Anti-itch Plantain Balm

If you could harvest mosquitoes and eat them, I’d…

…never mind.  You probably can eat them.  I don’t want to!

Mosquito season is upon us!  Which means I’m dotted with red welts and can be spotted out in the yard wearing long pants and sleeves, despite it being in the 80s!  Fortunately, nature offers a good remedy for the itch, on those days when I just can’t be troubled to wear pants and sleeves.  Plantain to the rescue!

Plantain, also known as “white man’s foot” because it grows in areas trampled by foot traffic, grows just about everywhere, and you probably have some in your own yard.  Here’s some in mine:

Look for it at the edge of your lawn, or on or next to a walkway.

You can recognize it by its wide leaves and rosette-style growth pattern.

You can pick a clean(ish) leaf of plantain, chew it up, and then use the pulp to cover up a bite.  It will take the itch away in seconds!  Just leave it on until it falls off on its own.

If you don’ want to be covered in green splotches of plantain/saliva goo, there’s another method that works too.  Gather a good bunch of leaves and take them to the house.  Chop them up finely, and stuff them in a jar.  Then pour olive oil (you can substitute other skin-healing oils like fractionated (liquid) coconut oil, sweet almond oil, etc) over the plantain to cover completely, and fill the jar all the way up.  Use a chopstick to push down on the plantain to allow any trapped air bubbles to escape.  Then top it off with oil so that it comes all the way to the top, so that there is essentially no air left in the jar when you screw the lid on.  Label the jar with the herb (plantain), the type of oil you put on it, and the date.  Store in a dark place at room temperature, on a surface that won’t be ruined by seeping oil. (I put my jar in a yogurt container, just to be on the safe side.)

After six weeks, strain the oil off of the plantain and toss the plantain in the compost bin.  The oil is now ready to be applied to bites as is, or you can take it a step further by making a healing balm.  I make a balm and store any excess plantain-infused oil in the refrigerator for future batches.

To make the balm, use:

4 ounces (1/2 cup) of plantain-infused oil
1/2 ounce beeswax (if you don’t have a scale and are using beeswax pastilles, it’s about 2 tablespoons)
20 drops essential oils (optional)

Put the plantain-infused oil and beeswax in a glass jar, and put the jar in a saucepan half-filled with water.  (This works as a double boiler.)  Heat the water on the stove and stir occasionally until the wax is completely melted.  Then remove from the heat and add essential oils, if using.  Oils I have added to this mixture that promote skin healing are lavender and frankincense, and in a recent batch I used basil and rosemary, because they are anti-inflammatory and also help to repel bugs, hopefully keeping me from getting bit even more!

After adding the essential oils, pour into small containers, label, and enjoy!  I use these little 5 gram tubs because they are inexpensive, reusable, small enough to carry with me everywhere, and they’re a great size for gifting.  I put a penny in the photo so you can see how small they are.

I also make an effort to re-use small cosmetic containers – those little tins that beard balm and the like come in are great, as are small glass jars and pots.   I keep a 1.5 oz. honey-jar of this balm in a kitchen drawer, because I use it so often.

This balm is great for bug bites, but it’s also helpful on lots of other skin conditions.  The balm can be used anywhere for skin irritation, itchiness, minor scratches, or even as an all-over moisturizer.  If you omit the essential oils, it makes an excellent balm for healing diaper rash.

homemade toothpaste

Let me preface this post by saying:  if you’re perfectly happy with your teeth and your current toothpaste, then keep doing what you’re doing.  But if you’re looking for something different, read on.

After experiencing some post-pregnancy cavities, I did some research and discovered a book on how to remineralize and heal teeth naturally.   I switched up my diet some (including soaking and sprouting grains), and I added more oily little fishes to my diet, but I’ll confess that I just couldn’t do the whole protocol that is outlined in the book.  (No donuts?  Surely you jest.)

One thing I did do, though, was switch my toothpaste.  I tried (and loved) Uncle Harry’s Toothpaste, which made my mouth go “WOW,” but the cost was a tad steep:  about $11 for a small jar.  But still:  my mouth said WOW, and when I ran out of it and switched back to my old toothpaste, my mouth said:  “This is not wow.  Stop this nonsense and get the good toothpaste.”

So, I read the ingredients and researched homemade toothpaste recipes, which helped me determine the proportions, and I’m pretty pleased with the result.  (So are my teeth and gums!)  If you are a kitchen/beauty alchemist like I am, you may already have most of the ingredients on hand.  If you don’t, I recommend you just get some of Uncle Harry’s.

In a 4 oz. mason jar,* combine:

2 tablespoons bentonite clay
2 teaspoons Celtic sea salt
2 teaspoons xylitol
2 teaspoons calcium carbonate powder
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed powder
5 drops peppermint essential oil
5 drops spearmint essential oil
1 drop oregano essential oil
1 drop myrrh essential oil
1 drop frankincense essential oil
1 drop eucalyptus essential oil
1 drop tea tree essential oil
optional: 1 teaspoon colloidal silver

Add filtered water (very slowly, as it doesn’t take much) and stir until the powders come together to form a paste.  Brush as usual.  You can dip your toothbrush right into the jar to apply the paste to your brush, as the essential oils in the toothpaste are strongly antibacterial.

