Author Archives: Ciel Patenaude, MA

  • Adaptogens in Focus: Holy Basil

    Each time I think about writing a new adaptogen piece I find myself saying, “Oh now this is my favorite adaptogenic herb…” I guess it’s pointless to try and play favorites when they all have their perfect place and time for use, right?

    That being said, this plant we’ll talk about today—holy basil (Ocimum sanctum)—is a big favorite. While the other two adaptogens I’ve covered—rhodiola and cordyceps—are incredible for increasing energy and balancing stress, nothing compares to holy basil for directly reducing the mental and physical experience of stress.

    Indigenous to India, holy basil (or Tulsi, as it’s known in its homeland) has been used in Ayurvedic healing for thousands of years, and was praised as a healer as far back as Greek and Roman times. The plant holds a sacred place in the Hindu tradition, and has been called the “plant of enlightenment” or the “incomparable one,” thought to hold powers of awareness and presence beneath its rather unassuming garden-herb exterior.

    Taken as a tea or tincture, holy basil has been used to treat respiratory disorders (it is amazing with asthma), mouth infections, heart disorders, fever and many other imbalances, and it’s now being studied as an effective treatment for cancer, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome and eczema. It is highly antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral, and has incredible abilities as a free-radical scavenging antioxidant.

    But it is in times of stress that this beautiful plant really shines.

    Holy basil has been found to directly inhibit the formation of COX-2 inflammatory enzymes, the proteins responsible for maintaining inflammation and the resulting perpetual production of cortisol in the body. One of the active chemical components of holy basil—called triterpenoic acids—assists in the rapid breakdown of excess cortisol, reducing oxidation of bodily tissues, preserving memory, and balancing blood sugar (often leading to significant weight loss, especially in the abdominal area).

    As the presence of cortisol in the body decreases, the physical and psychological experience of stress declines significantly, though without any kind of sedative or “foggy” sensations. In fact, holy basil brings a sense of profound clarity and awareness, allowing you to (hopefully) reframe the situation that was causing you stress, and create a new reaction and experience of it. In this way holy basil is not a temporary fix, but rather a partner in long-term healing, helping to create more effective responses to life challenges, and to increase overall life enjoyment.

    There are many different forms of holy basil extract, though from personal experience I find the Holy Basil Force from New Chapter to be the most potent and fast acting. In times of acute stress I suggest to customers that they actually bite the capsules open, take a big sip of water and swish the gel-like extract around in their mouth for a few minutes. This way the herb will pass directly into the bloodstream through the walls of the mouth, producing an effect within minutes.

    There are minimal side effects associated with holy basil, though those clients on blood thinners may want to consult with their practitioner first, as holy basil can affect blood clotting. Diabetics will also want to monitor their insulin use and blood sugar diligently if they choose to include holy basil in their healing, as it can have profound effects on blood sugar balance. Come in and speak to a Pharmaca practitioner who can guide you on your path to health (and maybe even enlightenment!) with holy basil.

    Ciel is a certified Wellness Coach and Holistic Health Practitioner in Berkeley, Calif., and works at the Rockridge Pharmaca in Oakland. She employs her background in herbs, nutrition, psychoneuroimmunology and Shamanic practices (and a few hundred other modalities) to guide people to a greater understanding of their life processes, leading to vibrant health and much more laughter.

  • Adaptogens in Focus: Cordyceps

    A few years back I took a trip to Nepal, and spent nearly a month hiking through the Annapurna mountain range. It was absolutely breathtaking scenery, to say the least—miles of trails on which we rarely saw other people. Other than a daily dose of donkeys and porters, our encounters were limited to local Nepalese and their yaks spread thin through tiny, scattered villages.

    On one morning hike, however, I came across an unusual sight. I rounded a bend in the trail and entered a huge subalpine meadow, recently dusted with snow. There in the meadow, where one would expect quiet and emptiness, were multiple white figures milling about; men fully garbed in hazmat suits, collecting something from the ground and placing it in buckets.

