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Month: December 2017
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The Top 101 Herbs and Spices for Healing
Did you know that there are over a hundred herbs and spices that can be consumed or used topically for healing? These natural foods possess a number of beneficial properties and work to reduce inflammation, improve the health of your heart, boost your immune system, and even prevent and fight cancer. With so many natural remedies at your disposal, the need for prescription medications goes down considerably.
In fact, in the field of herbal medicine, naturally occurring, plant-derived substances are used to treat illnesses within local or regional healing practices. Well-known systems of herbal medicine like Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine believe in the central idea that there should be an emphasis on health rather than on disease. By using healing herbs and spices, people can thrive and focus on their overall conditions, rather than on a particular ailment that typically arises from a lack of equilibrium of the mind, body and environment.
Therefore, I suggest that you bulk up your spice cabinet and start cooking with fresh herbs that provide therapeutic components you probably didn’t realize were there. There are also some more obscure herbs and spices that can be found in tea, extract, capsule and tablet forms to relieve specific conditions, from infertility and menopause symptoms, to diabetes, liver disease and cognitive decline. The possibilities are limitless!
101 Herbs & Spices for Healing the Body
1. Aloe Vera
Aloe vera contains vitamins and minerals that are needed for the proper function of all body systems. It also contains enzymes, laxative compounds, anti-inflammatory fatty acids, and wound healing hormones. Aloe vera can be used to soothe skin irritations, burns, wounds and rashes, treat cold sores, moisturize your hair and scalp and reduce inflammation when used topically. When taken internally, aloe vera works to relieve constipation, aid digestion, boost your immune system and even improve diabetes symptoms. (1)
The seed and oil of anise can be used to relieve several health conditions. Anise aids digestion, works as an anti-flatulence agent, and can be used to relieve coughs and colds. It can also increase urine flow, stimulate your appetite, ease menstrual discomfort, increase sex drive and increase milk production in women who are breastfeeding. (2)
Annatto is derived from the seeds of the achiote tree, and it’s often used as a coloring agent because of its bright color that ranges from yellow to deep orange. Aside from its ability to color food naturally, annatto also contains antimicrobial properties and antioxidants, making it useful for killing bacteria, aiding wound healing, supporting your cardiovascular and eye health, and protecting your liver. Some people may have an allergy or intolerance to annatto, so introduce it into your diet slowly to make sure it doesn’t cause any adverse reactions. (3)
Arrowroot is the starch that’s obtained from the rhizomes of a perennial herb called Maranta arundinacea. It can be used to aid digestion, treat urinary tract infections, help to fight foodborne pathogens, relieve mouth pain and boost your immune system. The best way to use arrowroot for healing is to take it internally by mixing the powder into juice or any other beverage. (4)
Asafoetida is a resinous gum that’s derived from the perennial fennel plant. You can use asafoetida in powder form to relieve chest congestion and asthma, treat digestive issues like IBS, diarrhea, constipation and gassiness, regulate your blood sugar levels and lower your blood pressure. You can add powdered asafoetida to soups and stews, or purchase it as a supplement in tincture or capsule form. (5)
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that can lower cortisol levels and balance your thyroid hormones. It has also been proven effective in supporting your adrenal function, helping you to overcome adrenal fatigue that occurs when your adrenals are overtaxed by stress. Some other ashwagandha benefits include its ability to support your brain health, improve your mood, increase your stamina and inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells. (6)
7. Astragalus Root
Astragalus root has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. It’s an adaptogenic herb that helps the body to fight off stress and disease. It boosts the health and function of your immune, cardiovascular and respiratory systems, helps to heal wounds, prevents diabetes, slows the growth of tumors and alleviates symptoms of chemotherapy. The antioxidants found in astragalus root help you to combat disease and aging due to free radical damage. You can find astragalus in many forms, including as a tincture, capsule or topical ointment. (7)
Barberry is a berberine-containing plant that is used to fight infections due to its antibacterial, antifungal and antiprotozoal properties. Barberry can also be used to prevent and treat diabetes, aid digestion, cleanse your liver and gallbladder, and improve your cardiovascular health by improving hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias and ischemic heart disease. (8)
Basil is an aromatic herb in the mint family that anti-inflammatory, anti-stress and antibacterial properties. It also works as a pain reliever, blood vessel protector, immune booster and cancer fighter. Basil contains essential oils that are rich in antioxidants and are responsible for the many benefits of basil. (9)
10. Bay Leaf
Bay leaves come from the ancient tree Laurus nobilis, and it’s often used in cooking because of its distinctive savory flavor. Bay leaf has antimicrobial, antifungal and antioxidant properties. It can be used to help fight cancer, improve insulin function, improve cholesterol levels, prevent candida, treat dandruff, improve skin infections and support wound healing. (10)
Berberine is a natural alkaloid that’s found in a variety of traditional herbs, including barberry, goldenseal and turmeric. It’s sold as an extract that can be used to fight bacteria, helping to treat conditions that are conventionally treated with antibiotics. Berberine also works as a natural remedy for diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, lung inflammation, SIBO and cancer. (11)
12. Black Cohosh
The roots and rhizomes of black cohosh, a flowering plant native to North America, are used to treat or relieve a number of hormonal issues, including menopause symptoms like hot flashes, trouble sleeping and bone loss. Black cohosh provides a safe alternative to hormone replacement therapy, which is often used for menopause relief, and it can also help women manage PCOS and treat uterine fibroids. (12)
13. Black Currant
Black currant is a small shrub that belongs to the gooseberry family of plants. The bush produces dark purple, nutrient-dense berries that are loaded with vitamin C. These berries are rich in anthocyanins, which possess many health-promoting properties, including the ability to prevent obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Eating black currant berries can also promote eye health, kill pathogens and viruses, and boost your immune system. (13)
Peurnus boldus, more commonly known as boldo, is a Chilean tree that has been used for thousands of years for its medicinal benefits. It’s an effective antioxidant that can be used to prevent diseases caused by free radical damage. Boldo is known to relieve gastrointestinal issues, bladder infections, gallstones and liver disease. It also works as a diuretic, increasing urine flow and promoting detoxification. (14)
Borage is a plant that’s used for medicinal purposes. The flowers, leaves and oil from the seeds can be used to improve skin conditions like eczema, reduce fever, and relieve conditions like cough, rheumatoid arthritis and pain caused by inflammation. Borage oil contains high amounts of GLA, a type of omega-6 fatty acid that is helpful for treating a wide range of health issues, like PMS symptoms, ADHD, bone loss, hormone imbalances, respiratory conditions, heart disease and stroke. (15)
16. Boswellia Seratta
Extracts derived from tress of the genus called boswellia contain powerful compounds that reduce inflammation, fight cancer and prevent heart disease. Use boswellia extract to improve your immunity, reduce arthritis pain, speed up healing and prevent autoimmune disease. (16)
Bupleurum is a plant that has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to promote detoxification for over 2,000 years. You can also use bupleurum to improve the health of your liver, boost adrenal gland function, treat depression associated with PMS or menopause, relieve seizures and fight ovarian cancer. (17)
18. Burdock Root
Burdock is a biennial plant in the daisy family. The root contains health-promoting antioxidants including quercetin, luteolin and phenolic acids. It can be consumed in powdered, fresh, dried or tea form to promote detoxification and circulation, strengthen the lymphatic system, protect you against diabetes and heal skin conditions like acne, eczema and psoriasis. Burdock root is also used to combat cancer and improve arthritis. (18)
