Monday, January 30, 2017

Herbalist and Astronomer

     Often we don’t realize how our lives can be changed so much by just a few revelations.  One revelation I had as a young girl was just how much the present depends on history.  If certain people didn’t do certain things in the past, we would not be who we are today.  This is just as true in our individual lives as it is in to the world in general.  One man who shaped the course of history in medicine is Nicholas Culpeper. 

     Nicholas Culpeper’s life started with tragedy.  He was born just 13 days after his father died, and being that his father left no official heirs when he died, all of this titles and lands were given over to other men.  As such, Culpeper was raised by his mother and her family in Isfield, Sussex.  His grandfather was one of his biggest influences in his early days.  As a child, Culpeper was fascinated by the stars and by his grandfather’s clock collection.  His grandfather taught him Greek and Latin, as well as introduced him to the works of Ptolemy.  Which all helped feed his growing interest in Astronomy.  But it was his grandmother who introduced him to the medicinal use of plants.

     At the age of 16, Culpeper was sent to Cambridge University.  Since his father and grandfather were both ministers, his family had decided to send him to study theology and become a minister himself.  Culpeper, however, had other ideas.  He never really took his theological studies seriously, instead studying anatomy and the medicinal uses of herbs.  He also spent quite a bit of his time in taverns and playing games.  He even picked up the newest trend of smoking.  However, he never did finish his Cambridge education. 

     He had secretly planned to elope with the heiress Judith Rivers.  He had known her from childhood and they knew that their families would not consent to the marriage.  Sadly, her coach was struck by lightning on the way to their rendezvous.  Culpeper was overcome with grief and sorrow by the news.  This caused him to leave University, and the news of both the affair and his leaving University caused his grandfather to disinherit him.  He had also burnt his bridges at Cambridge, so any hopes of completing his education to be a minister were dashed, as well as any hope to go back to University to study medicine.  His grandfather suggested that he become an apothecary. 

     Culpeper was taken on as an apprentice to the apothecary Francis Drake, in London.  In return, Culpeper taught Drake Latin.  During his training, he studied the same book that his grandmother had introduced him to in his youth, Gerard’s Herbal.  He even got to learn from Thomas Jefferson who was an assistant of the Apothecary Society and was editing the recently expanded Herbal.  Culpeper became extremely proficient with the herbs found in the Herbal, as well as quite a few other herbs.  So proficient that he took over the apothecary business when Drake died.

     Culpeper’s move to London was beneficial, not only to his herbal and medical knowledge, but also to his astrological knowledge.  Culpeper studied with William Lilly, an astronomer in London, who urged him to pay attention to the planetary influences on his patients in order to regulate their prescriptions.  Culpeper became increasingly influenced by astrology and studied as much as he could.  His classical training in Greek and Latin was of a large help in this as most of the astrological texts were written in these languages. 

     During his studies, he developed what was to become his life-long mission.  He wanted to put natural medicine and medical knowledge back into the hands of the people.  All of the people, not just the nobility and scholars.  To this end he translated a few of the great medical texts into English, wrote a few books, and was labeled a quack and charlatan by many of the physicians of his day.  Despite all of the negative press, Culpeper was a well-known and very successful herbalist.  He has written a great number of books, and translated even more.  A Complete Herbal has even been continually in print since he originally wrote it. 

     One of the ideas he is most well-known for in the herbal community is the correlation of astronomy to the plants and to the human body.  He believed that the plants are able to channel and use the influence and energy of the planets.  The plants could then be used as food and medicine and give us those energies in our consumption of them.  Culpeper required his students (and asked his readers) to study the symbolism associated with each herb’s planet and use that to correctly administer the herb itself.  An herb associated with the sun, being warming and strengthening to the vital force (life force), would be used to strengthen a weakness.  The sign/constellation Taurus is associated with the throat, so an herb under that sign would be used for issues concerning the throat.  He also taught many other uses for astronomy in medicine, such as the appropriate times to plant and harvest the plants based on their heavenly associations. 

