Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Women’s Health: Balancing Women’s Hormones

By Dr. Amanda Hegnauer, ND, Naturopathic Doctor & Co-op Wellness Educator

Balancing hormones is like an intricate dance. It takes time, dedication and persistence to find the right balance. However, with success, you feel elated as all the pieces come together in one elegant movement. Like in dance, there are certain aspects of rehearsal that are rather uncomfortable to mention. As a dancer may not want to talk about the time he or she fell at center stage, a woman may not feel comfortable discussing her menstrual cycle, going through menopause, or how it emotionally affects her and her family.

There are many factors that affect the menstrual cycle. Diet and nutrition are vital to one’s level of energy. In addition, exercise and movement – too much or too little – can cause menstrual irregularity. A woman with low body weight may develop amenorrhea (no menstruation). However, an overweight woman is more likely to develop polycystic ovarian syndrome. Nevertheless, not every hormone disruption is age or body-type specific.

A great example of this is stress. The effect of stress on ovarian hormone balance is not age related. The cycle goes something like this: Most women have stress on a daily basis, and prolonged stress can lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that balances your body’s physiology during time of stress. In an attempt to control cortisol production, the body converts progesterone to cortisol, this leaves estrogen and progesterone out of balance. Unfortunately, this is increasingly common as a source of hormonal disruption for all ages of women.

How do we stabilize an imbalance? Herbs and bioidentical hormone therapy are two great options. These two therapies can be used separately or together. Herbs are utilized because there are many combinations and they can be individualized based on the patient and their imbalance. An example of a good combination is as follows: rhodiola, chaste tree berry (also called vitex), and ashwagandha. Rhodiola stabilizes mood and is also an adaptogenic herb (non-toxic substance that helps the body resist the damaging effects of stress). It helps the adrenal gland to heal and continue to produce cortisol as needed. Chaste tree berry stabilizes the estrogen/progesterone ratio while ashwagandha helps balance stress hormones.

If bioidentical hormones are recommended, there are a few different avenues to consider. Bioidentical estrogen is made from soy and made to look exactly like your own hormone; hence the term “bioidentical.” Because of the base, the hormones are safer and the body uses a smaller dose more efficiently than traditional hormone replacement therapies.

Progesterone is always used to balance estrogens. Natural progesterone is made in a lab from wild yam. Bioidentical hormones can be administered orally, transdermally, or sublingually. They are perhaps a better choice than progestin or equine estrogens as the latter have been shown to double the risk of breast cancer; however, they are uterine protective. Progestin is a synthetic form of progesterone found in popular birth control pills. Progestin side effects include bloating and fluid retention, acne, hair loss, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and depression.
Although you can find herbs as well as progesterone creams made from wild yam at the Co-op, bioidentical hormones require working with a naturopathic or holistically minded doctor who will prescribe the precise balance needed for your body. Even with over-the-counter options, hormone balance can be tricky, and a practitioner’s guidance is helpful.

Treatment of hormone imbalance should be individualized. What is the safest and most effective fit for you? When balancing female hormones through natural therapies, it important to remove any obstacles affecting hormone secretion, metabolism, and function. Consider stress, body weight, nutrition, and exposure to xenoestrogens. (Xenoestrogens are synthetic hormones that imitate estrogen and tend to have negative effects on hormone balance and increase disease risk. Common sources include most plastics, BPA, PCBs, and phthalates.) Furthermore, search for and address other hormone imbalances like thyroid and adrenal concerns. Every organ system is separate within the body; however, each plays a part of the elaborate dance that goes on within.

Dr. Hegnauer sees clients at Whole Health Concord. Learn more at
She also sees clients at Cougar Sound Spirits Healing Center in North Sutton. Learn more at

The statements made on this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, prescribe, recommend, or offer medical advice. Please see your health care practitioner for help regarding choices and to avoid herb-drug interactions.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Eating for Your Microbiome

By Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), Registered Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Coordinator

Fermenting krauts
Forget about eating for yourself. Did you know that your body is home to trillions of beneficial bacteria, and the standard American diet is starving them out? These good bugs are part of your microbiome, a newly coined phrase that refers to your body's ecosystem - both the human part of you and the microbial part of you. Did you know that microbial cells outnumber human cells in your body 10 to 1?

