Dietary habits and plant medicine can offer a wealth of support for those diagnosed with type II diabetes. There are a number of herbs that are viewed as “blood sugar balancers” as well as some herbs that behave like insulin, taking glucose and moving it into the body’s cells. Some of the herbs I will write about in this article are still being researched, but let’s be mindful that they already have rich traditional use and application here and in their countries of origin.
With many health disorders, balancing blood sugar levels can play a crucial role in stabilizing health and the systems of the body. Unfortunately, in our fast-paced American society, simple things like regular meals made with whole foods fall to the wayside due to work or school. However, the first step to normalizing blood sugar *is* to have regular meals with a light snack in between so that we can take ourselves off the blood sugar roller coaster.
Diets rich in vegetables (especially leafy greens), healthy fats and proteins, and some grains and fruits can help reverse the damage of high carbohydrate and high sugar diets. As well, regular exercise, even just walking a couple miles a few times a week, can have a dramatic impact on overall well-being. Not only is walking a wonderful way to get the lymphatic fluid moving in the body (one of our key waste removal systems as well as playing an important role in immune function), it helps us reduce stress, and exposes us to Vitamin D from the sun.
If you are diagnosed with type II diabetes, a great way to start the day would be a breakfast high in healthy fat and protein. Pastured eggs and bacon with a side of greens would be an ideal combination. Also, bone broth or soup stock can be sipped on in the morning for its mineral content, its ability to support liver function, and its healing effect on the intestinal lining. Choosing a breakfast high in protein will also help your blood sugar be at a balanced level from the start of the day. Instead of a carbohydrate-rich scone and cup of coffee with sugar and cream, reach for a nourishing breakfast, in a proportion that is appropriate for you, that will supply you energy to last until lunch-time.
As far as herbal support goes, there are quite a few herbs that can be integrated into your weekly routine to support your dietary changes. I will list them below with a brief description by each of them.
Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia speciosa) – I’ll start with crepe myrtle as it is just everywhere in the South! I think that it has arrived here for the important role of helping those with blood sugar issues! Crepe Myrtle is called Banaba in the Philippines. It is a medicinal plant that grows in India, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines and it also happens to be a favored ornamental here in the Deep South. In the Philippines and Southeast Asia, it is a folk medicine for patients with diabetes. The blood sugar-lowering effect of crepe myrtle leaf is similar to that of insulin, which induces glucose transport from the blood into body cells. In the Philippines, the leaves are drunk daily as a tea. Herbalist Phyllis D. Light from Arab, Alabama suggests 1 tablespoon of dried, crushed leaves of crepe myrtle in 1 quart of water, simmered for 20 min’s and drunk throughout the day.
Prickly Pear (Opuntia spp) – Prickly pear cactus is found certain parts of Mississippi. For some reason I see it a lot around Starkville and Columbus, but not many other parts of the state. I actually found a thorn-less prickly pear growing around Cedar Bluff and brought some home to my garden. The two native species of prickly pear definitely have spikes, so be careful! Herbalist Sam Coffman writes about prickly pear, “people often scramble them with eggs, onions, peppers, etc. The benefits from eating prickly pear directly as a medicinal food lie mostly in its use for early (or any stage) type II diabetes. The high percentage of inulin serves to maintain a lower glycemic index of both the prickly pear itself as well as the food eaten with it. It slows down the digestion of food, moderating glycemic spikes in the bloodstream. You can just cut them into strips, skin and all, andcook them that way, like bell peppers.”
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) – Known as the “mushroom of immortality” in China and Japan, it is heavily utilized in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Fortunately, the same mushroom that grows in Asia is the same species we have growing here in the Deep South. This mushroom grows on the dead roots of trees that have been cut down, favoring hardwoods. I absolutely love this mushroom and it is one of my favorite herbs to work with. You can order this herb or harvest it locally yourself. There is quite a bit of research being done on how it balances blood sugar levels for those with type II diabetes. The mushroom is known as a strong anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, immuno-modulator (increasing immune function without stimulating immune response), and blood sugar balancer.
To partake of the mushroom, take dried mushroom material and simmer it in water for 2 hours. This is very important as the polysaccharides in the mushroom need simmering water for this long to break down and transport to the water medium. One average sized mushroom to 1 quart of water. The mushroom is fairly bitter, so sweeten with honey if you need to. You can also take reishi in capsule form or powdered form. I suggest Fungi Perfecti or Mushroom Harvest as good sources for this. I also make a double extraction of reishi at my apothecary.
As well, herbs that support liver function like dandelion and burdock would be good herbs to integrate into your diet. They are also digestive bitters, which helps maintain balanced blood sugar while promoting digestive function. You can simmer them in water for 20 min’s and drink (roughly 1 tablespoon to 2 cups of water) or take as a tincture.
There are other herbs that can be utilized to help maintain good blood sugar levels, but I do have to end my blog post at some point (smile). Just know that many plants and herbs that grow wild have a very positive affect on blood sugar levels. That is why indigenous and traditional diets are largely devoid of diabetes. We in the modern world are just now beginning to understand the wisdom of these cultures and their dietary habits.