* Please don’t put the paste in a plastic jar, as the essential oils will degrade the plastic.

Feel free to switch up the ingredients to make it work for you – i.e., if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, note that some of the essential oils aren’t recommended.  And please note that most of the oils aren’t safe for kids under the age of 6.

Since I’m not a dentist, please, do your research and find out if this is right for you.  Some dental providers may balk at the idea of a fluoride-free, dirt-based toothpaste, and others will cheer you on.   Do what works for you and your family.

Have you tried to remineralize your teeth?  Did it work?  Please let me know about your experience in the comments!

Just do one thing

As a health coach, two questions people ask me all the time are, “What should I eat?” and “What diet should I follow?”  This makes sense: everywhere we look, we see new diet fads, new ways to lose weight, new ways to identify ourselves by what we eat.  You can’t host a dinner party anymore without fielding concerns from people about how they’re paleo/keto/vegan/raw/gluten-free/dairy-free/soy-free/high-fat/low-fat/all-carb/no-carb/no-fruit/all-fruit/anti-nightshade/subsisting-on-air-and-sunshine-and-occasionally-vodka.

That last one is made-up.  (Probably.)  I know someone who lived happily for a year on just ice cream.  She may or may not have been me.  (She was me.)

And here’s the thing:  the question of what to eat isn’t easy to answer.  Humans are omnivorous, which means we can eat pretty much anything, and different cultures all over the world eat dramatically different diets and do just fine.  Consider that traditional Inuit people eat lots of blubber and almost no carbs, whereas the traditional Japanese diet features lots of white rice (carbs) and very little fat.  And here’s the rub:  people eating either of these traditional diets tend to be healthy!  My grandmother grew up eating bacon and butter and cream and, at 92, was still living at home and tending her own garden.

So what are we supposed to eat?!?

Most research on nutrition suggests that eating a traditional diet – that is, one that your ancestors ate – will keep you healthier.  Most research also suggests that eating a modern diet – that is, one filled with processed convenience foods – will make you sicker.

As a good starting point in figuring out what to eat, I really like Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, a book that offers out a number of helpful guidelines to use in deciding what to eat (and what not to eat).  Some of my favorites are:

Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food

Avoid products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry.

Avoid foods that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients

Avoid products that contain more than 5 ingredients

Avoid products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce

Avoid foods you see advertised on television

Eat mostly plants, especially leaves

Eat animals that have themselves eaten well

Eat well-grown food from healthy soil

Make water your beverage of choice

Eat meals

Don’t become a short order cook

Fill half your plate with vegetables

Limit your snacks to unprocessed plant foods (fruits, nuts, and vegetables)

Plant a vegetable garden if you have the space, a window box if you don’t

Cook

While that may seem like a lot of advice to follow all at once, here’s the deal: you don’t need to.  Just pick one thing that you can change – something that seems both manageable and sustainable – and start there.  Then, after that becomes your new norm, pick one more change.  As you start to shift to healthier eating patterns, your body will shift too, and it will become easier to make healthier choices.

Do I recommend drastic dietary shifts to my clients?  No.  Why?  Because every diet has an equal and opposite binge.   You can deprive yourself of the junky foods you love for so long… until eventually you cave, and then you feel bad, and feeling bad makes you eat more junky food, and suddenly you’ve lost all the progress you’d made.  So I encourage my clients to focus not on drastic, fast change, but rather to take the slow and steady approach.

So, my answer to the “what should I eat?” question is this:  The only diet I advocate is one that’s 90 percent healthy, 10 percent vodka ice cream.  (Kidding!  You get to pick your poison.)  This is the 90-10 diet, and it doesn’t require religious adherence, nor does it require you to eat eat just pineapple for weeks on end.  You don’t even have to give up donuts.

Shout-out, by the way, to Mr. Bob’s Donuts.  I love you, donuts.

See?  All things in moderation.  Even donuts!

Since I recommend a moderate approach to dietary change, does this mean that I think people doing keto or paleo or sunshine-and-vodka diets are wrong or stupid?  No.  (Well, maybe my ice cream diet was unwise.)  If you’re an adult and you think that the keto diet might help jump-start healthier living for you, by all means, do it.  But if you think that a 3-day juice fast will solve all your problems and make you lose (and keep off) 15 pounds, you’re delusional.

Real change is change that lasts.

So pick ONE healthy thing.  And do that thing.  Not for a month, but forever.  Pick a thing you will be content to do forever, and start doing it.  Right now.

And if one day you forget to do that one thing, it’s not the end of the world.  You can just start anew, every day, and do that one thing, until it becomes second-nature to you, and you won’t have to think about it.  Then pick one more thing.

