By Nick Cavanaugh
During the springtime many people start experiencing seasonal allergies. And many others experience allergies year-round. What are the underlying reasons for these allergies, and what are the options for relief? I'll be exploring these questions in this article. I hope it's helpful - please reach out if you have any questions!
What are allergies?
Allergic rhinitis is an inflammation of the lining of the nose, usually characterized by one ore more of:
Perennial (year-round) allergies may be due to dust, mold, cockroaches or animal dander.[1-2]
About pollen, mold and other allergens
Respiratory allergies are often triggered by:
In Vermont, during "mud season" (the bridge between winter and spring), the dampness could lead to mold growth and mold allergies. Increased rainfall, humidity or flooding could contribute to this.[4-1] However, in many areas mold growth typically peaks in the summer due to the combination of both heat and humidity, especially the Midwest and Southeast U.S..[5-1] A damp autumn could continue to spur mold growth, though cold temperatures decrease mold activity and mold tends to become most dormant during the winter.[5-2]
If you believe you may be sensitive to mold and are exposed to it, addressing this with indoor air quality is very important.
Why do people get allergies?
Allergies are basically a hype-reactivity of our body's immune systems. Ordinarily a strong immune response keeps our body healthy, but an over-activity to allergens causes harmful and uncomfortable inflammation in the nasal passageways.
Herbalists have some unique insights into why allergies may be relatively common in our modern day-and-age:
An herbalist's view - herbal energetics and allergies
From the herbalist perspective, symptom patterns can be differentiated in terms of patterns that correlate with key "energetic" states, especially heat, cold, dampness and dryness.
In Unani ("Greek") medicine (also known as "Tibb") allergic rhinitis results from an excess of heat, which is either with dampness or dryness. This leads to irritation and inflammation in the mucous membranes.
Herbalists typically assess energetics of symptom patterns through various means, and we recommend speaking with an herbalist if you'd like to find out what pattern matches your experience. It can be especially helpful to get an outsider's perspective given that often symptoms can point to patterns in conflicting or confusing ways.
However, for a general overview, these are some common associations with upper respiratory symptoms as detailed by herbalist Jim McDonald in an excellent article on sinus health:
Signs of dampness:
Signs of dryness:
Signs of things being stuck and stagnant, more of a chronic condition, i.e. chronic sinusitis:[10-8]
To address these various symptom patterns, herbalists may incorporate some of the following (again as detailed by Jim McDonald, mostly):
How to address dryness:
How to address dampness:
Remedies for stuck and stagnant states:
Natural allergy relief with home remedies
The following are general suggestions. We recommend speaking with an herbalist for individual support and guidance.
Tend to the indoor air environment and reduce exposure
Make dietary changes
According to Mills and Bone in their authorative Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy "herbalists believe that diet can create a state of hypersensitivity and catarrh of the mucous membranes that predisposes to rhinitis." [1-3]
Possible dietary factors could include:
Dietary steps to take
Use topical remedies
Seek ways to de-stress and get good sleep
These can go a very long way in reducing allergy symptoms. Talk to an herbalist if you need support.
Herbs to support our bodies
Ideally someone would start their remedies 6 weeks before the season starts and continue it through the season.[1-6]
We strongly advise talking to an herbalist for individual advice on how to support your body during allergy season. These are some of the ways herbs are used:
Healthy mucous membranes
Mills and Bone state that "traditional herbalists have stressed the importance of healthy upper respiratory mucous membranes." [1-7]
Demulcent herbs such as marshmallow can help to soothe dryness and irritation in the upper respiratory tract.
Astringent herbs such as elderflower can help to dry up copious nasal discharge.
Immunomodulating herbs such as reishi mushroom can help to modulate the immune response over time, helping to prevent either under or over-activity of the immune system.[8-1] Reishi is not advisable for some individuals: talk to an herbalist for advice.
Support detoxification pathways
Herbs such as nettles, dandelion and burdock can help to support our body's natural detoxification pathways, i.e. through the lymphatic system or liver, and this in turn can help reduce background levels of inflammation and promote clearing of foreign substances from the body.
Medical treatment for allergies
From the herbalist point of view it's better to address underlying causes rather than symptoms. However, when needed there are a number of medications that can help.
Over the counter medications can help relieve allergy symptoms:
When to contact a doctor:[11-1]
Sesonal allergies can be tough - I hope this has been helpful information for you! Please contact me with any questions, and feel free to reach out if you'd like to schedule an herbal consultation. Be well!
