Podcast 133: Accessible Herbalism for Pain Management

“Pain is a signal to change your behavior.” This motto comes from our friend the herbalist Tammi Sweet, and perfectly sums up the holistic approach to working with herbs for pain. Something’s gotta change!

In this episode we’re particularly focusing on recurring & chronic pain, but these strategies help acute pain as well. What we want to do is threefold. First, let’s change the pain signal – we can slow it down, or overwhelm it with other signals. Second, we need to quell excessive inflammation, because while inflammation is a necessary part of healing, too much or too long and it can slow healing down, or even initiate pain on its own. And last, we’ll need to release tension, since tension too can drive pain or impair recovery.

As usual we’ve got strategies that revolve around making healthy changes to food, movement, and sleep habits. Less sugar, more veggies, some walking & stretching, good restorative sleep: these are foundational necessities. Herbs for pain – and seaweeds too! (order seaweed online here) – multiply and deepen the effects of these interventions.

Herbs discussed include: chamomile, ginger, kelp & red seaweeds, wild lettuce.

This is part 5 in our Accessible Herbalism series! We’re sharing strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially for marginalized communities. We want to empower people to take action in support of their own health and the health of their neighbors. The safe, accessible tools of holistic herbalism can fill in the gaps left by uneven access and affordability of conventional care. Working with easy-to-find, inexpensive herbs, with low risk of adverse effects and drug interactions, is something anyone can do.

We’re building a community health collective organizing tool out of this material as we go through the series. You can learn more about the project and find all the collected resources here:

Mutual Aid Resources

As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!

Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.

~

Episode Transcript

Katja (00:14):
Hi. I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:16):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:16):
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:19):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the internet. It’s more than just a podcast now, right?

Katja (00:27):
Yeah. It’s everywhere.

Ryn (00:28):
Yeah. Okay. So, we’re continuing our accessible herbalism series today. And this is the time we talk about pain management.

Katja (00:37):
Yes. Now, if you’ve been following the series, you might’ve been really excited to talk about sleep today. And somehow when I sat down to write the material for today, I got my wires crossed and I was like, pain, I’m ready.

Ryn (00:50):
Let’s do it.

Katja (00:50):
So, that must mean that somebody out there really needed to hear about pain this week, and we’re going to talk about sleep next week. But before we jump in, let’s just do a little bit of introduction here.

Ryn (01:03):
A little reminder for what’s going on if you just jumped right in at this point in the stream. So, this is part five in a series of strategies that we’ve been putting out there for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially for people in underserved areas. And the purpose here is to offer community herbal information in an accessible and inclusive way so that people can take actions to support their own health.

Katja (01:29):
In parts of our country there just simply isn’t accessible medical care. And in other cases, the medical care that’s available is so understaffed or underfunded that effectively the community isn’t being served. There just aren’t enough people to take care of everyone who needs care. So we want these tools to help to fill the gap. This isn’t medical advice. It is safe, accessible self care strategies that that will help improve health outcomes. It might not do the whole job all by itself, but these are things that you can do to get some control over your particular health issues.

Ryn (02:16):
Yeah. We believe that everybody has a right to accessible high quality health care, and we want everybody to also have the tools to take care of themselves. Those are entwined. Those are two parts. So our plan here with the whole series has been to work with a relatively small number of easy to get and inexpensive herbs. So you will notice that the same plants are going to turn up in multiple episodes. There are other plants that can work well for these things, absolutely. But the ones that we’ve chosen here are generally safe, and very accessible, easy to find. And we’ve also choosen, like I said, safe, we’ve chosen plants that generally don’t have interactions with medications, unless we specifically note them. And we’ve been making an effort to say them every single time that that point comes up just so it’s really clear.

Katja (03:03):
Exactly. So there might be other plants out there, there certainly are other plants out there that would also help for the different things that we’re talking about. And if you know them, that is exciting and great. If you want to learn them, then we’ve got more. But these herbs are the ones that we think are going to be the easiest for people to get their hands on fairly universally. In this series we are also going to provide at the end, when we wrap up this series, a printable version of the work, along with information about how to start a community health collective. And all of this is work that we’re making free for all people, because we want everyone to have these skills. So if you want to support this work, or if you want to find out more about it, you can do that at commonwealthherbs.com/mutualaid.

Ryn (04:04):
All right. So one last thing before we jump in, this is our weekly reclaimer and it goes like this. We are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.

Katja (04:15):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalist in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everyone’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope that they’ll give you some good information to think about and some ideas to research further.

Ryn (04:37):
And we want to remind you that good health is your right, and it’s your own personal responsibility also. And this means that the final decision, when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed by some herbalists on the internet or prescribed by your own physician, that choice is always yours. All right. Pain management, let’s do it.

Katja (04:56):
Yes. You know, pain management can be a little bit tricky, because pain can be lots of different things for different people. And it can have a lot of different causes. Like even many people with the same type of pain may have it for a different reason.

Ryn (05:13):
Yea. Give it the same label, but the way where it came from exactly and how it presents and what makes it feel better – those things can vary between individuals

Katja (05:23):
So pain, right. When we use the word pain, that could be a headache that’s caused by dehydration, or it could come from burning your hand on the stove. That would be really painful. Or it could be some sort of long standing chronic back pain that was originally caused by a fall. But since then, many other factors have gotten involved. Andthat fall is so long ago that it really isn’t necessarily even part of the picture anymore. It’s just what sort of kicked off this sort of thing. And even from person to person, like, okay, those are three examples. But even just from person to person, the way that those examples play out could be different. In fact, it often will be different.