     Culpeper’s health failed him in later years.  But he left 79 manuscripts with his wife Alice.  Alice published quite a few of these while the English allowed free publishing, until Charles II was restored to the throne.  Thanks to these works, we are given a unique 
glimpse into the world of medicine in the 17th century.  We can also draw several parallels to some of our philosophies today.  Thank you Nicholas Culpeper for pioneering the way for natural medicine to come back into the hands of the people.  And thank you all for reading this brief footnote in the life of an amazing historical figure.   
Greek Medicine: Nicholas Culpeper:
Skyscript: Nicholas Culpeper Herbalist of the People:

Monday, January 23, 2017

Grapefruit Honey Hairspray

     I have difficult hair, to say the least.  Its crazy curly and throughout my early life I tried EVERYTHING to straighten it enough to be manageable.  Nothing ever worked.  I even practically destroyed my hair with a variety of chemical treatments.  Still not straight.  About 10 years ago, I finally gave up the fight and started down the road to loving my hair.  When I began learning about herbs and the natural way to do just about everything in life, I made it a point to learn about natural hair products.  I have now been making my own hair gel for about a year, but for some reason I never considered trying hairspray.  

     Early this month, when my husband and I were sick, we picked up a bag of organic oranges at the grocery store.  I took one with me to my day job and cut it open to find out that it was not an orange at all.  In fact, it was a grapefruit.  Gross!  I am not a big fan of grapefruit, in fact it’s pretty safe to say I detest the taste of them.  I do use the essential oil in a few oil blends, and I like grapefruit in some bitters that I use.  However, I was now the proud owner of an entire 5lb bag of grapefruit.  There’s only so much grapefruit bitters I can make, and I do not have the proper licensing to make my own essential oils.  So I started looking up alternative ways to use grapefruit and found a few recipes for hair products.  After looking at several recipes, some of which did not include grapefruit as an ingredient, I came up with a recipe to test out.  Let me tell you, this hairspray really works!  I washed my hair and left out my usual gel, instead I sprayed my hair with this homemade hairspray and let it dry.  No frizz, nice hold (without the usual crunch that gel leaves), and smells great!  So I’m sharing this wonderful recipe with all of you in hopes of spreading the joy of homemade, good for you, hair products!

A Quick Word on Ingredients

Grapefruit promotes hair growth, removes buildup, naturally lightens hair color (any citrus fruit does this, but it works best with just the juice, adding the grapefruit to your hair recipes do not lighten to the same degree), detangles, treats dandruff, and makes your hair shine.  It’s also great for those of you who have oily hair. 

Coconut Oil is an ingredient I added to the recipe because grapefruit can strip your hair of oils, and my hair is quite dry (like most curly hair is).  Small amounts of coconut oil can also help reduce, or even prevent, frizz.  But if coconut oil is not for you then you can substitute argan oil, avocado oil, or even olive oil.

Honey is great for your hair, it nourishes your hair to make it shine.  It also makes a great moisturizer because it attracts moisture.  So for my fellow Florida girls, honey is great because it uses the humidity to help your hair!

High Proof Alcohol is my preservative in this recipe.  However, small amounts of alcohol can also make your hairspray work better.  While larger amounts of alcohol can dry your hair and create frizz, small amounts of alcohol can help ensure an even spread of your hairspray for a better hold.  It can also decrease the time it takes for your hair to dry. 

Essential Oils not only make this hairspray smell great, but they can also help your hair needs.  Some good essential oils to look into include: lavender, geranium, vetiver, cedarwood, rosemary, sandalwood, chamomile, and clary sage.

Grapefruit Honey Hairspray

4 cups Distilled Water
1 Grapefruit, quartered
4 tablespoons Raw Honey
2 tablespoons Coconut Oil
2 tablespoons High Proof Alcohol of your choice
10-15 drops essential oils of your choice (my favorite blend is 6-8 drops lavender, 3-5 drops vetiver, 3-5 drops rosemary)

Combine water and grapefruit into a pot and boil on medium-high heat until the liquid is reduced to half.  Reduce the heat to low.  Remove the grapefruit quarters, squeezing until all liquid is squeezed out.  Add in the honey and coconut oil.  Cook on low, and stir until coconut oil and honey are well incorporated.  Cover and remove from heat.  Let cool, but don’t let the solids form completely on top, if this happens, just heat up on the stove until melted.  Using a funnel, pour cooled liquid into container of your choice.  Add in the alcohol and essential oils.  Close up with a spray top.  Shake well, and shake before each use. 
    This recipe will last for several months, however if you think it is beginning to smell funky, throw it away and make some more!  I hope you enjoy making your own hairspray and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Cosamo: Benefits of Using Grapefruit on Hair:
DIY Natural: Homemade Hairspray:
Hair Buddha: Top 5 Essential Oils for Hair and Scalp:
Honey Fanatic: Is Honey Good For Your Hair?:
How To Hair Girl:  Honey Silk and Shine:
Naturally Curly: Alcohols and your Hair:
No Poo Method: Essential Oils for Hair:
WebMD: Wave Bye-Bye to Damaged Hair:
Wellness Mama: Coconut Oil for Hair:
Wellenss Mama: Homemade Natural Hairspray:

