19 February 2014

kitchen medicine 101

What do pepper sauce, oatmeal, kimchee, chicken soup, and parsley and thyme grown on your balcony have in common? Besides being tasty and nutritious foods, they can all be considered kitchen medicine.

I think of kitchen medicine as the ancient, global tradition of using foods, herbs and spices as our medicine, or preparing foods in particular ways to affect our health and wellness. Kitchen medicine is practiced in all cultures, all regions in the world, and in all ages throughout history.  It can include:
  • Everyday foods (using vegetables and spices as preventative medicine)
  • Special dishes taken at certain times (i.e., Chicken soup for cold/flu, special meals to be taken after childbirth)
  • Food preparation techniques, like canning and fermenting 
Kitchen medicine is ACCESSIBLE, because it is:
  •  Affordable. Kitchen medicine is inexpensive and gives a good bang for your buck.  Cayenne is a good example of this, as it is used in such small but potent doses.    
  •  Easy to locate. Even in food deserts (where there may only be bodegas, 7-11, or or dollar stores), at least some of these remedies are easily available.
  • Simple to grow in small spaces. Many herbs and spices can be grown in a sunny window or balcony.
  • Available to all. Kitchen medicine doesn’t require any specialized knowledge of skill; it is easy for many ages and abilities to prepare.

Kitchen Medicine is FAMILIAR, because it is:        
  • Easy to prepare. Kitchen medicine relies on ingredients that we can recognize pretty easily when we shop for them in our neighborhood stores.The best kitchen medicines are simply prepared and easily stored ones.
  • Culturally familiar. Often, these foods are ones that are used as spices in our cultures of origin.  (And a perk of practicing kitchen medicine can help you expand your cultural understandings, as you can incorporate ingredients found in neighborhood “ethnic” markets.
  • "Real" food. Kitchen medicine is more food than medicine.  Rather than using capsules of herbs, such as thyme or garlic (or supplementing with isolated constituents like capsaicin, or curcumin), ingredients in kitchen medicine are incorporated into meals as spices, flavorings, preservatives, pickling agents, etc.

Kitchen Medicine is EMPOWERING, because it:     
  •          Enables anyone to provide self-, family- and community care.
  •          Reclaims power from “experts” and pharmaceutical companies.
  •          Connects people and cultures to one another, and to our ancestry and natural healing birthrights. (80% of the world uses herbal medicine as its primary form of health care!

12 January 2014

breaking the sugar habit

I've been noticing how much more sugar I eat than I actually want to eat, and I want to do something about it.  And then, I watched this.  Even though I’ve been trained as an natural health care professional, I am like most folks in America: I consume far more sugar than is necessary (including "hidden" sugars), and I regularly crave  both the taste of and physiological response to sugar.  For me, this includes an excessive amount of refined sugar, honey, maple syrup, and LOTS of fruit.  

know my sugar intake negatively impacts my energy levels and my mood, and it's a habit I don't want my family to pick up. So with the input of some facebook- and real-life friends (including Joan, Emily, Bevin, Imani, and David), this is what I’ve come up with as a set of guidelines to help break my addiction to sugar.  (Note I use "guideline," and not "rule," which sounds more daunting and impossible!)

I’ve started by: 
  • Eliminating coffee and replacing it with a lot of bitter, aromatic teas.  (My favorite right now is damiana, skullcap and rose.  But any bitter will do—next week I might switch up to burdock, dandelion and a little bit of Oregon grape.) 
  • Drinking a huge jar of water before bed. 
  • Having a little cultured food every day.  Right now I’m eating kimchi, which I love.
  • Meditation or yoga before bed. 
I feel really good—and haven’t had any major cravings so far. (Of course, this is only day 3 of what I expect to be a journey!)  If you take on any of these practices in your journey to sugarfree, let me know how they work for you.  I’m interested in any effective way to deconstruct and get rid of the sugar habit!


Drink water.  Sometimes sweet cravings are a sign of dehydration.  Before you indulge, drink a glass of water and see if the craving passes.  At all costs, avoid soft drinks (Americans’ main source of added sugar).  Dilute fruit juices by at least half—sparking water is nice.

