How I Learned to Understand Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS)

When I was in grad school, we always knew when the med students had anatomy and physiology cadaver lab.

That day, the whole school stunk from formaldehyde. Even though there were a lot of precautions taken – since it was a school of naturopathic medicine – and there was a relatively heightened awareness of how toxins affect the body, the fumes would make their way across the campus.  

I was pregnant that year and was hyper-sensitive to smells. I would develop severe nausea and headaches, even when I was in a different wing of the building, when the cadaver lab was in use, and I had no choice but to bolt outside. It happened weekly and it was a major pain in the neck.  I missed class, had to make up work and I am sure it did not help me to get on the good side of my professor. I loved her but she worked with cadavers every day and could no longer smell the formaldehyde. She would look at me like I was from the moon. She couldn’t, of course, force a pregnant woman to just deal with the fumes in that environment, but letʼs just say she wasnʼt thrilled about my special needs. 

I have a B.S. in Biology and an M.S. in nutrition from a top school. I have had awareness of these issues for years and have focused on purity of food and environment. Having healed from severe chronic digestive and immune function illness (Crohnʼs Disease) through nutrition, herbs and holistic practices, and as a mother to four beautiful, precious, compassionate children, I am rather aware of the dangers of the toxins that we are exposed to every day. I canʼt, therefore, explain why I had no concept about how debilitating MCS (multiple chemical sensitivities, formerly known as Environmental Illness) can be.

I really didn’t understand it until a close family member became devastatingly ill with it.  It started off with a little bit of sensitivity but over the course of about a year, it became full blown due to what I now know to be known as “spreading”. When I say full blown I mean she canʼt leave her house because everything makes her feel like she is going to die. When I say everything, I mean perfume, shampoo, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, cleaning sprays, off gassing carpets, off gassing mattresses and shower curtains, vinyl windows, fluorescent lights, treated paper (i.e. magazines) just to name a few. She can not fly to visit us, she can not have repair people come into her home, she can not go anywhere lest there be air freshener in a public bathroom. Truly debilitating, isolating, and devastating.  

I look back at my temporary experience as a pregnant woman trying to avoid toxic exposures to my baby, and try to imagine it. Itʼs like that but every day and everywhere. I am aware that I can not even imagine what it is like.

Where can she go?

Where can she live?

Where can she be that she does not have to live in constant fear and anxiety of exposure?

Who can she relate to that will not look at her like she is crazy and overly neurotic and emotional like my professor did (even though she tried her best not to)?

know this is a big struggle for those living with and healing from MCS. I know there are communities building and knowledge is spreading. I am not an MCS sufferer, but I love someone who is. I want to say to you, I get it. Well, at least, I am trying to.

What is a Salve?

Pronunciation
First of all, itʼs like tomato/tomahto or potato/potahto. Some people pronounce the “L” and some donʼt. OK? Now we have that out of the way.

Definition
A salve is simply a natural healing ointment. There are all different types of salve, basically depending on what types of ingredients are in it.

Purpose
Some salves are made to 
draw out toxins. Some are made to promote healing. Some are made to prevent infection. A salve can provide moisture and protection for skin as well. Well made salves made with a well planned blend of herbs can work well for diaper rashes, as a first aid ointment, post exfoliation treatment, general body lotion, tattoo after-care, eczema treatment, cleaning out babies folds, cleaning ears, healing scars, burns, sunburns, bug bites, as a bug repellant, as a foot treatment, as a lip balm, a hair treatment, you name it. An herbal salve could be made just with an oil and a hardener, such as olive oil and beeswax, but it is more useful if it is also made with some type of medicinal ingredients. 

How to make salve
There are two methods that herbalists generally use to infuse the herbs into the oil.

They is the low heat method, over a low flame or in a slow cooker. And there is the slower, cold infusion method. The method that uses heat is great in a pinch because it is faster and you can then custom make a salve as you need it. It does have its drawbacks though. When you heat an oil, you begin to destroy it and when you heat herbs too much you destroy their phytonutrients. Also, it’s like making soup, it’s almost always better after itʼs had more time, which an oil can withstand more of when it is not being heated. For these reasons, the slow cold infusion method is preferable to use whenever possible, and it is the method we use in our salves even though it’s a pain in the neck. 

Our first consideration when choosing an herb to use in a salve is that it is safe – meaning it has a very low rate of adverse reaction and does no harm – and then, that it is effective in promoting healing.

At Oraʼs Amazing Herbal we blend the following herbs for our salves:

Calendula: Calendula salves have been used to encourage wound healing, ease bruising and also treat infections associated with wounds.

Comfrey: Comfrey is used in salves for cuts, burns, skin ulcers, varicose veins, bronchitis, and rheumatism. It is not to be overused but is a fabulous herb when used in small dosages, in a blended salve like ours for example.

St. John’s Wort: Is considered to be anti-inflammatory and antiviral and is often used in salve for burns and for nerve pain.

