The Life of an Urban Herbalist
A collection of musings and some articles with a more scientific approach.
Urine can tell you a lot about your wellbeing.
Urine is a vital sign and the smell and colour can give us a lot of information.
In the past even taste was used to identify diabetes. A doctor would smell and taste the urine and if it was sweet it indicated inability to metabolise sugar.
Dark coloured urine can indicate dehydration. Over night the body deliberately concentrates urine and redistributes water to our tissues to keep us well and stop us wetting the bed and we perspire as we sleep so when we wake in the morning the urine is naturally darker.
Throughout the day if you are drinking adequate water then urine will be pale yellow indicating a good balance between hydration and the kidneys filtering out impurities.
Some foods and supplements colour urine so strongly coloured foods like beetroot can colour the urine. Beetroot wee even has it’s own name: Beeturia! I’ve had more than one panicked communication from patients seeing pink or red pee in the bowl after beetroot juice or eating a whole jar of pickled beetroot in pregnancy.
However red urine can indicate that you are passing blood so if it doesn’t clear up within 24 hours of eating beetroot get it checked out and if you haven’t eaten beets at all then go and see your GP straight away.
Brown urine can indicate that blood is being broken down in a different way. There is a class of genetic conditions called porphyrias that lead to light sensitivity and severe abdominal pain and in porphyria some people even report their urine being purple rather than brown. If your brown/purple urine is accompanied by severe stomach ache and rashes or even seizures this could be the case. You can also get cola brown coloured urine with some severe kidney tumours so it’s important to get it checked out even if you don’t have the pain and seizures.Vitamin B supplements can colour the urine fluorescent yellow which can come as a bit of a shock but won't do you any harm. Camomile tea drunk in excess can make the urine a strong yellow and the colourants used in tablets can colour pee too. carrots can also turn your wee a yellowy orange if you eat a lot.
However there are other things you can look out for in urine. Green wee can happen after eating asparagus-some folk get the smell some folk get the pale green colour. However theres a rare urinary tract infection called a proteus infection which can colour the urine green and needs urgent attention. You would probably feel pretty ill in this case. Never ignore a water infection. You need your kidneys and letting a simple water infection get out of hand can give you a lot of trouble.
Blue wee is very unusual. Check if your tablets are a bright blue as that might be the problem but in rare cases it can be a sign of hypercalcaemia or too much calcium in the bones. Its unusual enough that taking a jar of blue wee to your GP should make them want to check things out.
And finally white or cloudy urine can indicate breaking down kidney stones or another type of severe urinary tract infection. Cloudy wee is generally a bad sign. Your kidneys filter out particles all the time. When they’re getting through it suggests things aren’t great. In men it can indicate another kind of infection though because their urethras are longer than in women/girls/small boys so theres a greater chance of a fungal infection being the culprit.
Its worth getting to know what's normal for you because often a sudden change is the first indicator that something is wrong so you can take steps quickly to restore balance before you get sick.
Wishing you a happy healthy day
Hormones and Mental Health-Help is at hand.
We all know that worry doesn't make anything better but it doesn't stop our brains from doing it. Worry and anxiety are a fear of something that hasn't happened and, in many cases may never happen. However its easy to spiral down into a cycle of negative thinking. After the traumatic events on Monday night in Manchester many people have been deeply upset by the news coverage and by the fear of what may yet be to come so here are 5 simple tips to help you deal with your worry and stop it affecting your life.
1. Let it go!
Take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of 4 then hold it for a count of 4 let it out through your mouth for a count of four and hold on the out breath for a count of four. Repeat the exercise 5 times.
Concentrating on your breathing means you are taking your attention away from what is upsetting you. Breathing slowly and regularly supplies the brain and your muscles with the oxygen they need to perform well. The out breath is particularly relaxing
2. Get outside.
Research shows that being able to rest our gaze on the horizon in the green of nature is intensely stress relieving. It is thought that the primitive part of our brains that deals with protecting us needs to see into the distance to know that there's no lions, tigers or bears coming to get us. Something as simple as getting into the garden, going to the park or getting in the car and driving out to the country can be profoundly stress relieving.
