Grassroots Healing, Plant Medicine

Learning to converse with Pain and understand it’s language.

A Primer for the Post-Opioid Age.

 

Friday 26/07/2019

Last night I woke suddenly from a seizure of sleep paralysis that had made me feel trapped inside my own head. My brain felt drained and sore, like the top of my head had come off and everything was leaking out. I’ve had these episodes many, many times before over the last twenty odd years. The nature of the seizure changed about 4 years ago, but now on rare occasions when I’m all together exhausted, stressed-out, dehydrated, and have had sugar, one will come along and render me useless for a day or two. The episode itself is terrifying, exhausting, and traumatic, but the pain afterward is almost unbearable, as my already acute senses are heightened with the shock, only to be then bombarded with every usually inaudible sound around me. Pain is something every human suffers with at some point in their life – whether it is physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual – it hurts, and it makes us stop in our tracks. We either hold our breath hoping it will pass while our body frantically produces endorphins to try and numb it, or we numb it with external aids like drugs, alcohol, or whatever vice we have on hand. At best this just supresses the pain, and the underlying cause waits for the right conditions to align again when it can scream at us and try once more to get our attention. At worst, we continue to numb it and ignore what it’s screaming and end up either addicted to the drugs or with some degenerative and possibly terminal condition, or both.  Some of us are good at ‘relaxing into it’, or ‘breathing into it’, and this is also useful to a degree (it has particular merit during childbirth). But at some point, we just have to sit with it, and to really listen to what it’s actually telling us. Last night, while waiting for the cannabis root balm that I’d applied all over my head to take effect, I did exactly that.

As herbalists, more often than not we prescribe herbs for pain based on the nature of the pain itself – for example if someone presents with cramping in their gut, we may make up a formula with Wild Yam in it – which we call a spasmolytic, because it relaxes the spasms occurring in the gut, to which it has an affinity for. For period pain, we may also prescribe a formula with Crampbark in it – again because as its name suggests, it helps relax spasms and cramping – particularly in the smooth muscle fibres of the uterus. Sometimes we may also prescribe more general anodynes – or pain-relieving herbs – like Jamaican Dogwood, or Willow bark. These are all great and effective, and I use them as well, but we can easily fall into the reductionist trap of ‘here, you have a headache, take this generic pill that I give to everyone with a headache’. In our sometime anxious efforts to relieve the suffering of another, we can sometimes forget to check not only the nature of the pain, but what is actually causing it. Why is the uterus cramping? Why does my head pound at times, yet at other times I have sharp shooting pains radiating through it?

As I was contemplating all of this last night, I realised that the current iatrogenic (man-made) epidemic of opioid addiction, and antibiotic misuse and abuse fed this mindset of prescribing just to numb and supress. If we look at the energetics behind our medicines and the correlating energetics inherent in our physical makeup and the language through which our bodies communicate, both opiates and antibiotics are energetically very cold. Opioid drugs – originally derived from the Opium poppy – are ‘cold in the fourth degree’, according to the ancient Greco-Arabic system of medicine (and across most traditional systems of healing). This ‘cold in the fourth degree’ means that they can sedate someone to the point of death because cold is the absence of heat, or life. This category of medicines should only be used wisely and with great skill, matching with the persons own level of vital reserves. Modern antibiotics are the same energetically – literally the name means ‘anti-life’. So, the flagrant and unskilled use of both of these class of medicines can result in the cold/depression(as in lack of functionality) tissue state. This tissue state then makes a nice environment for opportunistic infections to move in. In the mental sphere, we might equate this with apathy, lack of interest in life, lack of motivation. In this state of apathy, we might lose our ability to discern and so we become more ‘suggestable’ and susceptible to things that in the end, aren’t really in our best interest. Cold is also constricting. In the mental sphere, this can equate with a chronic introspection to the point of narcissism. How well does this tissue state describe our Western culture just now?!

In the practice of holistic herbal medicine, we are in the unique position of having access to a vast materia medica of plants that may not seemingly be related to the nature of the pain itself but can effectively relieve that pain, largely by addressing the underlying cause.The pain, like most symptoms of the body, is the language used by the innate intelligence to tell us and direct us to a more specific and long-lasting remedy. In this regard, we are working with the body, rather than against it or simply ignoring its pleas. Learning to listen to this language, to understand the language of pain in particular, tells us a great deal about what’s actually going on. And, it has a lot to do with the energetics – again something that is peculiar to holistic herbal medicine across all traditions – including the Western tradition. Let me illustrate this concept with the example of processing the language of my own pain.

