Herbal Medicine

  • Get Your Electrolytes the Natural Way: Two Recipes

    electrolytesFrom our friends at WishGarden Herbs

    With summer at its peak and the sun at its zenith, it’s a great time to do a little thinking about electrolytes. These naturally occurring substances – minerals such as sodium, potassium and chloride – are present in all our body fluids; they are also called ions because they carry an electrical charge. By maintaining electrical gradients across cell membranes throughout our body, they play a vital role in nerve impulse transition, muscle contraction and many other imperative processes that are required for life. Because we lose these salts when we sweat during intense exercise or exposure to heat, it is extremely important that we find ways to replenish them. The repercussions of not doing so can be dangerous – even deadly.

    But think again before you reach for a sport’s drink or vitamin water.

    These drinks not only deliver unnecessary amounts of calories, sugar and sodium – but are also often packed full of harmful ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors and preservatives. You might think you are doing a good thing by replenishing electrolytes when drinking these beverages, but instead you are setting yourself up for a sugar crash and pumping your body full of questionable things.

    So, how should one replenish electrolytes? The answer is very simple, inexpensive and involves nothing artificial of any kind: brew yourself up some herbal electrolyte replenishing tea. There are a plethora of herbs to choose from (from nettles and red clover to alfalfa) and most contain minerals in concentrations very close to that found in our own blood stream. They taste great, contain no high fructose corn syrup and will deliver nothing artificial or nasty into your body. I promise once you start, you will never be tempted by the neon sugar water marketed as ‘sports drinks’ again.

    Here’s two easy recipes to get you started:

    Nettle Tea with Peppermint and Lime

    Makes 1 quart.


    • 1/2 cup dried nettle leaf
    • 1/4 cup dried red clover flowers
    • 1/4 cup oat straw
    • 1/8 cup peppermint, spearmint or a combination
    • juice of 1 lime


    1. Place the herbs in a quart sized container (a glass mason jar works well) and cover with 1 quart of just boiled water. Let infuse several hours or overnight.
    2. Strain the herbs out by pouring the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a clean container. Squeeze the lime juice into the tea and refrigerate until use. The tea can be lightly sweetened to taste with honey or stevia.

    Hibiscus Punch

    Makes 1 quart.


    • 4 tablespoons hibiscus flowers
    • 1 tablespoon orange peel, dried or fresh
    • 4 slices fresh ginger root
    • 1/8 teaspoon Celtic or Himalayan sea salt
    • juice of 1 orange


    Place the herbs in quart sized container and cover with 1 quart just boiled water.  Let infuse 15 to 20 minutes and then pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a clean container to remove the herbs. Squeeze the orange juice into the tea and sweeten with honey or stevia to taste. Refrigerate until use.

  • The Benefits of Chamomile

    chamomile-teaFrom our friends at WishGarden Herbs

    Chamomile is such a useful and versatile herb that I find it difficult to know where to start when singing its praises. Shall I begin by telling you about its potent anti-inflammatory action or should I focus on its effectiveness as a digestive bitter? Or perhaps, as every Beatrix Potter fan knows well, I should speak about the usefulness of chamomile as a sleeping aid for naughty rabbits? You can see the problem.

    But with a little thought, I feel I can tie everything that is wonderful about chamomile down to one word: soothing. Chamomile is an herb that soothes. From the digestive tract to the skin to the nervous system, the sweet smelling flowers of German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are the very first thing I think of when there is a condition requiring a soothing action. Typically, these types of conditions involve irritation of some kind stemming from hyper-reactivity to stress and the environment, and more often than not this irritation and hypersensitiveness can be seen manifesting in multiple ways within the same person.

    So what exactly does this hyper-reactive and irritable state look like? Well, just imagine the irritable child (of any age) who has worked themselves up into such a frenzy that they have a stomach ache, a headache, they can’t sleep and they’ve broken out all over in into hives. I’m sure we can all picture multiple people like this; maybe we’ve even found ourselves in such a state on certain occasions. This is the person to whom you want to give a big steaming mug of chamomile tea before sending them to bed.

