I spent a completely magical summer interning at Sage Mountain, an herbal retreat center and botanical sanctuary in the mountains of Vermont. A fellow intern and I had the best job: working in the herb gardens under the guidance of an amazing gardener in trade for living on premise and attendance to the workshops and conferences.
It’s no secret that I adore violets. As in absolutely adore them.
Some of my favorite medicines to make are the violet ones (rose too, then there’s linden, and chamomile, and red clover…). Violet elixirs, violet tinctures, violet glycerites, I even tried (and failed) to make a violet liqueur.
Not only are they one of my favorite springtime plants of the garden and woods, but they are an invaluable medicinal herb. The thing about violet, along with other some other spring herbs like chickweed, dandelion and cleavers, is that it is so gentle and supportive, yet powerful at the same time.
Like so many other people, I relied on coffee to get me through the day. This my story of how I decided to look deeper into my relationship with coffee, and what I learned in the process.
I had utterly and completely exhausted myself, on top of the ‘normal’ exhaustion of tending to a 1 year day and night. This round of deletion began around the holidays, when my husband and I started to look into buying a house. We wanted to but a fixer upper, as we like to work with our hands and it would help us afford to a home in an area of the city that would normally be out of our price range.
With the way the housing market was going, I knew that once we started looking for a house we were all in. It demanded constant attentiveness and moving quickly. Coffee helped me face the endless tasks at hand, and kept me chipper and able to multitask. What I loved above even the coffee was walking to my local coffee shop with my son. The shop was called Crema. It’s hard not to love Crema. They have fabulous soups that my son and I adore (and killer baked goods, if that’s your thing). The baristas knew us, and it felt like home.
I looked at a lot of houses, after stopping to get a mocha or cup of coffee first, of course. After viewing each home, I spent many hours researching the repairs that house needed, and after our offer was accepted, the research evolved into planning and continued until closing. Then it was 5 weeks of scrambling to work as hard hard as we could to fix it up before moving in.
Those 5 weeks were the hardest 5 weeks of my life. It seems silly to say that, but trying to fix up a much neglected house while parenting a baby nearly pushed me over the edge. Sometimes I swear that coffee was the only thing that got me through!
At the end of March we moved in. Whew! What a whirlwind the last 4 months had been.
I was hoping for relief, but instead came Sickness. We had been majorly depleted from the weeks of working on the house, and sicknesses took advantage of our weakened state and came in all forms and arrangements. One after the other, and sometimes all at once, we all got sick.
After a few months, my husband and son were staying healthy, but I was still getting sick.
It was these continuous bouts of illness which brought me to take a break from coffee. My tender stomach couldn’t handle anything but the most simplistic nourishing foods. Just thinking about coffee soured my stomach!
But more importantly, I deeply realized that I needed to work with the energy I had, however depleted, and not push my body with coffee. I needed healing, not stimulating.
The end of May was my intended final coffee experience.
The first week of no coffee went marvelously. I didn’t miss it, or feel like I needed it, both good signs.
But after the first week I realized there was much more to miss than just the energy from caffeine.
I missed the taste of coffee. I loved the smooth bitterness with the sweet and creamy additions of hemp milk and chocolate. Yet it was easy enough to divert any tastebud cravings towards yummy rich herbal teas with milk (I’ll share my favorite recipe soon), chocolate, and and cocoa nib smoothies.
What I missed the most was the experience of going to coffee shops, where I felt comfort in being surrounded by a variety of adults who also loved coffee. I live in Portland, after all. The coffee shops here are a-mazing. The decor, the smells, the cool music (why do so many coffee shops play records?), the people who seem so functional and productive with their laptops and meet-ups.
It’s like I was no longer ‘one of them’. Without coffee, I was what I was all along underneath: an overly tired new mom trying to piece my life back together, looking for something to make me feel energetic and focused, like how I used to be pre-baby. Going to coffee shops and ordering a mocha made me feel like a normal city person, savoring in the best that urban life has to offer.