As I sat with my pain last night and began to listen to it, to really feel it, I felt an ache, a dull but belligerent, all-encompassing draining ache. I instinctively cradled my head in my hands, as if creating a helmet that would hold my brain in. In technical jargon, we might say that my pain was ‘better for pressure’. I reflected on all of the pain that I had suffered through in my life, and for me, it is always relieved by pressure. I began to process why a pain might be ‘better for pressure’, and my thoughts immediately went to the First Aid principle of applying pressure to a bleeding wound. This action not only ‘clamps’ the blood vessel/s effected, but also shunts the now restricted blood flow into the surrounded capillary beds, which can expand up to forty times, thus reducing the flow of blood from the original wound. In the tissue state model, or underlying energetics of the tissues, this free, unrestricted blood flow (in the case above, from an injury), we refer to as damp/relaxation. There is no tone or restriction to hold the blood or the fluid in (until we apply pressure, or an astringent to tighten the tissue, or a circulatory stimulant to diffuse the blood into the surrounding capillary bed). If this damp/relaxation state is left unchecked it can lead to dry/atrophy– or a withered, malnourished state with loss of function. I note that these ‘seizures’ that I have often occur when I am really stressed and dehydrated. Therefore, the pain is worse when dehydrated. Already we can see a pattern; things dry out when there is too much relaxation of the tissue and there is excessive fluid loss that can’t be replenished at the rate that it’s being lost. Instead of just drinking a glass of water, which may help, we also need to address the underlying cause of the relaxed tissue tone. We have a class of herbs here with an Astringent action that work to tone and tighten the tissue, and we also have a class of herbs with Moistening qualities that help to rehydrate the intercellular and intra-cellular fluids throughout the body and help maintain that moisture.

At the same time, as we have damp/relaxation, this can cause pooling in some areas and contribute to damp/stagnation. For example, we often see this manifest as varicose veins. The vein walls lack the tone to effectively allow the blood to move along, and so the vessel may ‘kink’ and the blood begins to pool. The damp/stagnation tissue state can then lead to the cold/depression tissue state because there is no movement. In these tissue states, we need to use herbs that stimulate and move the flow of blood and fluid. These herbs generally also have a very warming quality, thereby returning vital heat to the area. An example of this particular type of pain may be with period pain. The uterus may feel aching and crampy, but also congested and boggy, it feels better for a hot water bottle and a back rub (again, note the need for pressure to diffuse some of that congestion). The cramping is coming from a damp/stagnation and cold/depression tissue state, rather than just spasm. The spasm of the smooth muscle tissue may be seen as a knee-jerk response to these underlying tissue states, as the body tries to create some sort of heat through the movement, as well as responding to a diminished flow of nutrient. We might use ginger here, as a tea, in tincture, or infused in oil and made into a balm to rub onto the abdomen, or added to a nice warm bath.

As our perception of pain is transmitted through nociceptors (or pain sensors) on the end of the nerves, we should be aware that the nerve endings are also influenced by the basic quadrune of life – the meeting point between capillary, extracellular matrix, cell, and lymph vessel. The integrity of this unit, of how well the flow through this inner ocean occurs, I believe reflects the type of pain we feel. For example, if an area of tissue is drying out, the nerve endings here will sense this, and the insulating properties of the myelin sheath will also begin to wither and leave them more exposed and more sensitive. Like a rocky shore at low tide, all of the rocks below the shoreline are now exposed to the elements. They are vulnerable. And over time, as the tides and seasons and climates change, a certain amount of erosion can set in. To me this feels like an ache. One might think a longing of things lost (dry/atrophy – although pain that occurs due to dry/atrophy I find to sometimes also exhibit a sticking like quality, due to a lack of lubrication.), rather than the burning passion of things anticipated – the pain of heat/excitation. The pain of heat/excitation (where there is too much friction or irritation, or too much blood) can be sharp and shooting or tingling, as in nerve pain, when the nerve is either severed or impinged, or pounding and throbbing when the blood is high, thick, and fast. Here I think of a strike of lightning, and the contrast to a hot desert sun beating down relentlessly on hapless explorers. The pain of heat/excitation may also more likely be tender to the touch. In both of these tissue states, we might also see damp/stagnation, or dry/atrophy as contributing factors, although heat/excitation can lead to a literal burning up of the fluids causing dry/atrophy. In the case of heat/excitation, we look to herbs that are cooling, and sedating. Many members of the Rose family find value here.

