When I head out the door in the morning, whether it’s to see patients at the clinic or go on a day trip to the lake, mountains, or the natural bridge near here, there’s always a bottle of this versatile oil in my purse or backpack.
Melaleuca alternifolia (aka tea tree) essential oil (EO) has many attributes, but we look at it particularly as a shield against infection and inflammation. It can thwart microbes such as fungus, bacteria, parasites, and virus. There are many, many studies attesting to that fact. One study about its use against bacteria had these results:
“The MIC was 0.2% and the MBC was 0.4%.
The Melaleuca sp. oil showed antimicrobial properties in vitro against strains isolated from lower limb wounds which were resistant to multiple antibiotics.”
Here’s a link to the entire report: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26270141.
Note that MIC means minimum inhibitory concentration and MBC means minimum bactericidal concentration. Bactericidal means bacteria killing—POW!! 0.4% means that Melaleuca EO kills these evil bugs that are resistant to other antibiotics with just 1 drop diluted in 250 drops of a carrier. So I would imagine that these researchers contacted the medical caregivers for the people with the “lower limb wounds” and suggested that properly diluted Melaleuca essential oil might be a good next option for wound support.
There’s another important use of Melaleuca that seems to be ignored still by the medical community, and that’s in handling spider bites. When we lived in the Nashville, Tennessee area, my husband worked in repair and restoration of high-end older homes. He crawled under houses a lot to get to important things like plumbing and electricity. One Sunday morning as he was getting ready for church he noticed a red spot on his lower back. He immediately put some Melaleuca oil directly on it, and later he told me about it. I put a bandage on the bite site, with the bandage pad soaked with a few drops of undiluted Melaleuca oil. The next application 8 hours later included a little coconut oil to dilute it. We continued to use progressive dilution of the oil, with smaller and smaller amounts of Melaleuca and more and more coconut oil in each application. In one week the bite site looked like normal, healthy skin, with no evidence that there was ever a bite. We approached 3 more bites in the next few months successfully in the same manner.
Now many of you may not be familiar with Brown Recluse spider bites. They’re wicked bad. The little spider with a fiddle on its back sneaks up and bites you quietly, frequently without you ever knowing you’ve been bitten. Within a day or so, the bite site can swell about 1/4” high and about the size of a quarter in diameter, with angry redness and a little black and blue pinpoint in the very center of the bite (we’ve seen the shape of the bite site be either round or a pseudo diamond shape, but I’m sure there are other shapes). At this point the bite may still not be painful, so you may not even know that it’s there and needs treatment.
Those of you have had the misfortune of being bitten by a Brown Recluse without prompt, proper treatment will fully understand what I’m about to say next. Within a few more days after the bite, your skin can turn to a seriously sloughing blister. Within a few more days, your skin can turn to painful, swollen hamburger-looking rawness, from under an inch to over 10 inches across. It can be mild or it can be horrible, with lasting scars from the deeper ulcers. Here’s a website with tons of great information (don’t look at the pictures if you’re squeamish): http://www.brownrecluse.com/bitephotos.html
Contrast the experience in the last paragraph with the non-event my husband went through. One of the big reasons that Melaleuca is so effective is that it’s not just working on the bacteria and other infections (guess which one I love to talk about that spiders can transmit??), it appears to neutralize the toxin from the spider itself. Though PubMed has an abundance of information on the antimicrobial attributes of Melaleuca essential oil (such as I’ve linked above), it has zero information on the anti-toxic effects of the oil. So we’re going on anecdotal medicine here (or is that antidotal?) when we’re talking about the toxin neutralizing effects. Consider this: if antibiotics were all that people need when they get a Brown Recluse bite, then their wounds would almost always get better without all the grief (unless the bacteria, etc. introduced into the site by the spider bite is resistant to most antibiotics—yay that Melaleuca kills the resistant strains, too!). However, if the spider’s necrotizing (flesh destroying) toxin is not addressed as well, the wound can quickly deteriorate into an ulcerated mess. So Melaleuca kills the bacteria and appears to neutralize the toxins, as well. Please pay attention, all y’all in Dixie, or wherever you are when you run into the little Recluse beasties!
It’s not fun to get a bug bite, but the prospects don’t seem so bad when you have something with which to approach it. By the way, “bug bite” can mean that from a mosquito, fly, and other non-spider types of bites. We just had time to talk about Brown Recluse bites in this chat, and we didn’t go into specific bacteria, etc., though Staphylococcus aureus is one likely culprit. Oh, and if you’re wondering, Melaleuca essential oil by itself does not kill Borrelia, the causative agent of Lyme disease. Lyme with its co-infections is a whole different ballgame than typical infections, necessitating an approach from multiple antimicrobial agents. Melaleuca can be an important part of the plan here, though, as it can in many different infectious or inflammatory diseases.
