If working with clients over the last 25+ years has taught us anything it’s that our bodies are wise! Many of us lead busy lives and depend on our intelligent bodies to adapt and go with the flow that our lifestyles demand, right? Fortunately, most of our bodies do so relatively well for a number of years, but there are some lifestyle factors that can start to lessen this natural ability to acclimate and readjust, leaving us feeling tired, foggy-brained, and not 100%.
One of the other things we’ve witnessed is that people are generally good at reading their body’s signs or needs, but many folks were not necessarily given the tools to meet these needs in nourishing ways.
Allow me to paint a common picture. You’re headed home from a long day, feeling overstimulated and spent, but grateful that it’s finally time to unplug and relax! You might even be picturing the things you’re craving to self-soothe: the faces of your loved ones, the comfort of your sweatpants or your couch, some chill music, or your favorite show… However those cravings commonly also materialize in the form of a rewarding treat
or maybe even that glass of wine or evening cocktail.
Or how about on your days off? You are ready to finally let loose, let go of structure, and freaking relax already! Many folks end up turning to comfort foods, “cheat days”, and alcohol (the most socially accepted relaxation tool) in an attempt to let go of the stresses of the week. It often also serves the purpose of reducing social anxieties and helping us to feel more comfortable when gathering with friends or when meeting new people.
We crave the ability to let go and just be our fun, relaxed, authentic selves! What’s the harm in that?
Doesn’t Alcohol Provide Some Health Benefits?
It can be argued that fermented beverages have been firmly rooted in our cultural history for generations. The Japanese have been making sake for about 2,000 years and winemaking began 8,000 years ago! It can’t be all bad, right?
There are studies that show drinking in moderation may provide health benefits for some. The consensus is that this is no more than one drink per day which equates to one 5 oz. glass of wine, 1 can or bottle of beer with 5% alcohol, or 1.5 oz of liquor.
Most resources focus on the benefits of red wine because of its level of polyphenols: plant chemicals that combat free radical damage and reduce oxidative stress in the body. Cellular damage underlies many pathological processes in the body, including the development of cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline, so red wine has been promoted as a part of a healthy way to prevent disease.
While red wine might be a source of certain health-promoting phytochemicals and drinking a well-savored glass periodically can be an integral part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, it’s also important to point out that we can get those same beneficial plant compounds from other fresh foods without the negative effects of the alcohol. It’s hard to argue that whole foods like broccoli, red cabbage, beans, leafy greens, berries, cherries, citrus fruits, and green tea aren’t better choices if you are actively working to resolve a health imbalance.
Other studies have pointed to the possibility that infrequent red wine consumption may promote brain health. While this may be true for healthy individuals, if you are currently experiencing cognitive issues such as brain fog, anxiety, or depression, moderate alcohol consumption may actually make you feel worse.
As always, we emphasize that we are all beautifully biochemically unique! While we might share similar anatomy and physiology, we all have different genetics, exposures during our fetal and childhood development, health histories, sensitivities, foods in rotation, amounts of rest and sleep, stress levels, ways of handling stress, toxin exposures, abilities to detoxify efficiently, chronic health conditions, digestive, immune, and hormonal health imbalances, etc.
This means that alcohol will not necessarily have the same effect on everyone, and the downsides of even a moderate amount may outweigh the benefits for some.
Is Alcohol Holding You Back?
One of the things we support our clients in is curating a sense of curiosity when it comes to our bodies and the way that things affect their functioning. We are not against the occasional use of alcohol, but we do acknowledge that incorporating alcohol regularly, or in large quantities, can exacerbate certain mental and physical symptoms and impede your progress if you have specific health goals you’re working towards.
Here are some ways that you can assess if moderate alcohol intake is working for you right now:
Energy is a precious commodity and fatigue is the number one reason that people seek out our services! When it comes down to it, low energy is one of the first ways our bodies communicate that something is just not right. Alcohol’s effect on energy is multifaceted so consumption is worth paying attention to.
- Studies show that regular alcohol consumption can reduce micronutrient levels such as magnesium, zinc, B12, and folate and this can result in fatigue.
- Alcohol bogs down our detoxification pathways which directly affects how energetic we feel.
