Embracing an Herbal Lifestyle: Some Insights

embracing and herbal lifestyleWant to know about embracing an herbal lifestyle? Join Julie on today’s episode as she interviews Jamie Fivecoate Larrison of The Herbal Spoon. She is a trained herbalist and in addition to her own site, she is also the DIY and Natural Remedies Editor with Wellness Mama. She has trained with some notable herbalists such as James McDonald and Dr. Aviva Romm, among many others. And Julie is thrilled to have her on the show. Julie talks with her today about her background with plants, embracing an herbal lifestyle, and more. Jamie is one of the speakers at the upcoming Family Wellness Conference. Take a peek at the interview.

Embracing an Herbal Lifestyle: An Interview with Jamie Fivecoate Larrison

So, Jamie, you were telling me that you have always had an interest in plants since you were a young girl. How did that interest develop initially?

So, I grew up with my grandparents and my grandpa had been a farmer. I thought it was totally normal for everybody to have seven gardens and a small fruit orchard at their house. I can’t really pinpoint a moment in my life where I thought, now this is the moment I love plants. It just developed over time.

So, growing up, gardening with my mom, gardening with my grandpa, we did a lot of canning and preserving with my grandma. Plants were very much a part of our life. We were embracing an herbal lifestyle. And my grandma had a patch of mint growing in the yard that we would always get leaves from. I think all of that played a huge influence and I developed a love for nature at a young age.

Tell me a little bit more about those seven gardens. Did they have a garden for each type of vegetable?

Well, we had a fairly large property and my grandpa thought if it could be done, it should be done.

My grandpa decided if there’s space for a garden, we’ll put another garden here. So, yeah, he had his own system, but there was there was quite a bit to it.

Hear more about Jamie’s experiences growing up embracing an herbal lifestyle on the podcast. She shares additional stories and how to encourage kids to love nature.

Would you mind sharing with our listeners today some of your favorite recipes, or maybe your favorite story of some something that happened with one of your kids or with yourself where you were using your herbal knowledge?

I will start off by saying that one of my first memories of using herbs for medicine is when I was about 13 years old. And at the time my mom had been in a car accident and was not mentally able to really care for our family at that time. So, I really had to grow up fast. I was about 13, I was sick with the flu, and I thought, OK, I’ve got this. I’ve read about how to cure the flu and I’m going to go find some herbs in my yard and get this over with.

I had this book from Penelope Ody at the time, and it was one of those Dorling Kindersley books where it doesn’t really get into details and it’s probably not the best. I made a really, really strong mulberry leaf infusion and drank a whole quart of it and I thought I’d killed myself because I started sweating like crazy.

I thought, Oh, no, I’ve done myself in. Nobody even knew what I did. Then, I took a really long nap and I woke up feeling perfectly fine.

But that was one of my one of my first stories. Over the years, I’ve come up with different recipes that maybe aren’t such strong infusions and I have gained a little more knowledge.

Hear more stories from Jamie and about some other remedies and her adventures with her skin care products.

What do you think is the most important aspect of health to address first for somebody who’s just learning about embracing an herbal lifestyle?

Well, as an herbalist, of course, I love working with herbs, but I do feel like one of the most important things is nutrition. So many people I’ve seen are perfectly happy to take a whole pile of herbal supplements, but they don’t want to change their diet.

And if we don’t?

If we don’t give our body the building materials that it needs to be healthy, we’re going to continue to manifest these symptoms. And so I think the important thing is to try to get that mind set shift first, because if we get our mind set in the right place, then everything else can start to follow

Do you have any last comments, last tips that you want to share with people before we say goodbye?

Something Jim McDonald had shared with me regarding what we had been talking about with nutrition, with helping people make healthy choices, and have that mindset shift is this. Instead of thinking about What am I going to take away from my lifestyle and my diet? so much, think about positive things. For example, What am I going to add? Because if you focus on the positive, focus on what good things you’re adding, it’s going to automatically push out the bad habits.

Hear more from Jamie on the podcast and attend her workshops at the Family Wellness Conference held on March 4-5, 2021.

How to Control Blood Sugar Naturally

How to Control Blood Sugar NaturallyWant to know how to control blood sugar naturally? Julie gives some tips in this week’s Crunchy Christian Podcast episode. First, she discusses the differences between simple and complex carbs. This is because controlling your intake of simple carbs is the heart of how to control blood sugar.

How to Control Blood Sugar Naturally

Understand the difference between simple and complex carbs.

