Monthly Archives: March 2014

Honey Beats MRSA and Other Reasons to Love Honey for Health

As if there weren’t enough reasons to love honey, it’s also showing a staggering array of health benefits, in fact honey for health might just be this years new buzzword (shameless pun, I know.) Seriously honey is kind of a miracle anyway; the awesomeness of bees flying 55,000 miles and visiting two million flowers per pound of honey is pretty staggering, but as it turns out every day we have more and more reasons to be amazed by honey health benefits as well.  Today’s amazement includes a fully stocked arsenal of weapons against against antibiotic resistant bacteria.

honey for health dreamstimefree_192457 Hard at work for your honey health benefits… Gorgeous shot from © Olga Vasilkova | Dreamstime Stock Photos

One of the most immediate problems modern medicine is facing right now is the epidemic of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Of course MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)  is all over the news, but equally distressing are the antibiotic resistant strains of tuberculosis, syphilis, gonorrhea, and Clostridium difficile that are popping up all over the world and the U.S.  We’re calling these new big bads the “Superbugs” and really, we’re at a bit of a loss trying to figure out how to kill them. The whole concept of antibiotic resistance is distressing because it is the evolution of organisms into newer, more dangerous, better adapted pathogens.  These bacteria create conditions that we thought we knew how to treat, except the old treatments aren’t working anymore because the bacteria have become “smarter” in their own way. Seems kind of astounding that something as simple as honey might be the answer, but the way it’s looking now, honey could be a big part of the solution.

How bacteria become antibiotic resistant

This is a complex process that has happened partially because of the way we hand out antibiotics like candy for humans, and partly because we use antibiotics in our livestock’s food – not just to keep them from getting diseases in unhealthy living conditions, but also because antibiotics are proven to help fatten animals faster (humans too. Sigh.) Mechanisms for antibiotic resistance include:

  • Genetic resistance – Some bacteria have mutated (or evolved) to resist antibiotics, and bacteria have a very free and easy swapping of genes, so gene segments can jump from one bacteria to another in a slightly scary form of information sharing. Bacterial genetics can change very quickly, which makes them highly adaptable (and makes the human error of antibiotic overuse that much more serious).
  • Evolution – Darwin would be gleefully saying “I told you so” if he were here to see this. We have unintentionally created an experiment in natural selection.  If you blast a person who is sick with antibiotics and they don’t quite get better, the bacteria which have survived are naturally the strongest members of that colony.  Quite literally the ones best adapted to survive that harsh environment.  They then go on to breed happily with each other enhancing those survival traits so that in the future that harsh environment is just another walk in the park for that particular bacteria. Essentially we’re breeding and cultivating better pathogens.
  • Antibiotic overuse in humans – Obviously medicine has been on a bit of a field-day with antibiotics. Doctors have given them for everything from ear infections (usually viral -which antibiotics won’t help) to acne (really? We should put teenagers on systemic antibiotics for months? Really?) The more we use them the more likely it is that our bacteria evolve to avoid them. Plain and simple.
  • Antibiotic overuse in livestock – In the effort to make fatter farm animals (which is clearly what this culture needs) we feed them antibiotics. The good news is that it works – they fatten right up. The bad news is that they become factories for drug-resistant bugs.  The other bad news is that the humans consuming those animals get exposure to the antibiotic resistant bacteria, and also low doses of the antibiotics themselves, thereby nudging their own internal bacteria towards drug resistance.
  • Biofilms – one of the things bacteria have learned to do to avoid dying in an antibiotic-rich environment is to create what is called a biofilm.  It is exactly what it sounds like, a sticky, gooey mass of bacteria that literally cement themselves together to make it harder for you to kill them.
Staph aureus biofilm. Did you know honey can help you fight this??? Honey for Health! Thanks to wikimedia commons for the image.

Staph aureus biofilm. Did you know honey can help you fight this??? Honey for Health! Thanks to wikimedia commons for the image.

How honey helps fight antibiotic resistance in bacteria

Outside of being utterly amazing and yummy and rich in minerals, polyphenols, antioxidants and bioflavenoids, honey is also a pretty amazing bacterial killer (not to mention wound healer – honey is used in hospitals on severe burns and wounds that won’t heal).  Honey has many overlapping mechanisms for killing bacteria, which makes it much harder for bacteria to develop resistance – honey really is a miracle health food. Here’s what it does to bacteria:

  • Kills them with kindness – The high sugar concentration in honey actually does kill bacteria through osmotic effects. Essentially it’s like pouring salt on slugs – it just draws all the water out of the bacteria and dries them up. Incidentally, this is a big part of what happens to human cells in diabetes – think about that the next time you buy a giant bucket of soda.
  • Kills them with cruelty – Honey is designed to prevent bacteria growth because it’s long-term storage food for bees. This means it contains substances that are toxic to bacteria like hydrogen peroxide, polyphenols, and acids that are actually directly harmful to bacteria.
  • Isolates bacteria – New research shows that honey disrupts something called “quorum sensing”, which is the method bacteria use to communicate with each other. This makes the bacteria less virulent by stopping them from communicating enough to release toxins and also increases their susceptibility to conventional antibiotics.
  • Prevents biofilms – Without quorum sensing, bacteria have a much harder time forming biofilms (you can’t gang up if you can’t talk with your buddies). This takes away one of the bacteria’s main defenses against drugs and toxins.
  • Honey is tricky – Honey doesn’t kill bacteria by targeting the essential growth processes, it eliminates bacteria on many fronts, which makes it much harder to develop a genetic resistance to this kind of damage.

