December 7, 2011

Herbal Remedy Convert

You would think growing up in the family I did, being exposed to all the natural healing information I am and how much time I spend trying to de-toxify my family that I would catch on earlier. However, I think I just recently realized that I need to try herbal remedies first before heading to the doctor's office (for things other than life threatening issues, of course).

The women in my family actually have a pretty extensive knowledge of herbal remedies. My grandmother's notable remedy for most everything was sea water and Vitamin E oil...she even used those to heal some really bad third degree burns she received from a home kahlua-making accident (another story for another time).  She has virtually no evidence of those burns today. In addition, my aunt was always coming up with natural remedies and supplements that would help us all for various reasons. My mother kept aloe plants in our house for burn relief, and she is a fount of knowledge on northwest plants and their uses.  I can attribute my love of plant lore completely to her.

Elderberry, native northwest plant.  Squish it up in your fingers
and it will take the sting out of  a brush with nettles.
I discovered during college that garlic is a natural antibiotic (from a boyfriend and his herbal books) and since there were a few years during and after college when I did not have health insurance, I used garlic to head off a few ear infections (chop up a clove, swallow with water - 3-4 times a day) and some yeast infections as well (email me if you want the particulars on this one).

Now to my skin story.  I apologize in advance as this is a long story, but I wanted to convey the length and amount of cost and energy this process has taken up over the last six years.  At the end you are rewarded with another natural body product recipe...or you can skip to the end, I won't mind, promise.

The summer following our move (back) to Portland (2005), I started getting this weird skin condition. It occurred only on my arms and started with some sort of break in the skin from a scratch or an insect bite...usually incurred while gardening.  I should preface with the fact that I have always had allergies, especially starting in the Spring and through the Summer. Cats, sometimes dogs, flowers, pollen, mold, dust etc. mad me itchy eyed, sneezy and at times even made breathing difficult.

The site of the skin reaction would turn red and inflame....which is not unusual, this has always happened to me. However, it would not go away.  No amount of triple antibiotic would make it ease up....and the site of the reaction would actually enlarge into an irregular shape around ground zero. The outside edge was raised and hot to the touch.  When it wouldn't go away after a few weeks, I decided I needed to see a dermatologist.

The dermatologist did not know what it was, but her first theory was lupus. I didn't know what that was....and I don't know about you, but when a doctor mentions something like that in this internet age, I go look it up. What? Lupus? I can't sit in the sun again? Kidney damage and central nervous system problems? It might get worse? So she took a biopsy. It came back negative, but not until two weeks of worry and a camping trip while remaining fully covered in our short, sacred Portland summer, had passed.

She ran every blood test possible and we even ran a CT scan of my torso. Negative for everything including the big C-word. There is some solace in knowing I do not have cancer, but it was a lot of tests and hundreds of dollars to still be inconclusive as to the actual problem. She sent me to an allergist. He told me I was not allergic to cats or dogs (I most certainly am) and that I was allergic to the Linden tree (do those even grow here?).  In his opinion, my allergies were not excessive and I should basically stop whining. Great.

We tried a few drugs. First anti-bacterial creams and steroid creams. No effect. Next we tried prednisone, a steroid. There are many possible side effects for long term use, but short term it made me feel crazy...that is the best I can describe. Effective, but made me feel off. So we tried dapsone next. I was under the impression when I started taking it five years ago that this was another steroid, but milder.  However, after looking it up a couple months ago (since it had apparently stopped working) I discovered it is actually an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory ---that I have been taking off and on again for FIVE YEARS. Great. When I had an outbreak I would usually take one a day for 1-3 days and the "eruption" (as we call them) would go away. However this last time (this last October), I took the dapsone for nearly four weeks, upping the dosage in the hopes that would help. It did not.

By this time the dapsone was building up in my system and again I felt like I might be getting skin was starting to feel uncomfortable (best description I can come up with).  So I stopped taking it.  The "eruption" on my upper arm at this point was about 3" in diameter, largest one I had ever had.

What I did start using was my home made healing balm, made of natural plant derived oils.  It started relieving the symptoms within hours.  The swelling reduced, the itching reduced, the redness went away.  This was my epiphany moment.  What was I doing taking the drugs? I should definitely know better. I used my balm for a couple days and the entire problem went away. I will not be refilling that prescription. I will be researching more natural remedies for issues before resorting to drugs from here on out.

There are many similar recipes all over the internet for homemade healing balms, but this is what I have come up with over the last couple of years. I use it on my arms after a day of gardening and it really helps to calm my itchy skin (ok, I KNOW I really should have thought of it sooner). This one is based loosely on a concoction my sister paid a lot of money for to use on my nephews baby butt issues. This balm costs me less than 75 cents an ounce:

Pollo Loco Herbal Healing Salve

2.5 Tbsp. Almond Oil (soothing, healing, nourishing)
1.5 Tbsp. Candillila Wax 
2.0 Tbsp. olive oil 
(itch relief, moisturizing)
1.5 Tbsp. Shea Butter (soothes skin, revitalizes damaged skin)

In a pyrex measuring glass I combine the oils and wax and microwave for 1 minute or until it is all melted.

Add few drop Vitamin E oil (preservative) and:
½ tsp. Tea Tree Oil (analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiviral)
½ tsp. Lavendar oil (analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiseptic)
½ tsp. Rosemary Oil (antibacterial, antiviral, heals scarring)
½ tsp. Calendula Extract (analgesic, skin healing)
½ tsp. St. John’s Wort Flower Extract (anti-inflammatory, astringent, heals bruises, antiseptic)
½ tsp. Chickweed Extract (anti-inflammatory, itch relief)

Stir it up and place in a clean, dry container.

I have a friend that saw the movie Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead recently and she thought that maybe I had what the guy in the movie had.....urticaria.....also known as HIVES.

My dermatologist never mentioned this as an option.


Did I mention I have a lot of allergies? Also when reading about uritcaria, I discovered that reactions are exacerbated by the use of NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs --- also known as ibuprofen and naproxen).  I will follow up with some other natural remedies, including natural pain relievers in a future post.

Just as an aside when I went in to see my dermatologist to renew my prescription last August, she still had no idea what it is...and did not mention hives.

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