April 4th, 2010 § § permalink
We are more than just our physical bodies.
Within each of us is an emotional body, the part of ourselves that interprets the meaning of our life events through feelings and emotions. We also have a spiritual body, which is reflected in our development to our sense of purpose of our lives and how we connect to our highest self. Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true”; a great adage to describes the essence of our spiritual side. Mental health is yet another aspect of our beings.
Before we get into the details of cleanses and how herbalism can be used to assist and support the body for that purpose, let’s take some time to think about simple, cheap (often free!) and time honored ways we can add to increase the depth of a cleanse.
Below are just a few ideas for you to try. Feel free to add your own practices and listen to the desires and needs of your body.
- Relaxing, uplifting music.
- Reflection and introspection, through journaling, reading poetry.
- Guided meditations or relaxation.
- Creative pursuits like drawing, painting, sculpture.
- Spending a bit of each day in nature, even if it is a simple walk in your yard to notice what’s growing and living next to you.
- Dream work.
Spiritual and Emotional body:
- Clean, organize and rearrange your living spaces.
- Connect with others, share your appreciation through letters, calls or thoughts.
- Charting personal goals and aspirations – no matter how far fetched (note: this should be different that a to-do list).
- Make a list of 25 things that make you happy and do one each day (a recommendation from Nicholas Schnell, a great Nebraska herbalist who has a fabulous book about cleansing).
- Engaging in a spiritual practice.
- Rituals of starting anew, letting go or anything in between.
- Saunas, steams, sea salt baths.
- Massage, professionally or at home.
- Skin brushing, salt scrubs.
- Stretching, yoga, martial arts.
- Exercise that is pleasing to you.
- Slow walks (an amazing practice taken from Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage) or brisk walks.
- Lots of sleep! Naps if you need them.
March 30th, 2010 § § permalink
Spring is a supreme time to lighten from the heaviness that lingers from winter. Whether it is from our rich, comforting diet, the stagnant air of having the windows shut for months, or the weight of our upcoming plans we dreamed up during the long nights of winter, we often have the desire, or need, to gear up for the outward expression of summer. An excellent way to usher in a new phase is to do some form of intentional cleanse.
A cleanse is simply a way to support the body’s natural detoxification with a specified diet for a designated length of time. The specified diet is up to you and your goals, but here are few common cleansing diets:
- Whole foods. A diet that emphasizes fruits, veggies (at least 5 servings), slow-cooked whole grains, legumes, small amounts of dairy and animal protein, if you partake, and lots of water and herbal teas. Fast food, fried foods, junk food, sweets, processed foods and drinks, stimulants and intoxicants are left out. Even if you are a pretty conscious eater, this can be a great cleansing diet to start with. I think this is what popular weight loss diets are striving for (real food!), but more than often miss the mark (by a long shot).
- Restricted diet. This is taking the whole foods diet a step further, by either avoiding a particular food on purpose, like dairy, wheat or red meat, or including foods you want to eat as a mainstay of the cleanse, like soup, kichiree or congee.
- Elimination diet. A process of systematically cutting out, and then adding back in, specific foods to see if there is physical evidence of a negative or allergic reaction. Marcell Pick has a good list to check out of foods to eliminate on different levels.
- Fasting. Includes the popular “supreme cleanse” (1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/8 – 1/4 cups maple syrup, pinch of cayenne in a quart of water), water fast, colon cleanse (often with supplemented juice), with our without herbal support.
Nicholas Schnell highlighted something in a 2008 class about cleansing that has really stuck with me: you need to have a definite time frame. Anywhere from 3 days to 6 weeks is good. And don’t go crazy, there’s no need to start with a 40 day fast! Defining your boundaries is important, other wise you may get lost in the always-needing-to-cleanse zone. You plan a three week elimination diet, take a little excursion with a cookie or two (but they’re organic!), feel defeated and then start all over again. That is simply unsustainable and not really healthy, either.
Which brings me to another point I need to make about cleansing; be gentle with yourself! It is not about perfection. Who cares if you get it just right, or even about having a certain outcome. On this note, you may want to define your personal reasons for cleansing as well as your beliefs and expectations.
