Teas tell a story, especially hand-harvested teas. Finding the penultimate Rose, camping with friends and harvesting fresh Skullcap as the last think to pack into the car, cutting Passionflower for a trailing bouquet with dahlias and sunflowers, magenta sunsets, petting kitties in the waning moonlight. Read More
The last 4 weeks have been a whirl-wind. But I made out out on the other side! Yes, I officially graduated.
My last board exam was the herbal one. I spent a week doing practice tests, reading through my notes and fondling my samples. My herb samples came from the free table at school. Some samples were missing, some had pre-made notes and some had lost their, um, freshness, but I didn’t care. They did the trick. It is much easier to memorize things when the thing you have to memorize is in your hands, or at least it is for me. I would’ve preferred to taste each one individually, see it growing, learn the botany, chemistry and ethnobotanic history in an attempt to really learn it. How much can you know about a plant by just reading about it? A lot, true, but so much can be gleaned experientially. Read More
When I worked at a co-op in the health and body care section, I noticed that every year around November, bottles and bottles of elderberry products would fly off the shelves. Elderberry has earned a reputation as a cold and flu herb, especially for the dreaded influenza, and rightfully so. It packs a powerful punch of anthocyanadins, helps the immune system do this. Studies have shown that it is effective at reducing the length of the flu by half.
Yet like most herbs, elderberry has depth and can be used in many situations. Read More
I wish I could spend more time on this blog. I dream about all the things I want to explore and share and ask about herbs and health. Most everyday I am jotting down inspirations and taking photos of the the herbal apothecary that trail my shadow.
Luckily a major shift in my schedule and life is approaching; I will graduate grad school on August 30th. That’s less than two months away! I cannot wait to 1) rejuvenate and 2) pursue my herbal interests 4) connect with family and friends and 3) go to Italy in September and Wisconsin in October.
So in the mean time, I want want to share some of the other places I am seen frequenting.
During the month of April, I took an Etsy vacation. I closed my shop down and focused on exploring herbs in a different, more personal way. In April I also started second blog about plants, flowers, and the Portland area. You can check it out here: Fall Into Place Blog. It was supposed to be a month of internet reduction, but the need to take photos of flowers overcame.
I have a Tumblr page for Kyra Botanica : bo-tan-ica.tumblr.com. You can find my plant-obsessed Pinterest page here:kyrabotanica. And when I remember, I post photos on Instagram: celia_jean. and as kyrabotanica.
Each year my garden sprouts more and more chamomile. It comes earlier each year, too. This year it was all done by the end of June.
This leaves a shorter harvest time, and unfortunately I can’t tend my garden in Gresham as much I have been able to in the past. This means a few long harvesting days rather than a constant, steady harvest in better bite-sized chunks (which I prefer). This also means that a lot of my chamomile went to seed before I could get to it. Read More
What is it about poppies?
I don’t get them, but as if I’m entitled to understanding. They are so tender, fragile, delicate, finicky. Their petals are like tissue paper and their fuzzy buds look like they could barely be supported by their thread-like stem. One little bump and the plant falls over. But yet they contain some incredibly powerful medicine, and not just the opium poppy but many plants in the family (Corydalis, California Poppy for two). Read More
I have had the recent pleasure to read two new (to me) herb books. The Wild Medicine Solution by Guido Mase´ describes herbal aromatics, bitters and tonics and their uses in food and medicine while sharing an elegant, supportive herbal philosophy. Read More
There is a clinical shift in my education program called Herbal Internship. Herbal Internship is solely dedicated to, you guessed it, herbal consultations. There are 4 one hour slots to treat 4 patients with herbs. Do an intake, take pulse and look at tongue, determine diagnosis and treatment principles, discuss a formula, send the formula off to be filled. Seems pretty basic, no?
Despite the fact that I have elected to do extra Herbal Internship shifts and know the drill, it is a far cry from basic.
First of all, people are complicated. There are often 3-5 major complaints. Rarely does someone have just one single thing as their chief complaint.
Secondly, conflicting signs are commonplace. Heat and Yang Xu (deficiency). Dampness in the Middle Jiao (digestion), which is an excess condition, and Blood Xu (deficiency).
