I’ve been involved in a love affair with coffee for well over a decade now. I’m a fan of the whole experience: the aroma, the taste, the ritual of preparation- I’m practically running into its warm embrace as soon as I wake up in the morning.
Unfortunately, during this last year of grad school my relationship with coffee took a decidedly unhealthy turn. I began to depend on the zip coffee provides all day long, not just in the morning. I found myself drinking it later and later in the day, in stronger varieties and larger quantities. Chemical dependency never ends well, so I decided this summer would be a good time to pull in the reins on my coffee addiction.
Anyone who’s ever had the experience of weaning themselves off of a powerful stimulant knows how challenging this can be. So what do you drink when it’s 2pm and you’re dragging yourself through the remainder of your day? Here’s what I brew up when I need a little kick in the pants but don’t want a caffeine buzz.
- Ginseng: This root has been used in Asia to increase energy for hundreds of years, and is available in a number of teas. So far modern research does not support the claim that ginseng decreases fatigue, but there haven’t been many well-designed studies that examined it closely. I’m a huge fan of the placebo effect, and Montana Tea & Spice Trading Co. makes a fantastic Ginseng Mint Tea that tastes wonderful on ice with just a drop or two of honey. This tea is available in bulk at Madison Market in Capitol Hill.
- Rooibos: Also known as Red Bush Tea, this fragrant beverage is the national tea of South Africa. It’s caffeine-free and contains a number of helpful antioxidants. Again the research doesn’t reflect anything yet about the energizing effects of this tea, but it has been used in folk medicine to increase energy and alertness. I’ve been partaking of Equal Exchange’s Organic Vanilla Rooibos Tea as of late; it smells like dessert and has a warm earthy flavor.
- Tulsi: Also known as Holy Basil. This herb is originally from India and has been used traditionally in Ayurvedic medicine. It’s not overwhelming, but my research itch is about to be scratched! There is some evidence in animal studies that this herb may have stimulatory effects and can reduce stress to the immune system. Besides all that, it has a lovely earthy and slightly spicy taste. My favorite is Organic India’s Peppermint Tulsi Tea. This tea is often sold out at the stores that carry it, so now when I see it I grab at least two boxes!
- Sportea: I saved this tea for last because it’s not strictly caffeine-free. Sportea is a blend of black and green tea with some other herbs (including Ginseng) and flavoring. Because black and green teas contain caffeine, I contacted the company to inquire about their decaffeination processes. There are a number of ways to get caffeine out of plant matter- some less nasty than others. Many companies use harsh chemical solvents to remove it. As an example Starbucks* uses dichloromethane, an organic compound that is metabolized to carbon monoxide in humans, to decaffeinate their coffee beans. Some may say that I would have time to get enough rest and wouldn’t need caffeine if I didn’t spend all my time emailing tea companies to inquire about their chemical processing, but those people are crazy. Back to the matter at hand: Sportea doesn’t actually decaffeinate their tea, they just blend it with enough herbal tea so that it is “decaf-equivalent.” That means it contains about 3mg of caffeine per cup, as compared to 40mg in a cup of coffee. Which is precisely why I love this tea- it allows me to slowly wean myself away from my addiction rather than going cold turkey! Additionally it has a pleasant lemony flavor, and is good hot or iced.
*As per a letter from Starbucks Customer Relations in 2009, I’m not sure if it has changed since then. Also I’m not saying here that decaf coffee has carbon monoxide in it, I’m just saying that a potentially hazardous chemical is used in the processing of the food. Don’t be silly.
Remember when natural body care products used to stink? Not too many years ago if you wanted to use toxin-free products you had to be willing to stink like patchouli*, use soaps that were either too harsh or totally ineffective, and deal with dull and frizzy hair.
Thankfully, due to a rising public interest in products free of nasty chemicals like parabens and phthalates, you can now find natural body care products that perform just as well or better than the traditional stuff!
- 100% Pure: This French company makes a wide range of products, but I am particularly enamored with their fruit pigmented cosmetics. They have more coverage than other natural cosmetics I’ve tried (it’ll camouflage a pimple) and they come in a wide range of shades for all skin tones.
- EO: This California company also makes several different products, but I am in love with their hair care line! It’s inexpensive (the products are all under ten dollars) and it makes my hair shiny and soft. My favorite is the Protective Shampoo and Conditioner; it washes all the sweat and grit out of my hair but doesn’t dry it out.