What is the purpose of a cleanse? Why are so many people intrigued by the idea? When I worked at a co-op in the health and body care section, it became apparent that some populations of people are obsessed about cleansing the body. I certainly agree that there are a plethora of man-made chemicals that are assaulting Earth and all her creatures, and I think that we must strive to find alternatives to environmental pollutants. However, I do not think that humans are innately “toxic” and need to be fasted and cleansed constantly to have a fighting chance at health (Susun Weed discusses this issue as she compares the scientific, heroic and wise way healing philosophies in Healing Wise). Our body is incredibly capable in detoxifying, and is constantly doing so. We can, however, take actions to not impede its efforts as well as help it along.
A cleanse should transform the whole body. Many people find that their thoughts, spirit, emotions, body, lifestyle and diet change during and after a cleanse. A cleanse usually includes a restricted diet so the digestive system can work on healing itself rather than digesting food. Adding medicinal herbs to a cleanse promotes both tissue repair and toxin secretion, which will be another topic…
February 25th, 2010 § § permalink
The Northland’s Birth and Baby Fair is coming up! This is such a warm and informative event. Check it out even if you’re not expecting to see all that our area has for health, support and empowerment. I’ll be tabling there, selling pregnancy, women and child herbs – what inspired me to start making herbs in the first place two years ago.
January 11th, 2010 § § permalink
October 25th, 2009 § § permalink
I am still in a food as medicine kick. Currently, I don’t see any other way to look at either food or medicine…they are interconnected! Food at its simplest nurtures your body and cells, provides the energy needed to meet life’s demands, positively contributes to the whole being, and supports a balanced state of mind. Is that too much to ask of our medicine, too?
Give thanks. The first layer of using food as medicine is simply giving thanks for the food and the enjoyment of eating. I thank the food for giving its’ life for nourishing me. None of that “I shouldn’t be eating this” BS. If you are eating something, enjoy it, don’t deny it! I never understood why people say this. Go ahead, say, “this is the best latte, I am so glad I drank it.”
Giving thanks for our meals transforms food from things we consume three times a day to an honored life-giving force.
Blessings and thanks for the food that nourishes:
Blessings for the flower, blessing for the shoot, blessings for the leaf and stem, blessings on the root.
Thank you for the farmer, thank you for the cook, thank you for the sun and rain, thank you for the earth.
Take time. Here are some ways to employ slowing down and savoring the sensual joy of eating:
- Get into a meal planning ritual with your family. I spend Sunday afternoons browsing my favorite cookbooks and food magazines to get meal ideas for the week.
- Enjoy food that is slow cooked (or cultivated). Chinese medicine says that food cooked long on low heat is more yin promoting. Crock pots, baking, sprouting, soaking beans, cooking whole grains, steaming greens, pickling, cultivating yogurt, kim chee and kombucha. Slow preparation easily slides over to the medicine category, as homemade, herbal medicines take some sweet time to make, from steeping nettle tea overnight to making tinctures.
- Eat slower, chew slower. I asked the elementary school kids I work with if they knew where their digestion started, and they all shouted out “the mouth! teeth!”. We are talking about carbohydrate digestion here, the more you chew carbs the more our saliva can start the process (protein digestion starts in the stomach/small intestine, which is why carnivores can scarf down their food without chewing).
- Not only is eating slower good for appreciating our food, it also reduces overeating, acid reflux, It takes 20 minuets for your brain to realize your stomach is full, so eating slow allows your brain to catch up to your stomach.
From Bio-Medicine.org, “Researchers had given large plates of pasta to 30 college-aged-women asking them to eat as much as they wanted. It was found that 646 calories in nine minutes is being consumed by the participants when they were asked to eat quickly wherein only 579 calories in 29 minutes could only be consumed when they slowed it down to 15 to 20 times of mouthful.”
- Take a full hour (or half hour!) to sit at the table, eat, and begin to digest. At the Indian restaurant where I used to wait tables, the cooks would take at least an hour break after each meal, put their feet up, and sip on a cup of chai, which they stated that this helped their digestion and energy level.
Use your senses. Listen to the clues from your body, taste buds, the season, your environment, and your imagination to direct your food choices. Often when people become more conscious about eating, they find their tastes change. Suddenly carrots and celery are bursting with flavor and Wonder Bread doesn’t cut it any more. Or their organs will give them a big-time clue to cut it out on the meat and eat some fiber, dammit!
