Well + Good Boston Healthy City Guide feature

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I’m so pleased to be featured as a healer in the Well + Good Boston Health City Guide!

The guide lists a lot of great places including two of my favorite places to get healthy–South Boston Yoga in Southie and Life Alive in Central Square.

If you haven’t visited their website, Well + Good is a a health-focused website based primarily in NYC and LA. Hopefully they’ll add Boston to that group!

Healthy diet + all-natural facials = glowing skin

My work as an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist has completely changed my understanding of healthy. Food is medicine in the Chinese way of thinking, and you have to put the right medicine in to be well in your body.

Kimball Fruit farm at the Central Square market

Fresh veggies at Central Square farmer’s market

No matter what your constitutional needs, switching to a diet of minimally processed foods is going to make you feel better. You’ll eat lots of fruits, veggies, protein and actual whole grains. I know you can’t be perfect every day–shoot for 80% unprocessed and 20% whatever you want (well, within reason. . .). The goal is to avoid as many added chemicals as possible (the unpronounceable ingredients on processed foods, which appear in a shocking number of products).

Fixing your diet is an important part of having radiant, healthy skin.  A healthy diet with lots of fruits and veggies is high in antioxidants, which makes your skin glow!

What you put on your skin matters as much as what you put into your body. We know that you absorb all kinds of things through your skin, including chemicals (nicotine and estrogen patches? Stick on birth control patches? I could go on).  We know that most commercially prepared skin care products are full of the same sort of unpronounceable chemicals you try to avoid in your diet.

So, why not make your own skin care products?  You don’t need to make all of your products–all-natural products do exist–but it’s not too much work to make some things of your own.  Many are easy to whip up right on the spot.

One way I enjoy passing cold winter nights here in Boston is to give myself a natural facial (preferably followed by a hot bath, when I have the time).

Calendula

I follow Rosemary Gladstar‘s 5 step program: 1. Scrub, 2. Steam, 3. masque, 4. tone, 5. moisturize. Rosemary includes a great selection of skin care recipes in her book, Herbs for Natural Beauty.

I keep a variety of herbs on hand, and I know that you might not, but it’s easy enough to visit your local herb shop (if you’re lucky enough to have one), or order a few things on the internet.  I order my herbs from MountainRoseHerbs.com, which sells herbs in small quantities, making it easier to experiment. They carry an extensive selection of organic herbs and oils, giving you to option of making your skin products that much better!

Here’s what I’ve been doing lately:

1. Scrub–2 tsp honey mixed with 2 tsp ground nuts (almonds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, etc).

You can grind nuts and seeds in an electric coffee grinder (I recommend buying a dedicated grinder for herbs and nuts–you will ruin your coffee if you do them in the same machine!).

2. Herbal facial steam: in a large pot (soup pot?) boil a handful or two of herbs that you have on hand (tea bags are just fine!): Calendula, Rose, Lavendar, Chamomile and Mint are all excellent and gentle options (I like a combination of them all). Boil them for 2-3 minutes, keeping the pot covered until you are ready to use it (the essence of the herbs is in the steam, and you want all of it to go into your skin!).  I recommend setting the pot on a low coffee table, tent a bath towel over your head and sit on the couch so you can steam for 5-10 minutes (longer is supposed to be better).  It should be hot under your “tent”, and if it’s too much, you should let some air in to cool the steam.

3. Masque: Betonite clay and whole milk yogurt, cream or calendula hydrosol. (start with 1 tsp clay and 2 tsp liquid, and adjust until spreadable but not runny)

Betonite clay is a mineral-rich clay that is appropriate for most skin types.  It’s action is to gently and throughly pull all the dirt out of your skin.

I love using fatty milk products–the lactic acid gently exfoliates while the milk fat moisturizes.

This masque doesn’t smell very good, but it’s great for your skin. The least messy way to remove it is in a shower or bath.

4. Tone: spray on Calendula or Rose hydrosol

Toning helps close your pores back up after the steaming and cleansing masque.  If your pores stay open, it’s easier for dirt to make it’s way back in.