By Nick Cavanaugh. Nick is a clinical herbalist at Railyard Apothecary. Learn more about Nick and other clinicians here.
If you experience digestive difficulties you know that you're not alone. But why? Why are digestive problems so common in our modern culture?
It is easy to point to the obvious - lack of access to healthy food on the one hand, stress and other lifestyle factors on the other.
But there may be something deeper, that goes back to the way we see ourselves, our bodies and our food...
Modern view: body as machine
The modern view of the human body has origins in 17th century Europe with the development of the mechanistic view of the body by René Descartes. In this view, the whole = the sum of the parts, not more, and there is not an inherent way to draw connection between those parts.
This view has benefits and drawbacks. The benefits include all the miracles of modern medicine, in which the molecular causes of so many disease have been discovered, for which we can be grateful.
The drawbacks in terms of digestion include that food gets reduced to the raw nutrients it contains, and digestion to the simple receptacle into which these nutrients are deposited. What is missing is the complex world of our senses and bodily experience, the integration of the parts and the whole, and the dynamic interaction that humans constantly experience in relation to our living environment.
Traditional view: body as an integrated whole
Prior to the mechanistic view, the predominant view in relation to health and medicine was that of philosophers going back at least to Ancient Greece. The body was seen to be animated by a subtle substance called "pneuma" that is akin to "qi" of Chinese Medicine and "prana" of Ayurveda. This pneuma moved through the organs from the power of the three "faculties," including the "natural faculty" or "nutritive faculty" that influenced digestion.
The processes of digestion, metabolism, and elimination were seen as being interconnected, not separate, and together formed the "natural faculty."
If we look at things from this bigger picture, more holistic and integrated view, we can make connections between things which otherwise are not clearly related in the mechanistic view. For example:
Get individual support for your digestive healing
Work with an herbalist who can guide you through the process
The qualities of nature in all things
In addition the human body, there was a way in which all of nature could be seen as an integrated whole. All of the universe was seen to be created by four elements, and these four were then defined in terms of their qualities of heat and moisture:
These qualities can be perceived by our sense organs. In terms of food, the way we can identify the qualities in them is quite natural:
But with a little more reflection, more is obvious:
Putting it together - diet and the qualities of nature
By seeing the human being as an integrated whole, which shares common characteristics with all of nature, including the foods we eat, we can begin to see a different way of interacting with food to keep our guts and bodies healthy and happy.
What is the best food any particular person at any given time can then related to:
Every place has its own unique climate. The good news is that every place has its own local food. To start with then, eating locally is the easiest way to eat food that aligns with the energy of that particular place.
In Vermont, for example, we have a climate which is colder than a lot of other places. Therefore, to balance that out, for most of the year except for the heat of summer it's best to eat warming foods, such as:
Every place also has its own version of seasons. Classically, the association is as such:
Keep in mind though the geographic variations here. For example, in Vermont the winter is so cold that the air becomes very dry, which is compounded by indoor heating, so in Vermont what's needed in the winter is warm and moist foods.
Traditionally, the ages of life have their own qualities:
There is of course so much individual variation, and this is where understanding one's own nature, or temperament is important. Traditionally there are four:
To sum it all up, we can say that if we take a more traditional approach to seeing the human body as an integrated whole, and to seeing the natural world in intuitive, energetic terms, that can lead us to different choices about the foods we eat.
We may find, for example:
Here are some suggestions for further reading:
- Greek medicine as practiced in contemporary times as Unani medicine
- Greek medicine practiced as Tibb
- Western Herbal Energetics and the Four Humors System
Blog post by Nick Cavanaugh. Book a comprehensive wellness consultation with Nick in-person or online here.
Some tips to stay healthy this winter:
Your immunity is your vitality. What can you do to experience joy, connect with others, make your heart sing? What gives you energy and fills you with inspiration? Seek out those things!
Good sleep is essential, not just for rest and rejuvenation. There are many important immune functions that are optimized during sleeping hours, making sleep essential for a healthy immune response. For adults, this means at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night, or more for certain individuals.
We are what we eat, and this is especially true when it comes to immune function. To best support vitality and immunity here are some suggestions: eat with the seasons - in winter that means warm food and beverages, i.e. soups and teas. Avoid overeating and leave space between meals - overburdening your digestive system can create mucous and weaken vitality. Eat healthy - more whole foods, less refined sugar and processed foods.