3. Try meditation or mindfulness.
Mindfulness is really just meditation by another name. It allows the brain to focus on the here and now which can be profoundly stress relieving. You don't need any special equipment, just a chair and a phone or computer that allows you to stream or download. In fact once you have the hang of it you should be able to switch off and be mindful for a few minutes wherever you are. Just don't try this profoundly relaxing process when you need to concentrate, drive or operate heavy machinery. There are several online resouces I have used myself and found useful. Headspace who offer 10 days of free meditations and then after that a low cost subscription service. Here at Mindful.org they have reviews of lots of other services. You can also look on YouTube for lots more free meditation and mindfulness services. (I have no affiliation to any of the above and receive no reward for recommending them) I've enjoyed this calming youtube 5 minute meditation today.
4. Cut down the coffee. Try a cup of tea.
Caffeine makes you jittery. It's basically a drug that increases the amount of adrenaline in the system. According to James Lane a psychiatry professor quoted in THIS article caffeine increases the amount of stress in the body by blocking adenosine resulting in an exaggerated response to stressful situations. This means that folk drinking colas, coffee, and those awful energy drinks are more likely to overreact to stressful situations or even to the news. Cut it out, If you drink loads of coffee don't stop abruptly or you'll get the worst headache. Half your intake each day over a week or so. But don't forget to replace the liquid intake. Try herbal teas or even a good old cup of Cha. L-theanine a constituent of black and green teas has a calming stabilising effect on mood. Research has shown that even though there is caffeine in tea L-Theanine is preferentially absorbed by the body in the evening and at times of stress so the good old British answer to any shock has a good basis in science.
5. A cup of camomile tea.
Hey, I'm a herbalist, You didn't think you were getting away without a herbal suggestion did you? Camomile tea is a known traditional relaxant. Apigenin, a polysaccheride in camomile is thought to be responsible for it's profoundly relaxing effects. It also contains chrysin which can help promote sleep and bisabolols that have an anti-inflammatory action so not only does it calm the mind but it's great for soothing your gut. It has been shown to reduce discomfort in IBS and also to help settle the stomach when someone is getting over a tummy bug. And best of all? Its even safe enough for children.
We live in an increasingly stressful world. We can't control the world, we can only control how we respond to it. However in doing so we can make life just a little easier every day.
Have a calmer day and a cup of camomile
You fell in love, you got married and now you want to start a family!
These days being in a same sex relationship need be no barrier to having a family of your own. However unless you have a very strong friendship with with another same sex couple of the opposite sex then IVF or surrogacy are your options if you don’t want to adopt..
Most people do not consider the quality of their fertility until they decide to start a family. If you’re having male/female sex regularly it soon becomes apparent if that longed for pregnancy doesn’t happen. When you have to use IVF or surrogacy then it may not become apparent until you’ve already spent a lot of money.
It’s a good idea to ensure you are in optimum health before you start spending money on assisted conception for yourselves or with surrogate There are some things that can be done to ensure you are in the best of health to start your IVF journey and for guys to ensure that their swimmers are up to the job and additional procedures like ICSI are not necessary.
For men the biggest problems are a poor diet, being overweight and drinking alcohol. Loosing just 5% of your body weight can have a dramatic effect on fertility. To start with, a leaner gentleman with less padding allows his tackle to swing freer of the body keeping genetic material at a lower temperature. Other things a chap can do to keep things cooler are to
Eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, cutting down coffee to one cup a day and cutting out alcohol can all help improve semen sample quality.
Exercise is good for you and in moderation it can improve fertility levels not least because of it's stress lowering benefits. However if you are a gym fiend then cutting down on your exercise can help. The hot sweaty environment can lead to a raise in testicular temperature but also high intensity workouts can seriously limit your fertility as it lowers testosterone levels. If you really want to use your own sperm to conceive a child take a break from high intensity muscle training and go for gentler cardio exercise no more than 3 times a week.