Calendula is a plant that’s taken orally and used topically to treat or relieve a number of health concerns. It possesses powerful anti-inflammatory capabilities, helps to speed healing, relaxes muscle spasms and improves oral health. Calendula also contains antimicrobial and antiviral properties, and research shows that it can be used to relieve irritations from cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy. (19)
Cardamom is made from the seed pods of various plants in the ginger family. It’s rich in phytonutrients and manganese, supplying 80 percent of your daily manganese requirement with just one tablespoon. Consuming ground cardamom can help to fight bad breath and the formation of cavities, lower your blood pressure, improve diabetes symptoms, aid your digestive system and fighting cancer. (20)
21. Cat’s Claw
Cat’s claw is a wood vine that grows in the Amazon rainforest. It has antioxidant, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anti-mutagenic properties. You can use cat’s claw in extract, capsule, tablet and tea form to combat arthritis, improve digestive problems, boost immunity, lower blood pressure, improve DNA damage and fight cancer. (21)
22. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper is a shrub that makes hollow fruit that grows into long pods. These pods are available in fresh, dried or powdered form and valued for their many health benefits. Cayenne can be used to support digestion, prevent blood clots, relieve migraine, nerve and joint pain, promote detoxification, improve allergy symptoms and support weight loss. (22)
Chamomile plants are used to improve several health conditions, including allergies, insomnia, anxiety, depression, arthritis and gastrointestinal disorders. Chamomile benefits also include its ability to help fight skin irritations, relieve toothaches, PMS symptoms and muscle spasms, reduce inflammation and heal wounds. (23)
24. Chicory Root
Chicory root is a plant-based starch that’s categorized as a soluble fiber and prebiotic. It is often taken as an extract or supplement to relieve digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, IBS, gas and bloating. Chicory root also works as a natural remedy for managing diabetes, it protects the liver from toxicity and free radicals, reduces inflammation and relieves stress. (24)
Chives, or Allium schoenoprasum, is a perennial plant that is closely related to scallions and leeks. Chives are often used as a flavoring herb, but they also act as a mild stimulant and diuretic. Chives also have antiseptic and antibacterial properties, and they work as a natural bug repellant. (25)
Cilantro is a versatile herb that contains many healing properties, including phytonutrients, phenolic compounds and flavonoids. Cilantro benefits include its ability to promote the detoxification of heavy metals, reduce anxiety, improve sleep, lower blood sugar levels, boost your heart health, support your digestion, promote skin health and fight free radical damage that can lead to a number of degenerative diseases. (26)
Cinnamon is a spice that comes from the bark of the Cinnamomum tree. The compounds found in cinnamon and extracted to make cinnamon oil make this one of the most beneficial spices on earth. Cinnamon health benefits come from its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-diabetic, immune-boosting, heart-protecting and cancer-fighting properties. (27)
Comfrey is a perennial herb that can be used topically to relieve muscle and joint pain, reduce lower back pain and improve arthritis pain. It can also be used to speed wound healing and lessen skin irritations. Comfrey should only be used topically for up to 10 consecutive days. Ingesting this herb can cause liver damage. (28)
29. Coriander Seed
The dried seeds of the cilantro plant is known as coriander, which is commonly used as a whole or ground spice. Consuming coriander seeds can help to lower blood sugar levels, ease digestive issues, improve cholesterol levels, decrease blood pressure and prevent neurological disease. (29)
30. Cumin Seed
Cumin seeds come from the herb Cuminum cyminum, which is a member of the parsley family. Cooking with cumin seeds can aid your digestion, boost your immune system, promote the health of your skin, relieve respiratory conditions, promote detoxification, combat oxidative stress, fight infections and prevent diabetes. (30)
31. Curry Leaf
Curry leaves come from the curry tree that’s native to India and Sri Lanka. Using curry leaves for flavoring provides fiber, iron, and vitamins A, C and E. They can support the health of your heart, fight diabetes, prevent or fight infections, lower your cholesterol levels and prevent iron deficiency anemia. (31)
32. Devil’s Claw
Devil’s claw is derived from the dried root of the Harpogophytum procumbens plant. Devil’s claw contains antioxidant and antispasmodic properties. It’s commonly used to relieve arthritis pain because of its ability to reduce inflammation and ease pain. Some other devil’s claw benefits are digestive support and improved kidney health. (32)
33. Dill Weed
Dill weed belongs to the same family as bay leaf, parsley and cumin. Adding chopped or whole dill weed to your recipes can help to ease menstrual cramps, aid digestion, fight infections and lower cholesterol levels. Dill weed also has anticonvulsant properties, so it is used to treat epilepsy as well. (33)
Echinacea is a cornflower that’s native to North America and both the root of the plant and the part that grows above ground contain beneficial components. Echinacea is known for its ability to boost your immune system and reduce your chances of catching the common cold. It’s commonly used as a natural cold remedy, but it can also be used to alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, relieve constipation and improve skin problems. (34)
Fennel is a perennial herb that’s native to the Mediterranean and often used to support digestion. Dried fennel seeds and fennel seed oil are able to relieve digestive issues like gas, bloating, heartburn and colic in infants. Fennel benefits also include its ability to treat respiratory infections, improve eye health, ease menopausal symptoms, improve heart health and lower blood pressure. (35)
Fenugreek is an annual herb that’s part of the pea family. It’s seeds and leaves are often used to reduce inflammation, aid digestion, improve cholesterol levels, improve glycemic control and boost exercise performance. In men, fenugreek is known to increase libido and in women who are breastfeeding, it can be used to promote milk flow. (36)
The dried leaves of the feverfew herb are used to ease migraine pain, treat fevers, heal skin issues like dermatitis, prevent blood clots and relieve arthritis pain. Feverfew effectively reduces inflammation and eases pain naturally, and women use it to improve issues with infertility, menstruation and childbirth. The leaves can be found in tablet, capsule and liquid extract forms. (37)
Fingerroot is an herb that’s native to China and Southeast Asia. The rhizomes are consumed to reduce inflammation and inflammatory diseases, and the leaves are used for easing allergy symptoms and fighting infections. Fingerroot can also be beneficial in treating ulcers, working as a natural aphrodisiac and helping to heal wounds quickly. (38)
Galangal is part of the ginger family, and it’s often used in Thai food. Some of the many galangal benefits include its ability to improve sperm count and function, reduce inflammation, fight and prevent infections, ease digestive issues and support cognitive health. Research shows that galangal also acts as a potentially revolutionary cancer-fighting agent, as it can has proven to effectively fight and prevent a broad number of cancers and tumors. (39)
40. Garam Masala
Garam masala is an Indian spice blend that commonly contains cinnamon, cardamom, black peppercorns, nutmeg, cumin, ginger, fennel, coriander and bay leaves. Using garam masala in your recipes can improve your digestion, fight diabetes, reduce inflammation, boost your heart health and may work to prevent cancer. (40)
41. Ginger Root
Ginger root is the rhizome of the Zingiber officinale plant that contains 115 different chemical components. It works as a potent antioxidant, reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system, supports digestion, reduces pain and lowers cholesterol levels. Ginger root benefits also include its ability to improve diabetes, reduce arthritis pain and fight cancer. (41)
42. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo biloba is a natural extract that’s derived from the Chinese ginkgo tree. It contains flavonoids and terpenoids, both of which have strong antioxidant properties and can help to fight age-related diseases, like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Ginkgo biloba benefits also include its ability to fight depression and anxiety, ease PMS symptoms, relieves headaches, boost eye health, treat ADHD and improve libido. (42)
