Eco-Friendly Holiday Celebration Ideas

When you ponder the idea of making their holiday season (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or any other) an eco-friendlier one, there are ways to achieve your goal. You could debate that most modern traditions do some harm to the environment in some manner – no matter how small. But if you look into the ‘roots’ of your yearly celebration you can find inspiration. This article mainly focuses on Christmas, but many other celebrations incorporate a few basic types of items.

Greenery – Holly, Mistletoe, Wreaths, and Trees
Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. In many ancient cultures boughs and holly where hung over doors and windows, in hopes that the branches would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness. In the Northern hemisphere, ancient peoples celebrated the winter solstice, and evergreen boughs symbolized the greenery that would return in the summer months as the sun regained its strength after becoming weak and sick. The Egyptians filled their homes with green palm rushes which symbolized for them the triumph of life over death when Ra, their sun god, began to recover from the illness.

Early Romans marked the winter solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, their god of agriculture. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs and holly and holly wreaths as a form of decoration and also gave them as gifts. The Druids, the priests of the ancient Celts, also decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life. The Vikings thought that evergreens were the special plant of their sun god, Balder.

Mistletoe was once held sacred by the Norse, Celtic Druids and North American Indians. Mistletoe was seen as a representation of divine male essence (and thus romance, fertility and vitality). The plant also was thought to be a symbol of peace, and anyone standing below it should receive tokens of affection. When enemies met beneath mistletoe, they had to lay down their weapons and observe a truce until the next day. This is how the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe likely began, and why a ball of mistletoe is now hung in homes during Christmas, a season of peace and affection.

Those who hang real mistletoe and holly around their homes should be mindful of pets and children. Mistletoe and holly are considered to be moderately to severely toxic, and ingesting the leaves could be dangerous. Mistletoe is commonly hung up high, but holly should be hung high as well. Early Christians also participated in the tradition of hanging holly on their homes to appear like the masses. Eventually as the number of Christians grew, the tradition became less of a pagan one and more associated with Christians and Christmas. Some people have inferred that holly and its prickly edges is symbolic of the crown of thorns Jesus wore at his crucifixion, with the red berries representing blood. Wreaths, although used all year long, are also connected with the pagan holiday of Yule, marking the winter solstice, which was celebrated by ancient Germanic and Scandinavian peoples. This 12-day festival was held to honor the returning of the sun and the seasonal cycle. The wreaths used during Yule were meant to symbolize nature and the promise of spring. They held candles that were lit in hopes of the return of the warmth and the sunlight.

Christmas wreaths are made by twisting or bending evergreen branches, thought to have been left over after shaping a tree to fit inside a house, into a large circle which are then decorated with pinecones and a red bow. A wreath’s circular shape is said to symbolize eternal life and the unending love of God. In the 16th century, the use of wreaths during Yule was adopted by Christians and became a custom in the form of Advent Wreaths. These wreaths were traditionally made of evergreens, which also symbolize eternal life, holly oak, and red berries. The red berries and the thorny leaves of the holly oak represented the crown of thorns worn by Jesus and the drops of blood that they drew. The Advent Wreath is meant to hold four candles, three purple and one pink. The first candle to be lit during Advent is meant to symbolize hope and is a purple one called the Prophecy Candle. On the second Sunday of Advent, another purple candle, called the Bethlehem Candle, is lit. It symbolizes love to some and the manger of Jesus to others. The pink candle, called the Shepherd Candle, represents joy and is lit on the third Sunday of Advent. Peace is represented by the Angel Candle, which is the final purple candle and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent. Sometimes, a fifth white candle is added to the center of the wreath. This is referred as the Christ Candle, and it’s lit on Christmas Eve. These candles symbolize the coming of the light of Christ. Today, a wreath that’s hanging on the door at Christmas may symbolize the invitation of Jesus into one’s home, or it may be inviting the spirit of Christmas into the home along with good luck.

Some early Christian across many parts of northern Europe, also adopted the use of evergreen, cherry, and hawthorn trees. The evergreen tree was viewed as a sign of everlasting life with God. It is thought that around 1000 years ago in Northern Europe the fir tree was first used as Christmas trees. Many of these trees seem to have been hung upside down from the ceiling using chains. The cherry and hawthorn plants (or a branch of the plant) were put into pots and brought inside so they would hopefully flower at Christmas time. If one couldn’t afford a real plant, people made pyramids of woods that were decorated to look like a tree using paper, apples and candles. Sometimes they were carried around from house to house, rather than being displayed in a home.

It’s possible that the wooden pyramid trees were meant to be like Paradise Trees. These were used in medieval German Mystery or Miracle Plays that were acted out in front of Churches on Christmas Eve. In early church calendars of saints, 24th December was Adam and Eve’s day. The Paradise Tree represented the Garden of Eden. It was often paraded around the town before the play started, as a way of advertising the play. The plays told Bible stories to people who could not read.

The first documented use of a tree at Christmas and New Year celebrations is argued between the cities of Tallinn in Estonia and Riga in Latvia. Both claim that they had the first trees; Tallinn in 1441 and Riga in 1510. Both trees were put up by the ‘Brotherhood of Blackheads’ which was an association of local unmarried merchants, ship owners, and foreigners in Livonia.

Little is known about either tree apart from that they were put in the town square, were danced around by the Brotherhood of Blackheads and were then set on fire. This is like the custom of the Yule Log. The word used for the ‘tree’ could also mean a mast or pole, tree might have been like a ‘Paradise Tree’ or a tree-shaped wooden candelabra rather than a ‘real’ tree.

A picture from Germany in 1521 which shows a tree being paraded through the streets with a man riding a horse behind it. This man is dressed as a bishop, possibly representing Saint Nicholas of Myra, also known as Nicholas of Bari. He was an early Christian bishop of the ancient Greek maritime city of Myra in Asia Minor during the time of the Roman Empire. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students in various cities and countries around Europe. His reputation evolved among the faithful and his legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus.

The first printed reference to Christmas trees appeared in Germany in 1531. In 1584, the historian Balthasar Russow wrote about a tradition, in Riga, of a decorated fir tree in the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame”. There’s a record of a small tree in Bremen, Germany from 1570. It is described as a tree decorated with “apples, nuts, dates, pretzels and paper flowers”. It was displayed in a ‘guild-house’ (the meeting place
for a society of businessmen in the city).

Germany is credited with starting the modern Christmas tree tradition during the 16th century. Devout Christians-primarily Lutherans, Presbyterians and Roman Catholics-brought decorated trees into their homes. One of several legends state that it was the German preacher and Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, who was the first to bring a tree into the home and place candles in its branches. It goes: one night before Christmas, he was walking through the forest and looked up to see the stars shining through the tree branches. It was so beautiful, that he went home and told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas. However, the custom of having Christmas trees could have easily traveled along the Baltic sea, from Latvia to Germany. In the 1400s and 1500s, the countries were then part of two larger empires which were neighbors.

In Germany, the first Christmas Trees were decorated with edible things, such as gingerbread and gold covered apples. Then glass makers made special small ornaments similar to some of the decorations used today. In 1605 an unknown German wrote: “At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlors of Strasbourg and hang thereon roses cut out of many-colored paper, apples, wafers, gold foil, sweets, etc.” At first, a figure of the Baby Jesus was put on the top of the tree. Over time it changed to an angel/fairy that told the shepherds about Jesus, or a star like the Wise Men saw. The Christmas tree made its way to North America following the German immigration patterns in the 1700s. They brought with them many of the things associated with Christmas-Advent calendars, gingerbread houses, cookies and Christmas trees. The trees weren’t well received due to entrenched cultural attitudes, and a fear that a leisurely celebration such as Christmas would reduce labor productivity. In fact, in 1621 Puritan governor William Bradford wrote that he tried to stamp out the “pagan mockery” of the Christmas tree, arguing that it promoted excess and lacked any origin in Scripture. A few years later, the Puritans of New England made observation of the holiday illegal, and if anyone was caught celebrating they would have to pay a fine.

The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event.” In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued until the early 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy. But even then, New Englanders sustained their disdain for the Christmas tree and the holiday, to the point that carolers would be prosecuted for “disturbing the peace.

The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.

The first Christmas trees came to Britain sometime in the 1830s. They became very popular in 1841, when Prince Albert had a Christmas Tree set up in Windsor Castle. In 1848, drawing of “The Queen’s Christmas tree at Windsor Castle” was published in the Illustrated London News. The drawing was republished in Godey’s Lady’s Book, Philadelphia in December. The publication of the drawing helped Christmas Trees become popular in the UK and USA. Live Christmas trees have been sold commercially in the United States since about 1850. The first Christmas tree retail lot in the United States was started by Mark Carr in New York, in 1851. In 1856 Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States, was the first President to place a Christmas tree in the White House.