It’s also important, where possible, to minimise stress. If your job is difficult try taking walks with your partner, find a mindfulness app like Headspace* or look on YouTube for mindfulness exercises. Reducing stress will enable your body to use valuable building blocks like DHEA to make more sex hormones and less cortisol!
If this isn’t enough there are herbs that will enhance testosterone and help the body reduce the build up of stress hormones.
And for the Women
The usual suspects in women's unexplained infertility are undiagnosed PCOS or Endometriosis, insulin resistance caused by central weight gain, a highly stressed job or family life and too much time at the gym or over exercising. Weight is a factor too. If you have less than 17% body fat you may not produce sex hormones and if you are overweight, particularly if you have central weight gain you may have an element of insulin resistance which will also affect your chances of conceiving.
If you are particularly slender this can have an impact on fertility as can excessive gym use. It may help to allow yourself to gain a little weight so your body starts to reestablish a natural hormone profile. Evolution has designed us to cease reproduction when food is scarce so if you restrict your diet increasing your body fat ratio will help. However if you are one of those people with tiny parents or who just doesn't gain weight whatever you do then your natural shape is unlikely to influence your hormones.
Equally if you are overweight then cutting out carbs for a few weeks can really help you loose a little weight. It doesn’t need to be stones. Just a few pounds can make all the difference. (anyone who knows me knows i've always been comfortably padded-I"m not a woman to throw stones in the proverbial greenhouse)
Coffee is a complete no-no for women who want to conceive. The caffeine affects insulin sensitivity and other hormonal function. It is also a diuretic and can lead to dryness. If you're using a syringe method for introducing sperm this can slow the rate at which they are able to swim towards the egg. Cut the coffee out, you won’t want it when you’re pregnant anyway.
The last tip is extremely important. In a world where women are taking on more traditional roles and having to be more combative in stressful environments unsurprisingly they are producing more testosterone. Women need testosterone but if the levels get too high then it can influence egg release, cause acne and effect ovulation. Taking a little time out each day to meditate will make all the difference and your partner will love the more chilled out you!
And for everyone SPEND SOME TIME WITH YOUR PARTNER! Don’t let your quest for a child overshadow the reason you wanted to start a family in the first place. Treat each other kindly, go on dates, make love (ok also have hot dirty low down sex too), be the reason your partner wants you to share parenthood with them and the rest will just follow naturally.
*I have no connection to headspace and receive no remuneration from them for suggesting their site.
Well now, could it be the hippy clothes? Could it be the dandelions in the garden? Or wait! Could it be years of study, hours and hours poring over books and spending time every year making sure you’re right up to date with the latest research, reflecting on your practice and ensuring no stone is unturned?
Well in my case it started at 33 with the realisation that herbalism had chosen me rather than the other way round. I read books by Stephen Harrod Buhner, David Hoffman, Thomas Bartram and Rosemary Gladstar. I’d grown up with wild plants and a mother who despite being Dutch made sure she learned the English names so that I’d know them too. After my children were born I decided I’d try my best to use natural remedies for minor things so that when antibiotics were essential they’d work and I’d developed a love for natural health and medicine. Being a keen gardener helped too.
My training started with A level Biology and Chemistry and a foundation course in herbal medicine that was heavy on biochemistry, the study of the chemistry of the body and phytochemistry the study of the chemical actions that take place in the plant to help them develop the constituents that make them effective. Then I went to study at the College of Phytotherapy. Though one of the best schools in the country, the College of Phytotherapy sadly developed financial problems and closed at the end of 2005. Thankfully the University of East London which validated the degree took over our training and we moved to our new study home in Stratford East London.
At the university of East London I studied for and gained a BSc Honours in Herbal Medicine. Despite holding down a job, travelling from Nottingham to London three days a week and raising two small children I managed to attain a 2:1 which I’m still incredibly proud of. Aside from the time it took and the sacrifices made by my family my training and clinical practice cost over £50k and took five years in total. Money I had to earn because I wasn’t eligible for any kind of student loan.
During my course I studied the following modules
At the end of all this we produced a dissertation or long academic project and we all sat a Final Clinical Exam.
