Natural Support Options for Eczema - by Petra Sovcov, Clinical Herbal Therapist
The practitioners at Healing House are not medical doctors. The information supplied is not to be considered as a replacement for advice or prescription drugs from your medical doctor. If you have a health issue, please see your primary care physician first and foremost. Also, please do not self dose with herbs and supplements, please see an appropriate practitioner if you wish to include natural health strategies in your care.
The terms eczema and dermatitis are synonymous with these types of skin reactions. Eczema can be acute in nature (sudden onset) or it can be chronic (long term), the term eczema refers to a grouping of disorders that share similar clinical features but may have different causes.
In either case, an eczematic flair may have several factors involved, these can be environmental, systemic, or potentially food sensitivity based. In addition to these reactionary standards, there are different types of eczema, the most common being Atopic, Seborrheic, Discoid, and Irritant/Allergic contact Eczema (Contact Dermatitis). A short description of the types will be discussed below.
Atopic eczema is one of the most common types. It is categorized by prolonged hypersensitivity to environmental factors. This can include things such as pollen, dust, foods, chemicals, or pets. There is often a strong genetic predisposition in this type of eczema and may include other factors such as asthma, hay fever, and food allergies/sensitivities. This type of eczema has increased 2 to 5-fold since the early 1980s, and now potentially affects up to 1 in 10 individuals during their lifespan.
The reasoning behind this is not clear in standard western medical practice. However, in natural medicine circles, it is thought to be caused by the increase of chemical usage in foods, care products, household cleaners, and so forth, all contributing to something called ‘Toxic Load Reaction’.
Most commonly this type of eczema is seen in children and young adults, and though onset may happen after the age of 30, it is not common unless it takes place in a pregnant individual.
Atopic eczema looks different at different ages and in individuals of different skin colors, some of the features and symptoms may include:
Another common form of eczema, Seborrheic eczema is thought to affect up to 2%of the population. This type of skin reaction is most seen in areas of the skin where sebaceous glands are most numerous, such as on the scalp, forehead, eyebrows, eyelids, ears, cheeks, and on the chest or between the shoulder blades, and can include dandruff or a cradle cap type infection. Often times this type of reaction is marked by a red or pink rash with non-regular edges, and can also include a yellowish greasy looking scale, because of this it can be easy to mistake this type of Eczema with psoriasis.
This type of eczema is one of the most common types seen in infants usually during their first 3 months of life and is seen in adults between the ages of 30 and 70. The disorder is more common in men, often runs in families, and can be made worse in cold weather.
This type of eczema is also commonly found in individuals with HIV and AIDS, but is also commonly seen in individuals under large amounts of stress, and those with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
Some of the symptoms associated are as follows:
Discoid, or nummular eczema is a persistent, usually itchy rash with inflammation that is characterized by circular shaped spots with tiny blisters, scabs, and scales. Most commonly this type of eczema presents itself on the lower legs, forearms, and backs of the hands. It can at times be mistaken for ringworm, but unlike ringworm, it does not have a red border around the outside edge. Like most types of eczema, the cause is unknown. There are two common peaks of onset for this type of eczema, those being in young women aged 15 to 30, and middle-aged adults of both sexes.
Some of the symptoms associated are as follows:
Contact dermatitis is an acute or chronic condition with itching and inflammation. It mostly results from exposure to substances in the environment caused by allergens, soaps, detergents, organic solvents, or other substance of food based environmental triggers. It can also be caused by such familiar things as allergies to dogs and cats or contact with some plants such as poison ivy or poison oak.
Some of the most common symptoms and causes are as follows:
When one approaches eczema from a holistic standpoint, it is important to remember that all parts of the body and individual are related. In saying this, a practitioner who is trained in holistic applications will look at the individual’s current emotional health, stress levels, nutritional habits, environmental exposure, medications, and all body systems to gain a full picture of the potential issue
Traditionally Used Herbs
Commonly Used Supplements
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Dietary and Lifestyle Modifications
As you can see, eczema is a multi faceted condition with various types and possible triggers. If you would like to reach out to ask any questions or have a no cost initial meet and greet to discuss your current wellness issues, please feel free to contact the office directly.
I hope you enjoyed this article and found its content useful.
In health and wellness,
Petra - CHT, Herbal Medicine
This pandemic has influenced our daily work flows and routines. Whether it has increased the amount of sitting as you now find yourself working from home for the day, or you find yourself commuting more (Skip the Dishes, Uber Eats, driving, etc.), or coming up with a creative way to make an income online as your other job may have been terminated.
No matter the circumstance, it is apparent that our world here has shifted. This takes a toll on our physical and emotional health. To adapt to this COVID-19 world a lot of us are spending more of our day in front of a screen, in a stagnant seat, doing what must be done to get through this.
Hands up, if you can relate to that compressed feeling in your low back after a day at your computer? What about the tightness in both your hips and hamstrings? A tension headache resulting from your neck being pulled towards your screen? What about a shift in your posture?
Fortunately for us there are some shapes that can be utilized to help lessen the pain from sitting throughout the day. A restorative yoga sequence aims to move the spine in all directions, through gentle twists, back bends, inversions, and forward folds.