Before you go reaching for the antiseptic spray, know that the majority of these bugs are good for you. Very good for you. In fact, hundreds of scientists throughout the world are currently studying the human microbiome, and their recently published research is changing the way we think about health and the  human body. They even have their own Disney-esque Microbiome Movie, thanks to the folks at NPR.

The Capitol City of your microbiome is your gut, home to approximately 100 trillion critters that can affect your health in a surprising variety of ways. Not only do they work in tandem with your body and aid digestive function, but they also enhance immune strength and protect you from less desirable critters by making your body less hospitable to unruly house guests like E. coli and Candida.

Your Microbiome May Affect...
  • Your Weight
  • Your Mood
  • Gut Health (including digestion and elimination, Celiac disease, food issues, leaky gut, etc)
  • Cancer Risk
  • Obesity & Blood Sugar Metabolism
  •  Immune Strength
  • Autoimmune Disease & Allergies
  • Yeast & Urinary Tract Infections
  • And More!

Cultivating a Healthy Microbiome 

Starting Life With a Good Start: Your first exposure to beneficial bacteria begins as you enter the world through the birth canal. This and breastfeeding supply you with good bacteria from your mum. In contrast, babies born by C-section and who are bottle fed start life off at a microbial disadvantage. Alas, unless you're about to have a baby and aim to gift your little one with a solid microbial start, this information is too late to act upon. Nonetheless, these are two of the primary ways that we begin to cultivate a healthy microbiome. If you weren't lucky enough to get this natural dose of the goods, there are still things you can do...

Avoid Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be necessary to fend off serious bacterial diseases. However, in doing so, they kill off the good guys as well. Only use antibiotics when they're truly necessary for medicine, and take protibiocs during and after antibiotic treatment to help offset the damage (more on that in a moment). Also consider seeking out food from animals raised naturally without antibiotics automatically added to their feed. This practice is prohibited for organically certified meat and dairy products, and many local and pasture- or grass-based farmers also eschew the practice.

Add in Probiotics: There are two main ways to do this...
  • Fermented Food helps recolonize the good guys. Although fermented dairy is popular (think: yogurt and kefir with live active cultures), also consider other forms of fermented foods including lactofermented veggies like real sauerkraut and kimchi. I love Micro Mama's products (made with organic local vegetables and available in the produce section of the Co-op), and I also make my own - it's really easy (details, directions and pics here)
Sauerkraut in the making

  •  Probiotic Supplements offer a big dose of good guys when needed, and they are mighty convenient. Opt for a probiotic with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, at least 1 billion daily, though you may want to take much larger amounts than that. Seek out products with a special coating to help the live bacteria travel safely through the stomach (filled with germ-killing acid) and release in the intestines where they are most useful.
Feed them Prebiotics: Probiotics need something to chew on in order to thrive. In particular, they love fiber and resistant starch, especially certain foods and herbs. Prebiotics specifically encourage the growth of good guys. But, if your diet is devoid of these good foods, you may want to add them in sloooowly while also boosting your good guys with probotics and/or fermented foods. Expect a transition time of gas and bloating (especially if you jump right in). This is like getting sore after your first workout in years - your body needs to get used to what's happening and become recolonized with the good guys. Our ancestors (who had amazing microbiomes) used to get more than 100 grams of fiber a day. Most Americans get an abysmal 15 grams. Here are some examples...
  • Inulin, a type of fiber sold as and naturally present in sunflower family root vegetables including chicory, dandelion, burdock, and Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes) as well as above ground parts (artichokes, dandelion leaves) and other plants like garlic, onions, leeks, broccoli, and asparagus. The less cooked, the better. This is like gourmet food for your good critters.

Dandelion Leaves & Roots Contain Inulin

  • Fiber-Rich Whole Foods also support the good guys, especially beans, whole grains (in moderation), leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and plenty of veggies. Resistant starch is sometimes considered a third type of fiber (beyond soluble and insoluble); these carbohydrates are not digested by the human side of our digestive system. Beans, green bananas, and unprocessed whole grains contain resistant starch. Heating, then cooling, starchy foods (think: potatoes, rice, beans) will also turn some of those carbohydrates into resistant starch. 
Whole grains offer a good source of fiber. Shown here: Wild Blend rice, tri-color quinoa, millet, and buckwheat.
  • Herbs & Spices, while their effects on the microbiome have not yet been as well researched as inulin and fiber, they do seem to provide benefit. Specifically, ginger and rose petals have been shown to inhibit pathogenic germs while encouraging the vitality of beneficial probiotic.
Rose petals support good bugs while discouraging the bad and healing the gut
Get Out in Nature: "As the amount of glass and concrete in your neighborhood increases and the diversity of native plants decreases, the microbial composition of your skin changes and the risk for allergies goes up," notes Leach in Honor Thy Symbionts. Spending time outside, near and in dirt and trees, and with windows wide open helps counteract the negative effects of city living.
Plenty of fruits and veggies (especially raw) as well as fermented foods like yogurt help feed the good guys.