Real Trees
Today 98% of real Christmas trees are grown on farms; whereas only 2% are cut from the wild. To ensure enough trees for harvest, growers plant one to three seedlings for every tree harvested. More than 2,000 trees are usually planted per acre. On average 1,000-1,500 of these trees will survive. Almost all trees require shearing to attain the Christmas tree shape. It takes six to ten years for a tree to attain a ready to harvest height of six to seven feet. Growing Christmas trees provides a habitat for wildlife. Christmas trees can remove dust and pollen from the air. An acre of Christmas trees provides the daily oxygen requirements of 18 people. The most popular trees are: Scotch pine, Douglas fir, noble fir, Fraser fir, balsam fir, Virginia pine and white pine.

Most Christmas trees are cut weeks before they get to a retail outlet. It is important to keep them watered thoroughly when they reach the home. In the first week, a Christmas tree in the home will consume as much as a quart of water per day to prevent them from drying out. Live Christmas trees are involved in less than one-tenth of one percent of residential fires, and mostly when ignited by some external ignition sources. The major factors involved in Christmas tree fires are electrical problems, decorative lights, candles, and a heat source too close to the tree.

93% of real Christmas tree consumers recycle their tree in community recycling programs, their garden or backyard. In the United States, there are more than 4,000 Christmas tree recycling programs. Recycled real Christmas trees have been used to make sand and soil erosion barriers and been placed in ponds for fish shelter. Cook County, IL uses old Christmas trees to rebuild housing structures for natural wildlife that has been destroyed through development.

You should not burn your Christmas tree in the fireplace as it can contribute to creosote buildup. However, it can be burned in a brush pile for fertilizer. When placed outside in the backyard it can naturally decay while providing a habitat for numerous small creatures, birds, and mushrooms. It can be ground up in a chipper and used for mulch. Also, they can be chopped up and crafted into any number of wooden objects, such as boxes and jewelry.

Artificial Trees
Artificial Christmas trees were developed in Germany during the 19th century and later became popular in the United States. These “trees” were made using goose feathers that were dyed green and attached to wire branches. The wire branches were then wrapped around a central dowel rod that acted as the trunk. In the Edwardian period Christmas trees made from colored ostrich feathers were popular at ‘fashionable’ parties.

Around 1900 there was even a short fashion for white tree. In 1930 the U.S.-based Addis Brush Company created the first artificial Christmas tree made from brush bristles. The company used the same machinery that it used to manufacture toilet brushes, but they were dyed green. Artificial Christmas trees made largely from aluminum were first manufactured in Chicago in 1958. Over the years, artificial trees have been made from feathers, papier mâché, metal, glass, and many different types of plastic.

Today, most artificial Christmas trees are made from PVC plastic. PVC trees are fire-retardant but not fire-resistant. Eighty percent of artificial trees worldwide are now manufactured in China. Artificial trees will last for an average six years of use, but for centuries in a landfill. They can be resold or donated when no longer of used to a home. One can also up-cycle them into small bits of greenery for other decorations.

Living Trees
A live tree can be a beautiful home accessory while serving as a decorating centerpiece for the holiday season. While there are plenty of uses for cut trees, a living Christmas tree can either be used year after year, or it can be planted in the yard to supply shade and wildlife habitat, and act as a living windbreak for decades to come.

A few things to consider before buying a living tree include: where to plant it-in a pot or yard, looking for varieties that are well-suited to one’s local climate, specific soil type, and level of sun exposure where it will eventually be placed. Different tree types required different care. If one doesn’t have a location suitable for planting a living Christmas tree, one can still buy and enjoy it during the holidays if there are friends, family, or community organizations that has a place to plant it afterward. Keep in mind that there are other varieties of trees that could be used instead of the traditional firs that can live year-round indoors, such as the Norfolk Pine.

A potted Christmas tree can be kept in its pot and moved outside to live after the holidays, and then brought inside each year for the festivities, but will require a fair bit more care than one that gets planted outside. It will dry out faster than one in the soil, so regular watering is a necessity, as is periodic re-potting to a larger container to allow for growth. And, since the roots are above ground may mean that additional protection is required in cold climates.

Before transferring the tree from different environments, one will want to allow the tree to acclimate slowly, with the general recommendation being to place the tree in an unheated but sheltered location, such as a garage, for a week or two. During this time, the roots of the tree should remain damp but not soaking, so periodic watering may be necessary. Also, a living Christmas tree is much heavier than a cut tree.

When picking the location for the tree in the home, try to choose a place that isn’t directly exposed to warm air from heaters or vents, or selectively close nearby dampers to avoid large temperature swings in that room. A cooler location is better than a warm one, and one with plenty of natural light is preferred. Water the living tree regularly according to species. Any dampness or overflow can be stopped by either placing a large saucer underneath, it or by wrapping the pot in plastic.

To water the tree slowly so that the soil can absorb it, use ice cubes. Depending on the size of the pot, anywhere from one to three trays of ice cubes can be placed on the surface of the soil, where they will melt and gradually water the tree. Covering the soil with mulch can also help keep it from drying out as quickly.

Decorate a living Christmas tree gently, and take care not to hang heavy ornaments on branches that may get damaged because of the weight. While the older incandescent Christmas lights put out too much heat to string on a living tree, many of today’s cooler LED strands can be used to light the tree, but be sure to plug them in and check the operating temperature before stringing them up.

The general guidelines on keeping a living Christmas tree indoors is to limit it to a week to ten days maximum, after which the tree should be moved back to an unheated yet sheltered transition location for at least a few days. If the ground is frozen, the tree can be moved to an outside location that is sheltered from direct winds until planted permanently. If the ground isn’t frozen, the tree can be planted outdoors as per the specific planting instructions for that variety, and the soil should be well-mulched as protection from the cold and to conserve moisture. For keeping a potted Christmas tree year-round, move it to a more permanent location with plenty of sun after the transition, where it can also benefit from a heavy mulch.

If all of this is not feasible one can always decorate a living tree that is already growing outside in one’s yard. The decorations need to be weather and wildlife friendly, such as pine cones, birdseed treats, small houses, nuts and fruits. It is within the Spirit of the Season to gift all creatures, not just fellow humans.

From Victorian times and through the early 20th century, rural Americans cut their trees in nearby forests. The tree would have been decorated with homemade ornaments made from paper, nuts, twigs, candy, and dried fruit, while the German-American sect continued to use primarily glass ornaments, apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn garlands were made after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts.

Candles were used to represent stars until the invitation of the electric lights which were seen to last longer and be less of a fire hazard. Thomas Edison’s assistant, Edward Johnson, came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees in 1882. Christmas tree lights were first produced in 1890 at a cost of $300. However, many rural areas were still without electric services. Despite these setbacks Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition. In 1900, large stores started to erect big illuminated Christmas trees. The first commercially available electric string of lights, were advertised in 1903 when a string of 24 lights cost $12 or one could rent lights from $1.50. In 1917 Albert Sadacca thought of using the lights in long strings and painting the bulbs bright colors like red and green.

Tinsel and The Christmas Spider
There are stories from Eastern Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Finland and Scandinavia about how tinsel was created by the Christmas spider. In some of the tales a tree grows from a pine cone inside a house of a pauper. When the children of the household go to sleep on Christmas Eve a spider covers the tree in cobwebs. Then on Christmas morning the cobwebs are magically turned into silver and gold strands which decorate the tree. Some versions of the story say that it’s the light of the sun which changed the cobwebs into silver and gold but other versions say it’s St Nicholas.

To this day in parts of Germany, Poland, and Ukraine it’s meant to be good luck to find a spider or a spider’s web on the Christmas tree. Spider’s web decorations are also popular in Ukraine. These decorations are normally made of paper and silver wire. Beaded spiders are popular in the United States.

Tinsel is a type of decorative material that mimics the effect of ice, consisting of thin strips of sparkling material attached to a thread. Modern tinsel was invented in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1610, and was originally made of thin strips of beaten silver. Because silver tarnishes quickly, other shiny metals were often substituted. It was used to represent the starry sky over the Nativity.

Before the 19th century, tinsel was used for adorning sculptures rather than Christmas trees. Eventually, it was added to Christmas trees to enhance the flickering of the candles on the tree. By the early 20th century, manufacturing advances allowed for a cheap aluminum-based tinsel to be made. Lead foil was a popular material for tinsel manufacture for several decades of the 20th century until 1971 when the FDA concluded it caused an unnecessary risk to children.

Today, tinsel is typically made from PVC film coated with a metallic finish. Coated Mylar film also has been used. These plastic forms of tinsel do not hang as well as tinsel made from heavy metals such as real silver and lead.

A Christmas stocking is an empty sock or sock-shaped bag that is hung on Saint Nicholas Day or Christmas Eve so that Saint Nicholas can fill it with small toys, candy, fruit, coins or other small gifts when he arrives.

The first stockings were children’s everyday socks, but eventually special Christmas stockings were created for this purpose. Stockings were traditionally used on Saint Nicholas Day although in the early 1800s, and then came to be used on Christmas Eve.

While there are no written records of the origin of the Christmas Stocking, there are popular legends that attempt to tell the history of this Christmas tradition. In some stories, the contents of the stocking are the only toys the child receives at Christmas from Santa Claus. In other stories, some presents are also wrapped up in wrapping paper and placed under the Christmas tree. Then, in others a child who behaves badly during the year is threatened that they will only receive only a piece or pile of coal. However, the gifts in the stocking is thought to originate from the life of Saint Nicholas, himself, as several folklore state.

