A verdant thanks to ScoutMob for its recent coverage of the little bus that could!
A Remedy for Sevananda
Sunday, June 30, 2013
As far back as I can remember, there was always a Sevananda. Early memories revolved around my sweet tooth of course– the delicious fruit popsicles we were rewarded with on our 2nd grade field trip from Mary Lin or the bitter disappointment of biting into carob candy when I thought my dad had bought me chocolate. But as I grew older, these memories began to reflect my search for healing. And I don’t just mean physical healing, but emotional support as well. Sevananda became my resource not only for immune boosting teas but also for oils that could mend devastating heartache.
And now my heart is aching FOR Sevananda. The past year or so she has festered in finger pointing and blame shifting, and no matter who did what, the end result is the same– Sevananda is struggling to fulfill her life’s mission, her very reason for being. Sevananda has been wounded, is not able to serve her community as best she can, and we all must assume responsibility for her suffering and take steps to heal her. If we don’t, how will she be able to support us in our time of need?
My columns are written a couple of months in advance of print time, so hopefully by then, this column will sound out of date, as we will have already compounded and poured her a healthy dose of just the right healing blend. What would the formula consist of? My guess is we would begin with a base of immune boosters (1), strengthening her innate knowledge of her original purpose, reminding her of who she is (one who takes joy in serving others) so she can defend her existence from infectious egomania and self righteousness which places personalities above community; add to that lymphatics (2) and hepatics (3) to stimulate communication and eliminate the waste products and lingering residue of past wrongs; vulneraries (4) to soothe and knit the torn tissues of members, workers, board, and committees back together; nervines (5) to calm the agitation of conflict and ease the pain of betrayal; and lastly, carminatives (6) to harmonize the remedy, making it more palatable and better absorbed.
If sadly, this column is not out of date, and we are still mired in the infected abscess of obstinate leadership, disenfranchised membership, and voiceless employees, we must take a breath, and remember it’s not too late to mix and administer this healing remedy. It will take time and patience, as herbal remedies do when we treat chronic, long standing conditions, but Sevananda will respond to our care. Then we can toast her recovery with a splash of herbal exhilarants (7), reuniting joy with service as we look forward to many more wonderful (and tasty) memories.
(1) Immune Booster: Increases immune function (adaptive/innate) Examples: Echinacea, Astragulus, Reishi, Ginger, Elder, Yarrow.
(2) Lymphatic: Aids the lymphatic system, which is responsible for metabolic waste removal and immune function. Examples: Red Root, Red Clover, Cleavers, Violet Leaf.
(3) Hepatic: Tonifies the liver to assist it with detoxification, hormonal and other processes. Examples: Dandelion, Milk Thistle, Turmeric, Burdock.
(4) Vulnerary: Treats and heals wounds. Examples: Comfrey, Calendula, Arnica, Plantain.
(5)Nervine: Affects the nervous system (tonifies, relaxes, or stimulates.) Nervines to tonify and relax include Milky Oats, Skullcap, Valerian, and Damiana.
(6) Carminative: Stimulates digestion and is often used in blends to increase absorption of other herbs and palatability. Examples: Ginger, Fennel, Cinnamon, Cardamom.
(7) Exhilarant: Uplifts and enlivens the heart and mind. Examples: Cinnamon, Rose, Lemon Balm, Basil.
Monday, April 1, 2013
The plant I highlight this month harkens back to the early history and founding of Georgia as a solution to overflowing British prisons. The idea was to ship prisoners who were in jail due to debt, and have them work the land here, cultivating silk from the Georgian mulberry tree. However, the plan was a failure, as the mulberry tree, which grows in Georgia is not the type that fosters the silkworm. Silkworms prefer the white, Asian mulberry (Morus alba), while ours is the purple, American species (Morus rubra). And though our mulberry does not create wealth from silk, it does provide the wealth of health.
I have a strong love for mulberries. This was one of the first plants I wildcrafted. At the time I didn’t consider it wildcrafting, as I didn’t even know the term, all I knew was that when spring hit and the berries ripened my father would take me out to gather and enjoy this delicious, purple fruit.
The mulberry is one of the most neglected and misunderstood plants in our area. Yes, it stains the streets and anything in the path of the falling berry, causing folks to complain about that “weedy mulberry tree” but the berry is full of antioxidant power, which helps mitigate damage from free radicals. The deep blue, purple, and red pigment of the berries is due to the presence of an antioxidant known as anthocyanin, which has been shown to protect against cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.