5. Moisturize

I like to make my own lotion. Most of us use lotion every day, so it seems like the most important product to make. I make mine with organic oils and organic true hydrosols.  I haven’t seem many products that boast such an ingredient list.

Making lotion takes some finesse, but it’s extremely satisfying when you succeed. I hope to post instructions soon.  I highly recommend Rosemary’s excellent Herbs for Natural Beauty, where you will find clear instructions and an excellent lotion recipe to get you started.

 

Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) photograph by AudreyJM529 under creative commons licence.

Happy New Year!

I don’t believe in making New Year’s resolutions. I kind of feel you should try to do all that stuff all the time anyway. My patients often ask for recommendations for cookbooks, kitchen gadgets, and more, but I haven’t had a convenient way to make that available. That’s why my to-do list has included “create an Amazon storefront” for a long time.

Great Way Boutique

So, with the help of my husband, we spent an hour or two on New Year’s Day creating a boutique at Amazon. (OK, full disclosure: he did all the work setting it up as I was cooking dinner, shouting out book titles.) You can get to it by following the Great Way Boutique link at the top of this Great Way Weekly blog or on the sidebar of the Great Way Wellness main website.

The boutique will feature the books, tools and other items I use to make a healthy, happy home. I’ll update it frequently, so check back now and then for exciting new recommendations for books, kitchen gear, and more!

So, even though it wasn’t a New Year’s resolution, it’s nice to check this off of my to-do list. I hope you find it useful.

It’s cold season again. . .

As we move into the colder months we become vulnerable to colds. While it’s true what they say, “there’s no cure for the common cold,” Chinese medicine offers some help to prevent it in it’s early stages.

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In Chinese medicine, a cold is an invasion of wind, what we call an “outside pernicious influence,” or an “OPI.” We are more vulnerable to wind invasions when the weather is changing from one season to the next. Energetically season transitions are considered windy times. As we move from warm weather to cool our body’s energy must make the journey from the surface, where’s it’s helped us sweat and cool down all summer, to the core where it becomes a furnace to keep us warm in the winter. This transition makes us more vulnerable–think about the unexpectedly cold day early on in the season. You probably feel colder than you think you should because your qi is still at the surface, not stoking your furnace.

So, what can you do about these things that you don’t have any control over? Chinese medicine gives us a few helpful tools:

1. Wear a scarf. Wind enters your body through the neck (think about the stiff neck/headache you get at the onset of a cold). Keeping your neck covered can help keep that door shut to OPIs.

2. Dress for the weather, not for the time of year. Dressing warmly on an unexpected cold day early in the season can help you protect you as your qi makes that journey from the surface to the furnace.

3. Eat immune boosting Shiitake and Maitake mushrooms as frequently as possible. Fresh shiitake and maitake can be expensive and hard to come by, but dried mushrooms are always available and much more affordable. You can rehydrate dried mushrooms by soaking them in hot water, then using them as you would fresh mushrooms. Use the soaking liquid in soups and stews. Add dried mushrooms to home-made vegetable stock.

If you do feel like a cold is taking hold, catching it in the early stages can help you prevent it from becoming a problem.

1. As soon as you feel like you might be coming down with something, make yourself sweat. I prefer a passive sweat–sit in a sauna, take a hot bath or shower–but if you’re not feeling too tired, a gentle workout can be o.k. When you sweat, it forces the OPI out of your system. Also, heating up the body tells the immune system to turn on to do battle with invaders.

If you’re like me and have some home-made ginseng tincture at home, you can add some to you’re hot bath for an extra immune system boost. This is an extravagant use of an expensive herb, but if you have it, it’s a nice addition. You can also boil dried ginseng root to make a decoction and add that to your tub.

2. Make tea with fresh ginger root. Fresh ginger can help release the exterior and make you sweat. Slice about 1 inch of ginger root into roughly quarter-sized coins. Boil for 20 minutes in about 2 cups of water. Drink this tea with some honey. It should taste spicy and potent. If it doesn’t, add more ginger and a little more water and boil it again. You can get a really good sweat going by drinking this tea while you’re sitting in your hot bath.

