Category: Food

Spotlight on Slippery Elm Bark

tree-barkUh-oh. I think that this whole solids thing may have gone awry. Not dreadfully, unrecoverably awry, more like, ‘let’s step back, assess and regroup’ awry. Avocado went well. No problems there. Four days of green slimy fun. Then I introduced mushed banana. I love this one because it’s gentle, easy to prepare (my older son and his friend mashed it themselves, before taking turns feeding baby), and full of potassium. It’s also the food we’d use during my days in Latin America for what my father would politely call, “Montezuma’s Revenge.” In other words, banana is good for stopping up the works. Little one hasn’t pooped in 2 days. He’s not quite ready for cooked prunes and plums… What now?

Enter slippery elm bark powder to the rescue. Slippery elm is an amazing option for baby’s constipation. It’s also amazing for my babysitter’s sore throat, and for my other babysitter’s coughing fit. (For more on our sitters‘ health plights this past week, check my recent blog on natural remedies for seasonal allergies.) WIth a pleasant, sweet, almost maple-y flavor, it’s great as a tea, mixed with fruit juice, or made into the world’s easiest lozenges. It can also be used externally to soothe skin conditions and diaper rash. Anything this multi-purpose in my world (by my unofficial count, I’ve leaned on slippery elm bark powder this week a total of 4 times) deserves a special spotlight…

A Brief Look at the History and Uses of Slippery Elm

Slippery elm bark is a large, deciduous tree that has been used for centuries by Native Americans for everything from skin conditions and gastrointestinal disorders to preventing food spoilage. Certain Native American populations would brew it as a porridge to nourish babies and the elderly during times of famine. Today it is commonly used as a respiratory aid as well for bronchitis, coughs, and sore throat (as we’ve proven lately in our household), along with GI and skin indications.

What Makes Slippery Elm Effective?

The key to the effectiveness of slippery elm may be the mucilaginous nature of the inner bark (this is the part of the bark that is used). The inner bark contains mucilage — a substance that turns gelatinous when mixed with water or other fluid. This mucilage can create a film that soothes and eases discomfort of the respiratory passages and the digestive passages. This makes the powder a favorite of mine for coughs. It also makes the powder effective for discomforts of the digestive tract. Slippery elm bark contains antioxidants and is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties as well. The formal Western research on this is sparse, but shows promise.

Slippery Elm for Gastro-Intestinal Ailments

Because Slippery Elm is a mucilage, it creates a film over the digestive tract that soothes the pains of a vast array of GI diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. Scientists believe that mucilages stimulate the stomach’s nerve endings to produce more of its own protective mucus, and reduce excess stomach acid, making it a useful herb to soothe ulcers and prevent excessive acidity in the stomach. Its usefulness for gastrointestinal disorders may also be due to its fibrous nature — slippery elm is high in fiber, and moves through the digestive tract absorbing toxins and fluid as a bulk-forming laxative. Here’s where it comes in especially handy in my world — in addition to having analgesic properties in the face of stomachaches and other digestive concerns, it’s low toxicity makes it an excellent choice for babies’ constipation. Ironically, its tannins also make it useful for diarrhea. Talk about multi-purpose…

An adult dose is generally 2 Tablespoons administered as a tea in 2 cups of water. To use for babies or small children, take 1/2 to 1 tsp of slippery elm and mix it with warm water sweetened with a bit of maple syrup.


Alternatively you can mix the slippery elm with 1/2 cup purified water and 1/2 cup apple or pear juice, and give it to your little one either in a bottle, in a cup as tea, as a porridge, or even in a dropper. Because of it’s mucilagenic character, slippery elm turns into a goopy consistency fairly quickly, so my favorite way to give it is by the spoonful as a porridge. Or administer quickly — too long and my older son thinks it looks too much like mucus to ingest. Mercifully, my baby son doesn’t care. 🙂

Slippery Elm for Skin Conditions

Native Americans would soak the bark of the slippery elm, then let it dry over wounds as a bandage. In more recent years, famed psychic Edgar Cayce suggested the use of slippery elm bark in a recorded reading for treating psoriasis. This suggestion is currently being studied by clinical researchers at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Even without more extensive research, however, it has been used a great deal for a variety of skin conditions, as the mucilage reduces irritation and inflammation, forming a jelly-like protective coating. It works on the level of soothing rather than curing or speeding healing.