    Chamomile accomplishes its magic by working on the interface between the gut, the immune system and the nervous system. We often think of these systems as being distinct, but they are intimately connected through millions of neurons. When we are stressed, our nervous system reacts by altering digestive and immune function. Similarly, when the digestive tract is irritated, it alerts the immune and nervous systems and can put things on over-drive. In both cases, chamomile helps to bring the body back to baseline, both by soothing the nervous system with its aromatic essential oils, and by working directly on the digestion – stimulating function with its mild bitter flavor and soothing muscle spasms and tissue irritation with its moistening, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic actions. The combined effect is one of relaxation on all levels.

    Just as chamomile exerts its effects directly on the tissues of the digestive tract, it can also be used topically to soothe other tissue inflammation – namely in the respiratory tract and externally on the skin. Chamomile tea in a neti pot is a great ally during allergy season to provide direct topical relief for sinus irritation. Warm chamomile tea bags can also be placed on the eyes to relieve dryness and irritation or can be used as a poultice to soothe and cool down a hot, itchy rash. You won’t be surprised when these topical applications also leave you feeling calm and relaxed.

    So there you have it; when you think of chamomile, think of soothing. Or better yet, when you find yourself or someone you love in an irritable state of any sort, think of chamomile.

  • Herbal Stress Relief

    WarmTEaDid you know? There are a variety of herbs that can help boost your body’s natural stress response. Start by keeping calm with herbs like lemon balm, skullcap and passionflower. And if stress becomes chronic and your adrenals become depleted, replenish them with adaptogens like eleuthero and rhodiola.

    When it comes to stress-fighting herbs, Cassy Dymond, ND at our Seattle – Wallingford location, says her go-tos are passionflower, lemon balm and milky oats. “WishGarden Herbs has some really nice formulas,” says Cassy. Deep Stress, for example, contains herbs like nettles, oat seed, thyme, bladder wrack and skullcap—“a really great herb for stress. This one is ideal when you have stress and anxiety with agitation and a hard time falling asleep,” says Cassy. She also likes their Emotional Ally, which can be helpful when you’re going through a difficult period in life, like a personal or professional change. That one also includes skullcap and St. John’s wort. Other calming formulas include Gaia Herbs’ Serenity.

    Adaptogenic Herbs

    “Cortisol is a stress hormone that’s part of the fight or flight response,” says Paul Clark, herbalist at our Sonoma store. The adrenal glands continue to produce cortisol while we’re in panic mode, so with elevated stress levels, the adrenals can quickly become depleted.

    Your body then needs help to calm the stress response and rejuvenate your adrenals. That’s where herbs called adaptogens come in. “Adaptogens are defined by their ability to help the body adapt to stress, whether environmental, physical or emotional,” says Paul. “Adrenals and adaptogens work hand in hand.” Here, more about some of the most powerful adaptogens.

    Holy Basil
    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.

    Cordyceps, a medicinal mushroom that’s been part of traditional Tibetan medicine since the 15th century, 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.

    Rhodiola rosea (also called Arctic or Golden Root) is an adaptogen that hails from the highlands of Siberia and northern Europe. 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.

    These and other adaptogens are found on nearly every continent and have been used for thousands of years. They help the body resist chemical, physical and psycho-emotional stressors by balancing neurotransmitters, increasing cellular energy production and supporting neuro-endocrine functions.

    Talk to a Pharmaca practitioner about stress-relieving herbs and adaptogens that may be helpful for you.

  • Herbal Spotlight: Umckaloabo

    By David Bunting, Herb Pharm

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    The genus of Pelargonium brings to us a large and diverse number of horticultural and perfumery plants, together with a handful of traditional medicinal herbs. Made up of about 270 species, the largest variety and diversity of Pelargoniums occur in the Cape Provinces of South Africa. Of these 270, one species is conspicuous for its sordid history, promising medicinal potential and now, its renewed accessibility by the people of South Africa and the world. This herb is popularly known by the strange name of umckaloabo.

    Locally known as Rabas or Rooirabas, umckaloabo is endemic to South Africa and Lesotho, a smaller country entirely surrounded by South Africa. Umckaloabo and several similar species have been long used in traditional medicine to treat diarrhea and dysentery. Today, umckaloabo has become an extremely popular herbal medicine in Europe for the treatment of variety of respiratory ailments.

    In 1897, an Englishman named Charles Henry Stevens was diagnosed with a lung condition and his doctor advised Stevens to travel to South Africa to recover. While in South Africa Stevens was treated with a root decoction by local healer Mike Kijitse and in a relatively short time Stevens was well enough to return to England, where he was pronounced healthy.