Ginseng belongs to the genus Panax, and it’s used to reduce stress, improve brain function, reduce inflammation, aid weight loss, lower blood sugar levels, boost the immune system, support lung function, treat sexual dysfunction and prevent cancer. (43)
The dried rhizomes and roots of goldenseal are used to make liquid extracts, capsules, tablets, teas and skin care products. Goldenseal can help to ease digestive issues, like diarrhea, constipation, peptic ulcers and gassiness, boost your immune system, support the health of your mouth and eyes, fight cancer and boost your heart health. (44)
45. Gotu Kola
Gotu kola belongs to the same plant family as parsley, celery and carrots. This herb commonly used in traditional Asian cuisines is loaded with antioxidants helps to repair skin conditions like psoriasis, reduce fever, improve blood circulation, reduces inflammation, eases depression and anxiety, and fights free radicals that can cause gastric ulcers. (45)
46. Holy Basil
Holy basil is an adaptogen herb that can be used to relieve or ease conditions like anxiety, hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue and acne. Research shows that holy basil benefits also include its ability to fight cancer, control blood glucose levels and regulate cortisol levels. You can find holy basil in supplement form or drink tulsi tea for these benefits. (46)
Horehound is a plant that belongs to the mint family. It’s known to work as a natural treatment for coughs because of its expectorant abilities. Horehound also has antiseptic, analgesic, antioxidant and appetite stimulating properties. It’s useful for relieving motion sickness and aiding digestion as well. (47)
48. Horny Goat Weed
Horney goat weed works as a natural aphrodisiac because of its ability to increase testosterone production and estrogen levels. You can use horny goat weed to improve your libido, boost your circulation, regulate your cortisol levels, prevent bone loss, increase lean muscle mass and treat conditions like erectile dysfunction and vaginal dryness. (48)
49. Horseradish Root
The root of the horseradish plant can be used to fight disease because of its antioxidant power. It also has antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, which help to boost your immune system and fight infections. Some other horseradish root benefits include its ability to ease respiratory issues, treat urinary tract infections, aid digestion, ease pain and possible prevent cancer. (49)
Hyssop is a healing plant that is commonly used to relieve digestive issues, improve appetite, fight infections, improve circulation, promote skin health and support the health of your liver and gallbladder. Hyssop can also help to prevent the common cold and ease respiratory conditions like asthma. Hyssop is available in capsules, teas and extracts. (50)
51. Juniper Berries
Juniper berries are female seed cones that come from juniper plants. They are an excellent source of antioxidants, helping to prevent and fight diseases that are caused by free radical damage. Juniper berries can also be used to fight skin and respiratory infections, improve the health of your skin, aid your digestion, boost the health of your heart, lower your blood sugar levels and help relieve insomnia. (51)
52. Kava Root
Kava root is an herbal plant that is commonly used to ease anxiety, stress and insomnia. It also boosts the immune system, relieves headache and migraine pain, eases respiratory tract infections and may even play a role in cancer prevention. However, kava root comes with the potential for drug abuse and when taken by mouth, it can cause liver damage. (52)
53. Kudzu Root
Kudzu root contains phytochemicals that can help to fight disease that’s caused by inflammation and reduce signs of aging. Kudzu root can be used to treat alcoholism when used in appropriate doses, improve diabetes and cardiovascular health, ease digestive issues like diarrhea, and improve menopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. (53)
54. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a plant in the mint family that possesses antibacterial, antidiabetic, anti-stress, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It can be used to aid digestion, regulate an overactive thyroid, ease PMS symptoms, improve your sleep, boost your mood, and protect your heart and liver. (54)
Lemongrass is an herb that has stimulating, soothing, balancing and relaxing properties. It can be used to fight fungal and bacterial infections, reduce inflammation, repel insects, ease stomach aches, boost energy, ease anxiety, reduce fevers, ease pain and stimulate menstrual flow. (55)
56. Licorice Root
Licorice root is an adaptogen herb that’s a member of the legume family. Licorice root extract can be used to relieve acid reflux and heartburn, regulate cortisol levels, boost immunity, fight viral and bacterial infections, ease PMS and menopause symptoms, relieve cough and sore throat with its expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties, and ease cramps due to its antispasmodic abilities. (56)
57. Maca Root
Maca root is considered a superfood because of its ability to make people feel more “alive.” It works to balance hormones naturally, increase fertility in both men and women, improve stamina, boost sexual function and boost energy levels. Maca root powder contains over 20 amino acids and 20 free-form fatty acids, allowing for its status as a superfood. (57)
The marigold flower is used to make herbal ointments, topical creams, tinctures and teas to treat a number of health conditions, including muscle cramps, eye inflammation, fungal infections, and skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis. Marigolds can also help to ease digestive issues, boost the immune system, reduce inflammation and fight cancer. (58)
59. Marshmallow Root
Marshmallow root has fibrous extracts that swell up in the body and form a gel-like substance that can work to reduce inflammation in the lining of the stomach. Marshmallow root can also be used to relieve dry coughs and colds, improve low saliva production, fight bacterial and respiratory infections, treat skin conditions and reduce joint pain that’s caused by inflammation. (59)
60. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is a weed that has been used medicinally for over 2,000 years. It works by drawing toxins that can cause illness and disease out of the body. It can effectively decrease or even reverse damage that has been done to the liver because of pollution exposure, heavy metals and the use of prescription medications. Milk thistle benefits also include its ability to protect you against cancer, lower cholesterol levels, control diabetes and reduce signs of aging. (60)
Mint is one of the most popular medicinal herbs because it’s often seen in products like chewing gum and breath fresheners. Eating mint, drinking mint tea or using mint extracts can help to aid digestion, relieve headache pain, ease nausea, improve signs of depression and relieve respiratory conditions like chronic cough or asthma. (61)
Throughout the world, just about every part of the moringa plant is used to treat a variety of health conditions, including diabetes, anemia, allergies, arthritis, epilepsy, thyroid disorders, high blood pressure, low sex drive and cancer. It has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antiparasitic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and it’s an excellent source of protein, vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium and amino acids. (62)
Mugwort is a plant that was traditionally used to help women relieve symptoms of menopause. Today, it’s used in a method called moxibustion to reverse the breech position of fetuses and alleviating joint pain. Mugwort is also helpful in treating in treating mild depression and attacking certain cancer cells. (63)
Mullein is an herb that contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats, oils, flavonoids and tannins, just to name a few of its components. It can be used as a natural remedy for ear infections, to calm bursitis (fluid-filled sacs) in the shoulder, elbow and hip, kill bacteria, reduce inflammation, fight infections and help the body to get rid of mucus. (64)
65. Mustard Seed
Mustard seeds come from various mustard plants and they are used as a spice in many regions of the world. They are an excellent source of folate, vitamin A, calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. Plus, mustard seeds can reduce inflammation that causes pain and swelling, treat gum disease, boost the health of your heart, skin and hair, and help to prevent or fight infections due to their antibacterial and antifungal properties. Mustard oil is extracted from mustard seeds and can be used to reap these benefits, but there are some concerns about mustard oil toxicity. (65)
Nutmeg is a spice that comes from the seeds of an evergreen tree. It is rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamin B6, thiamin, manganese, magnesium, folate and copper. When it’s used in small amounts when cooking or baking, nutmeg can help to aid digestion, ease pain, promote detoxification, boost cognitive function and regulating blood pressure levels. Although it’s uncommon, excessive ingestion of nutmeg can cause life-threatening toxicity. (66)
