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Archive for November 25, 2010

Witch Hazel: Unnerving Name, Fantastic Health Benefits to You … and an Interesting Background

Witch Hazel: Unnerving Name, Fantastic Health Benefits to You … and an Interesting Background

The witch hazel that we’re most familiar with in the U.S. usually comes in liquid form and, for many, conjures up images of a magic potion used to cure ailments or cast a spell. Others may simply know it as that stuff that’s been sitting in grandma’s medicine cabinet for years.

Witch hazel’s many medicinal uses are quite real, however, and it is actually from a small shrub or tree found in Asia and several regions in the United States.

Witch Hazel

The flowers of the witch hazel tree can roll up their petals so they aren’t harmed during a frost.

According to Harvard University, the early American colonists believed the branches of this tree could be used as divining rods, which are basically sticks used to search for underground water or minerals. A forked stick was usually used, and when it was held over ground that contained water or a desired mineral, the stem supposedly pulled downward. The old English word for pliable branches is “wych,” which may be the real (though slightly less fun) reason why this member of the hazel family of plants is called “witch hazel” today.

The Medicinal Benefits of Witch Hazel

Witch hazel has long been used to treat eye inflammations, hemorrhoids, bites, stings and skin sores, diarrhea and dysentery, and a number of other conditions, according to Steven Foster, an author, photographer and consultant specializing in medicinal and aromatic plants.

Native Americans used it in poultices for swellings and tumors, and herbalists consider it to be one of the best plants to slow bleeding, both internally and externally.

Witch hazel can be used in a number of different ways:

  • Taken as a tea, it can help to slow internal bleeding.
  • As a liquid, it can be dabbed onto bruises, insect bites, sunburn, minor burns, poison ivy, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, stiff muscles, blemishes and more to relieve pain.
  • It can be applied as an aftershave.
  • It can even help to reduce bags and puffiness around the eyes by letting a cotton pad soaked in the fluid rest on your closed eyelids for 10 minutes.
Witch Hazel Tree

Would you be able to spot a witch hazel tree in your neighborhood?

The most common form of witch hazel used in the United States today is witch hazel water, a mixture of the plant extract with alcohol added. An extract of pure witch hazel is also used as an astringent ingredient in many toiletry products. Natural witch hazel is a key ingredient in these five products that are highly recommended by and offered through

  • BlueStop Max Arthritis Pain Gel: The witch hazel, sulfur and cetylated fatty acids in this gel provide you with a natural, proven topical that will relieve your pain in minutes.
  • Desert Essence Blemish Touch Stick: A special formulation of 11 natural essential oils formulated to promote clear, healthy-looking skin, this convenient stick can be used daily on acne-prone skin.
  • Desert Essence Natural Cleansing Pads: These pads do an EXCEPTIONAL job of improving the texture, radiance and clarity of your skin.
  • Logona Hamamelis Day Cream: This cream hydrates your skin with a balancing combination of delicate botanical oils and soothing, energizing extracts including witch hazel, mallow and chamomile.
  • Logona Hamamelis Night Cream: This light, balancing formula is made with mild botanical oils, witch hazel and mallow to naturally balance both your skin’s oil and moisture needs. It’s an overnight treatment made especially for your combination skin.

How does this plant work? Witch hazel contains active compounds such as flavonoids, tannins, small amounts of volatile oil and other components that likely are responsible for its astringent and anti-bleeding effects.

Let Witch Hazel Work it’s Magic on Your Skin With Desert Essence Natural Cleansing Pads

Desert Essence Natural Cleansing PadsThese convenient pads can be used any time of day to give your skin a quick pick-me-up.

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  • No detergents, artificial colors or synthetic perfumes
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  • Used regularly, Desert Essence Cleansing Pads will improve the texture, radiance and clarity of your skin.
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Even More Reason to Give Witch Hazel a Try

Several studies have found that witch hazel may be useful for much more than blemishes and burns. A particular form of extract may be useful in fighting the herpes virus, due to its potent anti-viral effects, and was found to be a powerful inflammation reducer.

Further, witch hazel has antioxidant properties and has been confirmed to be protective against radiation damage. Japanese researchers even suggested that witch hazel be studied for its potential uses in anti-aging and anti-wrinkle products.

So don’t let the name scare you. Take advantage of this natural plant extract that’s been around for hundreds of years, and discover your favorite uses for this “magic potion.”


Edible Flowers: 20 of the Tastiest and Most Versatile

Edible Flowers: 20 of the Tastiest and Most Versatile

Flowers have been used as a delicate food among many cultures for thousands of years. Romans commonly used violets in their dishes, Hispanic cultures ate stuffed squash blossoms, Asian Indians used rose petals, and the French liqueur Chartreuse contains carnation petals.

Edible flowers are gaining popularity in restaurants, but you can use them at home, too.