To use it this way, take slippery elm bark powder in a small bowl or ramekin, and wet with just enough warm water that it becomes paste-like in consistency. Apply the slippery elm paste directly to the wound, or to a piece of clean gauze or cheesecloth, pressed onto the wound gently as a poultice.

Slippery Elm for Respiratory Ailments

And finally, coughs, bronchitis and sore throat pain, beware. Slippery elm soothes and moistens mucus membranes of the nose, throat and lungs, providing relief for a variety of respiratory conditions, including cough and bronchitis symptoms.

For a pain-relieving sore throat tea for kids, use 2 teaspoons of slippery elm bark powder in 1 cup of water — steep for 3-5 minutes, then cool to a palatable temperature for your child (test on the inside of your wrist first). Sweeten with honey to taste if your child is over 15 months of age (otherwise maple syrup is a safe bet…) For adults, use 1 tablespoon in 1 cup of water. Drink throughout day or as symptoms persist.

For an easy children’s cough solution, I’ve long leaned on a wonderful recipe from Aviva Jill Romm’s book, “Naturally Healthy Babies and Children”. Mix 2 tablespoons of slippery elm bark powder with enough maple syrup or honey (in children over 15 months of age) to make a dough-like consistency. Roll into balls, or into a long snake-like piece of dough, then cut into 1/4 inch pieces. Your child can either eat as is, or you can roll the pieces in a dusting of the powder, and cook at 250 degrees until firm, allowing them to harden. Have your child eat or suck on them as often as desired. For children under 15 months old, use maple syrup instead of honey, and offer these only if they’re already accustomed to solid foods. Otherwise, you can offer them a 1/2 teaspoon of slippery elm bark powder mixed in 1 cup of warm water sweetened with maple syrup, or with 1/2 cup warm apple or pear juice, 1/2 cup purified water.

Now that you’re armed and ready with your arsenal of slippery elm bark powder, and virtually every conceivable (or should I say, reasonable:)) use for it, I hope that this blog ends up being a bit like carrying an umbrella to ensure a day without rain. But if you do encounter the occasional cough, sore throat, skin condition, constipation, stomachache in your household, consider it one-stop shopping. Slippery elm. You’re all set.


Heard more now on slippery elm now than you ever knew or cared to know about it? If not, check out these great references for more information:

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center — for a comprehensive examination of the properties of slippery elm, and the scientific research available ( — a clear, well-researched synopsis of the benefits of slippery elm (…)
-> Get Slippery Elm Bark Capsules on Amazon
“Naturally Healthy Babies and Children: A Commonsense Guide to Herbal Remedies, Nutrition, and Health”; Aviva Jill Romm, et al.; 2003

Introducing Solid Foods: The Beginning

It’s 1:20 in the morning, and I’ve just finished making 5 batches of abelskivers for my 2nd grade son’s Danish festival tomorrow – as in, Denmark, not the pastry (and 6 batches if you count the batch my husband polished off single-handedly). I’m not Danish, so there was quite a learning curve. Ugh. Did I say that? I meant…yum.

I’m thinking this means I’m done with all mama-related responsibilities for a while and it’s time to settle in for a bath and a cup of tea before bed — and then I realize that I’ve only fulfilled my food-related duties toward boy #1 — and boy #2’s needs are a lot more difficult than Danish pancakes. First of all, there’s the 2am feeding — which I love, I don’t mind it at all, but then there’s the 4 o’clock and the 6 o’clock lately too, which is new. The boy is HUNGRY.

He’s also angry, or at least super-duper ornery, every time I sit down to eat anything, snack, dinner, whatever. He grabs for it, he fusses. Also new. And he’s one week away from six months old. Generally, babies hit a growth spurt around 6-7 months, that may not coincidentally coincide with pediatricians’ recommendation to begin the introduction of solids around this time. I don’t ever think there’s a rush on this, but… ever heard the expression, “don’t watch the calendar – watch the baby?” You’d never know it to look at my chubby cherub, but it’s just about time, and he’s telling me so.

avocado-solid-food-babyWhere to begin? I’ve compiled my five most essential pointers for starting baby on solid foods, plus a sixth pointer you’ll thank me for, I promise. And stay tuned for Recipe Weekend, which will almost certainly include recipes for baby’s first solids in the near future. That or homemade handsoap, inspired by my current case of post-Danish-pancake dishpan hands.