67. Olive Leaf
Olive leaf comes from the olive tree, and it is used in extracts, powders and teas to reduce inflammation, improve cardiovascular health, boost the immune system, prevent diabetes, support cognitive function, protect the skin, kill bacteria and fungi, reduce the risk of cancer and boost energy levels. (67)
Oregano is an herb that has been used for healing for thousands of years. Oregano has the power to reduce inflammation, fight bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic infections, fight allergies and even shrink tumors. Oil of oregano is extracted from the herb to make a powerful antibiotic agent that can kill many species of harmful bacteria. (68)
Paprika is a spice that’s made from a variety of peppers in the Capsicum annuum family. Capsaicin, an ingredient in hot peppers that are used to make paprika, is known to support immune function and aid in treating autoimmune conditions. Paprika also contains many antioxidants, including carotenoids, that fight free radical damage that can cause disease, and it can be used to improve the health of your heart and eyes. (69)
Parsley is an herb that can be used fresh or as a dried spice. It has the power to fight a number of health concerns, including bad breath, inflammation, kidney stones, digestive issues, skin problems, poor immunity, bladder infection and oxidative stress. Parsley is an excellent source of vitamins K, C and A, and it contains protective flavonoid antioxidants. (70)
71. Passion Flower
Passion flower is a plant that is used in tea, extract, infusion and tincture forms to relieve menopause symptoms like hot flashes and depression, reduce anxiety, improve sleep, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, regulate blood sugar levels and improve ADHD symptoms. (71)
Peppercorns come from black pepper vines and they are dried and used as a spice. Peppercorns exhibit anti-diabetic, anti-cancer and antibacterial properties. They can also be used to aid digestion, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and reduce weight. (72)
Pimento, which is known as allspice in some countries, comes from an evergreen tree and possesses pain-relieving, detoxifying, antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-stress properties. Pimento can also be used to promote blood circulation, reduce gassiness and boost the immune system. (73)
74. Pine Bark
Pine bark comes from the inner bark of the Pinus Pinaster tree and an extract is commonly used to make capsules, tablets, creams and lotions. Pine bark extract can be used to lower blood sugar levels, fight infections, help prevent hearing loss, improve erectile dysfunction, reduce inflammation, boost athletic performance and protect your skin from ultraviolet exposure. (74)
75. Psyllium Husk
Psyllium husk is an edible soluble fiber that comes from a shrub-like herb most common in India. It’s known for its ability to relieve digestive issues like constipation and diarrhea, and it can also be used to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, boost the health of your heart and help with weight management because it encourages a feeling of satiety. (75)
76. Raw Garlic
Garlic grows in the form of a bulb underneath a perennial plant that’s in the same family as chives, leeks, onions and scallions. Raw garlic fights diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia. It can also be consumed to lower blood pressure levels, fight infections and help to reverse hair loss. (76)
77. Red Clover
Red clover is a plant that belongs to the legume family. It can be used in extract form or in capsules to improve cardiovascular health, reduce menopausal symptoms, help you to maintain strong bones, reduce skin inflammation that causes conditions like eczema and psoriasis, fight respiratory conditions and lower your risk of certain cancers, such as prostate, endometrial and breast cancer. (77)
Rhodiola, which is also known as golden root, is an adaptogen herb that can help your body to adapt to physical, chemical and environmental stress. Rhodiola extract can be used to increase energy levels and boost athletic performance, lower cortisol levels that spike in times of stress, fight depression, improve brain function and burn belly fat. (78)
Rosemary is an aromatic herb that’s part of the mint family. It’s known for its ability to improve memory, promote hair growth, relieve muscle aches and pains, improve cognitive function and soothe digestive issues. Rosemary also possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antioxidant, detoxifying, anti-stress and healing properties. Rosemary can be chopped or ground and added to meals, or rosemary oil can be be diffused and applied topically. (79)
The edible part of the saffron plant is the stigma, which is a long golden stalk that’s within the flower. The stigmas, or threads, can be used in cooking or ground saffron is available. Consuming saffron promotes cardiovascular health, alleviates symptoms of PMS, treats anxiety and depression, promotes satiety and can help with weight loss, treats erectile dysfunction and helps to prevent or treat cancer. (80)
Sage is a woody herb that’s closely related to rosemary and has been used medicinally for thousands of years. When consumed even in small amounts, sage can improve your memory and concentration, fight free radicals, prevent degenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s, reduce inflammation, prevent or improve diabetes, boost your immune system, improve the health of your skin and strengthen your bones. (81)
Sarsaparilla is an herb that’s a member of the lily plant family. The plant’s roots are ground and used to make teas, tinctures and supplements that help to relieve respiratory conditions, treat skin problems like psoriasis, reduce pain caused by inflammation, improve libido, ease headache pain, aid digestion, reduce fevers and fight infections. Research shows that sarsaparilla also has anti-tumor and cancer-preventing effects. (82)
Sassafras is a tree that grows widely in North America and the compounds found in the bark have medicinal value. Studies indicate that sassafras may be an effective treatment for certain cancers, like liver, gastric, oral, breast, prostate and lung cancer. It can also help with the management of diabetes, fight parasites, improve blood circulation, improve symptoms of epilepsy and help with certain neurological diseases. (83)
Shilajit is a tar-like substance that can be found in the Himalayan and Tibet mountains. You can use shilajit powder, resin or supplements to reduce inflammation, fight infections, boost energy levels, regulate hormones, strengthen your immune system, support your skeletal health, boost the health of your heart and brain, aid in breaking addictions and help in managing diabetes. (84)
Skullcap is a plant in the mint family that can be used to alleviate anxiety, insomnia and hysteria, stimulate blood flow in the pelvic region, relieve muscle spasms, reduce inflammation and encourage menstruation. Research also suggests that skullcap, which is available in many forms, can help to fight cancer cells because of its ability to neutralize free radicals. (85)
86. Slippery Elm
Slippery elm is a tree that’s bark is used to make teas, capsules, tablets and lozenges. It can be used to ease digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, IBS and bloating, lower stress and anxiety levels, aid weight loss, improve skin conditions like psoriasis and prevent breast cancer. You can also use slippery elm for pets to relieve their digestive problems and reduce inflammation. (86)
Sorrel is an herb that is used to add a tangy flavor to foods, but it also boasts health benefits because of its nutrient content and antioxidants, and its antimicrobial, cancer-preventing and immune-boosting properties. Sorrel can be used to reduce blood pressure, promote blood circulation, improve diabetes symptoms, support the health of your kidneys, improve skin conditions and relieve digestive issues. (87)
88. St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort is an herb that’s most commonly used as a natural remedy for depression, anxiety and insomnia. It can also be effective in improving ADHD symptoms, treating heart palpitations, relieving obsessive-compulsive disorder and seasonal affective disorder, easing symptoms of menopause and boosting mood. (88)
89. Stinging Nettle
Stinging nettle is a plant that’s native to Europe and Asia. Products made from the roots, stems and leaves of stinging nettle can help to improve urinary issues and benign prostatic hyperplasia, ease allergy symptoms and prevent reactions to hay fever, ease joint pain and symptoms of osteoarthritis, slow down bleeding after surgery and improve eczema symptoms. (89)
Tarragon is an herb that’s in the sunflower family and has a flavor similar to anise. Fresh and uncooked tarragon leaves can be used in cooking and tarragon essential oil is used to aid digestion and spark appetite. Tarragon can also be helpful in improving sleep, encouraging menstruation, fighting bacteria and relieving toothaches. (90)