True, I could’ve ordered herbal tea or a even a chai instead of coffee, or even decaf, but I knew in my gut that I wasn’t strong enough for that yet.
Despite my cravings for the coffee shop experience, I stayed away from coffee for about 5 weeks straight. My energy was improving slightly, my son stopped teething and started sleeping well, and I lightened up on fixing the house and practiced more self care. I was feeling more nourished.
Those 5 coffee free weeks in early summer were nice. I felt a sense of contentment knowing that I could abstain from something that wasn’t the best fit for my health.
Out of nowhere I started having insomnia. Then a week later, my son started a 3 week bout of teething with lots of night wakings. Like all night long. I was, once again, pushed past my limits. Every day was a new level of exhaustion.
There was one day in July where I had a mocha. I had just a couple of hours of sleep the night prior and I had to work, and I couldn’t imagine functioning without it.
Sounds dramatic, I know. But when I’m tired and need to be on my game, I’m the epitome of dramatic and desperate.
That one mocha helped me get through the day. And it started up a regular coffee habit.
Yeah. After weeks of adjusting to a stimulant free lifestyle, I went right back to where I was.
I am all for harm-reduction and believe in releasing guilt and shame about who we are and what we do. We are all doing the best we can, myself included. I am also a big proponent of mindful eating (and drinking for that matter); if I am going to have coffee, I am going to enjoy every drop of it, dammit!
We embraced. Coffee was made for people like me, I felt. “I’m tired and I’m going to use it to help me through the day”.
In August, the insomnia kicked in again. I was drinking coffee about 4-6 times a week, and although I didn’t know for sure if the insomnia was related to coffee, I decided to cut back or hold off as much as I could.
Some weeks I’d reserve coffee only for mornings before going to work. Or when I had had a particularly hard night. Or when I had an early morning engagement. However, with insomnia and a up-all-night baby, every day seemed particularly hard.
I didn’t have a clear intention of what I was doing, and like many people, I feel lost if things aren’t black or white. Was I letting myself off the hook? And would that mean free-for-all coffee, all the time? Or was I trying to stay away from coffee? I was unsure and couldn’t commit to either.
In the end, it was clear that the situation was more grey. I wavered from one side to the other, and that was just where I was. I avoided committing to staying away from coffee because I didn’t know if I could do it, if I was strong enough to make a decision.
It’s unfortunate that my self-worth fit so easily into a 12 ounce cup. Like so many things related to our health and eating and drinking, I was looking at it with a conditional good-bad dichotomy.
Getting to the root
At the end summer, I finally sought help through herbs, acupuncture and body work. This is when I got to the heart of the intense fatigue I was feeling, and addressed my particular pattern of insomnia.
Coffee helped me though rough days, to be sure. But caffeine doesn’t give “free energy”, it takes it from my reserves. And when I have no reserves, or when I am using more energy than I take in, depletion sets into an already weakened system.
Coffee definitely weakened my digestion, fried my adrenals, tensed my body, made me dizzy and light-headed, and sometimes gave me palpitations and shortness of breath. It also gave me comfort, lifted my spirits, and made me feel sane and normal.
It makes me highly uncomfortable to write this as if implying coffee is a dangerous substance and that I was struggling with ‘real’ addiction and withdrawal. Let’s be real, this is the drug of choice for church-going grandmas; it is strong and pervasive, and not without consequence, but it is nothing compared to what people face with opiate, tobacco, cocaine, alcohol and many other drugs. That being said, it happened to be not the best for me, and it was difficult to live without it.
Where I am now
This coffee break adventure is ongoing. I still don’t know if I am staying away or engaging. I have cut back, and sometimes I go a week without it. Those weeks feel good. It especially feels good when I think I am going to feel like a train wreck without it, but I end up feeling really good.