Honey for health: The best things about honey

Honey for health isn’t a new idea – it’s been used for centuries as a healing tool. Honey isn’t just antibacterial, there are a host of other great benefits as well. Here’s a quick list, but we’ll probably revisit this issue because there is always more to tell.

  • Honey prevents everything – In addition to being antibacterial, honey is also antiviral and antifungal
  • Honey is a tremendous antioxidant – That’s all we need to say about that.
  • Honey is healing – Honey is extremely soothing to tissues and helps wounds and burns heal with less scarring. Because it’s also antibacterial and antifungal it’s being used in hospitals for this purpose.
  • Honey is a cough suppressant – a mug of hot water with honey and lemon juice helps to relax your bronchial tree and loosen up a tight cough.
  • Honey helps a sore throat –  My grandmother (and mom too, but I remember it best at Nana’s house) used to give me honey and fresh squeezed lemon juice when I’d have a sore throat and have me eat it as slowly as I could (which was not very slowly because it tastes awesome). Worked like a charm.
  • Honey makes a great mixed drink – I know in Texas we don’t have many cold nights, but if you ever need quick warming up, try a shot of spiced rum in a mug with honey and hot water. So delicious and warms you right up.
  • Honey is soothing to the stomach and esophagus – honey can help to heal gastritis, ulcers and mild erosions in the upper GI tract.  This effect is especially well documented with manuka honey.  A teaspoon two to three times daily between meals really helps.
  • Honey may help with allergies – Eating raw, seasonal, local honey gives you traces of the pollens from the local area and can help to reduce your symptoms from airborne allergens.
  • Honey makes you radiant – Honey is just as nourishing to your skin as it is to the rest of you, and helps to nourish your skin from the outside.  Honey in your skin care routine can help to provide antioxidants, kill harmful bacteria and rejuvenate skin cells, as well as return your skin to it’s naturally slightly acidic pH. Here’s a favorite honey mask:

1 tsp whole milk
1/2 tsp honey
1/4 tsp sea salt

Mix the ingredients together and apply to your face in gentle circular motions.  Leave it on for five minutes and then rinse with warm water. The salt is gently exfoliating, the milk has lactic acid which helps to dissolve old or dead skin cells and the honey and milk proteins and fats nourish your skin to leave it soft and smooth and lovely. Once or twice a week will give you noticeable improvements in skin tone and texture and is just a lovely way to pamper yourself. Honey does tend to lighten the skin subtly, so it can also help with sun spots over time.

I’m obviously a big fan of honey, especially raw organic honey.  Honey for health isn’t a new idea, but it’s easy to overlook. Your pantry is often the most useful medicine cabinet in the house, and in truth I’m not sure how I would make my life work without honey (or vinegar – we can talk about that one later.)  In the interim – just give honey a try. Honey for health is simple, gentle and effective and best of all it’s one tool that does many jobs. No need for many different types of remedies and potions, just a few really great basics.  If you’re looking for even more great information, here’s a great article called 13 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Honey.  Totally worth a look!

Be an Urban Wildling: ReWilding YOUR Ecology!

So rarely do I find an idea that just zings with me like rewilding does, but ZING! Wow WOW am I ever excited about this. Let me back up and tell you what exactly I’m going on about before I go on any further…

I’ve been talking with the Urban Moonshine people, mostly because I love their bitters but partly because I wanted to make sure they weren’t going to be upset that I’m talking about them.  In any event, they were kind enough to send me this article, by their Chief Herbalist Guido Mase RH introducing the concept of rewilding our Urban spaces.  Not with big sweeping gestures, like knocking down buildings and tearing up pavement; but with the small gestures that gently nudge environments and ourselves back to health and balance.  The tiny things that will help our pollinators, help our soil health, help our internal health and maybe bring us all a little closer to wonderful.

A wild garden from - rewilding at work.

A wild garden from – rewilding at work.

Selected Rewilding Excerpts from Guido Mase, RH “Re-Wild Our Ecology This Spring”:

It’s always puzzled me that life and vitality even exist. After all, there is a vast amount of decay and destruction all around us. Many speculate that the universe will eventually end up a homogenous, barely warm field of force[i]. Yet somehow there is also this tendency everywhere for more and more complex beings to spring up, interact, and reproduce. These two trends seem to stand in opposition, two basic drives, somewhat of a paradox.

For us humans there is no escape from this basic fact. Some say we are becoming more and more separate from nature[iv], which of course is impossible (we are nature)

If you fail to recognize how important it is to fully interact and engage with the diversity of life, consequences inevitably follow. Less bees[vii], fewer flavonoids, more heart disease. Fewer monarch butterflies[viii], absent bitter compounds, more diabetes. That’s the thing: complexity works at all levels of the ecology, and our current culture has places where things aren’t as connected, aren’t as linked up. We may be fully jacked into the information stream, but our phytochemical stream has very low bandwidth. Maybe the best way to link up is simply to do as life does: increase the chaos, increase the diversity, open up access, re-wild within and without. It seems to me that the spring season is a good time for this. It’s when the ice cracks, and the seed breaks through the soil.

