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Natural Health

Better living through nature

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While living in Alaska I was introduced to chaga, Inonotus obliquus (pronounced chaw’-guh) which is a fungus that grows on living birch trees in the Northern Hemisphere. This shapeless black mass is approximately 10 to 30 feet up the trunk of an older tree. 

The fungus that grows on the tree is known as “clinker polypore” and has a black, burnt-looking exterior and rust red interior. Chaga’s can average 10 to 20 inches in diameter and may reach a weight of 30 to 35 pounds.

Indigenous peoples have been using chaga for its curative properties for centuries. Siberians used it in stews, soups and beverages to boost physical stamina and attain a long life. In ancient writing, Chaga is described as “gift of nature,” “diamond of the forest” and “King of the herbs,” due to its healing ability and high nutritional content.

Chaga is known for super-oxide dismutase, an enzyme that functions as a powerful antioxidant.  Another active ingredient is lanosterol, which helps the body rebuild cell membranes and supports the endocrine system. Yet another helpful constituent in chaga is the polysaccharide content which supports the immune system.

Chaga is harvested in cold regions like Siberia, Northern Canada, Alaska and Northern parts of the United States. Harvesting sustainably requires only the inner part of the plant be removed, not the entire conk. This ensures the continued growth of the fungus which protects the tree from damage and susceptibility to harmful infections.

Because chaga is a parasite of the birch tree, when the tree dies so does the fungi. This means that it must be harvested from living trees during the fall, when the trees have gathered water and nutrients for the winter. This is also when the nutritional value is the highest. Do not harvest when the sap starts running from the tree or in the summer months.

I purchase chaga from an Alaskan company that has sustainable harvest practices. Chaga can be ordered online in ground form or individual tea bags.

lemon in chaga tea

Refreshing & Healthy Chaga Iced Tea Recipe

1. Put 1 teaspoon of chaga in a tea strainer and steep in boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. Or steep a tea bag with chaga.

2. Pour over ice. Add lemon and honey or peach slices and a bit of peach juice for additional flavor.

Desiree Bell’s inspiration comes from botanicals and natural materials. She is a vegetarian who has a certificate in herbal studies and a certificate from Australasian College of Health Sciences in Aromatherapy. Follow her on Facebook at Beyond A Garden.


putting on bug spray

Photo by iStock

Summer means spending plenty of time outdoors and in the garden. It also means the height of bug-bite season. Many commercial repellents include DEET, a chemical with a questionable health safety profile. Fortunately, making your own natural repellent is a simple process, and can also be made alcohol-free for those with sensitivities. 

Make your own using this Natural Insect Repellent Recipe.

If you’d prefer to buy a natural repellent, try these effective products:

Lafe’s Organic Insect Repellent

Lafe's Insect Repellent


Developed to deter mosquitoes and ticks, Lafe’s oil-based, cruelty-free formula employs geranium, cedar and lemongrass essential oils to ward off bugs.

Buy Lafe's organic repellent: $9

Photo courtesy Lafe's Organic





Herbal Insect Repellent Spray

Meow Meow Tweet


Meow Meow Tweet’s vegan, handcrafted spray combines essential oils and skin toners for a nontoxic blend that’s safe for everyone.

Buy Meow Meow Tweet's spray: $8

Photo courtesy Meow Meow Tweet





Bug-Bouncer Concentrated Repellent

Bug Bouncer

With 30 years of road-testing to its name, Bug-Bouncer contains ultra-effective, potent essential oils.

Buy Bug-Bouncer: $10

Photo courtesy Bug Bouncer

Bite & Burn Spray

Fat and the Moon


Treat bites (as well as minor burns) with Fat and the Moon’s Bite & Burn Spray, which uses yarrow, witch hazel and tea tree oil to disinfect and promote healing.

Buy Fat and the Moon's spray: $10

Photo courtesy Fat and the Moon





Bug Soother

Bug Soother


Simply Soothing’s Bug Soother repels a range of insects, from mosquitoes to sand fleas. Its castor-oil formula is safe for adults, kids and even animals.

Buy Simply Soothing repellent: $4

Photo courtesy Simply Soothing


person putting on bug spray 

Photo by Fotolia/Maridav

Natural Insect Repellent Recipe

This formulation is safe for pregnant and lactating women, children 3 years and older, and those with sensitive skin. Its delicate floral-green scent appeals to everyone except bugs. This version uses oil as its base ingredient, which leaves skin feeling velvety-soft and nongreasy. Organic soybean oil has natural bug-repellent properties, but you can substitute any lightweight base oil.

