My Soothing Nighttime Routine

In my recent post about rediscovering my meditation routine, I mentioned a bit of trouble I’ve been having getting to sleep. It’s actually not a terribly new problem. My generalized anxiety and OCD has always flared up right as I’m trying to fall asleep. It comes and goes, but lately, with late rehearsals and other excuses to stay up late, I found myself staying away into the wee hours and then dragging the next day, so I decided to make some changes.

First, I already had Night Shift enabled on my phone and F.lux on my laptop computer, but I made sure Night Shift was enabled on my iPad as well. That way, at least my evening viewing wouldn’t be as bad for my sleep habits. But lately, I’ve been trying hard not to mindlessly scroll through my phone when I’m supposed to be going to bed. For one, it’s very easy to get caught up scrolling through Instagram or reading an article and not do the things I need to do before bed (skin care, tooth care, etc.). Then, when I’m in bed, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve decided to “read one more thing” and then look up and realize it’s over an hour past my sleep time. So when I get into bed, I put the phone to the side and read an actual book.

As far as my nighttime beauty routines, those are generally set more by my body’s needs than my sleep needs, but lately I’ve been enjoying aromatherapy before bed. So I might reach for my Klairs toner or my Midnight Shift oil for a little relaxation boost from their lavender-based scents during my nighttime routine. Also, while I bought it for its skin and hair benefits, my mulberry silk pillowcase has proven a boon to my sleeping as well. I find it delicious to sink into when I go to bed, and when I sweat at night, the pillowcase wicks it away and dries quickly so I don’t feel as gross in the morning.

Getting into the more heavy-duty relaxation techniques, I’ve written before about how I brew herbal teas for various ailments, and sleep is no exception. While I can break out a more potent brew with valerian and other more powerful sedating herbs, I tend to stick to a simpler concoction for regular nightly use. I was going through so many Traditional Medicinals Chamomile with Lavender tea bags that I finally decided to just buy some bulk lavender and chamomile blossoms from Mountain Rose Herbs and mix my own nighttime tea. I store them separately and add two teaspoons of chamomile flowers to one scant teaspoon of lavender in a mug of hot water. I let that infuse while I’m doing my skin care, and then strain it and bring it to bed with my book.

Then, when I’m finally ready to turn off the light and sink into sleep, if I don’t feel completely exhausted from my day, I’ll take a little extra help from my Insight Timer app’s guided meditations. The app has a pretty good selection of guided meditations for sleep that I’ve been checking out. I tend to use the ones that are around 20 minutes long, although I’ve used longer ones for evenings when I’m in bed earlier. I generally don’t end up hearing the end of most of the apps. And then if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can remove my earbuds and let them hang to the ground, to be gathered up in the morning.

I hope hearing about my own nighttime routine can help my readers build their own routine. And I would always love hearing how you wind down for the day and go to bed.

NB: All products mentioned in this post are favorites of mine and I have not been given any incentive to mention them. All links are non-affiliate.

Advertisements

The Summer Afternoon Cuppa

Every so often, I will share my weekend cups of tea on Instagram and one thing may have become a bit apparent: I’m trying to drink less caffeine on the weekends, particularly in the afternoon. So I’ve started creating some lovely non-tea herbal and fruit infusion on the weekends.

One of my favorite herbs for an iced tea is red raspberry leaf. Long lauded as a remedy for all manner of “women’s trouble,” I like it for it’s dark, tannic bite that is reminiscent of black tea, without the caffeine. Mixed with a sweeter herb, like peppermint, and served over ice with a touch of local honey, this makes a lovely afternoon infusion.

I’ve also found a fondness for flower-based infusions. Red clovers have a grassy flavor and impart a pink color to an infusion. Mixed with lavender, the herbal-floral quality of the lavender mixes with the clover and makes a delightful infusion, particularly with a bit of honey and lemon.

Finally, sometimes I take my afternoon infusion hot. One of my favorite simple cups is an infusion of fresh mint leaves from my garden, steeped for a five to ten minutes, and served simply in a tea cup, with no additions. The brightness of the mint and the warmth of the water are perfectly comforting and invigorating, without being overly stimulating.

Of course, all of these are best enjoyed outdoors, if the weather permits, or else curled up next to a sunny window with a good book.