One such legend has several variations, but the following is a good example: St. Nicholas wanted to help a poor family, but knew that the father wouldn’t accept charity. He decided to help in secret. After dark he threw three bags of gold through an open window, one landed in a stocking. When the family woke up the next morning they found the bags of gold and were, of course, overjoyed. The girls were able to get married and live happily ever after. Other versions of the story say that Saint Nicholas threw the three bags of gold directly into the stockings which were hung by the fireplace to dry. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so, the start of believing St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.

Candy Canes
According to a folklore, in 1670, in Cologne, Germany, the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral, wishing to remedy the noise caused by children in his church during the Living Crèche tradition of Christmas Eve, asked a local candy maker for some “sugar sticks” for them. In order to justify the practice of giving candy to children during worship services, he asked the candy maker to add a crook to the top of each stick, which would help children remember the shepherds who visited the infant Jesus. In addition, he used the white color of the converted sticks to teach children about the Christian belief in the sinless life of Jesus. From Germany, candy canes spread to other parts of Europe, where they were handed out during plays reenacting the Nativity. As such, according to this legend, the candy cane became associated with Christmastide. On Saint Nicholas Day celebrations, candy canes are given to children as they are also said to represent the crosier of the Christian bishop, Saint Nicholas; crosiers allude to the Good Shepherd, an epithet associated with Jesus.

A record of the 1837 Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, where confections were judged competitively, mentions “stick candy. A recipe for straight peppermint candy sticks, white with colored stripes, was published in 1844. The “candy cane” is found in literature in 1866, though no description of color or flavor was provided. The Nursery monthly magazine noted them in association with Christmas in 1874, and the Babyland magazine mentioned canes being hung on Christmas trees in 1882.


  • Twig wreath: Willow or any other flexible twig, root, vine, straw, grass, wire, cane or stems Directions: Start to weave the wreath by bending the twig into a loop. Hook both sides to secure. Add the next twig by hooking it into the loop. Gently bend the twig and guide it in and around the loop. Tuck the end into the loop to secure Add another twig and gently bend around the woven twigs. As one weaves the wreath it becomes more secure. Let the natural curves in the twigs guide the direction of the weave. Build up the twig wreath to have a secure and strong wreath. This is a great basic wreath design and ready to decorate. (For the wreath to look windblown add a few loosely woven twigs into the weave.)
  • Old Fashioned Cinnamon Clay Ornaments: 1 cup ground cinnamon, plus one tablespoon; 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg; 1 tablespoon ground cloves; 1/2 cup white all-purpose glue; 3/4 cup applesauce Directions: Combine 1 cup cinnamon with clove and nutmeg in a medium sized bowl. Stir well then add applesauce and glue. Mix by hand to form smooth, clay-like dough. Cover and let sit for an hour. Roll out the dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. (If the clay is too stiff, an extra tablespoon of applesauce will make it more pliable. If the dough is too wet, add cinnamon to absorb some of the moisture.) Cut out holiday shapes with cookie cutters. Dust with some extra cinnamon. Add a hole in the top (or on each hand of a gingerbread man) for a ribbon with a straw or toothpick. Lift shapes carefully with a spatula and place on a parchment paper cookie sheet. Bake at 200 degrees F for 2-3 hours until dry and hard. Tie with a ribbon and hang on the tree or a garland. DO NOT CONSUME!
  • Old Fashioned Holiday Garland: Cinnamon Clay Gingerbread Men Shaped Ornaments (or any shape preferred); Dried apple and orange slices; Twine. Directions: Thinly slice the apples and oranges. Place the fruit slices onto a cooling rack and set the rack into a warm oven (180 degrees F). Crack the oven door so the moisture from the fruits can escape. Leave the fruit slices in the oven until they have dried completely. While the fruit is drying, prepare the cinnamon clay ornaments. When the baking sheet is full of cookies, place it in the oven with the fruit slices. When the fruit slices and gingerbread men are dry, string them along the twine in a pattern of one’s choosing. (If one’s home cannot accommodate a garland, place the dried fruit and ornaments into a bowl with a handful of cinnamon sticks for a natural, spicy potpourri.)
  • Pinecone Birdseed Ornament: Several large pinecones; Crunchy peanut butter; Birdseed; String; Scissors; Butter knife; 2 or more plates (Allergy alert: Many people have allergies to nuts. If it isn’t safe for our family to use peanut butter, you can use vegetable shortening.) Directions: Check pinecones. If they’re tightly closed up, let them sit inside the house for several days so they can “bloom,” or bake them in a 300° oven for about 10 minutes to get them to open up. Attach a length of string to the tip. Pour birdseed onto a plate. Use a butter knife to spread peanut butter all over the pinecone. Be sure to get it into all the cracks and crevices to fully coat your pinecone in peanut butter. (A separate plate will contain some of the mess.) Roll the pinecone back and forth in the birdseed to completely cover it. Once it’s covered, press the birdseed into the peanut butter and roll some more. Press the birdseed into the peanut butter to help it stick. Once your pinecone is completely covered in birdseed, take it outside and find the perfect place to hang it.
  • Bread Birdseed Ornament: Stale bread; birdseed, nut pieces; small pieces of fruit; peanut butter, cookie cutters, string, knife. Directions: Cut bread into shapes using a cookie cutter. Spread a coat of peanut butter on one side of bread. Sprinkle a mixture of seeds, nuts, and fruit onto the bread. Repeat for other side. Poke a hole in the bread and add string. Hang on a tree.
  • Beeswax Candles: Makes 2 (12 oz) candles Equipment: double boiler, stove, wooden chopstick, pencil, scotch tape, oven. Ingredients: 1 lb beeswax; ½ cup coconut oil (melted); 1-2 tbsp essential oil; medium cotton wick with wick tabs attached; wick stickers; glass jars. Directions: Pick up your wick with wick tab attached and wick stickers. Pull one of the wick stickers off the roll and place it on the wick tab, then peel the paper off the exposed side of the wick sticker. Attach the wick to the bottom center of the jar. Melt wax and oil in a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, and bringing the water to a low simmer on your stove top. When the beeswax is melted, add essential oils. Stir the melted beeswax, coconut oil, and essential oils together with a wooden chop stick. Pour wax into the glass jars. Set the wick so that it’s in the center by placing a pencil across the jar and taping the wick to it. Place the candles in a warm area to harden, because if they cool too quickly the wax will sometimes crack. (Tip: Preheat oven to 170 degrees F while pouring the candles, then turn the oven off and place candles inside the oven.) Curing Beeswax Candles: Allow to cure for two days, then trim the wick to about 1/4 inch. Cleanup Tip: Since beeswax is usually difficult to remove from the item it was melted in, preheat oven to 200 degrees F, then turn it off and place the item inside. Within a few minutes, the wax is completely melted, making it easy to wipe away with paper towels. After that, just scrub with soap and water as usual. Burning Beeswax Candles: Allow candle to burn long enough so the wax melts out to the side of the jar. This helps to prevent tunneling.
  • Soy Wax Candles: Use 2 cups soy wax flakes for container candles. Follow above for beeswax, omitting the coconut oil. Cure time is overnight.
  • Peppermint Stick Candy (1921): 2 cups sugar; 1/2 cup water; l cup white corn syrup; Juice and rind of lemon; 1 teaspoon extract of peppermint. Directions: Place all together in a sauce pan. Boil without stirring until the crack stage or until a few drops become brittle in cold water. Remove from fire. Add 1 teaspoon extract of peppermint. Divide the candy in two parts and to one part add a little red vegetable coloring. Pour on buttered platters and when cool enough pull each separately then twist one around the other and form into canes sticks or cut into small pieces.

Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ
Jolene Griffiths

Randy Lee, ND, Owner, The Health Patch, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC 73130, phone/fax: 736-1030, e-mail: See our blogs and podcasts at Our full staff are now offering affordable private consultations – call to schedule yours!

When the Most Wonderful Time of the Year is Not Wonderful: A Holistic Approach to the Holidays

For many, the holidays bring family traditions, gathering of family, and sharing of gifts. But when the holidays bring more than a little stress it can often be a very difficult season. When feelings of depression and anxiety replace feelings of joy and happiness it can leave us feeling alone and isolated.

You Are Not Alone
Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from degrees of depression. For various reasons that could include a death in the family, divorce, or a change in finances, feelings of depression are deepened during the holidays. It is important to remember that we are not alone and there are steps that can be taken to make a difficult season a little lighter.

A Holistic Approach

  • Diet—Tis the season for sugar but try to limit the amount of sugar intake. Stable blood sugar can mean a stable mood.
  • Exercise—Even a gentle walk can improve mood by releasing endorphins. It can also be a time to work through the emotions.
  • Talk—Talk to someone you can trust. Talking through our feelings can help us see expectations we may be placing on ourselves. We could gain a new perspective.
  • Supplements—Taking a good multi-vitamin during times of stress can help our body from becoming depleted of important nutrition. Vitamin D is particularly helpful during the winter months when we don’t get outside as often.