3. Take Yin Qiao San or Gan Mao Ling. These are two of our most basic cold-fighting formulas, and are generally safe for you to take on your own. I feel that no one should self-medicate with herbs–you should _always_ consult a trained herbalist–but these two formulas are well tolerated and increasingly available at natural food stores. Yin Qiao can sometimes cause loose stool, depending on your constitution, but it shouldn’t be a huge problem, and is a trade off for keeping a cold at bay.

4. See your acupuncturist. If it’s early stages, we can help kick the cold out of your system. If it’s taken root and you’re sick, a treatment can help you feel better faster.

Public domain image of ginger root from here.

Considering a cortisone injection?

I treat a lot of pain in my work as an acupuncturist. Many of my patients come to me from doctors who want to give them cortisone shots. Cortisone shots sometimes give near miraculous relief from pain, but amongst my patient population, it really seems like a 50-50 type of outcome. Often the pain relief is only temporary, even if the patient has the 3 shots allowed by their doctor.

Why only 3 shots? Cortisone causes deterioration in the tissue and bone around the injection site, and it’s thought that you can have up to three shots without causing major problems. It’s crazy to us in the natural health community that anyone would think it’s a good idea to risk tissue degeneration for maybe a 50-50 chance that you’ll get temporary relief from pain. Read what the Mayo clinic has to say about the risks of cortisone injections here.

Check out this article from the New York Times about a study on long-term outcomes of cortisone injections. The research doesn’t sound encouraging–people who got temporary relief are often set further back in their recovery over the long term.

Before you consider cortisone injections, consider alternatives like acupuncture, Rolfing or even massage. All three can give you pain relief while you work with a physical therapist to rebuild strength and flexibility in the affected area. None will cause tissue degeneration–something I think we’d all like to avoid.

Preventing that next cold

Chinese medicine is powerful stuff, but we can’t say that we have that elusive “cure for the common cold.” We do, however, have some ideas about how to head it off at the pass.

In the Chinese medical model, a cold is an invasion of wind, which often brings either heat or cold and usually some dampness. Wind invasions first hit the body at a superficial level usually felt with a sore throat (a superficial aspect of your lung energy) and the skin, particularly at the nape of the neck (think about how achey you feel when you first start to get sick). Whether you have a wind-cold or a wind-heat seems to mostly depend on your constitution, but in my practice I mostly see wind-heat. Dampness often comes with a wind-cold or a wind-heat and physically manifests as phlegm. With wind cold, this phlegm is often white. Wind-heat phlegm is often yellow or green.

When you first start to feel like you might be coming down with something, the best thing you can do is to make yourself sweat. I prefer a passive sweat like a hot bath or a visit to a sauna. Two things happen when you sweat it out. One is that raising your body temperature helps turn the immune system on. The other is that a sweat expels wind from your body. Since external wind first lodges in your skin, opening the pores and sweating it out can expel that wind from your body.

In addition to having that hot bath/sauna, making a tea with fresh ginger can help make you sweat, too. Boil a few slices of fresh ginger for about 20 minutes to make a potent, spicy brew. Add some honey and sip (best is sipping this while you’re in your hot bath!).

If your cold has progressed beyond the early stages and into a yellow phlegm stage, skip the ginger tea and sip mint tea. Mint is cooling and can help expel wind-heat and mildly relieve some sinus congestion.

Sweating it out is best right at the very beginning of your symptoms. If you don’t catch it early enough, the wind can go deeper and be more difficult to dislodge.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs also can expel wind invasions, but only if you get a treatment in the early stages. If your cold progresses beyond the early stages, acupuncture and herbs will reduce your suffering and shorten the duration of your cold.

Of course, the true first line of defense is a healthy immune system. If you feel like you catch every cold that comes around, having regular acupuncture and certain herbal formulas can strengthen your immune system and help keep you well.

Read more about Chinese medicine here and here.

One stock, two dinners: Celery Root Gratin, Lentil Soup

It’s cold here and Boston, and I’m suddenly, happily, more interested in spending time in the kitchen. Summer cooking is a challenge–the farmer’s markets are brimming with beautiful veg, but I want to spend my time lollygagging on the patio, not sweating in the kitchen. So, while the cold weather has it’s challenges, it makes me want to cook.