A New Kind of Herbalism

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve long had an interest in traditional, herbal-based remedies. While I certainly go to the doctor when I’m very sick, for more minor complaints, I often try an herbal remedy before anything else. For example, when my recent terrible sore throat came back negative for strep, I turned to herbal remedies to soothe and heal it in the absence of any allopathic intervention. I also love to use herbal and DIY remedies for skin care, though I’ve moved a bit away from that since discovering that many homemade skin care products are not exactly what my skin needs. But since discovering Asian beauty and skin care products, I’ve gotten more into the traditional healing side of Asian skin care and health.

Specifically, I’ve discovered the joy of Hanbang products. Hanbang is Korean traditional medicine. It is very similar to Chinese traditional medicine, although it does have a distinct lineage. One of the most common practices is the use of teas, particularly those based around ginseng and other prized roots. Ginseng, ginger, licorice, Korean angelica, and Solomon’s seal are some of the favored roots in Hanbang teas, as well as remedies such as jujube, persimmon, Schizandra, and citron┬áteas. I actually had a coworker offer me a spoonful of Korean citron┬ámarmalade to make a cup of citron honey tea when I was feeling unwell. The bitterness of the citron peel mixes well with the tart citrus taste and sweet honey. I find it far superior to regular lemon-and-honey tea, honestly.

Additionally, I like to use herbal infusions and teas as a way to support healthy body function. I was drinking at least two cups a day of spearmint infusion for the last month, as it is supposed to help balance hormones and improve both hormonal mood swings and hormonal skin issues. As hormonal acne on my chin is the one condition that resists my routine’s improving influence, I thought it was worth a try. Now, armed with some research about traditional Asian medicines, I’ve added to my morning brew. I add ginger to help with circulation, as the temperature in my office hovers somewhere between bone-chilling and simply fingertip-numbing. Goji berries add an interesting flavor, as well as a host of nutrients. I cannot bring myself to eat goji berries, but adding them to tea seems a reasonable way to reap their benefits. Finally, dong quai, which is known as “female ginseng” or “the Empress of herbs” in traditional Chinese medicine, helps support the hormone-balancing action of the spearmint. Unfortunately, it also has a strong flavor reminiscent of celery and may be better suited to an herbal broth than a tea. I do find that this upgraded blend is more invigorating in the morning than spearmint alone, though I have not used it long enough to determine any other benefits.

I’m excited to have found new remedies to bring into my herbal cabinet and look forward to more experimentation. Please share any favorite herbal remedies you might have!

An Old-Fashioned Remedy for What Ails You

And, no, it’s not alcoholic. While I’m no stranger to the shot of whisky that helps cure a cold, this is something far more restorative. As I mentioned before, I’ve just recently recovered from a somewhat grueling illness that started with a bit of a sore throat, looked like it was becoming a cold, and then turned into the worst sore throat I’ve had in years. It went from the early-cold dull ache to the ragged, razor-y feeling every time I even thought about swallowing. Sadly, the doctor could not find evidence of strep throat (which would have meant antibiotics and a relatively quick recovery), so I was left to my own devices.

Now, lemon and honey and vinegar and echinacea have their places in my arsenal of illness fighters, and they all came into play. Cayenne, oddly, became my throat-soother of choice, as a spicy-sweet brew of raw honey, vinegar, and cayenne in water, gargled often, left my throat feeling much better.

But by far my favorite remedy was good old fashioned broth, or rather garlic broth. I found a company that makes traditionally-simmered bone broths and sells them vacuum packed in pouches in the freezer section at my store. I prefer the chicken broth. I defrost and simmer one cup of broth. While that simmers, I peel and finely grate one fat clove of garlic (or two smaller ones) into a mug. When the broth is hot, I pour it over the garlic. It’s not exactly raw garlic, but it still retains some of the heat and bite of raw garlic. I sip this and feel my throat feel almost instantly soothed. It’s also nourishing and restorative, particularly at a time when one finds oneself unable to eat much of anything solid. The broth contains protein and makes a welcome break from sweetened teas. And there is some evidence that chicken broth may actually have some true use against the common cold.