Sleep is still hard to come by, but my energy is rising incrementally after taking herbs for some time. As my resilience raised, my desire for coffee decreases. The best feeling is walking to get coffee and deciding when I get there that I don’t even want it. Tea tastes just as good. I feel more complete, like I don’t have to reach outside for something that I’m lacking.
When I drink coffee, I either feel great and enjoy it, or I think, “that wasn’t what I was hoping for, oh well”. The worst is when drinking coffee prevents me from taking an afternoon nap with my son. When that happens I use it as a sign to cut back.
Strategies for balance
I learned much from this experience, which is why I was inspired to write this in the first place. Reading back on this story, I wish I would’ve started herbs and acupuncture in January when I first felt exhausted. Prevention is key, but it takes a lot of initiative. Initiative I didn’t feel I was afforded. I was too caught up in what was urgent to take care of myself.
This entire situation has forced me to recognize my patterns of disharmony in my bodily health and behaviors. I’ve come up with what I feel is essential to building my energy:
- daily creativity
- nature and being outdoors
- daily relaxation rituals
- herbal formulas
- acupuncture and body work
As a professional herbalist (and general plant person), my herbs are very important to me. But I have a major roadblock: my herbs are packed away and placed deep in the basement. Not only am I missing out on taking them for my health, but since they are a major route for inspiration and creative expression, my quality of life is reduced without them. My spirit suffers without free access to my creative currency, and thus my vitality wanes.
I realized how intensely important nature is to me and my vitality. Well, I have known this for as long as I can recall, but I became more aware of what precisely happens to me without a daily visit to an urban oasis. Without it, I tend to reach for coffee to give me a spark of energy. A simple morning walk looking at plants and trees is often enough to make me feel vibrant and full of life.
My new house has a teeny tiny bits of yard, and it’s on a corner lot in a hyper-social area of town with virtually no privacy. Once I made sense of how the lack of nature was affecting my energy, I created a semi-private area in my yard where I can retreat, and in through the fall I made frequented it in the evening with a cup of tea in hand.
Spleen 6 is a triple-whammy point for the womb.
It is named “Three Yin Intersection” because all three of the leg Yin acupuncture channels, the Spleen, Liver and Kidney channels, meet here. This makes Spleen 6 a fabulous point for supporting the uterus and lower abdomen, because all of those channels run through that area and have a direct action on women’s health.
Spleen 6, Three Yin Intersection
- Ruler of the Lower Abdomen (the home of the womb)
- Meeting of Liver, Spleen and Kidney Channels
- Regular menstruation, encourages good flow and timing
- Circulation of the uterine area and lower abdomen
- Labor processes
- Postpartum healing
- Lower abdominal healing, such as after surgery or trauma
- Strength and quantity of nourishing Yin and Blood
- Regulation of all bleeding in the body, but especially uterine bleeding
- Calming of anxious states with insomnia or palpitations
- Downward and grounding energy and tuning into pelvis and womb
- General digestive functions
- Structural integrity of the lower pelvis, hips, sacrum, and thighs
- Healing of pelvic pain
Because it acts so strongly on the pelvic organs, Spleen 6 is classified as the Ruler of the Lower Abdomen. Think of any menstrual problem, from irregular bleeding or sluggish-to-start menstruation, cramps, heavy or scanty bleeding, and so on, difficult or stalled labor, postpartum bleeding, or bleeding during miscarriage or abortion.
It can also be used for pelvic pain, like for pelvic inflammatory disease, cysts, pelvic adhesions, healing distasis recti, hernias, or any lower abdominal surgeries.
Spleen 6 is useful for lower digestive pain and tension, too. This makes sense because the Spleen is an important digestive organ.
Spleen 6 is indicated for any and all gynecological issues because it strengthens and regulates Yin and Blood. Yin embodies the receptive, heavy, substantive, dark qualities of the body, earth, spirit and universe, and Blood is a nourishing aspect of Yin itself. Use Spleen 6 as part of a grounding meditation or reflection and intention setting for a full or new moon altar.