You don’t just get hungry when your stomach is empty, you also get cravings when your body is running low on important nutrients. Carbohydrates are a nutrient and your body needs them, but there are two kinds of carbohydrates.

Complex Carbohydrates

Some carbohydrates, called “complex carbohydrates”, digest slowly. These are the carbs that come from sources like grains. This means that after you eat them, they gradually release sugar into your body, which your body can use as needed for several hours. Incidentally, because complex carbs take so long to digest, they also leave your stomach feeling fuller longer. This can also help to keep hunger at bay. These carbs generally come from seed-based foods—grains, nuts, and beans. Most of them also tend to have a lower glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) tells us how quickly a carb is digested and how much it raises blood sugar levels. A lower GI means it digests more slowly and has less of an effect on blood sugar. A high GI means it digests quickly and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels.

Simple Carbohydrates

Other carbohydrates, namely sugars, are called “simple carbohydrates”. These are much easier for your body to break down. That means that instead of supplying your body with long-burning energy for a few hours like complex carbs do, it extracts and either burns or stores the sugars in a very short amount of time. These carbs flood your bloodstream, have a higher GI, and often provide few nutrients. The steep sugar spikes can cause your blood to carry too much sugar. The extra sugar can damage sensitive nerve tissue and blood vessels. Another problem is that these excess calories don’t provide nutrition, leaving your body asking for more food in order to address the deficit.

Fruit can be a healthy source of simple carbs, but you still don’t want to have too many simple carbs. So, put some fruit on the side of your plate and make sure that most of your plate is made up of low-carb vegetables, slow-burning carbs like whole grains, and plenty of protein. Protein is another nutrient that your body can use for energy but that takes a while to break down. It also doesn’t change your blood sugar at all because the energy in protein doesn’t come from sugars.

How to Control Blood Sugar Naturally by Eliminating Added Sugars

When you are avoiding sugar to improve your health, you should understand the different names that manufacturers use for this sweet substance. Here is a list of the names used for the added sugar in foods and beverages:

• Fructose sweetener
• Evaporated cane juice
• Crystal dextrose
• Corn syrup (and the high fructose variety)
• Cane sugar
• Corn sweetener
• Brown sugar
• Fruit juice
• Maple syrup
• Honey
• Dextrose
• Maltose
• Agave nectar

This is a partial list of the names for sugar because manufacturers create new types of sweeteners occasionally. To determine if a product at the grocery store has any type of sugar, you must read the small print on the package’s label. Remember that the beverages and foods that are labeled as natural, organic, healthy or low-calorie can still have added sugar. In addition, some foods contain natural sugars, but these types of foods frequently have high levels of minerals, fiber and vitamins. You might notice that some natural sugars are on this list. These have nutritional value but can still be added sugars. This is because added sugar means any sugar that doesn’t occur naturally.

Listen to the podcast for additional information about healthy sugars and other ways for how to control blood sugar naturally.

Ready to tackle the sugar monster? Need some support and guidance for ditching the sugar habit? Join the free Ditch the Sugar Challenge starting February 1.

 

How Sugar Affects the Body

Find out more about how sugar affects the body in this podcast.Ever wonder if that donut is as harmless as it looks? An occasional treat won’t hurt you, but a daily habit might do more harm than just add a few pounds. Find out more about how sugar affects the body in this podcast.

How Sugar Affects the Body

You May Gain Weight

One way of how sugar affects the body is by adding extra pounds. There are two ways that this happens. First, it triggers the reward center in your brain. Sweet things make us feel good, which then turns on our desire to want more so we continue to feel good. This cycle continues even when we’re full and not hungry anymore, causing us to eat more than we need. The second way that it causes us to gain weight is through the liver. When the liver processes excess sugar, the extra glucose is converted into fat molecules for storage. So, eating fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact, it is the extra unused sugar and carbohydrates that taste so good that make you fat.

It Can Increase Your Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

While sugar is not the only culprit for type 2 diabetes, it is certainly another way of how sugar affects the body.  High amounts of sugar that break down quickly flood the bloodstream with glucose. Your cells need insulin in order to use the glucose. But, if the cells are constantly stimulated by insulin, they develop a tolerance for it and become unaffected by it. Then, your body needs to release more and more insulin to move the glucose into the cells. This continues until you become so insulin resistant that you develop type 2 diabetes. In addition to insulin resistance throughout the body, there is another way of how sugar affects the body. The high sugar intake leads to insulin resistance in the brain as well, leading to cognitive decline. In fact, people with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to develop dementia, which is why Alzheimer’s is now considered type 3 diabetes.