One strategy is to change the ecology, little by little. We can look to the parking lot, the lawn, the edge of the cornfield. Scatter seeds of resilient native plants – wild bee balm, dandelion, red clover. Leave some grass uncut – watch the trefoil, wild carrot, and asters grow. Leave thick buffer zones between your gardens, rich in weeds like St. John’s wort, mugwort, and chicory. These plants will attract pollinators, giving them a much needed source of safe food. They will change the chemical interactions of microbes in the soil[ix], affect patterns of bird nesting and reproduction[x], and speed the dissipation of contaminants[xi]. This will help our cities, gardens and fields link up.

In our bodies, herbal medicine is the best way to achieve similar diversity, and it may be the easiest as well (life, after all, appears to be the path of least resistance). While much of herbalism is devoted to specific constitutions, or well-defined patterns of imbalance, it also has a rich tradition of plants applied tonically, ritually, daily: planting a wild garden inside. The life-enhancing power of tonic herbalism is the exposure to an ever-changing cocktail of phytochemistry, enriching the internal ecology and helping us connect to seasons as they change.

This spring, try a simple version of the classic bitter tonic: gather dandelion leaves and roots and mix them with an aromatic plant like motherwort, mugwort, or mustard, the young leaves still fresh and vital. To these add something with a little hint of salt, like parsley or chickweed. Get your plants locally and, if you can’t find them, plant them. Chop the herbs up well and cover the mix with vodka, or even apple cider vinegar. After a few weeks, strain this mixture and take a little bit every day. Great on the tongue, this tonic wakes up and supports all the internal organs. It encourages vitality because it is vitality: life, diversity, complexity, efficiency. This will help our bodies link up.

Rewilding - The wild garden in the former churchyard of Saint Mary-at-Lambeth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Rewilding – The wild garden in the former churchyard of Saint Mary-at-Lambeth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

What Does It Mean – To Plant A Wild Garden Inside?

I *love* this imagery. I want to roll around in it and fill myself up with having a wild garden inside. Not a cultivated garden in neat little rows, but a wild, crazy, sprawling garden booming with life. My own internal rewilding. I imaging the idea of having a wild garden inside might be a little bit different for every person, but to me that feels free and alive and rich – like I would be filled to bursting with life and vitality and color. I agree we need a little more chaos and a little less cultivation – not only that we need to embrace the chaos more and to live into the changes rather than trying to avoid or control them.  There needs to be more native seed scattering and less lawn-mowing. I’m not just talking about the health of the earth here, I’m talking about for our own health, our own sanity.  I don’t think it’s normal to cultivate and tend and regiment everything down to well-oiled-machine status.  I think life is supposed to be a whole lot more than that.  It’s time to get out of those boxes and shake things up a bit. The wonderful thing is that rewilding can mean whatever you want it to mean – this can be your codeword for anything you want to make richer and more adventurous in your life. Any way you can nudge your own self back to balance.

Here’s a little list of ways I’m going to ReWild, and ways I’m going to nurture my wild garden:

  • Schedule fewer things so there’s time in the day to stop and smell the roses (or dandelions)
  • Appreciate more the richness and diversity of the “weeds” in my garden and worry less about keeping them out. I’m not just talking about the literal weeds – I’m also talking about the nuisances and hassles and personalities and minor chaos in life.  Sure – it’s there. it’s going to keep being there. That just adds depth and texture.
  • Make wishes and blow the dandelion tops when I see that they’re ready to re-seed, because bees and other pollinators need more dandelions, and I could use a little more child-like joy. I’m considering getting some kids bubble wands for the same reason.
  • Invest in some great native seeds from Native Seed Search and Native American Seed and scatter those in places that need to be made a little more beautiful. I’m also going to start to look at my home and see what there needs some metaphorical wild seed? Are there clothes I got because someone else thought they might look good (but don’t feel like me?) what about things in my home? Does my environment make me feel alive and wonderful or boxed-in and dreary? What about my living space can I rewild?
  • What about my routine is just routine? Where have I become stagnant and started doing the same things, not because they’re vibrant and wonderful but just because.  Am I in a rut with the foods I eat? With books I’m reading? Clothes I’m wearing?
  • Spontaneous road trips! Let’s have more of those. Just jump in the car and pick a direction. Why not?

I feel like rewilding is an idea that needs to pervade everyone’s life – we have become too domesticated and lost our fires and our sparks and our instincts.  Let’s work to rewild – to loosen and let go and shake things up. Life doesn’t need to feel like a cubicle job – it needs to feel alive and like a grand adventure that you look forward to every day.

Urban Moonshine Citrus Bitters. A great natural remedy for gallbladder sludge and stones.

Natural Remedy for Gallbladder Sludge and Stones

A loyal reader Letty asked me if I had any solutions for gallbladder sludge and stones – which is a great question.  This is an issue that troubles so many people, especially women and many make the tough decision about having surgery, partly because they don’t know about other options. First let’s talk a little bit about gallbladders in general and then we’ll get to why they get sludgy and what you can do about it.

What Is A Gallbladder Anyway?

Your gallbladder sits tucked underneath your liver under the bottom of your rib cage on the right side of your body.  Your liver manufactures bile, which helps you to digest fats and also helps you to eliminate fat-soluble toxins. This bile passes through a duct, which is a narrow tube, into your gallbladder.  Your gallbladder helps to reabsorb water from the bile to make it stronger and more concentrated. Your gallbladder also holds this bile and stores it until you eat something fatty.  When fatty foods enter your stomach your stomach releases signaling molecules that tell you gallbladder to contract, and as it contracts it squeezes that concentrated bile through another duct into your small intestines to help with digestion. For this system to work properly three factors need to be in place.