Uplifting Aromatherapy
The brain has a more direct connection with the sense of smell than any other of our senses. The sense of smell is tied to the limbic system, the part of the brain associated with emotions and is responsible for alerting us to danger and creating positive or negative feelings. Different scents will determine a reaction in this emotional part of the brain which in turn affects the release of neurotransmitters. Smelling an essential oil can affect our emotional state faster than anything we can ingest. Here are some Essential Oils that can be very uplifting:

  • Frankincense—This oil is so closely related to Christmas as it was one of the gifts brought to Mary and Joseph after the birth of Jesus.  This oil is refreshing, uplifting and helps ease muscle tension related to stress. 
  • Myrrh—Another gift brought to Jesus, Myrrh helps a person to find inner peace and stillness when feeling anxious.
  • Patchouli—This oil is very helpful during time of over-thinking and worry.
  • Helichrysum—Very helpful when one feels emotionally stuck
  • Bergamot—Uplifting and refreshing
  • Lemon Balm—Uplifting, helping to lift depression
  • Clary Sage—Particularly helpful for women, this oil helps balance the nervous system.

Remember, it is OK if this is NOT the most wonderful time of the year. You are not alone and there are proactive steps to take to help this be a more uplifting time.

Health and Blessings,
Kimberly Anderson, ND

Randy Lee, ND, Owner, The Health Patch, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC 73130, phone/fax: 736-1030, e-mail: See our blogs and podcasts at Our full staff are now offering affordable private consultations – call to schedule yours!

Uplift Humanity in the Holidays

I am unabashedly Christian. But I am a citizen of the world and have noted that virtually every nationality, culture, religion and human endeavor has at least one holiday this time of the year. So we’d like to think that it is both proper and desirable to use this season of the year to uplift all our brothers and sisters in this world we share together, and it should be easier this time of year to set aside our differences and celebrate our commonalities. I’ve traveled much of the world and find that when we get down to one-on-one we share many common interests: the love of food, family and fun; the desire to live in peace and pursue our dreams; a desire to enjoy, protect and care for the earth on which we share our limited span of days; and the enjoyment of sharing what we have with those around us. So this month we are spotlighting our “alikeness.” Here are some things we may consider:

Holiday foods are special in every culture. They usually include things we may only enjoy once a year. I have another blog that gives you the ingredients and preparation for Wassail or Mulled cider that we enjoy in our home. Lebkuchens from Germany are favorites; we enjoyed Baklava in Greece and Turkey; we love buttered yams and citrus fruits we get from friends from Ghana; Luqaimat (a honey drizzled dumpling) from Saudi Arabia is delightful; I enjoyed Red Papaya for breakfast every morning in Thailand; and my American list of favorites is myriad! Every country and every culture has its delights and I’m a “foody” and would love to try them all.

Because the holidays are often associated with events with family and friends, it may often be a difficult time for many as well. Those with recent losses of family members, close friends, jobs, resources, and other meaningful things in their lives may need a special lift at this time of year. You can do tremendous good by being sensitive to these folks. Visit a nursing home with just cookies and Time to Talk and Listen! My first gift to each grandchild every year is a card telling them a goat has been given to a woman in a third world country in their name. It is the most important gift I give them! Practice and teach charity as a way of life.

Learn to be a good caretaker of our planet. Make “earth-friendly” a way of life. If you use live trees, get one with roots and plant it after the holidays. If yours was cut down, chip it up after the holidays and recycle it as compost or mulch. Make edible ornaments and use them in your gatherings, or use them as gifts. And don’t forget the wildlife when you choose trees and ornaments.

One of my favorite parts of the holidays is “gifting”. Make your gifts special – match them with something meaningful or “special” for the individual. It takes time, but the time is the most special part for most of us. And while gift cards are very popular these days, try to find unique ones. Food cards may be useful and needed by many on your list, as are clothing items, but also consider things like spa services, travel allowances, store cards to help bear the burden of needed vitamins and supplements.

The greatest gift you can give at ANY time of the year is “LOVE’ – and we spell that T-I-M-E! Life is busy; time is precious; and time, once spent, is not recoverable. Make every minute count and show others how important they are to you by gifting them with your very precious time.

For more ideas on this subject check out our staff blogs for this month on our website. Enjoy good health and God’s richest blessings. Gen.1:29.

Randy Lee, ND, Owner, The Health Patch, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC 73130, phone/fax: 736-1030, e-mail: See our blogs and podcasts at Our full staff are now offering affordable private consultations – call to schedule yours!

Historical and ‘Folk’ Methods and Remedies for Sleep

The Bed Chamber:
One-third of your life is passed in sleep. This period of unconsciousness and rest is necessary for the renewal of vital strength, and much of the health depends upon its proper management. Thus, you must look into the sleeping area as a whole.

Throughout the ages, there was considerable doubt as to which was a healthier sleeping arrangement: separate rooms, same room but separate beds, or a single room with one bed. It has been deemed that when both parties are in good health, and of nearly the same age, one chamber, if sufficiently roomy, may be used without any disadvantage to either. Such an arrangement is also to be commended, because it secures closer companionship, and thus develops and sustains mutual affection.

There are conditions under which sleeping together is prejudicial to the health. A certain amount of fresh air during the night is required by everyone. Re-breathed air is poisonous. During sleep constant exhalations take place from the lungs and from the skin, which are injurious if absorbed. A room twelve feet square is too small for two adults, unless it is so thoroughly ventilated that there is a constant change of air. In fact, a couple’s bedroom should contain an air-space of at least twenty-four hundred cubic feet, and the facilities for ventilation should be such that the whole amount will be changed in an hour; that is, at the rate of forty cubic feet per minute for it has been ascertained that twenty cubic feet of fresh air a minute are required for every healthy adult.

The very young and very old people should never occupy the same sleeping area. This also applies with couples who are 40+ years apart in age. The reason behind this is the different breathing rates. The normal respiratory rate for healthy adults is between 12 and 20 breaths per minute. At this breathing rate, the carbon dioxide exits the lungs at the same rate that the body produces it. Breathing rates of below 12 or above 20 can mean a disruption in normal breathing processes. Normal respiratory rates for children in breaths per minute are as follows: birth to 1 year: 30-60; 1 to 3 years: 24-40; 3 to 6 years: 22-34; 6 to 12 years: 18-30; 12 to 18 years: 12-16.

To determine whether a person’s respiratory rate is normal, it is essential to measure it at rest. (Remember, exercise or even walking across a room can affect a person’s respiratory rate.) To take an accurate measurement, watch the person’s chest rise and fall. One complete breath comprises one inhalation, when the chest rises, followed by one exhalation, when the chest falls. To measure the respiratory rate, count the number of breaths for an entire minute or count for 30 seconds and multiply that number by two. However, if one suffers from obstructive sleep apnea a blockage of the airway often due to relaxation of the soft tissues in the throat causes brief pauses in breathing and may decrease overall respiratory rate.

Certain diseases can be spread by sleeping together. The bed of a consumptive patient is a powerful source of contagion. Tubercular disease has been known to be transferred from men to animals by inoculation. Cases were recorded in the 19th century of young robust girls of healthy parentage, marrying men affected with consumption, acquiring the disease in a short time, and dying, in some instances, before their husbands. In these significant cases, the sickly emanations have apparently been communicated during sleep. When, therefore, either husband or wife is known to have consumption, it would be highly imprudent for them to pass the long hours of the night either in the same bed or in the same room. But, this can include many other ailments-from the common cold to the plague.

Excessive clothing at night can be highly injurious; so are fires in the bedroom, except in case of sickness. If the body becomes over-heated during sleep, perspiration occurs, or the action of the heart is increased, and the whole system becomes agitated. Either condition prevents sound sleep and reinvigoration of the body.

Another topic of debate throughout the ages involved the proper position for sleeping. Ancient Egyptians slept on beds that slanted downwards to a foot board. At the head of the beds was a headrest consisting of a semicircular upper piece supported by columns affixed to a woven mat base. The base of one’s skull rested on these headrests.

In a work from 1642 the Swedish royal physician, Andreas Sparman, recommends that people should sleep in a sitting position because otherwise fluids from the stomach could somehow leak out and lead to a scenario where “hufvudet fyls medh Öfverflöd” (“the head is filled with overflow”). A common myth is: a common use of a shorter bed “forced” people to sleep half-sitting up. In fact, most antique beds are larger than most of our modern ones.

Mattresses made of animal hides and furs were the choice of Native Americans. Another common bed-filling was straw. Leaves were considered a good mattress-filler, while reeds, bracken or seaweed were suitable choices in some regions. The Roman writer Pliny reported that spartum or esparto grass was used in Spain 2000 years ago, and this continued into the
19th century. Chaff (husks separated from edible grains, and sometimes mixed with chopped straw since the invention of mechanical “chaff-cutters”) is softer but not available in such quantities. Rice chaff has filled mattresses in Asia; oat chaff was traditional for Scottish chaff-beds or cauf-secks (sacks). Using a straw mattress under a softer woolen or feather one was quite common by the 19th century, but it was a luxury in the 15th. However, feather beds are not conducive to good health. Mattresses made of wool, or of wool and horsehair, are much better.