The little choices that we make every single day matter.  They add up to how we live our whole life.  So pick that one thing, and let’s get started.

What will be your thing?  Let me know in the comments!

And, as always, if you think you might benefit from a guide to help you transition to a healthier lifestyle, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to schedule a free health history consultation.  Email me at upstreamhealth.jill @ gmail.com (minus the spaces) to set up an appointment.

be here now

The sky dropped nearly a foot of wet, dense snow on us, and now we face the task of digging out.  I wouldn’t have to, really, as the weather will probably warm, and all the snow will disappear on its own.  But I like shoveling snow, and my toddler loves being out in it, so we spent a good portion of our day outside, taking turns wielding the “shubble,” as my tot calls it.

The snow is beautiful.  I lift scoop after scoop, keeping an eye on my boy as he wanders down the yard, half-walking, half-swimming in deep drifts.  He tumbles and squeals.  His hat falls off, and I try to put it back on him.  “I don’t aunt it,” he insists.  I see the neighbor clearing his deck in a t-shirt, so I figure a bare noggin is probably fine, at least for a while.  One by one, my son’s boots get sucked off by the snow, and I pick him up, carrying him back to the house like a sack of potatoes, if potatoes were known for kicking and crying and yelling.  I put him down by the door to brush the chunks of snow off him, and he darts back to the snow, just in socks.

He runs, squealing joyfully, and I follow him, but slowly, as I’m hindered by my jacket’s pocket zipper… as I try to take out my phone and capture some of his glee.  I take a few photos, none of which captures quite how happy this makes him, and then I give up and just watch, taking it all in.  The white-carpeted trees, the crunch beneath my feet, the way the snow muffles all the sounds.

A slushy rain starts falling, and I put the phone away, zip up my pocket, put my mittens back on and go to my son’s side.  He pulls a colorful knitted sock out of the snow, hands it to me, announcing that it is wet.

“Do you ever get cold?” I ask him.

“No,” he insists, looking up at me with one bare foot and one sock-covered foot, standing in a another foot of wet snow.

I pick him up anyway.  He protests loudly as I carry him to the house, this time depositing him inside, determined to keep him there at least long enough to put dry clothes on him.  He fusses for a minute and then relents, helps remove the rest of his wet gear, and heads upstairs for a much-needed nap.  I tuck him in and he slumbers, and I head downstairs to see that more snow is falling, the wind is picking up, and I know we’ll have more to do when he wakes, and know he’ll be delighted by it.

A couple four-wheel-drive trucks have managed to make it down our sleepy little street, but the rest of us with cars are staying put, content to tuck in by the fireplace with a cup of cocoa.

As I sit by the fire, I resist the urge to reach to my phone, and just sit instead, savoring this quiet, snow-filled day.  May each day bring us these moments, when we opt for what is tangibly before us, not on an illuminated screen.  The dumpster fire of politics will burn on with or without my gaze.  The one in my fireplace needs my attention, right here, right now.

Happy winter, friends.  Wishing you peace and love and the best present of all:  presence.

xoxo

a nighttime story

As I put my son to bed, I lie on my side, and he lies next to me on his belly.  I rub his back, tiny gentle circles on either side of his spine.  If my hand stops, he quietly asks, “more?”  So I resume my tiny circles until his breath slows, his fidgeting stops.  Then his weight shifts and he turns onto his side, resting his back against my belly.  His little hand reaches back and finds mine, and he drapes my hand across his belly.  I hold it there, still, as his breathing falls into the same rhythm as mine, our chests rising and falling together.

And in an instant, I am taken back in time to when I was pregnant with him, lying on my side in bed, my hand draped across my burgeoning belly, feeling our bodies connected, our beings so delicately intertwined.  I recall both the excitement and the gratitude I felt for holding him within me, feeling him grow, nurturing him (and me) with healthy food and rest and loving care.

Coming back to the present, I feel him again, the back of his soft warm head nestled against my breastbone.  Our shared breath seems at once like a wave, a tandem rise and fall, and then I remember: we are the ocean, not the wave.  He and I, and all together.

I slip out of his bed, silently, draping the covers over his shoulders, tenderly kissing the top of his head.  Tiptoeing down the stairs, I re-enter the world, pick up my phone, glimpse briefly at the headlines, and sigh.  Fire, terror, finger-pointing, name-calling, gunshots.  Right now it’s easy to forget that sense of connection that binds us all together.   Reading the news, it’s hard not to feel a keen sense of separateness from others.  We’re divided into so many fractious factions, and the reality that we all share this space together, exist in this singular ocean of existence, spinning around our corner of the galaxy on the very same watery sphere, is easy to forget.

So please, if you will:  Remember.  We’re all in this together.  What affects me affects you.  What ails you ails me.  And what lifts one of us up, lifts all of us up.

Lifting you up, sending you love from afar.