It Can Overload Your Liver (Fatty Liver)

As mentioned above, your liver processes all that excess glucose and converts it into fat. But, your liver can only metabolize so much of it at one time. The liver turns the excess glucose and fructose into fat that can accumulate not just in your midsection and thighs but in the liver, causing liver damage. Sometimes it can even lead to scarring and eventual cutting off of the liver’s blood supply, which means you need a transplant. It is important to note that the amount of fructose needed to overload your liver is only possible with an excessive amount of added sugar, so fructose found in fruit is likely not nearly enough to cause this.

How Sugar Affects the Body in Mind and Mood

If you are someone who suffers from mood swings or mental health issues, you might notice that they become worse when you consume a lot of sugar. Sugar causes a short-term boost of energy that leads to a much longer sugar crash. This in turn can make it harder when dealing with mental health issues like depression. This is because another way of how sugar affects the body is that it messes with your ability to produce serotonin by using up its vitamin pre-cursors and altering gut flora. In addition, too much sugar can also cause severe mood swings and irritability. Sugar also alters our ability to resist temptation, making it hard to control impulsive behavior and delay gratification. Research shows that a high sugar diet can impair memory function and cause inflammation in the brain.

Learn about more ways of how sugar can affect the body by listening to the podcast!

Tackle your sugar cravings and ditch the habit by signing up for the FREE Ditch the Sugar Challenge starting February 1. Sign up by clicking HERE.

The Low Down on Artificial Sweeteners

Find out more about what they are and what they do to your body in this episode about the low down on artificial sweeteners with Julie Polanco.Do you use artificial sweeteners in your morning coffee? How about diet soda or in baking? Find out more about what they are and what they do to your body in this episode about the low down on artificial sweeteners with Julie Polanco.

This episode sponsored by the Ditch the Sugar challenge, a free challenge starting February 1 to help you conquer sugar cravings once and for all.

Sign up for the Challenge!

What are Artificial Sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners are sweeteners that are manmade and not found in nature. They usually go by names such as aspartame, sucralose, maltodextrin, xylitol, and saccharin. Others that occur in nature but are super processed or, when added to foods, are manmade include erythritol, dextrose, maltose, fructose, glucose syrup, and high fructose corn syrup. We’re going to focus on the purely artificial ones, though. People often use artificial sweeteners because they are trying to curb their use of sugar. This may be because of diabetes, a desire to lose weight, or other reasons. Besides using it as an alternative to sugar in drinks and baked goods, people also choose prepared foods containing artificial sweeteners.

Occasional use of artificial sweeteners often poses no issues. However, research shows conflicted results for long-term use. In addition, people who use artificial sweeteners exclusively and frequently over longer time periods often experience negative side effects. Let’s dig in!

The Low Down on Artificial Sweeteners

First of all, artificial sweeteners can affect your body in a number of ways. Here are some possible negative side effects of using them.

Your Sense of Taste May Be Dulled

Have you noticed that your taste buds have changed, or the intensity of flavors have dulled over time? This might be the result of an over consumption of artificial sweeteners. This is because many of these sweeteners are many times sweeter than naturally occurring sweeteners.

You become accustomed to the sweeter taste of artificial, processed sweeteners, and over time, start losing the desire for naturally occurring sugars. But the good news is that if you start reducing how much artificial sweetener is in your diet, and begin consuming natural sources of sweeteners, your normal tastes can return.

It Can Boost Craving Intensity

One of the most dangerous effects caused by sweeteners is that they stimulate pleasure centers in your brain. Under normal circumstances, these pleasure centers eventually reach a point where they become satiated and you stop eating or drinking.  But in the case of artificial sweeteners, you may never feel satisfied. Instead, you feel intense cravings that cause you to overindulge in foods and drinks, and that is contrary to what you’ve been trying to achieve the entire time.

Gut Problems May Be in the Future

Some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can also have negative effects on your gut health. For example, even though sweeteners are considered safe, you might develop a glucose intolerance form the sweeteners. They can also add to digestive distress like stomach cramps, nausea, and other issues with your digestive system. If you notice that you have a stomachache when you drink a Diet Coke, it might be from the sweeteners used, as opposed to the other ingredients.

To find out additional effects from artificial sweeteners, including neurological ones, listen to the podcast!

Warnings

Never give sugar-free, artificially sweetened beverages or foods to children! Even though these sweeteners are considered safe by the FDA, the reported side effects and conflicting research should give us pause. And, keep these foods away from pets.

Sign up HERE for the free Ditch the Sugar Challenge, starting February 1.