Caution: Use one of the two species of eucalyptus essential oil specified. Do not use other species of eucalyptus.


• 16 drops each of the following essential oils: lavender, geranium, eucalyptus (species radiata or smithii)
• 1⁄2 cup organic soybean base oil
• 4-ounce spritzer, pump or squeeze bottle


1. Add essential oils to storage bottle, then add soybean oil. Screw on top and shake vigorously.

2. Allow spray to synergize for 1 hour.

3. Store at room temperature, away from heat and light; use within 1 year.

Application: Shake well before using. Put a bit of this formula on your palms, then massage it onto areas that need protection. If skin feels greasy after application, you’ve used too much. Reapply as needed.

Note: To make a lighter-textured version, which some people prefer, especially in hot, humid climates, replace the soybean oil with a combination of 1⁄2 teaspoon each liquid castile soap (peppermint- or eucalyptus-scented) and vegetable glycerin, and 1⁄4  cup each purified water and unflavored vodka. Reapply this version every 20 to 30 minutes.

Excerpted from Naturally Bug-Free by Stephanie Tourles with permission of Storey Publishing.



Photo by iStock

Studies on botanical medicines abound, but often get mixed results. This is frequently because the wrong part of the plant or the wrong preparation is used in the study. Occasional studies compare use of botanical therapies with conventional therapies. I’d say, overall, they come out to be comparable or better. One such study, published in the journal Clinical Interventions of Aging in 2014, compared the use of turmeric to ibuprofen. In the study, 367 patients with knee osteoarthritis pain that scored five or higher (out of 10) and were 50 or older were randomly given ibuprofen (1,200 mg a day) or Curcuma domestica (turmeric) extracts (1,500 mg a day) for four weeks. They were measured throughout the study on pain qualification measurements, as well as walking distance measurements to evaluate pain, stiffness and function. The study found the turmeric extracts equally effective as the ibuprofen; however, the ibuprofen had more side effects such as abdominal pain. Ibuprofen also carries known risks of kidney damage and other side effects that turmeric does not have. Turmeric can be supplemented in a variety of ways, as well—it can be eaten; mixed into drinks called “golden milks;” and taken in capsules, tinctures and much more. I like to mix the powder with fresh-squeezed lemon juice and honey and eat a teaspoon of it a couple of times a day. Preparation does matter with herbs, and turmeric is better absorbed if it is eaten or ingested with things like fat, lecithin, black pepper or other spices. (This goes to show that Indian cuisine is practically a food pharmacy.)


people exercising 

Photo by iStock

Insurance coverage of complementary health approaches is complex and confusing—so much so that it’s almost impossible to make any general statements about it. Coverage may vary greatly depending on state laws, regulations and differences among specific insurance plans. If you would like to use a complementary approach and you’re wondering whether your health insurance will cover it, it’s a good idea to do some investigating. Contacting your health insurance provider is a good way to start.

Reprinted from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.


Yeast infections are very common. So common, in fact, that 75 percent of women will have one at some point in their life. Most vaginal yeast infections are caused by Candida albicans, an organism that feeds on sugar and yeast, and unbalanced pH levels. If you’re prone to yeast infections, or UTIs, you’re not alone and can do a number of things to avoid them.

I’ll keep this short and sweet. Follow these five recommendations and you’ll be much less likely to ever worry about vaginal health, again.

probiotics for women's health

Take a high potency vaginal probiotic. If you’re like me, you like chocolate and sweets sometimes. Well ladies, we can’t eat sugar without taking a probiotic because sugar feeds yeast. So, if you don’t take a probiotic to help battle the yeast—the yeast will get out of control. I am absolutely not a pill or supplement person, but I always take a probiotic; it is a necessity. A quality vaginal probiotic, one with acidophilis (and, no, yogurt is not enough) maintains a healthy bacterial balance in your yoni and urinary tract.

Garden of Life RAW Probiotics Vaginal Care 50 Billion is my favorite. If I go more than five days without it, my body tells me to bring it back. Note: These particular probiotics do require refrigeration. When I go on vacation, I have a shelf stable probiotic with me at all times and Health Force Friendly Force is a good one. Healthy Force is primarily for gut health, but it’s good to change things up sometimes. However, any quality, high-potency, shelf stable acidophilis will do on the road.