Burdock: Burdock root has been used throughout herbal history for treatment of eczema, psoriasis, candida, burns, and rashes. It is known by herbalists to be antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and regenerative.

Thyme: Thyme is known to be a powerful antiseptic, antibacterial, and a strong antioxidant. Is also contributes a lovely gentle aroma to the oil it is infused in.

Chickweed: It is known as an antibacterial and is known to help with detoxification of rashes and skin irritations.

Plantain: Plantain is great topically for bites, and stings as well as all kinds of skin irritations including yeast and non-yeast diaper rashes.

Licorice (Touchy Skin Salve only): Licorice root is known as an anti-inflammatory as well as antiviral. It is known by herbalists to be particularly useful in soothing eczema, herpes and chicken pox. 

 

Making the Salve
We take this blend and scoop it into glass gallon sized mason jars. We use glass to 
avoid the leaching of toxins from plastic into the oil.

We then fill the jar with grapeseed oil. Grapeseed oil is our carrier oil of choice because it is highly absorbable into the skin and thus delivers the healing our herbs have to offer very nicely. It also has a neutral scent and a good shelf life compared to olive oil for example. This means we can avoid using any preservatives in our salve aside from vitamin E, which is important to us because preservatives tend to be toxic.

We keep the glass jars infusing in a cold dark environment for a minimum of 6 weeks.  We give them each a shake every so often to ensure a good infusion is happening.

Then we strain out the oil from the herbs and dump the herbs into the compost for our home garden. 

Now comes the salve making part. We gently and carefully heat the oil in a double boiler, just enough to melt the beeswax. We add beeswax, and organic extra virgin coconut oil. We then ladle the warmed oil out into a pouring vessel and once in that vessel, we add a little vitamin E, and our essential oils. Once the essential oils go in, they start to evaporate quickly so its a little tricky. You donʼt want to pour so fast that it spills and makes a big mess, cleaning salve jars is a seriously annoying task. You donʼt want to give the essential oils time to evaporate either though, so this step is a bit of an acquired skill.

The essential oils we use in our All Purpose Salve are Tea Tree – known for its antiseptic and its antifungal properties; Rosemary – known for its stimulating and natural preservative activity; and Thuja (cedar leaf) – known for its astringent, antiviral, and bug repellant properties. 

Now you have it, all our secrets. You can go make some salve of your own. Have fun.

Or, you could of course just buy ours.

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How to Clean a Big Fat Baby

I don’t mean to brag, but I have fat babies. Rolly-polly nook-and-cranny babies. I’m one of those cooky moms who breastfeed exclusively for a very long time, so I don’t know why my babies are fat. I do know it’s a blessing though because all my friends with skinny babies are always worrying and complaining that their babies are too skinny. For mothers of skinny babies check ups are traumatic, and diapers are always leaking. Grandmothers and poorly misguided pediatritians are pushing formula and early solid introduction even though the kid is just fine and everyone knows that breast is best. It’s a nightmare.

I don’t have that problem. I have the opposite problem. What could be the problem with a fat baby you say? I’ll tell you what the problem is. It’s the shmutz. Keeping a fat baby clean is like trying to keep a kitchen counter made out of macaroni clean. Cooked macaroni. How to do get the shmutz out? If you wash it every day, it’s too much wear and tear and if you don’t it gets deeply disgusting, fast. Same for a baby, if you bathe them every day, their skin gets too dry and irritated. And even if you do that, how do you get that god awful smelling neck dry and staying clean after the bath? I have tried keeping a fat neck extended enough to be aired out. It does not work and you get one pissed off kid! And that behind the ears cheese receptacle, and oh lord, the belly button. Even if you have a skinny baby, you have that to deal with.

And what soap do you use? The one with the sodium laurel sulfate, or the one with the carcinogenic refined petroleum derrivatives that you can’t pronounce? Or the “natural” one, with the “fragrance”?

Well by my fourth baby, I finally came up with a perfect strategy. Don’t wash, wipe. That’s right, just wipe it out. Make or get some salve, made with non synthetic and non irritating ingredients only, put some on your clean hands, and wipe out the shmutz. Wipe out behind the ears, under the arms and all those places. Wipe down that squishy tushy while you are at it. Put some on a q-tip and clean out the belly button. Don’t use any water, because water just feeds the festering bacteria and yeasts that are waiting to grow in that nice cozy environment. Salve is lipid (oil) based and has no water in it so it works as a moisture barrier keeping skin moist but not promoting any nasty microbial growth which can lead to stink, rashes, and infections. Then wash and dry your hands and do it one more time. Wipe down that whole baby with smooth and shmeary salve. Make it like a little baby massage time

Don’t get me wrong, when the frozen blueberries she had for breakfast come back to haunt you, it’s time for a bath. But in between those events, take a little advice. Don’t wash, wipe.