Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

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Combat winter blues with aromatherapy

CitrusBy Julie Streeter, RN, NCTMB, Certified Aromatherapist, learning and development specialist

As the days get shorter and the sun becomes less intense, my overall mood seems to diminish. One way I combat the winter blues is through aromatherapy, which uses essential oils from plants to maintain and restore health.

I love the fresh, clean aroma of citrus oils and find that even a quick spritz of a citrus spray can improve my mood and refocus my attention. An added bonus is that the citrus oils can be used for green cleaning too.

Smell is one of our strongest senses. When we breathe in an aroma, scent molecules travel through the nose to the olfactory membrane. The receptors there recognize scent molecules and send messages to the limbic system of the brain. The limbic system holds involuntary emotional responses, and we assign emotions to the aromas we breathe in.

That is why when I smell citrus, I am reminded of words like clean, uplifting and fresh, and I am transported back to summer days sipping lemonade by the lake.

One of my favorite citrus blends includes the essential oils of sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) and lemon (Citrus limon). I make the following citrus spray for a mood enhancer.

Citrus spray: Take a four-ounce spray bottle and fill it with 3.5 ounces of water. Add 12 drops of sweet orange (Citrus sinensis), 12 drops of grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) and 12 drops of lemon (Citrus limon) essential oils. When ready to use the spray, shake the bottle and spritz into the air.

Although the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing clinics in Minneapolis and Fridley sell essential oils, they do not carry these particular ones. You can order citrus oils online from Plant Extracts International, which supplies Allina Health with essential oils.

But wait … it gets even better. The citrus oils not only have wonderful aromas that remind us of summer days, they also have antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties.  Essential oils are made up of many chemical components.  In citrus oils, the main chemical component is d-limonene, which research has shown has disinfectant properties.

During winter months with bacteria and viruses lingering in the air and on surfaces, I use the citrus spray on my countertops and door knobs to fight germs.

When using citrus oils, it is important to note some safety concerns:

  • Citrus oils should not be applied directly to the skin as they can be irritating.
  • If applying to skin, citrus oils should be mixed in a carrier oil (like jojoba or grape seed) or unscented lotion at a 1 percent dilution, or 5-6 drops of essential oil to 1 ounce of oil or lotion.
  • Most citrus oils are phototoxic, which means that if the oils are used on the skin and the skin is exposed to sunlight, the ultraviolet rays of the sun are enhanced and sunburn may occur. To be safe, cover up any exposed skin for 24 hours after applying citrus oils when going outside.
  • It is best to use organic or unsprayed citrus oils because they are made from the rind of the fruit. Pesticides have been found in citrus essential oils that are not grown organically.

So, if you are feeling like the winter blues are setting in, try mixing up some citrus spray to improve your mood, and wipe down a few countertops while you are at it.

Julie Streeter, RN, NCTMB, is a Certified Aromatherapist and a learning and development specialist for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. The Penny George Institute sells essential oils for aromatherapy at its outpatient clinics at Abbott Northwestern Hospital and Unity Hospital. The Penny George Institute also offers aromatherapy classes and services.

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The scent of sweet marjoram, and the power of integrative therapies


by Vicky Grossman, NCTM, Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

I work for the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing as an integrative health practitioner at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Certified in massage therapy, I offer hospitalized patients massage therapy , aromatherapy, reflexology, relaxation techniques, guided imagery, and energy work such as healing touch or Reiki,.

I am at times struck by how these therapies and approaches help different people heal in different, and sometimes powerful, ways. One moment like this occurred with a patient who was hospitalized with a form of an inflammatory bowel disease.

The patient, who ultimately needed surgery, experienced a great deal of pain and anxiety prior to that. I treated this patient several times. Our first encounter included reflexology, using pressure points and massage on the feet, and aromatherapy. I used the essential oil sweet marjoram to address the pain.

