It makes sense to keep a summer survival kit on hand as we move through this joy-filled but hectic time. Here are Casey Conroy’s top 15 nutraceuticals, herbs, and other natural goodies to ensure a smooth and healthy summer for the whole family.
Summer is synonymous with sunburn, stings, and muscle strains as we take up warm weather sports and exercise more, and over the summer holidays, stress levels soar and overindulgence leads to sore tummies and slow digestion. There are things we can do to prevent the damage, but it also helps to have a few emergency remedies on hand for those times when the damage has been done.
- Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) Eating more than usual, eating richer foods, and dehydration brought about by hot days and alcohol intake, all combine to form a weapon of mass destruction against gut health. Our digestive systems can become sluggish and constipation arises. Slippery elm is a gentle bulk laxative that eases constipation after a little too much barbecue and dessert. Take a teaspoon stirred in a big glass of water after meals and before bed for reflux and constipation. Avoid if you have intestinal obstruction. It also acts as a prebiotic for good bacteria to live off.
- Probiotics or good bacteria establish healthy gut flora and reduce levels of toxic pathogens. If you don’t regularly eat probiotic-containing foods such assauerkraut, kimchi, natto, and kefir, you can supplement with probiotics. Look for a supplement that contains at least 30 billion CFUs of bacteria per serving, andcontains both Lactobacilllus and Bifidus strains. Take it daily.
- Peppermint oil (Mentha x piperita) is wonderfully carminative for sore, upset tummies. Add one drop of peppermint oil to a carrier such as almond oil and massage the abdomen in a circular clockwise direction, comfortably but firmly, in a diameter a 10-15cm from the navel, using the palm of the hand, for a few minutes.
- Magnesium is a summer must-have, but many people get confused about which form of magnesium to use for what.
Magnesium citrate is an osmotic laxative, meaning it pulls water into the intestines to relieve constipation. It is safe in moderation, even for young children. I recommend taking it before bed, which will often lead to a soft bowel movement in the morning. It can be purchased in powder form and mixed into a small amount of water.
Magnesium glycinate supports restful sleep, relaxed muscles, and balanced mood, making it a must for the holiday season.
Magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts) and magnesium chloride are great for bathing in; the former is best for general relaxation, and the latter for delivering magnesium to the cells.
- Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) supports digestive and liver function. With the increased alcohol and sugar intake of the summer season, our livers might take a beating. Globe artichoke protects and restores the liver. It’s also a mild bitter tonic that works at multiple points along the digestive tract to increase the release of digestive enzymes and bile. With increased bile come softer stools; so this one is also a gentle laxative. Avoid if you have gallstones.
- Aloe vera gel. Moving on from indigestion and onto summer sunburn. Aloe vera gel is a traditional cooling balm for sunburn. Fresh from the plant is best –just make sure you cut the spines off first! Bottled aloe vera gels are also available. The resin of Aloe barbadensisis also a powerful laxative to be used under the supervision of your health professional, in the case of severe constipation.
- Natural sunscreen. Go for a natural mineral sunscreen that uses physical blocking agents, such as zinc oxide or titanium oxide, rather than chemicals such as those ending in -ate, -ene, or -one. Also make sure it doesn’t contain retinyl palmitate, synthetic fragrances, or parabens.
- Natural insect repellant. Look for brands based on plants containing tea tree oil and citronella oil, and avoid those containing DEET or picaridin as the active ingredients.
- Chickweed (Stellaria media) ointment for insect bites, wounds, and burns. This soothing, cooling, multipurpose ointment is available from health food shops or can be made up by your herbalist. I always have a jar by the bed to rub onto itchy sand fly and mosquito bites, and it works like magic.
- Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera). If there were one herb I could spike the public water supply with, it would be Ashwaganda.It is one of a number of herbal adaptogens, a family of herbs that enhances our ability to deal with stress –mental, physical, and environmental. The holiday season can take its toll on our adrenals and leave us fatigued. Ashwaganda comes from the Ayurvedic tradition and translates to ‘strength of a bull’. I recently used it to recover from giving birth and tolerate newborn-induced sleep deprivation, and it’s the reason I’m able to write this article! Add a teaspoon of the powder to smoothies or have your herbalist make up a tincture for you.
- Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). Relieves any anxiety surrounding family reunions, and is great for irritability too! Along with magnesium, it’s lovely for tension headaches that can pop up after too many hours stuck indoors with a droning relative, or screaming kids.
- Flower essences for stress, such as Bach Rescue Remedy, or Australian Bush Flower Essences Emergency Essence, are essentials to have on hand when things just seem unmanageable. Black-eyed Susan (Australian Bush Flower Essence) is also good for impatience and irritability.
- Calcium fluoride tissue salts are great for joint pain, muscular strains and injured ligaments resulting from overly boisterous football games and poolside slips.
- Arnica (Arnica montana) is a brilliant anti-inflammatory and analgesic and can be used topically for bruises, sprains, and inflamed insect bites as a cream. Homeopathic preparations are also available.
- Green powders such as barley grass, chlorella, and spirulina help promote detoxification, and are anti-inflammatory as they provide antioxidants –things we all need a little more of during this season to combat the effects of stress. They can help supplement the lack of green leafy vegetables of a busy lifestyle or when drought strikes and the garden greens die!
Remember, foods are our most important source of nutrition – food is medicine! But many of us can do with an extra boost of just a few nutrients and herbs to keep us humming happily along over summer. If you have specific health concerns, team up with an integrative doctor, nutritionist or naturopath to help you get through summer in one piece, and feeling great.
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