Speaking of seasons, fall is upon us and as the temperature outside decreases, we need to increase our intake of warming foods, in temperature and spicy-ness. At the same time, cool it on the cool drinks. Ever since I stopped drinking cold water, my hands and feet are less cold in the winter. Now is also the time to roast root veggies like beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, as well as squash, and cut back on raw, cold salads.
How does imagination relate to food? Food as art is as old as, well, art I suppose. Here are some cute pics. My friends served their three-year-old snacks based on color, letter of the alphabet (my favorite was “P” day: pears, pumpkin, popcorn, peanuts, peas…), shape, ethnic foods, wild and local foods, ect… It was so much fun. We are all kids at heart; we all love trying new foods and having food presented to us in an appealing, creative way.
Celebrate abundance. Share your food with people you love as well as your community, through picnics, pot lucks, weddings, holidays as well as for no reason at all. Grow a garden, invest in a CSA or a local farm, and count the seeds in a watermelon or tomato. Each of those seeds carry the potential for new life and lots more fruit.
I can’t leave without sharing a recipe. Here is an old favorite: Blended Paprika and Corn from a 2006 lecture from Bill Mitchell. The recipe is so simple: take one package frozen corn (or two cups fresh corn), heat, and place in a food processes with a heaping teaspoon of paprika.
The orange-ish mush is delicious, eat it as a dip with veggies or tortilla chips, as a condiment or spread. I like it on huevous rancheros; spread it on a toasted corn tortilla with re-fried beans, salsa and top with fried eggs and cheese. Mitchell describes it as such, “It is probable that the corn acts as an emulsifier and allows absorption of the carotenoid-rich paprika into the body”.
October 5th, 2009 § § permalink
As I was walking on a stretch of the Superior hiking trail, I marveled at the sight of an abandoned basketball court being “eaten alive” by plants. Plants, whether they be vines, trees, shrubs or herbaceous, are incredible restorers of their environments. Slowly yet surely, their roots reach deep and bring minerals and nutrients to the surface, their leaves create shade and increase moisture where bacteria and fungi (the ultimate detrovoires) can live, and their growing stems and bodies breaks down man-made surfaces.
I suppose that is what they do in our body, too. Over time, plants work to restore the original environment, to promote balance and harmony when presented with roadblocks of dis-ease.
For some amazing photos, view sweet juniper’s work on feral houses. Talk about bio-remediation!
September 12th, 2009 § § permalink
How many times have you had a dream that was related to your health?
Sometimes the dream images are literal; other times they are far-fetched but make clear sense in hindsight. Our intuitive guidance system regularly uses dreams to helps us deal with issues of our mundane, emotional and spiritual lives, but they also can help us with healing our bodies. After all, our bodies and mind/emotions can hardly be separated. Prodromal dreams are dreams that predict illness, whether it be a specific illness (thyroid problems, cancer, ulcers) or general areas where we are experiencing pain, discomfort, or are vulnerable to becoming sick.
My whole mouth was sore and tender. I touched my cheek and went over to the mirror, where I saw a miniature conifer tree growing out from the root of one of my teeth.
What would you guess the meaning to be? Luckily it wasn’t a root canal waiting to be had. I had a sunflower seed shard wedged under my gums, causing some tenderness and pain.
The examples go on and on: dreams pointing to sore throats, runny noses, limbs that have gone asleep, periods coming on and eggs being released, and of course a full bladder crying to be emptied (think back to childhood). Here is a typical example, of strep throat coming on.
A man ran up to me, pulled out a match and struck it on my throat. My neck burned, and I scratched at it frantically to put the fire out.
Perhaps not so common, but documented and experienced, are dreams in which we get an image or location of a severe or incurable illness. An excerpt from Dr. Schulz, not the most inspirational bunch but still intriguing:
“In one case, a woman repeatedly dreamed of a dog tearing at her stomach. Two months later she was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and died three months after that. In another case, a man complained of dreams in which coals were burning his larynx or a medicine man was sticking hypodermic needles into his neck. Ultimately, this man developed thyroid cancer. In another, a woman with breast cancer dreamed that her head was shaven and the word “cancer” was written across the top of her head. She reported waking up from that dream certain that the cancer had spread to her brain, even though she had no symptoms indicating that this had happened. Yet soon afterward her self-diagnosis was confirmed. Another patient, with gallbladder cancer, dreamed that his entire body exploded and shattered into a thousand pieces. It was soon discovered that his cancer had spread throughout his body.”(47)
Shulz talks about another interesting study, on pregnant women dreaming of anxious or hostile dreams and how this aligned with their birth experience. The article is here if you’re curious.