- Hamadi: I never leave home without this company’s lip balm, it’s the best! Made with shea butter and tea tree oil, it keeps my lips smooth but doesn’t irritate my skin when I inevitably sweat it off (do you see a theme here?).
- Kiss My Face: My armpits and I went on a quest this Summer to find an aluminum-free deodorant that actually works, and this brand’s Liquid Rock was the clear winner. While other brands wore off about halfway through my workout, this one kept me odor-free throughout. They also make an adorable little travel size version that will fit in any purse and costs a mere $1.29.
- Nezza Naturals: I took a quick trip to Victoria BC with my honey last week. As per my usual routine, I packed in a hurry. I discovered in the hotel that evening that just about all of the skincare products I thought I had packed were in fact empty bottles- yikes! The next morning I was scouring the streets for natural skincare and I came across Nezza Naturals’ store on Fan Tan Alley. Now I feel like I need to hop back on the Clipper every time I need a new moisturizer! Their Zit Zapper works wonders without irritating, I keep it in my purse for emergencies.
- Solace Essentials: I’m not a big fan of added fragrances, but the aromatherapy blends in Solace Essentials soaps and lotions are pleasantly subtle. This Seattle company’s Body Balm is just the right blend for dry hands and feet- thick enough to stay put without being too greasy.
- Sumbody: Having avoided crazy acne breakouts throughout my teens and early twenties, I thought I was in the clear when it came to pimples by the time I reached the ripe old age of 29. I was wrong. It could have something to do with the fact that I spend about an hour a day sweating and laying face down on filthy gym floors, but I’m not jumping to any conclusions. To make a long story short (too late!), this California company’s acne line is the only stuff I’ve found that keeps my face clear and doesn’t dry out my maturing skin.
Well that completes the list of my current all-natural faves. Keep in mind that labeling for personal care products is highly unregulated and can therefore be confusing as heck. If you’d like to learn more about which individual body care products are best for you and the environment, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.
*Author’s note: I do actually like the smell of patchouli, but it’s not for everyone and certainly not for every occasion!
Summer has made a sudden departure in the Pacific NW, and in its absence rainy Fall has made a hasty and unwelcome entrance. I've been in Seattle for four years now and I still can't quite get used to the endless days of cold grey drizzle that we encounter here September through May (or sometimes July a la 2011). Unfortunately I've learned through four years of careful study that complaining about the weather doesn't actually do anything about it. However I have come up with a few coping mechanisms to beat the lack of heat, and I thought this rainy, windy, 58 degree day would be a good time to share them with you:
- Invest in some indoor plants. I've found two major benefits to keeping potted plants around my windowsills- the colors cheer me up and the fact that I have to take care of them gives me something to feel accomplished about when I've lost my will to live due to the lack of sunlight (which usually happens around February). If you're new to houseplants try a succulent like an Aloe plant or Jade tree- as this About.com page puts it "they are beautiful and nearly indestructible."
- Get yourself an indoor sunlight bulb or fixture. Spending twenty minutes a day under these lights really can make a difference in your mood. To take care of both my first and second recommendations head to the Indoor Sun Shoppe in Fremont. They sell both plants and indoor sunlight fixtures. The employees are incredibly nice and knowledgable. It's right across the street from the Theo Chocolate factory. What more motivation do you need?
- Get thee to a greenhouse. They're warm, humid, full of beautiful plants, and often free to visit. One of my favorites is the Conservatory in Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill. It's warm and very well taken care of, you can stroll through for free or leave a little donation to keep them going.
- Spend some quality time in a warm, dark room. This sounds like a sexy one! You can take this suggestion where ever your imagination dares to go, but I'm talking about self care such as massage, skincare, and yoga. Spending an hour or two in a warm dark place doing something nurturing for your body can be a great winter mood booster. Low on self care funds? I hear ya. Try getting your treatments from students at teaching clinics such as the Bastyr Center (got to plug my people), the Gary Manuel Aveda Institute, or the Cortiva Massage Therapy School.
- Make chai tea from scratch. Really any warm beverage will do, but making chai tea makes your whole house smell like a spicy Indian wonderland. Also the warming spices like ginger and cinnamon can help bring your body temperature back to normal. There are oodles of recipes online, I recently tried this one and really enjoyed it. I added a little bit of coconut milk to it to make it super fatty and delicious- yum!