The last tissue state, which is perhaps partly most familiar, in terms of a general sense of pain, is wind/tension.The wind here denotes symptoms that change suddenly or alternate (such as with the alternating constipation and diarrhoea of Irritable Bowel Syndrome). Tension simply means just that. This is the pain often associated with bloating and gas in the gut. Or a true tension headache after a stressful day at work staring at a computer screen and dealing with uncooperative or demanding colleagues or customers. A pain typifying tension will be one of spasm, as opposed to the tension we create in ourselves when we hold our breath or hold in our emotions. It may also feel stretched, like a guitar string that has been wound too tight, or a belly that has just received a really big meal. It can also arise from the previous tissue states. Oftentimes, wind/tension arises from dry/atrophy as tissues start to dry out and harden or become rigid. For example, recently I supported a woman who needed a knee replacement. The tendon behind the knee that was being replaced was incredibly tight and caused a great deal of pain, in fact it had caused more pain than the actual knee which had, by the time I saw her, become bone on bone! The reason for the knee replacement was due to osteoarthritis, which I assessed was due to the dry/atrophy tissue state, caused largely by damp/relaxation and wind/tension (according to her constitutional pattern and an extensive case history). I gave Solomon’s Seal – a moistening herb that relaxes or tones tendons as needed, and she was able to find great relief, to the point where she noticed a difference when she had run out and needed another bottle. Her recovery from the knee replacement operation was also notably quicker than usual. However, generally speaking in this wind/tension type of pain, we do rely heavily on herbs with direct relaxing qualities, or herbs that directly affect the nerves.

In all of this ‘pain language’ of the six tissue states, we also want to juxtapose it with our individual constitution, as I described in the case above. We may have a tendency to lean in a particular energetic or elemental direction, and this may determine the way we perceive the pain and how it manifests. For example, I am a typically cold person, leaning toward dryness and nervous tension. In the Ayurvedic tridoshic system, I am predominantly Vata (a combination of the elements of air and aether/space). So, my pain will more often than not come from an underlying cold, dry condition. I need warming, moistening, astringent, and nerve nourishing herbs, that are also grounding. Currently, I am taking a formula that I made consisting of:

Agrimony (astringent, relaxing) – my constitutional remedy, Wood betony (circulatory stimulant to the brain, grounding, protective, astringent, relaxing), Skullcap (nerve nourishing, relaxing), Milky Oats (moistening, nerve nutrient), Sage (warming astringent, balances fluids, help assimilate the essential fats).

I also drink a chai or a Tulsi (relaxing, warming, adaptogen) tea with ginger (moistening, warming) every day. And once or twice/week I drink a cold infusion of marshmallow root, which is deeply hydrating. Because hydration should also include how well we use oils in our body, I usually eat a lot of good quality fats and use sesame oil on my skin. For acute situations like last night’s experience, we still want to match the acute remedy with what’s going on (e.g: when some women instinctively reach for the hot water bottle)I used cannabis root infused in olive oil and made into a balm because 1.) it is warming, 2.) it is anti-inflammatory and 3.) it does have relatively immediate analgesic and anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) and sedating properties, and 4) when infused in oil it also takes on the moistening and nerve-insulating properties of the oil.