- Alcohol will also influence how well we sleep which definitely plays a role in how tired we might feel the next day & beyond. The women we work with commonly report that they wake up in the middle of the night more often on the nights that they drink.
Brain Function & Mood Stability
The cognitive effects of alcohol use tend to be dependent on amount and frequency in addition to someone’s health history and current health factors, however, they may include memory loss, problems with learning, and an increased chance of developing dementia.
Alcohol use, especially when excessive, can also exacerbate depression and anxiety.
Immune System Efficiency
Heavy alcohol consumption has been shown to inhibit immune system function in multiple ways:
- Alcohol reduces probiotic (beneficial bacteria) levels and increases gut permeability, both of which negatively impact our immune system’s ability to function normally.
- It reduces the activity of macrophages, our body’s first line of defense against pathogens such as bacteria and viruses.
- It decreases phagocytosis which is the process by which our neutrophils engulf and destroy pathogens.
- Heavy alcohol consumption also creates a pro-inflammatory state, reducing our ability to clear pathogens efficiently.
If you have a chronic health condition or find that you feel fearful about becoming ill it makes sense to greatly limit, if not completely cut out alcohol until your health situation improves or you are feeling more confident.
Drinking alcohol produces more pronounced swings in blood sugar which puts stress on our adrenal glands and therefore our whole hormonal system. (The more sugar the drink contains, the greater the impact.)
Excessive alcohol consumption also increases androgen hormone production in women so conditions like PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), and hormonally related acne, head hair loss, facial and body hair overgrowth, and mood irregularity are commonly exacerbated.
Drinking alcohol has been shown to increase estrogen levels so it can affect things like PMS symptoms, irregular, heavy, or painful periods, and thyroid disorders. Research has shown that drinking can make you 45% more likely to experience PMS symptoms. More than one drink a day ups that to a 79% increase in risk!
Our perimenopausal & menopausal clients definitely report an increase in hot flashes when they drink. This is not only because of the effect on our adrenal glands but how alcohol also impacts our livers and their ability to effectively break down excess hormones.
Men’s hormones aren’t immune to alcohol’s effects either! Heavy intake causes androgen hormones (like testosterone) to convert to estrogen commonly resulting in fat gain in the chest, belly, and thighs as well as low libido. Most men will find these facts SUPER encouraging when considering introducing alternatives to alcohol, right?
You guessed it! Since alcohol can affect hormonal balance it also influences fertility. As we’ve mentioned excessive alcohol consumption can alter hormone levels so it can hinder healthy ovulation, sometimes stopping it all together! It can also have an effect on the health of ovarian cells and has been shown to reduce the success rate of fertility procedures like IVF.
When we work with clients to prepare for a healthy pregnancy we usually recommend that both prospective parents eliminate alcohol at least three months prior to when they hope to conceive. Yes, men too! Studies have actually shown that even moderate drinking can reduce sperm quality in men. Factors also obviously include things like their overall health, toxin exposure, stress level, and the quality of their food.
Have you ever noticed that your desire for nourishing foods goes out the window after having a couple of drinks? You’re not alone! Alcohol lowers our inhibitions in many ways, including our food choices. This is in addition to the negative impact it has on blood sugar and insulin production (which are both factors in weight gain) and the inhibition of leptin and glucagon-like peptide-1, hormones that reduce appetite.
While we don’t place a ton of emphasis on the number on the scale as the determination of overall wellness, diversifying your relaxation tools can be helpful if you’re not feeling comfortable at your current weight.
This is another complicated topic as our society has a super unhealthy relationship with natural aging. What we can say is that alcohol is dehydrating so it definitely affects the appearance of our skin. Also, the stress that alcohol causes the multiple body systems mentioned above only increases the rate at which the “signs of aging” develop. So, if this is a concern for you it could be helpful to drink less.
A Functional Alternative with Side Benefits Instead of Side Effects!
In the essence of feeling truly empowered in your health it’s important to realize that you have options! We all experience stress on some level and look to outside tools to self-soothe. What if you had an option that helps you relax and feel at ease but also happens to bolster your health instead of diminishing it?