Each pose has a different benefit. For example, a twist helps to balance our energy and digestive fire, detoxify the organs, and improve circulation; an inversion improves circulation and promotes lymphatic drainage; a forward fold squeezes blood and waste out of the abdomen, improving circulation and digestion; whereas, a backbend returns fresh blood and nutrients to these organs.
These movements aim to calm the body, activating the portion of the nervous system that is responsible for resting and digesting (parasympathetic nervous system). Who wouldn’t benefit from a gentle way to destress going into 2021?
So let's explore some basic restorative yoga poses that can be done in the comfort of your own home, morning or the evening, to help offset “computer posture.”
Simple Restorative Yoga Sequence:
Props needed: a flat surface, a bolster pillow or pillow with a long sturdy shape, and two blankets/towels.
Restorative Backbend ~ Supported Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose): 10-15 minutes.
Come to a seat on the ground. Place the bolster long ways behind the lower back (right up against the sacrum to provide enough support to lower back). Lower onto the bolster, bringing the feet together forming the shape of a diamond with your legs. Bring arms to the side and allow the chest to open up. Take a few nourishing breaths. Option to place a towel underneath the knees for additional support.
Benefits of this pose: lowers blood pressure, helps open up the mid back and chest, countering the posture in a chair.
Restorative Inversion ~ Viparita Karani (Elevated Legs up on a Wall). 10-15 minutes.
Come to a seat facing a wall, place a towel/blanket underneath lower back to prop up/support back, this is optional based on comfort. Extend feet up against the wall. Have a soft bend in the legs. Relax hands to the side, can use a small pillow behind the head for added comfort. Note: legs can be placed closer together.
Benefits of this pose: allows the mind to settle, lowers blood pressure, provides fresh blood to heart. Beneficial for varicose veins/spider veins, helps with excessive fluid retention, brings the blood and lymph fluid that pools in the legs back to the abdomen, providing fresh blood flow to limbs afterwards.
Restorative Twist ~ Elevated Twist on Bolster. 3-5 minutes each side.
Come onto your back, place the bolster/pillow to the left of the left leg. Keep shoulders rooted on the ground while bringing the right leg over to the left side to be placed on the bolster. Keeping the left leg straight, bring hands to the side to open up the chest. Take a few nourishing breathes, repeat on the other side.
Benefits of this pose: stretches the small muscles in the spine releasing pressure on the intervertebral discs. Opens the lungs, and diaphragm, improving our ability to breath and activate the calming portion of our nervous system. Counters the compression in the spine of sitting all day.
Restorative Forward Fold ~ Supported Upavistha Konasana (Seated Angle Pose). 3-5 minutes.
Bring the legs out into a wide legged stretch and place the bolster/pillow in front of you. Gently lower tummy, lungs, and head down on bolster, feeling the contact of the bolster against your abdomen. Place more blankets/pillows underneath if you need to be higher off the ground. Option to place blankets under the knees for further support. Take full, deep breaths from pelvis to collarbones.
Benefits of this pose: soothes the mind, and calms the nervous system. Helps to alleviate tension headaches, improves circulation to the abdomen, digestion, and respiration as blood pressure begins to decrease.
Note that these times to remain in each pose are a recommendation, modify for your own schedule and comfort. Restorative yoga is meant to be comfortable, if you find discomfort, modify and adjust until you are comfortable using blankets, towels and pillows.
Click here (or watch below) to view a short video from Sky of Sky Yoga and Wellness, sharing some simple postures that can be done in your chair throughout the day while working at your computer to minimize spinal pain.
Sky is a recent graduate of the Institute of Holistic Nutrition, and a previous student of Tahlia Sage and Petra Sovcov (Healing House).
Sky Corbett-Methot is a Holistic Nutritionist and 500 hour yoga and meditation instructor that also teaches prenatal yoga, postnatal yoga, and yoga with baby classes. She is a holistic wellness coach that combines a unique “just for you” approach that utilizes movement, meditation, and nourishment to enhance vitality. Find out more about Sky and SkyYoga & Wellness at: https://www.skyyogawellness.ca or find her on Instagram @sky_the_dauntless
In line with the Healthy Weight Awareness Month (January) I’d like to explore the psychology behind emotional eating and binge eating. As you read, I invite you to observe how the mind and body are connected along the gut-brain axis, which might give you an insight as to why a holistic approach to wellness could be much more beneficial to clients than relying entirely on one treatment modality.
Both emotional and binge eating can lead to weight gain and potentially to obesity, but the former are not prerequisites for the latter, nor is obesity a certain end result. Binge eating occurs less often, as it is marked by psychological distress. On the other hand, it is safe to assume that most of us engage in emotional eating from time to time, that is to say using food to soothe certain emotions rather than to satisfy physiological hunger. Regardless of the type of type of eating we engage in, when we serve ourselves some food our bodies get into a rest and digest state – the parasympathetic nervous system gets activated, thus increasing digestion, making the heart rate slow down and leading to a feeling of relaxation (this is not the case if you are eating while stressed). Subsequently, as we continue to eat and digest the gut signals the brain to secrete endorphins (relaxing chemicals which act as pain relievers) and dopamine. The latter is part of the reward system, hence it makes us feel pleasure and satisfaction; unfortunately for our bodies, however, it is linked to eating junk food and other not so healthy products. In addition to endorphins and dopamine, serotonin (the “happy hormone”) may also come into the picture after eating foods containing the essential amino acid tryptophan (found in protein-based foods such as meats, dairy, seeds and raw cacao among others), or after eating foods with a high glycemic index (ex. ice cream, pizza and fries are examples of both categories). No wonder emotional eating is associated with reaching out for such comfort foods – the chemicals these consist of trigger the secretion of feel-good hormones in the brain! Chocolate deserves special mentioning here, because in addition to tryptophan, it consists of caffeine and theobromine (together these little guys give us an energy boost), as well as phenylethylalanine – a chemical secreted in the brain when we are in love!
