From the Garden: Eggplant for Your Delayed Aunt Flow

EggplantSeptember is perhaps one of the best produce months because we have the overlap of the end of the summer leaves, squashes, and cruciferous vegetables and the fall roots and squashes. Among the new plants we can eat fresh are eggplants (aka, aubergine, brinjal, bengan, elabatu).

Like other purple and red skinned produce, it is loaded with antioxidants. It is also high in fiber so it cleanses the digestive tract and is rich in Vitamin C and its skin is tauted as a excellent for the skin because it protects cells from inflammation. (See Feed Your Skin, Starve Your Wrinkles by Allison Tannis)

Eggplants hold a special place in women’s health. Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda recommended eating it if you want to bring on menstruation. For some, it works just by eating it once or twice. For others, it may take regular consumption to have an effect. (For more reading on this, see Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford and The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs by Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa, Michael Tierra.)

Some but not all practitioners believe that eggplant is best avoided if you have painful cramps, once your period starts, and during pregnancy. If you have questions as to whether it is right for you, as always, consult a natural health practitioner such as an acupuncturist, Ayurvedic healer, or integrative doctor. (If you would like recommendations in NYC, let me know.) This is also not to say that eating eggplant will cause a miscarriage. If you have made the choice to terminate a pregnancy, eating eggplant may not be the solution you are looking for. Feel free to contact me if this is an area where you would like support.

Eggplants are especially delicious roasted but if you’re not ready to turn your oven on just yet, here is a simple stovetop side-dish that includes cumin seeds which are a great source of iron according to one of my favorite sites, The World’s Healthiest Foods. The iron in cumin is helpful for building blood and thus helpful support before, during, and after menstruation. ¡Buen apetito!

  1. If you have a hard time digesting peels and/or you really do not like to eat the peel, peel the eggplant. Otherwise, just peel off a few strips and leave some of the peel on to gain from the antioxidants in the purple shell.
  2. Dice small-ish eggplant into 1-inch cubes, about 2 cups
  3. SIDENOTE: Many culinary traditions recommend salting eggplant before cooking in order to reduce the bitter taste as well as oil absorption. For the purposes of using eggplant as a healing food, consider NOT salting the eggplant as salt can inhibit circulation and the purpose of cooking this superfruit is to improve blood circulation.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil of your choice over low heat. (Extra virgin olive oil, ghee, or untoasted sesame oil are my favorites for this dish.)
  5. Add 3/4 Tbsp cumin seeds and ½ Tbsp crushed, dried rosemary in a sauté pan or wok and toast until fragrant, about 5 mins.
  6. Add eggplant to the sauté pan, coating the egpplant well in the oil and fragrants.
  7. Cover and sauté over low heat, approximately 15 minutes, tossing regularly until the eggplant are tender and a fork easily goes through and each piece is brown.
  8. If you have not eaten much salt or salty (often prepared) food that day and you generally do not have issues with blood pressure or blood flow issues, add a pinch or two of salt in the middle of cooking.
  9. Serve with a sturdier whole grain like millet or brown rice or fish. Click here to download the latest guide and app to determine which fishes are sustainable and healthy.

 

Corn Silk: A Natural Remedy for Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Green corn field growing upFresh corn-on-the-cob may be a favorite grilling vegetable but don’t toss its outer shell too quickly. Indigenous Americans and communities throughout Latin America and Central Europe have long used corn silk as a remedy for urinary tract infections, kidney and bladder infections, bed-wetting, as well as prostate problems. A 2012 article published in the Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmocology reports scientific evidence for corn silk’s healing properties as well.

While many people in the US turn to cranberry juice or cranberry supplements when they have signs of a UTI, cranberry juice most often contains processed sugar and additives and can sometimes irritate the bladder or aggravate preexisting acid reflux. Like cranberries, corn silk is a diuretic but it also contains unique anti-inflammatory compounds as well as Vitamin K and potassium, which support blood circulation. Note that corn silk’s high amounts of potassium can interact with some blood pressure medication so you should check with your doctor if you have questions about this.

The tea that is made from corn silk is very mild: It tastes like sweet corn water. It generally resolves mild UTIs within a day or two. According to many herbalists, small amounts of corn silk tea are safe to drink during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, and for children but, as with any herbal remedy, consult your physician if you have concerns.

It is important to note that most corn in the US is sprayed with chemicals and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Many studies have shown that these toxins can negatively affect human cells. Use non-GMO corn or organic corn if possible.