The patient’s response to the inhalation of sweet marjoram was nothing less than an amazing surprise, even to me!  The patient enjoyed the scent immensely and found it not only helped with the pain, but also with the anxiety. Following these treatments, the pain was reduced, and the anxiety dropped to almost nothing.

At one point, the patient was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in an emergent situation. While there, the patient was sedated and not particularly interactive.  When I visited the ICU, I left sweet marjoram with a family member of the patient to use once the patient became more alert.

I was told that periodically the patient’s blood pressure or respiration would become elevated, and the patient’s family member would administer the sweet marjoram for inhalation. He was astounded at how the blood pressure and respiration would return to a normal range.

I feel honored to treat patients with what can be a powerful combination of healing therapies and approaches. There is such great potential for gain in using these non-invasive, non-pharmacological approaches to pain managment, anxiety and healing.

If you want to learn more about integrative health approaches to help with pain, stress management, cancer care, or even just health and wellness improvement, visit the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing Web site. If pain is an issue for you, visit our online pain education tool, which introduces integrative approaches for pain management.

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The power of sleep

by Molly Ellefson, MS, NCC

iStock_000007134013XSmallWhen I was a child, I fought bed time like a warrior nearly every night.  I have memories of making my sister stay up and play games with me and of reading under the covers with a flashlight. This pattern stayed with me into my college and young adult years. I worked part-time at a bakery, and there were many mornings I went to work without any sleep at all.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I understand the importance of sleep.  When I haven’t had enough, it’s harder for me to focus, and I’m more likely to catch a bug. I even struggle to eat healthfully and exercise.

As a wellness coach, I see my clients struggle with this as well.  They often feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities in their lives: child rearing, aging parents, work, community obligations and financial strain. Sleep is often the first thing that gets sacrificed to fit in everything else.

What many people don’t understand is that sleep is a necessity, not a luxury.  It isn’t something we can postpone or ignore.  Inadequate sleep has been linked to everything from cancer to strokes.  When we don’t get enough, it stresses our bodies.  Over time, being in this chronic state of stress has serious implications.

So, what can you do to improve your sleep?  Here are six things that help me:

  1. Take 30 to 60 minutes to wind down before going to bed. I use that time to read.
  2. Turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bed, including cell phones, iPads and laptops.  These electronics emit “blue light,” a light similar to day light, which tells your brain it’s time to be awake.
  3. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.  This can be hard, especially on the weekends.  But you can help your body’s rhythm become more regulated. This makes it easier to fall asleep and wake up.
  4. Invest in a quality bed and bedding.  It can seem daunting to invest a lot of money in this, but we spend nearly a third of our lives sleeping.  Think how much we spend on our cars, where we spend a lot less time.
  5. If you cannot fall asleep in 30 minutes, get out of bed and do something else. Your bed should be a place of calm, not cause anxiety.
  6. Try some integrative health therapies.  Try aromatherapy. Lavender oil is known for its relaxation properties.  Just put a drop on a tissue near your pillow. You can also try deep breathing, guided imagery or another relaxation technique.

I hope you find these tips helpful.  It is good to remember that everyone has trouble sleeping at times.  However, if it happens more often than not and affects your daily activities, it might be time to speak to your physician or inquire about a sleep study.

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Three ways to fight cold and flu with aromatherapy

by Mary Ellen Kinney, RN, BA, HN-BC, CCAP, Integrative Health Nurse Clinician

Recently, a friend invited me to a play.  She was so generous that she not only bought my ticket, she also shared her flu virus with me! Three days later, a dry throat, a headache, sneezing and aching muscles started.

I knew this was a possibility. So to boost my immune system, I started aromatherapy ― the use of essential oils from specific plants to maintain and improve health.  Though the dry throat and sneezing continued for a few days, the symptoms stopped there. I’m convinced aromatherapy shut down the flu.

