During these lovely summer days we’re tempted to be outside enjoying nature, but beware: predators lurk in the weeds. Here in the Midwest, we’re in a Lyme disease area so I thought it might be a good idea to let you know what symptoms to watch for, a task made sadly easier when my associate Dr Rubin, known for his love of the outdoors and risky gardening habit…well, I’ll let him tell you what he did on his summer vacation.
The bark of the stately white willow tree (Salix alba) has been used in China for centuries as a medicine because of its ability to relieve pain and lower fever. Early settlers to America found Native Americans gathering bark from indigenous willow trees for similar purposes.
For centuries, the tall perennial herb with pinkish flowers known as valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has been enlisted to help restless insomniacs get a sound night’s sleep. Today this mild, nonaddictive sedative is quite popular both as a sleep aid and as an anxiety fighter, particularly in Germany, France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. And in recent years its popularity has grown enormously in the United States as well.
An herb prized for its medicinal benefits and distinctive flavor, peppermint (Mentha piperata) is a naturally occurring hybrid of spearmint (M. spicata) and water mint (M. aquatica). Unlike other mints, however, peppermint contains in its healing volatile oil the powerful therapeutic ingredient menthol, as well as menthone, menthyl acetate and some 40 other compounds. The oil is made by steam-distilling the plant’s aromatic leaves and stems, which are gathered just before its light-purple flowers appear in the summer.
Essential for hundreds of chemical reactions that occur in the body every second, the mineral magnesium has received surprisingly little attention over the years. Recent findings, however, suggest that it also has important health-promoting benefits, from an ability to prevent heart disease to a role in treating such chronic conditions as fibromyalgia and diabetes.
A member of the pepper family, kava (or kava-kava) is a natural tranquilizer that soothes jangled nerves and eases anxiety with few of the mind-dulling effects of prescription relaxants. Its Latin name, Piper methysticum, means “intoxicating pepper,” and indeed, on the South Pacific islands where it is grown, kava is made into a traditional beverage that is drunk at ceremonies and on social occasions–as alcohol is in other societies–to relax people and induce a sense of well-being.
Glucosamine, a sugar produced in the body and found in small amounts in foods, plays an important role in maintaining cartilage, the gel-like material that cushions joints. When taken as a dietary supplement, glucosamine may help to relieve the pain, stiffness, and swelling of osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disorder that affects 12% of the population, in which cartilage has worn down. Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers report improvements with glucosamine supplements as well, as do individuals with other types of joint injuries. Some 70 countries around the world sanction glucosamine as a treatment for individuals with mild to moderately severe osteoarthritis.
Revered around the world for its pungent taste, ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a natural spice that is also widely prized for its medicinal properties. Since ancient times, traditional healers in a diverse array of cultures have used this plant primarily to help settle upset stomachs. Chinese herbalists have relied on ginger as a medicine and flavoring for more than 2,500 years. The early Greeks mixed it into breads (hence the first gingerbread), and North American colonists sipped nausea-quelling ginger beer, the precursor of modern ginger ale. Today, many cultures continue to rely on ginger for controlling nausea and also for reducing inflammation.
From cough cure to tension-reliever, the woody scented oil and leathery leaves of the stately eucalyptus tree have found myriad uses over the centuries. Australian aborigines relied on this native evergreen for soothing painful joints and healing skin lesions. And settlers to the continent dubbed eucalyptus the “fever tree” in recognition of its disease-fighting powers. While these early users ascribed its potency to the tree’s brisk aroma, it is now known that the thirsty roots were responsible: They kept the surrounding ground relatively dry and thus free of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Creatine is an important compound manufactured by the liver. It assists muscles in producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the substance that fuels bursts of energy on the cellular level. Animal proteins are a primary dietary source of creatine. Taken in concentrated dietary supplement form, creatine is thought to extend short bursts of high-energy exercise, such as sprinting and power weight lifting. Creatine supplements may also reduce muscle fatigue. Not surprisingly, these properties make creatine a favorite supplement among athletes and body-builders.