Today, edible flowers are usually reserved for chic restaurants and wedding cakes, not your typical meal at home. But, edible flowers can be quite tasty, and they make a welcome addition raw in salads, cooked with an appetizer or main course, infused into sauces or added to desserts.

Because edible flowers are so delicate, they don’t keep well in the refrigerator (if you must store them, put them between two moist paper towels, wrap the package in plastic wrap, the put it in the fridge). Instead, they’re best cooked as soon as you get them home, after carefully rinsing them in cold water.

Edible flowers can be found at gourmet food shops, specialty markets and farmers’ markets (or in your own backyard, if you grow them). You should not eat flowers from a florist or that you pick on the side of the road, as they may have been treated with pesticides (nor should you eat flowers you’ve grown if you’ve treated them with pesticides). Generally speaking, only the petals of the flower (not the stems, pistil or leaves) should be eaten (and avoid eating flowers if you have allergies, as they could aggravate your symptoms).

If, like many Americans, you’re not sure where to start when it comes to edible flowers, here’s a great primer of 20 tasty, edible flowers you can incorporate into your meals.

Bee Balm petals

Bee Balm petals taste like oregano and mint, and make a great substitute for oregano in many dishes.

  1. Bee Balm: Has a taste similar to oregano and mint, with slight citrus undertones. Excellent for dishes that use oregano, or in fruit and vegetable salads.
  2. Calendula (Marigolds): A spicy, peppery flavor that turns foods a golden color. Also known as “Poor Man’s Saffron” because of their flavor. Use them in soups, pasta, herb-butters, rice dishes or salads, or even try them in scrambled eggs.
  3. Carnation: A clove-like flavor, with a spicy/sweet kick. They can be steeped in wine or candy, or used to decorate baked goods.
  4. Chrysanthemum

    Chrysanthemum petals should be blanched before using, then add a slightly bitter flavor to salads.

  5. Chrysanthemum: A pungent, slightly bitter flavor, similar to mild cauliflower. These petals should be blanched before using, then make great salad toppers or stir-fry additions.
  6. Dandelion: Best when picked young, dandelions have a sweet, honey flavor. They can be made into a potent wine, eaten steamed with rice, or served raw over a salad.
  7. Hibiscus: A flavor similar to cranberry and citrus, the petals are slightly acidic. They can be used in salads or boiled to make a tea.
  8. Lilac: A pungent, lemon-like flavor with a strong perfume and floral taste. Excellent in salads.
  9. Nasturtiums

    Nasturtiums, one of the most common edible flowers, have a sweet, peppery flavor similar to watercress.

  10. Nasturtium: One of the most common edible flowers, they have a sweet, spicy, peppery flavor similar to watercress. The flowers can be used on sandwiches, appetizers or salads, or can be stuffed. Pickled nasturtium seedpods are often used as an inexpensive alternative to capers.
  11. Pansy: A mild, grassy, sweet flavor. Excellent for garnishes and added to fruit or vegetable salads, desserts and soups.
  12. Queen Anne’s Lace: A mild, carrot-like flavor that’s best used in salads.
  13. Radish Flowers: A spicy, radish-like flavor that makes an excellent salad topper.
  14. Roses: The flavor is subtle, but similar to green apples and strawberries with fruity, spicy or minty undertones (darker varieties have stronger flavors). Use them in desserts or salads, syrups and jellies, or to make flavored punches or butters. (For an impressive display, try freezing them in ice cube trays and serving the cubes in a punch.)
  15. Snap Dragon: With flavors ranging from bland to bitter, depending on variety, try them sparingly on salads or as a garnish.
  16. Squash Blossoms: The blossoms from squash and pumpkin have a flavor similar to raw squash and are often served breaded and fried, or stuffed whole.
  17. Violets

    Violets have a sweet, fragrant flavor and can be used in salads, desserts and punches.

  18. Sunflower: The petals have a slightly bitter flavor and should be blanched before eating, then are great on salads. The sunflower bud has a flavor similar to an artichoke, and can be steamed.
  19. Sweet Woodruff: A sweet and grassy flavor with nutty, vanilla undertones. Use them in appetizers, soups, stews and salads.
  20. Thyme Flowers: The flowers taste like a mild version of the herb and can be used anywhere thyme would be, such as in soups, stews and on vegetables.
  21. Tulip: A sweet, cucumber-like flavor that’s excellent on salads. (Only the petals, NOT the bulbs, are edible.)
  22. Violet: A sweet, fragrant flavor that works well on salads. Also great for garnishes, desserts and punches.
  23. Yucca Flower: A crunchy texture and sweet taste similar to an artichoke. Use them in salads and as a garnish.


Why You NEED to Understand Oxidative Stress — and How to Avoid It

Why You NEED to Understand Oxidative Stress — and How to Avoid It

Oxidative stress is now recognized as a leading cause of chronic disease and aging. It occurs when free radicals — toxic oxygen molecules produced by normal body processes but also via external sources like stress and pollution — spiral out of control.