  1. Your liver has to be in good working order
  2. Your gallbladder has to be free to contract (not filled with sludge and stones)
  3. The ducts between liver and gallbladder and gallbladder and intestines must be clear from obstructions, which are usually sludge or stones.
Gallbladder location and connection to liver- natural remedies for gallbladder sludge and stones.

Gallbladder location and connection to liver- natural remedies for gallbladder sludge and stones.

What Happens in a Gallbladder Attack?

When people have a gallbladder attack it is usually an event they won’t forget for a while.  What is happening is that your gallbladder gets the signal to contract to squeeze out bile, but something is in the way – usually either sludge or stones.  The sludge or stones can be in the gallbladder itself or they can be blocking one of the ducts.  Either way, when the gallbladder squeezes down on something like this, it hurts.  It hurts in a really vivid way. Usually people report severe pain after eating that can cause sweating, nausea or even vomiting.  A lot of time people will take themselves to the ER because it’s really easy to confuse this type of pain with heart attack pain. Your body keeps squeezing to try to dislodge the sludge or stones, which just keeps hurting, and a lot of times the only thing that really makes it feel better is morphine (or surgery).

Why are the Sludge and Stones There In The First Place?

If you are actively losing weight, if your body has a lot of fat soluble toxins to deal with, if your diet is higher in fat than it should be or if you’re going through hormone fluctuations then sometimes there is just more fat than there is bile.  What can happen in this situation is that the fat and bile bind together to form a sludgy, gluey substance that gets thicker and stickier and eventually clogs up the gallbladder and ducts.  Within that sludgy mixture stones can begin to form and grow and the stones can also block ducts – sometimes requiring emergency surgery if they’re blocking a duct completely. Essentially the sludge is just thick, heavy fats that your body couldn’t deal with properly.

How Can I Get Rid of Gallbladder Sludge and Stones Naturally?

The key to getting rid of sludge and stones is doing four things at the same time.

  1. Increase bile production – Stimulate your liver production of bile or actually take bile salts to make sure that lots of bile is flowing through the gallbladder and intestines.
  2. Liquify and Move the Bile – Keeping the bile liquid and moving quickly so it can start to wash out the preexisting sludge and stones.
  3. Shrink the Stones – If there are stones there, then we have to make them smaller so that they wash out easily. If you suspect stones I would suggest making an appointment with your doctor to see how many there are and how big they are.
  4. Dump the Bile – Once bile gets dumped into your intestines it’s out of the gallbladder, but a lot of times we reabsorb that same bile from our intestines to use again, because we’re just hoarders by nature. In this scenario you have to make sure as much bile as possible is actually leaving your body.

Increasing Bile Production – Choleretic

Increasing the amount of bile produced to help your body flush out gallbladder sludge and stones. Substances that do this are called “choleretics” and fortunately there are some great options out there, and lots of them are foods.  My favorite foods that increase bile production are artichokes – you can actually feel your saliva production increase when you eat them, and that same response is happening with bile. Young beet greens and possibly the beets themselves help too. Herbal bile flow stimulants include chamomile, chicory, blessed thistle, and many of the bitter herbs.  In terms of finding products, I love digestive bitters before each meal (right now I’m addicted to some from Urban Moonshine – their citrus bitters are the bomb!) Another great way to go is Standard Process A-F Betafood, which makes everything nice and simple, or Panplex 2-Phase from ITI which is a strong digestive complex with ox bile in it.

Urban Moonshine Citrus Bitters. A great natural remedy for gallbladder sludge and stones.

Urban Moonshine Citrus Bitters. A great natural remedy for gallbladder sludge and stones.

Liquify and Move the Bile – Cholagogue

Choagogues promote discharge of bile from the system – keeping it moving downward out of your liver and gallbladder and into your small intestines. In terms of naturally eliminating gallbladder sludge and stones this is key! Again, all of your bitter foods will stimulate bile flow so adding raw bitter greens like arugula and some of the bitter lettuces or dandelion greens will help. In terms of supplements the digestive bitters are a great idea here too, or liver support products.  Some of my favorites include Milk Thistle from Gaia herbs, Lipotrophic complex from ITI or Livaplex from Standard Process.

Shrink The Gallstones

Shrinking gallstones can be tricky naturally, just because we can’t actually break things up, we have to just slowly dissolve them from the surface. This is a long prospect. Essentially we need things that are acidic enough to leech calcium out of stones – but be careful because they’re usually also acidic enough to leech calcium out of your teeth so rinse your mouth out with water after you take them so the acid doesn’t stay on your teeth. My favorites are Standard Process Phosfood liquid – it’s super sour but works great to start shrinking stones.  Apple cider vinegar before meals is a great strategy too.

Dump The Bile

We want to prevent the bile that your body is dumping into your small intestines from being reabsorbed. This means binding it to something like fiber so that you can’t reabsorb it at all.  Fiber a couple of times per day between meals (with lots of water to also help you flush things through). I really like Fiber Plus powder from Orthomolecular because it’s a good blend of soluble and insoluble fiber and tastes great (apple cinnamon) plus it’s a high dose in every scoop. There are also gallbladder cleanses but they aren’t safe for everyone.  You can read more about gallbladder cleanses here.