The FCE was a nerve wracking experience which involved a full patient consultation while being watched by a GP and two experienced herbalists who were also lecturers at another university. We took a full medical history, performed physical examinations-the relevant ones for that patient and a range of others suggested by the lecturers at random to see whether we knew them, identified all the possible conditions that patient might have and then selected the most likely diagnosis from those available. We were then asked to write a prescription, suggest any referrals to other health professionals including whether they needed to be sent to see a GP and any lifestyle advice.
The FCE is designed to put a student under pressure so that it can be ascertained whether the student is safe as well as effective in a pressurised environment. This is the ultimate test of how safe a herbal medicine student is at the point of graduation. If you can do all of this under pressure then you’re unlikely to do anything stupid in the comfort of your consulting room.
I’m a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists. This means I have to adhere to a code of ethics and keep my medical and herbal knowledge up to date in order to remain a member. I have 6 million pounds worth of medical malpractice insurance and public liability insurance. (anyone is welcome to see my policy) and as a mark of how safe herbal medicine is my annual premium is less than £60!
Depression and Pain
St Johns Wort is best known as a herb to treat depression. Clinical studies have found it equal to or better than some antidepressants when treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety. It has traditionally been used more for it's nerve pain relieving qualities and it's healing effects.
You can easily identify medicinal species from purely decorative. If you look closely at the leaves you can see what look like lighter green dots. then you hold the plant up to the light you can see they are in fact holes where the leaf glands are. It is this perforation from where St Johns Wort gets part of it's Latin name. Hypericum perforatum-(perforation) (The Hypericum is more peculiar deriving from Greek Hyper or above and Elkon or picture relating to the practice of puting flowers over religious images to ward away evil.) The other identifying feature is that when you pick lots of the flowers your fingers go purple. Pick a bud and pinch it and this lovely dark read 'bleeds' onto your fingers. This is hypericin, one of the main therapeutic constituents of SJW.
I pick the flowers in the morning on a warm day and add each day's handfull to a jar containing organic cold pressed olive oil. The jar is left, slightly open so moisture can evaporate so it doesn't go mouldy, on a sunny window sill. Over the weeks the medicinal components of the flower are transferred into the oil turning it the most beautiful deep red. After three or four weeks of filling the oil with beautiful sunshine yellow flowers and leaving it in sunlight you have a fully infused solar oil.
You can also cut the whole plant when it is flowering and either steep it in vodka to make a tincture, this is a way of concentrating and preserving the medicinal qualities of the plant for internal medicine. It can me done with fresh or dried plant. A fresh tincture will be vibrant but will last for a shorter period of time. The whole plant can be dried by tying upside down in bunches in a cool dark place and stored in a paper bag in an air tight container. The paper bag helps to reabsorb any moisture left in the plant matter so that it doesn't become mouldy during storage. In this picture you can see the seed pods gradually turning red. I'll store the pods and sew next spring for a fresh crop of SJW in 2017.
A gift from the birds.
I have a special relationship with St Johns Wort. As I came to the end of my training the full enormity of what i had yet to learn finally dawned on me. While I passed my exams and gained a good degree i realised i had much more to learn. One morning that summer I looked out into my front garden and there were a clutch of these plants with their beautiful sunshine yellow flowers. I'd never seen them grow wild but i knew immediately what they were. They came as a gift from the birds but they brought with them some certainty that I had knowlege. So now I care for my summer visitors and carefully nurture their presence. I watch the bees dip in and out of them and think of the additional medicinal benefit that nectar will bring the honey. And the oil i make from the flowers becomes the base for salves and creams to treat pain and bruising in the skin and deep muscle tissue.
Today I had the lovliest review on my facebook page.
"Katherine told me she would get me Pregnancy in 3 months! And she did! 3 months!!! After the long hard struggle we had been through ourselves, this was quick! Must quicker than IUI, IVF or any other option given to me and a fraction of the cost too. Not just in price but in emotions and no nasty chemicals in my body.
I wanted to take the natural choice as much as possible and this suited what I believe in. Herbs/plants heal the body therefore my body did then what it was meant too do!