Melaleuca essential oil should be used wisely, but it should definitely be used! Ask your healthcare provider about it. And don’t forget it when you’re heading out the door…
No other food has its own food group. Well, in my mind, anyway. And no other food deserves to be in its own food group more. As I sit here munching on part of my daily allotment of this, I’ll share a little about my favorite medicine/herb/food. Today I’m calling it an herb, so I can write about it here.
Chocolate, or more precisely cacao bean or herb, has been revered for centuries in South America for the truly health-building and system-balancing medicine that it is. In fact, it was always used as a bitter drink made from the roasted brown beans until some random Spanish sailors decided to sweeten their New World hot cocoa with New World sugar. Grrr! those Spanish sailors, introducing such a health problem into such a healthy food! Oh, wait. I like my chocolate sweetened a little…
South American cultures honored it with the name, “Food of the gods,” hence the scientific name Theobroma cacao was given this unique gift. It was valued as a means of trade for centuries in South America. When Spain got hold of it, the country guarded the production of chocolate for almost 100 years, completely controlling the market. Then the French and English got wind of it and opened hot chocolate drinking houses in the 1700s, and soon thereafter people all over Europe were enjoying candies and baked goods made with ground cocoa beans. Once North America got in on the chocolate scene, with its “if a little is good, then a truckful is better” attitude, we were hooked.
Today people eat more than 3 million tons of cocoa beans annually, if you look at the worldwide numbers. That is a seriously large amount of chocolate.
What does chocolate do for us? I decided to go to one of the what’s-the-best-food-source-for-this-nutrient websites, http://www.healthaliciousness.com/. I found cocoa dry powder unsweetened and did the math. In half of a 3 oz (86 gm) bar of 72% cocoa content dark chocolate, you get these nutrients, in % of Recommended Daily Intake:
Minerals: Copper 59%, Manganese 59%, Magnesium 39%, Iron 24%, Phosphorus 23%, Zinc 14%, Potassium 13%, Selenium 6%, Calcium 4%
Amino Acids: Phenylalanine 33%, Tryptophan 32%, Cystine 26%, Threonine 23%, Valine 20%, Isoleucine 17%, Lysine 14%, Leucine 13%, Methionine 9%
Vitamins: Riboflavin 4%, Niacin 3%, Folate 3%, Vit K 1%, Thiamine 1%, Pantothenic Acid 1%
Obviously, especially when it comes to mineral and amino acid content, chocolate shines. But it does ever so much more for us. When I was in culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, Oregon they told us that over 400 substances good for human health had been discovered in chocolate. About 5 years later, the news was reporting 500 health-promoting substances discovered in chocolate. A few years later, there were 700, and so on.
Every year when I teach chocolate classes, I look up the latest research on health benefits of chocolate. Here are a few (warning: most of this is written in scientifickese):
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25190662, decreasing the damage from diabetic retinopathy
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23625721, heart protection, cardiac mitochondrial function
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20833967, cardiovascular protection via opioid receptors
That’s right. Cocoa is one of the few substances that can fit into several different feel-good receptors on our cells, particularly opioid (especially delta opioid receptors) and cannabinoid receptors. Cocoa also induces production of neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins (that’s short for endogenous—or inner—morphine). No wonder we feel better when we eat chocolate.
Chocolate, preferrably in a 70%+ cocoa content, can lower high blood pressure, lower LDL and raise HDL, lower insulin resistance, fight against tumors, and naturally thin the blood while strengthening the endothelial lining of blood vessels (unlike other blood thinners, which weaken the lining of blood vessel walls). This is a good meta-analysis (a bunch of reports put together) about most of these chocolate benefits:http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/119/10/1433.full. Please note that most of the studies on the health benefits of cocoa/chocolate are done with at least somewhat sweetened products. The higher the cocoa content, though, the more choco-power you get (but above 85% can taste dry and chalky unless the producer is really exceptional and you’re having an extreme cocoa craving).So the next time you start to refer to chocolate as sinfully delicious, or imply that it’s unhealthy to partake of this God-given life-sustaining food, don’t do it around me. If you eat chocolate wisely, with just a little sweetener and no problematic fats, it’s one of the best things you’ll do for your health all day. Don’t eat chocolate plus other sweets; eat it instead of other sweets, or you’ll get too much sugar for the day. Try to limit yourself to half of a 3 oz organic (preferably), 70 or 72% or higher cocoa content bar, as I gave you the nutrients for above. And then share the other half with me, and we’ll both be very, very happy.