When we consider pain, not only do we look at the tissue state, the overall constitution, the type of pain itself, but we also consider its: a) Onset – was it the result of an injury? (here we would consider first aid herbs for bruising and wound management, and if it began with an injury then it’s wise to give the herb we would have given at that time), when did it begin? What was happening in our life at the time? (In the example of my situation, I could see that I had been under a fair bit of stress, and had too many late nights, and wasn’t keeping up my hydration levels); b) Palliation/Provoke– that is, is there anything that makes it better (eg: pressure, warmth), or worse (eg: dehydration, stress, cold, touch, etc); c) Quality– what does the pain actually feel like (dull ache, sharp or shooting, congested, hot, cold, throbbing, tight, etc?); d) Radiates– where is the pain actually and does it radiate or travel anywhere else? This tells us a lot about the tissues, organs, or systems effected and helps us choose herbs that have an affinity for these particular areas. For example, this is quite evident with gallstone colic. Gallstones can form due to a number of reasons, such as congestion in the liver, heat in the liver, tension in the ducts, or drying out, and inactivity (remember the six tissue states?). Gallstones caused by dryness (due to too much heat in the liver) can be seen manifested in dry skin and hair throughout the body, and particularly if the skin of the right temple feels a bit rough like fine sandpaper. The pain associated with this may radiate from the area up through the back between the shoulder blades and over the head to the right temple. In this situation we need to cool and decongest the liver, and rehydrate the tissues; e) Severity– how severe or debilitating is the pain on a scale of 1 (mild) to 10 (extreme torture)? This tells us how much the area is affected, as well as providing a good way to measure how effective our treatment is; f) Timing– when, how often, and how long does the pain occur? Does the pain occur at various times of the day? After eating? Is it effected by seasonal changes, or changes in position, movement etc? This can help us determine if the pain is due to allergies or intolerances, as well as contributing food, lifestyle, or environmental factors; g) Concomitant symptoms– what else is going on with the pain? Constipation or diarrhoea, nausea, excessive or scanty urination, bleeding, etc?

Asking good questions and making observation of how we also instinctively respond to the pain (amongst our general observations of the complexion and feel of the skin, looking at the tongue, the eyes, and feeling the pulse) can give us a tremendous amount of useful information for not only being able to understand what the body is trying to tell us about its interior health status, it can also point us to selecting very specific remedies and treatment plans.

The formula that I made for myself, listed previously, will not look like a formula I might make for someone else because I’ve formulated it for my specific needs. None of the herbs I’ve used are specifically pain-relieving. This is the beauty of herbal medicine, that we can really make our remedies specific, not just for the pain but for the person as a whole, and sometimes we don’t need to use blanket pain-relieving herbs at all. Even our acute remedies can be more specific than “here, take a neurofen”. When we combine this with sound dietary and lifestyle habits (something which I fell back on and thus suffered for last night), we can affect positive, lasting change.

To summarise the flow of thought that I’ve written above, I’ve put together a simple chart highlighting the tissue states, the types of pain that may be felt arising from each one, the various virtues that we look for in herbs to remedy these, and some examples of these herbs. It is certainly not a comprehensive chart, just a quick overview to show that we have a range of herbs at our service to help with pain that speaks to us from a multitude of reasons. We might also consider herbs specific for nerve pain itself (sharp, shooting, tingling) such as Saint John’s Wort and Prickly Ash, as well as nervines (herbs that act specifically on the nervous system) for supporting the stress of living with chronic pain. These herbs not only include the more sedative herbs like passionflower, skullcap, and lavender but also adaptogenic herbs (herbs that help the body recover from and handle chronic stress) such as Ashwagandha, Tulsi, Eleuthero, and Reishi.

I hope that in my dull-ached and semi-functional ramblings I have been able to encourage you to see a way beyond the current opioid crisis and the modern view that nothing else can be done. Plenty can be done to alleviate people’s pain! We just need to learn to listen and take a wider view. If you are suffering from pain and would like to explore this way of approaching it, I encourage you to visit a herbalist to help you J

 

Tissue State Types of pain that may typify this. Medicinal Virtues Needed. Examples of herbs.
Heat/Excitation Hot, tender, throbbing, pounding, burning, sharp, shooting, intense. Cooling

Sedative

Rose

Hawthorn(cardiovascular)

Linden flower

Peach leaf

Chamomile

Yarrow

Lemon balm

Lavender

Peppermint

Passionflower

Catnip

California poppy

Yellow dock

 

Cold/Depression Dull, sometimes pins and needles type pain. Stimulating, warming. Ginger

Rosemary

Prickly Ash

Saint Johns Wort

Cayenne

Cinnamon

 

Damp/Relaxation Ache, sometimes a bearing down pain, can lead to spasm and twitch. Astringent (tightening and toning). Agrimony

Raspberry leaf

Blackberry leaf

Herb Robert

Ladies Mantle

Yarrow

Sage

Damp/Stagnation Congested, boggy, full, sometimes bearing down, sometimes dull and achey especially after sleep. Can be inflamed. Stimulant, warming, diffusive, circulatory stimulants, alteratives/blood cleansers, cooling diuretics (if hot and inflamed). Cayenne

Ginger

Black pepper

Prickly Ash

Rosemary

Turmeric

Cinnamon

Yarrow

Angelica

Celery seed.

