Beltane: This Week In Plants 5/1/2016

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind (honestly, how many blog posts start with that freakin' statement), but really, they have. My stress levels have been 6,000 and for some reason I figured that would be a good time to switch up what herbs I start my day with (i.e, Passionflower, I am sorry I doubted your ability to quell obsessive, circular thinking. I will start taking you again STAT!). On top of that, I am planning on moving out (!!), buying a car (!!!) and the weather has been back and forth (such is Spring, the energy of Wind, don't you know).

Through all of that, all the stress and feelings of "what am I doing I can't do this why am I doing this and not that," it is the Plant kingdom that grounds me. When I am walking in the woods, I am home.

Home among the ramp leaves that I have infused into ACV, home among the Blue Cohosh's that look like little demonic claws coming out of the ground and home among the Cardinals who repeatedly fly into my window to tell me to cut that SHIT out, Blaire, you know better (this time, I listened), and home among the River that reminds me to let it go let it go leeeeeet it goooo.

Anyway - Beltane marks the midpoint of Spring, the halfway point between Spring and Summer, to me, marks the beginning of what Summer represents: complete and total immersion in the plants and all the joy, ecstasy and purpose that they can bring into our lives and have brought into mine. And while I spent this Beltane doing my Triune homework, being sick as a dog and eating turmeric/cumin guacamole and a bar of 90% chocolate, I did get to get outside yesterday. So, alas, please enjoy what I have found, this week, in plants:

Trillium / Blue Cohosh / Wild Geranium / Soloman's Seal / Cosmic Fern Babies

TRILLIUM

I don't know much about Trilliums, just that they are on the UPS list, and that they are a rare sight in New Jersey, so it was a joy (understatement) to come across a blooming Trillium this weekend.

Accordingly to Woodland Essences, Trillium essence helps one feel as if they are "coming home to oneself," which is exactly the feeling I got when I saw this beauty blooming on my way out of the forest. A gentle reminder of the healing that takes place in nature, the simple joy of seeing a wild flower bloom and the cyclic nature of time and that things are going to bloom, and die, and they will continue to do that even when we are gone, but that if we stop to watch and appreciate that cycle, the endless anxiety of the modern world does seem to stop, if only for a moment.

WILD GERANIUM (Geranium maculatum)

A somewhat shy plant, at least to me, Wild Geranium is primarily used in Western Herbalism as an astringent/stypic. Rich in tannins (10-28%), this plant can be used for weeping wounds, diarrhea and ulcers, both gastric and in the mouth (as a gargle). As with any tannin-rich plant, avoid taking it with iron supplements and alkaloid containing medications, and limit your consumption to acute issues, as they can cause constipation. 

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 .....are you KIDDING me... with this plant... the beauty...

.....are you KIDDING me... with this plant... the beauty...

SOLOMAN'S SEAL (Polygonatum biflorum)

I can't even believe this plant is real. Between how majestically it unfolds as it flowers, and how clear its Doctrine of Signature's is, this plant is something else. This moist woodland dweller is what in TCM would be called a "yin tonic," and it is specific for joints and cartilage that need nourishment (hence the flowers at various knobs, ya dig). The root can also be used in other situations of dryness: dry cough, dry constipation and dry mucous that is difficult to cough out (as I type this I realize how badly I currently need it). According to David Winston, the leaves were often eaten by the Cherokee and referred to as sweet salad, or "Uganosti".

As with any root, harvest wisely and consciously. Herbalist jim mcdonald has a great post on harvesting this native plant in a respect way that doesn't damage the ecosystem. It's also much more in depth should you feel called to learn more about this plant!

BLUE COHOSH (Caulophyllum thalictroides)

Otherwise known as death claw lookin' plant, at least to me, this plant is primarily used as an antispasmodic to the reproductive system (ovaries, uterus, testicles) and an anti-inflammatory to arthritic joints, especially fingers and toes. The root has traditionally been used as an oxytocic to stimulate labor, but as I have 0 midwife training, this isn't something I can or would recommend.

This plant is on the "at risk" list of United Plant Saver's, so if you feel the need to use it medicinally, do so by purchasing it from a reputable source - not wildcrafting.