Ryn (06:08):
Yeah. So, it’s important to recognize that herbs and holistic strategies are going to work really differently than something like a Tylenol or an ibuprofen or some other kind of painkiller. When you take those, those drugs, what they do is they disrupt the pain signal. So you don’t necessarily need to know a whole lot about that pain, how it got there. What’s causing it. What’s preventing it from healing all the way. You take a painkiller and you, well, you kill that pain. Right?

Katja (06:41):
Yes, you’re just sort of turning off the notification.

Ryn (06:44):
Yeah. Disconnecting the line. Right. So there are times that can be helpful. Maybe you just need to get some rest and heal and that’s really important. But when we’re working holistically, we do need to think a little bit more about the source of the pain. And then that makes working with pain overall a little bit more complicated, but don’t be scared. We can do this.

Starting to Unravel Pain: 3 Types

Katja (07:05):
In this segment, we want to talk about some of the things that we would be thinking about when we’re starting to unravel pain issues for someone, especially in chronic or recurring pain situations. So this is going to give you some ideas for longer term work. And then we’re also going to talk about some specific actions and specific herbs that you can have as your starting point to get the ball rolling. But I want to be clear that managing pain with herbs is a really big topic. It’s a really complicated topic. And it would take more time than we can fit in here. There are things we can do to get started, and that’s super important. And it’s worth doing, even if it doesn’t do the whole job. We’re going to talk about herbs that can reduce the feeling of pain, the sensation of pain, but also about herbs and strategies that can help reduce the causes of the pain. And also that can remove some of the factors that make the pain hard to manage. And that work is super important. So, even if one of the herbs that we talk about is not like the perfect herb to make all your pain go away. And you’re going to feel like you’re 21 again. And everything’s great. The work that we’re going to be talking about doing here is working on building up strength in the body and on reducing the overall stress load on the body so that you are reducing the overall factors involved in that pain. It might completely resolve the issue for you, or it might mean that you can get away with a little bit less ibuprofen, or it might mean that we shorten the duration of the pain. So we don’t judge our success by 100% pain free living. We judge our success by improvement, right? If we see improvement here, then we’re happy about that. And we can just keep adding things on, to increase the amount of improvement that we get. And everything that we add into the picture is going to make your body stronger and reduce that pain a little bit, a little bit, a little bit.

Ryn (09:25):
Yeah. Small steps, you’ll get there. So let’s start by dividing pain, as a big general concept, into three more sorted groups.

Katja (09:36):
More manageable. Yeah.

Ryn (09:38):
So we’ll start with acute pain. Acute pain is something that you can clearly see and know the cause of it, right? Like you cut yourself, you burn your hand, something like that. You know what happened? You know, it will heal. And in the meantime it just hurts. So in that particular case, you might want something to help manage the pain you have to deal with in the short term. But the real work of removing the pain is going to be in healing whatever that injury is. So if it’s a cut, the pain will go away as that cut heals. And so the important thing is to make sure that that healing progresses and goes well. We’ve got to heal the cut. We have to prevent infection along the way and so on. So we’ll get more into that kind of thing when we discuss wound care, which will be coming in a later episode.

Katja (10:22):
All right. So another type of pain, sort of a category here we can talk about, is recurring pain. So this is pain that happens frequently, but it’s as a direct result of something in your life. And you probably know what the something is, or maybe you don’t know it right off, but if you sat down and thought about it for a little while, you would. Here’s an example. Maybe you have a really strenuous job. And every day at the end of your shift, your body really hurts from the work that you did that day. But if you have a couple of days off that pain reduces or it goes away. And then when you go back to work, it comes back again. That’s sort of a repetitive stress type of pain, or like an exhaustion kind of pain. And this pain makes a lot of sense. It’s unpleasant, but you can see where it’s coming from. You can clearly see the cause and the effect. And you can see clearly that if the cause isn’t there, the pain goes away. Maybe not immediately away, but like over the course of a few days or a week, the pain goes away when the cause is no longer there.

Ryn (11:29):
Yeah. Another example would be like a dehydration headache. Maybe you get that every day. If you’re a person who just doesn’t get enough fluid into yourself in a day, and you often get headaches that go away when you do remember to drink some water or tea. Then ideally remembering to drink more water or tea every day would mean that you don’t get those headaches anymore.

Katja (11:54):
Again, you might not immediately, you might be like, Oh, I have a stupid headache again. And you might have to sit and think like, Oh, I haven’t had any water to drink today. And then you’re like, Oh, okay. That’s where this has come from.

Ryn (12:07):
Yeah. Things like this. It’s often where somebody else points it out for you. And you’re like, right. Why could I not see that sitting right in front of my face, because it was there and it’s been there for a long time. And so you learned to block it out. That’s just how humans work. So, you know, sometimes a little outside perspective can be really helpful in identifying that kind of thing.

Katja (12:29):
A recurring pain can also happen in the guts, here, another example. And this is one that I definitely lived with for a lot of my life. If you’re constantly eating a food that you have a sensitivity to, then every time that you eat that food, you’re going to have pain. And for me, that was definitely true every day or almost every time I ate. Because I have a really strong sensitivity to gluten. And so gluten is like bread or pasta, anything that’s made with flour. And I also have a strong sensitivity to dairy milk, cheese, yogurt, that kind of stuff. And my particular habit was to have at least one of those things, pretty much at every meal. That’s just how I had grown up. And I also had grown up just thinking that your stomach hurts and your guts cramp up every time you eat. I just sort of thought that was normal.

Ryn (13:25):
Yeah, I was basically the same way until I met you. And that turned my whole life around for me.