Stay warm! Bundle up indoors and outdoors. Try to get direct sunshine whenever possible, for as long as possible. Consider a humidifier if you are prone to dryness.
Keep your blood and lymph flowing strong by moving every day, ideally at least 15-30 minutes of moderate exercise. Go outdoors and get fresh air, just bundle up!
6. Herbs + supplements
Cook with antimicrobial, warming herbs such as garlic, thyme, oregano or rosemary. Consider a daily immune tonic such as astragalus, reishi or elderberry. Consider immune stimulants such as echinacea when an extra boost is needed. Consider supplementing with Vitamin D during the cold months.
Stay well out there, and let us know how we can help! Want to talk to an herbalist? Book a consultation here.
With the holidays upon us many people will be eating quite differently then they usually do. Here are some tips to support digestion during this time:
1. Be easy on yourself
This time of year it's just more difficult to eat the way we'd like to to be healthy, and that's ok! Be easy on yourself. It happens. You may eat the thing that your tummy regrets later. The gut-brain connection to huge, and one of the best things we can do to care for our guts is to be kind, gentle and accepting of ourselves, even when we we make choices that we know don't reflect our ideals.
2. Set healthy boundaries with family
There's nothing like family for providing pressure around food. We just don't them to feel bad if we say no to their special treat, right?
We know it's hard, but accepting the love of your family doesn't need to mean accepting their food. If you know you are sensitive to gluten, dairy, sugar or something else, while knowing that it's quite possible you will slip up on this and that's ok, know that it's also ok to say no if you feel this would be best.
Consider taking this opportunity to educate your loved ones about food alternatives, perhaps by bringing along something to share that does fit your needs. You may even help expand someone else's worldview and better their health as well.
3. Use digestive bitters
One of the easiest way to promote better digestive for large holiday meals is with digestive bitters.
Bitters refer to pretty much any herb that has a bitter taste. The bitter flavor has historically been very common in the human diet, but in the U.S. many people rarely include it. Due to our evolutionary history, simply tasting the bitter flavor stimulates digestive secretions all along our GI tract. This stimulation allows us to better break down and assimilate heavy meals, lessening the chances for discomfort.
The easiest way to take bitters is to take 5-15 drops of a bitters tincture blend 5-15 minutes before a meal, or to do the same after a meal. Bitter herbs include dandelion, burdock, yellow dock and gentian. It's good to also include aromatic bitters like ginger, orange peel or angelica. Urban Moonshine makes a line of bitters available at most natural food stores.
4. Drink a warm digestive tea after the meal
One of the most enjoyable things after a large holiday meal is a warm cup of tea. The warmth helps to promote good digestion, and if the tea contains digestive herbs this can doubly help.
The herbs the are particularly best are called "carminatives." These are aromatic herbs that taste yummy and are particularly good for relieving gas and bloating. Examples include chamomile, peppermint, lemon balm, cinnamon and ginger, or the classic chai tea spices. Brewing up a cup of these herbs after the meal can go a long way in preventing indigestion, and can taste so yummy!
Here's an example recipe:
These herbs are featured in our dessert tea, specifically designed to accompany dessert or to BE a dessert all on its own.
*Have caution with licorice, this may not be a good herb for some people.
5. Have herbs on hand if you need
If things really don't go well, make sure to have on hand your herbal allies that can provide relief. Best to know ahead of time what these are for you, but may include some of the following:
6. Let us know if we can help!
We work with people who experience digestive discomfort to regain well-being and to feel better. If you would like some personal guidance on supporting your digestion, be in touch! Learn more here.
Article by Nick Cavanaugh, clinical herbalist at Railyard Apothecary
3 Ways We Use Herbs to Help DealRead Now
Holidays are coming. It's still a pandemic. Plus, you know, all the things. Here's 3 ways we use herbs to help deal.
1. Drink a relaxing herbal tea throughout the day.
2. Start your day with an uplfiting or adaptogenic herbal powder blend.
3. Take an Herbal Tincture an hour before bed to unwind and prepare for sleep
Tinctures are generally a fast-acting way to take herbs. There are many relaxing herbs that can have a somewhat sedating effect in larger quantities (do not combine with alcohol or sedative medications). Taking one of these herbs in tincture form before bedtime can help calm the mind and body and prepare for a more restful sleep.
Herbs that work well
I sincerely hope this blog post helps you find more ease during stressful times. Want to talk with me about you can herbs to support your individual situation? Book a free 15-minute info call with me to learn about our herbal consultations here.
