Health Through Herbs & Natural Healing

Karin C. Uphoff

Holistic Health Blog

Relief for Your Respiratory System

Winter brings us longer nights and shorter days. More time to rest and more time spend indoors as the weather becomes cold and wet. The spaces we inhabit at work, school or home are often closed to proper ventilation, yet filled with the vestiges of whatever heat-source we are using. This ‘personal airspace’ might contain residue (including carbon monoxide) of kerosene or propane, particulate of smoke from a wood-burning stove, or high dust-levels from forced air heating. We are usually more sedentary indoors, so while our lungs are subjected to stagnant indoor air, we are also taking shallow breaths. All of these elements together can weaken our respiratory system and make us more susceptible to illnesses caused by molds/mildew, bacteria and viruses. Are there really more colds and flu viruses during the winter months or are we simply more likely to acquire them, especially if we are sharing this ‘personal airspace’ with others? To counteract this illness-supporting scenario, we need to pay special attention to the health of our lungs, sinuses and lymph system. We must allow them to lay down their burdens so that they continue to function at their best. One of the most important ways to prevent respiratory illness is to breathe deeply of fresh air. Essentially, this can be translated as “go outside and play!” Yes, that’s it, a brisk walk, run, bike ride, cross-country ski in fresh, outdoor air has the greatest benefits to over-all health, even when air-quality is not supreme. Do this for at least 30 minutes 2-4 times a week and you will be doing yourself the favor of expelling particulate...

Take a Breath

Spring is here! What could be better than birdsong, longer daylight hours and fresh air to lift our spirits? If you’ve felt cooped up all winter, the urge to be outside and inhaling the spring air might be stronger than your list of “to-dos”. If so, follow your instincts and step outside to enjoy the gift of life that so many of us take for granted: a deep, easy breath.Every time we take a full breath, drawing air into our nose and letting our lungs fill, we are breathing with every cell in our body. The air we breathe is less than 20% oxygen. Plants release oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis – in fact the biggest producer of oxygen on the planet is sea kelp! The precious oxygen provided with each intake of air is used by the mitochondria in our cells, little ancient lungs themselves, to produce ATP (Adenine triphosphate) – tiny packages of energy that is fuel for our life force. It is this energy produced from each breath that keeps all our cells humming and able to do their work. When we breathe deeply and fully, we produce the energy to live. If we breathe small, shallow breaths (which can easily happen when you are sitting at the computer) than energy levels drop and fatigue sets in. Our lungs have several lobes with plenty of capacity to expand. The exchange of old carbon dioxide that we breathe out for the fresh oxygen we breathe in takes place in capillary beds that cover the surface of our lung sacs – an total area that equals the surface...

The Yoga Of Gardening

I have temporarily stopped teaching my vinyassa-style yoga classes for the summer, and in answer to my student’s questions “but what do we do?” I have written this article on a form of outdoor yoga that also serves as ‘practice’. Summer brings for many of us, longer days to spend more time outdoors doing what we enjoy. For those of us with a love of plants, whether walking in the wilds or at home in the garden, our personal practice becomes being in and amongst them. I call this the yoga of gardening, since yoga is a practice that unites the body-mind and spirit and in that process, introduces you to your true nature. Even if your garden is a collection of potted plants on a patio, most of us can relate to the simple joy and peace that putzing in the garden can bring. If you have a large garden with a list of projects attached, you might enjoy the physical workout of hauling materials, weeding and mulching, which brings a good tired body and a satisfied mind at the end of the day. The magic of the process, however, comes from spending time relating to the natural world and allowing its wisdom and harmony to infiltrate your being. These are some of the asanas of garden yoga that benefit me most. The get-down-and weed asana: This requires being on your hands and knees, but keeping your lower back as straight as possible by squatting or half-squatting and some attention to not straining your neck. Getting down in the dirt and examining the environment of plant communities up-close...