 Anyone got an iD on this cosmic fella?

Anyone got an iD on this cosmic fella?

As I wrap up this blog post, I am overcome with feelings of inadequacy. That I haven't written enough about these plants, or provided a materia medica for each one- but, that's not the point of this series (and that also means I need to continue taking my Larch flower essence and get back on my Passiflora/Rosa tincture regiment).

The point of this series is for me to learn the Latin names of the plants around me, to take notice of what is blooming and when, and to become more acquainted with the land that I walk on and that nourishes me in more way than one. I hope it inspires you at look down when you are walking, whether that be in Brooklyn or in Vernon, NJ, and to take note of what plants are unfurling their inflorescence and petals. Notice the bugs pollinating the flowers as you go to pick them, and let them inspire you to always take less than what you think you need - because we aren't the only ones who depend on these plants - entire ecosystems depend on these plants.

“To love a place is not enough.
We must find ways to heal it.”
- Robin Wall Kimmer

(what that quote means is always bring a trash bag into the woods so you can pick up after our fellow humans that for some godforsaken reason leave cigarette butts and health food wrappers ?!?!! in the woods) (it also means systemic change so the earth can live)

Until next time (which will be after I get back from HAWAII and oh boy oh boy the plants I will have to share!!),

B

The Return of Spring : This Week in Plants 4/17/16

"If you are a plant person, Spring means all of your friends coming back,"
- David Winston

THIS WEEK IN PLANTS:
I think it was either Witch's Butter or Partridge Berry that gave me the idea for this blog series - I can't remember. Either way, it's been almost two years since my last series (#FlowerEssenceFriday), so it's about time I re-dedicate myself to writing blog posts. In short, this series is for me to sit down and share the photos I've taken of plants throughout the week and write a little bit about them. My hopes are that it will inspire you to get out there and notice the subtle but very real changes that happen throughout the season and that it will get your booty out in nature!

A simple exercise in ritual, continuity and getting to know the land, if you will. Also, a digital compost pile for the hundreds of photos that are on my phone.

This week: Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens) (not in flower - don't care - it still has a message).

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) - a spring ephemeral from the fairy world

  • leaves are an emetic (induces vomiting) and expectorant (helps dispel mucous), and water extracts have been shown to be effective against gram positive and gram negative bacteria (can't find the research to support that claim, but super cool if true)
  • trout lilys can take up to 5 years to bloom and their colonies may be hundreds of years old - even before knowing this, I never harvested more than a leaf or two for a salad. They're sweet, but one bite too many and it gets weird/gross tasting. lessons in respect.
  • it's flower essence may be used for problem solving, as it helps one see the finer details of of the issue and better plan to resolve them

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

  • One of those flowers that leaves you a little breathless and saying "I can't believe you are real." I literally jumped for joy when I found a patch of these with fresh petals on them!  Photos are from the Appalachian trial in Northern Jersey.
  • From a medicinal point of view, this is a very low dose herb (it's a cardiac sedative in high doses..) and from a sustainability point of view, it's endangered and should be left to be admired, not harvested.
  • Those who make a flower essence of it say that it is used to heal old/ancestral/genetic wounds and to heal from feelings of unworthiness

Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)- a forest floor of these may not have RCT on being uplifting, but my N1 study says that there is a 8/10 chance it will put a smile on your face

  • contains CNS depressing alkaloids, traditionally used as an alterative (i.e., enhance the normal eliminatory functions of the body), though, due to possible toxicity and habitat lose and over harvesting, most herbalists do not use Dicentra species period
  • specifically pollinated by Queen Bumblebees!

 

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens) - not in flower, but a plant that had a few words to share with me nonetheless

  • this plant had a direct message for me: "until you accept, honor and recognize your lower body, you are going to be unable to let energy flow outside of you in a smooth and productive way." I'm working on it, Mitchella...
  • medicinally used as a uterine tonic to strengthen/tone the uterus in cases of dysmenorrhea with heavy bleeding
  • Physiomedicalist T.J. Lyle MD recognized this plant as a general tonic to the uterus, as well as the nervous system, digestive system and kidneys. In fact he states, "It would be rather difficult to misapply Mitchella," 
  • We should be cautious when gathering this herb and specific when using it medicinally, as it grows rather closely with the quickly dying off Eastern Hemlock and may disappear as the trees begin to..