I cannot thank Katherine enough. She is extremely knowledgable and compassionate and can advice on all sorts of other things too! She a super wise women of the world. And her talents needs sharing far and wide. Thank you Katherine xxx"
This lovely couple came to me earlier in the year looking for a natural alternative. They had investigated their options within the health system and decided that intensive hormone treatment IUI or IVF were something explore only if natural options didn't work.
They've put a lot of effort into a clean healthy diet supporting fertility for both of them and they've been assiduous in taking their herbs, tailored blends made specifically for their personal needs. Everyone is different. We also spent lots of time talking about how they were feeling and dealing with the emotional impact that trying for a family has on a couple. Along the way we also sorted out his hay fever which has been a bonus.
Optimum health for both parties is the best start when trying to get pregnant. My approach is to help you both get healthy from the inside out so that your pregnancy happens naturally. I do, however, work with women who are going through IVF to help maximise success an to ensure the hormones and drugs leave minimum traces behind them.
This couple got the news while on holiday so have had the most relaxing special start to their pregnancy journey together. I can't wait to see how things develop.
If you are interested in information on my fertility support service please get in touch. 07786441574 or the contact page on this website.
According to the Centres for Disease Control in America 11.9% of couples experience fertility problems. That’s around 1 in 9 couples. It’s likely that this figure is actually much higher because, as with everything to do with reproduction, many people refuse to discuss it.
A Man or Woman with a plan.
When you’re in your late teens and early 20s when your hormones were rampant and your body was crying out to make a baby you were probably the one taking the sensible precautions and avoiding an unwanted pregnancy. An intelligent decision which many young people with unplanned and unwanted pregnancies should have considered.
In your 20s and 30s you had a career plan, a great life and a wonderful partner perhaps you decided to leave having a family till you felt you were in the right place, perhaps you had a family with your first partner and remarried now you and your second partner want a child together.
Now you are in your late 30s or early 40s and probably a high achiever. Your life and your heart are ready to receive a child but for some reason that longed for pregnancy isn’t happening.
Am I a failure?
As a capable man or woman who has probably achieved all their goals this sudden inability to achieve the pregnancy you so want, the element that will complete your almost perfect life, this comes as a blow. Often this leads to an understandable but incorrect sense of failure. It can lead to recriminations in a relationship and can lead to sadness and despair.
We’ve all suffered the repeated insult of viruses getting their sneaky way over our immune system. They creep in while we’re at low ebb, break into our cells and hijack the cell’s own reproductive mechanism in order to replicate and cause their own brand of mayhem. Next thing you know you have a headache, your glands are swollen and you just know the next step is breathing difficulties and snot
What is a virus?
A virus is a small non-living entity. A microbiologist of my acquaintance recently described them as DNA delivery systems. A cursory search of Google came up with the following definition
an infective agent that typically consists of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat, is too small to be seen by light microscopy, and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host
These infective agents break down walls of healthy host cells, hijack their reproductive equipment and then use the cell to replicate their tiny dna fractions. Without a host they can’t reproduce. The symptoms they cause are largely created by the means they use for getting into your cells to replicate, the way they burst the cell in order to get out and find other cells and, of course, your immune system identifying them in order to throw the little buggers out.
A successful virus will make you a bit unwell for a week or two then move on to another host. Only pretty unsuccessful viruses kill their hosts. This is the reason that most severe disease creating viruses tend to be self limiting yet the common cold just rolls on and on.
So what can we do to prevent it happening and if that fails what can be done to minimise the carnage?
The first thing we can do to maximise immune function is to get enough sleep. Our immune systems do most of their work while we’re asleep. This is why, when we are ill, we just want to go back to bed. A good rest really is the best medicine. If you could retire to your bed at the first sign of illness 9 times out of 10 you wouldn’t get ill.
The Kidney unit at Leicester Royal Infirmary had a zero tolerance approach to illness. If you were ill you put the transplant patients on immune suppressant drugs at serious risk so, if you were ill, you were obliged to remain at home. They had the LOWEST SICKNESS FIGURES IN THE REGION. If you are a manager It’s worth considering a similar approach for your staff. That way they don’t bring the filthy bugs to work with them in the first place and they recover more quickly. Working yourself into exhaustion only prolongs the length of time it takes your immune system to repair the damage.
