The Surprising and Wonderful Health Benefits of Dandelions

Dandelion for Detox, Digestion, and Beyond

Ahh, Spring! You start to survey your yard and are pleased to see the grass greening up, the iris leaves poking up through the ground, and new growth on the trees. But the one thing you may not be pleased to see is dandelions! These plants have gotten a very bad rap due to their fast-growing/fast-spreading nature, a flower that is not often considered beautiful, and the fact that they will pop up in the middle of your lovely grass. But dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) have a surprising number of uses and benefits for health.

 

Years ago I was taking a class that involved the study of plants and herbs and I created a drawing of the dandelion plant. After researching the plant I was excited to learn that they actually have medicinal properties! Later I proudly shared this newfound information with my Mom, thinking I was opening her eyes to something ground-breaking, but to my surprise she laughed and shared that she knew all about the plant because her Father, my Grandpa used to make dandelion wine! Since then I have looked at dandelions in a whole new delicious light.

Dandelions are actually an incredible source for our bodies in that they are an overall nourishing herb, with uses ranging from detoxification, liver support, digestive aid, and women’s hormone health. And, you can utilize almost the whole plant!

NOTE: dandelions should not be eaten by those with a latex allergy, or an allergy to the aster flower family (asteraceae).

Banish Bloat with Dandelion Leaves

The leaves of a dandelion plant are a diuretic, which means it is a substance that promotes diuresis, the increased production of urine. Diuretics rid the body of excess water, help with water retention, and conditions such as edema (swollen ankles), and reduce bloat in general. Additionally, dandelions support healthy kidney function.

Now, with most diuretic substances, they cause a depletion of potassium in your body. So if you were taking a medication to help with water retention, you would need to be supplementing with potassium as well. But dandelion leaves have potassium already in them, as well as Vitamin E and A and zinc phytosterols, making them a great natural option for the issue of water retention.

An amazing benefit of dandelion leaves is that they are a great hormone regulator for women, especially those experiencing menopause. In fact, I use it in my Transition Time tea which is included in my Menopause Women’s Health Set.

Dandelion leaf tincture

How to use the leaves:

  • Use the leaves to make dandelion tea. But only if your yard is clean of pesticides, going back a couple of years to be safe.
  • Leaves can be mixed in  with a salad. They are bitter; most people prefer to mix them with other greens rather than alone, however if you choose to brave the bitter, add in what we recommend in our Botanical Bites blog Spring Goddess Salad.
  • Chop up the leaves and turn into a tincture using apple cider vinegar. Add a touch of honey once it’s complete to create a delectable traditional Irish/Celtic remedy called Honegar. 
  • Create dandelion bitters to help with digestion, balance the hydrochloric acid production, and regulate pH balance.

It’s best to harvest in the earlier springtime when the leaves are smaller because they are tastier at this point, and do become more bitter as they get larger.  

Getting to the Root of it All

Spring is the perfect time to look for dandelions, and you can view them as a spring detox in your life. 

Chemical structure of inulin. Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inulin

Dandelion root is high in polysaccharides, which help to balance out blood sugar levels, making it a great herb for those with diabetes. The root also contains inulin, a soluble plant fiber that helps to regulate blood sugar especially in prediabetic individuals according to studies such as this one by the Nutrition and Dietic Research Group of Imperial College in London. If you are on medication for diabetes, consult with your medical practitioner before taking dandelion root.

Dandelions are an alterative herb. Alterative herbs help to restore the body’s elimination process by supporting the liver, kidneys, and skin. I like to think of these are ‘blood herbs’ as they help to clean the blood of impurities by helping the liver to perform better. Dandelion root helps the liver along so it’s not overworked. Always remember that what you eat goes into your stomach and intestines, and the capillaries associated with villi transfer nutrients into blood, which is then processed by the liver. Bowel problems, IBS, hepatitis, and jaundice are all conditions that my be benefited by dandelion root along with other alteratives, by way of the liver.