Lastly.. Garlic Mustard. I don't have a photo of this flower right now - but a quick google search (here - did it for you) will show you what this delicious, weedy invasive species looks like. Don't be that asshole who takes 2 garbage bags of ramps from the woods - be the hero who takes 2 garbage bags of garlic mustard. Read below for why:

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) - an aggressively invasive, species that can and should be used as both food and medicine

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  • flowering tops + the leaves are delicious in pesto + sauteed or cooked how you would cook spinach; the flavor is mostly garlic with a hint of horseradish and it is delicious mixed into butter and I imagine it would be tasty wilted and then infused into olive oil for a salad dressing
  • pre-flower roots have a mild horseradish odor and can be pickled as such
  • medicinally, this plant contains the medicinal properties of both a mustard AND garlic; it contains reportedly anti-cancer mustard family compounds called isothiocyanates and cancer preventative compounds from the garlic family called allyl sulfides
  • one called "Sauce alone" in England, as county folk would make a simple sauce out of it to eat alongside bread and meats
  • produces allelochemicals that impedes the function of the beneficial fungi needed for other plants and trees to grow + contains glucosinolate sinigrin, a chemical that Toothwort's contain that triggers the West Virginia white butterfly to lay eggs, but eggs laid on Garlic Mustard rarely hatch, meaning this plant may be detrimental to butterfly population

It's warm outside. The plants are back. The sun is shining. I have a sunburn as I type this and couldn't be happier about it. Please go outside. I promise, there is a 0% chance you will feel worse after a walk in the woods. And the woods needs you, too. It needs people to be in it who ask people "You're not takin' 2 bags full of ramps bulbs are you?" and who challenge them when they (literally) respond "they sell for $15/lb in Union Square!". It needs you to pick up trash, to pick the Garlic Mustard. And it needs you to learn how to be quiet enough to listen to mushrooms who tell you to write blog posts and flowers who tell you we are out of touch with our lower body. Because the more we get to know the land, the more we get to know ourselves. And, really, you never feel worse after a hike. Or hugging a tree. Or picking up trash. I could go on and on..

 'The land knows you, even when you are lost.' - Robin Wall Kimmerer

Sources:
- http://www.sierrapotomac.org/W_Needham/GarlicMustard_050306.htm
- http://chestnutherbs.com/partridgeberry-materia-medica/
- http://www.restoringthelandscape.com/2013/06/pollination-of-dutchmans-breeches-royal.html
- https://www.herbalstudies.net/_media/resources/library/Physio-Medical-Therapeutics.pdf

 

"If no one's going to read it, you should still write it." / Full Moon in Virgo

In which my space-cadet brain rambles for a few paragraphs. Lightly touching on a number of subjects but, in true Blaire fashion, never delving completely into them. Like the midheaven-stuck Capricorn I am, I jump, from rock cliff to rock cliff, staying only long enough to almost get grounded, before I jump to the next. An exercise in writing just to write. To creating content for no other reason but to create it.

A recipe for an anxiety and panick-reducing tincture formula is at the end of this. It's rooty and aromatic. I recommend it.

If no one's going to read it, you should still write it.
If no one's gonna see it, you should still do it.
You're not measured by how people react to you."
- afatbabe

It was a warm 55 degrees this afternoon, I was sprawled out on the lawn chair booking my flight to LA for Expo West (scREAMing - so excited), soaking up late February's sun and watching a flock of Robins hop across a muddy yard. Before that, I was walking in the woods at my favorite local spot: a walk that takes me past an oyster-ladden tree that I ashamedly don't know the name of, through a hemlock grove, past a sacred deer carcass that I sit with each time, up a hill and to a log that overlooks a creek where I finally layed down, alongside jelly fungus and fallen leaves. As I rest on the tree, I realized how exhausted I am. And then I got panicked - because exhaustion just isn't productive. Was I being productive? Could I justify laying down after such a short walk? Was it "okay" to lay down? "Should" I be laying down? As I tried to quiet my anxious mind, I closed my eyes, dug my hands into my sweater pockets, sighed deeply and just gave gratitude that it was warm enough to take myself and my monkey-meth mind on a walk in the forest.

