Friday, December 30, 2011

Ring in the New Year with Bitters (They're Good for You)

BY ACHS Instructor Scott Stuart, L.Ac., B.S., M.A.O.M.

Did you know that the flavor of an herb has a specific action(s) on the energetic state of the body? Herbs have one or more flavors, each of which has a different action on the body. For example, there is a lot that can be said about the flavor “bitter”.

In his book, The Male Herbal, James Green notes, “It is my opinion that the nearly complete lack of bitter flavored foods in the overall U.S. and Canadian diet is a major contributor to common cultural health imbalances such as PMS, other female and male sexual organ dysfunctions, hormonal imbalances, migraine headaches, indigestion, liver and gallbladder dysfunction, abnormal metabolism, hypoglycemia, diabetes, etc.” Green points out that the only bitter flavors we commonly eat might be coffee and chocolate (which are then sweetened), or a well hopped ale or stout.

However, bitter has many beneficial physiological actions. When bitter flavor touches the tongue receptors, it signals the central nervous system to stimulate the exocrine and endocrine glands. This creates a general stimulation of digestive juices to the stomach, liver, pancreas and duodenum, thus improving appetite, digestion, and assimilation.

Along with this, bitter appears to also stimulate the repair of damage to intestinal walls. (Bitter would be contraindicated where the stimulation of stomach acid is not desired, such as in hyperacidity. However, after the healing of an ulcer, bitter speeds the healing.) Bitter also aids the poor overworked liver in detoxification, increases bile flow, and helps the pancreas regulate blood sugar. As bitter stimulates actions and sensations generally within the entire body, there is some evidence it also has an anti-depressant affect as well. As the Chinese have said for a very long time, bitter calms the mind, and guides to the Heart.

Green also speculates about the philosophical, even spiritual, implications of the lack of bitter in our lives, stating: “Hand in hand with the avid avoidance of bitter flavors in the diet, the North American psyche refuses, in general, to deal with the (bitter) “shadows” of its life, routinely projecting the darker side of its own nature onto others (individually in relationships and nationally in foreign policy). We Westerners seem quite unwilling to deal with the difficulties and more bitter struggles in life. We look predominantly towards sweetness and the “American Dream” of living happily ever after.” Food for thought, anyway.

To have its positive affects, bitter must be tasted. Only a small amount is necessary. Too much bitter will have the opposite effect. After all, it always comes back to balance and moderation, does it not?

Some common bitter herbs are gentian (the main herb in Angostura Bitters), dandelion, mugwort, blessed thistle, globe artichoke leaf, chicory, horehound, chamomile, centaury, hops, goldenseal, yarrow, wormwood, and agrimony.

To add a little bitter to your salad, try some cress, endive, dandelion greens, beet greens.

Pregnant women should be cautious in the use of bitter flavored tinctures or concentrates, as they may stimulate uterine contractions. Bitters are also contraindicated for excess menstrual flow and during painful menstrual cramps.

For the rest of us, to learn to appreciate bitter is to return to a more balanced physiology and psychology. Try a little bitter in the diet. It’s good for you!

Image © American College President Dorene Petersen (2001).

*Note the ideas and opinions expressed within this post have been provided for educational purposes only and do not necessarily express the ideas and/or opinions of the American College of Healthcare Sciences. This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. Always consult with your primary care physician, naturopathic doctor, or Registered Herbalist before making any significant changes to your health routine.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Natural Medicine Cabinet: How Healthy Eating Supports Brain Health

Did you know that the human brain shrinks and becomes less "nimble" in old age? Though not entirely avoidable, we may be able to slow the process, according to a new Oregon study. How? Healthy food!

A study from Oregon Health Science University and Oregon State University has, "identified mixtures of nutrients that seem to protect the brain, and other food ingredients that may worsen brain shrinkage and cognitive decline," as reported in the December 28 Oregonian article"Some diets protect aging brains, others accelerate harm, Oregon study suggests."[1]

Diets high in trans fats (in general, foods high in trans fats can include baked goods, chips, crackers, dips, and spreads), "stood out as posing the most significant risk for brain shrinkage and loss of mental agility."

Older adults whose diets included ample amounts of vitamins B, C, D, and E "consistently scored better on tests of mental performance and showed less brain shrinkage than peers with lesser intake of those nutrients." (In general, foods high in vitamins B, C, D, and E include green, leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, oily fish, fish oils, nuts, and seeds.)

Another great reason healthy nutrition is our natural medicine cabinet!

Which foods are "must-have" in your kitchen? Spinach? Kale? Fresh, seasonal fruits?