    By 1908, Stevens was successfully marketing a secret patent medicine in England called Steven’s Cure. He called the active ingredient “Umckaloabo,” a name reputedly derived from a combination of Zulu words. More likely, however, this name was just made up by Stevens based on sounds he had heard in South African native languages. One of Stevens’ primary objectives throughout his venture was to protect the identity of his herbal ingredient. And what better way to ensure secrecy than to concoct a fictitious name. Regardless of the etymology, the name “Umckaloabo” stuck.

    Stevens came under the scrutiny of the British Medical Association (BMA), brought about not only by jealousies of the BMA but also by Stevens’ exaggerated claims, his unsupported marketing guarantee and his refusal to disclose the active ingredient in his product. During his time of troubles with the BMA, a purported employee of Stevens opened the short-lived Umckaloabo Chemical Company in New York. Nothing more than a footnote now, it is interesting in that the company’s marketing created the basis for umckaloabo to qualify as an old dietary ingredient under the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). After Stevens’ death in 1942, his son sold the product rights, which clearly belonged to the indigenous people of South Africa, to a German drug manufacturer.

    Amazingly, Stevens’ protection of the actual identity of umckaloabo lasted until 1974 when a chemist, due to taxonomic discrepancies, mistakenly identified it as Pelargonium reniforme. This error was later resolved based on phytochemical differences between closely related species and the true identity of umckaloabo was finally revealed publicly as Pelargonium sidoides. With the identity mystery solved, research on umckaloabo was renewed in earnest. Especially in the last two decades, numerous papers with positive findings have been published for umckaloabo’s effectiveness in treating a range of respiratory conditions. These studies support Herb Pharm’s Umckaloabo structure/function statement, “Supports Healthy Sinus, Nasal & Bronchial Function.”*

    As demand for the German preparations escalated, so did the pressure on the wild South African populations of umckaloabo, prompting numerous cultivation projects to help meet demand. Some of these projects were moved overseas, pulling potential income out of South Africa and further upsetting the native communities. Fortunately, the development of cultivation has been so successful that much of the umckaloabo supply today is from cultivated material, thus protecting wild populations. Herb Pharm is proud to offer Umckaloabo that is not only cultivated, but is Certified Organically Grown in its native South African habitat.

    The convoluted journey this plant took during its introduction from South Africa to the rest of the world seems rather extraordinary. But in fact, many plants carry with them similarly remarkable stories. While at times questionable, such accounts are testaments to the intertwined and complex destiny humans and plants share. From food to medicine to environmental stability and even the air we breathe, our lives are inextricably linked to the green world of plants.

    *This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

  • All About Turmeric

    By David Bunting, Herb Pharm

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    Turmeric is probably best known for its spicy flavor and the bold yellow color it gives to curry. Along with coloring foods, it has been used as a dye for both skin and clothing. From some of the earliest records it has also been used topically and internally as a medicinal herb. Turmeric is a quintessential example of standardization gone wrong by taking a botanical medicine to the drug-like extreme of single constituent isolation. It is also a classic example of an ancient herb that has found entirely new uses, and gained a new reputation, in the face of modern medical theory and research.

    Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a member of the Zingiberaceae, or ginger family, and like ginger, it too is a tropical plant. To the best of our knowledge, turmeric originated in southern India and this region continues as the world’s largest producer. As a seedless plant, its movement to new locations throughout the tropics has been dependent upon people. By 800 AD turmeric had spread across much of Asia, including China, and across Africa. This is testament not only to its wide esteem as a useful plant, but also to its trade and relocation in early history. By the 18th century Turmeric made its way to Jamaica and it is now cultivated throughout the tropics, including Hawaii and Costa Rica.

    Turmeric appears in some of the earliest known records of plants in medicine. It was reportedly listed in the Ebers Papyrus from Egypt, circa 1500 BC, for use as a dye and in healing wounds. This is one of the earliest surviving records of medicinal plant use. It is believed to have been cultivated in the Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, possibly as early as the 8th century BC. Closer to its origin, turmeric was an important herb in Ayurvedic and Unani medicine and was listed in an Ayurvedic compendium text around 250 BC. Some four centuries later it was included in what is considered to be the world’s first pharmacopoeia, the Tang Materia Medica, compiled in China around in 659 AD.

