Medicinal Soups

The Soup Pot – The Secret to Health and Longevity

I believe that we would be healthier and that the rates of degenerative disease would decline if we all made more soup!

Our wise mothers and grandmothers knew the medicinal value of soup.  Chicken soup has long been a popular remedy for colds and flu.  When I was sick as a child, I felt comforted and nurtured when served a warm bowl of soup prepared lovingly by my mother.  Love heals, so do good quality foods and herbs.  Medicinal soups are one of the best ways to capture this potential to heal and nurture ourselves and our families.

Could something as simple as a pot of soup really hold the secret to health and longevity? 

Let’s examine the recipe . . .

Water
Essential to soup. The action of water, breaking down the other ingredients, makes soups especially medicinal in that they become easily digested and utilized by the body. It breaks the ingredients down by softening the cell walls and circulating through them, extracting all of the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.  The water content of soup is also important for hydrating our bodies. 

Earth
Vegetables, grains, noodles, beans, tofu, meat, fish – the substance of soup.  Anything and everything goes into the pot – that’s the great thing about soup.    Some of my best soups are made at the end of the week from leftovers, and veggies buried in the back of the crisper. 

Chicken soup isn’t what it used to be.  Unfortunately most chicken, and other food animals (and fish), are raised in factories, under unhealthy and inhumane conditions which warrant the need for antibiotics and other drugs to manage the problems.  This is what we ingest when we eat commercial flesh foods.  Plant foods, sprayed with chemicals and grown in poor and deficient soil, are no better. These are not ingredients that I want in my soup.  Fortunately, access to quality foods is growing; farmer’s markets, healthfood stores, and even supermarkets now offer us more choice.  You can purchase free range, organic meats at the Halifax Farmer’s Markets, Local Source, Organic Earth Market, GetAway Farms and others

Air or Spirit
I consider the flavour to be the soul of the soup.  Seasonings add flavour and help to draw out the flavour of the other base ingredients.  The art of soup making is in the combinations, simple or complex, its all good.  Some of my favourite seasonings include miso, seaweeds, nut butters, herbs, and spices. 

Herbs offer additional nutrition and medicinal properties to soups.  I use dry herbs, seaweeds and medicinal mushrooms to make potent stock for my soups.  I especially like the mineral rich root herbs such as dandelion, burdock, astragulus, wild yam, ginger, and ginseng.  The Chinese have mastered the art of medicinal soups; these and other herbs are common ingredients in their soup pots.

Garnishes are fun.  Decorate your bowl and add texture with things such as homemade croutons, scallions, cheese, toasted nuts or seeds, toasted seaweeds, sprouts, and fresh herbs.

Fire
Heat draws out flavour and nutrients.  A hot bowl of soup, especially in winter, is comfort food at its best.  Hot soup can help to banish sickness and increase vitality. I translate fire as passion.  Passion fuels creation.  Taking the time to be in the kitchen, to slow down and focus on preparing a hearty meal such as soup, is an expression of passion.  Any good cook will agree.  I speak from experience, and I am sure you would agree, that food tastes better when it is prepared with love, passion and intention. 

Energy and $$$
When you consider the fact that soup is a nutrient dense, easily digested, source of energy, and that it costs less than $10 to make a 10 serving pot of soup, how can you afford not to make it a staple in your diet.  Make it a weekly ritual.

Immune Power Soup
5 dried chopped or/ 10 fresh, chopped shiitakes
6 tblsp. astragulus root
2 tsp. seaweed powder, flakes or pieces
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 cup broccoli chopped
4 tblsp. miso paste

Boil the astragulus and shiitakes for 15 minutes in 5 cups water.  Strain the liquid, adding the mushrooms back to the pot.  Add the vegetables and seaweed and simmer until tender.  Remove  ¼ cup of the broth and stir until the miso dissolves.  Turn off the heat and add the miso to the pot.  Do not boil the miso.  You can substitute or add any vegetables you like.