Monday, January 16, 2017

Food For Thought: The Connection Between Diet and Mental Health

     Comfort food.  We’ve all heard of it.  We’ve all had those days where we just want something familiar and comfortable to eat.  In many instances, just the smell of these dishes cooking is enough to lift our spirits.  In some cases, they are a crutch for us in our darkest moods.  These instances leave no room for doubt that food can affect our moods.  However, comfort food isn’t the only food that can do so, and in many cases our choice of comfort foods can actually hurt our mood later on.    

     In recent years, there seems to have been a major increase in the occurrence of mental illness and mood disorders.  With this increase, researchers have begun looking more and more into causes and new treatments.  One thing that has seemed to come from this is a deeper look into the connection between your gut and your brain.  Most of us have heard of the Central Nervous System (CNS), the brain and spinal cord, or the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS), nerves and gray matter.  However, there is another nervous system that most people never learn about.  That nervous system is the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).  The ENS lines our gastrointestinal tract and help to digest our food by controlling blood flow and secretions.  While this seems pretty straight forward, this nervous system is so complex that many people refer to it as our “second brain.”  Our gut communicates with our brain in many ways, so many that science is still trying to figure out what it’s all about.  One thing that we do know is that our gut is connected to mood disorders and autism. 

     In 2013, there was a major study done on mice that had the same behavioral pattern as humans with autism.  These mice were introduced to a certain strain of bacteria that changed the balance of bacteria in their guts.  When this change occurred, these mice showed a remarkable change in behavior as well, becoming more social and less anxious.  Similar studies have been performed since, studies that have changed how doctors view both mental illness and digestive disorders.  This change has led to a trend where doctors are prescribing depression medicine to patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in a hope to improve the communication between their gut and their brain. 

     This connection between our nutrition and our mental health makes even more sense when you consider the fact that our brains are always working, and like every other organ or system in our body, our brain needs fuel.  We know that proper nutrition provides the right kind of fuel for our body to work, but what is proper nutrition for our brain?  There have been a number of studies on this subject as well, and most of them agree that processed foods and foods high in sugar are the worst foods for your brain.  Diets high in these foods can lead to mood disorders, such as depression, as well as impaired brain function.

     We also have to remember that our brain is made up of 60% fat, and uses fat as its primary fuel source.  This means that we need to keep a decent amount of healthy fat in our diets for proper brain function.  This is a primary example of why “low fat” foods can actually be dangerous for us.  Many of the foods that are labeled “low fat” in the grocery store are actually loaded down with sugar and trans fats to make them taste better, to encourage repeat purchases. 
So what should we avoid to keep our brains healthy? 
·         Sugary Drinks
·         Excessive Caffeine
·         Refined and Sugary Foods
·         Trans Fat – fried foods, margarine, baked goods, processed snack foods
·         In some cases, Dairy

Ok, now what should increase to provide our brains with the right fuel?
·         Omega 3 Fatty Acids – oily fish (salmon, trout, and mackerel), walnuts, flax, olive oil, eggs, and dark leafy greens
·         Whole Grains (in some cases people feel better leaving these out as well)
·         Fruits and Vegetables
·         Organic and Home Prepared Foods are best!

     I hope that I have given you some “food for thought” in this entry.  If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below in the comments! 