Get Dirty: On the same line as "get out in nature," don't be afraid of a little exposure to dirt and germs through gardening, organic produce with clods of dirt still attached, hanging out with pets and other animals, and using plain soap and water to wash up rather than disinfectants and sanitizer.

This tea blend contains marshmallow root, licorice, plantain leaf, rose petals, cinnamon chips, star anise, and cloves.
Heal the Gut: Once again, this is the herbalist in me talking. Microbiome research hasn't really delved into it just yet. However, many people who are in a state of dysbiosis (too many bad guys, too few good guys) experience digestive discomfort ranging from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to serious inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and including gas, pain, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation, indigestion, increased food allergies and autoimmune disease, and gut inflammation including leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability). Herbs that heal wounds (plantain leaf, calendula flowers, etc.), tighten and tone the gut lining (rose petals, plantain leaf) soothe and slime mucous membranes (slippery elm, marshmallow root, licorice), and support good microbes while discouraging the bad (ginger, rose petals, cinnamon, licorice, spices) can all play a role in rehabilitating your gut and microbiome. My favorite way to deliver these herbs is via tea, which is easy to make and quite tasty.

Though this research is still new, the principles behind a microbiome-friendly diet are ancient and certainly worth trying. Now, put down the hand sanitizer, and find yourself a bowl of beans, dandelion greens, and kraut...

Most of the information is gleaned from the work of Jeff Leach. Check out his books and also learn more at and

Maria sees clients and teaches classes at Wintergreen Botanicals Herbal Clinic & Education Center in Allenstown. Visit to learn more about herbs and her practice. Her first herbal wellness book is due out from Storey Publishing in March 2016.

The statements made on this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, prescribe, recommend, or offer medical advice. Please see your health care practitioner for help regarding choices and to avoid herb-drug interactions.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Food & Mood ~ The Missing Link

By Kelly Lang, Holistic Health Coach & Co-op Wellness Educator

In the age of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, most people are making food choices based on how it will impact their physical health. Sadly, it may not be until one of these conditions surfaces that someone will even think of focusing on healthier eating. A person who is thin and physically healthy might feel like their food choices don’t make a whole lot of difference or they might believe that they can eat “whatever they want” since there is no weight gain or obvious affect on health.

The intellectual mind knows that eating healthier food is better for the body, but in the absence of physical symptoms, many people disregard this notion.

The missing consideration is that food affects more than just our physical health, and it is, in fact, a key influence on mood and mental capacity as well. Our brains, like any other organ, require nutrients for proper functioning.

The very brain chemicals that determine whether you feel happy or calm or focused or alert are dependent on nutrients to stimulate their release.

The challenge that you may face if you suffer from mood issues or lack of focus is that you may tend to crave foods that are lacking in nutrient content (like simple carbs, sugar, and caffeine). In truth, what your brain needs to feel better is quite likely to be exactly the opposite of the foods you are choosing. That is where the vicious cycle begins, as you eat foods that deny your brain of the nutrients needed, you continue to feel depressed or anxious or unfocused, and you continue to crave those same foods. It is true that comfort foods will cause you to feel better, temporarily, but they only perpetuate a cycle of dependence, not healing.

The first step to breaking this vicious cycle is just having the awareness that you can either choose to fortify your brain with nutrients or you can give in to cravings for food that makes you feel better temporarily while ultimately depleting you.

If you choose to fortify your brain, here are a few of the important nutrients to consider:

Protein supplies amino acids – critical for brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, GABA, etc.
These brain chemicals determine how you feel, act, and function. Protein also stabilizes blood sugar levels, which is a common factor in irritability and focus issues. Protein is found in various food sources, both animal and plant based.