1. Commit to making your own food for baby — at least some of the time. I’ve decided to make my own food this time around — in spite of the fact that the abelskivers have darn near worn me out for the week, and I’m no lover of the kitchen. I’m going to brave it anyway for a number of reasons. First off, I’m a control freak — not universally, I hope — but certainly when it comes to what ingredients start my baby’s eating experience. This is going to be a lifelong relationship, and I want it started on a strong foundation, especially for a pristine, still developing digestive system. I want organic, fresh and seasonal. It has more fiber, higher vitamin and mineral content, and less additives than even the best jarred foods on the market. This makes sense to me. The first thing I’d recommend to a mama whose baby gets constipated after starting solids (provided the baby is six months old and starting with easy-to-digest starter foods) is to try making a batch or two at home and see what happens. Anecdotally speaking, homemade can clear things up faster than many moms can imagine.

The second reason is taste. There are a number of organic baby food options on the market now, and in a pinch I’ve always been grateful, but the taste of jar food just can’t compete in texture or flavor to fresh food. The relationship to food that emerges from these first ‘meals’ is an incredibly formative one. I want natural tastes that will support baby’s constitution by being not only simple, but seasonal. There’s a reason nature gives us root veggies in the winter, and summer squash in the summer. We need denser, heavier foods when the weather gets cool, and lighter, more hydrating options when the weather is warm. I want to honor that for baby as much as I honor it for the rest of the family.

Worried that making your own is too difficult or time-consuming? So am I, but with the Baby Beaba my mom-in-law gifted me — stay tuned for future blogs — and these great websites as references, (please, let my baby food look as pretty as this!), I’m feeling empowered.

2. Decide what baby’s first foods will be — and learn the Rule of 4. Is your baby 6 months of age or younger? Look to avocados, bananas, summer squash, green beans, sweet potato, acorn squash, apple, and pear as appropriate starter foods. You can also start with rice, barley, or oatmeal, as these grains tend to be the least allergenic, but my personal preference is to start with avocado.  It is nutrient-dense, mild-tasting, and chock full of the monounsaturated fats baby needs for a growing brain and body. It isn’t overly sweet, which is good acclimation for baby’s tastebuds – while breastmilk is sweet, its nice to acclimate baby’s tastebuds to other flavors. Avocado is also appropriate to eat raw — avocados and bananas are really the only foods that fit this bill in the beginning — which keeps me out of the kitchen temporarily. Again, I’m packing the diaper bag at 1am after my Danish baking spree, so I’d rather just throw in an avocado, a bowl, and a spoon to mush it up. And the Rule of 4wait at least 4 days after introducing one food to introduce another. This allows you to see how baby responds to the new food – can they digest it? Do they like it? Does it cause mouth rash, fussiness, constipation? These are signs that baby may be allergic or simply not ready yet for this food. It’s important to start slow in the beginning.

3. Stay Committed to Nursing or Formula. After the first taste of solids for baby, I know it’s tempting to give them the variety we’d want for ourselves (and give ourselves a break from pumping – anyone else out there feel this way?), but breast milk –or formula — is still baby’s mainstay in terms of optimal nutrition for the first year. Breastmilk or high-quality formula provides them with absolutely everything they need for brain and body growth, solid foods are meant to be the icing on the cake, so to speak. So in your solids enthusiasm, remember to nurse baby first, before feeding them. Their stomachs are the size of their little fists after all, so fill it with what they need before anything else. My son may be reaching for our plates, but when offered the breast as an alternative, he never complains. 🙂

4. Introduce Solids, but Not Liquids. I didn’t know this starting out, but if you’re nursing, babies get absolutely all the hydration they need from your breastmilk. In fact, water in excess of 2-3oz (even swallowed pool water), can throw off their little bodies’ sodium balance, causing a condition called water intoxication. Irritability, drowsiness, confusion, even seizures can ensue. Babies‘ kidneys aren’t fully matured, and will dump necessary sodium along with the excess water. The rules are a little different for formula-fed babies, but the essence is the same — unless advised otherwise by your pediatrician, no water on the side. And definitely no dairy — at least, not until after the first year. Milk hinders the absorption of iron, which is very important for baby, with high levels of protein and sodium is incredibly difficult to digest, and additionally is a very common allergen, especially in immature systems. (While I wish that more options were available in formula, formulas that use dairy as a base have predigested proteins, making it far easier and more appropriate for baby.)