    Ayurvedic medicine employed turmeric for the digestive, circulatory and respiratory systems. Here it is used to treat indigestion, purify the blood and quell intestinal gas, cough and arthritis. Chinese medicine uses turmeric for moving Qi and blood in the treatment of epigastric and abdominal pain, various menstrual irregularities and swellings and trauma.

    As medical theory continues searching for the root of many chronic health issues, modern research is recognizing the value of turmeric. Significant research to support its use in gut and joint problems has been carried out on curcumin, a single component of turmeric. This has led to the production and marketing of extracts very high in curcumin, some as high as 95 percent, or what is essentially isolated curcumin. These ultra-high levels of curcumin are typically achieved by extracting with acetone. Acetone is a toxic solvent widely used in industry and one of the chemicals used to denature ethanol, where it is rendered unsuitable for drinking.

    Current research is focusing on the whole herb and its extracts and finding these to be even more effective than isolated curcumin. This scenario is common where a single chemical entity is thought to be “the” active phytochemical in an herb. It is often difficult in scientific research to move outside of the single chemical entity model, especially when a given herb contains hundreds of plant compounds. Known active compounds in turmeric include curcuminoids, a family of curcumin and related compounds and the volatile oil fraction, characterized by turmerones. As research continues, turmeric has become one of the most popular dietary supplements.

    Herb Pharm is proud to carry a vegetarian Turmeric softgel. It contains a broad-spectrum, water (polar) extract containing quantified curcuminoids and a supercritical carbon dioxide (non-polar) extract of the volatile oil fraction with quantified turmerones. Together, these polar and non-polar fractions create a very broad-spectrum turmeric product. A small amount of supercritical extract of black pepper enhances the turmeric. The Turmeric softgel is vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and non-GMO, and features all-organic ingredients.

  • Digestive Products by Herb Pharm

    By David Bunting, Herb Pharm

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    Good digestion is one of the most crucial factors influencing our health. Together with oxygen and water, food provides all of the starting materials for building and maintaining our bodies and minds. And digestion is the body’s gateway for all of the nutrients found in food, the proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and various secondary phytochemicals that feed and heal us. This one complex process is thus linked to every other function in our body, starting at the cellular level. Poor digestion leads to poor health.

    Herb Pharm carries a large selection of products that positively influence the digestive process, system and organs in various ways. In some cases, there is overlap in the effects of products, but each has its own unique features. This article gives an abbreviated overview of our digestive system products intended as a short guide to their differentiation and uses.

    What might be considered the most quintessential digestive product is bitters. Bitters begin working as soon as they hit your taste buds through a reflex action on our stomach and pancreas, stimulating the production of digestive juices. Bitters also stimulate the liver and prepare the gall bladder for the release of bile. Consuming bitter flavor in our foods was always a part of eating; it is something we as a species evolved with and relied on for good digestion. Because the modern diet is skewed heavily towards sweets, the reintroduction of bitter plants like dandelion greens and radicchio into your diet is extremely beneficial. Using Herb Pharm's Digestive Bitters is another simple way to reintroduce this important digestion-enhancing flavor. Hold diluted Digestive Bitters in your mouth for a minute before swallowing to ensure that the taste response is triggered.

    Neutralizing Cordial has attributes shared by some of the other digestive products in that it is of service in treating digestive gas, nausea and colic. However, this formula stands apart due to its ability to alkalize the digestive system. While rhubarb root is generally considered a laxative, it actually has a dose-dependent amphoteric function. Neutralizing Cordial is great when traveling as well as in the home medicine cabinet.

    While many single extracts can have a positive influence on digestion, one especially worth calling out is Peppermint Spirits. This powerful preparation is effective in reducing stomach upset and digestive gas as well as spasms such as hiccups. Peppermint Spirits also help relieve nausea and are a good alternative to Ginger for those whose digestive fire is already warm. Peppermint is cooling and relaxes sphincters, so is not appropriate in acid reflux or where there is dampened, weak digestive fire.

    Bringing the theme of liver and digestion full circle is Healthy Liver Tonic, Herb Pharm's primary liver support compound. Among other herbs in this compound are bitters like Dandelion, Oregon Grape and one of my personal favorites, artichoke. As with Digestive Bitters, these bitter tasting herbs improve the digestive process and systemically support liver-related digestion. Keeping the liver healthy is one of our best strategies in maintaining good digestion and overall health.