Eat gentle sweets.  Eat sweet vegetables and fruit.  They are sweet, healthy, and satisfy your cravings for refined sugar. Avoid chemicalized, artificial sweeteners and food with sugar added.  As an alternative to white or brown sugar (which is white sugar with molasses added), try maple sugar, stevia, brown rice sugar, coconut sugar, or dried fruit (like dates or currants).  Berries and grapefruits are examples of low-glycemic , nutrient-dense fruits that make a good treat without being “addictive-sweet.”  

Bitter is better.  Start the day with a bitter tea, rather than coffee.  A strong green tea is bitter and has blood sugar-stabilizing properties.  Scullcap tea is also bitter and will help reduce nervous irritability withdrawal symptoms that go along with giving up sugar. All bitters are good for your liver, assisting the sugar detox process. When eating meals, eat the most bitter or strongly flavored food first, and the sweetest food last.  It’s a healthier way to prime the digestive system, plus the sweeter foods will register to the brain as even more sweet when you do enjoy it.

Make sure you have plenty of fats & proteins.  Try to do this early in the day, replacing sweetened cereals with eggs, or lentils and rice for breakfast, for example.  Both provide a more steady supply of energy and keep you from getting that desperate need for energy hat drives you to crave sweets.  Evaluate the amount of animal-based proteins you eat.  This includes meat, dairy, chicken and eggs. Experiment and respect your body’s individuality. Eliminate fat-free or low-fat foods, which may contain high quantities of sugar.  Choose foods with healthy fats (coconut, olive, avocado) instead.

Relax. Get more sleep and R&R.  When you are tired or stressed, your body will crave energy (in the form of sugar).  Often, sugar cravings are a result of being sleep deprived, burning the candle at both ends for weeks (or even years) on end.

Move your body.  Start with simple activities like walking or yoga.  If you haven’t been active in a while, start with 10 minutes a day and increase it from there.  It will help balance your blood sugar levels and reduce the stress and tension that may lead to cravings.

Reduce or eliminate caffeine.  The ups and downs of caffeine include de-hydration and blood sugar swings, making sugar cravings more frequent.

Binge on sweets once in a while—but rarely. One you see how terrible you feel afterwards, it might serve as a deterrent.

Spice things up.  Incorporate herbs like coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom into your dishes.  They will sweeten your foods and reduce cravings.

Fine sweetness outside of your diet.  Do more things that make you happy. Get and give more hugs. Spend time with friends and family.  Make art.  Look for opportunities to laugh.  Listen to music you love.  If your life is sweet enough, you’ll need less added sugar.

Get help if you need it. Do this with a buddy--or buddies.  Tweet it, put it on FB. You may want to see a nutritionist, herbalist, or acupuncturist, reiki practitioner--whatever provides additional support if it becomes necessary.

Make this a practice.  Know that it will get better as it goes along—the longer you stay away from processed sugar, the better you’ll feel and the less you’ll crave it.  Before you know it, a piece of sweet fruit will satisfy. But if you happen to stray from the path, be gentle with yourself, and just keep moving forward keeping in mind all the benefits you are getting by doing that!

11 December 2013

12 ways to stay well this winter

1.  Up your vitamin D levels.  There isn’t enough sunlight during the winter to enable your body to made adequate levels of vitamin D, so supplement with at least 2000 IU of vitamin D3 daily.


2.    Rest. This is an indispensable requirement for a strong immune system.  Cold weather and shorter days demand longer periods of rest and sleep.  Listen to your body.  When it feels tired, don’t push yourself.  Enjoy the gift of stillness that winter brings.
3.    Move it! Exercising your body keeps lymph moving and the circulation system strong. Walking, hoola-hooping and dancing this winter will improve lymph flow and therefore enhance your overall immunity. Movement also helps your body make endorphins, mood-boosting hormones.
4.    Breathe.  Take actions to lower your stress levels.  Do breathing exercises, meditate, practice yoga, spend time doing something that makes you happy.  Feeling spent, overwhelmed, and/or mentally run-down has a causal relationship to your physical health. Deep breathing enhances circulation and detoxification while reducing stress levels.
5.    Wash your hands!  It decreases your likelihood of spreading a virus to your nose, mouth, or other people.
6.    Avoid sugar and processed foods.  They dramatically suppress immune function.
7.    Eat phytonutrient-rich foods (lots of colorful foods and dark, leafy greens).  They enhance immunity by giving you the vitamins and minerals you need.
8.    Cook with spices. Garlic, onions, oregano, thyme, and lots of other herbs are effective broad spectrum anti-microbial power. 