Now hopefully you have a better understanding of what you’re trying to do when you’re cleaning out liver and gallbladder sludge and stones, but if you have any questions or comments just leave them here and I’ll get back to you.  The natural methods do work, but if a stone gets lodged in a duct then that is actually a medical emergency and requires emergency surgery so go to the ER if you need to.. Don’t worry – if that happens you won’t miss it.  It’s excruciating pain and often jaundice.  Otherwise, naturally eliminating your gallbladder sludge and stones is a great way to go. In general incorporating more of the gallbladder and liver friendly foods into your diet would help almost everyone.

Natural Fertility: Honoring Your Cycle

Natural fertility is a growing concern – although rates of infertility fell in the last few years from 8.5% of couples in the U.S. to 6%, there are still staggering numbers of people who are struggling to get pregnant and especially to have natural fertility.  Many couples are experiencing “sub-fertility” which means that they can technically become pregnant, but are having a hard time doing so. Also many women experience irregular cycles, skipped ovulation and general hormone wackiness that makes planning for fertility more of a challenge. I genuinely feel that part of the issue with fertility is that women have come to see the rhythms of their bodies as inconvenient, painful, embarrassing or a nuisance. There is a huge disconnect between the powerful things that happen in our bodies and our perception of and regard for them.

In light of all of the emotional, lifestyle and financial burden of infertility there is a movement towards improving fertility naturally, which sounds great, but this whole issue can seem daunting and overly complicated.  Don’t worry – we’re going to make it as easy as possible. There will be many posts on the subject, but we’re going to start with the basics. The first step is to actually begin to understand what is happening in your body during the different phases of your menstrual cycle and why those things are so important. In this post we’ll talk about the whole reason for your cycle, more the spirit behind the thing.  In subsequent posts we’ll talk about the hormone changes in more detail, fertility tracking and general steps towards boosting your fertility naturally.

Step One to Natural Fertility: Honoring Your Menstrual Cycle

Anyone who has ever known a woman can tell you that a woman’s cycle is a powerful driving force in their lives. This is a huge part of what makes the experience of being a woman entirely different from the experience of being a man. We have a rhythm and that rhythm dictates when we are the most sexual, the most vulnerable and for some women the most emotionally labile. To begin with, let’s take a look at a picture of all the things that are happening in your cycle. Remember “day 1” is counted from the first day you bleed each month:

Natural fertility and your monthly cycle - Look how much your body does every month!

Natural fertility and your monthly cycle – Look how much your body does every month!

First off – I just want to stop for a moment and appreciate just how much is happening here. Your body is doing all of this without any particular input from you – it is following it’s own rhythm. To me, that seems like an awesome kind of miracle and a tremendously beautiful part of being human. Strong natural fertility is in our blood, or psyche and our DNA. Your body does this – on it’s own – with no conscious direction.  That is completely mind blowing. To me, this is a natural cycle that must be honored in our daily lives. Your natural fertility and the tides of your body can be made into an almost spiritual awareness of the way life itself moves within you.

Understanding the Phases of Your Menstrual Cycle

Natural Fertility Week 1: Eliminating the not-needed and selecting the best hopes for the future. (Follicular phase)

This first week of your cycle is the section that most women stay connected to, simply because it’s the most obvious. This is the week you bleed, the week you shed the uterine lining that you built up last month because there was no fertilized egg to nourish with those tissues.  In this season, the spring of your four-phase cycle, you are doing two things. One is the literal spring cleaning that you might think of – the sloughing off of the cushy landing spot that your body made for last month’s egg.  Clearly the egg didn’t need it so you are free to release that tissue so that you can start the process over again and build a fresh place for the next egg to land.  Simultaneously you are selecting the healthiest follicle from those which are starting to mature this month – you’re selecting your best egg, so to speak.  This is a literal process of letting go of what is no longer needed and selecting the best starting place for your path forward – this is the death and rebirth phase of your rhythm.  Emotionally too this is a wonderful time for self-reflection.  Using the week of your menses to actually look at your last month, to see what has been serving you in your life and what might be eliminated. Typically this is a more inward time for women with less desire to be out in the world and more time for quiet and inner peace.

Natural Fertility Week 2: The ripening (Follicular phase)

This week of the cycle is the one I hear most women report as their most peaceful, when energy is building and it is easiest to turn out towards the world – culminating with our social peak at ovulation.  Your body is ripening the chosen follicle to become a healthy viable egg.  You can see on the menstrual graph that all of our hormones take a sharp rise right before ovulation, when you are at your peak of fertility as well as your peak sexuality. This is the ripening phase of your cycle when your body is literally preparing to bear fruit – this is your summer. Your physical, sexual and creative energies are all increasing and most women are more likely to focus more on their outward appearance during this time because our hormone drives are pushing us to be more desirable to a mate.

Culmination: Ovulation

Right around Day 14 of your cycle (which often corresponds with the full moon – we’ll get to that in another post) your body’s energy builds, your hormones peak, your sexual drive reaches it’s highest point – according to market research this is the time when women are most likely to dress provocatively, to be more socially active and to buy sexy lingerie. The end result is that your body releases a fertile egg, and gives you the drives to do something about it.  Some women feel the ovulatory release with a sharp pinching or stabbing pain on the ovary that is releasing an egg (called middleschmertz – great word!!), some women have a dull ache over that ovary and some women don’t feel ovulation at all.