Essential Fatty Acids, Especially Omega 3 Fats, are important for both brain development and brain structure, as well as neurotransmitter function. These are found in a variety of foods but the most common sources are fish (and fish oil), flax seed, chia seeds, and walnuts.

B Vitamins help fight depression and improve memory and overall brain function. Some great food sources include chicken, fish, eggs, beets, spinach and other dark leafy greens, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. B12 can only be obtained from animal sources, so vegetarians and especially vegans may need to supplement to get this particular B vitamin.

Join me for my free class on Food & Mood in either Concord on May 19 or New London on July 9, and we’ll discuss helpful foods in greater detail.

Kelly is an Integrative Nutrition® Trained and Certified Health Coach, mother of four, and founder of Green Life Wellness, a holistic health coaching practice based in New Hampshire. Learn more at

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why You May or May Not Have "Gluten Issues"

by Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

Gluten - the sticky, glue-like protein in wheat and its relatives as well as barley and rye (and hidden in many other foods) - is the "in" thing to avoid right now. The number of American households seeking gluten-free foods has increased dramatically over the past ten years, with 30 percent of U.S. adults currently trying to reduce or eliminate gluten from their diets. Why? Most shoppers believe GF products are healthier, and about a third think they will lose weight (in spite of media and book hype, there's no scientific evidence to support this).

Diligent moms and young shoppers top the list of GF trendsetters, and popular books including Grain Brain and Wheat Belly help drive the trend. For people who embark on the personal experiment of going GF without any particular diagnosis, those who stick with it say they feel remarkably better. Digestive complaints, skin issues, mood, inflammation, autoimmune disease... gone or dramatically reduced.

Why do so many people have "gluten issues" nowadays? While some of it might be more trend than reality, there are several key reasons why an individual might do better ditching the gluten...

Celiac Disease: This is a medically recognized autoimmune disorder in which the body mounts an immune attack on the small intestine whenever the person eats gluten. Over time, this causes major health issues, including increased risk of malnutrition, rashes, diabetes, infertility, osteoporosis, cancer, and more. Only a small number of people seeking a gluten-free diet actually have Celiac disease, but having a close relative with the disease dramatically ups your risk (from 1 in 100 to 1 in 10 chance). Solution? The only real treatment is to avoid gluten completely - no cheating, not even traces. Tests are more reliable if performed while you're still eating gluten. Learn more here.

Gluten Allergy: Varying degrees of other allergic responses may underlie gluten sensitivities, including IgG and IgE responses to gluten or other proteins in gluten. More subtle gluten allergy symptoms may look a bit like Celiac disease, but the autoimmune component is generally not present. Reactions can range from severe - such as the IgE-related anaphylaxis - to vague and chronic IgG symptoms. Solution? You may need eat a completely gluten-free diet or be fine with occasional small doses or less gluten-rich forms of wheat. Different tests are called for to rule out the two types of allergic responses, and tests are more reliable if performed while you're still eating gluten.

FODMAPs: Carbohydrates, not gluten, may be the real culprit behind much of our "gluten intolerance," especially that which coincides with digestive disturbance, flatulence, and Irritable Bowel Disorder (IBS). Many different foods contain certain types of carbohydrates that gum up the works in sensitive digestive systems. High FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols) foods include gluten-rich grains, dairy/lactose,  beans, inulin fiber and inulin-rich root crops, garlic, onions, sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol, as well as some fruits. Studies have shown that 70 percent of people with IBS improved with a low FODMAP diet, and that many with "gluten issues" were actually more reactive to FODMAPs than gluten. Interestingly, FODMAP starches and fibers actually feed beneficial bacteria. But if you're short on the good guys or have an overabundance of the bad, high FODMAP foods ferment in the gut, draw in water, and cause cramping, diarrhea, and IBS symptoms. Solution? Initially, most experts recommend a low FODMAP diet (which can be extremely limiting) until symptoms abate. Give your gut a chance to heal. Then slowly reintroduce individual foods to see which ones you do or don't tolerate. As a practitioner who finds digestive health and the human microbiome fascinating, I feel the FODMAP diet ignores the underlying issue: lack of good beneficial bacteria in the gut. Cutting out FODMAPs just removes beneficial bacteria's food and makes the bad guys less cranky. A low-FODMAP diet may initially stop the irritation, but consider slowly adding sources of beneficial bacteria into your diet (through probiotic supplements, fermented veggies, maybe fermented dairy) as you gradually integrate more high-FODMAP and high-fiber foods into your diet to support your microbiome. Soothing, gut-healing herbs including marshmallow root, slippery elm, and licorice in tea may also help heal gut irritation and damage. You may also find that small doses of fermented or sprouted grains and slow-fermented (think: sourdough, levian) or sprouted grain products are more easily digested.