Katja (13:28):
Well, only because I had figured that out, you know, somebody else had pointed it out for me before we met. And so the thing is that when I stopped eating those things that I was reacting to, the recurring pain went away within a few days or a week. And, in fact, it doesn’t come back unless I were to eat something that doesn’t agree with me. Now, this could even just be, even if you haven’t ever really thought about food sensitivities, you know, if you eat a really greasy slice of pizza then probably you’re going to have a little heartburn or your guts are going to hurt. This is the same sort of thing. If you were to eat that every single day, then you would experience heartburn every single day. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s any particular mystery there. If you were to stop eating that, even though it might be delicious, the pain goes away. So, again, we can see this sort of recurring pain where we can clearly see what the cause is, or maybe somebody else can clearly point out for us what the cause is. And if we stop the cause, if we just stop doing that thing, the pain stops.

Ryn (14:41):
All right. And then there’s chronic pain. And chronic pain, it can come from something that’s wrong in the nervous system itself, like say fibromyalgia or the nerves are damaged. And that creates a pain signal that doesn’t actually correspond with any real injury. Or in other words, you can think that the injury is in the nerve itself rather than in the muscle or the ligament or the whatever else.

Katja (15:05):
Yeah. So in fibromyalgia, often there’s no wound on their skin or whatever, but if you touch them, their nerves are interpreting just regular touch as a much stronger signal or even an outright pain signal. So they might feel burning or some other sort of pain from us from something that shouldn’t really cause those feelings, because there’s no actual wound here. It’s that the nerves themselves are not sending the signal properly because they have some damage.

Ryn (15:42):
Yeah. This can also come from some other kind of injury that may have gone away. The injury itself may have made healed, but the pain is still lingering. Sometimes the actual injury is all the way healed up. And in theory, you shouldn’t really feel that pain anymore. But your muscles and your nerves build up habits around the presence of that pain. And then you get stuck in that pain pattern. So what’s going on here, right? Well, really your body’s trying to protect you.

Katja (16:07):
Yeah. It’s actually a good thing. I mean, it’s gotten out of balance, but it started off as like, thanks body.

Ryn (16:16):
There’s a purpose behind it, right? Yeah. Your muscles tense up to try to prevent you from reinjuring that same area, but eventually the tension itself becomes painful. And it also becomes an impediment to healing, because you’ve got to get fresh blood moving through there. And if you’re all tensed up and you can’t move through a full range of motion, you can’t get new blood in. So, in order to regain that range of motion, you need that tension to release. You need a way for your muscles to relax and to feel like it’s safe to move again.

Katja (16:48):
Yeah. The other thing that happens in this sort of pain cycle or this sort of habit of pain is that the nerves are also trying to protect you. So, after an injury, your nerves can become sort of hypersensitive. And that’s actually important, because that is your body kind of dialing up the sensitivity so that you notice something before it re-injures you. Think about if you ever had a sprained ankle and then you try to put a little weight on it, and it hurts a lot. It hurts more than you think it should. And that’s because your body is giving you kind of like an extra loud signal so that you won’t put weight on it and re-injure that ankle. This is actually a really beneficial thing. But that hypersensitivity, when the injury is healed, the hypersensitivity also needs to be turned back down again. And sometimes especially if it took a long time to heal the injury, or if it was difficult to heal the injury, sometimes it can be really hard to reset your nerves back to a sort of normal baseline. And because that’s really difficult, the injury could be healed, but your nerves could still be super, super sensitive. And so you’re feeling pain in a place where actually the injury itself is gone.

Ryn (18:24):
Yeah. In most cases, a physical injury is going to be most of the way or all the way healed by three or six months after it’s happened. But chronic pain, it can kind of start with something like that. And then it can linger for years and years. Right. So it’s important to understand this, right? Because people are often told that, Oh, you’re healed up. You shouldn’t be feeling that pain anymore because the injury itself has healed. They’re still experiencing pain, but sometimes people get dismissed or they don’t get believed when they say that I’m in pain over here. I need something to do about it. So, this means that we need to heal, not just the injury, but we also want to try to reset these systems in the body that were making it possible for the injury to actually recover.

Katja (19:16):
Yeah. Like you needed that sensitivity for a little while, but once the injury is healed, we also have to do the work to reset that sensitivity again. And that doesn’t show up on an xray. And so you could go in, the doctor could say, look, everything’s healed. And you’re like, but it still hurts. And it doesn’t show up that it still hurts. There’s not like a test they can do to see that. But that’s just that reset work that has to happen afterwards. So if you’re still feeling that pain, you’re not imagining it. There’s another step of healing that needs to happen. And you kind of can’t move forward until that part happens.

The Pain Signal, Inflammation, & Tension

Ryn (20:00):
Yeah. All right. Now, regardless of what kind of pain it is that you’ve got, there are a few things that are going to be relevant across all different kinds of pain that we can work with as herbalists. Yeah. So the first one is that you feel pain because the nerves in your body are sending a signal up to your brain. So the faster or more intensely that that signal is sent, and the more different nerves that are sending it, the stronger the pain is going to be in your experience. So if we can slow down the speed or the rate at which the nerves are sending that message, then we can reduce the pain there. And this is why ice can actually help out to reduce pain temporarily, right? Because the cold is literally slowing down the activity of the nerves. They kind of like send a signal, and they send a signal, and they send another one. And with ice, it starts to slow down and to slow down and to slow down so that you don’t feel as much pain. The cold is literally slowing down the activity of the nerves. So that can be really helpful in reducing the pain that we feel. So, in the first hour or so after an injury, maybe you go ahead and put that on. Or if it’s like a chronic thing, again, like fibromyalgia, where there isn’t one specific injury we’re trying to heal, some people find the cold exposure to be very soothing. But the thing is about this, that in the long term with an injury, ice can slow down the recovery process, just the same way that it slows down that nerve activation. So, in that kind of a situation, we don’t want to lean on ice forever. We want to only be using ice for 20 minutes at a time, once a day, something like that.

Katja (21:46):
Just in the beginning phases to take the edge off.