Rojas-Burke, J. (2011, Dec 28). Some diets protect aging brains, others accelerate harm, Oregon study suggests. The Oregonian. Retrieved from

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Herb Spotlight: Plai ( Zingiber cassumunar) may be a useful support for pain relief

BY Allen Akiu, ACHS Diploma in Aromatherapy Student

Pharmaceutical companies have long sought a solution for the millions of Americans suffering from pain and inflammation, arthritis in particular. Cyclooxygenase-2 (Cox-2) inhibitors bought the needed relief for the masses with acute and chronic pain. Celebrex is the only remaining Cox-2 inhibiting drug available in the U.S. Vioxx and Bextra were pulled off the market by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for their high risks of stroke, heart attack, and to a lesser extent, gastrointestinal bleeding (from ulcers) [1]. Celebrex still carries the same but lower risks and is significantly weaker in strength. Because of supply and demand, the cost is high.

The essential oil of plai (Zingiber cassumunar, Roxburgh) is known for its superior analgesic and anti-inflammatory actions[2]. It is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) but differs from its kin because of the presence of two constituents, (E)-1-(3,4 dimethoxyphenyl) but-1-ene and (E)-1-(3,4 dimethoxyphenyl) butadiene (DMPBD). In addition, plai has a cooling effect, rather than warming.

This powerful natural pain reliever and anti-inflammatory agent has limited studies confirming the inhibition of inflammatory pathways without any side effects.

Its warm, green, peppery aroma has a hint of eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) and can be mixed with other essential oils for increased synergies and enhanced aromas.

Plai also contains cassumunarin, which is a powerful antioxidant[3]. It has antiviral, antiseptic, and antibacterial properties as well[4]. It balances the digestive, respiratory, and immune systems nicely and should definitely be the subject of extensive research.

1. Solomon, D.H., MD, MPH. (2011, Nov 2). Patient information: Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Retrieved from
Ozaki Y, Kawahara N, Harada M. (1991). Anti-inflammatory effect of Zingiber cassumunar Roxb. and its active principles. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo), 39(9):2353-6. Retrieved from
Nakatani N.(2000). Phenolic antioxidants from herbs and spices. Biofactors, 13(1-4):141-6. Retrieved from
4. Pithayanukul P, Tubprasert J, Wuthi-Udomlert M. (2007). In vitro antimicrobial activity of Zingiber cassumunar (Plai) oil and a 5% Plai oil gel. Phytother Res., 21(2):164-9. Retrieved from

*Note the ideas and opinions expressed have been provided for educational purposes only and do not necessarily express the ideas and/or opinions of the American College of Healthcare Sciences. This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. For further information, consult with a Registered Aromatherapist (RA).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Seasonal Aromatherapy: How to Use Essential Oil of Juniper

Looking for that quintessential herbaceous winter smell without the aid of synthetic room sprays? Look no further! Essential oil of juniper (Juniper communis), distilled from the plant's berries, has a fresh, balsamic aroma reminiscent of holiday greens. Blend with oils like cedar, citrus, cypress, lavender, and pine for a natural, aromatic room spray.

To prepare an aromatic room spray, first create your essential oil blend (also called an aroma concentrate). Then, add 10 drops of your blend to 10 ml of alcohol, Everclear, or vodka. Blend together in a bottle and shake. It's great for freshening potpourri, diffusing throughout your home, or using as a body spray.

To make a 2 oz room or body spray, mix 60 drops of your essential oil blend with 2 oz of distilled water or witch hazel hydrosol. Shake well. Spray upward into the air and walk underneath. If the aroma is not strong enough, add more concentrate in 5 drop increments and test it again.

How do you use juniper essential oil? Have a blend to share? Feel free to post your aromatherapy recipes here!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Scoop on Plastic: 5 Surprise Things You Can Recycle

Most of us have a Recycling 101 education. We know to separate the paper from the glass and to check the bottom of containers for the recyclable triangle and its number. In general, the lower the number, the easier an item is to recycle (you should always check to see what can and can't be recycled in your area).

But what about all those plastic items that don't come from kitchen consumption? Here are 5 plastic things you should recycle, but perhaps didn't know you could[1]:
  1. Glasses: Local organizations, like the Lions Club, collect glasses for people in need.
  2. Packaging: Some pack-and-ship stores accept donations of packing peanuts and bubble wrap.
  3. Telephones: In some areas, local public libraries run cell phone collections. The organization Protect also collects and refurbishes cell phones for domestic violence victims.
  4. Pantyhose and Tights: The company No Nonsense collects all worn pantyhose, tights, and similar products to be recycled into other things.
  5. Computers and Electronics: There are many small organizations that accept used electronics for recycling. Just make sure they are responsible with the material. In Portland, Free Geek recycles electronics via a job skills and community service program. Local Best Buy stores will also accept many electronics.
Are you a master recycler? What's the #1 thing we all need to know about recycling? Post your best tips here!