Medicinal herbs are amazing, multitasking, nourishing tools! The plethora of both mental and physical health benefits experienced when you incorporate them into your life regularly have not only been discovered and passed down by our ancestors over generations, but the details of their actions have been carefully studied and vigorously documented throughout the last century.
Having been a clinical herbalist since 2000 I take great joy in formulating combinations of synergistic herbs with very specific actions in mind. This is how FREE SPIRIT ELIXIR was born! We’ve found that many clients who were working towards resolving chronic health problems or achieving specific health goals struggled with finding helpful alternatives to alcohol in their effort to drink less.
As you know most alcohol alternatives are simply “virgin” (who came up with that anyway!?!) versions of cocktails. The emphasis is usually on flavor, not function, so sugary juices and syrups are commonly used to make them more enticing and satisfying on some level.
We were determined to offer something that was NOT ONLY DELICIOUS BUT FUNCTIONAL! Why couldn’t we use herbs to provide the acute relaxation benefits that most people look for in alcohol while also including herbs whose benefits are accumulative so that you feel encouraged to use them more regularly? We call that a win-win!
“Free Spirit Elixir is a delicious alternative to alcoholic drinks and wine. Even though I enjoy those beverages from time to time, I am so grateful to have a drink now that can help the stresses go at the end of my day that is delicious, supportive, truly relaxing, and effective without draining or numbing my body which alcohol does. It is fun to experiment with different ways to enjoy it- with lemon, with bitters, with flavored sparkling waters, etc. My body says YES when I reach for my Free Spirit Elixir drink now. I highly recommend it!”
We decided it was important for the formula to be completely alcohol-free so we partnered with a company that specializes in making medicinal plant extracts with glycerin instead of alcohol. Their patented process results in a potent product that has a longer shelf-life than most herbal glycerites and doesn’t require refrigeration.
You simply add 1-2 tsp to any beverage of your choice, warm or cold, making it a completely customizable and fabulous experience! It’s slightly sweet while having a very low glycemic index making it an ideal option for people limiting their sugar intake.
The herbs we carefully chose help to bring a sense of ease to the nervous system and welcome muscles to gently relax. We’ve found that our clients like to use it during the workweek when they want to be on top of their game and can’t afford the negative impacts of alcohol on their energy or brain function.
We’ve also had great reports of Free Spirit Elixir being the perfect thing to bring to a party or enjoy when meeting new people! One of the herbs is a gentle “euphoric” and is considered a bit of a “social lubricant” so that our hearts are more open to making new connections, conversations come with more ease, and healing laughter is unavoidable!
“Choosing not to drink alcohol in a social culture that is based on alcohol consumption can be hard and sometimes I want to have a fancy drink too! Having a delicious, fun, tasty, lubricant that has no alcohol so I can feel like I’m participating is key. The elixir is a perfect social drink that still feels adult, without the alcohol.”
While the formula doesn’t make us feel sleepy, we do find we sleep SOOO GOOD the nights herbal mocktails are on the menu. Just a side benefit of this fabulous formula!
Allow us to introduce you to the star herbs!
This sweet little, delicate plant is one of our favorite restorative nerve tonics so it had to go in the formula! Nervines are a classification of herbs that support our nervous systems and after the couple of years we’ve all had our nervous systems could all use a little love.
The cool thing is that skullcap not only produces an acute feeling of ease when you use it, it also has an accumulative benefit of building the health of our nervous systems over time! Dr. Vasant Ladd even classifies it as an alterative, or an herb that gradually restores the proper function of the body and increases health and vitality. (1) This makes skullcap an especially good choice if you commonly feel anxious, worried, overstimulated, irritable, depleted, or are having trouble winding down enough to get to sleep easily like a lot of our clients are reporting. Hmmm, sounds like the perfect choice for an herbal nightcap if you ask me.
Skullcap is also known to be helpful for tension headaches, nerve pain, and in cases of mild depression. Ed Smith, the co-founder of Herb Pharm and founding member of the American Herbalists Guild, also points out that it’s great for mental overwork, anger, and withdrawal from alcohol and other addictive substances. (2) We’ve used it as a part of our quitting smoking plan for years and clients have had great feedback!