No more polyester pants. I don’t care how great they may make you look, your yoni needs to breath. Wear only natural, breathable under garments and pants. When you can, go commando. Yep, I did just say that.

girls eating watermelon
Photo by Fotolia/Jacob Lund.

Nourish your body. Eat living fruits and vegetables. Drink lots of pure water. Avoid processed foods and sugary beverages.

Avoid things that may disrupt your body’s natural pH balance. Do not douche, use scented tampons or yeast infection bombs, and stay away from unnecessary antibiotics. These things are sure-fire ways to change the healthy balance of organisms in your vagina.

Since summer is a prime season for developing yeast infections, a super-simple way to keep irritation at bay is to change into dry clothing as soon as possible after you sweat or go swimming. Easy-peasy loves!

Find more information about treating embarrassing health conditions, natural remedies for yeast infections and UTIs, and learn more about candida to keep your body happy and healthy.

Shar VedaShar Veda, Southern Oregon’s Premier Alternative Therapist, offers deep healing through loving touch and compassionate counsel. She is an Ayurveda Lifestyle Counselor & Health Educator, yoga therapist and herbalist. Shar has been blessed to study with leading teachers in Ayurveda, Yoga, and herbalism for 20 years. However, it was her adopted grandma, Doe (English-American and Blackfoot Native), who instilled within her profound appreciation for the supreme power of loving touch, healing arts, and world family. Visit her website for a video, full bio, and photos or find her on Facebook and Instagram!


Massage is seen as a luxury we participate in during vacation or on a special occasion. However, according to Allied Health Schools,  massage dates all the way back to 2700 BC and was originally used in medicine.

My husband and I book a couple’s massage about twice a year. Being that I am a type 1 diabetic, I couldn’t help but notice that my blood sugar was usually lower after a session. At first, I believed it to be coincidence, but decided to pay closer attention the next time. When my blood sugar dropped 54 points after a 60 minute, deep tissue massage, I was fascinated and began to read into it.

woman getting a massage
Photo by Fotolia/Rido.

10 Benefits of Massage for Diabetics

1. Medline states that massage controls and reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, which diabetics tend to have an excess of. Cortisol raises blood sugar and decreases insulin sensitivity, and massage counteracts this.

2. In the same Medline study, type 1 diabetic children were given daily, full body massages by their parents. The average blood sugar numbers decreased from 158 mg/dl to 118 mg/dl (that’s milligrams of sugar per deciliter of blood if you’re lucky enough to not be familiar with diabetes!)

3. Depression is highly prevalent among diabetics, so the relaxing nature of massage and acupressure can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

4. Massage Magazine notes that 6 weeks of acupressure, along with breathing exercises, can reduce blood sugar, anxiety, headaches, anger, depression and stress,  along with improving sleep and relationships.

5. Massaging injection sites can increase insulin absorption.

6. Circulation is improved, delivering more oxygen to the tissues, benefiting overall well-being and preventing neuropathy. When blood is flowing better, the body uses insulin more efficiently.

7. Diabetes thickens tissues  and can cause stiffness in muscles, which decreases mobility over time. Making massage a regular part of your routine will not only prevent this, but help treat it.

8. The average reduction of blood sugar after a Swedish massage is about 20-40 mg/dl.

9. Diabetics can experience increased pain and Fibromyalgia, which massage can relieve.

10. Digestion can be improved, helping calm a variety of gastric issues.

There is enough evidence to call for controlled scientific studies that prove the efficacy of massage as a part of medical care. Let’s face it, most of us don’t have the money to head to the nearest spa every week for a rub down.  Until a day that certain spa treatments are covered by insurance, there remain ways to access the benefits now.

Alternative Care Facilities

Alternative care centers focus on natural interventions before they tell their patients to start throwing back the pills, which can actually make things worse. I have done a lot of research on alternative treatment centers, particularly the Progressive Medical Center in Atlanta. They incorporate a list of natural approaches to treat disease and search for the root of the problem. Although they do not specifically treat diabetes with methods such as massage, they use it along with acupuncture and chiropractic care to treat symptoms such as pain. These methods also support a healthy nervous system, which aids diabetics. I highly recommend visiting Progressive, or somewhere similar if you aren’t close to Atlanta.

Karyn WoffordKaryn Wofford is a type 1 diabetic, EMT and Certified Wellness Specialist. For years she has educated herself on wellness and natural, wholesome living. Karyn’s goal is to help people be the healthiest they can be while living fun, happy lives.

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