Bed fillings can be placed on the bare ground/floor in a loose heap or it can be put into a wooden bed with sides. One can also tie it into a mattress shape and cover it with a simple sack, called a tick. Travelers often carried empty ticks to be filled with whatever was available when they bedded down for the night.

Beds long saturated with the night exhalations of their occupants are not wholesome. Replacing the bed filling was a seasonal chore, usually undertaken around harvest time. No matter what the filling choice is the bed should be opened, and its contents-including the pillows and blankets-exposed to the air and sunlight, once every year. This aided in the sanitation of the items. Native Americans often placed the bedding material over ant hills for the removal of other unpleasant, disease carrying insects.

The Sleep Pattern:
Today modern humans are chronically sleep-deprived, which may be why we usually take only 15 minutes to fall asleep, and why we try our best not to wake up in the night. People seem to regard 7 to 8 hours of unbroken sleep as the norm. Anything less means that something is awry-insomnia.

More than one-third of American adults these days wake up in the middle of the night on a regular basis. Of those who experience “nocturnal awakenings,” nearly half are unable to fall back asleep right away. Doctors frequently diagnose this condition as a sleep disorder called “middle-of-the-night insomnia,” and prescribe medication to treat it.

Historical evidence suggests that nocturnal awakenings aren’t abnormal at all; they are the natural rhythm one’s body gravitates toward. It is the compressed, continuous eight-hour sleep routine to which everyone aspires today that is unprecedented in human history. We’ve been sleeping all wrong lately — so if one has “insomnia,” one may actually be doing things right.

The dominant pattern of sleep since time immemorial was segmented or biphasic. Biphasic sleep patterns evolved to fill the long stretch of nighttime, and as observed by anthropologists, segmented sleep continues to be the norm for many people in undeveloped parts of the world, such as the Tiv group in Central Nigeria. Everyone sleeps biphasically when subjected to natural patterns of light and dark. In biphasic sleep, humans sleep in two four-hour blocks, which were separated by a period of wakefulness in the middle of the night lasting an hour or more. Most stay in their beds and bedrooms, sometimes reading, and often they would use the time to pray. (Religious manuals used to include special prayers to be said in the mid-sleep hours.) During these waking times people also would get up and do household tasks, such as preparing the morning meal or they even visit with the neighbors before returning to their beds. There were night jobs to aid in the safety of those who travel away from their homes during these hours-night watchman and the town crier are two main ones. Candles were used most during these hours of the night.

From pre-Industrial European times to the 19th century sleep referred to as “first sleep” or “deep sleep” started at sunset and ended around midnight and “second sleep” or “morning sleep” started at around 2 am and lasted until sunrise. (The times depended on the sun’s cycle. During winter, darkness spanned up to 14 hours each night.) Thomas Edison’s light bulb was a major factor in the shift of how we currently sleep.

In places with electricity, though, artificial lighting has prolonged our experience of daylight, allowing us to be productive for longer. At the same time, it has cut nighttime short, and so to get enough sleep we now have to do it all in one go. Now, “normal” sleep requires forgoing the periods of wakefulness that used to break up the night; we simply don’t have time for a midnight chat with the neighbor any longer. But people with particularly strong circadian rhythms continue to wake up in the night.

Traditional patterns show people normally awaken from REM sleep, which is the deep sleep stage during which dreams occur, which affords people a pathway to their subconscious. Now-a-days, with morning dreams one doesn’t have the opportunity to let their dreams settle. The light goes on and one gets out of bed immediately. Society has lost what people in the past regarded as a critically important part of their lives – their dream life.

Remedies-The Unproven and the Proven:

  • Gerolamo Cardano (1501-1576), a doctor and mathematician in Renaissance Italy stated sleep could be attained by rubbing some canine ear wax across your pearly whites.
  • A medieval European one-drinking a potion containing the bile of a castrated boar before bed. A Japanese one-sea slug entrails eaten at bedtime aids insomnia. Entrails are considered a delicacy in Japan which they extract, salt, and cure.
  • A bath before bed can also help one wind down physically. The body temperature naturally dips about two hours before one goes to sleep, but the rapid cool-down period that happens after soaking in a hot tub should immediately make you feel relaxed and sleepy.
  • In Elizabethan England rubbing the feet with dormouse fat was thought to be an effective insomnia cure. Another name for the dormouse is the sleep mouse, and in French the equivalent phrase for sleeping like a log is ‘to sleep like a dormouse.’
  • According to the 1898 edition of the Glasgow Herald offered this advice to insomniacs: “Soap your hair with ordinary yellow soap; rub it into the roots of the brain until it is lathered all over; tie it up in a napkin, go to bed, and wash it out in the morning. Do this for a fortnight. Take no tea after 6 p.m.”
  • To hang a flint with a hole in it over the head of one’s bed is a preservative against the nightmare.
  • Before going to bed, place your shoes carefully by the bedside coming and going; that is with the heel of one pointing in the direction of the toe of the other and then you will be sure to sleep quietly and well.
  • Wear socks to bed. The additional layer on one’s feet can help improve circulation in extremities, which should speed up the process of falling asleep.
  • Eating fried lettuce was a French folk remedy for insomnia. The ancient Egyptians believed in consuming lactucarium or “lettuce opium,” a milky substance secreted from certain varieties of lettuce greens. However, today lettuce opium is known mainly for its psychotropic effects.
  • Eating onions before bed was once thought to be a sleep aid. Today, it is known that they can also mess with one’s metabolism and health.
  • Charles Dickens believed pointing his bed northward was the best cure for his own insomnia.
  • You can’t forget about counting sheep. Do you fall asleep through hypnotism or through boredom? Mental imagery can help distract you from thinking the kind of stressful and anxious thoughts that keep you up at night.
  • Don’t eat cheese before bed. Scientific theories suggest that the bacterial and fungal elements of cheese might actually be to blame for weird post-sleep brain activity.
  • Toe curls is a form of progressive muscle relaxation, which involves deliberately tensing and relaxing certain muscle groups. There is evidence that this does help promote the relaxation, especially when combined with taking a deep breath between tensing and relaxing the relevant muscles.
  • Cinnamon balances blood sugar levels so your hormones can function in a way that allows for better sleep.
  • Bananas, especially the peel, contain magnesium which promotes muscle relaxation and stress relief.
  • A glass of warm milk also contains magnesium and a trace amounts of the amino acid, l-tryptophan. A popular night drink is: 1 cup milk; 1 teaspoon honey; 2 drops vanilla extract; 1 pinch ground cinnamon. Cook on stove until the milk is very hot and begins to foam, about 3 minutes. Stir in honey and vanilla, then sprinkle with cinnamon before serving.

Jolene Griffiths, Staff ND, The Health Patch
Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ

The Health Patch 1024 S. Douglas Blvd., Midwest City, OK 73130 Ph: 405-736-1030

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Herbs and Natural Remedies for Sleep

Herbs and natural remedies for sleep are very beneficial. Sleep is one of the most deeply healing and revitalizing experiences known. When we can get enough restful sleep each night, the entire world looks brighter. Based on clinical trials, it is documented that our body naturally heals itself between the hours of 10:30PM and 6:20 AM.

There are 20% to 30% of American adults that are plagued with sleep disorders. Sleep disorders became so prevalent in 1993 that the U.S. Congress mandated a National Center on Sleep Disorders. Today sleep disorders are recognized as a disease.

What is the best herb to take to help you sleep? I will give you six of the most common bedtime herbs:

  • Chamomile. For years chamomile has been used as a natural remedy to decrease anxiety and help you sleep.
  • Valerian Root. Valerian is an herb that has been used for centuries to help with sleep.
  • Lavender. Lavender has a natural calming sleep effect and a fresh, energetic morning.
  • Lemon Balm. Evidence shows that lemon balm increases GABA levels which indicates a 42% reduction in lack of sleep symptoms.
  • Passion Flower. Recent studies have shown that passion flower has the ability to alleviate anxiety and improve sleep quality.
  • Magnolia Bark. Magnolia bark is a flowering plant that has been around for over 100 million years. This herb decreases the time it takes to fall asleep and increases the amount of overall sleep.

I would like to add that most of these herbs can be purchased in “tea” form. Some people prefer drinking hot tea before bedtime.

Good sleep is crucial to your overall health. In the meantime, these alternative remedies may help you get back to sleep sooner.