 

 

 

Cinnamon Benefits and Uses

Cinnamon Benefits and UsesWe love our pumpkin spice, apple pies, snickerdoodle cookies, and other cinnamon flavored goodies during the holidays. But did you know that cinnamon benefits your health in many ways, too? Learn more in this podcast with Julie Polanco.

Cinnamon Through History

Cinnamomum zeylanicum, or Cinnamon has a long history of use, going back to the ancient Egyptians and Chinese. The Ceylon variety grown in Sri Lanka (which was once called Ceylon) appears in Chinese writings as far back as 2800 BC. The Egyptians used it in their embalming spices. In the first century AD, the Roman Pliny the Elder wrote that 350 grams of cinnamon was worth more than five kilograms of silver. This means that cinnamon was an expensive and highly valued spice that only the nobles could afford, much like frankincense and myrrh. Indeed, it is said that the Roman Emperor Nero ordered that a year’s supply of cinnamon be burnt as an atonement after he murdered his second wife.

In medieval times, they knew of cinnamon benefits. After all, the doctors of the day used it to treat coughs, sore throats, and hoarseness. The upper classes also used it to preserve meats. However, it was difficult to get. Only Arabs traded in cinnamon and they carefully guarded the secret of their source. Since they traveled over difficult land routes, they kept this monopoly for centuries. In addition, they loved to tell tall tales about cinnamon to deter others and to justify the high prices.

Hear some of the tall tales the Arabs would tell on the podcast!

Discovered by Explorers

As we all know, Columbus and other explorers set out to find water routes to the far East in the late 1400’s and into the early 1500’s. They were, of course, looking for safer and faster routes to get the spices that were in great demand but expensive to buy. So, in 1518, the Portuguese found the source of Cinnamon and enslaved the island until the Dutch overthrew them in 1638. Then, the Dutch held the cinnamon monopoly for another 150 years until the British took over the island in 1784 after the fourth Anglo-Dutch war. However, the price of cinnamon had dramatically decreased by then. Other countries had discovered that they could enjoy cinnamon benefits by growing it in other parts of the world such as Java, Sumatra, Guyana, the West Indies, and other places.

Today, much of the grocery store cinnamon is not true cinnamon, but a cousin called Cassia. It is cheaper and has a stronger flavor but is not as medicinal.

Modern Research on Cinnamon Benefits and Uses

One of the active constituents of cinnamon is cinnamaldehyde. This is what gives it its unique and delicious smell. It is also high in antioxidant polyphenols, which is why it can be used to preserve meat. Amazingly, it has more antioxidants than even garlic or oregano, according to research. Because of this, another one of the cinnamon benefits is that it is anti-inflammatory and can help lower cholesterol levels. It may also inhibit tumor cell growth and help prevent cancer.

In addition, cinnamon benefits those at risk for diabetes. According to studies, cinnamon oil can help prevent Type 2 diabetes by preventing insulin resistance. Another way that cinnamon benefits those at risk for diabetes is that it can interfere with digestive enzymes, slowing the breakdown of food into glucose.

Of course, it has also proven be effective against oral bacteria and respiratory fungal infections and maybe that’s why medieval doctors liked to use it for coughs and other respiratory issues. It has also traditionally been used for issues in the gastrointestinal tract, such as vomiting, flatulence, and diarrhea.

Warning

Cinnamon contains coumarins, which in large amounts can be problematic. The best type of cinnamon to use is the original Ceylon Cinnamon because it has less coumarins and tends to be higher in medicinal properties.

Ready to dig into cinnamon? Get your FREE cinnamon recipe coloring pages by clicking HERE.

Peppermint Benefits and Uses

Peppermint Benefits and UsesEver wonder how peppermint came to be associated with Christmas? Learn the story and more about peppermint benefits and uses with Julie Polanco in this podcast episode.

Peppermint Benefits and Historic Uses

Mentha piperita, a natural hybrid of Mentha aquatica and Mentha spicata (water mint and spearmint), has a long history of use. It was used as a flavoring in sauces and wines, going as far back as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Egyptians used it as a remedy for indigestion and the Greeks and Romans used it to ease stomach issues. It is said that the Egyptians valued it so much that they used it as currency. By 1240, it appeared in the Icelandic Pharmacopoeia as an herbal remedy and indeed, the monks used it as tooth polisher among its other common uses. Cheesemakers saw that one of the peppermint benefits was that it kept the rats away.

By the 1700’s, Europeans expanded peppermint benefits to include other stomach ailments such as nausea, vomiting, morning sickness as well as respiratory and menstrual disorders. In modern times it appears in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia as a remedy for intestinal colic, gas, colds, morning sickness, and menstruation pain.