Because of its grounding, earthy nature, engaging with Spleen 6 helps to interface with Yin within the body. Yin embodies the receptive, heavy, substantive, dark qualities of the body, earth, spirit and universe.
Any Yin and Yin nourishing point is going to be grounding by nature, but Spleen 6 is even more so because of the Spleen’s association with the Earth element. Acupressure here combined with deep breathing and/or a relaxing body meditation (especially a womb meditation) can induce a feeling of being very grounded. Because of its downward physical and energetic flow, Spleen 6 can calm and release a tight chest, palpitations, anxious feelings, insomnia or simply being up in your head and scattered feeling.
As a practitioner, I use acupuncture and acupressure to treat diseases and help people feel more comfortable. But as time goes on, I am leaning more and more to using the acupuncture points in a way that isn’t only fixing a pathology. Acupuncture can be used to supporting the natural processes of the body, to align the body with the energetic and physical ways it wants or needs to express.
Spleen 6 is a great point to experiment with tuning into the feel of the point without trying to ‘fix’ something. Because of its broad action on anything menstrual or gynecological (or pelvic or digestive) and being so grounding, it can be used as preventative medicine during those times when when one needs flow, grounding and regulation of Blood.
CONTRAINDICATION: this point is not to be used during pregnancy until the ‘guess date aka due date’ is near or passed.
Areas of Action for Spleen 6:
Tonify Yin and Blood, all Spleen disorders.
Digestive disorders, sinking/prolapse.
Gynecological issues, male sexual issues, difficult labor (expel fetus).
Menstrual issues (irregular, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea).
Bleeding disorders, uterine bleeding, cool blood in hot skin diseases.
Insomnia, palpitations, and other anxiety related emotions.
Location of Spleen 6
Technically, Spleen 6 is located three cun up from the point of the inner ankle bone, in a fingertip-sized divot in the fleshy part under the tibia, the inner shin bone.
A cun (pronounced soon) is the measurement in acupuncture. It’s a measurement relative to everybody’s different sizes. One cun on me is going to be different from one cun on someone else. It’s roughly an inch, though, and often taught as the length of the middle part of the pointer finger, between the knuckles on the finger.
A cun is measured using the person receiving acupuncture or pressure treatment in mind.
To find Spleen 6 on someone else, a good rule of thumb is that is around four fingers width above the inner ankle bone. With your fingers together, touch the side of the middle knuckle on the highest part inner ankle bone, then notice the area of your leg on the side of your pinky. Spleen 6 is under the edge of the tibia (towards the back of the leg).
Feel around with gentle pressure of the pad of your finger tip. Glide downwards to find the central divot of the point.
This point may be tender to the touch, or not. When you find it, apply moderate to strong pressure with the tip of your finger.
Try to have at least the end of your finger perpendicular to the point to get the greatest pressure. I like to push about an inch into the point. Sometime I use my fingernail to really make a connection.
However you touch the point, breath and remember your intention. Are you wishing feel a nice and easy menstrual flow? Coordinate uterine contractions during labor? Ease lower belly cramping? Feel calm and grounded, supported by the earth?
Close your eyes and notice what this point feels like, where the energy is flowing locally in the point itself, up and down the leg, into the pelvis and lower abdomen, or anywhere else.
Once you are in tune with the sensation of the point and where that feeling travels (if anywhere) tune into the organs this point traverses. Notice, observe, listen. Tune into your blood, the blood in your body and in your womb or womb-space if you do not have a womb. Imagine free flow.
Spleen 6 meditation
Sit comfortably. Take three grounding breaths. Breath in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, and exhale for 8 counts. Relax your body with each breath.
Set an intention. What would you like to feel, learn, or observe? Take another breath to integrate the intention into your being.
Locate Spleen 6. Take your time, but also don’t get hung up about the exact or perfect location. Feel for a spot that is inviting, active and connected.