Now any time we harvest plants outside of our own garden, there are a few important issues to consider. First, is the area we gather from clean. Second, we should be aware of the scarcity or abundance of this particular species we seek. We must only gather what is plentiful, to not overharvest a plant population already under pressure. Lucky for us mulberry lovers, this tree grows quite prolifically so this is not a concern. And finally, proper identification of the plant we are looking for. To find mulberries in your neighborhood, simply search for a purple squishy mess on the ground, look up and chances are you have found your tree. There are of course other unique characteristics of the mulberry we use for identification, and for more information on that, you can click here for additional photos and tips.
There are endless ways to enjoy the flavor and health benefits of mulberries. If you wish to preserve them for consumption outside of when they are in season you can dehydrate or freeze them. My favorite mulberry preparation is to make a syrup. It’s really quite simple to prepare. Syrups are liquids (such as tea or juice) preserved with honey or sugar. The instructions I give here are for a sugar syrup, as using honey will darken the gorgeous color. But please note that you may certainly replace the sugar with honey for a slightly less brilliantly colored but admittedly healthier syrup.
First, wash the berries well, separating out any bugs, stems, or other unwanted tagalongs and put in a stainless steel pot over a low flame. Add a touch of water to avoid sticking and burning. Gently warm and simmer until berries soften. Strain through a colander or squeeze through a press cloth to remove the pulp and seeds. Measure and then place the strained juice back on the stove. You will add two cups of sugar to each cup of juice. Stir over a low flame until all the sugar dissolves. Allow it to cool and then bottle. Enjoy drizzled over foods or blended with some sparkling water for a lovely spritzer. I like to add just a touch of cinnamon for a real treat.
April Herbal Happenings
Monday, April 1, 2013
Can you feel the energy? Spring is erupting in a riot of colors and aromas, as the familiar faces of our beloved plant companions reemerge onto the scene. It’s time to hit the field! This herbalista was thrilled to pack up the bus, head to the hills, and enjoy the spring ephemerals (our early spring flowers) this past weekend. While flower gazing, I discovered a new trick to get the macro shots I’ve always struggled with. By holding my loop (a jeweler’s magnifying glass) up to the camera lens on my iPhone, I was finally able to focus on even the tiny sprays of yellow root blossoms. Click here to see more from my ephemeral meanderings.
In between plant rendezvous, I spent Saturday afternoon teaching at Warren Wilson College. After a mini-lecture on herbal first aid, we launched into a discussion about community herbalism and the realities of free clinic work. I spoke about my experience at both the Harriet Tubman Foot Clinic and with the Herb Bus. I was moved and heartened to see their enthusiasm for this type of work– bringing plant medicine to the people. While the field of herbal medicine has certainly grown exponentially in the last decade, it is not what you would consider a lucrative career path. Add to that a “free clinic” component, and you have a recipe for “never getting out of your school debt.” This was obviously NOT the talk I gave. Instead I simply shared my motivation for this type of work and the true rewards that pour into your life when you follow your passion and walk a healing path. I think they bought it 🙂
This photo was taken at an Herb Bus clinic in February. At this particular clinic we served 6 people. We provided them with delicious tea, health recommendations, and herbs that would last them a month, until the Bus’ return. And return we do. Every month! One of the core tenants of our clinic is that we provide continuous care to our patients, giving them both the time and the amount of herbs needed to support chronic conditions. And with each visit, we are seeing that this dedication and follow-up pays off. If you would like to see more workings of the Herbalista Free Clinic (aka the Herb Bus), through the magical lens of photographer Jessica Horwitz, just click here. If you are moved by what you see and would like to help us continue in our mission to bring earth-based care to underserved populations, please consider donating to the Herb Bus. Just to give you an idea of what your donation can provide, we are averaging around $200/per clinic in material costs (herbs, bottles, etc.) Thank you for helping us to better serve our community.
For the full newsletter, click here.
March Herbal Happenings
Friday, March 1, 2013
February was a short, but busy month. The Herbalista Free Clinic (aka the Herb Bus) made several stops and is looking forward to continuing to bring earth based care to Atlanta and beyond. Here we are, stationed at The Open Door, which is one of the communities we will be serving on a regular, monthly basis. We also ran the herbal first aid station at the Georgia Organics Conference, which proved to be an amazing opportunity to both spread the health and exchange ideas with a great group of people committed to sustainable, earth-friendly practices.
This month promises many more opportunities to connect people and plants, strengthening the bond that sustains us. Atlanta has been gifted with a new school, one that is dedicated to promoting “the wellbeing of individuals as well as the health of the community and environment through experiential self-reliance and sustainability skills education.” The Homestead Atlanta will offer a variety of classes from log splitting to fiber arts at different satellite locations around the city. And what homestead school could be complete without herbal offerings? I hope you can join me and the Homestead Atlanta for a weekend-long medicine making workshop later this month.