Thirdly, we make it up as we go along. This is not a bad thing at all; it is simply challenging and pushes me to the limits and forces me to expand my way of thinking. There is a uncharted territory for a new practitioner. What I end up doing in the clinic can be completely different from what I learned in the classroom or what is laid out in a book. A neat things about Chinese medicine is that we treat the pattern, not the disease. With this, we don’t have to have figured out the pathology and etiology of every single disease state. We listen to how the body is expressing itself and use that to determine the course of action.
Then there’s the normal, worldly limits: time constraints, the dynamics of working in a group where we are all really nice and don’t want to be bossy, computer problems, ect…
I suppose this is what it would be like to have gone to an herbal medicine school. This is what you would do all day! IS this so, herbal school graduates? We do mostly acupuncture shifts which include herbal medicine and formula writing.
I shared the challenges. Now I would like to share the gems which come from these shifts.
First and foremost, my favorite part of Herbal Internship is the opportunity to be mentored by incredibly knowledgeable and experienced practitioners. Every supervisor is unique, with their own blueprint of background, world view, lineage, educational style, patient rapport, formulation style, ect…
This term my supervisor is Dr. Jin. There is so much I could say about Dr. Jin, but I’ll limit it to a few of the main things she has transmitted to our group. One is extremely practical and grounding – time management and doing brief intakes. For the first few weeks, she did the intakes and one of us wrote chart notes to demonstrate how to do an interview. Nobody had done this before, and it rocked my world in the best way possible. Take the intake on the chief complaints, take tongue and pulse, ask a few more questions to get a sense of the constitution and confirm or rule out a diagnosis. This is quite different from what we normally do, which is ask about the chief complaints and then every other body system, take tongue and pulse, then come up with a diagnosis.
The tongue and pulse tell us a lot; it is the major diagnostic tool we have, so listen to it sooner than later! If you do an intake with someone who’s chief complaint is anxiety and the pulse is slippery and the the tongue has a greasy yellow coat (indicating damp/phlegm), then different follow up questions will be asked than if the pulse was weak and deep and the tongue was pale pink and purple with a thin white coat (indicating deficiency of Blood). Asking all the body system questions can be too broad. You get so much information that you simply won’t use. I have heard in China that there are doctors who diagnose and treat simply by looking at the tongue and pulse; yet most will ask a few questions to get a clear picture.
Last term, my supervisor was John. There were two things I learned from working on John’s shift; one is to always keep the nature and flavors of the herbs in mind to help you make your herbal choices. The second thing that I took away was to write down tongue and pulse and come up with a clear, like really clear diagnosis and treatment strategies before thinking of herbs and formulas. You have to know where you are going before you can get there!
I did three make up shifts with another supervisor, Michael, who I will have next term. From those few shifts, I learned about formula families and the concept of people having formula constitutions (reminded me a bit of homeopathy or Matthew Woods), as well as the relevance and use of taking the meridian, organ, seasonal and cosmological influences into consideration. As above, so below. Microcosm, macrocosm. Really neat stuff.
There are other cool things about herbal internship, of course. Patients get better, which is awesome. Major patterns change, minor patterns transform, the person feels whole. Suddenly someone stops having vivid nightmares which make them feel exhausted all day, which they have had their whole life. Yes, herbs can do that (not that I had any doubt).
I am learning the art of formulation, which is something Chinese Medicine has down. I am learning new applications of herbs. With herbal medicine, you have to have a very clear picture of the diagnosis, because it is possible (not likely, but possible) to mess someone up with herbs if you don’t know what your doing, or there could be no improvement or not as much improvement. Acupuncture is much more forgiving, plus you have the body, channels and Qi to tell you what to do.
Herbal Internship is a group setting; 4 interns and a superiors working together. It is neat to work though cases with a group, what can I say. We all work together and have different ideas to bring to the table. One intern may be trained in a different pulse diagnosis, one may be a nurse and know the effects of medications like the back of her hand, one may be receptive to the emotional and spiritual state of the person through their tone and body language, one may of experienced the exact problem the patient is going through and can speak from experience. When all of these forces come together, it is can be magic.
As I write this, I feel my excitement rising up through my body. I feel like I have been handed the keys to the castle, and my gratitude for these talented teachers and herbalists is beyond words. I may not be ‘getting it’ or coming up with the best, most perfect formulas, but at least I feel I have been given the best education I could have to build a solid foundation to work from.