5. Watch Baby’s Cues. Just like “don’t watch the calendar, watch the baby,” stay attuned to baby’s signs as you embark on this culinary adventure. A meal may be no more than 1-3 Tablespoons, sometimes even less in the beginning. This is perfectly natural for that tiny fist-size tummy. This is also the perfect opportunity to support baby in learning lifelong lessons in portion control. How many of us stop eating when we’re no longer hungry? In the beginning, that’s our instinct, and some pediatric experts believe that this innate ability to monitor our own hunger and satiety carries through even into our adulthood. If baby is turning his or her head away when the food approaches, or closes lips tight, or cries/fusses to get out of his high chair, take pains to listen up. Mealtime is probably over.

6. An optional 6th hint you’ll thank me for: Don’t forget the bibs. Or your older son may entreat you to drive all the way home again for fear that baby is going to ruin his matching shirt. And you’ll find yourself wondering if Soapnuts are going to cut it on what looks like a full avocado smeared onto the outfit. Really, just don’t do it.

Seasonal Allergies & Kids: Natural Remedies Provide Sweet Relief

My babysitter called in sick last week. She never calls in sick, and that makes two babysitters in one week’s time, both with the solid work ethics of…well, better than mine, anyway. When she shows up again this Monday, she sounds like Kathleen Turner. Not a bad thing, if you’re Kathleen, but a little deep and hoarse for a ninety-pound pixie. Her replacement sitter meantime spent two hours the week before getting my little teething love to take a nap – only to wake him with a coughing fit. “Don’t worry,” she sputters, “it’s just allergies.”

If I had one strike to level against Austin as an otherwise Utopian city, full of lush greenbelts, outdoor restaurants, natural springs and outdoor concerts, it is that the outdoors here that is so seductively available is also a veritable minefield of allergens, nearly all year long. This Spring, however, seems to be bringing unique challenges.

My kids aren’t hit (mercifully!), but if I had one complaint among clients that trumps all others — and creates all sorts of health complications and related conditions, it’s seasonal allergies. The clear runny nose, mild headaches, itchy eyes that may mark the beginning of a histamine response to anything from ragweed and grasses, to high mold counts, can quickly make their way into sinus infections, coughs, sore throats, eustachian tube congestion,earaches and generally lowered immune systems that leave your little one (and their caregivers) open to other invaders. This issue gets so complicated, in fact, that I’ve saved writing about it for years, hitting on it indirectly through remedies for cough and runny nose, sore throat, ear infections, but never addressing seasonal allergies directly.

I’ve waited long enough. Here’s what I recommend for seasonal allergies & your children: both for before allergy season begins for your kids, what to do if you didn’t see allergy season coming, and, at the worst, if your family never found it’s way out of one long allergy season (Austinites, read on…).

BEFORE THE ONSLAUGHT (in hopes that it never arrives):

I should say before going further, that stemming the tide of allergy symptoms can absolutely be a reasonable goal for most families. The trick that makes it easier, is to bolster your kids’ immunity before the season begins. That way you aren’t clearing out and drying up mucous, or calming frazzled nervous systems, you are getting them healthy — much as we all prefer the carrot to the stick, the carrot here is having children who feel stable, healthy and energized, a power place from which to enjoy a pollen-filled outside world. At least one month before your child’s peak allergy season, begin incorporating these remedies and immune tonics:

  1. Astragalus root: A staple of Chinese herbalism, astragalus (also referred to as Huang Qi), is an amazing immune tonic, with beneficial effects in boosting the wei qi astragalus-root1(loosely described in english as our outer protective energy that is especially correlated to lung and immune health). In short, this herb is a long-used immune miracle.
    To prepare, take 4 long slices (in bulk form it comes in slices that closely resemble tongue depressors) and place in soup or boiling water for 20 minutes. If you’ve placed it in water, you can give it to your child as a tea, in 1/4 – 1/2 cup quantities, 2-3 times a day.
    It lends itself to soups as well — with a mild earthy flavor, it blends well with cooked carrots and shitake mushrooms – also great immune enhancers, or adds nicely to our Spring Healing Soup.
  2. Local Honey: in children over 15 months of age, local honey is an oft-touted remedy. Does it live up to its reputation? No scientific studies have ever conclusively investigated honey to my knowledge, but anecdotal evidence supports an inherent logic to why local honey might prove very effective: when bees pollinate flowers, some of the pollen remains on their legs — honeyultimately making its way into the honey we eat. The result for us may be much like homeopathy, immune response therapy, or even the theory behind vaccinations: when a very small amount or ‘dummy’ version of pollen or other substance (such as a virus in the case of vaccines) is introduced to the body, the body produces antibodies to respond to it. When a larger quantity is introduced, the body is ready. Like the logic? Honey is your ready-made homeopathic dose of pollen. Either offer it to your child by the teaspoon, or mix it into tea — a slice of lemon and/or a few small slices of ginger, steeped for 3-5 minutes with honey to taste is a tasty and popular way to give your child their daily dose of honey — plus, the lemon’s antimicrobial properties and ginger’s anti-inflammatory action make this an allergy super-remedy. Be on the lookout for a ginger-lemonade recipe for recipe weekend…
  3. Essential fatty acids: In addition to being ‘brain food’ for children, essential fatty acids have been shown in studies to reduce the body’s inflammatory response. So good for growing minds anyway, its a great idea to incorporate efas into your child’s diet prior to allergy season, then continue with it throughout (and beyond!). Great sources include flaxseed oil (don’t cook this, but add it liberally after cooking to oatmeal, yogurt, rice, greens, grains — it has a pleasant nutty taste to it), walnuts, fish oil or algae-derived DHA supplements. If purchasing fish oil (krill oil is a great alternative for non-vegetarians), splurge on a high-quality, purity-tested supplement — we want it to be free of all contaminants in larger fish such as heavy metals.
  4. Immune-building acupressure: I talk about spinal rolling quite a lot in both the Mommy’s ER iBook and the DVD series. Why? It is an amazing technique that most children look forward to – and, when done regularly, offers great benefit to the immune system. Spinal-Rolling-blog-sizeBy applying a gentle pinch-and-roll technique to the skin and muscles of the back on either side of the spine, you are actually stimulating every organ system in your child’s body, and touching on every point I’d use in one of my favorite treatments as an acupuncturist when dealing with any allergic response. Here, a picture is worth a thousand words on spinal rolling. I recommend it at least once a day every day for even one minute, three is even better, or as long as your child enjoys it. It is a great after bath ritual with efficacy that should not be under-valued.
  5. Remove & reduce environmental & dietary stressors: Pre-allergy season is the time to reduce the number of stressors on your child’s immune system — at least those over which we have some control. Notice that your child breathes a little heavier after ice-cream and dairy products, or gets excited-then-sluggish after sugary snacks? Now would be a wonderful time to put these foods or food groups on seasonal hiatus. Alone, they may not be worth imposing restrictions, but together with pollen, they may be the straw on the proverbial camel’s back when it comes to your child’s immunity.If ragweed is a trigger allergen for your child, studies show that raw bananas, cucumbers, melon and zucchini share certain properties — prolifinsprolifins, a similar proteins so you may try avoiding these as well (although some science suggests that these proteins get broken down by saliva.) Smoking, pet dander, mild food sensitivities are all potential immune stressors that you can look at removing.
    If friends, family or loved ones are smokers, encourage them to smoke outside, far out of range of your child (this should always be the case, but allergy season provides an important impetus if this change needs to be made.) Pets in the house that you suspect may cause a little bit of an allergic response in your child? Don’t ban the pet, but consider banning it from your child’s room.
    Give carpets and linens in their room a good washing and allow their bedroom to be a dander-free haven. You can stress to your child that these changes are temporary. When Spring or your other high allergy time of year is over (check the allergy reports for your area – it can be anything from just a couple of weeks to a couple of months that your child’s particular airborne triggers are high), decisions around food and pet can be revisited.