Herbal Happenings began one year ago, birthed in the month of March, when winter gave way to a rising spring. There is a vibrance and urgency to the energy of spring, one that we can harness and use for the greater good. How will you direct this resurgent energy? What is your vision of health and how can you nurture that within yourself and spread it throughout your community?
For the full newsletter, click here.
February Herbal Happenings
Friday, February 1, 2013
Even in this typically bleak & frosty month, my heart is glowing. It is with a very special joy that I watch the first sprouts emerge of an herbal project whose seeds were planted long ago.
The Herbalista Free Clinic (aka the Herb Bus) begins her rounds this month! The incredible encouragement and support of this project by so many is proof of how eager Atlanta is for this type of care. We have been invited to take part in this month’s Georgia Organics Conference. We will be on site, providing Herbal First Aid and sharing our vision of building healthy community through herbalism. Please stop by– no scraped knees required!
In this month of giving valentines and roses to friends and family, don’t forget to nurture your own heartsong. The aromatic rose, ancient symbol for love, is one of our most powerful heart-medicines. Rosa uplifts our spirits, heals our grief, and with her thorns, protects our delicate many petaled heart. The Persian poet Rumi tells us “Every rose that is sweet scented within, that rose is telling the secrets of the universe.” To read more about rose medicine, check out this month’s issue of the Sevananda Co-options Newspaper, or if the co-op isn’t near your stomping grounds, you can read it here.
Early February marks the midpoint between winter solstice and spring equinox. We have passed the darkest hour and are rewarded with the dandelions, crocuses, and forsythia blossoms, pointing us towards spring. I invite you to take part in the many herbal happenings this month to help shake off your winter blues and celebrate a fertile year ahead!
For the full newsletter, click here.
A Heart in Winter
Friday, February 1, 2013
When someone is sick, when they are in pain, lost to even a memory of health, a simple anti-this or surgical-that might not be all they need to heal. There are other essentials in the body, which if neglected, will prevent a person from uplifting through trauma or disease to find their way back to vitality. Our instinctual reaching towards life and health is generated by the heart and by the love that resides there. Love comes in many forms—as connection, as comforting protection, as desire, and as purpose. Quite simply, love is life.
Now, in the depth of winter, when the light is weak, the days frosted and cold, our spirits can fade. While we may not always admit that our existence is dependent upon such notions as love, our customs will remind us of these necessary truths. Traditions were cultivated just as the crops were, to help us to survive. It is no accident that in the bleak month of February, we choose to celebrate Love. And we give the aromatic gift of crimson petaled roses not only to symbolize that love, but also to heal the heart quite literally, quickening it towards spring and rebirth. The Persian poet Rumi tells us “every rose that is sweet scented within, that rose is telling the secrets of the universe.” The rose is a powerful medicine—a medicine for the heart.
Rose heals the heart from grief and loss and kindles our capacity to love again. Her sensuous scent helps us be open to love while her astringing qualities provide a protective boundary. Even her form demonstrates this interplay between vulnerability and power, defending her blushing blossoms with a sharp embattlement of thorns. Love is gentle strength.
As an herbalist, I often work with patients whose sufferings stem from a trauma of the heart. Sometimes it is an obvious wound, inflicted by the death of a loved one or a relationship betrayed. Sometimes, we might not understand the traumatic origin, but can see the effects, such as a child’s lack of interest or a teenager’s aggression. But while the spectrum of human emotion can be complex, working with rose medicine is quite simple. Spritz your face with rose water and take a deep breath to relax and restore emotional balance. Blend a splash of rose water with pomegranate juice to refresh and awaken the heart’s curiosity. Infuse honey with fresh rose petals and drizzle it over a dessert or your lover to remind us of the sweetness of life. Coat the body with rose oil and then soak in a hot bath to release from grief. Just sitting and enjoying the beauty of a single petal will heal.
This Valentine’s Day remember to share rose’s gift with your friends, your family, your lovers, and yourself.
First appeared in Sevananda Co-Options Newspaper February 2013
January Herbal Happenings
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
This month’s offering–a hope for 2013 that we can live with purpose and work with compassion. And if you don’t yet know your life’s passionate purpose, may you have the courage and curiosity to keep looking for it.
I’m writing fresh off a shift with the People’s Relief Medical Clinic in the Rockaways and Coney Island. The picture here is of the Coney Island walk-in clinic being run out of a medically outfitted train-car. After offering some care to walk-in cases, we spent the evening providing medical services door-to-door in a 19 story high rise that hasn’t had elevator service since Hurricane Sandy hit. The residents of Ocean View Towers not only have had to withstand the horrors brought by the hurricane, but a difficult recovery process that is lasting far too long. Many residents are elderly and/or disabled and are unable to navigate the endless flights of cold, slippery, concrete stairs to fetch their food and medicine. We encountered a wide range of medical ailments, conditions often aggravated by the fear and frustration they are living through. They are now told the elevator won’t be fixed until the end of February. It is truly heartbreaking.
