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Erbe e piante medicinali che non sapevi di avere nel tuo giardino (o balcone)

Al giorno d’oggi quando siamo malati siamo abituati a prendere subito una pillola o una piccola iniezione per sentirci meglio (o almeno così si spera!). Tuttavia in passato la conoscenza e l’uso delle erbe medicinali era l’unica soluzione possibile per curare le malattie. Col tempo vennero così studiate, catalogate e impiegate tutte le erbe e piante definite “medicinali” o “officinali“, ovvero usate e vendute nelle “officine” (=farmacie, speziali, ecc.) come vere e proprie medicine.

Gli speziali dell’epoca (i nostri farmacisti, per dire) erano coloro che conoscevano le varie tecniche di lavorazione, preparazione e conservazione delle piante, e se ne servivano per realizzare svariati rimedi medicamentosi (oli, unguenti, decotti, tisane ecc.), prodotti cosmetici e profumi. Non era inusuale che anche i monaci si dedicassero a questa attività, assicurandosi così un po’ di profitto per il monastero e più indipendenza dal mondo esterno (specialmente se seguivano una vita in clausura).

Oggi le erbe e le piante officinali sono per lo più utilizzate in prevenzione alla salute e al benessere, piuttosto che per la cura di per sè (tralascio al momento la naturopatia, fitoterapia, ecc.). Possono essere anche impiegate in cucina (le cosiddette “aromatiche“) oppure, attraverso processi chimici, per creare integratori, cosmetici e altri prodotti per la casa.

In generale, la parte utilizzata della pianta (foglie, fiori, semi, radici ecc.) è chiamata “droga“, ed è la parte che contiene il fitocomplesso cioè l’insieme dei principi attivi che caratterizzano le proprietà del vegetale, non riproducibili per sintesi chimica. Secondo l’OMS infatti, sono definite “medicinali” le erbe e le piante officinali che “contengono in uno o più organi, sostanze che possono essere utilizzate a fini terapeutici o preventivi o che sono precursori di emisintesi chemiofarmaceutiche”, ovvero da cui derivano preparati farmacologicamente attivi. Di conseguenza una pianta è definita officinale o medicinale in un paese e non in un altro a seconda delle legislazioni e dei processi di lavorazione.

Se avete intenzione di iniziare a coltivare voi stessi il vostro giardino officinale e/o aromatico, considerate bene se la pianta che volete coltivare è annuale o perenne, se ha bisogno di stare a terra oppure in vaso (generalmente le aromatiche possono stare in vaso), quanta acqua e sole necessita e se è compatibile o meno con altre piante attorno (per il rischio di parassiti ecc.).

  • MENTA / MENTA PIPERITA

Ne esistono di tantissimi tipi ma la menta piperita ha una concentrazione di essenza molto alta nelle foglie, che vengono raccolte tra Luglio e Agosto.

Agisce per lo più a livello del sistema gastrointestinale, perché aiuta la digestione e ha un’azione antispasmodica della muscolatura liscia. Il mentolo che la menta contiene ha un’azione tonificante, quindi non bevetela prima di dormire se non si vuole soffrire di insonnia. E’ inoltre noto che la menta sia utile per lievi infiammazioni delle vie aeree: i famosi suffumigi hanno un’azione battericida e liberano anche il naso essendo balsamici.

Attenzione! Non si usa sui bambini perché può dare spasmi.

  • TARASSACO

Tutti possono riconoscerlo grazie al suo caratteristico fiore giallo e al suo frutto, il soffione. Cresce spontaneamente in campi e prati, quindi non sarà difficile trovarne in abbondanza nel vostro giardino. Del tarassaco si utilizzano le radici, il cui raccolto va da Maggio a Novembre.

Una volta raccolte, le radici vanno essiccate al sole e conservate in barattoli di vetro o di latta. Possono poi essere utilizzate in infusione per la preparazione di una tisana dall’effetto diuretico e depurativo, oppure per uso esterno sul cuoio capelluto per combattere la forfora.

Attenzione! La tisana è controindicata per chi ha problemi ai reni, cuore, chi assume già farmaci diuretici e in chi soffre di allergia all’ambrosia.