    I think I chalked up the experience to high-elevation hallucination and continued on. It was only days later that I remembered to ask a local guide about what they were doing. His answer, “collecting mushrooms,” left me baffled.

    As it turned out, however, this wasn’t just any (perhaps radioactive?) mushroom these men were collecting, but a long sought-after medical fungus called cordyceps, one of the most powerful fungal adaptogens on the planet.

    Our phenomenal fungal friends

    Cordyceps sinensis is a tiny, strange-looking sac fungus that behaves as a rather nasty parasitic species. Documented in traditional Tibetan Medicine since the 15th century, cordyceps has been and still is used as a “primary Jing tonic” in Chinese Medicine, taken to reinvigorate the life force. As it was such a rare and difficult thing to find, the fungus was purportedly reserved for use by only the Emperor, ingested to ensure his long life and vitality.

    Fortunately for us, a Catholic priest visiting China in the 17th century was given some of the medicine, and consequently brought cordyceps home with him to the West. It is now a widely used herbal supplement, a healer with what seems like endless benefits for body and mind.

    Cordyceps, like other adaptogens, assists the body in creating and maintaining balance during times of stress. It directly influences how our cells make ATP, the body’s energy currency, and enhances oxygen utilization. Where stress depletes overall vitality—and specifically can take a toll on sex drive and physical exertion—cordyceps acts as a stimulant and phenomenal aphrodisiac, reinvigorating the neuro-endocrine system.

    As long-term stress also diminishes the activity and balance of the immune system, cordyceps has been found to be extremely effective at reducing infection and enhancing defense mechanisms in the body, specifically the T lymphocyte activity involved in cell-mediated immunity. Particularly in cases of respiratory illness, cordyceps significantly reduces healing time, and appears to prevent future infections if taken regularly. Given this natural affinity for the lung system, it is also used as an effective treatment for asthma and elevation sickness.

    Compounds found in cordyceps also assist in the removal of excess cholesterol, increasing the fluidity of the blood and reducing the potential of cardiovascular challenges and damage. Through protecting liver function it helps to reduce the production of excess cholesterol and to balance glucose utilization, protecting against blood sugar imbalances, detoxification issues and the potential for diabetes.

    Finally, cordyceps appears to act as an antioxidant in the body, picking up the damaging free radicals produced in metabolic processes. In this way it protects against overall cell aging, memory loss, and damage to cellular membranes during times of excess stress.

    Cordyceps has still more healing properties, and I encourage you to research and experience it for yourself. It appears that there are very few conditions we experience in our stressful lives that it won’t help in some way.

    Fortunately we no longer have to wait on men in hazmat suits to gather cordyceps for us, as it can be grown in culture and will still retain its healing ability. But ensure you are getting the CS-4 strain of cordyceps, the only strain that is capable of developing the necessary compounds in the absence of the elevation and environmental stress that would normally stimulate their development.

    While you can still buy cordyceps sourced from the Tibetan plateaus, the global demand for this healer has resulted in significant ecological damage to those areas, and I don’t personally endorse it.

    Standard dose is 1000 mg per day, and I recommend the Mushroom Science brand. Their extract is made using a hot water process that significantly enhances the availability of the healing components. Depending on the condition that you’re attempting to treat or balance, you may want to try higher doses as well, and a Pharmaca practitioner can advise you in this. Side effects are relatively unknown, though it has been suggested that those people taking immuno-suppressive drugs may want to avoid it, and so far it has not been studied enough to be considered safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

    Ciel is a certified Wellness Coach and Holistic Health Practitioner in Berkeley, Calif., and works at the Rockridge Pharmaca in Oakland. She employs her background in herbs, nutrition, psychoneuroimmunology and Shamanic practices (and a few hundred other modalities) to guide people to a greater understanding of their life processes, leading to vibrant health and much more laughter.