Antioxidants from healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are still your best line of defense against oxidative stress.

Even the healthiest among us have free radicals in our systems. However, free radicals are normally kept under wraps where they cannot cause great harm to the body. When free radicals exist in your body in excess, the harmful condition known as oxidative stress occurs.

“There is evidence that free radicals are a predominant factor in the etiology of a wide range of diseases and conditions such as cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis,” says free radical and antioxidant expert Li Li Ji, Ph.D. of the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

How Free Radicals Take Over Your System

There are two major ways that free radicals can overwhelm your body. One is that you’ve been exposed to an abundance of them due to environmental pollutants and other toxins, including:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Alcohol
  • Automobile exhaust
  • Air pollution
  • Bacterial, fungal, or viral infections
  • Asbestos
  • Radiation

The other is that your body is lacking in the healthy compounds it needs to fight free radicals: antioxidants. Antioxidants can be vitamins, minerals or enzymes, and they exist in foods and certain supplements. Because most Americans do not eat healthy diets — ones that include fruits, vegetables and other whole foods — and instead eat diets rich in processed fast foods, many of us are seriously lacking in these health-giving compounds.

In reality, most of us experience a combination of these effects in daily life. In other words, your diet may not be the best and you’re also exposed to regular second-hand cigarette smoke and alcohol during your daily happy-hour meeting with co-workers, or to exhaust fumes on your drive home. The result is most assuredly oxidative stress.

Mental Stress Leads to Oxidative Stress

Your emotions and exposure to external stress also impact the amount of oxidative stress going on in your body. Take one study of 39 women, aged 20 to 50, who had been experiencing extreme, ongoing stress while caring for a chronically ill child. When compared with 19 similar women who were not undergoing stress, the stressed women had significantly higher levels of oxidative stress in their bodies.

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This oxidative stress, the researchers pointed out, damages DNA, including telomeres, the caps at the ends of chromosomes that carry genes. As we age, telomeres naturally shorten and die; however, chronic stress accelerates this process. As increasing numbers of cells reach the end of the telomeres and die, physical symptoms of aging appear, including:

  • Weakened muscles
  • Wrinkles
  • Fading eyesight and hearing
  • Organ failure
  • Diminished thinking abilities

“Everybody’s trying to figure out what causes aging and premature aging. We all know that stress seems to age people — just look at the aging of our presidents after four years,” said Dennis H. Novack of Drexel University College of Medicine, who studies the link between emotions and health. “[The study] demonstrated that there is no such thing as a separation of mind and body — the very molecules in our bodies are responsive to our psychological environment.”

The Toll of Oxidative Stress on Your Body

Aside from being a direct influence on the way your body ages, oxidative stress has been linked to a wide array of diseases, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Cancer
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Asthma
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Lou Gehrig’s disease
  • Autism
  • Stroke

Oxidative Stress: Tips for Fighting Back

Although we all experience some level of oxidative stress — it’s normal and, in fact, necessary for our very existence — this does not mean that you must sit idly by and let an excess level do its damage. Here are four key ways to help prevent oxidative stress and all of its related conditions:

  1. Eat an antioxidant-rich diet. Antioxidants help prevent oxidation, but you must fortify your diet with them by eating fruits, vegetables, nuts and other whole foods regularly to get the benefit. You can check out our past article for a list of the top 20 antioxidant foods and six disease-fighting super antioxidants.
  2. Exercise sensibly. Exercise does, in fact, cause oxidative stress in your body, which is why doing too much of it, or at too strenuous a level, can do your body more harm than good.However, “If you build your fitness level gradually, your body’s antioxidant defenses will improve faster than the rate at which free-radical generation increases,” says Alex Sevanian, Ph.D, professor of pathology in the department of molecular pharmacology and toxicology in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Southern California. “Exercise enhances the body’s ability to handle stress more than it harms the body through stress.”

Exercise does create oxidative stress, but while too much may be harmful, the right amount will improve your health in the long-run.

  1. Consider chiropractic wellness care. People who have received chiropractic care had higher mean levels of serum thiol, primary antioxidants that serve as a measure of health status, than those who received no chiropractic care, according to a study in the Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research.”Going through life, we experience physical, chemical, and emotional stress. These stresses affect the function of the nervous system. We hypothesized that these disturbances in nerve function could affect oxidative stress and DNA repair on a cellular level,” said Dr. Christopher Kent, one of the study’s authors. “Chiropractic care appears to improve the ability of the body to adapt to stress.”
  2. Take time to relax. A stressful, anxiety-filled daily routine will wear you down, no matter how healthy your lifestyle may otherwise be. Said Elissa Epel, a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) who helped conduct the telomere study mentioned above, “The findings emphasize the importance of managing life stress, to take it seriously if one feels stressed, to give your body a break, and make life changes that promote well-being.”


(What’s you absolute best weapon against Oxidative Stress? )

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