Nettle

Yellow dock

Cleavers

Dry/Atrophy Sticking, crackling, stiff, a pressure type pain as tissue rubs against other tissue with no lubrication in between. Demulcent/moistening, emollient (softening and moistening) Solomon’s Seal

Marshmallow

Slippery elm

Violet

Red clover

Burdock

Liquorice

Wind/Tension Changes suddenly or may come and go, spasm, cramp, tight, stretched, tension, twisted and unable to relax. Relaxing, nerve nourishing, carminative. Agrimony

Wild Yam

Chamomile

Ginger

Fennel

Crampbark

Magnesium salts

Cimicifuga

Valerian

 

Many Blessings,

Michelle x

 

 

Grassroots Healing, Plant Medicine

Season’s Greetings

Some Practical Solutions for Living in a Sunburnt Country

 

I love a sunburnt country

A land of sweeping plains

Of rugged mountain ranges

Of droughts and flooding rains…

 

Here begins Dorothea Mackellar’s iconic poem about Australia, My Country. Many years and thousands of kilometres traversing this vast land after reading this poem in primary school, I now have a deep appreciation for Ms Mackellar’s sentiments. I love this sunburnt country. I love its contrasts, the everchanging landscape a familiar companion and a constant fascination on my travels. And we are such a land of contrasts. Last week, we saw half of Queensland ravaged by searing heat and wildfires that are still blazing (I hear there are some cyclones on the way now as well), we had two months-worth of rain here in New South Wales within a matter of 36 hours, and it snowed in parts of Victoria. For the course of 2018 the whole of NSW has been gripped by drought (Have we ever had a time without drought somewhere in this country?). Each year, the States seem to rotate these patterns. A few years ago, most of QLD was underwater, while NSW and Victoria were on fire, and South Australia was windswept off the map.

We believe in giving everyone a ‘fair go’.

The current narrative says that this is due to Climate Change, but the climate has always been changing and often in a big way – especially here. Climate as far as I know isn’t really a static thing. It responds to that turning of the great wheel of the heavens like we all do. Maybe now with all those satellites weaving in and out of that wheel, we just have better media coverage, and whoever owns the biggest satellite wins the narrative.

Nevertheless, the wheel turns once more, and we find ourselves in the season of the big Hot Dry, the big Hot Windy, or the big Hot Wet, depending on where in the country you live. If you live in Victoria, you might get a bit of Cold Wet blown on you as well, but I guess that’s because you’re the Progressive State and why not.

The ‘climate’ of our bodies also changes according the seasons. In the folk wisdom of the Southern states of the USA, (referred to as Southern Folk Medicine) this change was recognised in the quality of the blood.

“The blood types described by Phyllis [Light]…tend to be constitutional, or innate to the person, or perhaps acquired after a major shift in health. They can temporarily change with the seasons, aging, a bad day or a good day, and other influences, but Southern folk medicine has a second group of blood types that are associated directly with the seasons and with aging. I call this group the “seasons of the blood”.

….It is said that just as the sap rises in the trees in summer, and falls to the roots in winter, so too does the blood rise and fall. But there is more to it than that: The sap of summer is higher, thinner, faster flowing, cleaner, and warmer, while the sap in the winter is lower, thicker, slower, dirtier, and cooler.

…There is an additional reason why it is appropriate to refer to this group under “seasons of the blood’. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when white settlers were moving into the interior of North America, dispossessing the Indian people and bringing enslaved Afro-Americans with them, the doctrine of “seasoning” was well established. This was the idea that it was too hard on most constitutions to move rapidly from North to South, or hot to cold. ….Phyllis points out that even the Federal Army, during the Civil War, had policies on seasoning….And even today troops are exercised in Texas or dry areas before being deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

This idea survives in several old expressions. We speak of “seasoned troops.” Also, a person will say, “I have thin blood,” meaning they can take hot weather. The blood actually is thinner – the prostaglandins shift the viscosity of the blood – in people acclimatized to hot weather.”