    In recent years we have seen a dramatic increase in various digestive, gut and food-induced disorders. The best and easiest way to avoid digestive problems is to stop them before they start. The first and probably most important step is to examine your diet and replace unhealthy foods with better options, including bitter greens. And it makes sense to begin strengthening your digestion at the same time, starting with regular use of Digestive Bitters. These simple steps can be used to significantly improve digestion and assimilation, which are truly fundamental to wellbeing.

  • A Holistic Approach to Stress

    Whether you need just a few extra minutes of calm in your day or more long-term stress relief, Pharmaca offers a variety of different approaches to beating anxiety. And don’t forget—helping your body better cope with stress can go a long way toward optimal health and reducing your risk for chronic conditions like cancer, obesity and heart disease.

    The Herbal Approach
    When it comes to stress-fighting herbs, Cassy Dymond, ND at our Seattle - Wallingford location, says her go-tos are passionflower, lemon balm and milky oats. “WishGarden Herbs has some really nice formulas,” says Cassy. Deep Stress, for example, contains herbs like nettles, oat seed, thyme, bladder wrack and skullcap—“a really great herb for stress. This one is ideal when you have stress and anxiety with agitation and a hard time falling asleep,” says Cassy. She also likes their Emotional Ally, which can be helpful when you’re going through a difficult period in life, like a personal or professional change. That one also includes skullcap and St. John’s wort.

    In addition to calm-inducing herbs, says Cassy, “My tendency is to look for herbs that are supportive to the adrenals. If someone is stressed out it’s important to address the adrenal glands, too.” That’s when she turns to adaptogenic herbs like ashwaghanda, eleuthero and rhodiola, found in Gaia Herbs’ Adrenal Health and Vitanica’s Adrenal Assist.

    The Vitamins & Supplements Approach
    “B vitamins are also hugely important regarding stress,” says Cassy. “They are co-factors in so many different cellular processes, and when we’re stressed, we burn through B5 and B6 more quickly.” Look for B complexes from Thorne Research, MegaFood or New Chapter.

    Two more to add to the stress-fighting toolkit, according to Cassy: vitamin C, which offers good antioxidant support during times of stress, and magnesium, which can be help relaxing the muscles and offer physical calm.

    The Homeopathic Approach
    This subtle, gentle form of healing can work on very specific forms of stress.  Elizabeth Vassar, homeopath at our Brentwood store, tells us about some of her favorites.

    Ignatia amara: “This is one of my number ones for coping with sudden disappointment or loss, such as the ending of a relationship,” says Elizabeth.

    Natrum muriaticum: “This is good for people who have a tendency toward mild to moderate depression,” she says.

    Kali phosphoricum: Elizabeth commonly recommends this for overworked people. “I usually give it to people who are tired of their job! It helps calm the nerves.”

    Bryonia Alba: This is good for someone who has suffered big losses—like their job, a home, etc., and is experiencing depression because of it, says Elizabeth.

    Arsenicum album: “This is for the people who worry about everything!” says Elizabeth.

    Because homeopathy is so specialized to each person’s individual needs, it’s best to speak with a homeopathic practitioner at Pharmaca about proper strengths and dosages.

    The Flower Essence Approach
    Much like homeopathy, flower essences are made via multiple dilutions of flower, tree and bush extracts, and work on an energetic level. In the 1920s, British homeopath Edward Bach isolated 38 flower essences that he felt were especially helpful in balancing emotions—making them ideal for beating stress.

    Bach’s Rescue Remedy, a combination of five flower essences, is a best-selling stress-relief option. “Rescue Remedy is designed for immediate relief from stress or some kind of trauma,” says Lindsay Fontana, homeopath at our Santa Fe store.  “Sometimes when you can just get a little distance from things, you can find more peace. And that’s what Rescue Remedy really gives you.” Available in drops, as a spray and in tasty pastilles, the formula includes five flowers: rock rose, clematis, impatiens, cherry plum and star of Bethlehem.

    Lindsay cites a few other individual flower essences that can be helpful for different stressful scenarios:

    Aspen is good for stress—literally for fears and worries of unknown origin

    Cherry Plum is for fear of losing control

    Elm is for when you’re overwhelmed by responsibility

    Honeysuckle helps when you’re dwelling on the past

    Pine relieves self-reproach or guilt

    Again, because of the specialized nature of these essences, it’s best to work with a Pharmaca practitioner on choosing individual products.