Skin conditions such as eczema, and rashes, can also often be related to the blood. Taking alterative herbs like dandelion root may help to clear up skin. 

Along with being a liver tonic, dandelion root is also a cholagogue, which helps stimulate the bile production in body and is also responsible for helping to metabolize and break down the unnecessary fats in your body.

How to use the root:

  • Chop the root and roast it with burdock, my favorite way is sautéd lightly with olive oil
  • As a detoxification remedy, you can use in a tincture or tea. The root can taste quite earthy so I recommend mixing it with licorice root because it’s sweet, and burdock root to balance it out. You could also blend with sarsaparilla, cinnamon bark, or fennel for a rich delicious blend.
  • Use as a coffee alternative. ‘Dandy Blend’, sold in health-food stores, is good alternative to caffeinated coffee.
  • You can also candy the root just as you do with carrots!

A good way to ensure you are not ingesting pesticides from a local yard, is to harvest dandelions on wild land, the mountains of Colorado, etc. However always be sure to check the regulations of the land management agency whose land you will be visiting to see if harvesting is permitted.

Pick Those Dandelion Flowers – And Eat Them!

As a teacher of mine once said, dandelion flowers are not to be vanquished. Think about what the flower brings to mind. The bright yellow and cheery flowers are like a round sunburst. They are energetically positive and can lift the mood just by shifting your perspective to view them this way.

How to use the flower:

  • Pluck the individual petals out and put into salad
  • Add the petals in pancake fritters
  • Can make a dandelion petal glycerite, and it becomes a tincture
  • Dandelion wine! Sorry, my Grandpa’s recipe is a family secret!

If you do not wish to eat the flowers, then try to restrain from pulling them and trashing them as dandelions are very loved by bees!

I hope you now have a different perspective on dandelions and will put them to use as natural health remedies soon.

Check out my Spring Goddess Salad recipe that incorporates dandelion leaves. Happy harvesting!

 

The Science of Aphrodisiacs

Love Potion #9

When you think about aphrodisiacs you might think of kooky witches stirring a cauldron and selling a bottled love potion to the villagers who are hoping to have someone fall in love with them. Even though the idea of aphrodisiacs may seem the stuff of fairy tales, there is actually science behind it–and I believe they do work! Since the middle ages, aphrodisiacs have been known and used in concoctions to boost libido and seduce others. This article by Vogue discusses a brief history of aphrodisiacs.

There is not a lot of clinical research on aphrodisiacs and no direct signaling mechanism at a cellular level that has shown and proven that they work. However, there is evidence of indirect mechanisms throughout the body as a result of taking aphrodisiacs. You see, with herbs it’s hard to track the mechanism of what is happening in the body. Lucky for us, you don’t have to actually point to a mechanism to feel a certain way.

 

You Can’t Be On All the Time

Let’s start by talking about arousal and physical response. Most of us aren’t constantly in the mood, and sometimes it takes longer to feel aroused, which is dependent on many factors. Daily life may be making you tired or stressed, and this gets in the way of arousal. One in ten people actually have Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) which is an underactive libido and is caused by fatigue, stress, depression, or hormone changes over time. In fact, 40% of women experience this at some point in life (source: medicalnewstoday.com). Men who are experiencing sexual dysfunction often turn to Viagra®, and there is a medicine for women who need more testosterone called Flibanserin by Addyi. All those conditions aside, some people may just feel that things are getting a tad stale with their partner and they wish to fan some oxygen onto the flame.

Prescription medications can come with a long list of side effects, and I say if you can treat something with plants and herbs – try that first! Botanical aphrodisiacs offer a natural alternative.

Even if sex is not a big factor in your life, anytime it is shared with someone it helps to create a shared intimacy that will deepen your bond. Know that low or slow arousal is common and there is something you can do about it in a natural way.