As you can imagine there’s really no pharmaceutical equivalent to skullcap and other nervine herbs. The benefits just keep coming WITHOUT the side effects!
Adoringly called “the plant of the gods” kava has been used for more than 2,500 years in the Polynesian Islands for its many medicinal qualities. Its peeled roots were traditionally “ground and steeped in water to make a drink which continues to be used by Pacific peoples today to infuse spiritual power into ceremony and significant life events, and to facilitate discussion and socialization”. (3)
While it’s commonly known for its natural muscle relaxant and mood-lifting or “euphoric” qualities, it does not cause inebriation like alcohol can. Dr. ‘Apo’ Aporosa, a Research Fellow at the University of Waikato in New Zealand and acknowledged expert on kava, says that “the scientific evidence shows that, though kava relaxes people, unlike alcohol, it does not disinhibit the user or cause intoxication, lead to violent behavior, or markedly affect the drinkers’ cognitive abilities and functioning. These are reasons why kava is popular in socio-cultural settings where it is used to stimulate clear-headed discussion”. (3)
While people often find that they want to continue using kava after being introduced to it, it isn’t inherently addictive. In fact, it’s actually been used in several drug addiction therapy programs to “mitigate alcohol, tobacco and cocaine craving, and to reduce withdrawal symptoms in benzodiazepine addiction.” (3)
Mitch Coven, herbalist and fellow student of the late, great herbalist Michael Moore, says, “Kava is a wonderful anti-depressant that elevates moods and sensory perception, diminishes pain, and decreases adrenaline. It is an emotional limbic brain tonic (it rejuvenates those under great emotional distress).” (4)
For all these reasons and more we felt that kava was THE perfect choice for Free Spirit Elixir! Its gifts spearhead our mission to provide a nourishing alternative to both the usual suspects for weeknight decompression AND the common “social lubricants” that can leave us feeling less than optimal the next day and degrade health over time.
One question we often get is why you’ll see FDA warnings on kava products concerning liver health. “Dr. Aporosa explains that this suggestion emerged in Western Europe in early 2000 following reports that 83 patients taking kava tablets as a herbal remedy had died. This caused many countries to ban the sale of kava until Germany’s Federal Administrative Court ruled in 2014 that it was unlikely that kava had caused the deaths, that liver damage from kava was so rare as to be negligible, and that the ban had unfairly tarnished kava as dangerous.” (3)
Showman and colleagues summarize: “Only a fraction of a handful of cases reviewed for liver toxicity could be, with any certainty, linked to kava consumption and most of those involved the co-ingestion of other medications/supplements.” (5) Additionally, the WHO’s second kava risk assessment in 2016 reported: “On balance, the weight of evidence from both a long history of use of kava beverage and from the more recent research findings indicate that it is possible for kava beverage to be consumed with an acceptably low level of health risk.” (6) “Dr. Aporosa notes that this level of risk gives kava a vastly higher degree of safety than that given to alcohol and tobacco, or to over-the-counter medications like paracetamol.” (3)
Another thing to be aware of is that because kava is so amazing that its popularity has exploded all over the world! Unfortunately, since the very beginnings of herbal commerce, adulteration is something that has taken place with many herbal medicines and even more often with plants that are highly prized or sought after. Parts of the plants may be used that were never used traditionally or even entirely different look-alike plants have been sold under different names. This is why it’s so important to get your medicinal herbs from a reputable company that is connected with all aspects of sourcing, identification, and production. (I’ll be writing an entire blog about this in the future ; )
We are honored to have such a highly revered medicinal plant as a part of our Free Spirit Elixir and are committed to quality sources and using the part of the plant that was traditionally intended.
This sweet plant is one of the most underestimated medicinal herbs! Folks often think of it as a benign yet lovely tasting tea that grandmas always have in the cupboard, when in reality its beneficial actions are diverse and far-reaching! Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar said it best: “There are few medicinal plants as well-loved as chamomile. It is generally regarded as one of the finest and safest medicinals and is used for all manner of disorders.” (7)
Master herbalists Simon Mills and Kerry Bone point out, chamomile is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic (muscle relaxant), mild sedative, carminative (gas relieving), antiulcer, and vulnerary (wound healing)! (8) It’s commonly used for muscle tension, anxiety, worry, irritability, restlessness, joint or muscle inflammation, symptoms of a nervous stomach and Dr. Vasant Lad even says, “It is a sattvic herb that is very balancing to the emotions”. (1) This means that it’s the perfect synergistic ingredient when you are looking to chill out and release the tensions of the day (or the week)!