Whatever the science, I know this will become a go-to remedy, and even though I’ve started feeling better, I will probably continue my morning mug of broth throughout the winter.

A Home Remedy for an Awkward Ailment

As the weather has started cooling down, little by little, Boyfriend and I have noticed a peculiar problem: our house seems to be mildly infested with bees. It’s not great clouds of the little fellows, but rather one or two every so often. It’s gotten to where we are finding live or dead bees around the house almost every day. Sadly, this led to a rather awkward situation yesterday when I discovered a bee in my yoga room… by sitting on it during my practice.

I felt a little pinch, and immediately knew what it must be. I stopped my practice and went up to the bathroom to see the sting. It was already starting to turn red and swell, so I tried to locate the stinger and washed it with my homemade lavender soap and cold water. I patted it dry with some clean tissue and applied hydrocortisone ointment. A half an hour later, the pain was worsening, so I thought to try something more aggressive.

Remembering the drawing power of bentonite clay, I went to my beauty cabinet and mixed up a bit of the clay with enough rosewater and glycerin to make a thick paste, which I glopped on my posterior. Being that the location of the problem area was where it was, this was not something to be done downstairs, where decent neighbors might spy me through the window accidentally. So I lay out on my stomach with my pouticed rear unencumbered.

To suffer the indignity, I decided that part of the remedy would be a nice cup of tea and some chocolate. I believe it be a necessary part of treatment, if just to soothe my nerves. I also took the opportunity to contact our landlady and ask if something might be done about the apian threat.

And On Into Fall

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. It passed without much note for me. I got up, went to work, and went to my aerials class, the same as any Wednesday. I think we shall celebrate in earnest tomorrow with friends and games and a nice autumnal dinner. This morning, I’ve brought out my plaid flannel shirt for a slightly chilly morning, and had an autumnal breakfast of porridge with dried fruit.

I am happiest when it is chilly in the mornings. Even if it’s going to be a hot day eventually, a cool, maybe even slightly grey morning feels right to me. I’ve noticed that the sun stays down longer and I often spend the first hour of wakefulness in twilight illumination. I’ve been rising early to make a pot of herbal infusion and let it steep under a tea cozy while I shower and dress. Then, I can curl up with a shawl or blanket and enjoy the stillness of a cool morning before beginning my day.

It just so happens that this week is the final week of the four-week cure I’ve given my first batch of soap, so I tested a homemade soap bar this morning in my shower. It bubbled up beautifully and had no lard smell to it. It was fun to use something that was made by me, though I wonder if it might be a bit drying to my skin. It’s no mind, though, because it just means that I’ll have to play around with more recipes.

I actually finished off my first pound of lye this weekend when I made a batch of sheep’s tallow soap. So I ordered a new jar of it, along with some fun goodies. Because I love the smell of roses, I’ve decided to try a fragrance oil called “Fresh Cut Roses” and some pink clay to color the bar a light rose color. I’ve started getting fancy, and may even try some soaps with goat’s milk or oatmeal for more skin-softening loveliness.

The best part of autumn is that it now feels like crochet weather. Through the winter and early spring, I worked on my merino wool shawl using Smooshy sock yarn in a colorway called “Cloud Jungle,” which is a complex blend of greys and neutrals that looks like the clouds over a forest in early winter. I’ve half-finished the main body of the shawl, and then I plan to edge it with a green tweedy yarn and make an earth-toned shawl for sitting with a cup of tea in the afternoons in winter. With the weather cooling down, perhaps my work on that will pick up!

A Brief Life Update

I’m still here, I promise. And things are still happening.

Sadly, my gardens are not doing so well. A combination of vacation and busy weekends left us with little time to weed. One of our azaleas seems to be dying, and most of my herb garden has been re-conquered by weeds. The basil and parsley are making an heroic effort to fight back, and the sage is doing admirably, but I’ve lost the rosemary. In an odd twist, some weeds grew in my potted peppermint plant and seems to have completely killed it. Killing mint is a new one for me! But I was able to harvest some parsley for a pantry bean soup a couple weeks ago, and some sage for a sage-and-garlic-rubbed pork roast. But my visions of herbed bounty has been tempered somewhat by my natural dislike of actual garden work.