The Psychological and Physiological Effects of Aphrodisiacs

In addition to physical response, your mind is also positively affected by aphrodisiacs. Your mind has a powerful effect on how you feel. Here are the four ways in which aphrodisiacs can benefit you:

  1. Happiness

    Swiss Chocolate

As I discussed in my last post, For the Love of Botanical Chocolate, chocolate (Theobroma cacao) is very

 popular around Valentine’s Day and is known as an aphrodisiac as it triggers the release of serotonin and contains trace amounts of phenylethylamine (PEA). PEA is already found in small amounts in our body. Is a neurotransmitter in our nervous system, and is one of the chemical components that plays a key role in our mood. Not only is PEA good for our mood, but it is also a stimulant that is associated with heightened states of euphoria and arousal due to its stimulation of endorphin release, as discussed by Chris Kilham, a Professor of Ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. These are major players that influence our mood and are responsible for happiness.

  1. Circulation

A big part of arousal is getting good blood flow to the genitals. A food that stands out for this is chili peppers. They are vasodilators, which means they increase blood flow. In fact, any kind of chili pepper has the capsicum molecule which causes dilation of the blood vessels and allows for greater blood flow to the genital area. 

  1. Stimulation

There are several herbs that cause stimulation in us and stimulation is tied to arousal. Guarana (Paullinia cupana) is a climbing shrub native to the Amazon basin whose seeds are often used in energy drinks. But energy drinks can be very unhealthy. Stick with the pure forms, straight from the ground! Guarana contains twice the amount of caffeine than coffee so it is guaranteed to give you an energy boost. This is a great herb for people who feel too tired to have sex. The component in the seeds from the fruit on this shrub is called guaranine, which is the stimulant. It warms the body. Because of the combination of stimulation and warming, Brazilians are known to use it as an aphrodisiac. Buy guarana as a powder for consumption and take it during the day, or right after work, when you are looking for a pick-me-up for a sensual evening. It’s generally too stimulating to take close to bedtime.

Damiana Plant
Damiana Plant

The next stimulating herb is damiana–the queen of all aphrodisiacs in my mind! I studied damiana (Turnera diffusa) while in Mexico and absolutely love the floral flavor. I add it to my Frolic aphrodisiac bitters and Sexual Vitality Tea. Damiana has hormone balancing properties and is restorative when mixed with licorice root and rose. It is a native shrub in Mexico and both the leaves and flowers have been used for thousands of years by the Mayan people. Fun fact: this plant is named after St. Damian, the patron saint of pharmacists. Damiana is mildly irritating/stimulating to the genitourinary tract. This is an herb you use over time in order for it to be most effective, and it generally takes several weeks to start noticing a difference. But the effects pay off: it provides more sensation in the genitals, and boosts sexual potency in men and women. Read more about Damiana

More stimulation comes from cnidium (Cnidium monnieri) seeds, which is a Chinese herb that also grows in Oregon. Cnidium seeds are known for rapidly increasing libido; in fact, it acts like a natural Viagra. The active component found in the seeds in it is called osthol, and it helps the penis tissue to become erect. Osthol impacts the nervous system involving muscles or tissue and this is why it helps with erectile dysfunction. It is a vasorelaxant, meaning it causes blood vessel relaxation and expansion in the tissue. It affects the corpus cavernosum (the two tubes inside the penis) and the erectile tissue in the penis. Additionally, it has been used in herbal Chinese medicine to improve sexual dysfunction in women by having the same effect on the clitoris (source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) You ingest this herb by chewing a teaspoon of the seeds, but only when you are ready for the effects to happen!

The last of our stimulating herbs is one I first came across it while traveling in Peru in 2006. It’s called maca (Lepidium meyeniia), which is a tuber root, like a potato. Maca is high in protein and has an effect on mood and testosterone, being commonly used for an energy and libido booster. Data has shown that maca hasn’t had any effect on hormone levels, however it is used by clinicians to boost testosterone in women when needed for low desire. And people do report feeling a difference when using maca (source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).

