mine had the pain disappearing in a day.  For both tension and muscular pain, Blue Vervain is definitely an herb you want on your side!

Pleurisy Root/Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa).  I did not try this one firsthand, but I would certainly recommend TMJ sufferers try it, if they can get their hands on it.  Similarly to Solomon’s Seal, this plant helps the joints produce more synovial fluid, thus easing pain on the joints.  Typically, Butterfly Weed is used in cases of osteoarthritis.  Tincture or salve, in the same manner of Solomon’s Seal, can be used.

Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides).  This is not a remedy I myself have worked with, but an herbalist Christine Guttadauria from up in the Pontiac area of Quebec recommends an infused oil of the young bark of the Trembling Aspen tree.  It can be turned likewise into a salve, and placed on achy, inflamed areas, especially the jaw joint.  She also says it is exceptional at keeping the tension at bay.  As such, if you do not have access to the Trembling Aspen, one could turn to other members of the Willow/Poplar family: White Willow, Balsam Poplar, Cottonwood, perhaps even the Birch or other Aspens.

If you have any questions about using herbs to help with TMJ, feel free to contact me by email ~ Adrian White, Deer Nation Herbalist ~ deernationherbs@gmail.com

 

For some good sources on Temperomandibular Joint Disorder, and what it is all about, here are some links from professionals, experts, doctors and dentists who deal with the issue.  These also number among some of my resources:

Jaw-Dropping Facts about TMJ/TMD Disorders ~ Delta Dental
TMJ Disorders ~ National Institute of Dental and Craniofascial Research
Smart Guard Night Guard ~ Relief from Bruxism/TMJ
An Aching Jaw Leads to a World of Medical Uncertainty ~ The New York Times
Best Treatment of TMJ May Be Nothing ~ The New York Times

 

 

References

Personal Observation, Empirical Experience.   A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology: 4th Edition by Ruth Werner.  The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood.  Christine L., Quebec Herbalist.