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When I was a freshman in college, I stopped eating, sometimes coasting on half a bowl of oatmeal a day. The smell of food made me ill. I lost a lot of weight, and my normally boundless energy was utterly deflated. Taking 21 credits at a time, exhaustion and frequent spells of dizziness and even fainting soon became a big issue. I had countless blood tests run, but no one could tell me what was wrong with me. But we knew what the symptom was: anorexia. I couldn’t eat.

The symptom anorexia (with a lower-case “a”) simply describes the often extreme loss of appetite in an individual, and is most often as a symptom of a larger disease or condition. The symptom anorexia is not to be confused with Anorexia nervosa—commonly referred to, confusingly, as Anorexia for short—which is a psychological disorder characterized by an intense fear of being or becoming obese, often marked by extreme diet and exercise and/or binge-and-purge eating patterns.

I remember being horrified by the weight I lost and the difficulty I had just navigating my day-to-day; it’s hard to even imagine it now. Looking back now, I think it’s very likely that my anorexia was a symptom of celiac disease, though I didn’t figure out I had celiac until ten years later. Unfortunately, anorexia is a common symptom of many diseases and infections,  including tuberculosis, cancer, AIDS, kidney failure, liver failure, dehydration, and countless others; and as a symptom, the best long-range treatment for anorexia is to find the underlying cause—in my case, celiac disease—which is not always easy for doctors to diagnose. Anorexia was not my only symptom of celiac disease, but it was certainly the most frightening.

In addition to needing to find the underlying cause of the symptom, there are herbs that can help relieve anorexia symptoms, especially those that act as appetite stimulants. Because people who have been struggling with anorexia are often malnourished as a result, it is also important to consider adaptogenic and deeply nourishing herbs and foods to help build back their vitality.

Herbs specifically recommended for treatment of anorexia include dandelion roots and leaves, oats, oatstraw, and seaweed (Weed 144, 147, 201, 227); as well as ashwagandha and medicinal rhubarb (Foster III, 23, 105).

If you or someone you know is experiencing anorexia, please see a doctor and get help.

For several years, I’ve used cleansing programs as a way of healing and detoxifying the body and for resetting or strengthening metabolism. My more recent interest in ayurveda and its emphasis on panchakarma (seasonal cleansing) has helped me to approach this on a more energetic level, meaning that your body may need different kinds of cleansing in different seasons, situations, and of course always in relation to your individual constitution.

I’ve now experimented with several types of cleansing programs. The main idea of any cleanse is to eliminate any foods that contribute to toxins in the body, so during any cleansing program, you will be removing these entirely from your diet: sugar, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, animal products (meat, cheese, butter, dairy, etc.), gluten and wheat products, and simple starches. Instead, what you do consume (depending on the cleansing program you choose) should be “pure” whole foods.

So that’s the intake part. Then there’s the other part of cleansing: the elimination of toxins from your body. Sometimes this takes care of itself, and other times you may want to help things along. First, you must drink plenty of pure water. In addition, a laxative herbal tea such as senna might be a good idea before bedtime (one cup only—this is a strong laxative), or perhaps a diuretic tea of dandelion in the morning. Also, psyllium seed husks can be mixed with water and drunk before bed to help lend “bulk” to your stool. Another option is to use a warm water enema to flush residual gunk out—it sounds scary if you’ve never tried it, but once you get over the ick factor, it just isn’t that big a deal. And you can feel the difference—I usually feel sort of “high” afterward, kind of light and energetic.

The first cleanse I ever did was a raw food cleanse, which involves eating a completely raw and vegan diet, usually for one or two weeks. The high fiber in this diet definitely helps with cleansing, and you still get to have fun preparing and chewing your food. A balance of fresh and dehydrated fruits, vegetables, and nuts, provides you with ample nutrition to sustain you through the process. I find this is my favorite when I am dealing with heat issues in my body, as this program tends to be very cooling. Since I already run hot, as a pitta, this is great for me in spring or summer when the body can easily overheat.

This past spring I tried the master cleanse, and you can get the recipe and read about my experiences day-by-day over on my Purple House blog (read all four days for full response). Briefly, this is an entirely liquid cleanse, using a lemonade made of lemons, maple syrup and cayenne. 10 days are recommended generally, but three days is about right for me I think. This program is very warming, and I’ll probably only use it toward the end of the winter months when the body starts to get sluggish. I do not recommend this for anyone who does heavy manual labor—you will not have enough caloric energy during the cleanse. Better to schedule time off and take it easy.

The last program I’d like to share is the green smoothie cleanse, developed by nutritionist Meghan Telpner. I decided to try this out this summer and loved it. Meghan’s educational nutrition e-book on the cleansing program (as well as her other e-books) is very easy to read, creative and warm, and there is a wealth of rich information and fun recipes. Essentially, this is like the raw food cleanse, but on steroids. Or you know, the healthful, all-natural equivalent *grin*

My favorite personally is the raw food cleanse, just because I love preparing food and, well, chewing. But as I said above, it’s all about figuring out what’s right for you and in what season. And of course, I have to tell you to please always check with your doctor/nutritionist before embarking on a cleanse, be aware of what the detoxification symptoms are so you are prepared and know what’s normal and what isn’t, and as always, listen to your body. If you’re body says you’ve done enough, then listen.