Experiment with pressure and penetration of the point. Press at different levels and angles until you find a level that produces a nice sensation you like.
While holding the point, think of the blood flowing in your body. Start with a feel or image of the heart pumping, then the blood flowing though arteries, veins and capillaries.
Bring your awareness to your lower abdomen or uterus. Feel the blood flow in and out of the area via the arteries, veins and capillaries. If you have a uterus, feel the blood circulate through it’s muscular wall. If you don’t have a uterus, feel the blood flow through your pelvic area and lower abdomen.
Settle your attention to a spot that would like to feel a healthy flow. It could be a spot that is achy, dark, cold, cramped, weak or simply needing some invigoration. As you breath and focus on this spot, feel your visualize your heartbeat move blood into and out of this area.
Sit with your feelings as long as you’d like. Give thanks for your body, and the connection to the point and the wisdom held there.
Each of the five elements have an associated flavor; for Earth it is sweet. Read More
As a practitioner I’m always thinking of ways to get herbs into people, and one easy way to do that is the liberal use of spices.
Think about it: the use of herbs and spices in your everyday cooking is like getting dose after dose of herbal medicine. Don’t worry about side effects or overdosing; these food-herbs are ideal for mass consumption.
If I do say so myself, this is probably the best smoothie recipe I’ve had in a while. Everyone I share it with says the same thing, “Oh my goodness, this is SO good.” I concur; and can’t get enough of it! Each time I make it, the turmeric and ginger amounts creep up and up. So far I have yet to approach the too-much-turmeric level.
This smoothie was inspired by golden milk, the turmeric and coconut milk drink of Ayurveda. I took the rich orange and yellow hues of ginger, turmeric and bee pollen and enhanced them with fruits of the same color: pineapple and mango, with banana and coconut flesh added in for good measure.
Oh yeah, and carrot juice. It blends really nicely with both turmeric and coconut milk. I don’t have a juicer but that doesn’t stop me. I buy a jar of carrot juice at Whole Foods when it is on sale. It freezes well, too, and is a good add into to soups and broths. Read More
Cucumber water is one of my all-time favorite summer drinks. Usually, I add lime or pear slices, but I was inspired by the herb garden at Wildcraft Studio School to gather a bunch of tea herbs to my jar.
This fresh herb-infused water was lighter than a brewed tea, and the crisp garden cucumber slices were of course refreshing, but they also added an palatable new dimension of texture to a the water.
Cucumbers are a little mucilaginous, don’t you think? That’s a technical way of saying slimy. Cucumber water is a tad cloudy, if you look closely. I’m waxing poetic about the every-so-slight slimy/mucilaginous texture of cucumber water because a) I think that is what makes it so refreshing to eat and drink, and b) said texture is what blends so nicely with the flavors of fresh garden herbs.
In short, the weight of the cucumber carries the lighter yet more pungent flavors of the herbs. A match made in heaven (or the garden).
Come spring, the pots are overflowing with tender, somewhat succulent chickweed tendrils around January to March, when the days are getting a little longer but is still quite damp and cool. Chickweed is an early spring herb and goes into hiding when the sun comes high and hot. Read More
Motherhood isn’t always easy. Sometimes you need a little boost, a bit of support. Of course the help of family and friends is important, as is a supportive community. But for the day-to-day challenges and triumphs, I call on the plants to help me out.
It’s easy even for a postpartum-brained lady like myself to formulate a mothering tincture…because the star herb has Mother in its name, Motherwort! I wrote about lovely motherwort in 2008 in this post, if you want to learn more about it’s medicinal side.
Actually, there are two stars in this formula; the other being peony. I find that peony is an intensely womb-connected plant and quite motherly itself.