“Researchers discovered that women who had dreams of anxiety and conflict during their pregnancies tended to have a short and uncomplicated labor of less than ten hours. In contrast, women who didn’t have such dreams, whose dreams were normal and peaceful, more often had a long labor lasting more than twenty hours, with complications and sometimes even serious difficulties.”(46)
This pattern seems to be the opposite of the examples above. Wouldn’t you think the women with anxious dreams would have more stressful births? Apparently, the high levels of progesterone during pregnancy can reduce a woman’s experience of her emotions. For those who are not or have not been pregnant, have you ever noticed that your fears and anxieties (be it your run-of the-mill daily fears to more serious anxiousness) are lessened during the luteal phase of your cycle? I noticed that I am a better driver during this in the second half of the cycle. I don’t randomly think about getting into an accident like I do at other times.
When we are sleeping, the frontal lobe of the brain is asleep, too. The frontal lobe is the “emotional control center and home of the personality”, which often censors things we think we shouldn’t think or feel. Thus, we can explore those suppressed emotions freely during dream time.
“The researchers theorized that the women with the troubled dreams were releasing their fears and anxieties about childbirth in their sleep, bringing them to the surface, into consciousness, and confronting them. Since [the women who didn’t experience fearful dreams] never dealt with their fears, these fears became somaticized, or physically expressed, in various dysfunctions and problems during the anxiously anticipated event of childbirth.”(46)
There are numerous pieces of research and science that refute the body-dream connection that makes prodromal dreaming possible. Again, it can be nice to have some scientific research on your side, but as if we need it to believe what our body is so clearly telling us. Just sleep, dream, remember (record them, perhaps?), listen for meanings and be empowered to tend to your bodies needs.
Schulz, Mona Lisa. Awakening Intuition.
June 24th, 2009 § § permalink
Vinegar is acidic and a little drying, which makes it a great astringent. Apple cider vinegar is often the vinegar of choice for herbal body care, as its fermented goodness is full of life and enzymes. Sage-steeped apple cider vinegar (doubly astringent!) is a wonderfully toning deodorant splash or spray.
The hair cuticle is like a bunch of overlapping scales. According to a cosmetologist friend, alkaline hair products cause the cuticle of the hair to be coated, which makes cuticle stand up and feel think, coarse, or sticky. Because of this, hair products are slightly acidic to keep the hair smooth.
Some years ago I switched to natural and organic shampoos and conditioners, about the last time I cut my hair really short. As it grew, I expected my hair to be healthier than ever, with the positive diet changes I had made, decreased washing (daily washing can strip hair of its natural, protective oils) and of course the use of natural shampoos. As time went on, it was clear that my hair was not healthier, indeed it was in its worst state ever. It was full of split ends, dull, limp, and growing slowly.
Another cosmetologist friend looked at the ingredients of the shampoos I was using and explained that some of the ‘natural’ ingredients are wax-derived and can accumulate on the hair shaft, weakening and weighing it down and may even lead the hair shaft to break. How do you know if this is the case for your hair? Tightly and tautly grab a chunk of semi damp hair, run a sharp and clean scissor blade down the length of the hair and check the blade for any residue. Be careful and use common sense–I don’t recommend this for really curly hair.
This is where vinegar rinses come in handy! An herbal-infused vinegar rinse is incredibly helpful in treating residue-laden hair; they leave your hair softer, cleaner and invigorated. It is incredibly simple to make a herb-infused vinegar: cover dried or fresh herbs with apple cider vinegar and cap. Label, shake occasionally, and steep for four weeks. Strain, re-bottle, and use!
The vinegar should be diluted for use; a tablespoon to one cup water. Pour the vinegar-water solution through the hair, massage into scalp, then rinse with clean water. Another method is to dip your hair in a bowl of the vinegar-water solution (make sure the water is warm-unless you like cold rinses!), following with a plain water rinse.
Dina Falconi has a ‘Garden Blend Vinegar’ (60) recipe that is for all hair colors and is a great place to start.