This valuable herb practically jumped into the Free Spirit Elixir bottle on its own because it’s the perfect complement to the relaxant & “euphoric” qualities of the other herbs.
Gotu kola is the first adaptogenic herb we chose for this formula, so I want to take a moment to explain this amazing classification of medicinal plants. Herbalist Kerry Bone defines them as medicinal plants that “increase the body’s resistance or adaptation to physical, environmental, emotional, or biological stressors and promote normal physiological function”. (9) (If you think this sounds ridiculously cool, you are correct!) They do so via many intricate physiological processes including but not limited to modulating our stress hormone production, balancing other endocrine hormones, and bolstering both our nervous and immune systems. While adaptogenic herbs provide some acute benefits the first time you use them, their true colors really get to shine when taken over longer periods of time because their benefits are accumulative!
Getting back to the fabulous actions of gotu kola, it is also traditionally considered to be a nerve tonic, a healing promoter, and anti-inflammatory. (9) A newer term you’ll also see used to describe gotu kola is “nootropic”: a substance that improves cognitive (brain) function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation. I don’t know about you, but I will take all the help I can get in this department!
Herbalist Mitch Coven says “Gotu kola can be used for those exhausted from emotional upheaval, excessive work habits, and for those who simply put out more energy than they put back into themselves.” (4)
So, you can see why gotu kola volunteered to be in Free Spirit Elixir! It helps reduce the negative impacts of stress (including the mental fatigue so many are experiencing) while SUPPORTING brain function instead of diminishing it like alcohol can. Yay!
Oh, and did I mention it was traditionally used as an aphrodisiac! Yet another side benefit when we consider that consistent alcohol use has been linked to low libido. Just sayin’.
We chose this wonderful adaptogenic plant, formally known as Siberian ginseng because it seems like it was made for the mental and physical challenges of current times. In addition to its ability to help our bodies adapt to stress, it helps to modulate (or balance) our immune systems: a valuable action unique to medicinal herbs & mushrooms.
Eleuthero is commonly used in situations of physical stress, fatigue, and mild depression and has been shown beneficial when working to increase physical or mental stamina. We commonly suggest it to folks recovering from illness in hopes of preventing a long, drawn-out recovery period, and to support people working with addictions whether it be to alcohol, cigarettes, or certain drugs.
“It increases endurance & stamina, enhances mitochondrial activity, speeds recovery, & prevents immune depletion from excessive training. It can be combined with cordyceps, Rhodiola [which is also in Free Spirit Elixir], or Schisandra for enhancing athletic performance and for improving alertness & cognitive function when under severe stress or when working long hours.” (10)
Eleuthero works best when used consistently so that’s a great argument for incorporating your Free Spirit Elixir on the regular!
The last of our adaptogenic herbs in this robust formula, Rhodiola has a long history of reverent use. In Tibetan traditional medicine it was used to nourish the lungs, lower fevers, improve circulation, and enhance energy, Chinese emperors saw it as one of the herbal secrets to long life and immortality and sent expeditions into Siberia to procure it, and the Vikings used it to enhance mental & physical endurance.
Rhodiola is classified as an herbal “antidepressant, antioxidant, antiviral, immune system stimulant, nervine, cardioprotective, and neuroprotective”. (10) There are also sources that mention its ability to enhance libido and both male and female “reproductive functions”, unlike alcohol which can deplete both. I’m wondering who wouldn’t want this herb in their life!
To get technical for a minute for all you fellow herbal science buffs, “Rhodiola stimulates the activity of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the cerebral cortex, brain stem, and hypothalamus, and increases the permeability of the blood-brain barrier to precursors of dopamine and serotonin. This enhances the effects of these neurotransmitters on the brain and improves cognitive functions (thinking, analyzing, evaluating, calculating, and planning), learning, attention span, memory, and work productivity.” (4)
When many of us are at a point where we’re doing our best to keep up while secretly feeling mentally exhausted, I felt like Rhodiola was THE perfect herb for our multifaceted Free Spirit Elixir!