Knowing how different food chemicals in the gut affect the neurotransmitters in the brain is important because it gives us an insight into the reasons behind emotional eating: when we experience pain, stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, loneliness, boredom or the need to reward ourselves, reaching out for comfort foods can give us a quick emotional fix – feelings of relaxation, pleasure, happiness and even love become predominant.
We can easily learn to associate feeling good with eating, which may become a problem if we rely on eating as the primary coping mechanism for emotional regulation. An additional red flag of emotional eating is when the latter turns into overeating (consuming more food than your body needs at a given time) and binge eating which is often followed by feelings of guilt and shame (hence the psychological distress mentioned earlier).
If you are someone who indulges in an occasional junk fiesta while stressed over a tight deadline I wouldn’t worry too much if I were you. However, if you notice regular use of food to cope with emotions, decreasing number of other coping mechanisms, and binge eating, you might want to consider taking action for your wellbeing at the earliest signs. The more binge eating occurs, the more guilt and shame people experience, which they tend to soothe with their primary coping mechanism for emotional regulation – (more) food, turning this into a vicious circle.
Although I won’t be focusing on eating disorders here, I quickly want to mention that some people might develop binge eating disorder (BED) characterized by recurring episodes (at least once a week for 3 or more months) of binge eating, which include 3 or more of the following:
1. Eating very quickly;
2. Eating regardless of hunger cues, even if one is already full;
3. Eating until uncomfortably or painfully full;
4. Eating alone due to embarrassment about the type and quantity of food ingested;
5. Feelings of self-disgust, guilt, and depression.
Among various effects that this mental illness could have on people’s psychological and physical health, it has been observed that that BED could lead to more frequent emotional overeating episodes compared to those without BED.
Before I turn to some tools which you may find helpful, I’d like to highlight that eating disorders are included as mental illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), some of which could be life-threatening and therefore require help from trained practitioners. The suggestions that I offer here are meant at starting points for people who do not exhibit the corresponding symptoms (https://nedic.ca/eating-disorders-treatment/), but do engage in emotional and/or binge eating, the occurrence of which they hope to minimize.
As part of increasing your self-awareness I additionally invite you to think of ways to develop your . Research shows that disordered eating is linked to deficits in emotional processing such as understanding one’s own and others’ emotions, related physical sensations and facial expressions. Therefore, it is expected that improving your grip on the above may have positive influence on your eating patterns. You can start by observing people’s reactions, how those affect you and vice versa. Furthermore, use stressful situations as opportunities to examine how you tend to react: Where in your body do you feel anger or anxiety? What do you do after a frustrating event?
2. Eat mindfully and intuitively
When I say mindful eating, I’m not suggesting that you should eat with your eyes closed while telling your brain not to think; to the contrary, mindfulness is about being present in the moment and when you eat this means simply savouring the food. Focus on your senses: Is you food colorful and aesthetically pleasing? Do you begin salivating at the sight of your meal? Do you feel your stomach getting excited? What is the texture of the food, and most importantly how much do you enjoy the taste of what you eat? If you want to get even more mindful, you may take a couple deep breaths before beginning your meal, and I highly recommend that you eat in a relaxing environment away from technology. That’s all – enjoy!
Intuitive eating is related to the savouring aspect of mindful eating, since at its core lies the idea of giving ourselves permission to enjoy the pleasure of eating without feeling guilt or shame. In order for this to happen we first have to make peace with food (without dividing it into good or bad categories) and thus get rid of the dieting mentality. Easier said than done – especially in a culture that constantly feeds us messages about diet norms and the . Another foundational premise of intuitive eating is learning to recognize cues of physiological hunger and to notice what fullness feels like for each person individually. Intuitive eating also involves the process of respecting your body and honoring your feelings without using food, which in a sense is the opposite of emotional eating. Last but not least, this self-care approach to eating developed by two dieticians, incorporates suitable nutrition – you can explore what that means for your body and unique needs by reaching out to a trained dietician or nutritionist.
3. Healthy Diet
My guess is that this comes at no surprise. Although I’m passionate about gut health, I specialize in mental health, so here I’ll only briefly share some points for you to consider in the psychological struggle with emotional and/or binge eating. There are certain nutrients such as the long-chained omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, magnesium and a number of phytonutrients that influence the neuroplasticity of the brain, which is essential for the replacement of unhealthy coping mechanisms like emotional and/or binge eating with wellness practices. Some foods containing these nutrients also have moderation effects on depression, which as seen earlier is a contributing factor to emotional regulation through the use of food. Moreover, there is growing research data on the effects of the gut flora on people’s cognitive functions and mood. For instance, about 90% of the “happy hormone” serotonin, which is an important mood stabilizer, get produced in the gut (so called “second brain”). That is to say, feeding ourselves anti-inflammatory foods that help us maintain a healthy gut flora could moderate anxiety and have positive impact on our mood. Nourishing our bodies in such ways, combined with increased self-awareness, mindful and intuitive eating could thus facilitate emotional regulation without stuffing down our feelings with food.