- 1 tablespoon nettle
- 1 tablespoon comfrey root
- 1 tablespoon basil
- 6 ounces organic apple cider vinegar
Steep for four weeks or so, strain, and enjoy. Makes 4 1/2 ounces. For any herbal vinegar, if you wish to add essential oils, do so in a small amount (start with three drops) after it has been strained. I am not exactly sure how often one should do a rinse, but I find that once a week to once a month can make a difference.
Nettles are high in minerals that lend themselves to promoting hair and skin health, comfrey root (and to a lesser extent the leaves) is soothing and moistening with lots of mucilage, while basil is aromatic, cleansing and invigorating. Use your senses to find what herbs would be best suited for your vinegar rinse; chamomile for blond hair, black walnut husks for dark hair, rosemary for hair growth stimulation, oregano or thyme for anti-microbial action.
One of my favorite hair rinses is simply dipping my head in a bowl of a strongly steeped tea of nettle, rosemary, comfrey and birch leaves. This is less defunking and more conditioning than the vinegar rinses, and it does not need to be followed with a clear water rinse. Use the leftover tea to water plants. I was prompted to add the birch leaves after reading Matthew Wood’s entry of birch (139):
“While in Australia a woman brought her fourteen-year-old daughter to see me about something or other. I commented that she had some of the healthiest,thickest hair I had ever seen. The mother commented that her daughter’s hair was originally spindly and thin. For several years they rinsed it in nettles and birch”
Drying birch leaves
Falconi, Dina. Earthly Bodies and Heavenly Hair.
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal (Old World).
April 19th, 2009 § § permalink
Sure, the calender says it is spring, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Spring must want to be fashionably late this year. True, there are a few things growing (catnip, motherwort, elecampane), and about 30% of the trees have started to think about budding (sweet little pussy willows). Perhaps the robins came back from their winter retreats last week, and there is more hours of daylight (hallelujah!), but it doesn’t really seem like spring. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one to complain about the weather, but I am just simply anxious for things to start growing again! Not to mention that freezing temps and snow of this weekend.
I kind of feel the same way; kind of in-and-out about what is waking up and growing, what is about to wake up and grow, and what has yet to wake up. Spring embodies all of these phases but does so with patience and in accordance with environmental cues. There is a bit of drama and teasing going on too, as if spring just does what it damn well feels when it wants to. Again, I can see the same pattern in myself at this time, but need to work on the patience part:).
To remind myself of what is yet to come, I have been revisiting some of my photos like an empty nest mother paging through her children’s baby books. Rob (my fiance) and I took an afternoon stroll though the St. John’s arboretum July 26th of last year. St John’s is a private college located in a town in central Minnesota called St. Joseph, in an area that is now agribusiness farm lands and what used to be fertile prairies. Interestingly, Rob’s German relatives founded St. Joseph in the late 1800’s. The plants in central Minnesota are a bit different that the ones here in Duluth on Lake Superior’s north shore. I apologize about not labeling these plants correctly; somewhere I have notes about common names and species of the photos below. My nose is far away from field guides, my memory fuzzy of genus and species. If you know what species they are, I invite you to let me know and I’ll update them.
A wild astragalus/licorice
An interesting and prolific mint of some sort
The edge of a hardwood forest
Gravel root variety
Rattlesnake master close up
Plants healing the bull-dozed, hard pan land
A yellow type of cone flower
A sweet purple flower
Beautiful artemisia, silver with gold flowers
January 3rd, 2009 § § permalink
Rob and I saw five eagles in three days; two in our back yard on Christmas day, one while driving outside of Danbury, WI, and two feasting on a deer carcass south of Franconia in Minnesota. The latter was especially awesome, as we could really close while they were eating.
December 7th, 2008 § § permalink
When the first case of influenza was reported in Wisconsin, it made the news. This was over three weeks ago and I don’t remember the details, except that the recipient was an 11 year-old boy. Isn’t it odd that something so common can evoke such dread? Practically everywhere you go, people are talking about it. And if you go the a pharmacy or clinic, people are royally freaking out about it: Cold and Flu Season.