Your Wellness Friend:
Shirley Golden, Staff ND, The Health Patch – Cultivating Naturopathic Care for Total Health

The Health Patch 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC, ph:736-1030, e-mail:

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is intended for
educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Three H’s for a Good Night’s Sleep

For productivity and health, it is important to get a good night’s sleep. Today we will discuss 3 H’s that can help obtain better sleep:

  • Hygiene
  • Hydration
  • Herbs

Hygiene Sleep Hygiene is the simply the habits or practices for good sleep. Here are a few practices to incorporate:

  • Put down the phone. Today’s technology helps keep us connected, informed, and productive, but using phones and other devices before bed can interfere with our bodies normal, healthy, hormone cycle for sleep. At least an hour before bed, put away all devices and begin other routines for bedtime.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Darkness will trigger the Pineal Gland that it is time for sleep, releasing the sleep hormone Melatonin.
  • Have a regular time to go to bed and get up the following morning.

Dehydration can contribute to anxiety, making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. Stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking ½ oz. of water per pound of body weight. Be sure to drink early enough in the day to avoid the need to eliminate during the night.

Two types of herbs that can be beneficial for restful sleep are Nervines and Adaptogens. Nervines are herbs that have actions on the nervous system. Relaxing Nervines help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system that is responsible for our “rest and digest” state among other actions, and to calm the sympathetic system which has the general action to mobilize the body’s resources under stress by inducing the flight or flight response. Some great Nervines are:

  • Hops—Help relieve mental strain and worry
  • Passion Flower—Helps calm mental chatter
  • Skullcap—Soothes the nervous system
  • Valerian—calming

Adaptogens are also beneficial for restful sleep due to their ability to reduce the output of stress hormones by affecting the hypothalamus/pituitary/ adrenal or HPA axis in the glandular system. These actions help to mediate the stress response and helps the body maintain a normal function under mental, physical, or emotional stress. Some great Adaptogenic herbs are:

  • Ashwangandha—helps reduce stress and inflammation
  • Eleuthero-helps reduce stress and enhances immunity
  • Holy Basil-helps protect the heart from stress

The Health Patch – Cultivating Naturopathic Care for Total Health, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC, 736-1030, e-mail:

When the Sandman just won’t visit!

We’ve all had those nights when, no matter what we do, we just can’t seem to fall asleep. Right? We try counting sheep; we try clearing our mind of all thoughts; we try warm milk, a hot shower, or a warm bath. Well, an occasional night of tossing and turning may be a real nuisance, but for many of us this is a regular occurrence.

Lack of sleep may have a number of causes. One is simply advancing age. The pineal gland is a small gland about the size of a pea located between the lobes of the brain. It is a “light sensitive” gland. When we find ourselves in the dark, it begins to secrete the hormone melatonin. Increased melatonin makes us feel drowsy. That’s why most of us get sleepy at night. But as we approach 50 or so, give or take a few years, the pineal gland slows its production of melatonin. For that reason, many older folks have sleep problems. If you’re in that age group, perhaps all you need is a melatonin supplement. And if you’re not in this age group, you should note that artificial lights, stimulant beverages and stress can disrupt normal body rhythms. Thus, for you too, melatonin supplements can be very useful, especially for jet lag or occasional insomnia. Most companies carry them in one and ten milligram capsules. This is also a good help if you can GO to sleep, but then can’t STAY asleep.

Often depression can hinder sleep, too. If this plagues you, perhaps you can benefit from a supplement of 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). It is a precursor to serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. This is a metabolized form of l-tryptophan that the body can use directly to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter which plays a role in mood, hunger and sleep. One source states “Increased levels of serotonin may improve symptoms of depression and anxiety and may be required for improved mood, weight-loss success and better sleep.” Check with you doctor before taking 5-HTP if you’re taking prescription medication or if you’re pregnant or nursing. And if you use it regularly, take a two-week break about every three months.

One of the primary causes of insomnia is stress. We are often so keyed-up that we just can’t seem to turn our minds off to get to sleep – especially if there are important things planned for tomorrow. In this case there are some very helpful herbs to help calm the nerves. Hops has a gentle, relaxing, sedative effect on the central nervous system. It can be taken in a capsule, enclosed in a pillow placed on your bed, or added to evening teas. Valerian root is a stronger relaxant for nervous anxiety and muscle spasms. It has a nasty odor, but cats seem to like it! So, it is best taken in capsules and is not for long-term use in large doses as it can cause depression. Passion flower is a mild sedative nervine. This is not the ornamental blue passion flower (which is poisonous), but is an entirely different plant. Its name was given in the 1500s by a Spanish doctor who was reminded of the “Passion of the Crucifixion” by the configuration of the blossom. It is much more likely to help you sleep than to generate “passion.” And Skullcap is a perennial herb in the mint family originating from North America. Skullcap has a long history of use among Native American tribes due to its soothing properties. Combinations of these are often found in “nervine sedative” sleep formulas.

We have also previously mentioned Siberian ginseng (now called Eleuthero) before as an energy producer. So, while it seems contradictory, it is also mentioned in several references to be reputed as a cure for insomnia. And most people who work with herbs know that a cup of chamomile tea is very relaxing at night.

I’ll quote two formulas for you from a book entitled “The Way of Herbs.” Both are for insomnia. “Make an infusion using equal parts of chamomile, valerian, skullcap, catnip, wood betony, and spearmint. 1) Use one ounce of herbs per pint of water. Let it steep ten minutes and drink it before going to bed. 2) For incredible dreams and for nights when you can’t allow sufficient time for sleep, make an infusion of 4 parts kava kava , 1 part alfalfa , 1 part spearmint ,1 part raspberry leaves, and 1 part lemon balm. Vary the strength according to your needs, and sweeten it with honey. The kava kava will produce a numbing effect on the tongue.”

As for minerals, ensure that your diet contains sufficient calcium and magnesium if you wish to sleep well. And foods high in l-tryptophan promote sleep. These include turkey, pumpkin seeds, bananas, figs, dates, yogurt, tuna, whole-grain crackers and nut butters. Avoid caffeine, cheese, wine, potatoes, and tomatoes in the evening.

Remember, “he grants sleep to those he loves.” Ps. 127:2b. May you enjoy the fruits of your labor and sleep like a newborn baby tonight. Enjoy good health and God’s richest blessings. Gen.1:29.

  • Randy Lee, ND, Owner, The Health Patch – Cultivating Naturopathic Care for Total Health, 1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC, 736-1030, e-mail:

Holistic Animal Dental Care

Holistic pet care refers to focusing on the “whole” pet. Instead of focusing on specific problems, it is best to care for all aspects of your pet simultaneously. So, holistic care includes diet, exercise, grooming, shoeing, parasite control, and teeth cleanliness. Holistic pet care also refers to using natural products to care for your pet.

Most people aren’t aware that animal dental care is just as important as other types of health prevention. Tooth care should be a large portion of the happy, long life of one’s pet. In fact, it is thought that eighty-five percent of all pets have periodontal disease by age three, even if they use a raw, natural diet.

Periodontal disease is a progressive disease of the supporting tissues surrounding teeth and the main cause of early tooth loss. It starts when bacteria combine with food particles to form plaque on the teeth. Within days, minerals in the saliva bond with the plaque to form tartar, a hard substance that adheres to the teeth. The bacteria work their way under the gums and cause gingivitis-inflammation of the gums. Once under the gums, bacteria destroy the supporting tissue around the tooth, leading to tooth loss. This condition is known as periodontitis. Gingivitis and periodontitis make up the changes that are referred to as periodontal disease. With regular dental care, gingivitis is reversible. Periodontal disease is thought not to be reversible, but diligent at-home dental care and regular cleanings can slow down the progression of the condition. Let’s look at this process closer, as it also applies to humans.

Animals consume well over a trillion bacteria every day. Some of these bacteria will move down to the gastrointestinal tract, where they’ll take up residence or be excreted by the body. Others will take up residence in the mouth and colonize in the plaque. But the bacteria that enters the mouth are continuously seeding the bacterial colonies that live in the gut, and this population of bacteria is critical to their health and immune system. So, if the bacterial colonies in the mouth aren’t healthy, the bacterial colonies in the gut won’t be, and the animal as a whole won’t be either.

The bacterial colonies found in plaque are extremely organized and this speaks to their importance in the mouth. Scrapings of dental plaque reveal an organized metropolis made up of tiny, organized microscopic bacteria colonies. Collectively, these communities of bacteria and other tiny microorganisms are called a microbiome. Microbiomes are found on most body surfaces. The microbiome in the mouth is the second largest microbiome, next to the one found in the gut. The microbiome in plaque isn’t a random population of bacteria-they all live together in organized communities. Researchers have discovered that Corynebacterium is the bacteria found right next to the tooth enamel and it grows outward from the teeth, where it networks with the next layer or colony of bacteria. Corynebacterium are packed closely together and adhere closely to the tooth and this makes them hard to remove with food or brushing.

The colonies living in the outermost layer of the microbiome are mainly made up of friendly strains of Streptococcus. These bacteria releases carbon dioxide, which helps the colonies of Streptococcus to grow. These bacteria all live harmoniously with the body. In fact, bacteria and other microorganisms outnumber the amount of one’s own cells by nearly 100 to 1.