  1. Relaxation
Kava Kava Plant
Kava Kava Plant

Across the spectrum from stimulation for desire is relaxation, and it is just as important for building arousal. The first herb that comes to mind is kava kava (Piper methysticum), which is a relaxant. This French Polynesia and Fijian plant’s root is used for a calming effect on the nervous system, which is the biggest area that you can address for your libido. When you are stressed, cortisol is produced in your body in larger amounts and it impedes one of the hormones that helps build desire. Kava Kava is a fantastic herb to help balance hormones.

What better named aphrodisiac is there besides passion flower (Passiflora)?! I like to say, passion flower for presence, passion and pleasure. It is also helpful for muscular tension and muscle cramps.

For an aide in stress reduction look to rhodiolia (Rhodiola rosea). It reduces cortisol and is an adaptogen. It’s a good daily tonic to help deal with stress. Look for an upcoming post that goes into depth about rhodiolia.

I discussed the main herbs that are known to be aphrodisiacs, but there are others such as ginseng and horny goat weed as well.

If you are interested in enjoying some of the herbs mentioned in this post, learn more about my Sexual Vitality Set which comes with teas, bitters, aromatherapy spritzers, and more.

Join the Women’s Sexual Health and Well-being Course

I just began hosting my Herbs for Women’s Sexual Health and Well-being course and we will discuss herbs in relation to sexual dysfunction and desire….soon to be virtual, so keep your eyes out in 2019!

Learn More and Register

 

 

 

Natural Remedies for Sleepless Nights

Natural Remedies for Sleepless Nights

Did you sleep well last night? Because–you look tired. Those are the dreaded words that everyone hates to hear as someone scrutinizes your face with a mixture of concern and distaste at the dark circles adorning your eyes. To say someone looks tired is a polite way of saying they look like poo!

The science of how we sleep has always fascinated me. In fact, when I was in college at CU Boulder I was on a sleep committee for three years with the Wardenburg Health Center. Our committee would visit different classrooms and share sleep facts with the students, and we received funds to create sleep pods in the school library for naps or studying. Speaking of naps, they are something I’m very passionate about!

To Nap or Not to Nap

There are a lot of varying opinions out there on naps. Some people believe wholeheartedly that a mid-day nap can be a healthy addition to their day (me!). Others feel they only wake up groggier after taking a nap. But this is only the case if you are asleep for longer than thirty minutes, which puts you into deep sleep and REM cycles.

I happen to believe that naps are a great recharge. When you are feeling sleepy during the day your body is telling you it needs to recoup for a bit. Longer naps also help us to get more of the deep sleep we may be missing at night. Many people today do not get deep enough sleep at night due to being on their phones or computers up until bedtime, and often while in bed. This stimulation interrupts sleep patterns and prevents the body from getting the deep sleep in which the brain is able to shut down completely.

Too Tired, Too Much of the Time

Insomnia is a rising epidemic because people are either not sleeping enough, and/or are stressed out. This starts an unhealthy cycle in which the body can never catch up on sleep. If you are not sleeping deeply or consistently, it can really begin to impact your life and you may realize you feel tired most of the time. This can actually be a condition called adrenal fatigue syndrome and it’s very tough to recover from. I have worked with clients who have adrenal fatigue syndrome for five years now. Something that contributes to this syndrome is drinking too much coffee.

Teas and Aromatherapy to the Rescue

As an alternative to coffee, I recommend my Pick Me Up tea, which stimulates the mind and blood circulation. If you just can’t let go of the taste of coffee, there is a tea available at most natural food stores called DandyBlend. It’s a blend of roasted chicory root and dandelion root and is a good coffee alternative because it tastes similar.

Another tea option is my Nourish Me tea (right) which has magnesium in it. Magnesium is important for the sleep cycle and also aides with adrenal fatigue syndrome. You can also find magnesium in foods such as dark chocolate (but eat it in the morning as it contains the chemical compound theobromine, which is in the same family as caffeine found in coffee), almonds, spinach, avocado, bananas, brown rice, peanut butter, cashews, molasses, and figs. So if you are finding that you are not sleeping well, you could assess how much magnesium you are getting–it’s an easy thing to look at first.