The cultivation of peppermint started in Europe but expanded to North America as settlers came. The American natives knew of mint and were already using it, but they used a different species. Today, the United States produces 75% of the world’s supply, with most coming from Michigan.

Peppermint and Christmas

The traditional legend is that a German church choirmaster in the late 1600’s gave candies in the shape of shepherd’s staffs to the children to keep them quiet. At that time, they were white and may not have even been peppermint flavored. But, that is the tale of the cane-shaped candy, although the peppermint flavor wouldn’t be added for another 200 years or so. Most candy was made by hand, so this tradition wouldn’t have spread far. Therefore, it is hard to verify whether this story is true or not.

Listen to the podcast to hear the remarkable story of how a Georgian candy maker started the candy cane tradition.

There are many legends about why they are striped, including that they represent Jesus’ blood. However, it’s more likely that they are striped just to be festive. After all, who wants a plain white cane?

Today, Bryan, Ohio is the candy cane capital of the world and 90% of candy canes are consumed by Americans.

Peppermint Benefits Come from Its Constituents

The whole plant is used for medicinal purposes and people prepare it as a tea and essential oil. The tea and essential oil contain the principal active ingredients of the plant: menthol, menthone, and menthyl acetate. Menthyl acetate is responsible for peppermint’s minty aroma and flavor. Menthol, peppermint’s main active ingredient, is found in the leaves and flowering tops of the plant. It provides the cool sensation of the herb. Peppermint also contains vitamins A and C, magnesium, potassium, inositol, niacin, copper, iodine, silicon, iron, and sulfur.

In addition to peppermint benefits to the digestive system, it also relieves headaches. A 1996 German study showed that a 10% solution of peppermint essential oil was just as effective as 1000mg of acetaminophen in relieving headaches. Another one of peppermint benefits that the German Commission E approves is temporary relief of nasal and sinus congestion.

Peppermint benefits the body in many other ways, too. One might begin to believe that peppermint is good for almost anything. It is generally safe for children and during pregnancy in moderation. It is also an easy herb to grow in any yard. However, the quality of the soil and the climate does affect the menthol levels.

Pine Tree Symbolism and Uses

How about some historical fun with pine tree symbolism and uses?Are you ready for Christmas yet? How about some historical fun with pine tree symbolism and uses? Check out the podcast with Julie and dig into lore from around the world.

Pine Tree Symbolism from History and Around the World

Europe

Did you know that the oldest living tree in the world is a Bristlecone Pine Tree living in the White Mountains of California? They call it Methuselah and carefully guard its location. Estimates put it at 5,000 years old!

The Pinus family of evergreen trees grows all over the world and thus, pine tree symbolism crosses cultures and continents. What binds them all together is the pine’s association with longevity and peace.

In ancient Greece, the pine was particularly sacred to Dionysus and his worshippers. In the ancient city of Corinth, the Corinthians were ordered by the Delphic Oracle to worship the pine along with Dionysus as a god. In the ancient Greek culture, the evergreen tree was the symbol of immortality.  And, its resin was used to purify, sterilize, and embalm things that one wanted to preserve over time, such as the dead.

The Romans also had a mythology around pine trees. The story goes that the goddess Cybele fell in love with a handsome young man, Attis. She took him to her temple to be a priest there, vowing chastity. But, another goddess, jealous of Cybele, seduced him and he broke his vow. Attis ran away and died under the branches of a pine tree. It is said that the Jupiter took pity on him and turned him into an immortal pine, with Saturn as his protector. At the spring equinox (March 22), the followers of Cybele would cut a pine tree down and bring it into her sanctuary in honor of Attis. In addition, during the Roman holiday of Saturnalia (Dec. 17-25th), the ancient Romans would decorate pine trees with ornaments such as oscilla, which were made in the image of Bacchus, and little clay dolls known as sigillaria.

And in the northern European countries, pine trees (or firs) were decorated to celebrate the birth of Frey, the Norse god of the sun and fertility, at the end of the year. The tops of the trees were lit because in winter as the days were getting shorter.  Northern people thought that doing so the light will attract the sun.

Asia

Pine tree symbolism in Asia shares some similarities to Europe. In Japan, Pine trees are associated with the New Year. Many Japanese hang a bundle of pine twigs and bamboo trunks known as a Kado matsu (“Gate pine” in English) on their doors to receive a blessing from the gods. Perhaps this is why, in the Japanese Middle Ages, pines were a common decoration for samurai. Pines are also used to mark the boundaries of the sacred ground of temples and shrines and are a popular tree of choice for the art of bonsai. Many of these bonsai trees live to be hundreds of years old!