I’ve been making a lot of soup lately. I think of soup as a perfect food–I pack them with veggies, and usually include some type of bean and serve it with brown rice or quinoa. I’ve also been making my own stock lately, which makes a huge difference in the quality of the soup.

Stock always seems like a lot of work, certainly harder than using a bouillion cube or opening a carton of your favorite store-bought stock. It really isn’t, though. Coarsely chop some veggies (with skins intact for extra flavor), saute them in some olive oil, add water and some herbs and leave it to simmer on the stove while you do other things.

My current approach is to make a big pot of stock, and then use it as a basis for two different recipes. I also try to freeze some for some future time when I don’t have time to make stock. It doesn’t feel like that much work when you can use a pot of stock to make a couple of dishes.

This week I make Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone“>Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone mushroom stock using my favorite dried mushrooms, Maitake/Hen of the Woods and a few shiitake.

Maitake/Hen of the woods (pictured above) are super-delicious mushrooms with wonderful health benefits. They helps strengthen the immune system and have anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. Research has also shown that they have tumor-fighting properties and can help regulate blood sugar. I buy dried Maitake from Mountain Rose Herbs and use them almost every time I make stock.

Shiitake (pictured above, growing on logs) have similar immune-stimulating, anti-tumor and anti-bacterial effects. They’re easily found at any Japanese market and most Asian markets. Mountain Rose Herbs also carries dried Shiitake. I buy them fresh at my local Whole Foods Market, as well.

Fresh Maitake and Shiitake are quite expensive, but a little goes a long way. Dried mushrooms tend to be less expensive and are almost as nice as the fresh, depending on how you prepare them.

With cold season upon us, it make sense to use as many maitake and shiitake as possible.

This batch of Mushroom Stock went towards making a Celery root/brown rice gratin (also from Deborah Madison’s book) and a pot of lentil soup (recipe to follow later). These two dishes gave us several lunches and a dinner–a great reward for the work. The original gratin recipe called for wild rice, but my husband doesn’t think wild rice is good for eating, so I made it with brown rice. The added step of making the bechamel sounds like a lot of work, but once you throw it together it’s not hard to keep 1/2 an eye on it while you do other things. Just keep the fire low and remember to stir. Or use a double-boiler.

Mushroom Stock

1/2-1 oz dried mushrooms–maitake, shiitake, porcini, or combination
1 1/2 tbst olive oil
1 large onion, cut into quarters, skin on (remove any dirty layers)
2 carrots, quartered
2 celery ribs, quartered
4-8 oz white mushrooms, quartered or coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped leek greens (save whites for lentil soup, recipe to follow)
1/4 cup walnuts or almonds, optional
2 garlic cloves, skin on, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried sage
8 springs parsley
2 small bay leaves
2 tsp salt

1. Clean any dirt from dried mushrooms. Soak in hot water while you prepare everything else.
2. heat oil in a soup pot, add onion, carrots and celery. Saute over medium-high heat until the onion is browned, about 15 minutes.
3. Add mushrooms and their soaking liquid along with the remaining ingredients.
4. Add about 9 cups of water and bring to a boil.
5. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for 45 minutes.
6. Strain

Vegan brown rice and celery root gratin

Bechamel (made with mushroom stock, recipe to follow)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 small celery roots, peeled and grated
juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
3 cups cooked brown rice (or wild rice)
1/2 cup pecans
ground hazelnuts to sprinkle on top, optional

1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Oil 9×13 baking dish (or anything large enough to hold about 5 cups)
3. Make bechamel.
4. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add celery root with lemon jice, garlic and 2 tbsp parsley. Cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Combine rice, celery root, pecans and bechamel. Spread into prepared baking dish. Bake for about 20 minutes. Top with grated hazelnuts and return to the oven for another 5 minutes or so.

Mushroom bechamel

1/4 cp minced shallot or onion
3 tbst olive oli
2 tbsp flour (use white or brown rice flour for gluten-free version)
1 1/2 cups hot mushroom stock
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook shallots/onions in olive oil in a small saucepan over low heat for about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes more. Whisk in the stock all at once, then cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, or in a double-boiler for about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Lentil soup with leeks and mushroom stock

Plants better than pills?