Ryn (21:50):
And with most minor injuries, a little sprain or a strain or something like that, definitely after a couple of days ice is no longer really providing much help at all. At that point, all it’s really going to do is provide some temporary numbness, but it’s not going to help with the healing process. So fortunately there are herbs that can do something kind of similar and a little more specific to just the nerve tissue to slow down those pain signals. So we can let those herbs take over and stop depending on ice.

Katja (22:23):
All right. Another common factor across all the types of pain is inflammation. So inflammation, I just want to say right off the bat, it’s very important. You can’t heal without inflammation. Inflammation calls the resources to the injury location that allows it to heal. But inflammation that goes on for too long starts to get in the way of the healing process. So we really need just the right amount of inflammation, just like Goldilocks, right? Not too much, not too little, just right. And inflammation shows up whenever we have an injury, but we can also have systemic inflammation. This is inflammation that is throughout the body and it’s caused by things like too much sugar, not enough sleep. Also the inflammation that comes along with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, all of these types of extra inflammation. These can cause pain all by themselves, even if there is no injury. Just that type of inflammation can actually cause pain. And this is a kind of pain that often used to be called rheumatism. And now when we hear word rheumatism, we think about arthritis. It usually only really applies to arthritis in modern speech. But even when it’s talking about arthritis, it is still referring to the inflammation that is causing the pain. So that’s two types of inflammation. One type is very specific to the injury. If you didn’t have the injury, you wouldn’t have the inflammation. And it’s exactly what we need as long as we keep it in that Goldilocks place, and we don’t let it run away.

Ryn (24:16):
Right. So you’ve got that. And then you’ve got that systemic level of inflammation that’s shaped by dietary habits and movement habits and sleep habits and all of that foundational stuff for you. And the places where pain tends to be most troublesome and most painful is where these two things intersect. There’s some injury or there’s some repetitive strain on some part of your body. And maybe you’d be able to handle that and kind of like you build up some inflammation over your day, you clear out some inflammation as you sleep. And then you’re ready to go each day, and that’s fine. But if that level of systemic or like background inflammation in the body is elevated, then you’re not able to clear it out each day or in a given cycle. And so now it persists, and it starts to build, and to become more and more troublesome for you as time goes on. All right. Now there’s one other factor that goes along with with almost all kinds of pain that you may experience and especially with chronic pains, and that’s going to be tension, tightness, spasms. These are all variations of the same theme. And it happens either because the cause of the pain itself is tension, like a tension headache, or a pinched nerve down here at the base of your neck, because you’ve been working on a computer all day or doing something with your hands or whatever else. But tension also happens as a response to pain. And this is really common with low back pain, for instance. There could be some kind of injury. Maybe you fell, maybe you torqued something as you were lifting or whatever else. But the muscles around that injured area tense up to hold everything in place and to protect the site of the injury. So initially that is a protective measure. But after awhile, again, it starts to defeat its own purposes. And so we do need to release that in order to allow things to heal.

Katja (26:10):
All right. So we have three factors in common. We have three types of pain, acute pain from an injury that happened right now and you know it. Recurring pain, but it’s still pain that you can see the cause of. And when the cause is removed, the pain goes away. And chronic pain, which is no longer really attached to its original cause and might have gone on for a long time, years even. And across all three types of pain, we have three factors that you’re always going to find: the nerve signal, itself, which is communicating or notifying your brain, Hey, there’s pain here, inflammation, and tension. So when we are going to work on pain, we want to make sure that we are taking actions that will resolve these three things. That will slow down or lessen the nerve signal, put it to a back to a baseline normal sort of, not panicky kind of place. We want to reduce inflammation levels to a nice low baseline place. And we want to release tension in the body.

Help Through Nutrition

Ryn (27:28):
So here are some actions that we can take that are going to help out with those efforts. Right? So first, and especially in cases of chronic pain, the food that we eat plays a really big role in the way that we experience pain. And there’s two big aspects to this. So the first one is we need to eat the foods that our nerve cells need to send clear signals. This is super important for everyone, but particularly for folks who have chronic pain or pain syndromes, again like fibromyalgia. It’s just our favorite example today. So, the foods we need here are foods that have a lot of minerals. And we can get those, for instance, from leafy green vegetables and especially from seaweeds. For most people, a magnesium supplement on top of that is often a really good idea. And for this, we particularly like two kinds of supplement. One is called Mega-Mag and that’s by a company called Trace Mineral Research. And then there’s another one called Natural Calm. Both of these are things that you add into a drink. The Mega-Mag is a liquid and the Natural Calm is like a powder that dissolves in there. The Natural Calm tastes better for sure. They have like a raspberry lemon flavor and a couple others that are actually pretty good. But the reason for this is magnesium is super important, because it literally helps to calm down the nerves themselves. To quiet them down, to slow them down, to release tension patterns that they might start to express. And so it can reduce the intensity of those pain signals

Katja (28:56):
Yeah. And especially in pain syndrome, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, those kinds of things, just quieting down the signal. And sort of just literally, it’s almost like telling your nerves: everything’s all right. It’s okay. We got that message. Everything’s fine. And so you don’t have to have that message being sent so frequently.

Ryn (29:21):
The other big thing that can be relevant here in our effort to reduce those underlying aspects of the pain complex is that food itself is one of the main sources of systemic inflammation in our bodies. Or it can be an excellent way to reduce systemic inflammation depending on what foods you’re eating. So, if you’re dealing with pain, reducing foods that cause inflammation is going to help to quiet that pain down. You can think of this kind of like smoke alarms, right? You do need one smoke alarm, at least, per unit of space to keep you safe. That’s necessary. But you don’t need six smoke alarms all in one room. If something happens, one smoke alarm per room is plenty. And if there isn’t really a fire going on, but maybe you just like burned some rice while you were cooking or whatever. Now, six smoke alarms are going off and it’s just chaos. And you can’t even think straight about what did you need to do next, because there’s just too much noise and flashy lights and all kinds of stuff. So when we reduce inflammation coming from food, it’s like removing some of those extra alarms.