  • AGLIO

L’aglio può vivere benissimo in vaso, piantandone i bulbi a Novembre per consumarlo in primavera. L’aglio è il più potente antibatterico naturale. Inoltre, abbassa il colesterolo e la pressione, contribuendo a fluidificare il sangue. Il sapore non piace a tutti, ma se essiccato dà generalmente meno fastidio.

Attenzione! Il consumo di aglio è controindicato durante l’allattamento, e va usato con attenzione da chi segue già cure per la pressione, colesterolo e fluidificazione del sangue, in quanto potrebbe potenziare l’effetto dei farmaci.

  • MELISSA

Ha un’azione miorilassante sulla muscolatura liscia dell’intestino e per questo motivo viene considerata come un ottimo rimedio per chi soffre di sindrome del colon irritabile. Usata in una tisana insieme ad altre erbe (camomilla, valeriana, ecc.), aiuta il rilassamento in generale ed è un buon rimedio contro l’insonnia e l’ansia.

Attenzione! La melissa stimola la tiroide ed è controindicata a chi soffre di problemi di salute in merito.

  • SALVIA

La salvia è un arbusto sempreverde la cui droga è rappresentata principalmente dalla foglia.

Da sempre usata masticandola contro l’alitosi e per avere denti più bianchi, è un battericida naturale, ha grandi proprietà digestive, diminuisce l’eccessiva sudorazione e contiene anche alcune sostanze simili agli ormoni femminili estrogeni che la rendono perfetta in caso di “caldane da menopausa”.

Attenzione! Ne è assolutamente vietato l’uso durante l’allattamento e in gravidanza in quanto blocca la produzione del latte ed ha molecole che possono interagire con gli ormoni femminili. Da utilizzare molto cautamente come olio essenziale.

  • ORTICA

E’ un’erba perenne le cui foglie possono essere raccolte da Aprile a Settembre, ovviamente utilizzando dei guanti (e tutti sanno il perchè!). Il potere irritante delle foglie di ortica scompare con l’essiccazione o dopo la cottura.

L’ortica è considerata benefica per il suo contenuto di sali minerali e vitamina C, nonchè per avere un potere antinfiammatorio (cosa piuttosto ironica). La tisana può essere bevuta calda al momento, oppure una volta raffreddata, è un ottimo tonico per il viso per la cura della pelle grassa o mista.

  • TIMO

In questo caso la droga della pianta sono le foglie ed i fiori, che oltre ad avere una buonissima aromaticità da usare in cucina, sono anche antibatteriche grazie al timolo contenuto in esse.

Il timo agisce benissimo sull’apparato digestivo e respiratorio essendo espettorante e mucolitico. Può essere usato anche come tonico del cuoio capelluto, stimolando la crescita del capello.

Attenzione! L’olio essenziale di timo non va mai usato per uso interno, perché anche a basse dosi può dar fastidio.

  • LAVANDA

La lavanda ama molto la siccità e se ne utilizzano i fiori appena sbocciati fatti essiccare al sole. È usatissima come profumatore di cassetti ed armadi o per fare cuscini aromatici.

E’ molto usata in aromaterapia perché rilassa il sistema nervoso centrale, oppure come sedativo in aggiunta alle tisane.

Attenzione! Se le dosi sono troppo alte ha l’effetto contrario di eccitante. L’olio essenziale non deve andare a contatto con la pelle dei bimbi.

Altre erbe e piante che vale la pena menzionare ma di cui non posso fare tutta le descrizione sono le seguenti: Dragoncello, Erba cipollina, Rosmarino, Finocchio, Maggiorana, Origano, Anice, Basilico, Prezzemolo, Peperoncino, Coriandolo, Santoreggia, Aneto, Issopo, Calendula, Camomilla, Echinacea, Tanaceto, Valeriana e Malva.


Mi raccomando fate attenzione quando utilizzate rimedi fitoterapici di qualsiasi tipo, specialmente gli oli essenziali. Rivolgetevi sempre al vostro farmacista o naturopata di fiducia riguardo il dosaggio e le controindicazioni e sempre prima di iniziare una cura. Non dimenticate inoltre di chiedere un parere al vostro medico curante!

Who is a doula?

In the last few years I have lived abroad I have increasingly heard about “doulas”, whose existence and role I admit previously I did not know. However, having recently talked to some of my foreign non-italian colleagues who trusted in the doulas during their gestation, I was intrigued and wanted to find out more.