9.    Add probiotics to your diet.  Eat a daily dose of fermented foods--a warm bowl of miso soup, greek yogurt with stewed fruit, kombucha or sauerkraut.  Or look for a supplement with 10-20 billion organisms (in the refrigerated section of the store). Healthy gut flora supports a strong immune system—friendly gut flora have been shown to promote gut mucosal cell regeneration, increase nutrient absorption, and reduce unfriendly bacterial adhesion.
10. Take 2 grams of vitamin C daily.  Vitamin C strengthens cell membrane, helping your body to resist pathogens and viruses.  Get in plenty of vitamin C-rich foods like sweet potatoes, strawberries, 
11. Laugh! Laughter upregulates immune cells.  Watch a funny movie, read a funny story or graphic novel, listen to stand-up comedy online.  Don’t forget to treat yourself every day to a little bit of joy!
12. Meet with an herbalist to develop an herbal and dietary protocol that’s optimized for your personal constitution and lifestyle.  The most effective herbal formulations take into account your constitution, current health status, risk of exposure, and, if already ill, your symptom picture. 

    Happy, healthy winter!

    To schedule: ayo.ngozi.herbalist@gmail.com
    718.422.7981 (NYC) / 202.607.1143 (DC)

02 April 2013

tea or tisane?

Most of us use the term “herbal tea” to describe a hot (or cold) beverage made from herbs steeped in water (like chamomile, mint, rooibos, etc.)  But true tea, whether green, black or white, is actually made from the same single plant, Camellia sinensis, which has been fermented and processed in different ways.

What we commonly refer to as “herbal tea” is usually an infusion or decoction.  The catch-all phrase “tisane” includes both of these kinds of herbal preparations, and more.  I like this term because it’s accurate (our herbal tisanes do not include any tea, or caffeine, either!)—and it sounds nice when you say it: “ti-zahn.”

Tisanes are sometimes categorized by the part of the plant they come from (like leaf, flower, root, seed or bark tisanes).  Often, they are made from a blend of plant parts, and even may include moss, mushrooms, stems or other plant matter.

Tisanes may also be categorized as medicinal or not. Many herbs are high in antioxidants and other phytonutrients, others  have long histories of medicinal use, while still others are typically consumed for simple enjoyment.  

As an herbalist, I create custom-formulated herbal tisanes (and other remedies) for individual clients based on your health and wellness needs.  Contact me if you'd like your own special blend!

(And for everyone, there is James River Herb & Spice Co.'s line of 100% organic tisanes.  For the month of April, pick up a 3-Tisane Sampler for $6 +s/h!)

22 February 2013

clean & green!

When we buy household cleaning products, we expect them to do their jobs!  But most commercial cleaning products (with their added fragrances, detergents, bleaching agents, softeners, polishing agents and so on) can actually do more harm than good!  Many of them contribute to indoor air pollution, are poisonous if ingested, can be harmful if inhaled or touched, and can contribute to serious health problems, including hormonal disruption and cancer.  Not only that, many of these agents wreak havoc on the environment, especially the water supply.  And that’s just dirty.

Here's a simple breakdown of some of the most common toxic ingredients you might run across, along with some of the many places you may find them.  Remember, even things that are labeled “natural” or “environmentally friendly” may not be so, so read your labels before you purchase products.
DEA (Diethanolamine) is found in more than 600 home and personal care products, including shampoos and conditioners, bubble baths, lotions, cosmetics, soaps, laundry and dishwashing detergents.  DEA is a potential carcinogen.

Propylene Glycol is the main ingredient found in anti-freeze, but it’s also common in shampoos, deodorants, cosmetics, lotions, toothpastes, processed foods, baby wipes, and many more personal care items.  Propylene glycol is connected to contact dermatitis, kidney damage, and liver disorders. It can also inhibit skin cell growth and can cause rashes and dry skin.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is found in shampoos, liquid soaps, conditioners, cleansers, and nearly all toothpastes.  It’s absorbed through skin contact and stays in the system for up to five days.  SLS can cause improper eye development in children, can react with other ingredients to form  carcinogens, it’s a skin irritant, and can increase the allergic response to other toxins and allergens.

Talc has been linked to ovarian cancer. It’s found in many body and baby powders, as well as many cosmetics.