What are your favorite cleansing practices? Any tips you’d like to share with the rest of us?

A couple lovely posts this week from fellow bloggers – thought I’d share with you here.

From Methow Valley Herbs, a great materia medica post on Hawthorn

From Fat of the Land blog, another post on Dandelion Wine (my post on this is coming soon, probably this week… just eagerly waiting for it to stop bubbling 🙂

Dandelions

We’ve been a bit dandelion crazy around here, and working on a couple posts celebrating the willful golden “weeds.” For starters, I’d like to share the process of making t’ej, an Ethiopian honey wine that is so simple to make and such a delightful way to celebrate your in-season herbs, soon your countertops will be as cluttered with bottles and jugs as mine are!

This is the process as I was taught by Suzanna Stone, a wonderful guest teacher at Sacred Plant Traditions, with my own notes added in.

Equipment:
2 quart jar
2 quart jug with airlock (or balloon)
Long wooden spoon
Cheesecloth / fine mesh sieve / coffee filters
Funnel

Ingredients:
Distilled or boiled water (to ensure no chlorine or other contaminants
1 1/2 c. raw local honey
Several handfuls fresh herb(s)

  1. If using tap water, bring 2 quarts of it to a rolling boil, then allow it to cool to room temperature.
  2. Collect fresh herbs. Wash gently or brush off dirt etc. Chop and place several handfuls in the 2-quart jar (most recently we made a batch each—dandelion blossoms and violet blossoms).
  3. Pour honey into the jar.
  4. Add water (room temperature) to fill the jar the rest of the way, leaving an inch or two of space at the top for easy stirring.
  5. Stir this mixture well with a wooden spoon until the honey is dissolved, and then some more. Traditionally, an Ethiopian household has their own tej spoon which is not washed between uses so it accumulates it’s own “good” fermenting bacteria and particular flavor. Between stirrings, the spoon is laid across the top of the jar or crock.
  6. Cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth and allow to sit on the counter, out of direct sunlight, stirring 2 or 3 times daily until a froth starts to appear on the top of the liquid. Generally this will take a week or so, but my dandelion batch was frothing abundantly after only three days.Dandelion t'ej with froth, before straining out the herb and putting in the jug with airlock.
  7. Using a funnel with cheesecloth, sieve, or coffee filters, strain the herb out of the t’ej, pouring the remaining liquid into the jug—seal the jug with the airlock. Airlocks can be purchased for 1 or 2 dollars at specialty kitchen or brewing stores, and make sure to follow the directions and use the requisite amount of brandy or vodka in the airlock. If you opt to use a balloon instead of an airlock, remember to “burp” the balloon occasionally.Two kinds of airlocks (filled with brandy) - I personally prefer the one on the right.
  8. Allow the t’ej to continue fermenting in the jug until the airlock stops bubbling—this means that the naturally-occurring yeasts are no longer consuming sugars and producing gases. At this point, your tej is ready—bottle it, label it, and enjoy!

Note: These are the proportions I used, but if you want to make a larger amount, just be sure to keep the proportions the same. Doubling all the portions would make a gallon batch.

Dandelion t'ej - enjoy!

A good friend of mine has rheumatoid arthritis. She’s been having a heckuva time, to say the least, taking the pill form of chemotherapy and hence dealing not only with the pain of R.A., but also the pretty nasty effects of her chemo treatment.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Tea

Last week was a rough patch for her, and she asked if I would put together an anti-inflammatory tea to help relieve some of her symptoms. Having gotten permission from her doctor to do so (I don’t want to interfere with anything he’s trying to do), I set about preparing this infusion for her. My goals were not only to relieve her symptoms, but also to make it tasty for her so she’d actually want to drink it. For instance, although dandelion root is excellent for removing uric acid from joints, I opted for the tastier analog of celery seed. The proportions are below, followed by simple instructions and the purpose of each herb in the blend. If you have any insights or suggestions of your own, please feel free to share in comment form – I’d love to hear from you.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Tea

1 part sarsaparilla
1 part celery seed
1 part licorice root
1/2 part ginger root

Each part refers to a volume measurement in proportion. For one serving of tea infusion, use about a level tablespoon of herb (or less). Add boiling hot water, cover, and steep for at least 12 to 15 minutes. You can re-steep this same batch two or three times for additional servings, if desired.

Actions:
Sarsaparilla: anti-inflammatory (feverfew would also be good)
Celery seed: clears uric acid from the joints (or dandelion root)
Licorice root: has a cortisone-like effect in the body
Ginger root: promotes blood flow, relieving pain and swelling

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