- Nick Cavanaugh
Clinical Herbalist at Railyard Apothecary
You Are What You Assimilate: An Herbalist's View of the Digestive SystemRead Now
Herbalists traditionally view the digestive system as being centrally important to health. The digestive system includes the following organs:
From a scientific standpoint, digestion is "breaking down food into molecular particles of usable size and content."
But perhaps the bigger point from the herbalist's point of view is that there is also a sense in which the digestive process is just one part of one larger, interconnected process which is not limited to the organs of the digestive tract.
More broadly speaking, there is a bigger process of assimilation, metabolism and elimination, a dynamic and continuous interplay between the individual and the wider world which affects all aspects of our body and health. The digestion of foods in the digestive tract is a central part of this bigger process.
Traditional systems of medicine often have incorporated a wider, more integrated model of the body which describes these broader processes. For example, in classical Greek and Islamic medicine this bigger process is called the "Natural Faculty," one of the four primary faculties of the body which govern fundamental body processes. The principal organ of the natural faculty is said to be the liver, an organ which herbalists often pay special attention to.
Because assimilation, metabolism and elimination are such interconnected processes with effects throughout the body, herbalists often make connections between the state and behavior of the digestive tract and physical symptoms in other parts of the body. These are some examples of how those connections are made:
And there are so many more examples!
Additionally there is the basic reality that the nutrients we ingest are only as beneficial to us as is our ability to assimilate them. Since good nutrition is so fundamental to health, this is why the strength and capacity of the digestive system is similarly seen as so fundamental.
This is why herbalists often will make statements such as "you are what you assimilate!"
Want to learn how to support your digestive health? Check out our other article about two of the most relevant kinds of digestive herbs:
Want to get individual guidance on how you can support your digestive health? Our staff of clinical herbalists is ready to guide you. Learn more about getting support and coming up with an individualized health plan here:
White sage grows wild in the southwest. It is considered sacred to many indigenous peoples of this continent, and many have shared concerns about the widespread commercialization of this plant. To some indigenous people sacred plants such as this should not be sold commercially, and to do so brings up issues of cultural appropriation.
Along the same lines, the term "smudging" or "smudge sticks" are terms many native peoples feel refer specifically to their indigenous practices related to sacred plants. For that reason, we use and suggest non-native peoples use the terms "burning bundles," "smoke bundles" or "incense."
Additionally, white sage is becoming at risk in the wild due to over harvesting according to United Plant Savers, and many so-called sustainable wild crafting sources of this plant are not actually sustainable.
In order to honor and respect native peoples, their traditions, and this sacred plant, we encourage non-native people to use abundant plants such as garden sage (pictured) and mugwort for making your own burning bundles. Or, if you feel the need to use white sage in particular, we'd suggest growing this plant yourself.
Smoke has been used for centuries to ward off negative energy, clear personal aura space, and hold sacred containers. Working with plants in this way is a tradition we all can embrace and bring into our lives in our own personal way.
Want to learn more about making your own smoke bundles? Check out the following:
Learn more about issue related to white sage from United Plant Savers here.
Any thoughts on this topic? Please share in the comments below. 🌿🌲💚
By Susan Staley, Clinical Herbalist
There’s a lot of talk about adaptogens out there. You may notice an increasing number of foods and beverages advertising that they contain adaptogens. Maybe even your cousin is suggesting you start working with them. But what qualifies an herb as adaptogenic? What is an adaptogen and why might someone consider incorporating one or more of these important plants into their life? What herbs truly adaptogens? And what makes them unique from each other?
The term “adaptogen” is a fairly recently identified plant action, perhaps coined in the early 1940’s, although the idea and value of these plants comes from the East and has long been understood. Adaptogenic plants behave in a non-specific way, meaning they support general balance and vitality in the body. They help a person to “adapt” better to the inevitable changes and stressors of life- especially the big ones with some kind of beginning and ending like a big project or moving. The source of the stress may be emotional, environmental, physical, or mental. We perceive the challenge the same way on the inside. They are also considered to be non-toxic and normalizing (meaning helps the body and the individual return to health and balance).