Alcohol is a major ingredient in mouthwashes, which often have a higher alcohol content than most alcoholic beverages (beer, wine, etc). Mouthwash products with alcoholic content greater than 25 percent have been linked to cancers of the mouth, tongue, and throat. Alcohol acts as a solvent inside the mouth, making tissues more vulnerable to carcinogens.

Alkylphenols are industrial chemicals used in the production of detergents and other cleaning products, and as antioxidants in products made from plastics and rubber. They are also found in personal care products, especially hair products, and as an active component in many spermicides.  Many studies have shown that alkylphenols mimic the actions and effects of estrogen in the body. In the body, this means that exposure to these chemicals could cause changes in the breasts and reproductive organs, leading to symptoms of early puberty, estrogen-dependent cancers (like breast or uterine cancers), and other tumor formation such as fibroid tumors. 

Don't worry! There are many safe and natural alternatives to commercial house cleaning products, and you can save a lot of money with them!  These include:

Castile soap:  Olive-, coconut-, or other vegetable-oil based soap.  Castile soap is gentle enough to wash the body and hair but is effective enough for floors and laundry.  Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap is probably the best-known brand, but Trader Joe’s and other companies make concentrated liquid castile soap.

White vinegar: White distilled vinegar is a popular household cleanser, effective for killing most mold, bacteria, and germs, due to its level of acidity. 

Baking soda: The ancient Egyptians used natural deposits of natron, a mixture consisting mostly of sodium carbonate decahydrate, and sodium bicarbonate. The natron was used as a cleansing agent like soap.  Modern-day baking soda is used to neutralize odors (like in the fridge or in the laundry), as an antiseptic, and an abrasive cleanser—basically, it has scrubbing action.

Borax (sodium borate) was first discovered in dried up lake beds in Tibet.  It’s a combination of naturally-ocurring minerals that clean, deodorize, disinfect, and soften water.  Borax can be used to clean laundry, painted walls and floors, and wallpaper.

Essential oils: As a rule, all essential oils have some antibacterial properties, but the most effective essential oils that I like for housecleaning are tea tree, lavender, citrus oils (like lemon, lime, or grapefruit) and evergreen oils (like rosemary, pine, cedar, and spruce).  

Try these simple and effective natural cleaning solutions:

Household cleaning spray
  • Fill a spray bottle with water and a squirt of castile soap.
  • Add 3–5 drops each of lavender, lemon, and rosemary essential oils.
  • Shake well.
Floor cleaner
  • Add ¼ cup white vinegar, ¼ cup borax and 1 tablespoon of castile soap to a bucket of warm water.
  • Add 10 drops each of lemon, tea tree, and pine oil.
Window cleaner
  • Mix 1 cup white vinegar, 10-15 drops of Lemon Essential Oil and water in a 1 quart spray bottle.
  • Shake well before using.

Dryer Fragrance Sheets
  • Dampen a washcloth with water and then add drops 10 drops of lavender, lemon, bergamot or other essential oil on the cloth.
  • Toss in the dryer with clothes. The cloth will not soften clothes or reduce static cling, but will add a great fragrance to your laundry.

03 February 2013

2013: brand new year, big new plans

As I write this, my first post of the new year, there is a LOT of change and movement in the air, and I'm truly grateful.  Moving with the rooted, introspective energy of winter has allowed me to plan some exciting things for this spring.

I gave birth to Kamau in October, and have been enjoying the transition to new mom (again).  I'm getting back to seeing clients, mostly in virtual consultations via Skype, and will be on the teaching faculty this spring for Centro Ashe's Grassroots Herbal and Holistic Wellness program.  

I'm also in the final stages of preparing to launch a company, James River Herb and Spice Co.  I am so excited about what we have in store for herbal tea- and spice-lovers, as well as my journey as an entrepreneur... stay tuned. 

Speaking of staying tuned, I'm also excited to be joining the lineup of the internet radio show, Soulful Green Living!  Starting Thursday, February 7th, I'll be contributing a weekly segment focusing on natural health and healing.  This week's topic: "Medical Herbalism" with guest OlaTokunboh Obasi.

In my segment, I'll teach you how to make an old-school remedy for coughs, colds and congestion that anyone can make with a few everyday kitchen staples... tune in to hear what it is!