The team of volunteers that coalesced to provide relief services when governmental agencies were failing this community is an inspiring vision of what health care can be. These dedicated, compassionate and endlessly patient health care workers provide a full spectrum of health care services — nurse practitioners, herbalists, doctors, EMT’s, social workers, and street medics working side-by-side. This is collaborative medicine at its best. Navigating the tactical challenges of providing free grassroots health care in a country whose healthcare system is profit-based can be draining and daunting. It is important that we continue to share the stories of our successes and failures to create a collective knowledge base from which we can continue this work. To learn more about the People’s Relief Medical Clinic including plans for a more permanent wellness center click here.
Atlanta has urgent medical needs as well. And there are many here working to spread the health. In particular, I’d like to thank all the volunteers from the Harriet Tubman Free Foot Clinic for their dedication to providing foot care for our city’s homeless. Caring for feet not only ensures basic mobility, but can provide relief from pain, ease stress, and tonify the different organs and systems of the body. For our last clinic of 2012, we had a celebratory evening, offering foot, acupuncture, and massage services all while passing spiced cider and sweets. You can see pictures of the holiday clinic and party here.
This month’s edition of Herbal Happenings is filled with many more opportunities, both herbalistic and fantastic, to learn, feel, and share the health. Enjoy!
For the full newsletter, click here.
Welcome to the Herb Bus Chronicles. Deciding to facilitate a mobile, herbal clinic for underserved populations comes with a large set of hurdles. By keeping track of the problems encountered and solutions found, hopefully the Herb Bus can serve as a prototype for sister clinics.
Trickle-down Health Care
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Normally reserved for discussions of economic theory, I think it time to look at how our current institutionalized healthcare policies have been trickling down and poisoning the vital force of our nation for years. Lack of preventative care, limited access due to prohibitive costs and pharmaceutically oriented disease management has resulted in widespread health disorders. The current structure of our medical system results in unhealthy and unhappy individuals which means our communities suffer in every other aspect of life. I don’t think it a stretch to propose that our current medical system has resulted in realities such as children performing poorly in school or even higher rates of crime. The putrid trickling down of poor health stifles our dreams and inhibits our capacity for love and happiness– If you don’t feel good, how are you going to feel the desire to do good in your community?
Instead of trickle down, let us grow from the bottom up and build lasting community through herbalism. Herbalism turns the entire system on its head. Herbalism can be practiced in your kitchen and garden and creates empowered individuals who aren’t at the mercy of a for-profit health system. Herbal remedies strengthen the body without poisoning the environment. Herbs bring us together in a sustainable way. The reason we are members of the Sevananda community is because we believe in the commitment to a triple bottom line philosophy of economic, environmental, and social responsibility.
This holiday season is the perfect opportunity for practicing these philosophies. Let’s spread peace and goodwill by spreading health with the gift of herbs. Herbally, tis’ the season of warming, aromatic spices such as clove and cinnamon. Not only do aromatics tantalize the senses, but they are also extremely anti-microbial and anti-infectious, important during the cold and flu season. A famous blend of anti-infectious aromatics is called Thieves Oil. The legend of Thieves Oil (also known as Four Thieves) dates back to the Middle Ages and the era of the Black Death, which was a bubonic plague that wiped out around ½ half of Europe’s entire population. According to legend, there were thieves and grave robbers who were able to withstand the plague while lining their pockets. How? They were the sons of perfumers who protected themselves with potent essential oils (e.o.’s).
We still use these oils to protect ourselves, adding them to an array of products which clean surfaces, the air, and slow the spread of infection during the winter season. And these blends truly smell fantastic! Here is a list of oils commonly found in a Thieves Blend: Lavender, Clove, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus, Oregano, Tea Tree, Rosemary, Ravensara, and Lemon. Blend the ones you love and add to spritzes or bath soaks. Notice that most of these herbs are actually cooking spices, meaning you could also steep the herbs themselves in an oil or vinegar, or just mix together as a potpourri! The options are endless. Just remember e.o.’s are potent and to be handled with caution for external use only. Never apply them straight to skin, but dilute first in a carrier oil.
Thieves Oil Spritz
¼ oz Thieves Blend e.o.
3 ½ oz. distilled water
¼ oz. vodka (helps the oil to blend with the water)
In a four oz. bottle, add all ingredients and shake well. Use to aromatize the car, wipe down door knobs, spritz in the HVAC returns to cleanse the air. Label, tie with a ribbon, and give the gift of health this holiday season!
First appeared in Sevananda Co-Options Newspaper December 2012