The doula’s role

Doula means “servant”, and is an ancient figure that can be found already from Ancient Greece. In Italy it is about 10/15 years that this profession properly started, while in the rest of Europe or in the USA it has been much longer. The doula is a non-health professional figure for the emotional and practical support of the family and particularly of the pregnant mothers until roughly the child’s first birthday.

For example, emotionally she can help the mother to look for the positive side of the situation, give her attention and make her believe in her strength. On the practical side the doula is not a cleaner or a housekeeper, but if the mother needs it she can certainly help keep the house clean. She is not a babysitter but can watch children while the mother washes or eats in peace. The doula is above all a non-judgmental figure who respects the choices of the mother and the family, an emotional and practical help you can count on.

When the doula enters the scene

  • Pregnancy and pre-birth

One of the fundamental roles of the doula is to help the mother to make the “birth plan“, that is the whole list of things that the future mother wants in the hospital (or at home). The doula helps to make these wishes come true and directs the family to the centers or health experts suited to their choices. Then almost at the 9th month, about 10 days before the birth, the doula organizes the “blessing way“: a Navaho tradition ceremony to welcome the mother who is born, because as per Native American tradition when a baby is born a new mother is also born. This celebration of life is usually celebrated with friends and loved ones, doing rituals that the mother chooses: for example, you can create essential oils or scented salts to take home as a souvenir, create handmade gifts for the mother and the baby, burn fears and sing songs to the sound of shamanic drums, make a cast of the belly, braid hair with fresh flowers and many other activities that suit the future mother’s likings.

  • Labour

If the mother believes that the father is unable to support her during labour in the hospital, the doula can enter the delivery room as a replacement, otherwise she can watch the other children outside. During home birth the doula can help prepare peoperly the place and the necessary to support the mother during birth (for example by massaging her feet).

  • Post-partum

Especially if it’s the mother’s first child, she may have different fears and insecurities after giving birth (how do I change the diaper? Why doesn’t the baby sleep? And if I can’t breastfeed? etc ..). Breastfeeding especially can be a critical point for several women, but the doula will help find health workers to support the new mother. About other insecurities the doula will work as emotional support and if necessary suggest some psychological support or groups to the mother and / or family.

The relationship with healthcare professionals

Let’s dispel one of the many myths: the doula does NOT want to replace anyone. As mentioned above, the doula is not a health figure but an emotional (NOT psychological) and practical support. Fortunately, several health workers (doctors, midwives, nurses, etc.) accept the figure of the doula and indeed, advise the new mothers to contact them. Others do not welcome the doulas, but I believe it is certainly because they do not understand this role. Because different support figures exist, they can all work together to better help mothers and for the babies and families’ best interest.

How to become a doula

There are many schools around the world that can teach you how to become a doula, some of the courses last 9 months, others are shorter. Check online which is the closest school in your area and if your state requires an enrollment in a specific professional body. It is then at the discretion of the person to feel competent and ready to start practicing the profession. I guess one becomes a doula if you feel particularly connected with pregnacy and the motherhood world, if you want to combine practical and emotional help and support and make it your call, doing all of this with joy in your heart.

The Great Dictionary of Metamedicine – Book review

Claudia Rainville, author of the international best seller “Le Grand Dictionnaire of Métamédicine, chaque symptome est un message” (aka “The Great Dictionary of Metamedicine, every symptom is a message“) started her career as a psychotherapist, born and raised in the typical Western medicine environment. After few challenges she had to face during the years in her personal and family life, and after noticing few similar patterns in her patients, she founded the Metamedicine approach.

Ancient Romans used to say “Mens sana in corpore sano“, so “Healthy mind, healthy body” and that’s what pretty much Metamedicine is based on.

After realising that patients had significant emotional events or traumas before the onset of new health issues or symptoms, the correlation of these events became a vast inventory of case studies and successful diagnostics. So, according to Metamedicine (aka META-Health), there is not only a mind-body connection but actually a very precise organ-mind-emotion network. Which means that each area of our brain, with its chemical and emotional responds, is linked to a specific organ and a specific conflict or trauma or environmental social experience.

As examples of what I have mentioned already, we could say that the skin (organ of touch) might be affected by a loss-of-contact-conflict, the breast (organ that nourishes the baby) by a separation-conflict, the lungs (breath is the sign of life) by a fear-of-death conflict, and so on.