When the bacteria in the microbiome are healthy, they deliver health benefits to the host animal. This is called ‘symbiosis’ (which means the relationship between the bacteria and the host is symbiotic or beneficial to both). These bacteria manufacture short chain fatty acids and vitamins. They form the bulk of the immune system and they even have a direct connection to the brain, called the gut-brain axis. These bacteria are essential to one’s health. But, not all of the bacteria living in the body are friendly. If the colonies of bacteria are disturbed, and some species die off while others take over, their influence on the body will change. Researchers are finding that when delicate bacterial populations in microbiomes are reduced or less diverse, the risk of disease rises. A study in cats with irritable bowel disease (IBD) showed that healthy cats had a much higher bacterial population in their gut compared to cats with IBD. Another study found that the skin of healthy dogs was inhabited by a much richer and diverse bacterial population than the skin of dogs with allergies.

Research is also showing that dysbiosis in the plaque, not plaque itself, is the real cause of periodontal disease. When the bacterial populations are balanced, the immune system won’t be alarmed and activated. But, if the balance of bacteria becomes unbalanced, some unwanted species of bacteria can grow out of control and initiate an immune response. When the sulcus is inflamed, the cells in the gums will be deprived of oxygen and this lack of oxygen favors the growth of harmful bacteria. And, once their
colonies grow, they can crowd out other friendly colonies of bacteria by competing for the same nutrients and dysbiosis will occur.

If this dysbiosis isn’t repaired and balance returned to the microbiome, colonies of harmful bacteria such as Porphyromonas gingivalis will start to destroy the tissue of the gums. Once the gums become inflamed, the immune system delivers nutrients like iron to the infected area. But, these bacteria have adapted to feed on these nutrients and they start to rapidly grow out of control while the immune system continues to feed them by pumping more and more iron and other nutrients into the infected tissue.
How much damage is done depends on a few factors. Small breed dogs and brachycephalic breeds like pugs and boxers seem to be more prone to dental disease. It’s also more likely to occur in older animals, but the immune response is critical to how quickly and how severely periodontal disease develops. Diseases like diabetes or other health issues related to a compromised immune response (like allergies, arthritis, hypothyroidism, liver, bowel and kidney disease), can ultimately cause exaggerated
inflammation in the gums and further fuel the dysbiosis. Not only can diseases in other organs have an effect on oral health, periodontal disease can cause damage in the organs as well. When the populations of some strains grow out of control, the bacteria will find it harder to compete and will migrate out of the neighborhood. Bacteria can travel from the damaged gums to the lymphatic and blood vessel systems and migrate to the body’s organs. This is called bacteremia and it’s very similar to what happens with leaky gut. In fact, the colonies of bacteria in the mouth and gut are very similar. They share 45% of the same colonies and populations. So, if the bacteria in the mouth grow out of control, that dysbiosis will seed the same dysbiosis in the gut. The toxic by-products from the harmful bacteria will also cause inflammation and erosion of the cells lining the gut wall, and more bacteria and toxins will enter the body, creating a cascade of chronic inflammation that will eventually reach the organs and cause disease there. In humans, periodontal disease has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, IBD and stroke. Research in dogs also shows a link to heart, liver and kidney disease.

Several causes of dysbiosis in animals include:
Antibiotics: Antibiotics kill all bacteria indiscriminately and will devastate the microbiome.
Poor Diet: A processed diet that’s high in starch or sugar can fuel unfriendly bacterial colonies. Genetically modified foods or foods with pesticides can also kill bacteria and create dysbiosis.
Drugs and Chemicals: Many drugs and chemicals will harm bacteria.
Processed Diets: Most processed pet foods are completely free of bacteria. If there isn’t a stream of bacteria entering the body, the bacterial colonies will die off, causing dysbiosis. The same applies to raw foods that have undergone high pressure pasteurization.

Dogs can develop a cavity because:
• Teeth that have abnormally formed too close together
• A low salivary pH level
• Tooth enamel that is poorly minimized
• A poor diet that is high in fermented carbohydrates
• Gaps between the teeth and the gums
• Poor hygiene/health overall.

Poor dental health signs in a dog include:
• Swollen, red, bleeding, or painful looking gums
• Recent bursts of or full-fledged depression
• Pawing at the facial or mouth area
• Bad breath that is not mistaken with “kibble breath” or from eating anything that may cause it
• A change in the chewing and/or eating habits-such as difficulty chewing, not eating certain foods
• Missing or misaligned teeth
• Discoloration, breakage, or crooked teeth that may cause issues with proper chewing
• Excessive drool; Growths or bumps within the mouth or surrounding facial area
• Brownish yellow tartar crust within or along the dog’s gum line.

Dog breeds most prone to poor dental health include Bulldog; Shih Tzu; Brussels Griffon; Chihuahua; Lhasa Apso; Pomeranian; Pug; Poodle; Terrier and Dachshund.

Ways a cat can develop a cavity include:
• Lack of in-home or in-office cleaning routinely
• Poor diet
• Chemistry, too much bacteria and rotting, within the mouth
• Injury to the tooth
• Tooth alignment issues that have trapped plaque and tartar to an advanced degree
• Association with diabetes, feline immunodeficiency virus, feline leukemia, and other feline-related diseases
• Being a purebred breed or outcross breed that is more prone to developing diseases than others.

Typical signs of cavities or poor dental health in cats:
• Severely bad breath over a period of time
• Excessive or uncommon drooling
• Whole pieces of food in vomit or hairballs
• Pawing and scratching at the mouth
• Only eating on one side of the mouth
• Bleeding from the gums, or the mouth in general, or bloody areas around the area where a tooth meets with the gum line
• Food falling or being spit out from the mouth
• Discharge in and around the nasal area, whether it’s dry or wet
• Weight loss over a short period of time.

Cat breeds (pure breeds are at higher risk) most prone to poor dental health include Australian Mist; Burmese; Burmilla; Bombay; Cornish Rex; Devon Rex; Singapura; Sphynx; Tiffanie and Tonkinese.

Because most of the bacterial colonies are found in plaque, many veterinarians recommend brushing one’s pet’s teeth, or even a yearly veterinary dental cleaning (sometimes called a prophylaxis), where plaque and tartar are removed from a pet’s teeth, and the health of the entire mouth (tongue, gums, lips, and teeth) is assessed-all while under anesthesia. This will clear away most of the plaque, but the bacterial populations begin to colonize immediately after plaque is removed. Studies show that about a
million little organisms already cover the tooth within a minute of cleaning. And, if the populations are disrupted, harmful bacteria might take hold before the friendly populations grow and crowd them out.

Dog teeth cleaning is actually very easy to do. It’s the dogs that tend to have a problem with owners doing it; which is why it’s best to introduce the brushing of their teeth when they are a puppy so they can grow into it. However, if you’re starting a dog at an older age, ensure that they are comfortable and that you do not make the experience a traumatic one. Be patient, safe, and do a good job.

Finding a toothbrush for a pup is relatively easy. Remember that using toothpaste made for humans is extremely dangerous and should never be used on a dog. Fluoride is very toxic to animals, especially dogs, which is why there are specialty canine toothpaste available. Also, keep in mind that even some of these might contain ingredients that the dog may be allergic to.

Give the dog a good burst of exercise so they are more likely to sit or lay nicely for you. Be aware that they might make a go for the brush itself once it’s in their mouth. Start slow, brush gently, and look for signs of stress. If the dog becomes unresponsive, aggressive, agitated, or begins to cry, they are becoming too stressed out to move forward and you must stop. If you
don’t stop they will learn that when the toothbrush comes out, it’s time for them to hide, and that is the last thing you want. If this is the first time you are doing this focus on the teeth only or just below the gum line. The dog’s gums may be a little sensitive, especially if they are having certain dental problems already, and keep an eye on whether or not the gums begin to bleed. If the dog should emit a pain response for any reason, stop what you are doing and take them to a vet. Continuing could worsen whatever is going on in their mouth and that is the last thing you want.

If you don’t end up getting the entire mouth the first time around that’s perfectly fine. Breaking this type of activity in is new for the dog, considering it’s just like getting a child to get used to it, so be patient. After it’s been done a few times you can increase the amount you do it and for how long. Tell the dog how good they are being. Leave a treat that they will be able to see for after the teeth are done, and try your best to make this a positive experience.

Finding a toothbrush and toothpaste for a cat is slightly harder than for a dog. Unlike dogs, a cat is more than likely going to fight you more than a dog would do so. Getting the cat into the routine when they are as young as possible is the best way to avoid difficulty as they age, but it’s never too late to start. Start by playing with the cat and getting their energy levels down a bit. If the cat is naturally calm and relaxed you may not need to do this, but it’s best to try and get as much energy out of them as you can.

Bring the cat onto your lap, pet them into relaxation, then gently raise the lip on either side of the mouth and begin to brush the outer areas of the teeth. Brush away from the gum line to ensure that any food particles that may be embedded are pushed out and away. If this is the cat’s first time with a toothbrush, then no doubt it’s going to be a bit of a struggle. You will probably need to open the mouth more, but do not pry. Like dogs, cats need to be coaxed into home dental procedures properly and gently, and not be made to do things.