Thyme is an herb that’s part of the mint family and is often used in cooking. Thyme is a source of vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, manganese and calcium. It can be used to boost your mood, relieve respiratory conditions like sore throat and bronchitis, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and fight cancer cells. (91)
Triphala is an herbal formulation that’s made from three fruits, amla, haritaki and bibhitaki. Dried powder from these fruits are mixed and when consumed, boast health benefits like lowering cholesterol levels, aiding weight loss, reducing inflammation, relieving constipation and fighting cancer. Triphala can also be taken as a tea, tablet and liquid supplement. (92)
Tulsi, which is also known as holy basil, is used in cooking and to make flavored water, juices and tulsi tea. When consumed, tulsi can help to treat skin diseases, eye diseases, chronic fever, respiratory conditions like bronchitis and bronchial asthma, arthritis, diarrhea and dysentery. Tulsi can also be used to improve bad breath, prevent cavities, ease headache pain and balance hormones naturally. (93)
Turmeric is the most powerful herb on the planet and its benefits are superior to those of conventional medications. Turmeric supplements can be taken in place of antidepressants, anticoagulants, arthritis medications, skin condition treatments, anti-inflammatory medications and cholesterol regulators. Other turmeric benefits include its ability to aid weight loss, treat gastrointestinal issues, ease pain and treat cancer naturally. (94)
95. Valerian Root
Valerian root comes from a plant that’s native in Europe and parts of Asia. The root is sold as a dry powdered extract in capsules, teas, tinctures and fluid extracts. Valerian root is commonly used as a natural sleep aid because of its sedative properties. It can also ease anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve your ability to deal with stress and ease menstrual cramps. (95)
96. Vanilla Extract
When vanilla beans are combined with alcohol, this makes a vanilla tincture or extract that’s added to recipes for flavor. But vanilla extract also comes with a slew of health benefits, including its ability to fight bacterial infections, reduce inflammation, boost your mental health, reduce fevers and improve cholesterol levels. (96)
Vervain is an herb that can be found in powder, tincture, capsule and tea forms. Vervain has cardioprotective, antimicrobial, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, sedative and anti-anxiety properties. It can also be used to improve your gum health by using vervain and hot water as a mouthwash. (97)
98. Vitex (Chasteberry)
Vitex, which is also known as chasteberry, can be used to tone your body’s systems, positively affect your hormones and improve the health of your skin. Use vitex to relieve PMS symptoms, reduce uterine fibroids, improve female fertility, treat endometriosis, reduce menopause symptoms, remedy amenorrhea, treat an enlarged prostate and promote lactation in women who are breastfeeding. (98)
99. Wild Yam
Wild yam is an herb that’s also known as colic root. It can be found in dried root, liquid, tea, capsule and dried root powder forms. Wild yam benefits include its ability to regulate blood sugar levels, improve cholesterol levels, reduce hyperpigmentation, relieve symptoms of diverticulosis and help to fight cancer. (99)
100. Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is a plant and the leaves, twigs and bark are used to make a skin-healing astringent that’s used to reduce acne, skin inflammation, poison ivy and insect bites. Using witch hazel can also help to heal cracked skin, ingrown hairs, excess sweating, varicose veins, razor burn and hemorrhoids. (100)
Yarrow is an herb and the leaves can be used fresh or dried for cooking. Yarrow can also be used to make infused vinegars and oils. Consuming yarrow can help to heal skin wounds, stop bleeding, aid amenorrhea, treat mastitis, reduce inflammation, ease anxiety, improve digestive issues, reduce blood pressure and ease asthma. (101)
When herbs and spices are used for medicinal purposes and consumed in greater amounts than would normally be eaten in your everyday diet, talk to your doctor or nutritionist about the proper dose for your condition. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people taking conventional medications should also speak to their health care providers before supplementing with spices and herbs.
When shopping for supplements, choose a good quality product that’s made by a company that you trust. Choose organic options whenever possible and read the ingredient label and dose recommendations carefully.
Trying to relieve or prevent a health condition, but you don’t want to turn to conventional medications? Using herbs and spices for healing can help to treat a number of health conditions. These 101 herbs and spices boast an array of health benefits that are right at your fingertips.
Christine BabcockDr. AxeDecember 10, 2017
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Natural Corneal Abrasion Relief: How to Relieve a Scratched Eye
If you spend a lot of time outdoors, work with wood or metal or wear contact lenses, you have an elevated risk for experiencing a corneal abrasion. Pollen, dust, sand, wood and metal shavings that get into the eye can scratch the cornea, leading to intense pain, and, if left untreated, an infection and possible corneal ulcer. (1)
Fortunately, virtually all corneal abrasions are preventable! When working with wood or metal, wear appropriate safety glasses. And when hiking, lying on the beach, snowboarding or riding your bicycle, wear sunglasses or goggles to help prevent debris from getting in your eyes.
Our natural response to a foreign object in our eye is to rub it to relieve the irritation and itching. This is the worst thing you can do. The rubbing can cause the foreign object to further damage the cornea by scraping it across the eye. As tempting as it may be, the right way to remove debris from your eye is to gently flush it out with saline or water.
If you experience intense pain or blurred vision, it is essential that you seek medical attention immediately, particularly if you believe the particle may be wood, glass or metal. An eye doctor will carefully examine your eye and may prescribe pain medication or antibiotic eye drops to guard against infection.
Along with pink eye, corneal abrasions are extremely common in young children. Toys, dirt, and fingernails are the leading causes of a scratched cornea in children. To help guard against an eye injury, keep fingernails as short as possible. The challenge, of course, is like adults, the urge to rub the eyes when they hurt or itch can be intense. And keeping a child from rubbing their eyes can be exceedingly difficult. (2)
In the past, eye patches were routinely used to help speed healing — and to guard against rubbing. However, multiple studies show that eye patches may actually delay healing; increase the chance of infection; and cause more pain in the first 24 hours after the injury. Follow your physician’s advice before patching the eye. And under no circumstances should a patch be worn for more than 24 hours continuously. (3, 4)
While the majority of corneal abrasions heal without a problem — often within just a few days — some people may experience scarring that can permanently affect vision. This is why it is imperative that children and adults alike seek medical attention as quickly as possible to help ensure a positive outcome.
What Is a Corneal Abrasion?
The cornea is the clear dome that covers the iris and pupil. It helps the eye to focus as light enters the eye. A healthy, scratch-free and scar-free cornea is important to vision. When debris enters the eye, it can scratch or scrape the cornea resulting in a corneal abrasion. (5)
Corneal Abrasion Symptoms
- Pain, when opening or closing eye
- Feeling there is something in the eye
- Excessive tearing or watery eyes
- Redness in the eye
- Swollen eyelids
- Sudden sensitivity to light
- Sudden blurred vision
- Sudden loss of vision
- Eye twitching
- Headache that is dull or pulsating
Corneal Abrasion Causes & Risk Factors
The majority of scratched cornea injuries are caused by foreign matter entering the eye. Recognized risk factors include: (6)
- Working in an environment with sawdust, ash, metal shavings, dirt or glass
- Exposure to chemicals
- Participating in hockey, lacrosse, racquetball, cycling, hiking and horseback riding
- Being a miner, metal worker, woodworker or landscaper
- Rubbing eyes vigorously
- Having seasonal allergies
- Undergoing surgery under general anesthesia
- Being on a ventilator or being heavily sedated
- Being a young child with long fingernails
- Wearing soft, extended-wear lenses as they are associated with a 10 to 15-fold increase in ulcerative keratitis, a serious infection of the cornea (7)
Dangers of Corneal Abrasions
- Corneal erosions can occur at the site of the original abrasion if the cells affected don’t grow back tightly attached to the cornea. This can cause even more significant pain, and it will take additional medical intervention to ensure the eye heals properly.