I hope that this leaves you with enough food for thought (pun intended). I will be sharing a couple additional tools to help you minimize emotional and/or binge eating, along with other mental health information on Healing House’s social media, so be sure to follow us.
Best wishes for the New Year – may you all find the strength in you to overcome your challenges and become proudly resilient! I am here to support you on your journey.
If you would like more information or to make an appointment with Bobbie, you can book with her directly by clicking here.
Evers, C., Marijn Stok, F., & de Ridder, D. T. (2010). Feeding your feelings: emotion regulation strategies and emotional eating. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 36(6), 792–804.
Jenkins, T. A., Nguyen, J. C., Polglaze, K. E., & Bertrand, P. P. (2016). Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients, 8(1), 56.
Foye, U., Hazlett, D. E., & Irving, P. (2019). Exploring the role of emotional intelligence on disorder eating psychopathology. Eating and weight disorders: EWD, 24(2), 299–306.
Konttinen, H., van Strien, T., Männistö, S., Jousilahti, P., & Haukkala, A. (2019). Depression, emotional eating and long-term weight changes: a population-based prospective study. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 16(1), 28.
LaChance, L. R., & Ramsey, D. (2018). Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression. World journal of psychiatry, 8(3), 97–104.
Macht M. (2008). How emotions affect eating: a five-way model. Appetite, 50(1), 1–11.
Macht, M., & Dettmer, D. (2006). Everyday mood and emotions after eating a chocolate bar or an apple. Appetite, 46(3), 332–336.
Schnepper, R., Georgii, C., Eichin, K., Arend, A. K., Wilhelm, F. H., Vögele, C., Lutz, A., van Dyck, Z., & Blechert, J. (2020). Fight, Flight, - Or Grab a Bite! Trait Emotional and Restrained Eating Style Predicts Food Cue Responding Under Negative Emotions. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 14, 91.
Wiedemann, A. A., Ivezaj, V., & Barnes, R. D. (2018). Characterizing emotional overeating among patients with and without binge-eating disorder in primary care. General hospital psychiatry, 55, 38–43.
Folic Acid Awareness!
Why should we care about vitamins?
Did you know that the tomato you eat today has drastically different nutritional values than a tomato thirty years ago?
Most of our foods are exceedingly vitamin and mineral deficient. The cause of this is oftentimes due to global soil degradation, the loss of plant variety, the large distance that food now travels, or due to man made chemical inputs, herbicides, and pesticides. Due to this, most individuals who eat a modern western diet, have nutritional deficiencies, and chronic nutritional deficiencies can have a huge impact on individual health.
Why Take Vitamins?
Supplements in our diet can be used as a preventative approach to maintaining or improving health and wellness. In some illnesses, vitamins are also used as a primary treatment method by trained practitioners for certain short-term and chronic illnesses.
Most often when we refer to vitamins we are not simply thinking about the most common types such as A, B, C, and D, but rather the more general idea of taking vitamins which alludes to minerals and other healthy nutritional choices as well.
This week is Folic Acid awareness week, and so we wanted to share with you the importance of this amazing water-soluble vitamin and discuss its impacts on health and wellness. Folic Acid is part of the B Vitamin complex, also known as B9. B complex vitamins are water soluble and are not stored very well in the body, however they are one of the most important vitamin complexes that our body needs as they are required daily for a variety of essential functions such as proper digestion and absorption, energy levels, sleep and wake cycles, proper brain function, and most importantly, our cellular metabolic functions.
This complex of vitamins works best together, and is also partially made in our native microbiome which is located in our small and large intestines.
B9 (Folic Acid) is considered to be one of the key water-soluble B vitamins. When it is consumed it is actively transported from our digestive tract into the blood where it acts as a coenzyme for a multitude of functions and often is converted to its active form, tetrahydrofolic acid (THEA), in the presence of niacin coenzyme (NADP) and vitamin C. Folic acid is stored in the liver, enough for 6 to 9 months of body use before deficiency symptoms might develop.
Most commonly folic acid is used to prevent anemia in pregnancy and is considered to relieve the symptoms of pernicious anemia.
The best source of folic acid is foliage from dark leafy greens, certainly something to consider when we realize that it is so commonly deficient in many culture's processed-food diets. Additionally, it is manufactured by our intestinal bacteria, so having a healthy microbiome is a key secondary component to healthy B vitamin levels.
What does Folic Acid Do?
Like many of the B vitamins, folic acid plays a key role in a large amount of key body processes, for example:
- It aids in red blood cell production by carrying the carbon molecule to the larger heme molecule, which is the iron-containing part of hemoglobin (the oxygen carrying molecule within red blood cells).
- Helps to breakdown and utilize dietary protein.