I’ve started walking much more, in addition to my newfound swimming practice. I’m feeling healthier, though also tired. But I’ve discovered that a weekend walk to the local herb store is the perfect distance to tire me out without being too onerous. And buying a few ounces of herbs is a rather cheap shopping trip.

Boyfriend and I also put up another batch of mead this weekend. We chose to use a local apiary’s honey because it comes in bigger jars, but we kept the same recipe as before otherwise. We made a 5-gallon batch! So hopefully it turns out well and next summer we will have lots of honeyed bounty to share with our friends.

I’m experimenting with my hair care again. I’m trying to become more natural, after deciding to grow my hair out longer. My hair is finally long enough to wear up most of the time, without resorting to sad, floppy ponytails, so I’ve rejoined the Long Hair Community in which I participated for a couple years before my divorce. While going through my old journals, I discovered that I had luck in the past with soap-based washing. Since I’ve recently moved to a homemade facial cleanser made with Dr. Bronner’s soap, oil, and honey, I’ve decided to try using the rest of the soap I’ve bought to wash my hair. It’s a simple process: just unscented soap to wash, rinse quite well, and then rinse with diluted apple cider vinegar to rebalance my hair, and rinse the whole thing again. A little oil or tallow balm on the ends of my hair keeps them soft. And I can use aloe vera when my hair feels a bit dry. So far so good.

But… I have some new surprises on the horizon. I don’t want to give too much away, but stay tuned next week for a very vintage hobby post, hopefully. I’m also going to the local renaissance festival this coming weekend, which is a lot of fun, and progressing with my aerial silks. So that will probably be posted as well in the coming weeks.

Cottage Herbalism

I don’t remember how I first learned about herbs and herbal remedies. Probably my mother made a tea of some sort. But at some point I developed an affinity for herbalism. I’ve taken a few classes, but am mostly a self-study, and at this point in my life, have settled into a kind of casual, cottage herbalism, as I like to call it. A kind of timeless healing that eschews potent herbs or attempts to break in and heal aggressively in favor of gentle remedies that supplement a healthy lifestyle and modern medicine when needed.

My favorite remedies are herbal teas. I often buy blends from Traditional Medicinals, although I dislike that they use stevia and liquorice to flavor many of their blends, so I also love the single-herb tea bags from Celebration Herbals and Alvita. I find that using simples (single herbs) to start is good to make sure you don’t have any adverse reactions. And a basic herbal book is nice to keep track of any obscure contraindications, like avoiding parsley and rosemary in medicinal quantities during pregnancy.

But my herbalism is relaxing and soothing. It is a cup of chamomile-lavender tea before bed to soothe strained nerves. It’s a brew of ginger root for an upset stomach or red clover, echinacea, honey, and lemon for a cold. I once developed a really nasty, flat-on-my-back-on-the-couch cold the day before an audition that I really, really wanted to go to. I drank echinacea, honey, and lemon tea 4-5 times that day and was easily well enough to audition.

From there, I occasionally turn to tinctures and extracts when I need a bit more support. My favorite company right now is called Urban Moonshine. They primarily make delicious herbal bitters, which I take to help digestion sometimes. They’re also tasty just added to a glass of sparkling water. But their tonics stand out to me. They keep their recipes simple and don’t use very potent herbs, but their Joy Tonic, a blend of linden, rose, and motherwort, helps balance me during the high stress times of my life.

I used to make some simple tinctures of my own, but I’ve fallen out of the habit. It’s not difficult, and you can use either fresh or dried herbs. The important part is to use a lot of herb, steep it for at least a month, and shake it often. A few years back, I made a set of tinctures that served most of my needs. Hypericum (St. John’s Wort) for low times, Viburnum (Crampbark) for PMS, and Leonurus (Motherwort) for stress. While I’ve largely replaced these with the Joy Tonic (and a little ginger tea for cramps), they served me well for a long time.

And, of course, I have my own Gardener’s Herbal Tea blend, which I haven’t drunk as faithfully, but may end up back in my morning routine. The nettles will help calm my sinuses, and the other herbs will support a rather frayed system from the stress of preparing for my show’s opening weekend.

Do any of you have favorite gentle herbal remedies? Anyone experiment with casual herbalism, rather than trying to be very medicinal about things?