Cornsilk Tea
For Adults
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Ingredients
  1. 1-2 tbsp of freshly peeled corn silk
Instructions
  1. Bring approximately 10 oz of water to a boil.
  2. Add 1-2 tablespoons of freshly peeled corn silk.
  3. Turn off heat and cover.
  4. Allow to steep for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Strain and enjoy.
Notes
  1. Herbalists generally recommend drinking 1-3 cups per day. Note that this does not last in the refrigerator beyond more than a day or so.
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In-vitro Fertilization: Take One, Take Two….

thoughtful business woman(Guest blog by Anonymous in Brooklyn)

Nearly a third of all cases of infertility are unexplained. For many women, this diagnosis can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you’re the kind of person that’s accustomed to knuckling down and getting sh*t done. There’s no “solution” to find—just a whole lot of hope. This was just the first of many things I had to learn to surrender to during my 5-year journey to attain the seemingly elusive and miraculous gift of pregnancy.

My partner and I eventually arrived at a point where IVF was our only remaining option. Again, this can be a very fraught decision for many couples: it’s taxing physically, emotionally and financially, and, you’re taking a huge leap of faith that all of this will result in an entirely new life. For me, the scariest part was investing all this money and failing (me, personally, disappointing my husband, my family, myself). When you do IVF, you feel like everything is riding on whether or not your body does what it’s “supposed” to do, which it hasn’t done up to this point. It’s far more complicated than that, of course, but it’s hard not to feel the weight of this venture on your shoulders.

Our first attempt, which fell over the December holidays, resulted in an ectopic pregnancy. I was devastated, and as much as my partner wanted to support me, I think it’s a difficult thing for a man to relate to, especially a loss early in the pregnancy. I didn’t know it intellectually at the time, but instinctively I sought out the support of other women – my mother, my sister, but also women who had the resources and knowledge to help me heal and prepare for my next try. This is what brought me to Rachel.

Rachel came to our meeting armed with bags of raspberry leaf tea (good for toning the uterus and balancing hormones) and an informational packet on other herbal and foods that would be helpful during this restoration period. She also strongly recommended that I seek out an acupuncturist who specializes in fertility and could treat me for three months or so before I tried again. At the time, the suggestion that I needed to slow down and wait was difficult to hear, but she helped me see that this time could be a blessing in disguise if I fully embraced it.

I followed all of Rachel’s advice, taking the space I needed to recover and build my confidence in my ability to get pregnant. I visited a fertility acupuncturist weekly, improved my diet by adding more greens and reducing sugar and gluten, and made time for yoga, running and mediation. I also focused on trying to kick ass at work, since I hadn’t been at my level best during the pregnancy loss. I actually ended up pushing my next fertility treatment back an additional month so I could take a trip with friends to Puerto Rico. The sunshine and warm seawater was the perfect, final preparation for my second try (which was a frozen embryo cycle, not full IVF).

I’m happy to report that this cycle was successful. All mothers-to-be face the uncertainty that the first trimester inherently brings, but now I feel l have the tools to sit with my anxiety (thank you, Pema Chodron) and take positive steps toward maintaining my health and, hopefully, the pregnancy.

I’m sharing this story because I know from my visits to the clinic that there are so many women struggling with infertility and finding the right resources and support is essential to maintaining your wellness and sanity. Truly, there is a good bit of magic to how this baby thing happens, for every woman who tries, and learning to let go, in whatever form that manifests, can be an enormous help.

 

4 Ways to Stay Fresh “Down There” during Biking Season

Woman On Cycle Ride In Countryside

I am a seasonal, recreational biker: like many around the city, I roll around town in my sundress and strappy sandals to meet friends and run errands, hopping on and off my ride multiple times throughout the day. Perhaps you or your friends are similar.

As easy, breezy as this sounds, your vaginal health is no joke. If you are like me, you need a serious vag strategy each time you venture out because a variety of factors can lead our lady parts to become the ideal playground for yeast infections and other infections. So how can we stay fresh and sprightly during the upcoming sweaty summer days? Here are four tips.