Eat 2 bowls weekly to boost immune function and prevent infection.

Barley and burdock stew
(Healing with Whole Foods – Paul Pitchford)
1 cup barley, soaked
½ onion, diced
½ cup carrot, diced
¼ cup burdock root, sliced
5 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 cups water
¼ teaspoon salt

  1. Sautee vegetables
  2. Dry-toast barley
  3. Place barley and vegetables in a pot with water and salt. Cover and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes.  Serves four.

Herbs to Keep You Warm in Winter

Herbs of Fire

Naturally, when it is cold we effort to keep warm.  Some tolerate the cold better than others, just like some thrive in the summer heat while others wilt – it depends on ones constitution.

As a Nova Scotia resident you likely have well established rituals and habits for keeping warm during our cold winter season, like staying indoors more, cooked foods, wool, whisky, and fires.  My best winter survival techniques are soups, teas, and baths, and they all involve herbs.

If you want to warm up quickly, eat some horseradish.  It is traditionally eaten with meat and fatty foods to improve their digestion.  It also goes well with eggs, beans, fish, and sushi.  Horseradish has been used as a medicine for centuries.  It is a powerful circulatory stimulant.  It can be used internally and topically for arthritis, gout, and inflammation.  It is one the most effective remedies for clearing lung and sinus congestion.  Eat ½ tsp. 2-3 times daily to clear up a persistent congestive cold.

Ginger is always in my winter teapot, either fresh or dried.  In addition to being a good cold and flu remedy, it is a digestive stimulant, anti-inflammatory and a remedy for nausea.  It makes a great poultice for congestive colds.  To 2 cups boiled water add 1 tsp. ginger powder. Soak a cloth in the liquid, wring it out then drape it across the chest, covering up with blankets to keep warm.  Repeat several times on the front and back.  Try it in a foot bath – in a basin full of hot water add 1 tsp. ginger powder, soak for 15-20 minutes to take the chill off.

When I need to thaw out after being out in the cold, nothing feels better than a hot soak. With the addition of herbs, an ordinary bath can become fragrant and therapeutic.  Herbs have been used as part of bathing rituals for centuries. In addition to immersion, water was sprinkled, splashed, poured and sweated to heighten the spiritually cleansing aspect of bathing.

“A daily spiritual bath is an easy way to start paying attention to your spirit and soul as well as your body.” ~ Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. and Herbalist

A herbal bath can ease the stresses of daily life, bringing a peaceful state of mind. If you don’t have a full tub, a hand or foot bath will work. I recommend herbal baths for people who have anxiety and insomnia.  To prepare a healing bath you simply make a super strong tea and add it to the bath.  In 3 lt boiled water, steep 1 cup of your chosen herb (s), covered, for 20 minutes.  Strain the liquid and add to your bath water.

For relaxation: lavender, hops, hibiscus, lemon balm, rose, and chamomile

For skin irritations such as eczema or rashes:  calendula, lavender, yarrow, and chamomile

For sore joints and muscles:  lavender, chamomile, wintergreen, rosemary

For colds:  peppermint, elderflowers, thyme, pine needles

A hot bowl of soup is comfort food at its best.  Hot soup can help to banish sickness and increase vitality.  Herbs are great when making stock – many are mineral rich and will enhance the nutrition of your soup – nettle, burdock root and dandelion roots and leaves are good choices.  Astragulus root is a powerful immune tonic and I add it to all of my winter soup stocks to prevent colds and flu.  Shiitake mushrooms are equally valuable for strengthening the immune system – they go in the pot too.  For extra fiery potency add ginger or chili powders to intensify the medicinal value of your soup.

Speaking of fire – don’t forget to get a daily dose of sunshine.  Brave the cold and get outside on your lunch break or for an afternoon walk to enjoy the beautiful and shapely trees that line our city streets.  We need as much sun exposure as we can get to chase away the winter blues.