Last but not least this remarkably medicinal aromatic spice is the perfect complement to every other herb in this highly functional formula! It’s a circulatory stimulant, spasmolytic (prevents or relieves muscle spasms/cramps), anti-inflammatory, carminative (gas reducing), anti-emetic (reduces nausea and can help to prevent or relieve vomiting), antiplatelet (blood clot preventative), diaphoretic (warming), and digestive stimulant. (8) Sounds like it would be an ideal ingredient in a relaxing, after dinner mocktail!
In addition to all its other valuable benefits, herbalists often add a little ginger to a formula to encourage the circulation of the other herbs throughout the body and enhance their bioavailability. It’s the proverbial cherry on top!
“I cannot say enough about this addition to my alcohol-free cabinet. An after work come down or a social drink, this elixir is my go-to, leaving me feeling light, calm, and relaxed. I’d say it’s a winner as a replacement nightcap.”
Well Of Course You’ll Want Some Recipes!
• 1-2 tsp Free Spirit Elixir
• Your favorite sparkling mineral water or club soda
Fill a rocks glass with ice. Add Free Spirit Elixir. Top with soda. Gently stir to combine. Garnish with a fresh herb sprig or citrus wedge & enjoy!
• 1-2 tsp Free Spirit Elixir
• 3 oz. kombucha flavor of choice
• Generous squeeze of lemon juice
Combine in a shaker filled with ice. Stir for 30 seconds & strain into a fancy, chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
• 1-2 tsp Free Spirit Elixir
• 2.5 oz. of brewed chai or spiced tea
• 2.5 oz. unfiltered apple cider
Add all ingredients to your favorite mug. Stir & serve with a cinnamon stick.
1. Lad, V., & Frawley, D. (1986). The Yoga of Herbs. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.
2. Smith, E. (1999). Therapeutic Herb Manual (3rd ed.) Williams, OR: Ed Smith.
3. Aporosa, A. (March 27, 2020) De-Mythologizing and Re-Branding the Traditional Drink Kava [Blog post] Retrieved from www.researchoutreach.org
4. Coven, M. (2003). Herbal Handbook (4th ed.) Albuquerque, NM: Wild Harvesting Publications.
5. Showman, A. F., Baker, J. D., Linares, C., Naeole, C. K., Borris, R., Johnston, E., Turner, H. et al. (2015). Contemporary Pacific and Western perspectives on `awa (Piper methysticum) toxicology. Fitoterapia 100, 56–67.
6. Abbott, P. (2016). Kava: A review of the safety of traditional and recreational beverage consumption (Technical Report) . Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Health Organization.
7. Gladstar, R. (1993). Herbal Healing for Women. New York, NY: Fireside.
8. Mills, S., & Bone, K. (2000). Principals and Practice of Phytotherapy (2nd ed.) London, Eng: Churchill Livingstone.
9. Bone, K. (2007). The Ultimate Herbal Compendium. Warwick, Qld: Phytotherapy Press
10. Winston, D., & Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, & Stress Relief. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
The FDA has not evaluated this information. It is intended to inform, not to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease or take the place of personalized advice from a healthcare practitioner. Readers with preexisting conditions or on pharmaceutical medications are encouraged to consult with a practitioner before taking any nutritional supplements or medicinal herb.
China Rose Zamora is a functional nutritional therapist, clinical herbalist, and yoga teacher who has worked in the holistic health field since 1998, has proudly served her community as China Rose Wellness since 2009, and is co-creatrix at Create Real Wellness. When she’s not coaching women to rise to their health potential, practicing herbal alchemy, traveling the country via mobile tiny house teaching inspirational workshops to demystify wellness, or co-facilitating transformational retreats with AJ, her-eco warrior partner in adventure, you can find her meandering on the nearest hiking trail or jammin’ at a local, live music venue. China Rose is a firm believer that wellness encompasses everything that nourishes us, body & soul!