Here’s to chocolate!
Known since Biblical times for its awesomeness, this herb was one of the foods that the Israelites whined about missing in their Exodus from Egypt. I admit that I might whine too, if I couldn’t have easy access to it.
Fortunately, I don’t have to whine, because garlic is so easily obtainable. In fact, it’s hard to find a place in the world where garlic is not revered for its unique flavor addition to savory foods. Though it originated in central Asia, almost all cuisines of the world recognize the importance of garlic: European, Asian, African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Indian, Caribbean, Pacific Islander, Aussie/NZ, and American (North, Central, and South). Yes, there are few herbs that are so universal, and so universally known for their odor.
I remember meeting a Russian man, new to the US, who explained that it wasn’t a problem to eat lots of garlic (and smell like it) if everyone else around you does, too. Hmmm... Maybe it could be part of a new national health plan. Garlic odor, especially from fresh garlic, can come out of your skin, not just on your breath. But I’m probably stating something you already know. I also want to plead with you not to give up eating it just because of the odor. The odor is a symbol of the huge medicinal blessing that garlic is to us.
Garlic cells have in them the odorless, sulfur-containing substance alliin. Nearby cells have the enzyme alliinase, and when both types of cells are crushed, alliin meets alliinase and becomes allicin. A strong antibiotic, allicin is very aromatic. Aromatic molecules (you’ll recognize that term if you use essential oils) are small, and they can move easily into many tissue and cell types. Allicin (and possibly other components in garlic) keeps your blood cells and platelets from clumping together (like a natural aspirin or Coumadin), and possibly keeps your cholesterol and triglyceride levels from getting unreasonably high (like a natural statin). Garlic can also reduce blood pressure by relaxing the smooth muscles and inner lining of your blood vessels so they can open up and let blood flow through more easily. Can you see why people have valued garlic as a cardiovascular (heart/blood vessel) supportive herb for millennia?
Garlic is a warrior when it comes to immune system support. It is a known antioxidant, which means anti-toxin, or remover of the bad guys that make us sick, both microbes and environmental toxins. If our immune system has been overworked, with low numbers of white cells (T-cells) and suppressed antibodies, garlic may crack the whip over both of them to start being more productive and responsive (as my niece said when she was little, “Get ya head outta da sand!”). Remember above that garlic is a strong antibiotic? That often refers to killing or disabling bacteria. But garlic is famous for being a potent anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-parasitic as well, so it’s a full spectrum anti-microbial. Remember that the next time you get a cold, flu, Athlete’s Foot, or assorted intestinal worms. Or Lyme disease, for that matter—it’s a great adjunct for immune support in almost any infection or infestation.
Garlic can also stimulate bad-guy-eating white blood cells called macrophages to turn on and be very unkind to tumor cells (this is called cytotoxicity). It can likely cause selenium to be more protective against tumor formation. In addition, garlic can, like frankincense and other herbs, send cancer cells into a normal cell cycle, including normal cell death (apoptosis) at the appropriate time, along with inhibiting the formation of new blood vessels that would otherwise support the growth of the tumor.
Here’s some good information on garlic from the University of Maryland Medical Center:http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/garlic
One of the best ways to get tons of fresh garlic into a diet is to have garlic-heavy fresh salsa (don’t forget the onions and cilantro!). Eat garlic with some other food, to ease the effect on your stomach. Something like a nut cracker or chip can make it gentler. However, once you have become accustomed to eating raw garlic, you might be able to eat it by itself… Yikes. I’m not there yet…
Fresh garlic is not the only form of garlic with medicinal benefit. Many people take garlic capsules such as Kyolic garlic, because of the smell-less ease of taking it. Roasted garlic, whether chopped first or roasted whole, is awesome. In the crushed and roasted form, it releases a cool kind of Vitamin B1 called benfotiamine, which is fat soluble instead of water soluble like regular Vitamin B1 and thus more easily absorbed by the digestive tract. http://www.benfotiamine.org/. Benfotiamine is supportive for treatment of viruses (or is that viri? Anyway, it’s good for ‘em.) and many nerve-related health problems including diabetic neuropathy. So plan soon for a wrap with chicken meat or sautéed mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, avocados, spinach or leaf lettuce, aoli or white bean dip http://ohmyveggies.com/recipe-basil-white-bean-dip-sandwich-spread/, a dash of Celtic sea salt, a turn or four of fresh ground black pepper, and crushed roasted garlic sprinkled liberally over all of it. Enjoy!