Keep warm!

Herbal Remedies for Anxiety

Don’t Panic!

We all experience fear and anxiety from time to time.  At times we may feel overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities – work, family, our health, finances, the environment etc.  At other times emergency situations, traumatic events, or other stressful situations can induce feelings of anxiety.  For some people the symptoms are mild and easily managed, for others anxiety is replaced by stupor from prescription drugs.  The following tools are proven safe and effective for promoting calm and reducing anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety include poor concentration, persistent worrisome thoughts, shortness of breath, indigestion, headache, trembling, restlessness, sweats, and palpitations or accelerated heart rate.

Sage – a recent clinical trial has shown oral doses of this common herb to reduce anxiety.  It does so by inhibiting enzymes that break down neurotransmitters in the brain that effect mood.  It has a fortifying effect on the nervous system and is especially helpful for women experiencing menopausal symptoms related to stress.  It has a strong flavour and is best combined with other herbs in a tea or tincture formula.

Lemon balm – has anxiety reducing properties, acting like sage by affecting the life span of neurotransmitters in the brain.  It has a special affinity for the nervous component of the digestive system and is valuable for indigestion and intestinal spasm triggered by stress. It has a gentle calming and uplifting quality.  It is a pleasant tasting tea and easy to grow in the garden.

Kava – this strong acting herb decreases anxiety and relaxes the body without loss of mental alertness.  It is fast acting for times of acute need; I use it with people who experience regular panic attacks.  It helps to relieve muscle tension and headaches associated with stress.  Unfortunately, access to this herb is limited; most herbal practitioners carry it in their dispensaries.

Valerian – this herb has a tradition of use for nervous unrest dating back thousands of years.  It is a popular remedy for insomnia due to stress and anxiety.  It has a strong and quick acting action, like kava, for panic attacks.  It also settles the digestive system that is agitated by stress due to its soothing effect of smooth muscle.  It is best taken in tincture form, in 30 drop doses as needed, or as part of a sleep regulating herbal program.

Rescue Remedy – this is a combination flower essence that is intended for acute stressful situations such as accidents, bad news, dental visits, flights, performances, nightmares in children, etc.  I have had excellent results with this remedy with people and pets.  Good addition to any first aid kit.

Aromatherapy – essential oils give plants their aroma.  Essential oils have been extracted from plants for thousands of years for use in perfumery and healing.  When inhaled they have a direct affect on the brain thus giving relief too many psychological states.  The effects are usually instantaneous.  Essential oils are easy to use – they simply need to be smelled.  Small bottles can be carried at all times and sniffed often or as needed directly from the bottle.  They can be used in oil burners to spread the aroma throughout a room.  They can be diluted and added to the bath or applied to the skin.  Pure essential oils are generally well tolerated by those sensitive to perfumes and other chemical scents.  What better way to promote wellbeing than from a beautiful, aromatic essence!  Sample the oils at aromatherapy shops or health food stores to find one that you resonate with.  The following oils promote calm and reduce anxiety: Lavender, rose geranium, clary sage, rose, ylang ylang, jasmine, balm, cedarwood, lemongrass, vetiver, rosewood.

In addition to our herbal helpers, it is important to remember the value of deep breathing and exercise as tools for managing anxiety and stress.  When we are stressed we tend to take shallow breaths which only compound the problem.  A minute of deep belly breathing can take the edge off of any stressful situation.  When stressed and anxious we produce the hormones adrenalin and cortisol; these can build up in the body and contribute to more chronic stress states.  Exercise is a sure way to burn off these excess hormones in the system.  A brisk walk works wonders for relieving anxiety.

These valuable self-help tools are very effective for those with occasional anxiety.  I recommend that those with regular anxiety or anxiety disorders consult with a herbal practitioner to obtain a more comprehensive treatment strategy.