(Matthew Wood. Ch.7/Southern Folk Medicine. Seasons of the Blood. Wood, M; Bonaldo, F; Light, Phyllis D. Traditional Western Herbalism and Pulse Evaluation: A Conversation.)

 

In Ayurveda – developed and practiced over thousands of years, it is recognized that the body responds to the changing seasons. In that tradition, short cleanses are recommended around the time of the equinox and solstice to help the body to adjust and acclimatize to the new season.

We can also ‘season” ourselves by matching the energetics of the season with the energetics of our lifestyle, our food, and our herbal allies.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do when preparing for the heat (either dry or wet or windy, it will still drain you) ahead is to ensure that we are adequately hydrated.  I’ve written about the importance of hydration in my soon-coming book Luminous Immunity: An Elemental Paradigm. So because I’m feeling lazy yet generous, here’s another tantalizing excerpt;

“You’ve probably heard it said that we are made up of around 60 – 75% water. Water itself is such a critical element to our body and to our mind. We can survive for 4-6 weeks without food, but only a few days without water, unless we have supernatural help. It forms the basis of our inner ocean, comprising around 10% of our bodyweight in interstitial fluid (the Extra-Cellular Matrix) that surrounds the cells and includes the lymph, the cerebrospinal fluid, and our cartilage. 4% of our bodyweight is found in the blood plasma. The fluid within the cells (intracellular fluid) makes up around 33% of our body weight. And then there is more water found throughout the body in our various tissues. The balance of all is this fluid is critical and the amount of fluid lost (through our elimination processes) should ideally equal the amount of fluid taken into the body. When any water is lost, the electrolyte balance is disturbed and the body needs to recalibrate through various endocrine mechanisms, and once again we can see how even though water in the body is perhaps the main vehicle of life, it’s quantity and quality can also be adversely affected by any disturbances to the other systems, which are in turn affected by the state of the water in the body. Can we see that our bodies don’t work in isolated compartments?

Let’s take a brief look at the function of water in the body;

*  the water-based platform of the extracellular matrix and the fluid inside the cell is where most cellular activities take place.

*  nutrient and waste material are carried through this medium.

*  minerals and many vitamins (such as the B vitamins and vitamin C) are soluble in, and therefore easily absorbed via water.

*  the various secretions, their enzymes and co-factors require water as their base.

*  fluid balance regulates body temperature.

*  provides shape to the body and a more youthful appearance.

*  purification of wastes occurs in a water medium and allows it to be effectively eliminated from the water via urine, sweat, tears, and stools.

*  gives volume to the blood and plasma and allows it to move throughout the entire body.

*  it also helps lubricate the body via various secretions.

Dehydration is pretty serious, and it is said that by the time you actually feel thirsty then dehydration is already occurring. Dehydration puts stress on the body. The blood becomes thick and sticky and blood pressure increases, lymph becomes congested, and as a result the organs of elimination slow down, and we may experience constipation, dark and scanty urine, an inability to sweat, and dry eyes. Mucous becomes more sticky, and congested. Our skin dries out and we develop fine lines and wrinkles, our hair becomes brittle and thins, our nails weak and breaking. We feel lethargic, drowsy, weak, and unmotivated, our thinking is dull and foggy. We may experience burning sensations and faintness.

Many people confuse thirst and hunger and eat when they should be drinking. And many people suffer chronic dehydration and aren’t aware of it. In his book ‘ Your Body’s Many Cries For Water, Dr Batmanghelidj, M.D outlines how chronic dehydration is one of, if not the leading cause of chronic disease in the world, simply because it is so vital to all processes of life.13 Ironically, your body holds on to water the more dehydrated it becomes in order to dilute the waste material that really isn’t going anywhere. We can also add oedema and water retention to the list of things that not getting enough water can result in.

So how much water do we need, where do we get it, and when should we drink it? According to Dr Batmanghelidj, you need to drink half your bodyweight in fluid ounces as the baseline for what your body needs. if you exercise or the weather is hot, then you’ll need more to compensate for the loss in sweat. For example, if I weigh 65kg (which is 143.3 lbs), then I’d need to drink 71.65 ounces or 2218 mls (2.1 litres) per day as my baseline. If I eat a lot of juicy fruit, which contains pure water, and I drink herbal teas or cook my veggies or rice in water and consume that water as well, then this would meet some of this requirement. Beverages such as coffee, tea, and alcohol are all diuretics, meaning they make you urinate more. Therefore, for each cup consumed, you’d need to drink a cup of water to make up for the loss.  