The Mayflower ship was named after a scrubby tree with long thorns that flowers in the spring and has fruit like little apples. In fact, it’s a cousin to the apple. This fruited plant, which grows in temperate climates all over the world, has for millennia been considered a medicinal herb.
In fact, to quote J.I. Rodale in the 1970s, “Heart patients look to hawthorn. It could become the source of an important cardiac medicine.” I’m referring to plants in the genus Crataegus, with numerous species that could be considered of culinary and medicinal value. I’m still wondering why most of us haven’t heard of this amazing alternative to common heart medications, because I was taking hawthorn in the 1980s, on J.I. Rodale’s advice (along with the consent of two well-known cardiologists in the Twin Cities—that’s Minneapolis and St. Paul, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the upper Midwest).
Of course, why would anybody consider this common little apple relative an important medicine, unless someone clued them in? Nobody’s going to get rich off of a medicine that grows in many places by the side of the road, so only those fortunate enough to have their grandmother’s advice or time for a deep study of herbs will think of them as having any value, besides perhaps for making jams. The berries were the main plant part used traditionally in treatment of various ailments, but now the leaves and flowers are used, as well. I remember seeing what I thought was a large group of small hawthorn trees growing by the highway south of Montpelier, Idaho. I was excited when I first saw the trees, but actually they’re not really rare. Does anyone who’s been to Montpelier know what I’m talking about? Or does anyone know of other nice wild groves of this thorny little tree? I didn’t get out and pick any of the haws (berries from these trees), because I was in a hurry when I passed them, I didn’t want to trespass as it looked like private property, and hawthorn extract and capsules are easy to obtain.
Hawthorn has been used successfully for chronic heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure, with both of them abbreviated CHF. CHF occurs when the heart can’t pump well enough to maintain the blood flow necessary to meet the body’s needs. It’s an all-too-common malady now, with shortness of breath (especially with exercise or while lying down), extreme tiredness, swollen legs, and exercise limitations. Hawthorn has also been used for irregular heartbeat, chest pain, high blood pressure, damaged valves, and artery hardening. Hawthorn contains antioxidants that destroy free radicals which cause early aging, cancer, and the heart disease we’ve been talking about. The antioxidants help dilate blood vessels, improve blood flow, and protect blood vessels from damage. It takes 6-12 weeks for some people to notice the effects of hawthorn, because it’s one of the herbs with cumulative value: the longer you take it, the more improvement you see (the effects accumulate).
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24459528 Cardiovascular disease prevention
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18254076 Hawthorn extract for chronic heart failure
http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/15/2/164.pdf Great hawthorn review!
This is one herb that I would not suggest you use for self-medication. Your heart is too important. Ask your health care provider, give him or her studies that you’ve researched on the use of hawthorn, and see if this wonderful herb might become part of your heart-healthy routine. What’s that? Eat a healthy diet, exercise reasonably, work at something actually productive, value and build your spiritual relationship with God, cherish your earthly relationships with people, and protect your time to rest. Your heart will thank you for it.
Deep in the Amazon rainforest grows a beautiful, strong vine, with the lilting Latin name Uncaria tomentosa. Known by several other names in different cultures, our featured herb is rightly due our attention as a versatile supporter of good health.
Uncaria tomentosa, aka Uña de Gato, aka cat’s claw, aka Samento, or its cousin Uncaria guianensis, received its names due to its claw- or hook-shaped thorns that curl out from the woody vine. I have to say that I would be more than a little bit disconcerted (that’s creeped out to you non dictionary loving types) if a cat slinked (slunk?) up to me with its claws looking like the thorns on this plant. The vine can get huge, twisting and climbing up and around trees, searching for the sunlight above.
Uncaria tomentosa is known for having many actions in our health. It is an anti-inflammatory, immune system supporter, antioxidant, antitumor, antidepressant, antiviral, pain killer, blood thinner, and detoxifier, among other things. It also helps in central nervous system support and cognitive impairments (trouble thinking). But we love this herb at First Light Wellness Center for its warrior qualities in Lyme Disease protocols, as an anti-microbial. U. tomentosa, in its Samento form, has been shown to be quite effective compared to the antibiotic doxycycline in killing all forms of Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacteria that causes Lyme), by itself or when combined with another South American herb, Banderol. Here’s the study: http://www.townsendletter.com/July2010/sapi0710.html.
There are several types of antibiotic-type substances in U. tomentosa. One group is the oxindole alkaloids. These can have 4 or 5 sided rings, so they’re called tetracyclic (4 sided ring, sounds like the antibiotic tetracycline, right?), and pentacyclic (5 sided ring) oxindole alkaloids. The pentacyclic type, also known as Samento, has many staunch fans, and it’s very good at doing its job in ousting the Lyme bacteria (spiral-shaped, or spirochetes). The tetracyclic + pentacyclic type (commonly just called cat’s claw) is actually pretty good at doing some of the same things from a different approach, though—I agree with herbalist Stephen Buhner (author of the book Healing Lyme) on that.