- Used in the formation of nucleic acids for RNA and DNA
- Has a fundamental role in the growth and reproduction of all cells.
- Allows for proper balancing of brain neurotransmitters that control mood, sleep and wake cycles, and maintained brain chemistry
If there is a deficiency of folic acid, there is decreased nucleic acid synthesis and cell division is hampered. This deficiency can play a large part in birth defects of a fetus and can lead to low birth weight or growth problems in infants. This is why folic acid is considered so key during pregnancy as it allows for proper balancing of brain neurotransmitter levels and development of an infants nervous system. In pregnancy women with a deficiency, the likelihood of neural tube defects in infants - including problems with anecephaly, encephalocele, and spinabifida is increased by folate deficiency.
Despite our knowledge about folic acid, it is still considered to be one of the most common vitamin deficiencies. Most commonly it proves to be a problem in the elderly, in alcoholics, in psychiatric patients, in epileptics, in women on birth control pills, and with those taking such drug therapies as sulfa antibiotics and tetracyclines which deplete folic acid by killing off the bacteria in our microbiome which produce it.
Those eating a standard North American Diet that is high in fats, meats, white flour, white sugar, and processed convenience foods may also develop folic acid deficiency.
When we consider the presentation of folic acid deficiency, it is good to know that it presents itself like many other B vitamin deficiencies, this being with anemia, fatigue, irritability, weight loss, headache, sore and inflamed tongue, diarrhea, heart palpitations, forgetfulness, hostility, and feelings of anxiety, depression, or often paranoia.
Because folic acid is so readily available in foods, this is a deficiency which can be easily remedied by implementing a more whole foods or seasonal diet.
Foods Rich in Folic Acid Include:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Leafy Green Vegetables such as Cabbage, Kale, Spring Greens, and Spinach
- Chickpeas and Kidney Beans
- Nuts and seeds
Additionally, we have a variety of plant allies that can assist with folic acid deficiency as well, and can be taken cooked or raw as a food.
Herbs that Contain Folic Acid
- Nettle (Urtica dioica)
- Chlorella (Chlorella vulgaris)
- Plantain Leaf (Plantago majora), do not eat in excess during pregnancy
- Oats (Avena sativa)
- Wild Yam Root (Diascorea villosa), do not take during pregnancy unless under supervision
So the next time you consider your B vitamins, consider folic acid, what it does, how it helps our amazing bodies, and the variety of plants that offer it in abundance.
Want to know more about folic acid?
Have questions about vitamins and supplements?
Want to know more about good supplement choices?
Feel free to reach out directly by DM on our social media sites, email us, or contact the
Healing House carries the full line of Genestra, Pure Encapsulations, Douglas Laboratories, Seroyal, and Wobenzym products.
We ship to the US and Canada (Shipping of Supplements within Canada is always free).
In Health and Wellness,
Staying Healthy with Nutrition The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine by Elson M. Haas, MD. - Celestial Arts Publishing Berkeley California 2006
The Plants of Christmas
As you snuggle in on this peaceful day of celebration, one has the opportunity to consider all of the other forms of celebration taking place around the world. December is a month packed with a great variety of holidays from many cultures and belief systems. From Christmas, to Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and Omisoka to name only a few. This is the month that celebrates the return of the light in the Northern Hemisphere, or in the case of Hanukkah a celebration of light in darkness. During this month, cultures celebrate the birth of Christ, the blessings of life and harvest, or the passing of the old year into the new.
In this short holiday article, I will share a bit on the history of Christmas, and offer a brief historical, symbolic, and medicinal synopsis of some of the plants that are so central and important to these well known celebrations. After all, human health and plant health are intertwined through food and medicine, it only makes sense that plants would also be central to the spiritual health and representation of a holiday.
What does Christmas Celebrate?
Christmas, literally means "the mass for Christ" and is the central day in which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In truth we do not know when Christ was born, as this day was chosen by Pope Leo I, a bishop of Rome (440-461).
Prior to the Christmas we know, December 25th marked the day in which Romans celebrated Saturnalia where Saturn, the god of agriculture, was worshiped. Lasting about a week, Saturnalia was characterized by feasting, drinking, and gift-giving. With Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, many of these customs were later absorbed into Christmas celebrations.
Christmas is a wonderful combination of the old and the new as it holds its roots in the symbolism of the ancient pagan world. Christmas also holds old ties with Yule when we consider the adoption of the Christmas tree. As a small contrast, we have additional ties to the old world with the modern symbolism of Santa Clause which has its roots in the story of Saint Nicholas.
What we know of Saint Nicholas is that he was a bishop from the city of Myra (now a part of modern Turkey). Saint Nicholas had a deep compassion for the poor and sought to help young children, orphans, and widows with donations of goods and money. The jolly Santa Claus we know and love today comes from our not-so-distant past. It was Coca-Cola who came up with the modernized image in the 1930s and used it as a targeted marketing campaign for their beverages.
What Herbal Allies are Central to Christmas?
The symbolism behind the evergreen tree is one we all know and love, the Christmas tree. The evergreen of the tree often symbolizes the eternal symbol of Christ and that of life after death. In earlier legends it is said that a fir tree grew out of a fallen oak. That fir tree bearing life from the dead oak became the symbol of Christ – being triangle in shape it represents the trinity – and from there came the idea that the tree should be a symbol of new and eternal life.