Winter is, supposedly, a time for rest. But it really isn't, at least not in the United StatesTM. The holidays come through, disrupting business as usual, throwing you you into a cocktail of 2 pt family, 2 pt old friends and 1 pt of food you usually don't eat and booze you don't drink. Then you have to recover. From your vacation, which is supposed to be a recovery from your job. I've been thinking a lot about time outside of the office and what we as humans do with the precious hours we aren't under the clock. The slimy shame we feel when we aren't creating, being productive or working. How so many of us can't relax (in general or without substantial guilt) unless we have some sort of substance in our bodies (alcohol and cannabis being the most common, with the former being almost a stable of working-life).

I've been thinking a lot about what it means for me to be an herbalist since I'm not currently seeing clients or putting energy into selling my potions. How is herbalism an active part of my life? Where is my life saturated with herbalism? The one thing in my life that has given me a stable sense of identity... Am I giving it enough attention? It's te one thing I haven't given up within a few months. The force/wave that gave and gives my life meaning and made me feel connected to something larger than myself... Am I dedicated enough to it? Is something really your passion if you aren't capitalizing off of it and making a brand out of it?! (That's a whole other discussion, on economic systems and the way they shape our lives.) (Which brings me to another topic - I don't know enough about economic systems, despite how much they shape my life. Which leads me to the common theme of my anxiety lately: I don't know enough. There is so much to know.)

At 24, I am no longer young (6 years ago I was 18, 6 years ago I thought I knew who I was, or at least who I was becoming. 2 years ago I was 22, just graduating college and about to move up North. There was a glow to my eyes when I lived in Florida that I'm not sure is there anymore. Photos as ways to remember who you used to be).

I'm almost 25. I'm in my mid-twenties. I should be more accomplished. I should be more educated. What herb is there for the feeling that I am never enough? What would a psychiatrist give me for that? Something to take away the anxiety - would that delete the fear of never being enough? Does that fear (which I guess could be categorized as a 'feeling of inadequacy') motivate me? Or does it just hold me back? I've spent a lot of time in the past year thinking about how much more I could accomplish (i.e., produce, create, write, do, DO) if I wasn't constantly plagued by anxiety and other extraneous mental challenges. It keeps coming back to the fact that being honest about my mental hurdles is what will free me. It isn't something you can just bring up though. Even in herbal circles. There is a lot of education to be done on mental health, mental illness and cultivating a society in which we fucking nurture our individual and collective mental health. (Who is going to do it?) (How do we do it?) (Herbs are a part of this - but they are supplementary in comparison to things like community, freedom from oppression and access to clean and healthy food and water).

I've been thinking a lot about how so much emphasis in the wellness community is placed on diet as the fix all. Well, I've been conducting an experiment, on myself, with an N of 1. I've come to realize that diet is a piece of the prevention puzzle, but it's just a piece. I mean, I knew that. We all know that. Let me rephrase: a perfect diet program (whether it's bulletproofTM or paleo or vegan) won't give you the sense of identity that you're looking for, nor will it magically cure your depression or anxiety (if only I could remember this), nor will it solve the deep rooted fear of inadequacy that has spent 24 years brewing inside of you and making a home between your ribs. The perfect diet won't turn you into the perfect person. There is no perfect person. And if there was, they wouldn't have gotten there by eating a magical set of foods. Your diet is only one part of getting your ducks into a row.

…and I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.
—  Emily Dickinson

I wanted to write more in 2016. To express myself. To what? This void of the internet? For what? Recognition? The feeling of doing something. The feeling of being a "maker" or "creator." There is so much garbage content on the internet, and in the world, am I just adding to it? Where does all this digital data fall in regards to the global crisis of pollution and trash. What am I going to do with all my STUFF when I move into a place of my own?

"Work of Black Hills bark beetle on the inner surface of living bark.” Insects and human welfare. 1920. via: Nemfrog

I think I came here to write about herbs for adaptation. I think I came here to be heard. Isn't it bizarre how we cultivate different identities on different social media platforms? There is no one way to run a blog, is there? I do know a blog post is supposed to culminate in something you, the reader (if you exist), can take away with you. A recipe of sorts, a link to purchase something else we think will add to our identity (like the fact I bought $40 worth of protein bars today?!!?!).