Aromatherapy spritzers can be the perfect fix for the afternoon slow-down. A thoughtful blend of essential oils can perk you right up! And if you are having trouble sleeping you can do an aromatherapy spritzer right before bed. One made with calming oils will help lure your brain into sleep. Aromatherapy can actually help bring you out of the fight or flight mode that many people live in continually. The oils can move you into a calming, coherent space in which your brain can process your day and fall asleep more naturally. 

Of course, sometimes the reasons we can’t sleep are not necessarily bad. We may just be excited about something happening the next day, or have a lot on our minds. Teas that are excellent for calming the mind are chamomile tea and my Love Life and Relax tea, which contains passion flower; perfect for calming at bedtime. You can take passion flower as tincture or as a tea blend. It helps to calm the nervous system and is a slight muscle relaxer too, which helps to reduce tension in typical tight muscle areas such as the neck.

 

Training Your Body and Mind for Good Sleep

More and more, my clients ask me if I have anything to help them sleep better. It’s becoming a common question and I really believe it’s due to the extremely busy lifestyles that so many of us lead these days. Add smartphones, computers, TVs, stress and worry about jobs and world issues and it’s a recipe for a sleepless night.  

It can take a while for people to learn how to relax when they want to go to sleep. Breath work can help with this; it’s a way of talking yourself into a sleeping space. And of course daily physical exercise is helpful in increasing sleep quality, with activity four to five times a week being ideal. Another way to wind down before bed is with a hot bath. Use that time to focus on yourself prepare yourself mentally to enter into sleep.

One trap that many people fall into is that they work late into the evening and try to get a lot done before bed, and then count on sleeping in the next day to make up for staying up late. However this is really doing your body a disservice. Your body wants and needs sleep so you are stressing your body and you aren’t as focused as you would be if you waited to do it in the morning when you are fresh. In fact, you will probably get the task done in half the time when you are well-rested!

Let’s talk about melatonin for a hot second. The topic is often thrown around the water cooler as a quick fix to help you sleep. But real talk–most of the melatonin available is synthesized in the lab, and is a hormone that’s extracted from the pineal gland of animals. There are vegetarian versions available but then it is just a synthetic hormone and who really wants that? I firmly believe in all of the natural, plant-based methods, and lifestyle modifications that I have talked about in this post.

Overall, I want to emphasize that you should always try to get to the core of your sleep issues, rather than rely on any remedy all of the time. While any of the practices in this post will help you sleep better, you still want to understand why you are having trouble sleeping and see if you can address that to make a positive change.

 

Looking for more teas when life is getting too stressful? Try my Anxitea or my Love Life and Relax tea. Or, my Deep Sleep Tincture is helpful for insomnia and major sleep issues. Contact me for this tincture at bridget@bridgetsbotanicalworld.com.

Lastly, my Calming Spritzer (coming soon!) is a zen aromatherapy spritz that will tame the stress beast.

Coming in January: Stress & Sleep Workshop! Contact me for more information.

How Bitters Aide with Digestion

How Bitters Aide with Digestion

My visit to Italy in 2009 is when I discovered the joy of bitters. I was introduced to them when I learned that many people who live there drink aperitifs and digestives before or after meals. At first I was enamored because they are like a small and delicious liqueur shot and it just tasted good! But when I learned more about the power behind bitters and how they influence our digestion the scientist in me became interested. They are not only delicious, but they also have health benefits.

Digestives, or bitters, are composed of many different bitter plants and just a half ounce or ounce is enough as it is pretty potent stuff. And although the bitters do have alcohol in them, the reason to drink them is not the same as with regular alcoholic drinks. The digestives are extracted bitter plants that are in alcohol and the reason to take them before or after meals is to increase and improve your digestion.