I have had my fair share of colds and flus. In fact, you could say more than my fair share. During the 9 months that I was employed as a preschool teacher, I contracted four flus with vomiting and five run-of-the-mill colds (not to mention a never-ending case of pink eye). It was quite the learning-and may I even say spiritual-experience. Every ounce of my body, mind, emotions and spirit was taxed and worn down. Luckily, a friend had the sense to chime in to my incessant “why must I endure being sick all the time” with, “can you imagine having a really bad disease and feeling worse than this everyday for the rest of your life?”. Perspective is amazing.
There are many body systems to pay attention to; the immune system of course, the upper respiratory system (nose, ears, throat, sinuses) and the lower respiratory system (the alveoli, respiratory bronchioles). As our body systems are interdependent, we must also look at the other organs of elimination in addition the the lungs (which eliminate carbon dioxide from the blood in exchange for oxygen from the air we breathe), the skin, kidneys, and the bowels. Get to know the following action categories:
- expectorants (both stimulating and relaxing) to bring up phlegm from the lungs,
- pulmonary tonics to strengthen the system
- demulcents to sooth irritated tissues
- anticatarrhals to lessen mucus
- antimicrobial herbs to ward off invading pathogens
- immune stimulants to support the body’s ability to stay healthy
- antispasmodics to reduce spastic coughing
- astringents to tone and dry up soggy tissues
- diaphoretics to support the body during fever
- lymphatics to ease swollen lymph nodes
Let us not forget the dietary and lifestyle practices. In particular, it is very important to limit or avoid mucus-causing refined starches (white flour), sugar (which also lowers immunity), and dairy products. While working at an herb shop in my home town, I saw people with chronic sinus congestion/infections stop eating dairy prior to getting well. Once the owner said something like, “that damn ice cream!” after visiting someone who’s sinusitis would not give up. Personally, I know that sweet stuff is a trigger for a sore throat and cold for me. A whole foods diet with lots of vegetables, nuts, legumes, and grains rich in B vitamins, vitamin C, A and E, magnesium, zinc, selenium and quercetin are extremely important to prevent illnesses, fight them off, and recover from them in a timely manner. Warm, brothy soups and hot herbal teas are more than just comforting, the steam and warmth help to reduce pain and break up mucus congestion. Add a little scallion, horseradish, daikon and ginger to really open up the nose.
Exercise, stress reduction, sleep and deep breathing are also very important to staying healthy. Practically any form of exercise will do; it strengthens the muscles, bones, heart and lungs, and propels lymphatic fluid throughout the body. It also lifts the spirits, too. I just read that a daily walk outside is as effective as SSRI anti-depressants. The lymph system has vessels through which it circulates through the tissues like blood vessels, but unlike blood vessels, it does not have a pump like the heart. For lymph to properly circulate, it uses the tension created from the body in movement. Taking a few deep breaths can help keep the lungs healthy, and has been proven to lessen the chance of contracting pneumonia in the elderly.
A big contributer to susceptibility to respiratory infections that people (amazingly) often overlook when cold and flu season arrives is smoking. I personally find it an exercise in patience and detachment to not want to wring the neck of a smoker who doesn’t seem to know why they cough like crazy all day long, hack up nasty phlegm, get sick every winter or has chronic bronchitis. “Smokers are still more likely to die from chronic bronchitis than from lung cancer, and giving up smoking is the first and most important preventative measure” (Hoffmann, 329). Let us listen to our lungs! They are the living tree of our body.
More to come about cold and flu remedies.
September 8th, 2008 § § permalink
My oh my, it has been quite a while since my last entry! I have no excuse except I have been enjoying the glorious summer in every moment I wasn’t running around busy with work and projects. Sometimes you need a break from the computer, ya know?
I had anticipated a summer of non-stop gardening, based on the fact I had about four plots and twenty-some different species of medicinal seedlings started in my basement. As soon as I planted out my seedlings in early June, a week of threatening frost, non-stop rains and high winds did not spare a single plant. Needless to say, I was heartbroken. After that miserable week, the weather cleared and I was able to plant out a few varieties; tulsi, figwort, chickweed (one can never have too much chickweed!), elecampane, teasel and wild carrrot fared the best.