  1. The case for full cotton undies: they breathe. Synthetic underwear, all thongs, including cotton ones, and bathing suits do not breathe. They trap moisture and all of the things that grow in moist conditions much more than full cotton underwear. One day someone will make sexy, affordable organic cotton underwear. (Can someone please get on that already???!!!) Until then, give yourself the gift of air and rock the cotton while you ride. If you must, change into the sexy pair only once you arrive at your sexy destination and after you’ve cleaned off. (See #4 below.)
  2. Don’t shave or wax right before you get on your seat. Do it the day or the night before if you can. Especially if you have sensitive skin and/or are prone to bumps, rub a small amount of virgin coconut oil onto the outer areas where hair has been removed. Do not glob it on. A little bit goes a long way. Coconut oil moisturizers and has antibacterial and antifungal properties that can prevent chafing, bumps, and potentially infection.
  3. Limit or cut out your sugar intake, especially if you’re going from bike to bikini and back. This includes alcohol. Candida, the source of yeast infections, feed on carbohydrates so the more you consume, the more they consume which leads to candida overgrowth and thus infection. If you must drink alcohol (responsibly of course), at least replace the sugary mojito or yeast-filled beer with a glass of wine or vodka and seltzer with lime. Wine and vodka have alcoholic sugars in them but they contain fewer carbohydrates than sweet mixed drinks or beer.
  4. Wash. Gynecologists and women’s health practitioners the world over will agree that it is best to wash with mild soap and water after and in between rides. If you are in a pinch or feel that a refresher is in order, many find it helpful to wipe down the outer and inner lips with a mixture of water and tea tree oil. Fill a small, spill-proof bottle that you can easily carry around in your bag with 2-3 drops of tea tree oil and 1/3 cup of water. The tea tree oil disinfects and feels oh-so-nice. It may tingle for a few minutes but it should not severely burn. If that happens, it is possible that you added too much tea tree. Wash yourself off well with soap and dilute your mixture with more water. Be careful to use this trick in moderation (not more than once a day and not several days in a row) because tea tree can dry out your skin.

If all else fails, and you fall prey to a yeast infection, check out this updated blog, “Curing That Not-So-Fresh Feeling,” with natural remedies for returning your hoo-hah to its healthy, beautiful state.

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A Mother’s Day Revolution

circle of armsTo all the mamas out there and to the people who support them: Thank you. For the hours of labor, the sleepless nights, the tears (ours as well as yours), thank you. This blog however is directed to those of us who have mamas in our lives: I propose a cultural revolution that requires your action if it is to succeed.

Some cultures throughout the world—various Latino and West African communities and perhaps others— do not have a specific day dedicated annually to all mothers rather they honor their mothers on their birthdays– not on their mothers’ birthdays but on their own birthdays. They commemorate their birth each year by thanking the person who gave them life and by celebrating the anniversary of the work they did to bring them into the world and raise them.

Motherhood takes so many forms that we can expand the practice to include the many kinds of mamas we may have in our lives—biological mothers (the person who supplies the egg), birth mothers (the person whose body carries us), adoptive mothers (the person who made us who we are today), people have two mothers, their grandmother or an aunt raises them…

These people should be honored as part of any celebration of our own lives. What could this look like? On your birthday, call the mother/s in your life and thank them. Send them a card or a gift. Write a song to the tune of “Happy Birthday,” and sing it to them.

And there would likely be few protests to celebrating these fine people again on the second Sunday in May.

Who’s in???

 

Mother’s Day for Women Who Are Not Mothers

pic of woman with ballonsI am in my late 30s and I am not a mother. Many beautiful, amazing, successful women I know are also not mothers for various reasons. Some of us hope to be moms one day, some of us are very happy without children, and some of us are not sure about motherhood. Some are actively trying to become a mom but they have fertility issues and the gods have not decided that it’s time.

For those of us who are not mothers, Mother’s Day can just be another day or it may be really difficult and painful or it might just be annoying: Why don’t we have a day to celebrate our contributions to the world and receive a brunch discount?

If you’re having a tough go of it, consider the possibility of turning this day upside down. It may be easier said than done, especially if life without a child is not a choice and you feel a void. Women are more than our children though. We have value beyond the human babies we may or may not produce. We birth an infinite number of beautiful, magical, important things in this world. Consider treating this day as an opportunity to honor other parts of your creative self and nourish your yin (feminine energy). Here are three ideas:

  1. Express your creativity—cook, paint, sculpt, write, dance, play music, or just consciously and with awareness BE yourself in the world— however loudly or quietly you are comfortable with. Generate with intention today.
  2. Be sexy. Whether you have a partner or not, buy yourself some lingerie or a special toy, run errands commando-style, dance naked in your living room, share a fantasy with a lover—whatever activates your pleasure center.
  3. Sleep late and have a lazy morning. This is something people with children in the house are generally not able to do. Take advantage of your ability to wake up whenever the f*k you want. Find ways to relax and even revel in your bed. Make it luxurious.

From the Garden: Dandelion Greens

Foraged edible dandelion flowers and greens in bowlMay marks the beginning of fresh greens season in the Northeast, and top on the list of nutrient-rich, super foods are dandelion greens. Rich in calcium and iron, Vitamins A & K, amongst many other nutrients, they can be helpful for restoring minerals during and after your period. Herbalists recommend drinking an infusion of dandelion greens starting in the third trimester of pregnancy to increase milk production. Dandelion greens also deep clean the liver, they are a diuretic and are used to break up kidney stones, and they regulate blood sugar so they are great additions to a spring detox.