Rose elixir, chamomile and a bit of licorice finish out the comforting, nurturing blend. Yum! Read More
While camping at the amazingly beautiful Opal Creek wilderness area I experienced a new type of injury: sandal chaff. Yes, the skin on my feet somehow where rubbed to oblivion by hiking in my trusty 11 year old Chaco’s. The source of the irritation still confuses me; never has such a thing happened prior or since. Read More
If you look through my posts, you’ll see how much I adore Rose Elixir as a tasty, versatile preparation. I use it for blending tinctures to add an exotic flavor and sweetness, as a heart-centered remedy for anxiety, sleep, broken hearts and circulation, spiced and combined with aphrodisiac herbs, and as a burn remedy.
Instead of straining my last batch of elixir after 8 weeks like I normally do, I kept it intact because I use the petals directly on burns as bandages. These rose petal bandages are so so so useful; I can’t image living without them.
It turns out that I burn myself often. My herb nook has taken up all free space in out tiny kitchen and has long since relegated the toaster oven to the storage unit. I toast things directly on the oven racks and repeatedly stick my bare hands in and if I’m not careful, I get a burn on the top of my right arm of where I brushed the rack above.
Yes, I have many a burn on that arm, same size, shape and location. Rose petal bandages have been used on most of them, and I can tell you that when I use them, the pain is significantly reduced and the healing heightened.
I ran out of my last bottle of strained Rose Elixir for tincture blending and it became obvious that I needed to strain my batch after all. As a compromise, I saved a small jars’ worth of petals preserved in the elixir as my bandage cache, and I am so glad I did because, guess what, I burned myself not long after.
To use the Rose petals as bandages, fish out a petal with a utensil, tear or cut to a shape suited for the burn and adhering to the contour of the affected area if not already perfect, and place on clean, dry skin right over the burn. Leave it on as long as you can; I’ve left it on for hours. If Rose elixir runs, wipe it off with a wet towel or you’ll create an even more sticky mess.
Yes, this is a sticky remedy. Rose elixir is half alcohol and half honey or glycerine, after all. Glycerine is less sticky but also less effective for burns (although it makes a fine vegan-friendly elixir).
After the bandage has been on for about 30 mins, it starts to dry and adhere to the skin quite nicely. Be careful not to bump the bandage or get it stuck on clothes and things.
If I have had a Rose petal bandage on for many hours and it has dried perfectly, then I will go to bed with it. But if it is at all sticky, cover it with a piece of gauze and a regular bandage to keep it on and protect your bedding from being a sticky mess. For kids, or for large or awkward areas, I would always cover the Rose petal bandage with another bandage.
I’ve had this batch of petals for over a year and they still do the trick. This is definitely going into the traveling first aid kit! I’d like to get more small jars for keeping the petals and share with family and friends, because I have need seen anything work so wonderfully for burns. The application of one Rose petal take the burn out immediately and for as long as it’s on there I feel relief. I’ve seen the residual burn feeling completely disappear after 4-6 hours of using one petal, even one hour for minor burns, although I often keep it on longer because it helps heal the skin.
Honey in and of itself is a great burn remedy because it locks out air from reacting with the burn, kind of smothering it. Plus, honey is antiseptic, skin and wound healing. Rose is a cooling remedy and also anti-inflammatory and skin soothing. Normally I wouldn’t put alcohol on burns even, but this is a Rose-infused, honey-laden alcohol and adds to the aseptic qualities of the elixir. All around, a great combination.
The Rose petal itself doesn’t irritate the burn area like normal plastic bandage. It creates an air-tight, medicated seal. The petal dries transparent or opaque-pink; you can hardly see it.
Every time I go to work in my herb nook, I practically burst with appreciation. This is where I get to work?! Surrounded by herbs and oils and tins and bottles, things that I love playing with? Creating this little herb studio in my teeny tiny kitchen has been one of the best things I have ever done. It’s like a working in an alter.
Do any of you have an herbal nook of your own?
A space dedicated to storing and creating with herbs, whether it be a shelf in a cupboard or a room in a house?
I’d love to hear about it!