  • Adaptogens in Focus: Rhodiola

    On nearly every continent, there are plants that contain particular substances and chemicals capable of altering the human physiological and emotional reaction to stress. Known for thousands of years and utilized by cultures around the globe, these healing herbs and fungi—what we now call adaptogens—convey a resistance to chemical, physical and psycho-emotional stressors when consumed, providing resiliency to both our minds and bodies by balancing neurotransmitters, increasing cellular energy production, and supporting neuro-endocrine functions.

    As most health practitioners will attest, stress and the resulting physical effects of stress are at the core of many health conditions; our societies are just moving and working at a pace that our bodies and minds struggle to keep up with, and it’s taking a huge toll on our health. Because of this, I feel these herbs are an invaluable addition to a healing protocol or supplement regimen, and are needed like never before.

    In this series on adaptogens, I’ll be exploring some of the most potent and effective of these adaptogens, outlining their incredible history, physiological and psycho-emotional effects, and appropriate usage guidelines.

    So let’s jump right in and start at the top with my absolute favorite, rhodiola.

    Siberian strength

    Rhodiola rosea (also called Arctic or Golden Root) is an adaptogen that hails from the highlands of Siberia and northern Europe. A staple healer for centuries in the Russian and Arctic cultures, rhodiola has been classically used to increase physical resistance to the cold and stress of such an inhospitable climate. This effect has been consistently proven in laboratory studies, along with seemingly countless other beneficial effects.

    Rhodiola has a profound effect on neurotransmitter balance. In laboratory studies, it has been found to increase the sensitivity of neurons to the presence of dopamine and serotonin, two prominent neurotransmitters involved in motivation, focus, enjoyment and mood. Because of this, rhodiola has been used as a successful alternative to antidepressants in Europe, and may offer benefit to those suffering from attention issues or memory loss.

    To prevent fatigue, especially at high altitudes, rhodiola is second-to-none. The herb appears to increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of our red blood cells, and has been used by Olympic athletes and Russian cosmonauts for endurance and strength. This effect is also due to the ability of rhodiola to reduce cortisol in our blood, a hormone released in times of stress, and one responsible for various detrimental effects when chronically present.

    One of those detrimental effects, as you may know, is stress-related weight gain. Our bodies preferentially store excess weight around the midsection during times of excess and perpetual stress, anticipating that we may be in some kind of physical danger and so must protect the internal organs. By reducing cortisol, rhodiola may help to calm the body and reduce this effect, while at the same time turning on an enzyme, hormone-sensitive lipase, which stimulates the body to break down and utilize the fat stored in abdominal cells. And as extra weight support for those of us who are challenged by stress-related eating behaviors, rhodiola can also help to adjust satiation through increasing dopamine sensitivity, reducing carbohydrate cravings and potentially increasing the pleasure response we get from eating.

    This is just a tiny sampling of this plant’s incredible potential benefits, and I encourage you to research and read more on it if you’re interested. Personally, I have been taking rhodiola on and off for about six years, and have never found an herbal supplement to be more powerful or multifaceted in its healing abilities.

    Note: Look for a rhodiola supplement that is guaranteed Siberian-grown, as other plants grown in more temperate regions of the world don’t develop the same stress-balancing compounds. New Chapter’s Rhodiola Force is a personal favorite.

    Ideal dose has been set at between 100-600 mg per day, depending on your physiology and the effects you’re looking for, taken once a day in the morning. Side effects are minimal to none, though those with high blood pressure conditions are advised to avoid rhodiola. Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner to learn more about appropriate dosage levels.

    Ciel is a certified Wellness Coach and Holistic Health Practitioner in Berkeley, Calif., and works at the Rockridge Pharmaca in Oakland. She employs her background in herbs, nutrition, psychoneuroimmunology and Shamanic practices (and a few hundred other modalities) to guide people to a greater understanding of their life processes, leading to vibrant health and much more laughter.

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