Dr. Axe: The Gut-Brain Connection:
Greatist: How Eating Fat Can Make You Smarter:
Harvard Health: Nutritional Psychiatry:
Mental Health America: Healthy Diet:
Mental Health Foundation: Diet and Mental Health:
Psychology Today: The Gut-Brain Connection:
Safe Harbor: The Role of Diet in Mental Health:
Wellness Mama: Can Your Food Affect Mental Health?:

Monday, January 9, 2017

Golden Milk

     Winter has finally come to Florida.  In Central Florida, we’ve had nights in the 30’s with wind chill down to the 20’s.  For many people this means staying inside in an attempt to stay warm, but my husband and I are both very happy to start bonfires and cozy up next to them with the hot beverage of our choice.  For my husband, it’s always coffee, though I’ve never been a big fan myself.  Hot tea is good, but I’m picky about my teas (I’m a tea snob…what can I say?).  So my hot beverage of choice has almost always been hot chocolate.  However, I have been slowly switching over to something else (and dragging my husband with me).  The beverage I’ve been consuming can be served warm or cold (though I prefer it warm) and has amazing medicinal benefits. 

     Golden milk is not necessarily a “milk” at all.  The traditional recipes call for coconut milk, coconut oil, honey, and turmeric.  I like to spice mine up a little, with ginger and black pepper.  Other people like to add a touch of cinnamon and cayenne, or use maple instead of honey to sweeten it.  You can also choose to make it with regular milk, or any non-dairy milk of your choice.  I tend to jump between using coconut milk, cashew milk, or regular milk.  The basic recipes start off with adding a paste to your “milk” and cooking them together, so I’m including a basic turmeric past recipe, I usually just make it all at once without making the paste.  Keep in mind that turmeric can be very bitter if not cooked long enough.  Don’t be afraid to cook it a little extra if you feel you need to.  

A quick word about the 3 basic ingredients:

Turmeric is a close relative of ginger and has many of the same medicinal properties.  However, the most notable thing about turmeric is called curcumin.  Curcumin is most notorious for its anti-cancer properties.  It has been proven to actually prevent blood flow to tumors.  Without the blood flow, the tumors can’t grow.  Curcumin actually helps to modify the genetic code in cancer cells and destroy them, as well as helping to prevent healthy cells from mutating into cancer.
Coconut Milk contains lauric acid which is not commonly found in nature.  Lauric acid is used by your body to make monolaurin, which actually helps destroy certain, lipid-coated, viruses.  Some lipid-coated viruses include HIV, herpes, influenza, and measles.  So coconut milk actually helps your body fight off these diseases.
Coconut Oil is necessary for these recipes because turmeric is fat-soluble.  This means that the beneficial compounds in turmeric can only be used when certain fats are present.  Coconut oil contains the healthy fats needed for our bodies to be able to use turmeric. 

Basic Turmeric Paste

½ cup Turmeric Powder
1 cup Water
1 ½ teaspoons Black Pepper
5 tablespoons Coconut Oil (warmed up into a liquid)

Combine all ingredients, except the coconut oil, in a pot and cook, stirring, until they form a thick paste (about 7-10 minutes).  Remove from heat and whisk in the coconut oil until fully incorporated.  Refrigerate and hold up to 2 weeks.

Golden Milk from the Paste

1 teaspoon Turmeric Paste
2 cups Coconut Milk
Honey to taste

Combine all ingredients, stirring or whisking to combine.  Heat until just under boiling.  Once heated and combined, you can serve it hot or cold.

Golden Milk with Ginger

1 tablespoon Coconut Oil
1 inch Turmeric, freshly grated or sliced (or 1 teaspoon dried powder)
1 inch Ginger, freshly grated or sliced (or 1 teaspoon dried powder)
1 pinch Black Pepper
2 cups Coconut Milk (or milk of your choice)
Honey to taste

Combine the coconut oil, turmeric, ginger, and black pepper in a pot on the stove.  Cook them together, on low-medium heat, about 7-10 minutes.  Add in the coconut milk and a little honey.  Raise the heat to medium-high and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring continuously.  Remove from heat and cover.  Let sit 10-15 minutes.  If you need more honey, now is the time to taste and add it.  Strain and serve, warm or cold. 

Golden Milk with Cinnamon

1 tablespoon Coconut Oil
1 inch Turmeric, freshly grated or sliced (or 1 teaspoon dried powder)
1 inch Cinnamon Stick (or ½ teaspoon dried powder)
1 pinch dried Cayenne powder
2 cups Coconut Milk (or milk of your choice)
Honey to taste

Combine the coconut oil, turmeric, and cayenne in a pot on the stove.  Cook them together, on low-medium heat, about 7-10 minutes.  Add in the coconut milk, cinnamon stick, and a little honey.  Raise the heat to medium-high and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring continuously.  Remove from heat and cover.  Let sit 10-15 minutes.  If you need more honey, now is the time to taste and add it.  Strain and serve, warm or cold. 