Glyphosate Reaction: Some gluten-sufferers marvel at how they can travel abroad and eat European pasta and bread with impunity yet feel miserable when they eat it here in the States. Why? We don't know for sure, but one reason could be the way in which grains have recently begun treated by some farmers. Recent research has called attention to the trend of using glyphosate (Roundup) herbicides in grain production and the increase in both Celiac disease and other forms of gluten intolerance. An increasing number of conventional grain farmers are spraying Roundup on their crops just before/at harvest time. This isn't to supppress weeds, it's to increase yield. As the herbicide kills the crop, the plant attempts to reproduce by popping out its seeds/grains. While the practice may not be widespread among all grain farmers, grains treated in this manner are mixed into the grain supply so that any products made with grain are likely to be contaminated. Solution? Buying certified organic products is the only way to be sure your grains are "clean." (I asked the folks at our beloved King Arthur Flour, and they confirmed that even some of their conventional grain farmers use the practice. Very disappointing.) Although officially Roundup and its use on our food is considered safe for consumption, several studies have found that ingestion can damage the gut, aggravate the immune system, cause an imbalance in gut microbes, and a range of other health issues.

Modern Wheat: Years of scientific natural and (to a much lesser extent) genetically modified plant breeding to increase yields now has put wheat on our plate that is very different from what our agrarian ancestors ate. Solution? Some people do just fine with heritage and low-gluten varieties of wheat, including spelt and farro, even though they are still wheat and do contain some gluten.

Glycemic Index of foods high in gluten and wheat tends to be high, meaning that they break down into simple sugars rapidly in your body, causing blood sugar spikes, crashes, and insulin problems. Eating too many high-glycemic foods eventually puts you at a high risk of insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, obesity, sugar cravings, hardening of the arteries, high triglycerides and cholesterol, and high blood pressure. "Fuzzy brain" symptoms may be a result of other types of "gluten issues," but they can also simply mean that your body is not doing well on so many carbs (be them from grains, fruit, processed food, sugar, etc.). Solution? Limit your high-glycemic, high-carbohydrate food intake. When you do eat carbs, aim for whole-food, high-fiber sources such as whole grains, root vegetables, seeds, berries, nuts, and beans. Be sure to pair them with protein and good fats to mellow the sugar rush.

I find that many break their gluten-free experiment with high-glycemic, indulgent junk food like pizza. So much can make your body cranky with that! Instead, try breaking it with just a few whole wheat crackers, a small serving of farro, or one piece of sprouted bread, and be sure to pair it with protein and good fats.

Regardless of your the cause of your "gluten issues," remember to focus your diet on these super healthy, nutrient-dense, and naturally gluten-free foods:
  • Organic gluten-free grains including quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, rice, corn, and certified gluten-free oats
  • Winter squash and root vegetables including potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabega, turnips, beets
  • Plenty of green (or red, purple) leafy vegetables
  • Fruit, especially berries
  • Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds
  • Low-mercury, sustainably caught or farmed fish and shellfish
  • Good fats from olives, coconuts, avocado, nuts, seeds, and maybe dairy
  • Organic whole and fermented soy (tempeh, miso, tofu, edamame) in moderation (if you tolerate it)
  • Organic and pasture-raised backyard eggs  (if you tolerate them)
  • Organic and pasture-raised dairy in moderation if at all (if you tolerate it)
  • Organic and pasture-raised ("grass fed") meat, poultry, etc. in moderation if at all
Most gluten-free packaged foods should be considered a treat and not standard fare. Common GF flours such as tapioca starch, rice flour, etc. are high-glycemic and full of empty calories. You're better off eating primarily (or completely) whole foods that are naturally gluten-free.

Getting Guidance: When in doubt, don't hesitate to seek the aid of an integrative physician, registered dietitian/nutritionist, naturopathic doctor, or herbalist to develop a plan customized for your needs. Several of the Co-op's Wellness Educators specialize in nutrition and gluten-free diets, and many other excellent practitioners can be found in New Hampshire. Doctors, naturopaths, and dietitians can usually order tests to sleuth out Celiac disease, IgG, or IgE allergies, as well as insulin and blood sugar. Remember that these tests tend to be most accurate if performed before you go on a gluten-free diet.