The type of water we drink is also important. Most municipal tap water has had chlorine, chloramines, and fluoride added to it during treatment, as well as other chemicals depending on whether the water is ‘soft’ or ‘hard’. These chemicals may clean the water to some extent, but they don’t neutralise or filter out trace pharmaceuticals, certain toxic chemicals like persistent organic pollutants (POPs), E.coli, giardia, and other bacterium and viruses, microplastics, and trihalomethanes14 . The chlorines increase the risk of respiratory conditions such as asthma, and their by-product creates trihalomethanes which have been found to be carcinogenic.

Although the body needs fluoride for healthy teeth and bones, it is in trace amounts and a completely different form, usually coupled with calcium. The fluoride added to tap water is an industrial by-product and is not useable by the body. Instead it is accumulative in the tissues. It competes with iodine and blocks it’s uptake by the thyroid, and thus also contributes to brittle bones and osteoporosis, arthritis, brittle and discoloured teeth, cancer, heart disease, and lower IQ and learning difficulties.

This is obviously not the ideal water to drink. Bottled water is often dubiously sourced, overpriced, and is sold in plastic single-use bottles which leach xenoestrogens and other hormone disruptors. Perhaps the best water is that collected in a glass vessel from a fresh, pristine mountain spring.15 The next best source would be rainwater you’ve collected yourself and then filtered, assuming you don’t live under a flight path or in the middle of the city. Some people use reverse osmosis filtration systems, others use UV or ozone filtration. Others distil their water in order to purify it. Most of these systems require electricity, or more water input for what you get out of it.

After much research, I found the most economical filter system for drinking water is a gravity fed Berkey Water Filter16. It consists of two stainless steel chambers which contain two-four carbon filters and then two fluoride filters underneath (if needed). It comes in a range of sizes depending on your requirements. No electricity is required, and if you fill it with 12 litres of water, then 12 litres will come out, minus a few grams of impurities.

According to Ayurveda, there are some simple yet profound guidelines on how to drink water, because how we drink also impacts our health. The ancients recommended that water should be drunk at room temperature or warm. On rising in the morning, drinking a glass of warm water with a squeeze of lemon before doing anything else encourages the lymphatic channels in the gut to open and begin to move and flush out waste material, and in doing so, regulates the bowels. It is also suggested to sip rather than take great gulps of water throughout the day. Sipping warm or hot water while eating is also said to aid digestion, clean the mouth and the palate, and enhance taste.18 “

Ironically, people who are constitutionally dry find it difficult to rehydrate simply by drinking more water. It’s like a downpour of rain on land that is impoverished and has been parched for a very long time. The water doesn’t seep into friable soil, instead it turns the deadpan clay on the surface to mud and simply runs off to pool somewhere and evaporate when the rain ceases. With the chronically dry person, the most effective way to rehydrate that I have found is to re-mineralise the body along with drinking water at room temperature (as described above) and using herbs and foods that also have moistening qualities. This three-pronged approach allows the water to be absorbed and to be utilised effectively.

Most people, whether chronically dry or not, are depleted in minerals due to our impoverished soils destroyed by monocropping (devoting vast swathes of land to just producing one type of crop – also known as the fastest way to create a desert.) The food we eat is therefore also devoid of these essential minerals, and the food most people eat is also often highly-processed and high in sodium. This means that we retain water, particularly if we are dry, but the water we retain is largely unusable. At best, it helps us to continue functioning but at sub-optimal levels, just like agricultural inputs of Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potassium. It allows the land to produce a crop, but it’s end-product nutrition is sub-optimal.

My main recommendations to help people re-mineralise are colloidal trace minerals rich in humic and fulvic acids (which also create friable, fertile soil), and sea vegetables such as kelp, nori, wakame, and dulse.  These provide a full complement of the 92+ trace minerals and electrolytes that our body needs to function at optimal levels. This remineralisation also creates the electrical charge within the watery medium needed to absorb and use water effectively, and so we become adequately hydrated ready for our blood and the rest of our body to adapt to the changing climate. Replacing minerals is also essential in the heat as we lose a lot through our sweat and normal processes of elimination.