In more recent times, Japan attributed pine tree symbolism to a pine tree that survived both the earthquake and tsunami in the March 2011 devastation of the city of Rikuzentakata. The surrounding forest of 70,000 pine trees was completely destroyed except for one lone pine tree. This tree became a national symbol of resilience and determination to stand tall and rebuild in the face of the massive destruction in northeast Japan. Sadly enough, seawater seeped into the roots of the Rikuzentakata tree, causing it to rot and die. In September 2012, the tree was cut down.

Native Americans’ Pine Tree Symbolism

In North America, the pine tree holds a sacred place among the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora). For them, the pine tree – and in particular the Eastern White Pine – is the Tree of Peace. This is because it is underneath the roots of the Tree of Peace that weapons were buried. And, among other native tribes, it holds a sacred place as well, making it a universal symbol. Native people didn’t just hold the tree as sacred, though. They also used the pine needles, sap, bark, and nuts for medicinal purposes, traditional handicrafts, and in recipes. Pine-needle baskets are still a popular Native handicraft to this very day.

Julie talks about pine tree symbolism in Christmas traditions and how it came to be the Christmas tree of choice on the podcast! Be sure to tune in.

Pine Tree Uses

We all know about the role of pine in housing and furniture construction. But, pine tar and pitch has long been used to protect surfaces such as boat hulls and as an embalming fluid. The resin, when distilled, also yields oil of turpentine, which is an important industrial solvent. Turpentine and tar water have been used in veterinary practice to get rid of worms, kill parasites, treat mange, and as an antiseptic and stimulant for rheumatic swelling, sprains, and bruises. For people, the resin been used externally for skin infections and joint inflammation. Internally, traditional uses of the needles include coughs, colds, allergies and kidney and bladder infections. Pine needles also make a nice winter tea, giving you a vitamin C boost.

There are many species of Pine and some are toxic to children and pregnant women. So, be careful!

 

Holly Symbolism and Benefits

Learn more about holly symbolism, its roots in pagan traditions and beliefs, and its beneficial uses on this episode.Ever wondered why holly is associated with Christmas? What even is holly, really? Learn more about holly symbolism, its roots in pagan traditions and beliefs, and its beneficial uses on this episode.

Holly Symbolism and Historic Roots

Ilex aquifolium, or the Holly tree, is a small evergreen tree with deeply lobed, waxy, prickled leaves native to Europe. Its leaves somewhat resemble oak leaves. It has light colored bark and deep red, toxic berries. It has long been considered sacred in Celtic mythology and ancient druidic beliefs. They believe holly symbolizes peace, goodwill, and good luck. Therefore, they also believed that holly protected them from evil spirits and bad luck. Chieftains wore a wreath of holly as a sort of good luck charm.  And, because it resists lightning, they would plant it near their homes to protect themselves from lightning strikes.

The ancient Romans believed holly was the sacred plant of Saturn, the Roman god of the harvest. They gave sprigs of holly as gifts during the Saturnalia festival, which led up to the winter solstice of December 25, the birth of the “Sun.” As Christianity spread, December 25 became a celebration of the Son of God instead, but the holly tradition remained. In addition, Christians adopted holly symbolism into their beliefs. They claimed that the thorny leaves of holly symbolize the crown of thorns of Christ’s crucifixion, the berries representing his blood. In addition, the evergreen nature of holly symbolizes eternal life.

Hear a few other stories about holly on the podcast. On a more practical note, the wood of this tree makes beautiful, artistic designs and people sometimes use it to make chess sets and tool handles. Carriage drivers also used horse whips made from holly, as holly seemed to have an interesting controlling effect on the horses.

Holly Benefits

Holly is not really used in modern herbalism. Historically, people used the leaves as a diaphoretic, febrifuge, and expectorant for things like fever, rheumatism, and bronchitis. One famous herbalist, Nicolas Culpepper said that the bark and leaves are good for broken bones and other members that are out of joint. The fresh juice has been recommended for jaundice. The ancients also used it for fevers and such, but the berries cause violent vomiting and should not be used, especially with children. Julie talks about some of the active constituents of holly on the podcast, so be sure to listen!

Discover weird facts about Christmas herbs and check out her Secret Spice book.

Mistletoe Secrets

Mistletoe SecretEver wonder about mistletoe and why it’s part of Christmas lore and tradition? Join Julie on this week’s episode to learn about mistletoe secret history and uses. It’s been around a long time!