Sometimes, I just don’t catch on — either to the calendar telling me it’s ragweed time, or to the fact that my cranky son may be under some kind of environmental stress. Fatigue, clear runny nose, slight digestive disruptance. watery-itchy eyes, or allergy ‘shiners’ — dark sunken-looking circles under the eyes may be the first clue. Never fear, it’s still not too late to stop a full-blown allergy attack by incorporating the above remedies, and adding at least a couple of the ones below:

  1. Vitamin C: in addition to being an incredible antioxidant, which eliminates free radicals and their burden on your child’s immune system, vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties that make it a go-to supplement for children and grown-ups suffering from allergies alike. 250mg taken two to four times a day is a reasonable dose for children over the age of four (for chldren under the age of 4, start with doses of 100 mg at a time or less). If your child develops diarrhea, back off to a lower dosage. When allergens begin to decrease, taper your child’s vitamin C supplementation back to one dose per day, but don’t stop giving them vitamin C abruptly (vitamin C is water soluble and as such, extremely safe, but quick withdrawal can temporarily mimic the symptoms of scurvy – yikes!). My preference is always mineral ascorbate form with bioflavenoids.
  2. bioflavenoidsBioflavenoids: Bioflavenoids are natural plant compounds that provide pigment and act as antioxidants. They also have proven anti-inflammatory effects that are specifically anti-allergenic. The most potent anti-allergenic among the bioflavenoids is quercetin, which acts as a natural antihistamine. The most effective way for a child to utilize bioflavenoids is with vitamin C, which is why vitamin C supplements often include them. If you choose to supplement them separately, the dosage appropriate for your child would depend on their weight — the typical 150 lb adult dosage of quercetin for allergy relief is between 400-600mg, so if your child weighs 50 lbs, the dose would be around 200mg for children 4 and over (for under 4 years old, I tend to be conservative with supplements, so consult on quercetin with a trusted health professional). You can also encourage your child to eat flavenoid-rich foods — common in purple-colored foods, such as grapes, blueberries, and blackberries, and in apples when you leave the skin on. (PS mama, wine has flavenoids too, if you need a post-bedtime dose.)
  3. Calcium and magnesium. I don’t like a slew of supplements for children in general, but during allergy time, the right nutrients take on added importance. Calcium and magnesium help to calm allergic responses in the skin and respiratory system — especially, but not exclusively, when your child is deficient in magnesium (many kids and adults are.) A good supplement provides you with a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium for optimum utilization. A good dose for a child over 4 would be 250mg calcium and 125mg magnesium, twice per day during acute attack, down to one dose per day for a couple weeks after the attack has ended.
  4. nettlesFreeze-dried nettle: A heartily nutritious herb, nettle can be used to bolster nutrition, immunity, and act as an antihistamine simultaneously. It is particularly good for drying out sinuses and also for stimulating the lymphatic system. If your child suffers from chronic allergies, sinus trouble, or swollen lymph nodes during allergy season, this would be my desert-island pick. Dosage is as directed, for children over 4 years old only. Consider having your child take this with food, as it can occasional cause stomach upset. In rare cases where the stomach upset still persists, stop giving the nettle for the time being.
  5. Elder: Also called elderberry and black elder, elder is an herb whose flower and berries are rich in flavenoids — the natural plant compounds we discussed earlier, with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. While most commonly used to reduce fever, elder’s natural tannins and volatile oils have natural astringents which dry up mucus in the respiratory passages. This makes elder an effective choice for children’s allergies – particularly if your child is generating a large amount of mucus, and a generally good thing to have on hand in your medicine cabinet. It can be administered as a tea, tincture or syrup — for children’s taste and ease, I use it in syrup form, using as directed, 1-2 times per day.
  6. Turmeric: Turmeric is a bright yellow-orange culinary spice that is great for health as well — alleviating muscle aches & pains, and even sometimes used as a natural cancer treatment (if I haven’t recommended it before, you’re almost certain to see it again in an upcoming blog on growing pains). It is an amazing medicinal spice due to its curcumin content — a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. As such, it helps heal inflamed respiratory tissues, along with resolving cases of excessive mucus. Because, to my knowledge, no studies exist on turmeric at medicinal dosages for children, I recommend it for children over 50-60 lbs, and stick to a conservative culinary amount, such as the amount you’d use in a good serving of curry — about 250mg (where, by the way, it’s the reason for an Indian curry’s characteristic yellow color).
  7. Saline rinse: This is as simple — and not quite as disagreeable as it sounds. Available over the counter, get one without preservatives — or make your own by dissolving 1/4 tsp of non-iodized salt and 1/8 tsp of baking soda in 1/2 cup of room temp or lukewarm water, then spray into one nostril at a time with a nasal spray bottle or a bulb syringe. If your child is old enough, have them blow their nose after you administer. If not, you can suck out the excess mucus with a bulb syringe as well. If making your own saline rinse, make a fresh batch every time.
  8. Face massage: There’s nothing like mama’s healing touch when your child is feeling ill — but neck and face massage serves another important function — moving your little one’s lymph system in the area of their body most affected by allergies. Using your clean fingerpads, with or without a little light olive or almond oil, massage at their temples, over their eyebrows, and gently from the bridge of their nose, down under their eyes at the top of their cheeks, following the cheekbones from the nose out in repeated strokes.


Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we can no longer tell if our children have allergies or a full-blown infection or viral illness. Often it’s a combination effect — what started as one has led to the other (eg what starts as mild seasonal allergies lowers immunity and makes your child susceptible to the virus run amok at school…) Here are some ways to assess the severity of your child’s condition:

  1. Watch the color of your child’s mucus as one indicator of how things are progressing. hiking-in-austinIf their mucous remains clear and thin, you are generally dealing with a relatively minor ailment or allergy. If it turns, green, copious, thick, you may now be looking at a sinus infection, or, if the mucous moves into the eustachian tubes, a possible ear infection.
  2. If your child starts coughing, this is another sign that whatever has been bothering their system has now moved deeper into the body. In Chinese medicine, the most superficial level of ailment is runny nose and other mild ‘head’ and ‘back of neck’ symptoms (back of neck soreness, chills, runny nose are signs of an initial challenge to your child’s health). If it starts to affect, mood, digestion, or lungs, or your child starts running a fever, it’s gone deeper and become more entrenched. This is not to scare you, but just to give you a sense of when to keep a greater watchful eye, and consider consulting with your healthcare provider. Also, check out our remedies section on cough & runny nose for further home remedy suggestions.
  3. Your child’s mood is a great indicator of how they are feeling. If they seem hyperactive, difficult to calm, or alternatively cranky or depressed. These can also be byproducts of allergies. Check out our Remedies Section on Runny Nose and Cough, or the iBook chapter by symptom — sore throat, runny nose, wet or dry cough, and handle it according to the prevailing symptoms.

The goal here, of all of these remedies, is to gently but firmly rebalance little one’s body, and make the outdoors feel friendly again, just in time for Summer fun. And if our babysitters read this blog and follow its advice too, so be it. 🙂

Coffee Talk: Does Coffee Help or Hinder Mama’s Health?

I am sitting in my son’s martial arts class this afternoon, chatting with another mama. “I should have gotten a coffee today,” she says. She doesn’t need to say why. It is, after all, the end of the day, at the end of the week, and she’s the carpool gal today. “Mmm. Sounds good. Why didn’t you?” I ask. “No food or drink dojo policy,” she says. “Plus, I shouldn’t anyway. It’s not good for me.” I nod in understanding, but the truth is, not even a full hour prior to picking my son up from school, I read another article on the merits of coffee — this time, significant correlations are mapped between coffee drinking and decreased heart disease in women.

Prior to this I’ve read articles linking the coffee habit to decreased rates of Parkinson’s disease, increased muscle recovery time and decreased soreness after exercise, and even decreased mortality rates among certain segments of the population.morning-coffee-benefits

Yet the pervasive truism persists in natural health and non-natural health communities alike — when we’re drinking coffee, we’re doing something bad for ourselves, committing a vice, like smoking, alcohol or too much soda. We may persist, much the same way we might persist with a glass of wine or a chocolate cupcake, but somewhere inside we group a cuppa joe in the category with our guilty pleasures, in spite of evidence to the contrary. Why?

The Cons:

One reason that coffee may achieve a bad rap is that it is a popular source of caffeine — and not all sources of caffeine are considered equal. Caffeinated colas may get a deservedly bad rap, not just for the caffeine, but for the amount of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial additives that go into every serving. I’ve had clients cure deep muscle pain and arthritis by giving up their cola habit alone.

As much as I’ve said everything in moderation, I’m pretty sure colas in any quantity besides very occasional are just not good for us. Jolt cola, energy drinks and other highly artificial sodas have cast a shadow of suspicion that is perhaps undeserved on every caffeinated beverage. What we add to our caffeine, coffee or otherwise — too much sugar, artificial sweeteners, half-and-half, have a tremendous impact on the fat content, calorie content, and overall health of the habit.