Week 3: Letting Down (Luteal Phase)

During this week the frantic energy that happens around ovulation begins to dissipate, and the ruptured follicle where your egg was released turns into the corpus luteum, which secretes progesterone. If fertilization occurs, then in this week the fertile egg journeys through the fallopian tube to implant in the uterus around day 21. In this week the uterine lining fully matures so that it is at it’s peak for implantation. This is the fall of the cycle, the journey to find a place to settle down. This is a more calm time in your cycle and many women feel a continuing stability from week 2 (with that brief, frantic ovulation instability in the middle).

Natural fertility implantation diagram. Week 3 of the cycle

Natural fertility implantation diagram. Week 3 of the cycle. Thanks to wikimedia commons for the great pictures!

Natural Fertility Week 4: A Look at What Needs to be Let Go (Luteal Phase and Possibly PMS)

This final phase of your cycle is when your body either transitions into viable pregnancy, or switches gears accepting that a pregnancy hasn’t happened and so prepares to shed the uterine lining for another cycle.  The Uterine lining is now fully mature, and if implantation doesn’t occur then we see an over-ripening in preparation for break down. Clearly the winter of your own personal cycle, this is when a lot of women begin to look back at what might not have worked this past month or dealing with any sadness, losses and irritations. It is the time when emotions can run closest to the surface and the premenstrual hormone shifts only amplify what is already there. Just like actual winter, this is a great time to notice the issues that are coming to the surface – contemplate and reexamine in preparation for the next cycle (or the next spring fresh start).

This is perhaps a little bit different way of looking at your menstrual cycle, which we often dismiss as annoying or irritating or inconvenient.  If you are working to normalize your hormone balance or to boost your fertility naturally then it’s time to start maintaining a daily awareness of the vast changes that are going on in your body every day and the staggering number of things your body is doing to help you prepare for the possibility of a baby. By bringing some awareness to this process every day you are making a conscious shift towards valuing this part of you as a woman, to actually honoring your menstrual cycle for the miracle of natural fertility that it is. Today, say thanks for your natural fertility. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman of reproductive years, if you’ve already had your babies, or even if you’re a man and this is the first thought you’ve given to a women’s menstrual cycle – you are still connected intimately to this cycle that occurs in the human world.  Today is the day to give it some thought, to pay a little bit of attention to a truly awe-inspiring human phenomenon.

Happy cows! Grass fed beef.

Grass-Fed Beef – Does This Matter?

Grass-fed beef is a trendy idea right now, and sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish the real information from the trend, so let’s talk about beef, because god knows we all love beef. There are a number of factors to think about when evaluating this whole issue – some of them have been researched and some haven’t. So let’s dive in with cow happiness, cow health, health implications for you and your family and just keep going from there.

What does “Grass Fed Beef” Even Mean?

I know, that sounds like kind of a dumb questions – obviously grass fed means the cow has been fed grass. But, does that mean it’s been fed grass for part of it’s life, all of it’s life, only grass or grass mixed with other things? So let’s get into the legal nitty gritty. In October 2007 the USDA set voluntary standards to define the term grass fed. These standards suggest that beef should be grass or forage fed for the duration of it’s life, meaning that it doesn’t get grain except as an incidental part of the grass.  In general all cattle eat grass for the first 6-12 months, so this really only restricts the last portion of their life.  This sounds great but here are the drawbacks:

  • Verification is voluntary, and unless beef displays the USDA process verified shield, we’re just taking the farmers word for it.
  • In this sense grass-fed is different than pastured. These cows could still be in a penned feed-lot environment, but instead of being given corn or soybeans, they’re given hay. So essentially it still isn’t cows in their natural environment.
  • These regulations have no bearing on hormones and antibiotics given to the cattle. Cows can be labeled as grass fed and still be getting daily growth hormones and antibiotics with their hay. This tends to run counter to the general perception of what it might mean for beef to be grass fed.
USDA shield showing cows have been fed grass and forage only (but also still in pens, with hormones and antibiotics)

USDA shield showing cows have been fed grass and forage only (but also still in pens, with hormones and antibiotics).

Is There A Better Labeling Standard for Grass fed Beef?

The short answer, is yes!  But of course the long answer is slightly more complicated than that.  The American Grassfed Association is a membership organization of farmers and public interest groups who have come together to determine higher standards. Which is wonderful.  If you see their logo on your beef it means that the meat animal (they certify any ruminant animals, so cattle, goats, sheep and bison) is raised according to the highest standards:

American Grassfed Association logo. If you see this on your meat you know it's been raised right.

American Grassfed Association logo.

  • Diet — Animals are fed only grass and forage from weaning until harvest.
  • Confinement — Animals are raised on pasture with no confinement.
  • Antibiotics and hormones — Animals are never given antibiotics or growth hormones.
  • Origin — All animals are born and raised on American family farms.

This is a fantastic step forward and gives you as a consumer much more information about the meat you and your family are eating. The problem is that each farm that wants to be included has to pay for membership and pay each year for an independent inspection, as well as pay per head according to the number of animals that they have.  This is by far the best system we’ve got, but for some farms the cost may be more than they can support.  Still, if you have a chance to buy your meat animals either from a farm you know personally or a farm that is AGA certified I would highly recommend it. If you’d like to see the AGA’s complete standards here they are.

Is Grass Fed Beef Healthier?