I don't know what I have to offer the world - and maybe that is why I feel incomplete. It isn't because I'm single (it's been 6+ months, but after 3.5 years, it still feels new, and horrifying), or because I have no idea where I'm supposed to be living. It's because I know that I need to be doing something that makes the world a less shitty place, and if I can be honest with myself, I am not doing that right now. I love my job in the food and beverage industry, but in all honesty, we know that this industry isn't saving the world. Until I am doing something selfless, something to pay rent for living on this world in the cushy position that I do, I will feel inadequate. And it would behoove me to remember that no person is going to solve that for me except for myself. The mantra "people are not destinations" continues to loop in my head.

Anyway, here is your takeaway:

Some links to content I've been enjoying lately:

 

A tincture formula for when you feel like the world is caving in, that the environment is doomed and that you can't make a decision with what to do next (in short or long term) because there is SO MUCH to focus on 

  • 2 pt ashwagandha (withania somniflora)
  • 2 pt passionflower (passiflora incarnata)
  • 1 pt lemon balm (melissa officinalis)
  • 1/2 pt kava (piper methysticum)
  • 1/8-1/84 pt cardamom (elettaria cardamomum)
  • 3 drops wild oat flower essence

Follow 2 dropperfuls of this tincture with 3 sprays of rose water to your face, a cat-that-just-got-sprayed-with-water body shake and a grunt. you'll get through it. there is always tomorrow. The trees don't grow leaves overnight and neither will you.

(If you actually read this - let me know. As a fishgoat floating through the transition of Winter to Spring, reminders of connection to the outside world are welcome)

 

Fall, Mushrooms and The Cyclical Nature of Seasons: a rambling rant

The last time I posted I was knee deep in winter. The cold had settled into my bones and the familiar feeling of ice in my veins had returned, something I hadn't felt since '06 or '07. My self-care routine of codonopsis-cinnamon-ginger infusions were beginning to fall short in compensating for my lack of sleep, work schedule and general lack of treating my body with respect and consideration (HIIT rountines are not for every day use, B). I felt like I was in an absolute rut. What was my next move? I wasn't growing enough in the job I had - I was waking up way too early for it to be sustainable (4:30am is ungodly). I felt stagnant and stuck.

And then spring came. And somehow I landed my first ~career~ job, and in an interesting and relatively appropriate industry nonetheless. And then the plants came back, poking their heads up from the recently-thawed ground. Skunk Cabbage returned, and, somehow, everything began to change. Not for the better, or the worse, but in the way that it always does.

 reishi mushroom - early summer - new jersey, 2015

reishi mushroom - early summer - new jersey, 2015

 mugwort, sage and shadows - new jersey - summer 2015

mugwort, sage and shadows - new jersey - summer 2015

It was the pungency of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) that first pulled me back to the earth after my first winter. Dispersing, energy-moving garlic mustard. Thrown into my new morning breakfast that now included (gasp!) protein from eggs. I blended fat-heavy (but still lacking, really) pestos with toasted garlic mustard roots and tons of fresh leaves. I discovered that the flowering tops are actually my favorites, that they pair really well with a little bit of olive oil, red chili pepper flakes and pine nuts. Next was the symphony of early spring flowers. The hill at the roundabout on the way to work lit up with yellow blossoms, all turning towards the sun, singing in their earthy delight. The dandelions, the violets - bursts of purple and yellow (ironic, as fall ends with the same color scheme via goldenrod and asters). A royal expression of sun and dirt. Dandelion, teacher of resiliency and that perseverance and existence are an art form in their own right. Violet, teacher of vulnerability and beauty. The harvesting of both provided a creative outlet for me as new-at-the-job jitters began setting in. 