Holistic Sleep Strategies

Sleep is one of the primary pillars of health.  Unfortunately, many people suffer from some form of sleep disturbance on a regular basis.  Sleep depravation is one of the defining health problems of modern society, right up there along side obesity.  Our sleep time is crucial for bodily repair and restoration – chronic sleep deprivation is a factor in the development of chronic, degenerative diseases.

The causes of insomnia are varied.  Simply taking a sedative, herbal or pharmaceutical, is ineffective because it does not address the underlying cause of the problem.  A broad focused treatment is required to obtain lasting results.  Three common causes of insomnia: the use of stimulants, stress, and pain.

In one case of stimulant use, the person was drinking one cup of coffee per day, before noon.  This may seem like reasonable coffee consumption, it did to her and she overlooked it as the cause of her sleep problems.  Some people are especially sensitive to caffeine and may not notice its effect on their system.  She was advised to give up the coffee and other caffeine containing substances for two weeks.  In less than one week she reported better sleep and within two weeks she had completely resolved her issue with insomnia.  No other remedies were needed.

Those with chronic sleep disturbance usually rely upon coffee and other stimulants to get them through the day.  This only worsens the problem and further drains their energy.  Breaking this pattern can be challenging.  Accepting short term hardship is rewarded by long term results.  Herbal nerve tonics such as oats and St.John’s wort can help ease through the transition.  The herb Rhodeola rosea , an adaptogenic herb, is especially helpful to enhance endurance and alertness throughout the day.  Gotu kola is a cerebral circulatory stimulant and can improve alertness and mental capacity while producing a state of calm.  A perfect balance.

Stress and anxiety affect us all and can cause short term sleep disruption.  A personal favorite remedy after a stressful day is a strong brew of chamomile tea (2 tsp. herb per cup boiled water) with 20 drops of passionflower tincture added.  Passionflower is recommended for the treatment of nervous tension, restlessness, and irritability with difficulty falling asleep.  Passionflower can be repeated again at bedtime combined with valerian tincture which is a powerful sedative and muscle relaxant.  It is rare that herbal sedatives will cause grogginess the next day. To avoid this it is best not to combine them with sleeping pills.

When stress and anxiety are prolonged and/or severe it can lead to adrenal burn out and deep seated exhaustion.  This can be avoided by using herbal nerve tonics and other stress management tools.  If this does occur adrenal restoratives such as borage, licorice and eleuthero can be used along with other supportive herbal aids. 

Pain can cause severe sleep disruption.  One client was waking every hour for several weeks due to pain and numbness in the arm caused by repetitive strain.  Needless to say this was causing great interference in his life.   In these cases the cause of the pain needs to be effectively dealt with.  Many herbal sleeping agents also act as analgesics, anti-spasmodics and anti-inflammatories.  Examples include California poppy, valerian, black cohosh, and lobelia.  A liquid calcium and magnesium supplement taken at bedtime is relaxing to the nervous system and is an effective way to deal with muscle spasm.

Melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland, is largely responsible for regulating sleep patterns.  Its release is stimulated by the dark; therefore the bedroom must be completely dark.  Cover windows to block out street lights and wear an eye mask if necessary.  Reduce lighting in the evening, dim the lights or use candles.  Conversely, it is important to have sunlight exposure during the day to maintain melatonin production by the body.

Simple lifestyle adjustments can be very beneficial in cases of sleep disturbance.  For example people respond well to a ½ hour walk after dinner.  Exercise helps the body burn off stress hormones, plus it improves digestion.  A soothing bath in the evening using relaxing essential oils like lavender, ylang ylang or spikenard is very helpful.  Light and pleasurable reading at bedtime can help to shut off mental processing and unwanted thoughts from the day. Turn off TV and computer screens at least an hour before sleep time.

Establishing regular, routine sleep patterns is important.  Sleep research shows that the hours between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. are critical for rejuvenation.  Sweet dreams.