The concept of the more modern Christmas tree emerged in western Germany during the 16th century as Christians brought trees into their homes and decorated them with gingerbread, nuts, and apples. The custom became fairly popular and continued to spread to the royal courts across Europe up until the early 19th century. Unlike now, prior to the early 19th century in places like the US, having a Christmas tree was often viewed as a foreign and pagan custom.
While the Christmas tree originated in Germany, it was Britain’s Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who popularized it in the 1840s and 1985s. The reason for this was due to Victoria’s mother, Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld who was German and thus grew up having a decorated tree at Christmas time.
In addition to its symbolic representation at Christmas, pine has a long standing history in Northern and Western Herbalism as a medicinal plant. Cultures around the globe have used the needles, inner bark, and resin for a variety ailments. Internally, pine is a traditional remedy for coughs, colds, allergies, and urinary tract and sinus infections. Topically, pine is used to address skin infections and to lessen joint inflammation in arthritic conditions.
The poinsettia is native to Central America, centralized to an area of southern Mexico known as Taxco del Alacon where they flower during the winter. The ancient Aztecs name for them is cuetlaxochitl. From the poinsettia came purple and red dye for clothing and cosmetics, and the milky white sap was used in traditional medicine to treat fevers.
The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are thought to represent the Star of Bethlehem which led the wise men to the infant Jesus. The red colored leaves are said to symbolize the blood of Christ, and the white leaves are considered a representation of his purity.
In more modern practices of herbalism, poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) has quite a few uses. Traditionally all parts of the plant are used. It is said to assist with the removal of warts, and used in the traditional treatment of skin wounds, ulcers, and skin diseases. Additionally, it is considered to assist with lactation (milk production) in new mothers. Some of its other properties include anti-inflammatory actions and as an external ease for bone breaks and contusions.
Please keep in mind that although it is beautiful, Poinsettia is considered a toxic botanical. Please do not self dose, consult an informed practitioner regarding use.
Much like the Christmas tree, the beautiful evergreen of the holly is shown as the representation of eternal life. Christians have adopted the holly as the physical representation of Christmas. The tradition of this goes further back than the Christmas tree itself as early Christians and Pagans alike would bring its evergreen colors into the house during this time of year.
The sharp leaves are said to symbolize the crown of thorns worn by Christ, while the berries represent his blood.
In earlier traditions, and before it was associated with the more modern concepts of Christmas, holly was seen as a sacred plant of the Druids. While other plants wilted in the harsh grasp of winter, holly remained green and strong, and its branches bore bright red fruits even in the harshest of conditions. It is said that the Druids regarded holly as a symbol of fertility and eternal life which plays very nicely into the ancient practices associated with the winter solstice, and the even older practices of Saturnalia when the god of agriculture was worshiped.
When we consider the medicinal values of Holly (Ilex aquifolium), its leaves were used as a traditional northern herbal remedy for the treatment of fevers, joint pains from rheumatism, swelling, water retention (edema), chest congestion, laxative, cardiovascular stimulant, and as a diuretic. The berries of the holly are toxic, and the leaves themselves are considered a toxic botanical as well. However, seeing the historical and traditional uses of some of our oldest winter symbols is always a treat.
Please keep in mind that although it is beautiful, Holly is considered a toxic botanical. Please do not self dose, consult an informed practitioner regarding use.
Kissing under sprigs of mistletoe is a well-known holiday tradition, but this little plant’s history as a symbolic herb dates back thousands of years. The Greeks were known to use it as a cure for everything from menstrual cramps to spleen disorders, and the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder noted it could be used as a balm against epilepsy, ulcers and poisons. The plant’s romantic overtones most likely started with the Celtic Druids of the 1st century A.D. Because mistletoe could blossom even during the frozen winter, the Druids came to view it as a sacred symbol of vivacity, and they administered it to humans and animals alike in the hope of restoring fertility.
Another famous chapter in mistletoe folklore comes from Norse mythology. As the story goes, when the god Odin’s son Baldur was prophesied to die, his mother Frigg, the goddess of love, went to all the animals and plants of the natural world to secure an oath that they would not harm him. But Frigg neglected to consult with the unassuming mistletoe, so the scheming god Loki made an arrow from the plant and saw that it was used to kill the otherwise invincible Baldur. According to one sunnier version of the myth, the gods were able to resurrect Baldur from the dead. Delighted, Frigg then declared mistletoe a symbol of love and vowed to plant a kiss on all those who passed beneath it.
Like many of the evergreen plants, in modern Christmas tradition it is seen as the representation of eternal life. However, in modern herbalism there has been notice of its use in cardiovascular issues and cancer as it has powerful anti-tumor and anti-angiogenic qualities.
Please keep in mind that although it is beautiful, Mistletoe is considered a toxic botanical. Please do not self dose, consult an informed practitioner regarding use.
I hope you have enjoyed this article and have found a bit more cheer on this special day.