Katja (30:28):
Yeah. We only want to have one alarm. We want to take all those extra alarms out. And you can think about those alarms as the nerves screaming the pain signal up to your brain. Listen, you know, I only need one of you to tell me that there’s pain. We don’t need six of you all screaming at once. And so removing foods that can cause inflammation, it quiets the signal. It says, okay, I don’t need everybody. I just need one person telling me this message. That’s enough. So the foods that are going to cause inflammation, and the inflammation is making that signal louder and more chaotic, the foods that will cause it are things like sugar, like candy, cake, soda. Also processed foods, so this would be like chips and pretzels, beef, I don’t know, Slim Jims, I’m thinking, like any kind of those processed foods and then fast foods. So this is like french fries and pizza, and drive through hamburgers, stuff like that. All of these are going to cause inflammation in the body. Now they might be delicious. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this stuff isn’t delicious. But if you are managing pain right now, these things are going to make it harder to do that work. So if you are having a pain flare up, then we want to reduce those foods. Ideally we would reduce them to zero if that’s possible. If it’s not possible, reduce them as much as you can. Every bit of those things that you get out of your diet means that the pain is a little bit quieter, because the inflammation in your body is a little bit quieter. So everything we can do to turn down the inflammation is also going to turn down the pain.

Ryn (32:32):
Right? Right. So remove pro-inflammatory foods. And the other side of that is to add anti-inflammatory and there are a lot of them, right? Lots of foods can stop inflammation. All vegetables are going to help out with that effort. And berries in particular are really high powered when it comes to that. So, when you’re dealing with pain, if you can cut out those foods that cause inflammation and then get more vegetables, get more berries into your diet, that will really help. And remember, it’s totally fine to get frozen veggies, frozen berries. They’re cheaper. They’re available for more of the year. They’re easier to prepare, less likely to waste. So lots of advantages with that.

Katja (33:12):
It doesn’t have to be perfect. This doesn’t mean that you’re never going to have a piece of birthday cake again. It just means that when you’re dealing with pain, that’s when you want to say, well, chips are delicious, but I’m just going to eat this pile of green beans instead, because I don’t want to deal with more pain right now.

Ryn (33:31):
Yeah. Another thing that can help out here is healthy fats. And this is because they provide a kind of insulation around your nerves to protect them and help them to function well. And so getting healthy fats in your diet is a really important thing. Fats are critical for good health with nerves, with hormones, with lots of things, actually. So, from the plant world avocado itself.

Katja (33:57):
Yeah, just avocados, right how they are.

Ryn (33:58):
Yep. Olive oil, coconut and coconut oil. These are really great choices. From the animal world, there are healthy fats that come out of animals. It just depends on the animal, itself, being healthy, being treated right, being fed the right things.

Katja (34:14):
If you can get your hands on some high quality ghee, which is butter oil, that is a very, very good option, or some very good quality lard, like lard that came from an animal that was very healthy. That would be a good choice also.

Movement & Sleep

Ryn (34:32):
Yeah, for sure. And you know I like to talk about movement whenever possible. And it is relevant here as well. Right? So moving more or moving differently can help to reduce the tension in the body. And it can also help the nerves to function better. When you have an injury, of course you need to be careful about how you move. Be gentle on your body, absolutely. But not moving at all isn’t a really great idea. It’s not a great approach here because that will cause the tension to increase.

Katja (35:02):
Yeah. Even though you might think, Oh, it hurts. I don’t want to move. I just want to lay on the couch and be very, very still. That’s normal to think that way, but it’s not necessarily serving your body the best way.

Ryn (35:17):
Yeah. Being still, being in the same position for longer periods of time, that tends to develop tension in your body, or to exacerbate tensions that are already there. So when we’re working with pain, we want to move. Yes, slowly. And we want to stretch. Yes, gently. But we want to do those things as often as possible, so that we can release that tension and allow blood to flow more freely. Because moving, also, that’s the other thing that it does is to make sure that fresh blood and nutrients are getting to all of the cells. And in this case to those nerve cells that are irritated, annoyed, they’re sending those signals of distress. So, when those nerve cells themselves aren’t getting the food, the oxygen that they need, then they can send the wrong signal.

Katja (36:00):
This is one that happens to me all the time. So just think about when your foot falls asleep. Maybe you’ve been sitting on it. Maybe you had your legs crossed and now your foot’s asleep. Nothing is wrong with your foot. Your foot is totally fine. You don’t have a wound there. You didn’t sprain your ankle.

Ryn (36:17):
It’s still attached.

Katja (36:18):
It’s still attached. Everything is how it should be. But it is super uncomfortable and even downright painful. All of that discomfort is coming because the nerve cells didn’t get any food or any oxygen for a while. And so they’re literally starving. And they’re like, Ahhh, I have hunger pains. And so your body is interpreting that literally as pain. So that’s why we really have to keep moving. Keep it gentle, keep it slow. You don’t have to run a marathon to be healthy or to release tension. In fact, running a marathon would actually not be a good idea. But just move as many parts of your body as you can, in a way that feels good and reasonable, as often as you can. And if that’s wiggling your toes or let’s say you sprained your ankle, maybe wiggling your toes and just super gently trying to point just a little baby bit, and super gently trying to flex just a little baby bit. Maybe that’s all you feel comfortable doing, but that’s some movement. And that is important, because it’s going to keep the blood going. It’s going to prevent the muscles from tightening up. It’s going to make sure that the nerve cells are getting the oxygen and the food that they need to function properly. And all of those things are going to reduce pain.