Until recently, perhaps the most well-known adaptogen was Ginseng- whether American or Asian. Ginseng immediately brings to mind words like “longevity” and “vitality”, perhaps even “magical”. Many adaptogenic plants are roots. Like roots, the right adaptogen(s) for an individual, in the right amount, can make one feel grounded while the winds of life blow about them. When harvesting roots, most often the entire plant must be taken, unlike a berry or leaf. This is good to keep in mind when considering sourcing and sustainability in regards to the herbs you decide to work with. Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Licorice, Eluethero, and the Ginsengs are all adaptogenic roots. Tulsi and Jiao Gulan are leafy adaptogens. Schisandra is a bright little berry adaptogen, and many consider Reishi mushroom to be adaptogenic.
Adaptogenic plants help us to support our vitality and resiliency, especially when combined with nourishing food, rest, and other lifestyle factors. They pair well with nervine plants, especially those of the tonic and relaxant variety like Skullcap, Milky Oats, Chamomile, Passionflower, Anise Hyssop, and Linden. In fact, often plants that support the nervous system and cardiovascular system are a good place to go for support in the face of increasing stress before introducing adaptogens.
If you’re feeling the call of the adaptogens, remember that plants, like humans, are all different from one another. Adaptogens each have their own character, gifts, and affinities towards different body systems, functions, and even emotional qualities. For example Ashwagandha is building, strengthening, and helps with healthy sleep- so nice in the evening, although the plant does not cause drowsiness. Rhodiola is a stimulating adaptogen that energizes body and mind, is drying in quality, and best taken in the morning. And Tulsi makes for a delicious tea, supports digestion and immune function, and enhances feelings of inspiration and peace. To find the adaptogens best suited for you, try speaking with an herbalist, reading texts that help differentiate their gifts and your needs, and start preparing some whole plant preparations at home and listen to your body for cues that you’re on the right track.
One of the great things about herbs is that they directly contact our digestive tracts when we consume them, making it quite easy for herbs to affect this body system which is at root of good health. There are two kinds of herbs in particular that support digestion: carminatives and bitters. Keep reading to learn more!
And please keep in mind that things vary from person to person. Please seek medical advice if you are experiencing concerning GI symptoms. If you would like any guidance in using herbs to support digestion then please schedule an appointment with one of our herbalists.
And also please keep in mind some of these ideas for supporting good digestion in general:
Carminatives are a great kind of herb for digestion. They generally help because of the presence of volatile oils (also known as essential oils) which relax smooth muscle and relive pain.
Carminative herbs often have many benefits for digestion, but they are most well known for relieving gas and bloating, as well as feelings of fullness, distension or spasm.
A nice way to enjoy carminative herbs is as a warm cup of herbal tea taken after the meal which can help to better assimilate the food and relive discomfort.
Example carminative herbs include:
The bitter flavor is one that has been largely removed from the modern U.S. diet, but it has a lot of beneficial effects!
Simply tasting the bitter flavor 10-15 minutes before a meal (such as with 5-10 drops of a bitters tincture) can stimulate the body to begin the digestive process. This means especially that digestive juices including saliva and stomach acid begin to flow.
With the stimulating of digestive secretions this may help the body to more completely break down the food, preventing digestive problems further down the line, as well as increase feelings of satiety earlier in the meal, and increase motility in the lower GI.
Example herbs include:
Putting it together
Bitters are often combined with warming herbs or carminative herbs to balance their strongly cooling and drying qualities when taken in excess. Some herbs such as ginger carry several of these properties in the same herbs.
To round out a meal you could try a little bit of a bitters to stimulate things at the start, and a nice cup of carminative tea at the end to settle things down.
You could also try adding in bitter and carminative herbs INTO your food - kale, arugula, endive and other greens are bitter, and most of the common kitchen spices are carminative, especially if they are very aromatic (and especially those listed above).
So go ahead, give some of these herbs a try, and please reach out if you'd like an individual advice with a consultation. Enjoy!
With things really heating up our there we thought it would be a good idea to share some ideas for how to stay cool with plants. Below is a list of herbs, fruits and veggies that are all known in one way or another to be "cooling." By adding these into your diet, making them into a tea or other beverage, or cooking them into with your food you may feel a bit more refreshed and at ease.
Check out the lists below and see if anything jumps calls out to you to bring into your life these hot summer days. Some of these ideas come from ayurvedic classifications, with references noted in parentheses and at the bottom.
HerbsFresh for cooking/eating:
Take as a tincture before a meal, or mixed into a refreshing beverage. Can combine with aromatic hers for better flavor, or check out Urban Moonshine's bitters blends.
Refresh body and spirit with cooling nervines, as cool infusions or tinctures
Local foods to cool down
Fruits to eat:
Vegetables to eat
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