The other problem with the caffeine in coffee is that caffeine is addictive. I remember my friend’s mother wearing a Garfield nightshirt that said, “don’t talk to me until I’ve had my morning coffee,” and made myself a tacit promise to never allow that nightshirt to apply to me.

Coffee was a terrible grown-up ritual that could stunt my growth, taste bitter, make us sit in restaurants far too long after dinner was over… And it never seemed to make anyone’s parents more energetic. The trouble with the addictive quality of the caffeine in coffee is that it probably masks underlying symptoms of genuine sleep deprivation and tanks running on empty.

The addictive energy boost of coffee allows us to mask some legitimate health and lifestyle concerns that in the long run may take a harder toll on our overall health than the coffee alone. We can use coffee as a substitute for healthful measures that address problems at their root with more sleep, water, nutrient-dense foods, and exercise.

Coffee can be aggravating for certain health conditions, including: acid reflux, chronic insomnia, heart palpitations, and anxiety. In a culture plagued by these conditions — 10-15 percent of American adults have chronic insomnia and 18 percent (40 million folk) have diagnosed anxiety disorders in the US. While coffee is not the acknowledged cause of any of these public health concerns, coffee’s ability to amplify these conditions at the very least make the effects of the coffee habit worthy of deliberate attention and further study from a public health perspective.

Finally, coffee is inadvisable for anyone trying to get pregnant, especially with a history of miscarriage. A 2009 study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine found that women who drank 1-3 cups of American coffee (specified “american” because coffees vary in caffeine content and strength) were 30% more likely to miscarry than non coffee drinkers. Five or more cups doubled the risk. Even after the first trimester, where some doctors outline acceptable quantities while pregnant, coffee and caffeine pass easily to the fetus — and I’m cautious about anything that raises my baby’s heart rate to artificially high levels in utero — night of crazy kicking, here we come?

And on the PRO side:

I’m not pregnant anymore — I am, on the other hand, sleep-deprived. Even with healthy eating and exercise, the sleep situation and the occasional malaise that accompanies it are not likely to change in the near future. Plus, I LOVE me some coffee. What then? Here’s the upside to the coffee debate:latte-coffee

Coffee contains antioxidants. Coffee contains more than 9,000 different powerful antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. According to recent research out of the University of Scranton (Pennsylvania), coffee is by far the largest source of antioxidants in the diet of most Americans. This high antioxidant content may block inflammation and cell damage — possibly explaining the correlation between coffee drinkers and decreased heart disease, Parkinson’s, cirrhosis of the liver, and Alzheimer’s. And the list doesn’t end here — further studies show that coffee appears to lower insulin resistance and slow the absorption of carbohydrates in the intestine, making it mildly effective in reducing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. It has also been shown in studies to reduce risks of certain cancers, including endometrial and colon cancers in women.

Coffee, and caffeine in general, has been shown to improve athletic performance, speed athletic recovery time and reduce soreness. Studies have long shown that caffeine prior to or during an athletic event or workout boosts performance by increasing the availability of glucose to the muscles — the gas for the engine, so to speak. This same effect may explain shortened recovery times after working out as well. The most likely explanation for the reduced soreness is that coffee blocks adenosine, a chemical that is triggered by inflammation.latte art, coffee culture, coffee, pros and cons

The coffee culture is just so darn fun. Have you ever stood in line for a cup of Blue Bottle Coffee on a foggy San Francisco morning, or a local brew from the Farmer’s Market, or an iced latte on a Summer day? Or taken your work to the coffee shop? Or gone through the quiet coffee ritual while the rest of your family sleeps and felt the same calming effects as meditation? Then you know what I mean.

So was my mama friend right to forego the afternoon cup of coffee before martial arts class? I don’t honestly know. In the end, I guess I ask myself, as I try to do with all things, is this going to make my life happier, for me and for the people around me? Sometimes the answer is yes (picture productive, energetic, and above all, pampered-feeling mama with that little cup of heaven in hand.) Sometimes the answer is no (insomniac mama, or mama who will pull car through Starbucks drive-through with two tired children in tow, maybe not.) But even as I write this, I know that if I drop off my son at school on time, and get in my exercise, maybe, just maybe, I’ll reward myself with a small Mexican Mocha on the way home.