In health, wellness, peace, and good tidings
Petra Sovcov - CHT
" Hawthorn, white and odorous with blossom, framing the quiet fields, and swaying flowers and grasses, and the hum of bees." - F. S. Flint
Hawthorn was one of the first herbs that I learned about when I was going to school at Dominion. I remember thinking nothing of it, save for the fact that I loved how bright and vibrant the berry was, and enjoyed the fact that it was an herb that changed its useful parts with the season. In spring one uses the flowers and leaves, and in early fall one harvests the berries.
It was not until my third year of schooling when I was doing my clinical hours with our clinic director that I had my first real introduction to this amazing ally. I recall that we had a pretty intensive cardiovascular day. We were covering examinations, pathologies, anatomy, and reviewing appropriate herbs, dose, and methods of effect in the body. During this time our clinic director started having benign heart palpitations which she asked us to listen to. I remember clearly hearing the difference between a regular beat and the slight pause in her rhythm as she allowed all of the students to listen. I also recall the knowing smile on her face as she said "Now, let me take a dose of hawthorn, lets wait a few minutes and we will listen again". It was perhaps fifteen minutes later that she invited us to listen to her heart again. Sure enough, it was the steady glug-glug of a regular heart beat.
I understand that this is a singular case situation and that this herb is not appropriate in all cases or all individuals, and that results are not always the same. However, the experience of it really offered me perspective on the beautiful relationship between human health and plants. Since then, this has been my go to herb for so many issues related to general cardiovascular health, including using it on myself.
Now that we are in the season of a new kind of Christmas, I feel that hawthorn again is an excellent herb to be thinking of this time of year. Due to struggles with COVID, the inability to see family members, or to share in our usual traditions, can leave some of us feeling sick in our hearts, or in some cases even heart broken. This is of course not the same as a physical issue, but the bright red of the hawthorn berry, and the memory of its soft blossoms in spring reminds me that change is coming.
With that in mind, I welcome you to explore this beautiful herbal ally and to enjoy this materia medica printable.
Wishing you the very best over the holidays,
With “the most wonderful time of the year” fast approaching many of us seem to wonder what this would be like with the COVID restrictions on a local, national and global level. People usually look forward to the holidays when they have days off work to travel, spend quality time with family and friends, and enjoy various festivities in their communities, but this holiday season will certainly be different. Those of us who enjoy the luxury of having close relationships with family and friends, sufficient resources for gifts and vacations, and a place to call home would undoubtedly experience some unpleasant emotions due to the perceived lack of freedom in the current circumstances. On the other hand, the resulting wider isolation and lower expectations for fun during the holidays allow for less significant differences among people, which otherwise could lead to unhealthy comparisons. As someone recently shared with me “there is something comforting about the restrictions.”
Those who have experienced a recent loss, don’t have family or friends close by with whom to spend the holidays, or are going through a relationship conflict, a financial hardship or a difficult life transition might get quite triggered during this time of the year, which we associate with togetherness, warmth and joy. The flooding of commercials and films constructing the image of a “perfect Christmas”, along with social media posts of static ideals often make us measure our happiness up to unrealistic expectations, and may further undermine the emotional stability of those who find themselves in vulnerable situations. Thus, it is no surprise that the holidays are also associated with increased rates of anxiety and depression, substance and alcohol abuse, as well as binge eating. But as mentioned earlier, the pandemic put us more or less in the same basket: for most of us there will be less worrying which side of the family to visit on Christmas or how to host the “perfect” holiday event, less time and resources invested in gift hunting, less bookings and other travel logistics to consider, etc. Holding high expectations from ourselves and from others is probably one of the most significant predictors of frustration, thus with the former out of the picture we should expect that fewer people would feel overwhelmed by stress during the holidays.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, it appears that this holiday season could present us with an opportunity to keep it simple – instead of feeling like we’re in a contest to obtain as many joyful “points” with as many people as possible we could slow down and enjoy some time for self-care. What physical sensations help soothe your body, and what activities help clear your mind? Are there any hobbies/projects you’ve been interested in, but haven’t had a chance to focus on? Are there ways for you to improve your health? For example, added sugar, found not only in common treats but also in “healthy” energy bars and dressings, is rather addictive and disrupts the so-called dopamine reward system; subsequently, attempts to lower the levels of sugar in the bloodstream may lead to abstinence-like effects like headache, depression and decreased energy. Without getting into details, as a holistic counsellor I’d like to remind you that good nutrition and physical exercise can have positive influences on your hormone balance, which is essential for both physical and mental health. Speaking of which, I would also recommend that you have an honest reflection about your holiday triggers and put an effort into avoiding them to the best of your abilities.
Self-care practices, hobbies and other enjoyable activities that lie within your control are a few ways to fill up your free time during the upcoming COVID-restricted holiday season; in addition, some of my clients who struggle with the lack of control over the situation have considered cleaning and organizing their spaces, advance studying or creating meaningful rituals (ex. writing a daily wish for something to do/look forward to at the end of the pandemic). Nevertheless, I’ve become aware that there are other people who are not so concerned with having control or keeping busy, but find it quite difficult to meet their needs for connection and belonging. From my conversations with clients like these I’ve heard ideas such as working out, watching movies or playing board games simultaneously with family/friends, singing out loud or dancing (to connect with self), meditating or praying (to connect with a Higher Power), and making donations or (online) volunteering to support a cause or a social movement (feeling of belonging). I hope that you have found something that resonates with you.