Ryn (37:46):
Yeah. Right on. And then lastly, sleep. Sleep matters a lot here. Right? Sleep is a time when we’re clearing out inflammation in the body. And it also allows your nervous system to reset. We do most of our healing while we’re asleep. You’ve got a lot to accomplish in those hours. So don’t skimp on it. If you’re dealing with pain, whether it’s an injury or it’s a flare up of a chronic disease, or it’s just like, my baseline state is too much pain all the time.

Katja (38:13):
Or tension, even.

Ryn (38:17):
Then it’s completely reasonable to be sleeping 10 or even 12 hours a night, so that your body has less work to do, has more time to focus on healing. So if you’re in pain, try to let yourself sleep as much as your schedule allows.

Katja (38:31):
Yeah. Ideally, if you’re in pain, your schedule will allow you to sleep for long chunks of time. But, of course, maybe you have kids running around. Maybe you have a job that won’t give you time off. So, we’re going to acknowledge that sleep time is recovery time, and we’re just going to try to get as much of it as possible.

Ryn (38:54):
And again, next week, we’ll have more thoughts to share with you on that effort. Alright. So now it’s time to talk about herbs, I think.

Katja (39:02):
Yes. All right. So we have our three types of pain. We have the three things that are common across them. The nerve signal, the inflammation, the tension. We see how food can impact those things, how movement can impact those things and how sleep can impact those things. So I think we’re ready to add in some herbs.

Ryn (39:23):
For sure. Yeah. Are we going to start with your favorite?

Chamomile & Ginger

Katja (39:26):
We are going to start with my favorite. It’s chamomile. This is really, truly my favorite herb. No, really, honestly. If I had to live with only one herb, it really would be chamomile. In this case, when we’re talking about pain, chamomile relaxes both the nerves and the muscles, especially if you make it really strong. So if you’re using teabags, you’re going to put at least two teabags into your cup. And if you’re brewing like a whole quart in a mason jar, then at least four teabags, but even maybe six in that quart. And you want to steep it a long time so that it gets good and dark. Now you may have had chamomile tea, and maybe it was just sort of a pale lemony yellow color. And it tasted like flowers. And that’s very nice. And that is very nice, but that’s not going to be enough to do the job here. We need it to be good and strong. And that does mean that it’s going to be bitter. It’s okay if you need to add a little bit of honey to it. But the thing is that the stronger you make it, the stronger the relaxing action that it has both on the muscles and on the nerves.

Ryn (40:41):
Yeah. I just wanted to add, we’re going to use extra teabags. We’re also going to let it steep for a longer period of time. So, not just a couple of minutes, but 20 minutes, 30 minutes, even longer than that.

Katja (40:51):
Until it’s a real deep dark color. So, that anti-spasmodic, that tension-releasing, that relaxing action is very, very strong actually, when you make the tea very strong. But that’s not all that chamomile can do. It also has a very strong anti-inflammatory action throughout the body as well. So with this, we’re addressing both tension and inflammation throughout the body. And the tension that we’re addressing is not just in the muscles, but also in the nerves themselves. So that’s two of our three big factors. And if you have two or even four cups a day of the chamomile, over time this is going to start to make a really big difference. And I want to add one more thing in here. Because when you’re feeling pain, you’re also feeling emotional effects from the pain. You’re feeling stress, you’re feeling anxiousness. You’re feeling fear that it’s never going to go away. You’re feeling frustration. And chamomile can relax those things too. So that’s almost like just this extra bonus thing that is super, super important. But I really, even though chamomile is gentle, and it’s something that you can find everywhere. And a lot of people think that it’s, Oh, it’s just for after dinner tea or whatever. I’m not kidding. It is strong stuff. And if you take it over time and really let it build up in your body, it’s going to have a strong impact.

Ryn (42:34):
Yeah. That consistency is important. Again, most especially if it’s recurring or chronic pain that we’re dealing with here. Yeah. Let’s talk about ginger next. Ginger is another strong anti-inflammatory herb. It also really helps to improve circulation, which, of course, is going to mean more nourishment, more oxygen delivery, more mineral delivery to those nerve cells. And that’s going to help them to function more appropriately, to maybe recognize that their environment, their condition has changed and I can stop sending those signals. So it does that, but it also releases tension. So ginger is covering a lot of bases here. Katja’s literal favorite thing ever is ginger and chamomile tea. And actually I like it quite a lot as well. I guess the flavors blend really nicely together. They’re just fantastic.

Katja (43:25):
Yeah, it tastes good. And I’ve got to tell you, it helps with pretty much every kind of pain that I have. I have a real old back injury that flares up from time to time. I get headaches. I get a kind of gut crampiness when I’m stressed. And ginger chamomile deals with all of these. Again, I make it strong. I make it like a good dark brew. I put a bunch of tea in there and I let it sit for a long time so that it does get really strong. It is even really helpful for joint pain when you have a lot of repetitive stress injuries. It’s helpful there too.

Ryn (44:08):
Yeah. And you know, we’re focusing here primarily on things that you can drink, and you can have consistently, and you can get those plant chemicals into your body to reduce the inflammation and move the blood and all of that. If you have more localized pain, like maybe you’re a waitress and you carry your trays like this, and you’ve got the carpal tunnel feeling going on. You can work with ginger topically too. So you can take the ginger and just grate it and make a nice big gloppy mess of ginger shreds. And take all of that and maybe wrap it in cheese cloth or something, but put that all over the wrist and just let it kind of seep in there. You know, if you can put a hot water bottle on top to warm it up even more, that will help too. But that will get right into that local area, bring in the blood, clear out the wastes, support, healing and recovery. So that’s a good way to go. And when we’re talking about making ginger tea, it doesn’t have to be dried, cut, and sifted herb, like on our shelves here. Any ginger from the grocery store is going to do the job. Pull off a thumb of it and chop it up a bit. Make yourself a cup or a quart of tea and give it that good, strong flavor. Have ginger breath.