     Like all of my recipes, these can be modified to suit your needs or taste buds.  Some options, instead of using milk and honey, use bone broth and serve warm.  This makes a savory beverage, or a great soup stock.  Try adding Chai spices like cardamom and clove, along with both cinnamon and ginger, to make a Golden Chai Milk.  Have fun!  Experiment!  And let me know what you think in the comments below!

Epicurious: Golden Milk Turmeric Tea:
Fresh Bites Daily: Golden Milk:
Gimme Some Oven: Golden Milk (hot or iced):
Mercola: What is Golden Milk?:
Wellness Mama: Turmeric Tea:

The Awe-Inspiring Ginger

     This past December and January has seen two “bugs” come to Central Florida.  One of them is an upper respiratory, like bronchitis or the common cold.  The other one is a stomach bug.  The second one made its way through my, usually healthy, family (that’s why this entry is a week late).  But there is an herb I turned to that helped in our cases, and could help in the case of the upper respiratory issues as well.  Ginger, Zingiber officinalis, is practically a pharmacy in and of itself. 

     Technically, the part that we usually refer to as the ginger “root” is a rhizome.  Rhizomes are underground stems that put out both roots and shoots, they have also been called “creeping rootstocks.”  Rhizomes store food and can help ensure the growth of the plant in harsh times.  You can also grow multiple, new plants from one ginger rhizome.  With that much growing potential, of course this herb is going to be fantastic!    

     The main reason I reached for ginger is because it has been used throughout history to calm upset stomachs.  Most women chew ginger candies when they are experiencing morning sickness during their pregnancy.  Sailors used to chew on ginger to help with seasickness.  It is also, commonly, used to help with the nausea that accompanies chemotherapy.  The beautiful thing about it, is that it won’t stop vomiting that is necessary.  If you have gotten ahold of a poisonous substance, ginger will not get in the way of your body purging that substance.  It will, however, prevent vomiting when your stomach is upset, as well as help your stomach calm down faster after vomiting.  This is why many people believe ginger ale will help settle your stomach.  The sad reality about that is that the ginger would actually work if the carbonation and sugar in ginger ale didn’t counter the medicinal benefits of the ginger.  So when your tummy is unsettled and/or sore, reach for ginger tea instead of ginger ale.

     Ginger is also a great way to fight off most infections.  It is strongly antiviral and antibacterial.  Taking ginger as a preventative is, I believe, why it only took me 1 day to go through the main part of the illness that it took my husband 3 days to go through (he was the first one to get sick).  Ginger also is a prebiotic.  Prebiotics contain fiber that is not easily digested by us, but that provide food sources for the beneficial bacteria that helps to keep us healthy.  Those beneficial bacteria help us digest our food and help to promote healthy immune system function.  Ginger helps to promote a healthy level of those bacteria.  It also helps to stimulate perspiration and reduce fevers.

     Ginger is also great to reduce aches and pains of all kinds.  It’s both a pain reliever and an anti-inflammatory.  This makes it great for the achy symptoms that accompany illness.  It’s also great for arthritis, menstrual cramps, and general aches that come with working out.  It can help reduce cough, soothe a sore throat, relieve congestion, boost immune function, and help to relive headache.  This makes ginger the perfect herb to help with the cold and/or flu.

     Now on to the stuff that makes ginger even better year round.  Ginger helps lower blood sugar, improve heart disease risk factors, treat chronic indigestion, improve brain function (possibly preventing Alzheimer’s), and lower cholesterol.  But one of the #1 reasons that ginger is amazing is that it has anti-cancer properties!  There are a number of studies being conducted around ginger’s potential in preventing and/or treating cancers.  So far, it looks extremely promising.

     I hope I have convinced you of how amazing and awe-inspiring ginger is.  If you have any experience with this amazing herb, or questions about it, feel free to leave them in the comments below! 

Authority Nutrition: 11 Proven Health Benefits of Ginger:
Herb Wisdom: Ginger:
Medical News Today: Ginger:
Natural Society: 10 Health Benefits of Ginger:


Greetings from the Bat Lady!

     Welcome to Bat Lady Herbals.  I have been fascinated by herbs and various herbal uses for quite a few years now.  Plants are amazing t...