Winter Tree Medicine

We are fortunate to have many  trees in our city and surrounding area.  Trees and other plants oxygenate and purify the air we breathe.  I value trees simply for their beauty; at this time of year I love to see their tall, slender, naked branches reaching for the sky, and I value the vibrancy of the ever-greens.  Trees bring me comfort and peace.  I am one of those people you may see hugging a tree on your walk through the park.  Trees give the best hugs, try it, you’ll see.

At this time of year there is very little wild medicine to be found.  You can always dig through the snow in the forest and find goldthread roots and wintergreen leaves.  Up above we have access to several trees offering winter medicine.

My current favourite is the balsam fir.  It is found all over Nova Scotia.  In some places it is called “the church steeple” due to its upper spire-like form.  It is widely used as a Christmas tree.  It is easy to identify due to the raised resin blisters found on the trunk of young trees.  The needles are flat, and are white underneath with a green line running through the middle.

Balsam fir has a pleasant and stimulating scent which is released upon rubbing the branches.  The resinous sap that oozes from the blisters is very tasty and fragrant.  American First Nations people used it on cuts, burns and sores as an anti-septic and analgesic. The leaves are high in vitamin C, and are used in a tea for coughs, colds and asthma.  I had the dry, persistent cough that was going around in January; finally it was a decoction of balsam twigs and marshmallow root that cured me.

Balsam is a strong medicine; ¼ cup can be taken two-four times daily.  It should be avoided by those with kidney disease and during pregnancy.

White Pine is another of our medicinal trees.   They grace our forests with their majestic height and branches that sing with the wind.  It is the tallest growing conifer in eastern Canada.  The bottom 2/3 of the tree is often branchless.  The long needles are grouped in clusters of five.

This tree was used extensively by our first nations peoples.  The pitch was used topically to draw out fluid and infection from abscesses and boils, for rheumatism, broken bones, cuts, bruises, and inflammation.  The bark, needles and twigs can be steeped to make a tea for cough, colds, and sore throat.  Like the balsam fir, the needles are rich in vitamin C.  It would be far more sustainable if we derived our winter vitamin C from tree tea than from oranges imported from Florida!

Pine is used as a flower essence to help people overcome guilt and self-blame, and for those who tend to be hard on themselves.  It helps us to forgive ourselves for past errors or life events.  Dr. Bach, discoverer of the Bach Flower Remedies wrote “One trace of condemnation against ourselves, or others, is a trace of condemnation against the Universal Creation of Love, and restricts us, limits our power to allow the Universal Love to flow through us to others.”

Cancer Prevention

I’ll start with the good news.
At least half of all cancers are preventable!

 

Cancer is now a worldwide epidemic. According to Canadian health statistics in 2010, 1 in 2.2 (45%) men and 1 in 2.4 (42%) of women will get cancer in their lifetime. Incidence has been on the rise. It is the leading cause of death in Canada and the US.

 

Cancer is probably the biggest health challenge a person could face. I watched my grandmother, my best friend and my dog die from cancer; and in my practice I work with many who have the disease; some now exist only as a memory. Cancer is devastatingly painful, physically and emotionally, for those afflicted, and their loved ones.

 

Cancer creates enormous expense for individuals and our health care system. The mainstream cancer establishment fails to see cancer from a broad perspective, instead focusing their funding on costly treatments, early detection and very little to none on primary prevention. Since the 1960’s, independent researchers and activists have been calling our attention toward the relationship between cancer and environmental toxins. I believe this to be the most urgent issue of our times, with air, soil, water and bodily contamination at the spilling point.

 

The cancer risks from lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, alcohol, and diet have become fairly engrained in our minds. We also know that only 5% to 10% of cancers are hereditary. Why is it that people without these risk factors, newborn babies, domestic pets, and wild animals, get cancer at equally alarming rates? Could it be the 10,000 different chemicals in commercial use in everything from food production, cosmetics, to home furnishings? What about industrial pollutants and car exhaust? Or naturally occurring toxins such as radon and asbestos?