Another antibiotic-type group in U. tomentosa is the quinovic glycosides; each of the fluoroquinolone antibiotics (Ciprofloxacin, Levaquin, etc.) is based on one of these glycosides. Samento and cat’s claw have little similarity to fluoroquinolone antibiotics, which have some serious side effects. See http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/11/01/fluoroquinolone-antibiotic-side-effects.aspx.
However, in reluctant defense of a drug group that I really don’t like, it may be that some of the “side effects” that people experience when taking fluoroquinolones are actually Herxheimer reactions to the drugs killing off spirochetal bacteria, with no detoxification plan in place. If people and their health care providers don’t suspect an underlying infection of this type and use a full dose of a fluoroquinolone to treat a minor sinus or urinary tract infection, they might be very surprised at the intense reactions experienced, including fever, dizziness, weakness, brain fog, joint pain, etc.
That’s one reason we love herbs for Lyme disease first: besides being more broad-spectrum than normal antibiotics, the herbs can be used in extract form, starting at one drop, or even part of a drop, at a time, to kill the bacteria off slowly (giving us time to detox and flush them out). As they die, the bacteria release toxins from their cell walls, among other badness from inside their bodies, and our immune systems act with and against these toxins to cause the Herx reactions. Ick! We want to kill the nasty little spirochetes, but at the same time keep the Herx severity down to a dull roar. And cat’s claw can help us do that.
Here’s to cat’s claw!
Most people look on it as a lowly, obnoxious weed. That’s too bad, because the dandelion is such a useful healing herb that it should be highly respected. We hold it in high regard at First Wellness.
Almost everyone knows that detoxifying our bodies is important. Detoxing is becoming more important all the time, as more of our food is genetically modified/glyphosate doused; industry and vehicles busily spew out heavy metals for us to inhale; vaccines, dentistry, and seafood keep our daily mercury at a minimum RDI; and communities and toothpaste manufacturers so thoughtfully add fluoride to our water and toothpaste. Oh, yes, and we are protected from global warming by the Climate Engineer Superheroes, sending aluminum, strontium, and barium particles floating down for us to breathe and ingest (ever studied chemtrails?).
Truly, given this scenario, we should ALL be detoxing on a regular basis. I just checked the boxes of herb tea we keep on hand here at the clinic, and all of the detox tea blends include dandelion. No big surprise there, because dandelion does such an amazing job of pulling toxins out of the body and flushing them—in dandelion-induced large amounts of urine—right out of the body. Dandelion doesn’t lower the body’s potassium reserves like other diuretics (think Lasix), because dandelion has tons of potassium itself. Where I think dandelion shines is in the liver, which is the major detoxification organ of the body. The liver’s job is made much harder if the person who owns it consumes mass quantities of pharmaceutical drugs and alcohol (the ETOH kind). Dandelion not only helps the liver catch and send packing the toxins that end up there, but also helps the liver to heal and regenerate after some pretty major damage, . Someday I’ll tell you a personal story about dandelion healing, but not today.
However, here’s an interesting story that you’re probably not going to hear elsewhere: There is an island off the coast of Greece called Ikaria on which the inhabitants live extremely long average lifespans. They live simply, sleep in late, work some in their family gardens and prolific vineyards, walk up and down the island’s hills and stay up ‘til all hours, visiting and dancing. They go to church on Sundays, regard family as hugely important, and maintain close relationships with their neighbors. They pick weeds from the hillsides and use them in teas, which they drink in large amounts, along with their strong red homemade wine…
Here’s one story about Ikaria: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/magazine/the-island-where-people-forget-to-die.html?_r=0
Did you catch some clues in the story? They live long. They work physically hard, but not too many hours. They get exercise in forms that are enjoyable. They love God, family, and neighbors. They love to have fun. They eat homegrown food. They drink red wine. And they drink herbal teas, including dandelion tea with lemon or lime. They also eat dandelion greens as one of their vegetables. Oh. Is there some connection the Ikarians have made that others haven’t? How you live your life MATTERS. Sometimes the old, simple solutions are the best.
In case you really need a reason to neglect something you should be doing, you could read through this very informative article: http://www.thepracticalherbalist.com/holistic-medicine-library/dandelion-the-liver-cleanser/.
So next time you think of detoxing from the toxic environment in which we live, think happy little yellow dandelion faces, shining up at you. Have a happy day!