The good news is that this one is a resounding yes. Grass fed beef has higher antioxidant levels, better fat ratios and fewer calories than conventionally raised beef does without the pesky traces of antibiotics and hormones.  A 2009 study published in the Journal of Animal Science compared grass finishing vs. grain finishing methods on the nutritional content of the meat. Here’s what they found:

  1. Healthier Fat Content– Grass fed beef is higher in total omega-3 fatty acids and lower in total fat than conventionally raised beef. Grass fed beef also has a healthier ratio of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids to anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids  (1.65 vs. 4.64 in conventional beef).
    Total fat in different meats including conventional beef vs. grass fed beef. Data from J. Animal Sci 80(5):1202-11 Taken from

    Total fat in different meats including conventional beef vs. grass fed beef. Data from J. Animal Sci 80(5):1202-11. Taken with gratitude from

    Omega-3 fatty acids bottom out in the feedlot. Data from: J Animal Sci (1993) 71(8):2079-88. Taken from

    Omega-3 fatty acids bottom out in the feedlot. Data from: J Animal Sci (1993) 71(8):2079-88. Taken with gratitude from


  2. Higher in Potential Cancer-Fighters – Grass fed beef is higher in CLA, which is a potential cancer fighter and also higher in vaccinic acid, which can be converted into CLA.
  3. Higher in Vitamins – Grass fed beef is higher in thiamine (vitamin B1) and riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  4. Higher in Antioxidants – Grass fed beef has higher levels of vitamin E and beta-carotene.

    Vitamin E in grassfed beef. Data from: Smith, G.C. "Dietary supplementation of vitamin E to cattle to improve shelf life and case life of beef for domestic and international markets." Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523-1171. Taken with gratitude from

    Vitamin E in grassfed beef. Data from: Smith, G.C. “Dietary supplementation of vitamin E to cattle to improve shelf life and case life of beef for domestic and international markets.” Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523-1171. Taken with gratitude from

  5. Higher in Minerals – Grass fed beef is higher in potassium, calcium and magnesium.

S.K. Duckett et al, Journal of Animal Science, (published online) June 2009, “Effects of winter stocker growth rate and finishing system on: III. Tissue proximate, fatty acid, vitamin and cholesterol content.”  Also for a great article on grass fed beef, meat, milk and poultry check out Eat Wild.

 Quality of the Cows Life in Grass Fed Beef

I am an unashamed omnivore, proud of my status at the top of the food chain. Nothing about that means that I do not value the lives of the animals that I eat any less than I value any life.  It matters to treat all living things with kindness, care and consideration. There is absolutely no excuse to neglect another living being. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves and you can make your own decisions as to which life looks happiest.

Feedlot cattle. Just picture yourself in that dusty pen with all those bodies, constantly. Flickr Photo Credit: Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, used under Creative Commons. Industrial Feedlot

Feedlot cattle. Just picture yourself in that dusty pen with all those bodies, constantly. Flickr Photo Credit: Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, used under Creative Commons. Industrial Feedlot

This is the life of honest to god grass fed beef from Now don't these look like happy cows?

This is the life of honest to god grass fed beef from Now don’t these look like happy cows?

The simple fact is that their environment speaks for itself. I have no ethical problem with eating meat, but I have a huge ethical issue with raising animals in a cruel or unnatural environment.

Other Thoughts on Grass Fed Cattle vs. Feedlot Cattle.

I’d like to digress for a minute into the musings of my mind, simply because these issues aren’t talked about too much with farmed beef.  Obviously on a feedlot cattle need daily doses of antibiotics so that they don’t get diseases from all the other cows there – it’s like humans in prison, but with less space. Communicable disease travels quickly.  Of course I don’t like that, but what about lifestyle diseases? These cows are being fed a diet that has nothing to do with what they would get in the wild (which is grass). That diet happens to be tremendously high in sugars and starches, which in humans leads pretty directly to diabetes.  Is it safe to assume that the cows we eat are largely diabetic cows but that this doesn’t matter to growers because they’re slaughtered before the health ramifications show up? I would theorize that this is exactly the situation. I’m guessing that by eating diabetic or pre-diabetic cows, we may actually also be ingesting their hunger and satiety hormones as well as the inflammatory particles that the cows flesh would be saturated with. What would that mean if my theory is correct? It would mean that by eating diabetic animals we are raising in our own bodies some of the hormonal and inflammatory factors that would contribute to our own diabetes.  Food for thought.

Economic Impact of Grass Fed Beef

This is a hard one to parse out. Grass fed cows take more time to raise, more land per animal and more expertise in their farmers. This means it costs more (often far more) per pound for the consumer.  That can be a real challenge if you have a family of four. In defense of grass fed the farmers are more likely to be small family farmers rather than huge agri-business and more of that money is more likely to stay in the hands of real families and real communities. Environmentally this requires less chemical use and healthier land maintenance, but the bottom line is that it’s expensive. The compromise that I’ve come to is eating less meat, but higher quality and filling in the gaps with more fruits and veggies. This gives me a healthy balanced diet, keeps me in my food budget, and makes sure that I’m putting money towards the things that are important to me.  Grass fed beef, grass fed meats and sustainably raised food in general have become a priority for me, but I’d love to know what you think so please leave your feedback!

Eat From The Earth – Forage for Cleavers

In keeping with the foraging theme, it’s cleavers season in Texas and my yard has a bountiful harvest. Cleavers always pop up in early spring – in Texas that’s mid February to mid March, but if you’re elsewhere in the country it’s at the end of the frost and snow season and along with the early greening-up of the world.