I know this is a lot to take in and maybe difficult to understand, so let me give you a couple more of examples that Claudia Reinville herself mentions in the book.

Let’s start from something very common like allergies. They are a very common problem, which usually onsets due to situations (or allergens) that are not accepted or that wake up forgotten emotions and traumas. One can be allergic to pet hair, pollen some foods: let’s focus on this one. Food allergies are the ones linked with a memory, for example: have you been told that one of your relatives died while you were eating broccoli? Don’t be surprised if you can’t stand them or if you are allergic to them. Were your parents divorcing while you were starting to eat fruits as a toddler? Be careful ’cause you can become strawberry-intolerant. If you are unable to address the episode or the period of time where your allergy started, it could be related to a previous life experience. Gluten and dairy products allergies are instead a separate matter.

Let’s give you another example, a quite common problem that many people are afraid to share: anal itching. The anus is the terminal part of the intestines, and so it represents the end of a process and letting go “something” (yeah, you know what I am talking about!). That’s why anal itching can be getting started when there are difficulties in letting go and move on from a situation. It could be a person, a house, a job, etc. Ask youself: what is that bothers me about letting go this thing/person? Why is it so hard to move on?

In “The Great Dictionary of Metamedicine, every symptom is a message” the author writes in alphabetical order mentioning step by step every single disease, how it is related with a trauma or a issues/ conflict we should face and solve, giving examples thanks to her experience with thousands of patients.

I found this book really illuminating, as being a ThetaHealer Pratictioner I already knew this type of correlation in our beings, but being able to address all of them and put them down on paper is remarkable and it comes very handy. Especially if you work with holistic healing like I do, it makes you save a lot of time and helps you understand better your clients, not to mention all the positive improvements you can gain for youself. So take your new Dictionary and start digging, I hope you will find all the answers you are looking for!

Massage Techniques – Part 2

There is a lot of misinformation and prejudice towards Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and oriental techniques in general. Since this is what I specialise in I decided to talk about few manipulative techniques that can be used together (or separately) to restore the natural energy balance and body wellness.

Hopefully this small contribution to the body of knowledge on the web will help setting the record straight about the true and proven benefits of TCM.

This is the second part, and if you missed the first one you can find it here.

CUPPING

Cupping therapy might be trendy and “new agey” now, but it is definetely not new. It goes back to ancient Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures, described first also in an Egyptian papyrus dated 1,550 B.C. This therapy consists in placing special cups, heated with fire using alcohol or herbs, on the skin for a few minutes to create suction. The cups can be made of glass, bamboo or silicone, and the session can be described as “wet” or “dry”.

During a dry session of cupping only suction is used, and the cups can be removed and replaced quickly or simply dragged along your skin. During the wet cupping instead a tiny cut on your skin is made and the suction of the cups is used to drag out a small quantity of blood. Your practitioner, your medical condition, and your preferences will help determine what method is used, but to be honest I have never seen wet cupping being used in a Western country.

At the base of cupping’s principles there is the belief that the suction facilitates the healing with the flow of blood and “qi” in the body. This may relieve local muscle tension, but generally improve relaxation, overall blood flow and promote cell repair. It may also help form new connective tissues and create new blood vessels in the scars. Cupping has been used to treat a wide range of conditions, including migraines, anxiety, fertility, rheumatic disease, blood disorders, skin disorders etc.

Before you get concerned, I must say there aren’t many side effects associated with cupping. But the ones you may experience will typically occur during your treatment or immediately after. These includes feeling lightheaded or dizzy, sweating or nausea. If you will experience wet cupping there is an higher risk of infection, burning or bruising, although some red bruises left by the cups are perfectly normal and will disappear in maximum 3 to 4 days. Extra caution should be taken also for children, seniors, pregnant or menstruating women, but generally always check with your GP or pratictioner first.

GUA SHA

Gua sha is a natural, alternative therapy coming from ancient China that involves scraping your skin with a massage tool to improve your circulation. The name comes from the word “gua”, that means “scraping” and “sha”, which are the transitory therapeutic petechiae intentionally created by the pratictioner with the tool.

Usually before the session the pratictioner applies massage oil on the skin, then starts scraping it with short or long strikes and always towards one direction. Generally gua sha is performed on a person’s back, buttocks, neck, arms, and legs, but a gentle version of it is even used on the face.

