Massage & Yoga

Improving overall health, vitality, and lifestyle through the integration of Massage Therapy and the practice of Yoga

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Peppermint and The Candy Cane

Peppermint Candy Canes

With the onset of the Holidays, one can see decorations popping up everywhere. A common sight among the many lights and ornaments is the candy cane. These peppermint treats have a history that dates back nearly 400 years. Many urban legends surround the significance of the candy cane. The most popular tells of the candy maker in Indiana who created the J-shaped treat to symbolize the first letter of Jesus. He claimed the red and white stripes were to signify the scourging of Jesus at the pillar. This is truly urban legend because candy canes have been around since long before the state of Indiana. Originally all white in color, candy canes didn't take on the barber pole red stripes until the early 20th century. The crooked shape is said to have been adopted to symbolize the staff of a shepherd and to make them easier to hang on trees during Christmas time. Another legend tells of the Bishop of Cologne in 1670 who handed them out to children to keep them quiet in church. No matter whether fact or fiction, the candy cane has become part of our tradition. The reason behind its peppermint flavor however, may have more significance than mere legend.
Peppermint is a hybrid of the spearmint plant which was originally used in ancient times as a relief for stomach and digestive disorders. A sprig of spearmint was often consumed following meals to insure proper digestion. Ancient sailors used it to combat sea sickness. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all revered this plant and used it for a number of reasons including hangovers, a preservative for milk, and a cure for hiccups. At some point in the past, two varieties of spearmint were bred together to yield a stronger tasting mint and thus "pepper" mint was born. Commonly, the natural oil from the plant is extracted before it is used. Since ancient times much has been written about the uses of peppermint oil. Physicians and herbalist have touted the benefits of peppermint oil for centuries claiming cures for colds, headache, gout, venereal disease and colic. The one thing that seems to be commonly agreed upon though is its ability to soothe the muscles of the digestive tract.
By the late 19th century, the Eclectic physicians who predate today's modern naturopaths, began using a distilled form of peppermint known as menthol. Menthol contains germicidal properties as well as strong anesthetic uses. They would often apply it externally to cuts, burns, stings, hives, and toothaches. The Eclectics also used menthol as an inhalant and chest rub to relieve cold symptoms, asthma, allergies, and morning sickness. Today's herbalists and naturopaths recommend peppermint externally for itching and inflammation as well as internally for digestive disorders, morning sickness, menstrual cramps, colds, cough, headache, heartburn and fever. As with any treatment, please use your best judgment and consult your healthcare provider prior to starting any therapy.
So there it is. The peppermint candy cane really does have more to offer than a mere holiday confection or decoration. They not only look attractive on your tree but they help settle your stomach after those big holiday meals. As for the urban legends surrounding its origin, that is best left to your own interpretation. Have a blessed and joyous Holiday Season!!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cinammon Packs a Punch

For anyone who bakes, you know that cinnamon is a common ingredient used to add a warm, spicy flavor. What you may not know is that cinnamon possesses some remarkable properties that ancient Chinese and Indian healers discovered as early as 2700 B.C. Over the centuries, cinnamon has been used to treat a variety of illnesses and ailments including stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, uterine cramps, infant colic, and flatulence. Originally grown in southern Asia and Ceylon (Sri Lanka), early travelers first brought cinnamon to Egypt, where its preservative power was used in their embalming recipe. The phenols in cinnamon inhibit the growth of bacteria responsible for decay. Later the Romans found it useful as a spice, a perfume, and a treatment for indigestion. Pliny the Elder wrote in the first century A.D., that 350 grams of cinnamon was worth over five kilograms of silver. As an aside, Emperor Nero; after murdering his wife, ordered that a year's supply of cinnamon be burned as a sign of remorse. You can see that cinnamon was a prized possession among the ancient cultures.

In more recent times, it was discovered to be a powerful antiseptic which explains why it is found in toothpaste and dental floss. It has also been found to kill a number of disease causing bacteria including those that cause urinary tract and vaginal yeast infections. Its antiseptic power has also been tested on minor cuts and scrapes. Perhaps the best known benefit of cinnamon is its ability to aid in the digestion of high fat treats such as cakes, cookies, and ice cream. Put in more medical terms, it boosts the release of an enzyme called trypsin in the digestive tract, which breaks down fats. More recent studies have shown that cinnamon enhances the ability of insulin to metabolize glucose, helping to control blood sugar levels. Despite the fact that these studies have not yet been tested on humans, many diabetics are adding a 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon to their daily diet, proclaiming favorable results. By aiding the effectiveness of their insulin, diabetics can help prevent the onset of coronary artery disease and high blood pressure. Lastly, a study by Alan Hirsch, M.D. at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago found cinnamon scored high as an aphrodisiac for males. Your results may vary.

Try this soothing Cinnamon infusion recipe:
3 sticks Cinnamon
6 Cloves
Small peice of dry Ginger (not powder)
1 ball of Nutmeg
2 tbsp Anise

Boil a teapot of water and add ingredients. Simmer for 10 minutes. Before serving, add some Pine Nuts and Walnuts and a dash of Brown Sugar to taste. This will make your house smell wonderful and inviting as well as providing you with a relaxing and warming drink.

One word of warning about the use of cinnamon is that it should not be confused with cinnamon oil. The oil extract from cinnamon bark and twigs is quite potent and can cause irritation and redness when applied to the skin. Do not ingest the oil either because it can cause nausea, vomiting, and possibly kidney damage. Stick to using cinnamon powder in culinary doses. If you are pregnant or nursing, check with your doctor about safe amounts to use.