 

Cancer statistics and the state of our environment are alarming. By taking care of mother earth we take care of ourselves. Transform alarm into greater awareness and action. I have found some very useful and empowering resources over the years that I have shared below.

 

“We have chemicals linked to cancer, both known carcinogens and suspected carcinogens, inside all the bodies of people who live in North America”
– Sandra Steingraber

 

Herbal medicine has a role to play in cancer prevention and as support for people who have it.

Here is my basic herbal cancer prevention strategy:

  • Incorporate regular cleansing and detoxification with herbs and diet into your lifestyle
  • Add more herbs and spices to your diet, especially those such as turmeric, thyme, rosemary, sage and garlic which have proven anti-carcinogenic properties
  • Use adaptogen herbs such as eleuthero, schisandra, withania, and ginseng to better manage stresses of all kinds whether physical or emotional
  • Support your immune system periodically with herbs such as astragulus, elderberry, medicinal mushrooms and adaptogens
  • Replace some or all coffee and black tea with herbal and green teas, not only for pleasure, but for the medicine and vitality they bring
  • Use herbal tonics to strengthen liver function i.e. milk thistle seeds, dandelion root, turmeric
  • Correct chronic degenerative diseases by identifying the cause and using herbs to help restore health
  • Remove allergens from the diet and home environment and use herbs to deal with the harmful effects of long term allergies
  • Prevent and effectively treat viral infections with herbal medicines
  • High consumption of fruits and vegetables reduces cancer risk. Eat at least 8-10 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, ideally organic, seasonal and local, include fresh herbs in the diet.

Resources:
Prevent Cancer Now – www.preventcancernow.ca
Not-for-profit Canadian movement dedicated to eliminating the preventable causes of cancer.

 

Guide to Less Toxic Products – www.lesstoxicguide.ca
Published by the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia
Thorough examination of household products containing hazardous chemicals and lists alternatives.

 

Environmental Working Group – www.ewg.org
Not-for-profit environmental research organization dedicating to improving public health and protecting the environment by reducing pollution in air, water and food.

 

Cancer – 101 Solutions to a Preventable Epidemic
Book written by Liz Armstrong, Guy Dauncey and Anne Wordsworth
In depth review of all known cancer promoters, very practical, can purchase via Prevent Cancer Now website and some book stores.

 

Herbal Medicine, Healing and Cancer – A Comprehensive Program for Prevention and Treatment
Book written by Donald Yance – nutritionist and herbalist specializing in cancer care.

Women’s Health

Modern Problems

 

It is difficult to keep hormones balanced in a body that has lost homeostasis. Our health is at risk due to the toxicity we are exposed to in our environment, poor lifestyle, drug residues, food contaminated with pesticides and other chemicals, and chemical laden cosmetics and household products. The effects can be seen in the rising incidences of infertility, gynecological disorders and cancers.

 

Solutions

 

When menstrual problems are seen as a call from the body for balance through changes such as better nutrition, rest, stress relief, and protection from chemical toxicity, women become more skilled at self-care and preventative medicine.

 

Fertility awareness offers much more than an effective method of birth control. It puts a women in touch with the distinct phases of her cycle – pre-ovulation, ovulation, post ovulation and menstruation. Each phase brings different bodily experiences, energy levels, creativity, moods, emotional states, sexual drives, thoughts and concerns.

 

Women have turned to herbal remedies to restore balance to their health for centuries. Herbs help to correct problems such as PMS, infertility, fibroids, endometriosis, irregular cycles, and ovarian cysts. They are used as supportive tonics during menarche, pregnancy, and menopause. Some of my favorite herbs for women’s health are chaste tree berry, motherwort, wild yam, mugwort, raspberry leaf, black cohosh, and partridge berry.

 

Book an appointment with Savayda to learn how to incorporate herbs and fertility awareness into your life.