If the cat becomes stressed out, signs include being unresponsive or limp in general, for example, then they will need to be given a break before the experience becomes a traumatic one. Like a dog, if the cat becomes aggressive and tries to attack you to get away, immediately stop the brushing and consider having a vet do a regular cleaning instead. Should the cat become aggressive and you decide to keep going, you endanger yourself and the cat by pushing forward, and that is not worth the risk to the well-being of yourself and the cat. If the cat is fighting and trying to close their mouth, gently pinch the cheeks in between two of your fingers and begin to brush again. Work your way through your cat’s mouth fully, give them a treat when you’re done even if they were a nightmare to deal with. Let the cat be alone for a while if they choose to run away. After doing this a couple of times one will find that the cat will get used to it, tolerate it, absolutely hate it, or maybe even like it. Keeping a treat handy and in view will give the cat the sense that, even if they are being bad and fighting you over this, they will learn that a few minutes of enduring such a procedure will at least have some happy ending.

However, the act of brushing the teeth can cause bacteremia, especially if the gums are bleeding. The bacteria will move from the mouth to the bloodstream. In a healthy animal, the immune system can handle and clear the surge of bacteria. But, if the animal is already struggling with inflammation, dysbiosis, or other chronic disease, the immune system can reach the tipping point with brushing or cleaning because it introduces so much bacteria into the bloodstream.

Thus, dental care isn’t as simple as getting rid of plaque with brushings and regular cleanings because there are bacteria living there that keep unwanted bugs at bay. The first step in preventing or treating dental disease is to protect the microbiome from damage. Sprays and gels that contain natural properties which cleanse and coats the teeth can protect the microbiome. These include:
Grapefruit seed extract: anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal
Neem oil: anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal
Thyme oil (Thymus vulgaris): anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal
Peppermint oil (Mentha piperita): anti-bacterial, anti-viral, sedative
Aloe Vera (used also or as a base in gels): tissue healing
Colloidal silver (used alone or as a base in sprays and gels): anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal
• Grain alcohol (used as a base in many sprays)–anti-bacterial

A commonly-used maintenance schedule for these sprays and gels are one application every 3 to 4 days on small animals-under 30 pounds. On larger ones-over 30 pounds-one application per week is enough to keep the mouth
healthy and free from tartar build-up. Even with large tartar build-up an application every other day will still have benefits; though, it will just take more time to remove. Several dental diets and treats can also help keep plaque and tartar to a minimum. The diets tend to have larger kibbles to provide abrasive action against the tooth surface when chewed. These kibbles may contain ingredients that help prevent tartar mineralization. Dental treats act as toothbrushes and are often used when one has an animal that fights the brushing.

Probiotics were effective in treating and preventing dental disease as found in a 2009 study published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association. Probiotics are friendly populations of bacteria that compete with harmful
organisms for places to live and for food. They also help to balance the immune response.

Probiotics will easily colonize in plaque and compete for colonization sites and food with harmful bacteria. They produce anti-bacterial by-products that discourage the colonization of harmful bacteria. They can change the pH of the mouth and the amount of oxygen and they can support the immune system. But, not all strains of probiotics are able to colonize in the mouth. The study found that Lactobacillusspecies of probiotics were much more likely to colonize on the teeth and in plaque than Bificobacterium species. And other studies show that the populations of some species of Lactobacillus were larger in healthy people compared to those with dental disease. Other research found that Lactobacillus species in the mouth are capable of reducing the damaging inflammation that can cause gingivitis and periodontal disease. You can add probiotics to your pet’s food daily. This can be in the form of probiotic-rich foods like fermented vegetables or kefir or you can give them a probiotic supplement (or both). Because it’s so critical to protect from dysbiosis, these should be added daily.

If you are adding a commercial probiotic product, make sure there are more than four strains of bacteria and make sure there are at least 10 billion CFU (colony forming units). Remember, animals already have a trillion bacteria entering their mouths every day so you want as many probiotics as possible to maintain or restore the balance. You will also want to be sure your pet’s food contains plenty of prebiotics, which are insoluble fiber ingredients that feed probiotics. This will prevent the probiotics from just dying off. And finally, dairy-based probiotics may trigger allergies in many animals, especially cats.

Dogs tend to be not all that great at chewing their food, so many of the bugs will just get passed right to the gut. To introduce healthy bacteria into the mouth, you can put a probiotic powder in a small spray bottle with some
filtered water (chlorine will kill the bugs so don’t use unfiltered tap water) and spray it in the dog’s mouth. Then you can put the rest in their food where they’ll help seed the gut too. Note: If you put probiotics in water, make sure that it’s not stored. Make a new batch right at meal time because the bacteria won’t survive long in the water. If brushing their teeth, make sure to spritz their mouths with this mixture afterward to encourage the growth of healthy bacteria populations.

As researchers look into the microbiome as the true source of health and immunity, they are finding that some old treatments just aren’t the best course of treatment as previously thought.

Mitákuye Oyás’in
Jolene Griffiths, ND

The Health Patch 1024 Midwest Blvd., Midwest City, OK Ph: 405-736-1030

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Using Herbs to Enhance Good Oral Health

Good oral hygiene is the foundation to having healthy teeth and gums, but occasionally we need a little extra help to keep oral health top notch. Herbs can be very beneficial in this area of good health.

Teeth, like bones, need constant remineralization. Mineral rich herbs can help prevent tooth decay by helping to remineralize and to fight bacteria in plaque. Alfalfa and Horsetail are two such herbs.

Alfalfa has tap roots that grow into the ground as far down as 60 feet. This allows Alfalfa to reach minerals that other plants cannot, making it a storehouse of nutrients containing major minerals like calcium as well as numerous trace minerals.

Horsetail is another great herb for oral care. It contains more silica than any other herb and it is in a form that is highly absorbable. This ability makes Horsetail a powerhouse in promoting collagen formation and working with calcium to strengthen teeth and bones.

Black Walnut has properties that are anticarious or helping to prevent cavities. Used as a powder and left overnight on teeth, it can help rebuild enamel and, due to its astringent properties, can help tighten loose teeth.

Bacteria in the gums can cause infection and bleeding of the gums. This is where Golden Seal can be beneficial with its bacteria-fighting alkaloid called Berberine. White Oak bark has also long been used for gum problems due to it being rich in tannins. Tannins help tighten tissue, fight infections, and halt bleeding.

Using a powder mixture of Horsetail, Black Walnut, Golden Seal, and White Oak Bark can help fight infection, tighten loose teeth, stop gum bleeding, as well as strengthen tooth enamel.
So, keep up the foundations for healthy teeth and gums, but for those times where additional support is needed, adding these powerful herbs to your dental routine can be quite beneficial.

Health and Blessings,
Kimberly Anderson, ND

The Health Patch 1024 S. Douglas Blvd. Midwest City, OK 73130 PH: 405-736-1030

Children’s Oral Health

Many don’t realize how connected oral health is to overall health. Early dental care prevents dental diseases. It is the first line of defense against many common dental issues, such as plaque, gum disease and cavities.

Once children start school parents have less influence over their meals and snacks during the day. Set an example for your children by eating a variety of healthy foods yourself, and by following a consistent oral health care routine of twice-daily tooth brushing and daily flossing.

Encouraging children to care for their teeth can be an uphill battle. However, it is the parents’ responsibility to encourage better dental care to their children. Obviously, tooth-friendly foods such as fruits, vegetables and nuts are better for teeth than cookies, candy and chips. If you want to improve your children’s eating habits, consider tips to make the process more enjoyable for them:

  • Involve your child in buying and/or preparing healthy food for the table.
  • Have them chop carrots, wash an apple or cut cheese into cubes.
  • Have a pre-prepared healthy snack container in the refrigerator for when they are ready to look for a snack.

Here are 10 tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics top help children keep a healthy smile:

  1. Lead by example. Show them by practicing good oral health yourself.
  2. Choose a dentist that you and your children will like and trust.
  3. Take them to the dentist regularly – usually every six months – for routine cleaning and checkups.
  4. Remind them to brush before they leave for school and before bedtime.
  5. Encourage them to brush during any travel time.
  6. Teach the importance of flossing. It may help prevent gum disease.
  7. Encourage your child to eat breakfast daily. Children who eat a high protein breakfast have a noticeable reduction in cravings for sweets.
  8. If they are going to drink juices, have them use a straw. Doing so reduces their teeth’s exposure to sugar.
  9. Reduce sugar in their diet. Replace sugar snacks with healthy snacks such as fruit, carrots, cheese, crackers and water.
  10. Reward healthy habits. Leave little treats from the “tooth fairy” to reward your child for practicing good oral health.

Poor oral health can profoundly affect a child’s health and well-being. It can cause difficulty in chewing, and may cause them not to eat enough, which would cause them to be lacking in the nutrients required for healthy growth and development.

Your wellness friend, Shirley Golden!

Shirley Golden, Staff ND, The Health Patch – Cultivating Naturopathic Care for Total Health
1024 S. Douglas Blvd, MWC, ph:736-1030, e-mail:

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is intended for
educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.