In early June I was able to attend the inaugural Mid-America Herbal Symposium, held in Winona, MN. The conference brought in incredible herbalists from across the country to my state; there was no way I was going to miss such an opportunity! At the time of the conference, I was inthralled with exploring herbalists’ healing and health philosophies. I opened up my favorite herbals, and rather than flipping to the index to research the topic or herb on my mind as usual, I instead turned to the forward or introduction in the beginning of the book. Here the author introduces the topic of herbalism and expounds upon the simple idea (fact!) that plants can and do heal. While at the symposium, I kept picking up tidbits of the presenter’s healing philosophies that represent the basics of herbalism. One that kept grabbing my attention was, “treat the individual, not the condition”. Nicholas Schnell from Omaha, NE reminded us in a particularly insightful lecture about herbs for the GI tract, “don’t get caught up in the disease, but see how it manifests in the person”. This simple reiteration struck me like a thunderbolt; it has really revolutionized how I look at herbalism.
The lecture about the GI tract inspired me to make it a topic for the monthly study group, along with herbs for a healthy sleep, and a review of the rose family. The monthly study groups were a constructive outlet for me to focus my studying on a particular topic and to organize and present my information to a small group. As time goes on, I find I am becoming more comfortable sharing the itty bitty bits of knowledge I have. I also led two classes at a woman’s gathering on the south shore of Lake Superior in Wisconsin, one on herbs for pregnancy and another about the menstrual cycle herbs to promote a healthy cycle. The latter was a bit overwhelming to teach; there is so much information and possibilities. I love the interplay between all the different hormones and structures of the endocrine system. Here I am again, getting stuck in the details…
Speaking about herbs for pregnancy, I have been putting together some basic pregnancy formulas and selling them here and there. Who knew it’d be so fun making big batches of raspberry leaf tea blends?! I love getting out the fancy scale and making a big, aromatic, herbal mess on my dining-room table. One of my current herb goals is to make herbs more accessible to people in my community, and this is one tiny step in that direction. My biggest frustration is that there isn’t an herbal apothecary in Duluth that can formulate gobs of remedies for all sorts of people. Of course, I hope to be doing just that in the not-too-distant future, but until then all I can do is give people resources.
Back to the plants. I was able to explore a few mini-ecosystems in my region, such as the sandy forest of northern Wisconsin lake country (Hayward area), where I saw tons of blue flags, boneset, bugleweed, two types of meadowsweet, blue vervain, sweet fern (comptenia), cinquifoils, wild blueberries, lady’s thumb and the world’s tiniest violet-the flowers were about 1/4 inch in diameter. Down in central Minnesota outside of St. Cloud where it is flat, fertile and hot, I found rattlesnake master, native astragalus, yellow and purple coneflowers, prairie sage, wormwood, elecampane, bee balm, black eyed Susan, gravel root and nettle. One of my favorite finds was driving about an hour south of Duluth on highway 35: glorious pleurisy root, attracting bumble bees and monarchs to the its florescent array of orange flowers. Up on the Superior Hiking Trail, I found a patches after patches of Solomon’s seal, and harvested an eight-year-old root.
There were surprises in my own urban neighborhood, too. One sunny July day I woke up and decided I needed to order some figwort for the lymph stagnation I was experiencing. Sure enough, I found a stand of flowering figwort on my morning walk, on my favorite route that I’ve walked hundreds of times before. It was growing next to a group of aconite I’ve never noticed before, either. How can you miss the dramatic dark purple of monk’s hood?! I am so thankful that I found that figwort patch. Another plant I never noticed until this year is wild carrot growing abundantly in an ally by my house. How it missed my eye I do not know; as I sit at the computer I can see them across the street and through the window. Was it possible they were not there until this year? Perhaps, but I also think plants reveal themselves to you when the time is right.
This summer I delved into tincture making. I ventured over the bridge to Wisconsin to buy some grain alcohol with hopes of standardizing some tinctures, but I never found an accurate vessel to measure milliliters, so I just guessed. So much for standardizing! I have red clover, St. John’s wort, anise hyssop and other mints, boneset, blue vervain, tulsi, California poppy, bugleweed, horsetail, rose petal, rose petal elixir (inspired by Kiva Rose), sweet meliot, yarrow, shepherds purse, cottonwood, mugwort and the list goes on. In the next herbal study group, we are going to harvest roots, barks and twigs. Today I hope to gather some choke cherries and the green seed tops of wild carrot; and this week I am getting glycerine to make elixirs from the mints from the garden.I hope the fall is as productive as the summer has been; there is certainly a lot of harvesting left to do!