  • The Ins and Outs of Immunity-Boosting Herbs

    Ever wonder what is it about Echinacea that helps fight colds? Or why practitioners often recommend elderberry? Anne Salazar-Dunbar, herbalist and lead practitioner at our La Jolla store, tells us about these immune-boosting herbs.

    Echinacea’s ability to boost the immune system’s performance has been extensively documented over the years. Research suggests that the presence of polysaccharides in echinacea help prevent viruses from entering the cells, and its alkaloids are active in fighting bacteria and fungal infections. According to the Mayo Clinic, some studies have shown a significant reduction in the severity and duration of cold symptoms when echinacea is taken in the early stages of a cold.

    Most commonly seen as elderberry, a variety of preparations can be made from the elder plant. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, parts of the elder tree have long been used for pain, swelling, infections, coughs and skin conditions. Elder contains ursolic acid, which helps reduce inflammation in the body, especially with reference to the respiratory system. Different formulations can help tone the mucosal lining of the inner nose and throat—increasing resistance to infection in those areas of the body—or even help reduce the severity of allergic reactions.

    Chinese medicine links astragalus to an ability to warm and tone the wei qi, or the protective energy that circulates in the human body just beneath the skin. As such, astragalus can help the body quickly adapt to external influences and changes in temperature, leaving it less vulnerable to the elements. Similar to ginseng, astragalus also helps energize the body, strengthening its ability to resist cold and flu. Astragalus has also been extensively researched in cancer patients, and seems to help patients recover more quickly from the side effects of chemotherapy.

    Wild Indigo
    This herb features anti-microbial and immune-stimulating properties, and is especially beneficial in quelling upper-respiratory infections. It’s also thought to help fight against lymphatic disorders, and in combination with an herb like Echinacea, to cure chronic viral conditions.

    Speak with a practitioner at Pharmaca about how different herbal remedies can help you this cold and flu season. 

  • Back Pain Relief Now

    Back pain can be debilitating, whether it’s the result of trauma or simply a pulled muscle. But there are natural solutions that can help your body heal, reduce inflammation and offer relief. We spoke with Matthew Becker, herbalist and lead practitioner at our north Boulder store, about what he recommends for customers’ back pain issues.

    “There are four standbys that are helpful for everything—including chronic pain,” says Matthew. “They all increase circulation and bring healing nutrients and blood to the area to break down stagnation and inflammation.” He emphasizes that these aren’t just for symptom relief, but can even help heal pain that stems from an old injury.

    First off, Matthew recommends a homeopathic cream called Topricin. “I get the best results when I combine both a topical medicine and a systemic anti-inflammatory,” he says. “And there’s a general consensus among our store team that Topricin is the most helpful topical for pain relief.” The cream contains homeopathic preparations of Arnica, Rhus Toxicodendron and Ruta Graveolens, which combine to relieve inflammation, sharp pains and bone injuries. He recommends rubbing liberally into the affected area three times daily.

    Internally, Matthew recommends a specific type of turmeric: Thorne Research’s Meriva-500. “Turmeric is something I take every day because it has many powerful healing effects on the body,” he says. For back pain specifically, he combines this turmeric with an enzyme called bromelain (also from Thorne Research, if available, or Jarrow Formulas’ Bromelain 1000).

    “I recommend taking three Meriva and two bromelain tablets, twice daily about an hour before a meal, since bromelain won’t work on a full stomach,” says Matthew. “Together, they exert a powerful anti-inflammatory effect.” He adds that though they are similar to Ibuprofen in their pain relief mechanism, they are much safer and more effective in the long run.     

    “For people who are really in pain, I also recommend a product from Natura Health called Corydalis Plus,” says Matthew. “It’s the most powerful natural pain reliever we have in the store.” The formula includes 10 different Chinese herbs, including anti-inflammatories like white willow bark and boswellia. Many of these herbs work together to help get blood to the site of the injury to increase local circulation. “This should also be taken on an empty stomach,” says Matthew, who recommends starting with two capsules twice a day, and adjusting as needed for the pain.

    Matthew has seen this combination work for many customers with back pain, as long as they consistently take the correct dosages for a few days. While everyone is different, he adds, these supplements can really start the healing process—instead of just offering temporary relief.

  • 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.

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