This super food has a bitter bite that can be mellowed by combining the leaves with something a bit richer, like nuts, or something sweeter, like beets.

To eat, wash the leaves and cut off the bottom stems, then mix some of them raw into a rich basil pesto or your favorite salad mix, sauté them lightly with your favorite healthy oil and garlic, use them instead of spinach in cooked dishes, or incorporate them into your morning juice.

 

 

Transitioning Off of Chemical Birth Control Methods

Contraceptive pill blister pack hanging from line on pink backgroundMany people find natural birth control methods to be effective but chemical birth control methods that contain hormones (what I’ll call CBCMs in this blog) save the day for many women. This includes birth control pills, IUDs with hormones, the ring, and the Depo Provera shot, which afford women and their partners many benefits and freedoms. That said, women’s bodies change because of CBCMs and we become dependent on them. When we go off of CBCMs, our bodies experience a kind of withdrawal and it can take up to about a year for the body to figure out its natural cycle again. The effect of this transition varies for each person but common negative symptoms include weight gain, bloating, acne, erratic emotions, missed periods, and spotting. On the upside, many women say their sex drive increases and they have more energy.

Here are a few tips to help ease your transition but above all, be gentle with yourself and your body:

1. Let people close to you know what’s up so they can be understanding and compassionate if they end up on the receiving end of your rant or cry-fest.

2. Increase dark leafy greens like turnip greens and spinach, asparagus, beets, citrus, ground flax seeds, and beans and legumes such as lentils and pinto beans. Many studies show that CBCMs can deplete some nutrients, particularly B vitamins, folic acid, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin C, and zinc so you may be going into your transition with a deficit already. This makes you more vulnerable to emotional spikes and inflammation. You may experience more energy after going off of CBCMs because your body is better absorbing these nutrients so focus on foods with these particular minerals and vitamins and take advantage of the opportunity to replenish your supply.

3. Be kind to your liver. Hormones are processed through the liver which acts like a traffic cop for hormones—it directs hormones to different places. Drinking alcohol, taking drugs, and experiencing a lot of stress can cause kerfuffle in this vital organ, slow down your transition or increase the severity of symptoms.

4. Reduce or cut out sugars. Sugar produces hormones, such as insulin, that can mess with your other hormones. Give your sex hormones extra space to figure themselves out by staying away from sweets including fruits, processed flours (i.e. anything that is not a whole grain), yeast-products including beer, and all other alcohol. In addition, the pH in your vagina changes when you go off of CBCMs and you may be susceptible to yeast infections which thrive on sugars. Especially if your sex drive increases, cut out those cookies and keep your honeypot free and clear for more fun things than yeasties. 😉 (If you do fall prey to a yeast infection, check out Curing That Not-So-Fresh Feeling for all natural remedies. )

5. Tone your uterus with herbs such as red raspberry leaf and dong quai. Your reproductive system may be really confused but red raspberry and dong quai contain properties that particularly support your womb, enrich the lining, and blood flow. They are particularly great if you are not getting your period. If you don’t have an acupuncturist, herbalist, or naturopath who can advise you, Yogi Tea company makes a Women’s Moon Cycle tea as well as a Women’s Energy tea that are great and have each helped me bring on my period many times.

Nurturing New Mamas So They Can Nurture Their Babies

cooking grandmaThose of you who are pregnant are each doing something that to me is the most powerful, magical thing a human being can possibly do. You are making another human being!! That is mind blowing. It takes blood, water, hormones, minerals of all kinds, and just the right mix of environmental and psychological efforts to make that happen. Everything your body has to give is given to this project—to grow the human and then birth it… Amazing!

Whether you have a Cesarean or a vaginal birth, your body is at its most powerful when you birth that baby. And like many superheroes, after you do that, your body is incredibly depleted. It has just been through a tsunami on top of a hurricane on top of a tidal wave. Your nutrients are depleted, hormones and organs are all over the place, you’re exhausted not just from that but from the new little one who’s now out in the world, completely reliant on you, and on its own, unpredictable schedule. But there is a huge gaping hole in the American medical community and in our culture for new mama support during this time. It is shocking to me how little we do as a society to nurture these superheroes amongst us.

In many communities around the world, new mothers are taken care of by the community. The pregnant woman moves into her mother’s house during her last trimester, or vice versa, or elders and other people in the community create a bubble around the women: they simmer bone broths for days on end, give oil massages to help expel remaining fluid and stimulate circulation, they clean the new mother’s home, watch her other children… A new mother’s body, home, and spirit are cared for so that she can care for her baby and ride the inherently bumpy waves that come with the transition from pregnancy to motherhood.