If a couple of good night’s kip won’t do the job then cut out sugar. Research has shown that just 75 grams of refined sugar will depress immune function for up to 6 hours. Doctors will say that this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll catch anything but if you’re repeatedly reducing your ability to fight infection you are more likely to put yourself at risk.
So when you start to feel unwell? Cut out the crap! Eat a nutrient dense diet, fish, pulses, nuts, slightly steamed veg, good fats like butter and olive oil and lean meats. Eat fruit with lots of vitamin c and make sure you get plenty of calcium. If you’re craving sugars take a chromium supplement. Evidence shows that chromium deficiency leads to sugar cravings. Making your diet as varied as possible gives you all the nutrients you need to keep your first line immune cells working optimally and reduces the likelihood that a virus will be able to hijack your cells for reproductive purposes.
Once the virus has got you and you’re feeling properly rubbish the above steps will help you get over it more quickly. Do you really have to be at work? Will your workmates thank you for passing on your little visitor? No of course they don’t so stay at home and keep them safe.
Paracetemol does not make you better. It just makes you feel better. It reduces your temperature and gets rid of your headache. Decongestants make it easier to breathe but, if you use them for more than a couple of days, when you stop taking them you will get rebound congestion. There is also some emerging evidence that taking paracetemol or anti inflammatories for any length of time can make your cold last longer. People who never take cold and flu remedies genuinely get better faster.
Your doctor won’t be able to give you anti virals because most anti virals they have access to, like acyclovir, either won’t have any effect on your cold or have long term side effects that do not make it worthwhile. A herbalist or your health food shop however can provide you with some help.
Echinacea is an immune modulating herb. It increases the availability and vigilance of neutrophils, your first line defence. It also steps up your immune response once you become unwell and can help your body quickly defeat the invader.
Elderberry: The humble elderberry has been proven to provide amazing antiviral protection. It prevents haemagglutination the process by which the flu virus enters cells. You can buy Sambucol from the health food shop, some chemists and some supermarkets and there’s good clinical evidence for it. There is also clinical evidence for a simple syrup made with the berries. Of course the drug companies would like you to buy their expensively packaged product…..
Lemon and honey
Folk think it’s an old wives tale those old wives knew a thing or two. A hot lemon and honey drink made with raw organic honey and a couple of slices of real lemon will actually make you feel better. There are anti viral, anti-inflammatory constituents in both. Together they work twice as well.
If you want to boost the anti-inflammatory effect of the mix add a bit of grated fresh ginger root. There is clinical proof that constituents of ginger (gingerols and shaogols to be more accurate) are more effective, weight for weight, than ibuprofen at reducing inflammation.
And finally, if you are loosing the battle against the winter virus, Visit a herbalist. We’re not just there for the life threatening conditions but can help minimise the symptoms of a winter cold and sort out the barking, irritating cough it left you will. Plus, if you think about it in time, a herbalist can help you beef up your immune system so you don’t get it in the first place.
An article posted by the European League against Rheumatism referring to research released in June of 2015 strongly suggests that non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs suppress normal ovulation.
More research needs to be done but where ovulation was 100% in the control group in those taking Diclofenac sodium it was only 6% and in those taking naproxen it was only 25%
This is a strong signal that in women with arthritic and rheumatic and other conditions causing inflammation their drug is causing a reduction in fertility levels. If prescription nsaids are causing a reduction in fertility then over the counter drugs like ibuprofen could well be implicated in reduced fertility levels, especially in older women.
Herbs like turmeric are naturally anti inflammatory but will not interfere with ovulation in the way that these chemical COX inhibitor drugs will. They are safe foods and have a history of thousands of years safe dietary use.
If you have arthritis or a rheumatoid condition contact me for a phone appointment to chat the issue through and see whether I can help you get pregnant by reducing the drug burden on your system.