- Symptoms may persist for months. If they worsen or vision is affected, see your ophthalmologist immediately.
- Dry eyes are common after an injury. Use natural eye drops to relieve dryness.
- Infection is possible
- Increasing inflammation
- Scarring of the cornea
- Corneal ulcers
- Long-term vision impairment
What to Do if You Suspect Corneal Abrasion
- See an ophthalmologist
- Wear sunglasses
- Use antibiotic eye drops as prescribed
- Use a cool compress to relieve swelling, pain and discomfort
- Keep face and eyelids clean
- Return to the doctor discharge from the eye appears
- Rest the eyes and minimize strain
- Rub the eye
- Try to remove debris from the eye other than by blinking or flushing it with water or saline
- Use a cotton swam or tweezers to remove anything from the eye
- Patch the eye unless directed by your medical team
- Wear contact lenses until cleared to do so by an ophthalmologist
- Wear eye makeup
During an eye examination, an ophthalmologist will numb the eye with drops and use a fluorescent dye and blue light to detect damage to the cornea. If there is any debris remaining, it will be visible, and the doctor will be able to remove it safely. (11)
Most doctors will want to reevaluate their patients in 24 to 48 hours depending on the severity of the injury. This is to ensure that the cornea is healing properly and that an infection is not setting in.
After diagnosis, the doctor may recommend one or more of the following conventional treatments:
- Antibiotic eye drops or ointment to protect against infection
- Steroid eye drops to relieve inflammation
- Topical pain relievers; however, this may delay healing and is generally not recommended for contact lens wearers
- Tetanus shot, if debris was metal
6 Natural Corneal Abrasion Treatments
1. Wear sunglasses. After an injury of this type, it is not uncommon for the eyes to be sensitive to light. If you must go out into the sunlight, wear sunglasses to prevent further irritation. Indoors, fluorescent lights and overhead lights may be irritating; turn them off and opt for desk lamps with a softer tone.
2. Chamomile tea or green tea compress. Soak a chamomile tea bag or green tea bag in hot water for a minute or two, squeeze, and then place on the eye. Lean back and relax for 10 to 15 minutes. These teas have powerful antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties that may help relieve discomfort and support healing. (12)
3. Coconut oil. Known for its health benefits when consumed, coconut oil is also safe to put into the eyes. In fact, studies show that it is very similar to natural tears and provides an extra layer of protection for the eye, not to mention the benefit of its anti-inflammatory properties. With clean hands (very clean hands!) put a tiny dab of coconut oil on your pinky and place near the tear ducts. Blink, blink, blink and allow the coconut oil to move across the eye. (13)
4. Shut off technology. In the first few days after experiencing an eye injury, it is important to give your eyes plenty of time to heal. Shut off technology; staring at screens is shown to cause stress on the eyes.
5. Colloidal silver. Known for fighting a wide range of bacteria, 1 to 2 drops of colloidal silver has been shown to pick up infected cells and eliminate them from the eye. Purchase only from reputable sources and use within recommended dates. (14)
6. Cedarwood oil: For pain, inhale cedarwood essential oil either directly from the bottle or through a diffuser. A study using mice published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found this essential oil may have analgesic and anti-inflammatory sedative properties, potentially helping to alleviate pain. (15)
Corneal Abrasion Key Points
- A corneal abrasion is one of the most common eye injuries.
- It is a very painful, sometimes excruciating, injury and left untreated infection and corneal ulcers are possible.
- The vast majority can be prevented by wearing protective eyewear.
- Sawdust, metal shards, shattered glass, dust, pollen and sand can all scratch the cornea.
- Young children are prone to eye injuries too generally caused by fingernails, dirt or toys.
- Patching of the eye, once common, is now not recommended as it can delay healing, worsen pain and increase the risk for infection.
- Do not rub the eyes, flush them instead with water or saline
- Most scratched corneas heal within 24 to 48 hours
Top Natural Treatments
- A dab of coconut oil may relieve irritation, reduce dryness and fight against infection while providing an extra level of protection for the eye.
- Green tea or chamomile tea compress may protect against infection while providing moisture and symptom relief.
- Wear sunglasses if eyes are sensitive to light.
- Allow eyes to heal for 24 to 48 hours before using technology or straining the eyes.
- Colloidal silver fights bacteria and is a recognized treatment for pink eye and other infections.
- Diffuse essential oils to relieve pain and support relaxation.
Kathleen McCoyDr. AxeDecember 8, 2017
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Regenerative Agriculture: Principles, Pioneers + Does It Really Work?
Organic. Natural. Permaculture. Regenerative agriculture. It’s a great time to get more connected to the farming practices behind our food. But what, exactly, do all of those farming terms really mean? And how do we know if they’re legit or just marketing fluff?
One thing is for sure. If we’re going to create enough food without destroying our natural resources and health, we’ve got to embrace regenerative agriculture on a major scale. But what is it, exactly? I’m glad you asked.
What Is Regenerative Agriculture?
It may be beneficial to first explain what regenerative agriculture isn’t. Have you ever driven down a country road, stumbling upon miles and miles of corn, canola or soy fields? That isn’t regenerative agriculture. That’s a monoculture system where farmers plant a lot one one type of crop. It’s not good for the soil, it’s not good for nature and biodiversity, water supplies and, oftentimes, the crops aren’t even good for people.
I really like this definition from The Carbon Underground and Regenerative Agriculture Initiative at California State University, Chico:
‘Regenerative Agriculture’ describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.
Regenerative agriculture treats the land more holistically, taking a big picture approach instead of worrying only about crop yields. One way of putting it? It works more closely with natural tendencies rather than against them.
Instead of using abusive inputs like pesticides, chemical fertilizers, fumigants and GMOs to push the limits of production, regenerative agriculture uses a set of farming principles to not just create food, but a better world, too. In essence, it improves resources rather than depleting them.
But don’t dismiss this utopian way of farming as an out-of-reach dream. It’s already happening all over the word, and it’s scientifically-backed to boot, pulling from decades of research investigating organic farming methods, holistic grazing, agroforestry and agroecology. But more on that later.
Regenerative agriculture involves practices that:
- Increase biodiversity
- Enrich the soil
- Improve water quality
- Enhance ecosystem services
- Reverse climate change (this is especially important since we know climate change and nutrition are intricately linked)
The best side effect? It also creates higher yields and helps crops become more resilient in times of climate instability. In terms of community, regenerative farming boosts health and vitality for people living in the community. In other words, it’s better for the land and for us.
Terra Genesis International breaks regenerative agriculture into four main principles, which are further broken down into key principles. (1)
- Progressively improve whole agroecosystems
- Create context: Specific designs and holistic decisions that express the essence of each farm
- Ensure and develop just and reciprocal relationships amongst all stakeholders
- Continually grow and evolve individuals, farms and communities to actualize their innate potentials
Key practices of regenerative farming include:
- No-till farming and pasture cropping
- Organic annual cropping
- Compost and compost tea
- Biochar and terra preta
- Holistically managed grazing
- Animal integration
- Ecological aquaculture
- Perennial crops
- Silvopasture/Agroforestry (2)
Let’s take a deeper dive into some these practices below…
Agroforestry, Including Silvopasture
Practiced around the world for centuries, the United States Department of Agriculture defines agroforestry as the “intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems to create environmental, economic and social benefits.” (3)
Agroforestry is gaining momentum in the U.S. today because it gives farmers more food crop options to diversify their farm sales. A 2017 study published in Agroforestry Systems shows how incorporating berry- and nut-bearing trees and shrubs with hay and more traditional row crops can increase diversity and income for a farm.