[1] This information is summarized from: Green American. (2011). 20 Plastic Things You Didn't Know You Could Recycle. Green American Magazine, 86: 17.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

ACHS President Dorene Petersen Interviews Aromatherapy Certificate Graduate Julie Hockley

Love aromatherapy? Wondering how best to use your aromatherapy training? Working one-on-one with clients can be very rewarding, but it's just one direction your career path can take. Have you considered opening a store, preparing products for farmer's markets, or integrating your aromatherapy training with a business or career you're already working at?

Check out this video with American College President Dorene Petersen and Aromatherapy Certificate Graduate Julie Hockley -- Julie shares a lot of great information about how she plans to use her aromatherapy training to meet her goals (and the benefits of studying online!):

Have questions for Dorene or Julie? Feel free to post them here! We look forward to reading your comments.

You can learn more about the ACHS Certificate in Aromatherapy online here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Natural Seasonal and Cold Supports for Kids

Seasonal bugs can be a real bummer, especially for kids on winter break. You want to do something to help them, but what?

Here are some great ideas from American College adjunct instructor Deborah Halvorson, BA, Dip Aroma, RA, which appeared in one of our earlier blog posts, "How to Support Your Kid's Health Naturally."

1. For cold or flu with a fever, Deborah recommends a combination of lemon (Citrus limonum) and marjoram (Origanum marjorana) essential oils. Lemon may help reduce the fever, and marjoram traditionally has been used for respiratory infections and to help with sleep. To use these essential oils, blend 10 drops of lemon with 5 drops of marjoram; then add 1 drop of the blend into a warm bath before bedtime or nap time, or use the blend in a nebulizing diffuser.

2. If your child is experiencing nasal congestion or sinus infection, you can use essential oils with steam inhalation. For children older than 5, use the ratio of 3-5 drops of essential oil to 6 cups of water. To make the inhalation, boil the water and pour into a bowl, and then add the essential oils. Have the child inhale the steam, and be sure to remind them to keep their eyes closed and their face 8-12 inches from the bowl.

To use steam inhalation with children younger than 5, do not have them directly inhale the steam. Rather, place the bowl in the room with the child, and the essential oils will disperse into the air through the steam.

3. If your child is willing to drink tea, a warm tea with honey (no honey for children younger than 12 months) can be soothing and comforting. Deborah recommends lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) for use with fever and to help calm fussy children. For use with coughs and achiness, lemon balm can also be combined with peppermint and chamomile (Matricaria recutita).

For more great ideas, read the original post "How to Support Your Kid's Health Naturally" here.

>>What works best for you and your family? Have a tea recipe the kids will "like"? We'd love to hear from you! Feel free to leave your comments.

*This information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, cure, diagnose, or prevent disease. You should always consult with your primary care physician or naturopathic doctor before making changes to your health and wellness routine. In an emergency situation, call 911.

Friday, December 2, 2011

An Herbal Approach to Winter Wellness

This time of year, there are a lot of germs on the loose. To support your immune system naturally, there are several herbs that are beneficial as part of your herbal medicine cabinet.

In addition to their flavorful and nutritious contributions to daily meals, herbs like garlic, ginger, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme contain essential oils, which have some antibacterial and antiviral activity.

For example, garlic (Allium sativum) can be a useful support for infections and colds, while parsely (Petroselinum crispum) can be a useful support for healthy digestion; it also can be used as an expectorant. Expectorant herbs help loosen chest congestion.

Here are some simple, do-it-yourself herbal recipes you can use to help keep you and your family healthy all winter long.

Garlic Syrup Sore Throat Support
  • 4 cloves garlic (Allium sativum)
  • 4-T honey
Directions: Crush the garlic. Soak the crushed cloves in honey for 2-4 hours. Sip on this honey mixture every 1/2-hour. This is a useful remedy for children who may find the taste of garlic unpleasant.

Ginger Infusion
  • ½-oz ginger (Zingiber officinale) root, cut
  • 1-pt boiling water
Directions: Steep the ginger in the boiling water for 15 to 30 minutes. Lemon and honey can be added. Strain. Use 4-6-T three times a day. Store the infusion in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

>> To learn more about herbal medicine classes from the American College of Healthcare Sciences, visit

>>Which herbs are an essential part of your herbal medicine cabinet? Why? We'd love to hear more about your favorite herbs and feel free to post recipes, too!

Image by Steven Foster. Reproduced under license.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This information has been provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent disease. You should always consult with your primary care physician or naturopathic doctor before making any significant changes to your health routine. For more information about how to use herbs safely, consult with your primary care physician, naturopathic doctor, or Registered Herbalist. In an emergency, call 911.