Mistletoe Secret History

Some of the mistletoe secret history starts with the ancient Norse, Greek, and Roman legends. In Norse mythology, the god Baldur the Beautiful—son of the goddess, Frigg—was killed by an arrow made from mistletoe. As Frigg wept over her son, her tears became the pearlescent berries. Afterward, she declared that mistletoe would be a symbol of peace and friendship. It is said that she gave the mistletoe to the goddess of love and that everyone who passed under it should receive a kiss in token of its new symbolic meaning.

In Greek and Roman legend, Aeneas of Aeneid fame needs a “golden bough” in order to see his dead father who gives him the vision to found Rome. This golden bough is traditionally thought to be European mistletoe. The ancient Druids thought that mistletoe held some special powers and revered it as a sacred plant. They thought that it warded off evil and they would send messengers around with branches of it to announce the new year.

The origin of the whole kissing tradition is unclear, but probably started among servants in a local village and spread from there. Because mistletoe is green and blooming even in winter, it has long been associated with fertility and life. The mistletoe secret to its winter growth is that it draws all the life from its deciduous host tree!

Mistletoe Secret Habits

Mistletoe, or Viscum album, is an evergreen parasitic shrub. They spread their seeds primarily through birds so when a bird drops one of the sticky berries on a tree branch, the berry sticks. Very soon, a little thread-like root comes from a seed in the berry and pierces the bark of the tree branch. It burrows through until it reaches the sap and then derives all of its sustenance from this host tree. The little root, of course, thickens and grows. Sometimes, the mistletoe bush ends up killing the host tree. Like many other evergreens, the yellow-green lobe shaped leaves are waxy and smooth, the flowers tiny. Mistletoe produces pearly white berries in December, which may be the reason why it has long been associated with the winter solstice and later, Christmas. They are considered toxic and some people have been poisoned by them, although birds don’t seem to be affected.

Historic and Modern Uses

Historically, mistletoe was used mostly for complaints associated with the nervous system. It was used to quiet epileptic convulsions in the 17th and 18th centuries, and even considered a specific for the condition. Herbalists at that time also used it for delirium, hysterical disorders, and urinary and heart complaints arising from a disordered nervous system. They also used it to open up circulation to areas constrained or damaged by nervous tension. However, it seemed to work best in smaller, rather than larger, amounts as higher doses tended to aggravate nervous conditions.

In more modern times, research confirms the mistletoe secret weapon for epilepsy and other central nervous system disorders, such as hysteria and headaches. It also shows promise against Alzheimer’s disease. In German speaking countries, mistletoe is often prescribed as part of a complementary approach to cancer and there have been several studies on this with mixed results. The chemical constituents of mistletoe do show anti-tumor and immune system regulating effects, but other factors come into play. And, herbal medicine often requires synergistic and wholistic interactions for the body to heal.

Warning

Mistletoe is not safe for children and the American variety is not the same as the European species, so don’t interchange them. Also, it is easy to overdose on Mistletoe and accidentally poison yourself. Do not eat the berries!