But patience is key here. For crops like chestnuts and hazelnuts, meaningful harvests could take 7 to 12 years to materialize after planting. The idea, though, is the annual hay or vegetable crops bring annual income until the trees and shrubs produce adequate yields. The main takeaway is farmers can incorporate agroforestry to move toward polyculture instead of relying on just one crop (monoculture). (4)
USDA points out that agroforestry generally involves the four “I”s:
- Intentional (that blueberry shrub didn’t just plant itself!)
Here in America, agroforestry is typically broken up into five categories:
- The practice of combining trees with livestock at the same place. The idea is that animals benefit from tree cover during heatwaves, rainstorms and other inclement weather, all while the trees provide timber, fruit or nut crops and forage.
- The combining of trees and livestock is done in a beneficial way that also promotes stronger soil health.
- Silvopasture is the most common agroforestry practice in the U.S. It’s particularly popular in the Southeast. (5)
2. Alley Cropping
- The practice of planting crops between rows of trees to generate farm income as the trees mature.
- Grains, herbs, flowers, fruit and vegetables are all examples of crops that can be planted in between tree rows.
3. Forest Farming
- Multi-story cropping where different layers produce food. This is related to food forests and food gardens common in permaculture design. Here’s a great food forest guide from Desert Echo. It includes ideas for the following food forest layers: canopy, low-tree, shrub, herbacious, ground cover, rhizosphere, vertical.
- May also provide shelter for animals.
- Common on farms to help protect barns, farmhouses and other buildings and animals from wind, snow, dust and odors
- Known as living fences or shelterbelts
- Also support wildlife
- Choose native tree species for big biodiversity bang for your buck
5. Riparian Forest Buffers
- Riparian forest buffers are natural or re-stablished areas along rivers and streams made up of trees, shrubs, and grasses.
- These buffers can help filter farm runoff while the roots stabilize the banks of streams, rivers, lakes and ponds to prevent erosion.
- These areas can also support wildlife and provide another source of income.
Sustainable Livestock Management
This includes techniques like rotational grazing, but even more so holistically managed grazing. So what’s the difference? The Jefferson Center for Holistic Management provides nice background.
- Focuses on moving livestock from one area of pasture to another
- Protects the soil and pasture plants from compaction and overgrazing
- Only focuses on moving the livestock to fresh pasture; doesn’t involve the timing of the moves
- Focuses on keeping a larger number of animals on a smaller tract of pasture
- But they are moved frequently, sometimes as often as three times a day
- Related to rotational grazing
- Plant recovery time isn’t part of the consideration for when to move the livestock
Holistic Planned Grazing
- Gold-standard practice
- Takes more factors into consideration compared to mob or rotational grazing
- Amount of time livestock spend on plants and recovery time needed for plants considered
- Is customized based on the social, economic and environmental factors and needs of each particular ranch
- Promotes biodiversity, so grazing plans account for nesting and breeding seasons of different animals and birds (6)
Better pasture management isn’t just better for plants and animals, either. It’s also great news for more breathable air and a healthy atmosphere. Cows raised on pasture using best management practices produce roughly 22 percent fewer methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. (7)
Sometimes, though it’s images, not words, that can really convey a message. Check out this video showing conventional land versus holistically managed land.
As you can see, careful planning can drastically improve biodiversity and health both above and below the soil
Carbon Helps Climate Change
Healthy soil is teeming with microorganisms that help store carbon in the soil, keeping it out of the atmosphere where it promotes climate change. I’d like to think there are parallels we can draw from the microbiome and gut health. When our digestive tract is flourishing with diverse, beneficial microorganisms, we are healthier. The same is true of our soil. The truth is, shifting to regenerative agriculture on a major scale could return atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to pre-industrial levels, in effect reversing global warming. (8)
Research from the Rodale Institute, an organic experimental farm in Pennsylvania, shows that regenerative farming is a legitimate tool for not just slowing, but actually reversing, climate change.
Here are some major points in the Rodale Institute’s 2014 white paper:
- If we took all currently available cropland and shifted it to regenerative organic agriculture methods, up to 40 percent of annual emissions could be captured in the soil.
- Adding pastures around the world to the regenerative agriculture model could increase the amount of carbon stored to 71 percent.
- The good news? Nothing needs to be invented to create this type of carbon sequestration. It’s available now, costs little to implement and as a side benefits, reduces the need for cancer-causing farming chemicals. (9)
Many regenerative agriculture techniques help promote healthier carbon levels in the soil, including:
- Crop rotation
- Residual mulching
- Cover crops
- Conservation tillage (10)
Growing the same crop year after year in the same spot is a recipe for pest infestations, diseased plants, the need for toxic chemicals and lower yields. But when you smartly plan and plant your crop rotation, you can build up the soil and grow truly resilient plants.
While the most widely known benefits of corp rotation include nutrient retention and nitrogen fixation, which serves as a natural fertilizer for the next crop. But there are other benefits to consider, too. Certain crops influence the rhizosphere around the root systems, causing some minerals to be more easily utilized by the next crop. This will help boost the next crop’s plant health and immunity, which often results in higher yields, according to Advancing Eco Agriculture. The idea is that something planted today will change the soil in a way that influences future crops. (11)
Compost is the result of recycling organic matter and using it as a soil amendment. It’s also a hallmark of regenerative agriculture. Rich in humus and humic acids, compost also serves as a natural pesticide in the soil. Basic DIY compost principles involve taking waste like leaves and food scraps and allowing worms, fungi and aerobic bacteria to convert it to a soil enhancer. (12)
Compost helps saturate the soil with missing microbes, reducing the risk plants will suffer from nutrient deficiencies, diseases, insect damage and drought-related stress.
There money to be made when it comes to compost, too. Some farms that nix the use of chemical fertilizer and transition to using compost and compost tea experience savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range! Better soil, healthier crops and lower bills. Who could argue with that? (13)
And did you know compost benefits also include a reduction in soil erosion? This has two major benefits. First, it helps the soil store more water, which field tests show help increase organic crop yields during years of drought. (Organic crops actually outperformed industrial, chemical agriculture crops in years of drought because of this.) (14)
Soil scientist Elaine Ingham, PhD, is an advocate of thermal composting, something you can even try at home.
A common practice in regenerative agriculture involves planting perennial crops. While not all crops on a regenerative farm need to be perennial, shifting more land into perennial crops and pastures helps minimize soil disruption. This is a key concept of permaculture, where design focuses on replicating how things work in nature. It’s like working with nature to create food, not against it. And the idea is that with this permanent design, the workload becomes easier and the crop yields increase with time. Multi-canopy food forests are also key permaculture concepts utilized by many regenerative farms. (15)
In fact, permaculture and regenerative agriculture can work hand-in-hand as an effective way to feed the world without using chemicals. (16)
Regenerative Agriculture vs. Permaculture vs. Organic Gardening
While there is some overlap between regenerative agriculture, permaculture and organic farming and gardening, there are notable differences, too.
“Organic agriculture provides a base set of standards. It’s all about minimizing toxins and slightly maximizing nutritional value, although the studies are mixed,” Jordan Rubin, founder of Heal the Planet Farm explained. “The main gist is producing food not laden with chemicals.”