The American medical industry however has become a factory and even doctors who are interested in supporting women during the postpartum period are not taught these tools in medical school. In addition, people are no longer taught the traditions of their ancestors, family members live far away or have work obligations or too few resources to step up in the way that people in other parts of the world do. One of the primary reasons I founded Wooden Spoon Wellness is to fill this gap through one-on-one coaching, Healthy Mama Baby Showers, cooking classes, health food market tours, and, when necessary, personal catering. My aim however is to put myself out of this business and equip communities with time-tested, natural tools that people around the world have used for generations to better support new mamas. This will require radical cultural shifts but I believe it is possible.

 

Holistic Approaches to Fibroids

Girl practicing meditation,with mandala on the backgroundHow many of you have had a fibroid or know someone who has had at least one? According to a 2010 study by the National Institute of Health, 8 out of 10 black women and 7 out of 10 other women will develop at least one of these noncancerous tumors during their childbearing years. While fibroids do not always present problems and doctors do not recommend treatment for many people, this is an alarming frequency. Fibroids can be a major issue. They can contribute to fertility problems, very heavy periods, and abnormal bleeding during pregnancy leading to anemia. They can grow and press on organs leading to bladder infections and severe constipation. They are also used as a reason to perform C-sections instead of vaginal births. Many people are able to live with fibroids without problems and sometimes they shrink or go away on their own, particularly after menopause. These tumors are unpredictable though and little is known about their origins or their progress so many women live in fear. From a holistic standpoint, what can be done?

While the precise reason for fibroids is unknown according to Western medicine, connections have been found between fibroids and high levels of estrogen so treatment plans tend to include ways to regulate hormones, ensure proper estrogen absorption, and cleansing the body of excess estrogen. Herbs, exercise, yoga and massage have been helpful for people in toning the uterus and moving stagnation. Some recommend removing plastics that contain estrogen-producing substances. [1]  Diet is believed to be able to help as well:

  1. Reduce or cut out foods that inflame your system: all sugars and processed grains. This includes white sugar, corn syrup, white rice, white flour and even supposed “whole grain” products that most often still contain white flour. When in doubt check the ingredients. They all lead to spikes to your blood sugar and cause inflammation throughout the body. Caffeine, alcohol, and drugs also lead to inflammation and, especially if your body is already inflamed from stress, your other hormones, such as estrogen, go out of whack and you produce even more inflammatory chemicals thus feeding the fibroid. [2]
  2. Be sure to eat a lot of fiber and astringent foods each day– vegetables, dark, leafy, and bitter greens, herbs, and legumes. These help cleanse the intestines and help the liver eliminate excess estrogen. [3]
  3. Eliminate from your diet foods with hormones. Eat meat, eggs, and dairy products from organic sources or at least sources that do not use growth enhancers. [4]
  4. Eat foods that contain phytoestrogens which are compounds that come from plants that block estrogen. This includes flax seeds, sesame seeds, and legumes. [5]

Holistic approaches consider other influences as well. Fibroids are the manifestation of excess according to Ayurvedic medicine [6] and qi (energy) stagnation according to traditional Chinese medicine. [7] Practitioners of these healing methods look at various aspects of your life when treating fibroids. For example, these are some things they might consider: The bodily functions and spaces that are meant to support your creativity are feeding and supporting something that does not serve you–are there other areas of your life where you are holding onto and potentially even feeding something that does not serve you such as a behavior, an idea, or a memory? Another way to think about this is that a process that would normally be routine, regular, cleansing (your menstrual cycle) is more intense than it would normally be– are there other areas of your life that are messy, unpredictable, cluttered that could use a good cleansing as well? This could mean letting go of past experiences, cleaning your home space or office, creating order in your calendar, visualizing space in your life and in your womb, etc.

This is certainly not to say that if you have a fibroid you have brought this on yourself or that letting go of past issues will fully heal you. Rather these Eastern approaches treat the mind and the body as a whole and believe that one cannot be healed without the other.

Ultimately, a good acupuncturist or Ayurvedic practitioner, in consultation with your doctor, can help you address your specific case and create a comprehensive plan tailored to your particular situation.


[1] Hethir Rodriguez, “The Best Natural Remedies for Uterine Fibroids,” Natural-Fertility-Info.com; Poliquin Group Editorial Staff, “10 Ways to Lower Toxic Estrogen Load,” PoliquinGroup.com, 1/25/12.

[3] Rodriguez.

[4] Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom 125.

[5] Poliquin Group Editorial Staff.