Herbs such as Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) and Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) are cooling and moistening. The leaves of any mallow species also exhibit these energetic qualities and can be used, but I like making a cold infusion of Marshmallow root to help cool and rehydrate during the hot and dry season. A cold infusion is prepared by simply taking a teaspoon of dried marshmallow root and adding it to a mason jar filled with 1 litre of water. Let infuse overnight, and it can be placed in the fridge and sipped on throughout the day if the weather is particularly hot or sipped at room temperature if you are chronically dry. The marshmallow has a sweet to neutral taste, meaning that it also imparts a nourishing quality to the tissues. If you don’t have marshmallow growing near you, or can’t obtain the root, other species within the same family can be used – such as the leaves of Malva neglecta or Malva sylvestris (Common mallow), or even Hollyhock leaves and flowers. Marshmallow root infusion is also particularly beneficial for soothing and moistening the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract when there are bushfires around and the air is filled with smoke, or the hot dry winds have blown in dust from across the desert. Most reputable health food shops should stock marshmallow root, which would be a good addition to the first aid kit.

I’ve noticed that Aloe vera or related species such as Candelabra Aloe are more commonly grown in Australian gardens than Marshmallow, and these are a good substitute for marshmallow and can be used to effectively rehydrate a person as well.  Simply cut off a good-sized plump leaf, fillet it like some people fillet a fish, cut out the gel and infuse that in cold water, and it will help to rehydrate you (you can also leave the whole leaf intact without filleting it, but be sure to drain the bitter yellow latex out first). It is also particularly useful for sunburn, and other burns. And if planted around the house with other succulent species (such as Houseleek – Sempervivum tectorum on your roof) can protect your house in the case of bushfire. If you have the dreaded Prickly Pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) growing around you, its yellow flowers infused in cold water are also cooling and moistening and make an excellent syrupy infusion used for hot, dry, and irritated mucous membranes (including hot, dry, irritated coughs). The filleted pads themselves are cooling and moistening and can be used in much the same way as Aloe vera (just be sure to use gloves when handling and remove the spines and glochids – the small hair-like spines).

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Foods such as cucumber and watermelon are also cooling and moistening and improves hydration. Cucumber makes a refreshing juice and if you juice it with the skin on, you receive the hydrating benefit of its silica content as well. Watermelon seeds and rind can also be eaten (or juiced to make it easier) to enhance remineralisation.

Speaking of foods, it’s amazing that the foods we need for our bodies to cope with the seasons will often grow and ripen in that season. For example, the stone fruits which ripen at the height of summer, are cooling and moistening. We think of juicy peaches, plums, and apricots. Peach leaf is specifically used in herbal medicine for hot, inflamed and irritated conditions as seen by a carmine red & pointed tongue. Mangoes are my favourite. They are also cooling, moistening, juicy, and nourishing. The berry fruits such as blackberries, raspberries, cherries, and blueberries are sour (or sour/sweet) and astringent. These are cooling and drying, and people in hot and wet (humid) areas may find them very refreshing. The rich colour pigments of the Hot season fruits show high anti-oxidant activity, meaning that they are beneficial for protecting our skin from sun-damage and nourishing our body’s immune system for the challenges of this season as a whole.

When approached with wisdom, the sun is vital to our health, but unfortunately, it’s inevitable that most of us will experience a bit of sunburn during the Hot season, and so methods to bring quick relief and effective healing should be known. Fresh aloe vera gel, prickly pear gel, rose petal and lavender infused apple cider vinegar are all cooling and soothing for these and other burns. The rose petal & lavender infused vinegar is also useful for the burning itch of mosquito bites and midgie bites on balmy or sultry summer evenings. To make this cooling vinegar (which is also good for calming red, hot, inflamed teenage acne), simply fill a jar with dried organic rose petals and lavender flowers and then pour raw apple cider vinegar over until the flowers are covered and the jar is full. Screw on a lid and let it infuse for 2-4 weeks before straining and using. Dab on the affected areas with a cotton ball or cloth soaked in the solution.

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These are just some suggestions for helping to prepare for and adapt to the season ahead of us. I hope you find them useful.

 

Many Blessings,

Michelle.