That’s certainly good news and a vast improvement from industrial farming. After all, scaling up chemically produce food means we now have a “dirty dozen” list of foods to avoid. I’m so thankful organic is getting carcinogens, neurotoxic substances and bee-killing chemicals out of the food change.
But it can go much further to become a truly sustainable system that can feed the world. One problem? Many organic farms produce annual crops and raise meat and dairy animals on outside food sources. “That’s not necessarily regenerative,” Rubin explained to. “It could be creating a system that needs loads of inputs.”
While organic farms are much healthier for people and the environment because they don’t rely on harmful chemicals, many larger organic producers may not encourage biodiversity as much as regenerative farming models.
Organic farms often also plant annual row crops that are more disruptive to the soil; trucking in off-farm inputs, even though they are more natural and approved for use in the organic program, are common. Organic farming is often not a closed-loop system.
Permaculture is simple. The goal involves creating permanent systems of agriculture through perennial crops and animals. As Rubin explains, the roots grow deeper each year, leaves and nuts’ shells improve soil, resulting in more food, better soil and working less. Edible food forests are hallmark of permaculture, in addition to utilizing all of earth’s resources (water, sun, wind) and relying as little as possible as modern equipment and off-farm inputs.
Permaculture focuses on planting perennial crops in a way that replicates and works with nature. Permaculture does not focus on planting annual crops like tomatoes, corn and other popular farm crops that need to be seeded each year. Permaculture also focuses on not using inputs that come in from off the farm. The idea is that it’s a closed system that, with time, grows stronger and produces more food without trucking in compost and soil amendment mined or created in other places.
The basic idea? Improving the soil with every harvest, instead of robbing it. Each year, regenerative farming will improve plant, soil and animal health.
Regenerative agriculture does take permaculture into account, but annual crops are also part of many regenerative agriculture farms. Both permaculture and regenerative farming use organic methods but go beyond organic to create even more sustainable food systems. (17)
Some of the better organic farms and gardens around the U.S. adopt permaculture and regenerative agriculture principles, although they are not currently required. In the U.S., organic farms are banned from using chemical pesticides, fertilizers and GMOs. (18)
But to help make organic even stronger, the Rodale Institute and a team of other farmers, ranchers, nonprofits, scientists and sustainable brands are creating a Regenerative Organic Certification program.
This program focuses on guidelines that will improve:
- Soil health
- Land management
- Animal welfare
- Farmer and worker fairness
Regenerative Agriculture History + Its Pioneers
Pushing the land beyond its limits to create food isn’t just something happening now. Take the Dust Bowl, for instance. Thankfully, regenerative pioneers of the past and present are pushing forward to farm in a way that improves resources rather than destroying them. This is the farming of the future, not GMOs and chemicals.
Here are some of regenerative agriculture’s leading pioneers:
Sir Albert Howard
A botanist known as the leader of the early organic movement and father of modern-day agriculture, Sir Albert Howard made a vital discovery when he traveled to India during his career: The healthier the farm soil, the healthier the people living in the community. He took his learnings from India and shared them through the UK Soil Association, urging people to model farming after forests. This includes maintaining humus and moisture in the soil, along with the importance of mycorrhiza, beneficial fungus that bolsters plant root health. (19)
J.I. & Robert Rodale
As founder of the Rodale Press book and magazine publishing empire in 1930, J.I. Rodale clearly saw a connection between agriculture and human health. He popularized the term “organic” in the U.S. in the 1940s and drew inspiration from the regenerative farming ideas of Sir Albert Howard.
In the 1940s, he created the Rodale Organic Gardening Experimental Farm. Today, it’s known as the Rodale Institute, and it’s still doing great work involving soil health, climate change and farming and composting. (20)
His son, Robert, later coined the term “regenerative organic agriculture” in the 1980s. He was referring to the idea of farming marked by:
- Closed nutrient loops (think less chemical fertilizer and more compost)
- Greater diversity in the biological community
- Fewer annual crops and more perennial crops
- Greater reliance on internal versus external sources (21)
Elaine Ingham, PhD
A world-renowned soil scientist and author, Ingham is founder of Soil Foodweb Inc., where she offers classes on how to build soil health using natural methods. Previously, she also served as chief scientist at the Rodale Institute. Ingham authored chapters in The Soil Biology Primer for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and she currently is the director of research at the Environment Celebration Institute’s farm in California. Ingham’s decades of scientific research has resulted in hard data that shows the benefits of building up the soil with compost and compost tea. (22)
A bestselling author, co-founder of Ancient Nutrition and natural health expert, Rubin is also founder of Heal the Planet Farm, a regenerative permaculture retreat located in Missouri’s Ozark mountains. It lies within the 4,000-acre Beyond Organic Ranch.
Heal the Planet Farm’s 7-year plan involves creating organic polyculture orchards with as many as 100 different fruit and nut trees, perennial vegetables and medicinal herbs. All the while, the focus will be on building soil fertility to sequester carbon from the atmosphere.
The goal? To take some of the worst soil on the planet in the Ozark region and create soil with 10 percent organic matter. By building topsoil levels up to 30 inches using innovative permaculture and regenerative agriculture principles, the land could have the ability to hold 10 inches of water, which is key to soil fertility.
“Our message is this: If we can build healthy soil here, we can teach anyone to do it anywhere,” Rubin said.
With regenerative and permaculture workshops already being held on the farm, the hope is to train farmers to provide nutrient-dense food for the entire planet by the year 2100 on just the farmland in America.
Using mixed species rotational impact grazing, including mixed species like water buffalo, yaks, cattle, goats, sheep, chicken and donkeys, the farm will build diverse balance in the soil as the species mimic how animals move in the wild.
A co-owner of Polyface Farm in Virginia, Salatin is also known for taking on the GMO industry, pointing out that we don’t need to grow more food to feed the world … we need to get the food we typically waste (up to 50 percent grown or raised) to people who need it. (It’s often political unrest and war block people from food). He was highlighted in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, and you may also remember him from Food Inc.
Salatin’s farm produces grass-raised, clean meat. In fact, he told Resilience that without planting a seed or buying a bag of chemical fertilizer in over 50 years,” Polyface is producing five times the county average compared to other farms. He focuses on moving his animals from pasture plot to plot in a way that better mimics how animals move in nature. (23)
Final Thoughts on Regenerative Agriculture
- Regenerative agriculture uses many organic farming principles but takes things further in the positive direction by going beyond organic.
- Regenerative farming can be broken into four main principles: Progressively improving whole agroecosystems; creating context and using specific designs and holistic decision making specific to each individal farm; ensuring and developing just and reciprocal relationships amongst all stakeholders; and continually growing and evolving to actualize and evolve individuals, farm and communities.
- Key practices on regenerative farms include: no-till farming and pasture cropping; organic annual cropping; compost and compost tea; biochar; holistically managed grazing; animal integration; ecological aquaculture; perennial crops; and silvopasture, a common form of agroforestry.
- Many organic farming principles are used in regenerative farming, but regenerative methods go even further.
- Regenerative agriculture reduces the need for off-farm inputs and aims to leave the soil healthier
- While so many people have played a role in growing the regenerative agriculture movement, some pioneers include J.I. and Robert (Bob) Rodale, Sir Albert Howard, Elaine Ingham, PhD, Jordan Rubin and Joel Salatin, among others.
Leah ZerbeDr. AxeDecember 7, 2017
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