This technique is intended to address stagnant energy, qi, in the body responsible for inflammation. Rubbing the skin’s surface is thought to help break up this energy, reduce inflammation, and promote healing. That is why it is usually used to relieve muscle and joint pain and relief musculoskeletal disorders. But gua sha can also boost the immune system healping treating a cold, fever, or problems with the lungs, and other benefits include helping women during menopause, insomnia, anxiety and fatigue.

But, does it have any side effect? As a natural healing remedy, I can say gua sha is safe. It should not be painful, but because it involves rubbing or scraping skin bruises can occur, although you should not bleed. Bruising usually disappears within a couple of days, but if you take blood thinners or had recent surgery you should not have the treatment done. As always, check with your GP and pratictioner.

Moxibustion stick burning and glowing

Massage techniques – Part 1

There is a lot of misinformation and prejudice towards Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and oriental techniques in general. Since this is what I specialise in I decided to talk about few manipulative techniques that can be used together (or separately) to restore the natural energy balance and body wellness.

Hopefully this small contribution to the body of knowledge on the web will help setting the record straight about the true and proven benefits of TCM.

TUI NA

The term “Tui Na” (pronounced “twee naw”), which literally means “pinch and pull,” refers to a form of Chinese manipulative body therapy often used in conjunction with many other therapies, such as moxibustion, acupuncture, cupping, herbalism, etc.

During a Tui na session, the pratictioner may use a variety of manipulation methods, from gentle to very firm, such as brush, knead, roll, press, and rub the body areas. Tui na is not generally used for pleasure and relaxation, but rather as a treatment to address specific patterns of disharmony and iillness. Infact, like acupuncture, Tui na aims to harmonize yin and yang in the body by manipulating the Qi in the acupuncture channels. It also includes what is popularly known as “acupressure,” where practitioners use finger pressure instead of needles to stimulate the acupuncture points.

In ancient China, medical therapy was often classified as either “external” or “internal” treatment. Tui na was one of the external methods, although it can be used to address both internal diseases and external injuries. Many people seek it to relieve multiple disorders including insomnia, constipation, headaches, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, and emotional problems. It can also treat disorders related to digestive, respiratory, and reproductive systems, stiff neck, distension of shoulders, sciatica, and sore back.

MOXIBUSTION

Moxibustion (or “moxa”) is a form of heat therapy in which dried plant materials are burned on or very near the surface of the skin. Usually the material used is Chinese mugwort (aka Artemesia), but it can be made of a mix of other substances as well.

Moxibustion can be direct and indirect. During direct moxibustion, a small, cone-shaped amount of moxa is placed on top of an acu-point and burned. This type can be scarring and non-scarring, depending on the fact that moxa stays on the skin area until it burns out completely, or it is removed before it burns the skin. I must admit I have never seen a scarring moxibustion technique in Western countries, while in China was quite common.

Infact indirect moxibustion is currently the most popular form of care because there is a much lower risk of pain or burning. The practitioner lights one end of a moxa stick, roughly the shape and size of a cigar, and holds it close to the area being treated for several minutes until the area turns red. Another indirect form combines moxa on top of acupuncture needles.

Benefits of moxibustion

The general purpose of moxibustion, like several forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine, is to strengthen the blood, maintain general health and stimulate the flow of qi. That is why it is very common for patients receiving moxibustion to report a sudden flowing of warmth that quickly radiates along a specific pathway, away from the site of application. This is a good result, as it indicates the arrival and flow of the Qi in the freed energy channel. Usually the patient also experiences a pleasant heating sensation that penetrates deep into the skin, but should not feel any pain, blistering or scarring unless the moxa is left in place for too long.

Moxibustion can be used for several general diseases as well, such as pain due to injury or arthritis, digestive or bowel problems, gynecological conditions (quite common breech presentation in late term pregnancy), protection against cold and flu strains, and many more conditions that follow a “cold pattern” and naturally feel better after heat application.

Moxa can be easily used at home and itt is not uncommon for some practitioners to train their patients to use moxa on themselves to strengthen the effect of the clinical sessions between appointments. But although it is a very safe practice, to gain the best benefits from a Tui na and moxibustion treatment right for your condition, it is always better to check with a professional pratictioner first.

 

 

Photo: G. Olivetti