Benefits of Myrrh

Ever wondered about myrrh? What is it and what are the benefits of myrrh? Why was it one of the gifts of the magi? Listen to this week’s podcast as Julie discusses this ancient resin. The History of Myrrh Commiphora myrrha grows in the same areas as Frankincense, namely the Horn of Africa and parts of the Middle East. It is harvested in a similar way, too. Harvesters cut a wound in the trunk of the tree until it bleeds sap. The sap is allowed to harden and then it is scraped off the tree and collected. This hardened resin is then used in a variety of ways. According to Herodotus (5th century BC): "Arabia is the only country which produces frankincense, myrrh, cassia and cinnamon...the trees bearing the frankincense are guarded by winged serpents of small size and various colors."  Myrrh was often associated with death. The ancient Egyptians used it along with natron as part their embalming process. In addition, there are several Biblical references to myrrh. The first one, Genesis 37:25, mentioned it as part of a caravan on their way to Egypt. In Exodus 30:23-25, myrrh is stipulated as part of the anointing oil. And in Esther 2:12, we discover that it was one of the oils used to prepare women for presentation to the king. And of course, myrrh is mentioned in the New Testament at Jesus’ birth and at his crucifixion. So, it was a component of the sacred anointing oil, used as perfume, and used during burial. In other parts of the world, it was part of a purification ritual for new brides and a means of purifying one’s home.  The benefits of myrrh have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and in Ayurveda for centuries, even though the Chinese obviously had to import it from the Arabians. In Ayurveda, it has been used to treat mouth ulcers and gingivitis, female reproductive issues, infected wounds, and bronchial conditions. In TCM, it has been used to promote blood circulation and dissolve swellings and other stasis issues, such as rheumatic and arthritic complaints. A related species, guggul, is used similarly in Ayurveda.  Benefits of Myrrh It’s interesting that myrrh was historically used in instances where bacterial growth needed to be inhibited or controlled. Modern research shows that it is highly effective at killing bacteria. Burning it in houses of worship helped control the spread of disease. And, using it in embalming the dead helped slow the decay of the body. Because myrrh has anti-bacterial properties, using it in mouthwash and toothpaste makes sense to kill oral bacteria that contribute to mouth sores and gingivitis. Researchers have also studied additional benefits of myrrh to help speed wound healing and prevent infection. Results are promising.  Myrrh oil shows promise in treating chronic headaches and certain parasitic infections. In addition, a few studies show that it may slow the growth of cancer cells in the liver, prostate, breast, and skin. Finally, test tube studies suggest that it may effectively kill some strains of mold as well as parasites and bacteria. Note that the Lord himself told Moses to use myrrh in the sacred oil. Perhaps, just like ceremonial hand washing and not eating unclean animals, the Lord was giving him measures for staying healthy. Long before people knew about microbes, God gave them instructions for how to prevent the spread of disease. God truly provides us with instructions for all areas of life, not just spiritual and emotional issues.  Enjoy this highly prized resin from the Middle East this Christmas season!Ever wondered about myrrh? What is it and what are the benefits of myrrh? Why was it one of the gifts of the magi? Listen to this week’s podcast as Julie discusses this ancient resin.

The History of Myrrh

Commiphora myrrha grows in the same areas as Frankincense, namely the Horn of Africa and parts of the Middle East. It is harvested in a similar way, too. Harvesters cut a wound in the trunk of the tree until it bleeds sap. The sap is allowed to harden and then it is scraped off the tree and collected. This hardened resin is then used in a variety of ways.

According to Herodotus (5th century BC): “Arabia is the only country which produces frankincense, myrrh, cassia and cinnamon…the trees bearing the frankincense are guarded by winged serpents of small size and various colors.”

Myrrh was often associated with death. The ancient Egyptians used it along with natron as part their embalming process. In addition, there are several Biblical references to myrrh. The first one, Genesis 37:25, mentioned it as part of a caravan on their way to Egypt. In Exodus 30:23-25, myrrh is stipulated as part of the anointing oil. And in Esther 2:12, we discover that it was one of the oils used to prepare women for presentation to the king. And of course, myrrh is mentioned in the New Testament at Jesus’ birth and at his crucifixion. So, it was a component of the sacred anointing oil, used as perfume, and used during burial. In other parts of the world, it was part of a purification ritual for new brides and a means of purifying one’s home.

The benefits of myrrh have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and in Ayurveda for centuries, even though the Chinese obviously had to import it from the Arabians. In Ayurveda, it has been used to treat mouth ulcers and gingivitis, female reproductive issues, infected wounds, and bronchial conditions. In TCM, it has been used to promote blood circulation and dissolve swellings and other stasis issues, such as rheumatic and arthritic complaints. A related species, guggul, is used similarly in Ayurveda.

Benefits of Myrrh

It’s interesting that myrrh was historically used in instances where bacterial growth needed to be inhibited or controlled. Modern research shows that it is highly effective at killing bacteria. Burning it in houses of worship helped control the spread of disease. And, using it in embalming the dead helped slow the decay of the body. Because myrrh has anti-bacterial properties, using it in mouthwash and toothpaste makes sense to kill oral bacteria that contribute to mouth sores and gingivitis. Researchers have also studied additional benefits of myrrh to help speed wound healing and prevent infection. Results are promising.

Myrrh oil shows promise in treating chronic headaches and certain parasitic infections. In addition, a few studies show that it may slow the growth of cancer cells in the liver, prostate, breast, and skin. Finally, test tube studies suggest that it may effectively kill some strains of mold as well as parasites and bacteria.

Note that the Lord himself told Moses to use myrrh in the sacred oil. Perhaps, just like ceremonial hand washing and not eating unclean animals, the Lord was giving him measures for staying healthy. Long before people knew about microbes, God gave them instructions for how to prevent the spread of disease. God truly provides us with instructions for all areas of life, not just spiritual and emotional issues.

Enjoy this highly prized resin from the Middle East this Christmas season!