Day 1 Tea: a lower jiao warming, blood and Ki Qi nourishing and ever-so-slightly Blood moving herbal tea. I made it originally to ease menstrual cramps, starting with Yarrow as my chief herb. I have had this blend around for a while, but am sharing it with a customer for the first time and really, like really, enjoying making a new batch. I am using a mix of purchased rosebuds and rose petals I have harvested from Portland.
Milky oats have been added to support the Kidneys (capital ‘K’ means a Chinese medicine concept and function), because I originally made this for someone with dysmennorhea with underlying Kidney Qi Xu (Deficiency), and I find Milky Oats to support the adrenals quite nicely. Grains are also mineral-rich, which can help reduce crampy pain and spasms. Sometimes during day 1 or longer, digestion can be messed up. Loose stools, upset stomach, crampy intestines along with the uterus. It is not fun. Milky Oats can help soothe the digestive tract, too.
Let’s see…what other glorious herbs are in here?
Rose Hips, Raspberry leaf, Cinnamon and Ginger, Hawthorne berries, Peony, and the blood-regulating Yarrow. It’s sweet, floral, tart, a little spicy and warm. Yum!
Things have changed in the past three years for me when it comes to herbalism. This blog used to be a place where I shared what I was learning about specific herbs, concoctions I made and concepts I was exploring. My learning experiences have changed, and this blog is no longer the same learning tool it was in the past.
At the same time, I am completely immersed in Chinese herbalism and medicine. I learned more about anatomy in 9 months than I ever knew about Western herbalism in 8 years of study. We were continuously tested on single Chinese herbs, every other week for a year, and then a half a year of formulas. I had to memorize information about plants I had never seen growing or tasted, which was really weird. But it was also really, really neat. There is something exhilarating about reading formulas from a book originally written in 220 AD. Forcing myself to learn about herbs in an intellectual way by going to class, reading textbooks and classics was a valuable experience which informs my herbal practice as much as plant spirit medicine and folk herbalism do.
Another big transition based on my studies of Chinese medicine is the use of base formulas and the flavors, nature and Organs entered of the individual herbs for formulations. When I look at the formulas I have written, like for my Etsy shop, I feel a sense of conflict. I don’t see the world in the same way anymore; I don’t see dandelion as a liver herb, but as expression of certain energies present in our planet. Formulation have become much more strategic, where in the past I was more experiential and experimental. I went with my gut, with what was available, with what I was craving, with what the herbals said. Now I follow my treatment principles and diagnostic information as well.
I have to interject that I there is no sense of ‘better’ or ‘worse’ withing myself and my journey of herbalism. I don’t think it is better to have done it one way or another. It just is. Whatever personal influences or interpretation surround me are simply an expression of where I am in that moment, like a snapshot of my psyche.
Herbalism is a daily practice which takes many forms. I have expanded my personal definition of herbalism to be how I engage with and practice plant medicine to promote the innate healing potential present in an entity. I used to think it happened in the body, but now I see that it happens in many areas of life. Whenever I engage with plants, I am practicing plant medicine. In the past, I didn’t think that was valid, but what do I know? I wrote a paper called “If Plant Medicine Worked Doctors Would Use It” and thought flowers were stupid.
I am so blessed to be in over my head with Chinese medicine. This term I have 4 shifts at school directly treating patients (yes, I said patients, not clients) with acupuncture, herbs, shiatsu, diet therapy, supplements, yoga, lifestyle recommendations, ect… Herbalism surrounds me, but it is not all that I do anymore. These aspects were not available for me to work with in the past. There are about 100 different products I make and sell in my Etsy shop. That is a form of herbalism, too, albeit in a really broad, generic sense. But then there’s a floral designer in me, a gardener, a house plant collector, a neighborhood wanderer, a photographer, a decorator, a friend which are all expressions of the herbalist. These faces have always been there and most likely will always be.
Where will this leave Dandelion Revolution? What will be become? What will I talk about and share? I used to do a lot of monographs, for example, but my brain is just not cut out for that right now. Plant therapy is more my style.
After a photo shoot for my Etsy shop, I am left with all these beautiful botanical bits – flowers, leaves, and petals galore. They are too lovely to compost, but not cut out for a bouquet in a vase because the stems are trimmed. I threw them all in a wooden box as I was tidying up and left them there.
It was like a horizontal, flat arrangement. They sat on my printer next to my computer, so I could smell it when I was working. When else do I get to have flowers on my printer?