I just read this cool article by Dr. Andrew Weil on why whole plant-based medicine works better than pharmaceuticals.

Herbalists understand that when we use a particular herb, the benefit to the patient doesn’t come from just one chemical in that herb, it comes from the entire plant. In Chinese herbal medicine we combine several herbs into one formula to create a synergistic effect between all of the different compounds in each herb. Some work to moderate harsher elements in other herbs and some work to enhance the overall effects of the formula.

We certainly shouldn’t do away with pharmaceuticals, but herbs are a good choice for many different conditions. If we can help solve someone’s health problems with a more gentle, plant-based approach, why not give that a try?

Chickpea soup with saffron and almonds

As the weather gets cooler, I’m enjoying being in the kitchen again. I love summer so much that I don’t want to spend any time at all inside in the kitchen. When it starts to turn cool (and wet), being in a warm kitchen seems like the most reasonable thing to do.

I’ve been making a lot of soup lately. I’ve been experimenting with making stock, and then using it to create two different soups. This give me leftovers for nice lunches and dinners for the rest of the week.

In the fall and winter it’s especially important to eat warming, cooked foods. Chinese medicine teaches us that when it’s cold out, you should skip raw foods because they cool the body and put the digestive fires out (when it’s cold outside, you need warming inside). Soups are the perfect replacement for the salads of summer–nutritious and hydrating for the dryness that comes with cold air and indoor heating.

I just recently tried Mark Bittman’s recipe for Chickpea Soup with Saffron and Almonds from his book, How to cook everything vegetarian. I followed his recipe almost exactly, and made my own stock. If you don’t have time to make stock, just use whatever stock you like. I often use Imagine Foods No Chicken Stock when I don’t have time to make my own.

The inclusion of coarsly chopped almonds gives this soup and interesting texture. I mashed a few chickpeas to thicken the soup, but left it very brothy overall. Bittman says to mash the chickpeas to whatever consistency you prefer–there’s no wrong way.

Basic stock

1 large onion, with (clean) skin, cut into large chunks
2 medium carrots, cut into quaters
2 stalks celery, cut into quarters
3-6 Whole garlic cloves, with skin on, gently crushed with side of knife
Olive oil, for sauteeing
Stems from dried mushrooms (I used Maitake/Hen of the Woods), optional
2 bay leaves
1 Tsp dried thyme (or several branches of fresh)
6-8 cups of water

Sautee onion in olive oil until it starts to soften a bit (about 5 minutes). Add the carrots, celery and garlic saute until the veggies are slighty browned.

Add bay leaves and thyme and sautee briefly.

Add water and optional mushroom stems, bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes, but longer if you have time.

Chickpea soup with saffron and almonds

3/4-1 cp roasted almonds (best with skinned)
2 cups cooked chickpeas (2 cans, or cook 1/2 pound dried)
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
Olive oil, for sauteeing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp crumbled saffron, or more, if you like
6 cups vegetable stock or water or combo
1/4 cp chopped parsley

1. Coarsely chop the almonds. Set aside.
2. Heat olive oil in large soup pot. Sautee onions and garlic with a large pinch of salt and ground black pepper. Cook until onions start to brown, stirring occasionally throughout. Stir in almonds and saffron.
3. Add stock or water and chickpeas. Mash chickpeas to desired consistency with a potato masher or back of a spoon. Gently heat, stirring occasionally until hot. Taste, and adjust seasoning.
4. Serve garnished with parsley.

Om Trinity Fall Ecstatic Chant Festival

I’m excited to announce that my office group will have a table at the Om Trinity Chant Festival on Saturday, 10/23, at the Somerville Armory. David Newman, Donna Delory and Girish will perform for hundreds of yoga and chant devotees.

We will have a table at the back of the auditorium, and we’ll be offering free chair massage and ear acupuncture demonstrations. We’re going to have a raffle for our services, and $10 coupons for acupuncture and massage appointments.

If you’re at the festival, please stop by to say hello!