Katja (45:20):
Yes. Zingy. Very zingy. This is another two to four cups a day. You can mix them together, the chamomile and the ginger, and have a big quart of it every day. If you love it, you can have more. The only thing that you would ever need to really think about is if you’re taking blood thinners, then check in with your doctor. Because ginger can have a little bit of a thinning effect as well. And so just make sure with your doctor that it’s okay for you to have ginger tea. And as long as your doctor is fine with that, great. but otherwise you can drink as much of this as you want. And again, consistently doing it every day is really going to start to build up these improvements in your body, which will allow you to reduce your pain.

Seaweed

Ryn (46:12):
All right then. Seaweed?

Katja (46:14):
Yes. Speaking of things, you can put on your pain, right?

Ryn (46:18):
Yeah. So with seaweeds, what’s going on here is that it’s addressing at least two of our big factors, right? So it’s providing the nutrients for those nerve cells and it’s reducing inflammation. So those are those aspects. But also, some of the seaweeds have effects or have compounds in them that can actively reduce pain, which is pretty exciting. This was when we discovered when Katja broke her toe on an herb walk, like right at the beginning of the day, too. And so we did it, we got through the day. We got home and we’re like, all right, well, it’s definitely broken, because it was like wiggling and loose and whatever.

Katja (46:54):
Yeah. And turning various colors. It was awful.

Ryn (46:57):
So we thought, okay, well at least I can put some seaweed on to try to start to remineralize and try to bring down some of that inflammation and everything. And we were actually kind of surprised at the amount of pain reduction that you got from it.

Katja (47:10):
It was a very strong pain reduction. And in fact even though the break was actually pretty bad, as long as the seaweed was on it, I didn’t feel any pain at all. Now when I took it off. Okay. It started to hurt again. But it was impressive. And that first day I really wasn’t going to walk anyway. I was resting. So, I could pretty much leave the seaweed on for long periods of time. And it was great. So this is going to work with any kind of musculoskeletal pain. If you’ve got joint pain, you know, you were mentioning carpal tunnel syndrome. If you sprained an ankle, if you broke a toe or a finger or actually any broken bone, this will help a lot. So, if you have a broken bone and you have access to it, like you have a removable cast, for example, then you can just put seaweed on and that’s going to speed up the healing and also make the healing stronger.

Ryn (48:10):
So it’s easiest if you have large pieces of dried kelp or other kinds of dried seaweed. You can find those often at Asian markets. You can also order them online, and we like to get ours from a place called Atlanticholdfast.com. But what you’re going to do is you’re going to take these pieces of dried seaweed. You’re going to soak them in a bit of warm water for like 10 minutes or so.

Katja (48:34):
Yeah. It doesn’t have to be a ton of water, just a little bit of water in a pan. And just put it right in there until it’s soft.

Ryn (48:40):
Right. And then you wrap that around whatever area hurts. And let it sit there in place for at least 15 minutes. Longer is better if you have the time and all of that. And like I was saying before, if you can put a hot water bottle on there or something to keep it warm, then that will help your body to absorb what the seaweed is exuding. If you could do it three times a day, that would be great. If you could only do it once a day, you’re going to see some improvement, but it’s going to be a bit slow. Twice a day is where it’s quite obvious. Three times a day is where you’re like, wow, this is working.

Katja (49:14):
It’s really working. You can do it more than that too. If it feels great, if you’re like, Oh, this is such a relief, do it more. That’s fantastic. You know, herbs are like eating your vegetables. When we think about medication, we think, Oh, I just swallow this pill and I’m good until tomorrow, but herbs aren’t like that. We need to do it over and over again. So, really do it often. But it’s amazing how effective it is.

Ryn (49:43):
Yeah. And your skin will literally absorb some of those mineral contents, some of those things that are needed to help maintain nerve health, right through the skin. And put them right where they need to be.

Katja (49:54):
So this is reducing pain, reducing inflammation, and feeding your nerve cells so that they can send a good clear signal.

Ryn (50:03):
Yeah. And now you can also eat your seaweed.

Katja (50:06):
Yes. Absolutely.

Ryn (50:06):
And we’re really big advocates for that because there’s just a lot of great stuff that comes in that way. They have multiple routes of reducing systemic inflammation in your body. They have aspects that are not found in land plants. So we’re really big on seaweeds. We think everybody should be eating them.

Katja (50:25):
And a good source of magnesium too. So, we’re back to those nerve cells again.

Ryn (50:29):
Yeah. I think that both the topical seaweed and then eating more seaweed does help to reduce that systemic tension as well as the inflammation.

Katja (50:37):
I think so too. Yes. So, seaweed might be new for you. And my two favorite ways to eat seaweed, and I will say that the flavor of seaweed on its own is not my favorite flavor. So, if you are also a little bit skeptical about the flavor of seaweed, don’t worry, we’re all here together. But you can put it into soup, just plain old chicken broth, whatever you like, vegetable broth. Jjust put the seaweed right in there, let it cook for awhile, you know, simmer it for awhile. And then you don’t even have to actually eat the seaweed. It’s better if you do.

Ryn (51:16):
It’s better if you do.

Katja (51:17):
But if you’re skeptical, then you have released a lot of what’s in the seaweed into the broth itself. And you’re really not going to taste the seaweed. It will just have a little bit of a saltiness, which you wanted in your soup anyway. So that’s fine.

Ryn (51:32):
Yeah. Seaweeds add the umami, you know?