Here are three strategies that worked for me that you can try, too:

  1.  A diffuser – This is a small device used to disperse essential oils so that the scent enters the surrounding air. I used my diffuser for five nights while I slept until the symptoms resolved. My diffuser holds about two cups of distilled water to which I added 10 drops of two oils ― Ravensara (agathophyllum aromatica) and Eucalyptus radiata (eucalyptus radiate). Both contain ingredients with antiviral properties. If you don’t have a diffuser, simply put two drops of each essential oil on a tissue and slide it between your pillow and pillowcase.
  2. Steaming water – Heat up water to almost boiling, pour it in a bowl, add two drops of essential oil, put a towel over your head (which you hold over the bowl), and breathe the steam vapors for about five minutes. It’s important to keep your eyes closed the whole time. Steaming is also effective when your sinuses are congested. You can steam with Eucalyptus Radiata or the stronger Eucalyptus Globulus.
  3. Massage – I massaged an aromatherapy blend of essential oils on the skin of my neck, upper chest, the base of my head and my face (especially under my nose) to keep my immune system strong. I blended two drops each of Lavender (lavandula angustifolia) and Blue Cypress (callitris intratropica) with a teaspoon of jojoba massage oil. Essential oils can be blended into any unscented lotion or massage oil.


You don’t need to go out and buy all these essential oils. Instead, consider which essential oil most interested you, and start with that one. The Penny George Institute for Health and Healing Outpatient Clinics in Minneapolis and Fridley sell a selection of essential oils. If you want to order online, the companies I know to be reputable are Plant Extracts International, Aromatics International, Aromaceuticals and Mountain Rose.

Before you start, here a couple of safety tips:

  • Always dilute essential oils before applying to the skin. A one percent to four percent dilution is best. Less is better than more in aromatherapy. One drop of essential oils in one teaspoon of carrier oil/massage lotion gives you a one percent dilution.
  • If you are pregnant, have medical problems, or are tending to a child under the age of six, it is wise to use essential oils under the guidance of a qualified aromatherapy practitioner.


Use Chinese Medicine to fight cold and flu

by Megan Odell, L.Ac., MS

We’ve all seen the headlines. We’ve heard our doctors, friends and families talking about it – the flu is here and it does indeed appear to be particularly virulent this year.  “We are clearly at a high level of influenza activity in the state,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger, MD, said in a recent statement. It is easy to walk through our days with worry, cringing every time someone near us coughs.

And then… the dreaded thing happens: a tickle in your throat. A sneeze.  A sniffle.  And within hours you are in the full-on evil grasp of a cold, or the flu. You are miserable and tempted to throw rational thought out the window, along with your wadded up tissues.

What do you do then? First, stay calm. Seasonal influenza has always been a part of winter, and there are many ways to get well. You certainly can choose to manage the symptoms with a variety of over-the-counter medications, but many of us tire of this approach because it leaves us feeling dried-out, woozy and out of control. So what do you do if you are interested in avoiding pharmaceuticals, or, even better, if you want to find a way to strengthen your immune system and skip the sickness altogether?

According Chinese Medicine, cold and flu are interchangeable; both are caused by a weakening of the body’s defenses and the simultaneous invasion of a pathogen, usually through the nose and skin. Chinese Medicine takes a proactive approach to strengthen the body’s defenses before the virus can take hold. Then, if any pathogens sneak past the body’s defenses, we work to definitively get rid of it.

It bears stating directly: Chinese medicine practitioners do not believe in simply managing the symptoms.

Acupuncture and herbal formulas can do a lot of good for preventing and treating cold and flu, but there is a lot that you can do at home.

Strengthen your body

Chinese Medicine instructs us to tonify the Defensive Qi

  1. Wash your hands. Often.  Dry cracked skin is not a sufficient excuse to avoid hand-washing. Splurge on a high-quality hand cream – whatever it takes to keep you washing your hands.
  2. Get plenty of sleep. Eight- nine uninterrupted hours each night is recommended.
  3. Eat foods that are nourishing and easy to digest. Choose broth-based soups and stews, cooked grains and vegetables, and some organic meat. Try congee (recipe is below). Replace coffee with green tea. Eat slowly, focusing only on the sensuality of your food. Avoid dairy, overly processed foods, sugars/sweets and fried, rich foods.
  4. Manage your stress, meditate and breathe.
  5. Bundle up! Wear your warmest clothes and keep your skin and nose protected from the wind (remember that Asian medicine believes the pathogen enters through these pathways).
  6. Get some acupuncture & Chinese herbs. Here at the Penny George Institute for Healing Outpatient Clinic, we strengthen the defensive Qi by needling specific points and prescribing herbal formulas ― both of which are customized to your body’s unique pattern of harmony and disharmony, balance and imbalance.