Bitters have been used around the world for thousands of years, and are especially popular in Europe. Many people make their own bitters with their own recipe, and often times that recipe has been passed down for years within their family. As I explored bitters more during my trip I discovered that similar concoctions were commonly being used within cocktails, and the cocktail lover within me became interested 😉

Over the next year I started to see bitters showing up in American bars, being served as additives to cocktails. Suddenly, cocktail bitters started to skyrocket in popularity. I myself started to utilize bitters in my diet and looked for what was available on the market, which wasn’t much several years ago. I decided I wanted to add bitters to Bridget’s Botanicals repertoire and wanted to make and share them with my clients. They are after all, a great introduction to the botanical and herbal world and I liked that I could sort of disguise that within cocktails to bring herbs into more people’s lives. So in 2017 I launched my Wild World Bitters line at the ‘Cocktails on the Rocks’ event at Red Rocks Park in Morrison, Colorado.

Bittersweet Science

So how do bitters actually work in our body? When bitters enter our mouth, we start to produce more saliva and our saliva helps to break down food. A dropper full of bitters before a meal automatically activates the enzymes in your mouth and this helps break down the food a little better. That’s the first step on the journey into your body.

In the stomach we have molecular biology pumps that secrete hydrochloric acid which is responsible for breaking our food down. Problems start to happen when we don’t have enough acid or we are over producing acid.

If a person is having heartburn and taking over-the-counter medicine for it, the stomach actually reacts in the opposite way than you would think. It detects a decrease in pH and it starts to produce more acid in response, leaving us with a more acidic environment in our stomach. Bitters however, regulate the secretion of the hydrochloric acid into our stomach, which is the key to balanced stomach acid.

In the last ten years or so, there has been a lot of research about how the gut helps to regulate the immune system and the nervous system. The microorganisms in the gut are symbiotically producing signals for our body, or chemicals, which are actually matching our physiology and responding to those different signals to activate or regulate our nervous system and immune system. T2R receptors, which are connected to the nervous system, are found all over the body, but primarily are in the gut. I want to mention the plant-based diet again here because if you are eating foods that already help with diversifying the gut flora this only helps further support immune system. Here’s a cute, educational, simple yet effectively explained TED Ed video about you, your food, and your gut microbes. 

It is truly amazing how much of our body is connected to our gut health, which implies just how important it is to take care of .

 

If you are having other problems such as frequent illnesses, depression, or anxiety, you may want to look to the gut for the answers. You can experiment and start to use bitters to see if they help and positively influence you. As with any herb, I encourage you to try them for at least one month, but ideally three months, before deciding whether it’s having an impact on your wellness journey.

 

Get Ahead of Holiday Digestion Issues

Now that we have more knowledge of the science behind the microflora in our gut it is clear how important it is and how much it can affect us. And what better time of year to work on digestion issues than the holidays. All the family gatherings, big meals, and holiday parties make for abundant and wonderful food, but also sometimes very uncomfortable GI issues. This is a great time to incorporate bitters into your diet. You can do a dropper full right into mouth, or in a glass of water, or you can have fun with bitters and try them in cocktails, or even drink them straight. Infusing them in 

cocktails can be a great and somewhat sneaky way to help your stubborn parent/sibling/spouse with their holiday digestion issues 😉 When they talk about how great they feel the next day you can tell them why!

Types of Bitters for Meals and Cocktails

Bitters are very balancing in general and the extracts of the herbs are of course bitter, so that adds a different element to food. They can balance flavors of food and be used in something such as salad dressing, along with other beneficial oils. I recommend my Frolic and Awaken bitters on dessert items and baked goods as they are not quite as bitter as some others.

Historic bitter herbs include wormwood, dandelion leaves, endives, yellowdock, burdock, gentian (well-known for use in cocktails), lavender, rosemary, yarrow leaves (great in salad).

In closing, bitters are more of a traditional, long-term solution for digestion; one that a lot of Europeans have been using for centuries. They can really positively impact your gut health and thus your overall health.

If you would like to get started with bitters, I offer a Wild World Bitters sample pack of three different bitters. This makes a great holiday gift, especially if gifted before a big holiday meal 😉 Note: the Primal bitter is the best for digestive issues.