Maria runs Wintergreen Botanicals Herbal Clinic & Education Center in Allenstown. Visit to learn more about herbs and her practice. Her first herbal wellness book is due out from Storey Publishing in March 2016.

The statements made on this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, prescribe, recommend, or offer medical advice. Please see your health care practitioner for help regarding choices and to avoid herb-drug interactions.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Tai Chi ~ What, How & Why

By Marcia Wyman, 
Meditation & Tai Chi Instructor & Co-op Wellness Educator

Tai chi is a moving meditation that was created 2,500 years ago. It is based on observations of nature. The moves imitate the movements of the wind, the animals, and the cycle of the seasons.

Tai chi has been studied for more than 30 years by scientists who have concluded that the art form is the best form of non-jarring exercise.

Some of Tai Chi’s Benefits Include...

  • Balance: Participants focus on sinking symbolically, their roots into the ground. Warm-ups strengthen the legs, feet, and even the toes for better awareness and gripping power. The slow gentle rocking motion allows the “monkey mind” to be conscious of subtle shifts in posture.
  • Flexibility: The moves are slow and graceful, allowing the body to adjust to more movement. The adaptation comes about slowly and is non-abusive to the body. Neurological connections slow down and are more complete and solid through use of the form.
  • Strength: An hour of slow moving is much more effective that an hour of jumping around or moving weights to a beat. Tai chi works according to your own ability, which makes it safe and user friendly. 
Each person grows and matures to their own level and at their own pace. Such a progress allows the body to say, “Okay, I’m ready for more strength, more flexibility, more balance,” versus forcing the growth.

I have experienced the recuperative benefits of tai chi. In 2010, I had a stroke due to business and personal pressure. The stroke paralyzed my entire left side. The tai chi instructor suggested that I continue with my lessons. Though I was frustrated, angry, and skeptical, I found that within six months, my body began developing new neurological connects that bypassed the damage of the stroke. I continued taking classes weekly. The total recovery time, for both the body and the mind, was five years. I am living proof that tai chi works.

How Does Tai Chi Work?

Neurological connections are reenforced, and the body adapts according to its own healing timeline. There are no sudden moves to jar the body nor prolonged repetitive moves that might injure the body. Tai chi is not an overnight success. However it has been used to heal, maintain, and improve whole body wellbeing for more than 2,500 years; it must provide relief on some level.

Daily, in the parks in China, people join groups of tai chi practitioners in order to improve, maintain, or boost their immune systems. Using their own life-force energy, participants move their bodies and their minds gracefully, slowly, and serenely, interweaving effective postures that have shown to benefit both mind and spirit.

Marcia runs Inner Peace Tai Chi. Learn more by emailing

The statements made on this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, prescribe, recommend, or offer medical advice. Please see your health care practitioner for help regarding choices and to avoid herb-drug interactions.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Easy-Growing Herbs for Medicinal & Culinary Use

By Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), Registered Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

As an herbalist without a green thumb, I assure you, only weeds surpass herbs in ease of cultivation. Many thrive in spite of terrible soil, varying sun, and infrequent watering. Hungry critters lurking in your garden? Not to worry, most herbs rank low on the taste buds of bugs and other browsers, yet they’re utterly delicious to us. Here are some of my favorite herbs – some common, some less well known – that grow easily and provide a bounty of flavor and medicine for your kitchen.

Korean Licorice Mint & Anise Hyssop

These two Agastache mint relatives offer sweet anise-like flavor and tall, beautiful purple blooms that attract beneficial pollinators. (I prefer Korean licorice mint’s flavor, but anise hyssop is a little easier to find.) Snip fresh leaves into salads, add sprigs to flavor seltzer, and dry the leaves and edible flowers for tea or as fennel seed stand-in on your spice rack. It’s amazing infused in honey. Medicinally, it improves resistance to the cold and flu, settles the stomach, and offers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil but will grow almost anywhere. It self-seeds rampantly but is easy to pull out or move. Allow a few baby plants to stay around to keep this short-lived perennial going.