Manage the Acute Attack

Chinese medicine instructs us to expel the pathogen

  1. If the symptoms rear their ugly heads, decide whether they are more “hot” or “cold.” In Chinese Medicine, “cold” symptoms include sneezing, runny nose with clear or white phlegm, itchy throat, coughing up clear or white mucus, and an achey body. If you have them, Chinese Medicine says you have “wind-cold.” “Hot” symptoms include sore throat, more fever than chills, thirst, nasal congestion with yellow phlegm, and coughing up yellow sputum. These symptoms mean you have “wind-heat.”  The categorization of symptoms can shift throughout your sickness.This knowledge will help you to know how to proceed with foods and herbs.
  2. Eat and drink to expel the pathogen. Eat plenty of broth-based soups and rice. Drink warm liquids. Then, if your symptoms are more “wind-cold,” add ginger, cinnamon, green onion and garlic to your foods. If your symptoms are more “wind-heat,” drink lots of peppermint tea and eat cooling fruits, like oranges and other citrus fruits. Regardless of the type of pathogen you have, avoid dairy, sugars/sweets, and rich or fried foods.
  3. Get cozy and rest! Keep wearing your warmest clothes and keep your skin and nose protected from the wind. In addition to warding off more pathogens, this will also help the body to sweat – a primary way that the body expels the pathogen. Rest. Sleep. Let the body use most of its energy to fight the pathogen.
  4. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Here in the Penny George Institute outpatient clinic, all treatments are customized to the exact pattern of symptoms that you are experiencing. I am pleased to report that most acupuncturists and herbalists are able to help your body “kick the symptoms” within a few days, especially if we’re able to get at it quickly.
  5. And finally, know when it is time to consult your family doctor. If you have an extremely high fever or if the fever lasts more than three days, if wheezing develops or you are finding it harder and harder to breathe – Go see your doctor (and I don’t mean Dr. Google).

As Health Commissioner Ehlinger said, we are indeed at a high level of influenza activity in Minnesota, but the commissioner finished his statement with a word of caution, “It’s important to keep this year in perspective: What is occurring has happened before.” These words deserve to be heeded. This is indeed serious and warrants taking your health and your family’s health very seriously – but we do not need to indulge any fear fantasies or “what if” scenarios gone mad. This has happened before and it will happen again. The most important thing is to keep yourself and your family healthy, conquer your symptoms as quickly as possible, and then get out there and enjoy your life. You will feel good again.

Immunity Congee

Congee is a rice porridge that is eaten in many Asian countries.  In some countries it is primarily a breakfast food, often mixed with egg, and in others it is eaten anytime.  Because congee is incredibly easy to digest, it is often used as the foundation for dietary therapy, with other ingredients added to boost the specific therapeutic results.  This naturally sweet congee is designed to strengthen the body’s defensive Qi, making it an ideal food for preventing cold and flu — although be warned that eating this after symptoms appear could result in prolonging the life of the symptoms! Also, anyone with an autoimmune condition should avoid the ingredient astragalus.


  • 1-2 strips of astragalus (can be found from herbalists or some co-ops)*
  • 1/2 cup long grain rice
  • 8 cups water or stock
  • 15 small pitted dates, chopped
  • 1-2 carrots sliced
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cardamom

Simmer all ingredients in a large pot for at least two hours, stirring occasionally.  Enjoy!

*Anyone with an autoimmune condition should speak with their health care provider before using astragalus.