Forage for cleavers - great kidney tonic and cleanser. Abundant this time of year in Texas.

Forage for cleavers – great kidney tonic and cleanser. Abundant this time of year in Texas.

Cleavers are a very seasonal plant – really only appearing for about a month every spring and appearing in unlikely places – yards, edges of roads, edges of wooded areas and generally places that might be called “transition zones.” That means the edges of things or the spaces where one type of landscape changes into another. They’re easy to spot because there’s a bare green stem with a whirl of 6 leaves, then bare green stem, then another whirl.  It’s not an easy plant to confuse with anything else and so it’s a great plant if you’re new to foraging and don’t want to risk anything toxic – probably a good idea, right? If it’s distinctive looks weren’t enough, cleavers has one other unique characteristic that makes it spectacularly hard to confuse with anything else, and that is the reason it got it’s name.  Cleavers is actually covered with tiny barbs – they’re soft and not prickly, but it will happily stick to your shirt. It’s a great test to make sure you’ve got the right plant.

Cleavers - great yard food to eat from the earth. This shows the way cleavers will stick to your shirt - providing a convenient positive identification.

Cleavers – great yard food to eat from the earth. This shows the way cleavers will stick to your shirt – providing a convenient positive identification.

In terms of flavor, Cleavers is some of my favorite yard food. To me cleavers tastes very much like spring – it’s a fresh, green sort of flavor that I look forward to after winter.  I’m guessing my neighbors think I’m a little odd as I’ll often grab a sprig to munch on my way out for work. Cleavers is best mixed in with a salad, if you’re eating it raw, or with other greens to cook as a pot green.  I think it would be too much on it’s own and probably too much for your body as well – in part because cleavers, or Galium aparine  is strongly medicinal.

Medicinal Uses of Cleavers, or Galium aparine

Cleavers as a blood and lymph cleanser:

Cleavers has been used historically for a wide variety of ailments, my favorite of which is as a cleanser for the blood and lymphatic system.  Just like spring is a great time to get into your house and do a deep clean, purging all of the unwanted junk that arises over the winter, it’s also a great time to clean out your own system.  Galium, which appears naturally at just this time, can be a fantastic addition to that protocol. This can be as simple as eating 1-2 stems raw and fresh (the little barbs on the plant have an interesting feel inside the mouth) or you can dry some of the herb and continue to use it year round in teas.  As part of the cleansing process you will notice it also has a mild diuretic effect, and will increase the amount you urinate slightly.

This blood and lymph cleansing effect can help with swollen glands, skin rashes and eruptions, liver, kidney and urinary disorders and to boost overall energy and vitality when combined with a general detoxification protocol. Again – spring cleaning can be a great thing for your whole body. Cleavers may be such an effective blood cleanser simply because it is a potent antioxidant, and strong free radical scavenging powers have been demonstrated in research of the aqueous extract.  Good thing because the aqueous, or water extract, is the easiest one to make at home in the form of a tea.

Cleavers as an anti-tumor and anti-cancer agent:

Galium species are a new target for research as anti-cancer agents. This includes cleavers (Galium aparine) and it’s cousin lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum).  Galium aqueous extract (this is herbal tea) shows strong cytotoxic effects on various tumor lines including Hep2 and HLaC79 cell lines – these are two aggressive head and neck cancers. It has also been studied with success in cervical, breast, prostate and bladder cancer.  Historically, cleavers is one ingredient in the famously controversial herbal anti-cancer formula called Hoxsey formula. There are various ways of preparing this formula, but one of the safer and less controversial versions is below.

Hoxsey-like formula:

1 oz Red clover
1 oz Burdock
1 oz Dandelion root
1 oz Sarsaparilla
1 oz Oregon grape
1 oz Cleavers
1 oz Buckthorn
1 oz Poke
1 oz Echinacea
1 oz Licorice
1 oz Ginger
1 oz Wild yam

This formula can be mixed in large batches and brewed as a concentrate (like the similar anti-cancer formula which is available retail called Flor-Essence) or mixed dry and brewed in small batches.  To make a cup of tea use 1 tablespoon of the mixed dry herb and simmer in a cup of boiling water for about 10 minutes.  As a starter anti-cancer cleanse Hoxsey suggested having a half cup of tea every 1-2 hours for a week.

Although the cancer research we have now is insufficient to say whether or not this would be an effective protocol for any particular cancer by itself, it would certainly be a good addition to an already existing cancer protocol and could potentially be used in conjunction with other cancer therapies such as radiation.  If you are using chemotherapy talk with your MD or oncologist about any herbs before adding them, simply because we genuinely don’t know how those therapies will interact.

In every situation please talk with your doctor and health care team before starting a new therapy, especially for something as serious as cancer.

Cleavers as a topical:

Cleavers tea has also been used as a topical wash for burns, skin rashes, skin eruptions, and generally irritated skin.  Historically it was mashed into a pulp and applied to bites and stings. Research has shown that water extract of cleavers have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory effects so no wonder it’s good for your skin.

Cleavers are a wonderful addition to your spring diet and can be eaten raw, added to salads, cooked up with a variety of other pot greens like spinach, kale, chard or collards or dried for use in herbal teas. And all of this for free out of your yard. Will wonders never cease?