For additional suggestions that may be useful to you consider registering for the CMHA free virtual webinar (a few dates are available) entitled “The Holidays, Your Mental Health & COVID 19”
Polycystic Kidney Disease, or PKD is “any of several hereditary disorders in which cysts form in the kidneys and other organs, eventually damaging kidney tissue and function”.
PKD is considered a hereditary disorder with two types. The first is considered autosomal recessive when the disease appears in childhood, and the second is considered autosomal dominant when it appears in adulthood (commonly over the age of 30). In both cases, this systemic hereditary disorder is characterized by the formation of cysts in the cortex and medulla of both kidneys. Small cysts lined by tubular epithelium (which play an active role in renal inflammation) form and the surrounding normal kidney tissue is compressed and progressively damaged which leads to the eventual damaged/destruction of the tissue. In the case of PKD, the damaged tissue stimulates the body’s protective inflammatory response due to the renal injury, thus beginning the chronic inflammatory cycle.
Individuals with early PKD are often without symptoms until later in life but generally show evidence of high or elevated blood pressure from the approx. age of 20 and onward.
In adults, this hereditary disorder has a prevalence of approximately 1 in 1000 individuals.
This is a hereditary genetic disorder most often passed down in families. Rarely, a genetic mutation can occur spontaneously so that neither parent has a copy of the mutated gene.
Individuals with a strong positive family history of ADPKD and no cysts detected by imaging studies can undergo genetic linkage analysis for additional evaluation.
When your Doctor diagnosis PKD:
“A person is considered to have PKD if three or more cysts are noted in both kidneys and there is a positive family member with autosomal dominant polycystic disease (ADPKD)” – Ferri’s Atlas and Text of Clinical Medicine
The diagnosis is usually based on family history, clinical and laboratory findings, and ultrasound examination.
Symptoms of PKD:
Laboratory Findings in PKD:
Complications of PKD:
General Dietary and Lifestyle Suggestions for PKD:
General Supplement Suggestions for PKD:
This list is not a complete supplementation list
Commonly used herbs in PDK:
Always consult your Clinical/Medical Herbalist before starting new herbs, do not self-dose. This is not a complete herbal list. If you take pharmaceuticals, please consult your physician.
Again, this is by no means an inclusive list, as depending on the individual case I would no doubt use variety of far more powerful herbs. However, in my opinion these are good general usage herbs that can be paired with specifics for an individual formulation.
If you have further questions, or would like to have a one on one discussion about PKD or a chronic health or wellness issue, please feel free to contact me directly at the office.
In health and wellness,
Understanding Herbs - Feverfew
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is such a tremendously helpful ally. It is one that I've known of and have even added to certain lectures over the past couple years, I even have it in the herbal dispensatory at Healing House. However, its not one that I've used a lot until recently. Most of the end of July and the beginning of August have been all about feverfew! Cases have reflected migraine headaches, tension headaches, and inflammatory arthritis, all of which feverfew is considered an herbal specific.
Since it seems to be visiting my materia medica over and over this summer, I thought maybe you'd like to learn more about this beautiful little leaf and flower as well!
Below you will find a monograph explaining its history, uses, and even its contraindications.
I hope you enjoy!
Petra - Clinical Herbalist
When I was going to school at Dominion Herbal College, the main focal point of my studies for the first two of my four years was Materia Medica. Materia Medica is in essence, knowing/memorizing the medicinal use of plants. Yet, it goes so much more beyond that. As a clinical herbalist you are required to know the individual herbs you are working with, you must known their medicinal actions, their chemical constituents, the various body systems they are best for, and also their pharmaceutical applications, dosage, contraindications, what herbs are not appropriate with prescription drugs, and what herb combinations are best for certain conditions. Putting this knowledge to practice was a challenge! What I found even more challenging was that there was no pre-determined way in which to learn the material beyond just taking notes from books and lectures.
I am a visual learner, and I learn best when things are organized and easy/appealing to look at. I also find that material is more easily memorized when I write things down versus typing things in a graph or on a paper. I imagine I am not the only one, and likely was not the only student often frustrated with how to learn hundreds of herbs.
Today I have students of my own, both in herbal medicine and in holistic nutrition. On both ends of the spectrum, they learn about herbs. Obviously those training to be clinical herbalists or master herbalists are studying many more plants and in far greater depth than those studying holistic nutrition, but I feel this printable can be used by professional or informational studies alike.
At the bottom of this field you will find two files. One of them is an example on how to fill in the form, and the other is the actual blank form. Both can be downloaded.
I hope you enjoy this little gift of learning, and hope you will utilize it in your studies!
With love of learning,
Petra Sovcov - CHT
Petra Sovcov is not a Medical Doctor (MD) nor a Naturopath (ND), she is a Clinical Herbal Therapist (CHT) and holds a Doctorate in Natural Medicine (DNM). The suggestions or recommendations made on this site are not meant to be a substitute for advice from your MD, or as a substitute for any prescriptions you may be taking. Suggestions followed will be the responsibility of the reader, and are stated with the intention of interest and education only. If you have a health issue, please see your primary care physician (MD) first and foremost.