Oat Straw

Though more often used as a cover crop, oats can be planted in your unused plots or the back of your garden as a tonic herb. Harvest, dry, and chop the green stalks and tops for pleasant -tasting nutritive tea with more vitamins and minerals than oatmeal. It’s particularly high in calcium, magnesium, and silica and, as such, is often used as a “super infusion” for strong bones. When the seed heads begin to mature, squeeze them and see if you can find some that exude a milky latex. These “milky oats tops” contain alkaloids that calm and nourish the nervous system and are perfect for stress, anxiety, adrenal exhaustion, addiction withdrawal, and attention deficit/hyperactivity issues. This is safe enough for children and blends well with lemon balm and holy basil. The sedative/nervine properties are lost once it’s dried; infuse fresh milky oats in alcohol (tincture) or vinegar. Buy oats in feed stores or get organic oats in seed catalogs as a cover crop. It prefers moderate to full sun and regular watering as it gets established.

Lemon Balm

This lemon Pledge-scented mint family herb spreads by underground root runners and usually survives our winters with gusto. Harvest the leaves for tea (fresh or dry), tincture, infused honey, etc. Lemon balm quells the nervous system while lifting the spirit. Studies have found that just one dose improves both cognition and mood. It also aids digestion and blends well with mint, Agastache, and lemon-flavored herbs.

Holy Basil/Tulsi

This Ayurvedic herb can be grown just like culinary basil – it loves rich, moist soil, heat, sun, and is perfectly fine in a pot. The leaves and flowers provide calm energy that helps your body adapt to stress by balancing the stress hormone cortisol as well as blood sugar. It also reduces inflammation and has many other benefits. Great fresh or dry in any form, and particularly fabulous as tea.

Bee Balm

Any Monarda with a good oregano/thyme flavor and bite will do, but M. fistulosa will knock your socks off! Use leaves and flowers (before powdery mildew overwhelms it) just like oregano for infections – colds, stomach, topical, respiratory, yeast... For coughs and sore throats, a lot of honey softens the bite. Use the flowers as a tasty edible garnish. Bee balm will grow anywhere and can get weedy but is gorgeous and attracts pollinators.

My favorite place to get seedlings 

is at Herb & Garden Day on June 6, 2015, in Concord. Click here for details.

For more details, recipes, and where to get seeds and seedlings, download the lengthy “Backyard Medicine” notes at or come to the class.

The statements made on this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, prescribe, recommend, or offer medical advice. Please see your health care practitioner for help regarding choices and to avoid herb-drug interactions.

Gluten-Free & Food Allergies: Fact or Fad?

With Chef & Author Oonagh Williams, Naturopathic Doctor Jacqueline Rho, and Health Coach Kelly Lang

I’m sure you’ve noticed the gluten-free signs in stores, seen allergens listed on food labels, and heard all the media hype about going gluten free. And wondered? Some of you are saying, “It wasn’t like this growing up. What’s happening?"

For a start, regardless of what far too many people say, gluten intolerance/sensitivity/allergy (now known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity) and celiac disease are, in fact, real. BUT, the media and Hollywood have caused problems by touting a gluten-free diet as being healthy (not necessarily!) and as being a weight-loss diet (no, it isn’t). So even though the amount of people medically needing to be following a gluten free diet is under three percent, according to food trade estimates 18 percent of the Americans are now seeking gluten-free fare.

So what’s going on? The way the media has jumped on gluten-free as the latest “thing” has encouraged people to think they need a gluten-free diet for a variety of reasons. On YouTube there is a very clever piece by Jimmy Kimmel asking people if they’re on a gluten free diet and do they know what gluten-free means? Yes, they were on a gluten-free diet. No, they didn’t know what it meant.
For those of us with any form of food intolerance, this is beyond annoying and diminishes the severity of a food intolerance. Reactions can range from death from a peanut reaction to hives from fruit, stomach ache or headache, and many other symptoms.

Dr. Jacqueline Rho, Kelly Lang, and Chef Oonagh Williams will try and help you make sense of the confusions surrounding food intolerance. What tests are available, what tests can tell you, what tests can’t tell you, and possible symptoms. Literally listen to your gut telling you it’s not happy. Listen to your body; everyone reacts differently to different stimulus/stimuli. Empower yourself to live a happier, healthier life.

Spring is here, a good time to relax from some of the stresses of life. Eat healthier, tasty foods, and discover what a difference can be made in your body if you discover that certain foods are not for you. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean a restrictive diet.