Katja (51:34):
Yeah. They really are quite tasty and they lose that fishy seaweedy flavor when you turn them into soup. And the other place that I really like seaweed is if you can get it chopped up, which both the online store that we like to get it from Atlanticholdfast.com, but also a lot of the Asian markets will have it already chopped up. It’s almost like paper hole punches or confetti or something. If you just put a little bit when you’re cooking rice or when you’re cooking beans, put a little bit into any kind of meat that you’re cooking, and it will soften right up. And you know, you don’t have to put a ton in there. Put a little to start with, and then next time, a little more as you get used to it. But it will just add a sort of salty flavor. And you don’t really notice that it’s seaweed. You just notice the salty kind of mineral flavor. It’s really actually quite nice.

Wild Lettuce

Ryn (52:37):
Yeah, for sure. All right. Well our last herb that we’re going to discuss today, by no means the last herb that can help out with pain. But, again, in our review of pretty abundant and accessible herbs, we’ve got to talk about wild lettuce. It’s just what it sounds like. It is lettuce plants that grow out in the wild Wild lettuce leaves look almost nothing like iceberg lettuce.

Katja (53:01):
No, they look a lot more like dandelion leaves than anything else. In fact, the wild lettuce plant looks like a very, very tall dandelion, actually.

Ryn (53:10):
Who has more branches on its stem and more…

Katja (53:12):
Yeah. A very strong stalk and flowers that look a lot like dandelion at the top, a little smaller, but still very similar.

Ryn (53:21):
Yeah. So this herb is a relatively strong relaxant and a sedative and an herb that helps you to go to sleep. So, it reduces tension. It slows down the nerve firing rates. The intensity of those pain signals that are coming through, it turns that on down. And so it reduces the feeling of pain, but it’s also addressing those underlying states of tension and agitation that are driving it. And like I said, wild lettuce can help you to get to sleep, which is super important for the healing process. And oftentimes people get into this double bind where it’s like, you need to sleep for healing to take place, but your pain prevents you from sleeping.

Katja (54:02):
Yeah. Wild lettuce is my favorite plant to turn to in that situation. It really, really helps you to get to sleep when pain is the thing that’s keeping you awake.

Ryn (54:14):
Yeah. So the easiest way to work with this herb is actually as a tincture rather than a tea. And the reason is because it is quite bitter and it’s not the easiest thing to just drink down a cup of straight wild lettuce tea. You can formulate it and make it tolerable. But for most folks, the tincture is going to be so much easier, because you just take a squirt or two, and you go on your way.

Katja (54:38):
Now when you make this tincture, you’re going to take the whole stem. And the stem is actually the really important part when we’re working with wild lettuce for pain. Normally we would be focusing on the leaves or the flowers, and we’re gonna put those in the tincture. But what I really want is the stem, because it’s got that white sort of milky sap. And that is where a lot of the pain reducing compounds are found. So we’re going to take the whole stalk with the leaves on it, the flowers on it, everything. We’re going to chop it up, put it in a mason jar, and then just fill that jar up with vodka. And once a day, twice a day, you’re going to give it a good shake. And in a month it’s going to be ready. So you’ll take out all the plant parts.

Katja (55:23):
If you’re in a rush, two weeks would probably do it.

Katja (55:25):
But I tell you, wild lettuce grows pretty much across the whole country. It’s pretty easy to find. And this is one that it’s worth having on hand because everybody gets hurt sometimes. Everybody deals with pain sometimes. So it’s just a good idea to have some of this around, because then you have it when you need it. All right. So you have all the plant parts in the jar, you filled it up with vodka, you’re shaking it once a day, twice a day, it’s been a month. You take the plant parts out, or you can just sort of dump it through a strainer, into a bowl so you catch all of the liquid. And you can compost the plant parts, and you’re going to keep the liquid.

Ryn (56:08):
That’s your tincture.

Katja (56:09):
That’s your tincture. And just keep it in a jar. It doesn’t have to be refrigerated. And you’re going to have to experiment in your body to find the right dose that works for you. But start with about a teaspoonful. For some people, that’s going to be enough. For other people, that might not be enough. You might need a little bit more than that, but here’s the thing. Wild lettuce will make you drowsy. So don’t take it before you have to drive your car or before you have to do something where you really have to be able to think, because it is going to make you sleepy. That’s what we want. We want it to make you sleepy, because we want you to sleep. But you just need to know that so that you don’t try to take it in the morning. Right before you drive to work, just say, Oh, my back hurts. If I take some wild lettuce I’ll feel better and I’ll get to work and I’ll feel great. You will be very sleepy.

Ryn (57:02):
Yeah. Wild lettuce plus coffee is not a very good herbal formula.

Katja (57:06):
No.That would be a mess.

Ryn (57:08):
Yeah. So keep this one for the evenings or for days when it’s all right if you drowse through your day. But otherwise look elsewhere. And speaking of drowsiness, next week, for real this time, we’re going to talk about helping you get to sleep easier, sleep deeper. Sleep more hours and have better quality and just feel great when you wake up.

Katja (57:30):
Yes. Especially that problem of you get in the bed and you lay there and you think, why am I not falling asleep? I’m so tired. What’s going on? Sleep is, if you’ve been following this series, then you know, sleep is so important for healing. It is so important for building up health in all the parts of the body. So, we really do want to focus on that, but I just got the calendar mixed up and I don’t know. Somebody needed to hear about pain right now. And this is what happened. So next week sleep. Stay tuned.

Ryn (58:05):
Yeah. Well until then, take care of yourselves, take care of each other, drink some tea.

Katja (58:11):
Drink some tea.

Ryn (58:12):
And we hope that you find some relief from pain.

Katja (58:15):
Yes. See you next week.

Ryn (58:17):
Bye.

Katja (58:18):
Bye Bye.

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