Getting to the Root of Things

This time of year in the western hemisphere, most of our favorite herbs have all but disappeared from view and are hiding out underground. A few of us have disappeared too, even if just socially, enjoying a little ‘down time’ as the cool, dark, rainy weather has us preferring the warm and dry of home. Shifting our activity levels with the change of season helps us adapt to the unfolding of the year and its energy requirements. Even as roots are living off of stored minerals, they are also gathering nourishment and ‘rest’ for the growing season soon to follow and it is a good time for ‘people plants’ to do the same!  In Chinese medicine, winter rules the kidneys and our kidneys and adrenals are like storage roots for our physical energy. These organs usually enjoy a bit of rest in the winter months. Sleeping more (or at least slowing down) and eating root vegetables are a great way to rejuvenate. There are plenty of roots available at your natural foods grocer, including: celery root, turnips, yams, daikon radish, rutabaga, parsnips, sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes), burdock root, beets and carrots. More condiment-type roots available are garlic, ginger, turmeric and horseradish, all of which have powerful medicinal value. Raw garlic is highly antimicrobial, so keeps the cold and flu bugs (and perhaps a few folks) at bay, while cooked garlic serves to clean out arteries and lower cholesterol if you find yourself eating richer, fatty cold-weather foods. Both ginger and turmeric are highly anti-inflammatory and cleansing to the blood, so work well as a team. Ginger is warmer...

Eating like a Locovore

The 21st century offers us many conveniences and one of them is being able to buy nearly any kind of food, any day of the year. The price of this extraordinary convenience is most certainly not reflected in retail cost. The true cost of labor and resource use, packaging, storage, fossil fuel used in shipping, any resultant environmental degradation and global climate change – are most certainly not tallied into the 1.69 lb tomato from Israel, or the 3.00 lb bag of apples from China. The assignment of October as local food month is meant to help bring the true value of our food into better perspective. It’s a perfect time – the time of harvest, of gathering for the winter ahead – of celebrating all the colors of the rainbow in apples, squashes, peppers, eggplants etc. Eating food that was grown in the backyard, by a neighboring farm or within the county used to be the norm, in now takes vigilance and commitment to eat what is grown within a hundred mile radius. Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful book Animal Vegetable Miracle puts it all into perspective when she talks about tons of local tomatoes rotting away because their cousins from California are offered at the supermarket for a lower price (though not at a lower cost in terms of fuel). I highly recommend this entertaining and illuminating book.  Eating locally produced food items not only supports local economies, but on the biochemical level, it makes the most sense for adaptation to life where you live. Plants are constantly responding to environmental cues, so as they adapt to weather and...

Have a Very Berry Summer!

Summer brings the blessing of berries! Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, hawthorn berries, blackberries, loganberries, salal berries, salmon berries, thimble berries and wild huckleberries, also called bilberries. They are fun to pick, easy to buy and packed with vitamins (especially A, E, C and folic acid), minerals (iron, calcium and potassium) and antioxidants like quercetin. In nutritional science, the antioxidant power of foods can be measured and assigned an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) score – berries are at the top! This is because berries are rich in anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are what impart color to many fruits like grapes, plums and most berries. They are part of a group of plant molecules called flavanoids (you know the same ones advertised about red wine and dark chocolate), which are highly antioxidant and scavenge free radicals, protecting us from toxins generated internally and those in our environment. UV light from the sun produces many free radicals on our skin, as it does for plants too. Berries produce anthocyanins to protect their skins from UV damage, and eating berries, passes that protection on to us! How wonderful that such delicious fruit protects our eyes and skin from UV damage, while also helping to repair and strengthen blood vessels, reduce inflammation and build our blood. Berries like bilberries and black currents have flavanoids especially helpful to our eyes and regenerate rhodopsin, our night vision pigment. Berries also affect the bowels! Dried berries, whose tannins are concentrated, can be useful in helping to stop diarrhea, whereas fresh berries, high in water and pectin, while help keep the bowel moving. This is generally true for most fruit...

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