After work hours I began to find myself knee deep in the "field" (aka railroad side parking lot) behind the office. I began harvesting spring's bounty: chickweed, cleavers, violets. Dandelion leaves for stir fries, flowers for brandy and honey elixirs. Violet flowers for vinegar infusions - the beauty of being fragile and delicate. Chickweed - nourishing, demulcent, soothing to the GI tract. Connecting people to place. I shared chickweed that I harvested from behind the office with coworkers. "You really do look like a rabbit!" she exclaimed as I munched on wild greens, learning the delicate dance of how much you are allowed to be yourself in a work space. Pieces of myself began to fall out, I attempted to hold them in. They fell out anyway - it is what it is. I began to put reminders of myself at my desk (thank you, Reishi).

Summer rolled in. The return of warmth, heat. The energy of the South, of red, of light. I relished in feeling the sun penetrate my skin. Warming me from the outside in. Reminders of being in Florida. The tearing down of walls. The melting of boundaries. I began to spend my weekends solo hiking in the woods, for 6-7 hours at a time. Going off the trail to find the most wonderful displays of Reishi mushrooms. Literally hanging off tree roots to gather the perfect specimen for my altar. Surrounded by the beauty and abundance of the forest. Beginning to realize that I was setting up my life here in New Jersey. That this is my life now. That I was 23. I was working full time. I was living in New Jersey, and that I was putting down roots. Somehow I had made it this far, to this place of societal normalcy. There were still pieces of my life I wanted to change, move around, and shed. I wasn't ready yet.

Mid-summer was marked by sticky fingers, and a mouth full of sweet, succulent wine berries. 4:30pm meant only 30 minutes until I could go berry picking again. As wineberry season came to an end, and blackberry season began (full of mostly tart berries, really. Enjoyable nonetheless), I found myself falling down a hill being attacked by wasps. I found myself laughing and yelling at the same time. Mindlessly shoveling berries into my mouth and getting caught in obsessive thinking had led me to walk right into a wasps nest - how could I blame the wasps for stinging me? Plantain (Plantago major) to soothe the welts. Gratitude to soothe the pain. Laughter for acceptance. The potent magic of eating wild foods. Connection to place, to land, to time and season, and to self. Wildfoods as medicine for a fickle and somewhat tumultuous relationship to food and body. Medicine in sharing food with slugs and bugs and creepy crawly things. Medicine in eating the jewels of the forest - expertly designed by the Sun and the Earth, curated by none other than nature herself. Laughter, not annoyance, when you accidentally put a stink bug in your mouth.

August disappeared like dew on a hot morning, and all the sudden it was late summer. A month or so spent crawling over logs and under neath fallen trees to harvest mushrooms. The smell of seafood, apricots and rotting tree-flesh (Pleurotus spp). Walking around nearby parks with a knife in my hand hunting for flecks of orange (Laetiporus spp). Crawling hand and knee up steep hills to sit with these impressive beings that are more closely related to animals than they are to plants. Edible, too. See the above paragraph on the medicine of wild foods. See this sentence for the joy of sharing said food with people. For having abundance and giving it away. Late summer afternoons spent de-bugging Chicken of the Woods, cooking up Oyster mushroom-curries, and finding comfort in meal prep and routine. Near-denial that summer would end, really.

 raccoon skull, new jersey, last weeks of summer 2015.

raccoon skull, new jersey, last weeks of summer 2015.

 sacred datura. nyc. late summer, 2015.

sacred datura. nyc. late summer, 2015.

 

But summer, like all seasons and cycles, does end. And all the sudden it's October, your feet are back to being chronically cold, and the strange comfort of Autumnal nostalgia sets in. A time of undeniable nostalgia. Of anniversaries - both good and bad. 6 years since my last one of those, 10 years since admittance to there, and so forth. Certain temperatures remind you of certain people, and the way the autumn light comes in through my window reminds me of waking up for the first time in New Jersey. For me, Autumn is the true new year. The time I really look inwards and assess where I am in the time frame of my life. Blessed by the abundance of spring and summer, my body is relaxed and nourished from of weekends spent eating cantaloupe, Ethiopian food and walking in the woods. From time spent with new people, new characters in this ridiculous movie that is life. From growing into a new role at work, from realizing that no matter how hard you try, little pieces of who you are will fall out and that, to a certain extent, there is nothing of value in this world besides connection. To place, to people and to self.

Rambled rants as an exercise in connecting to self, in hopes of connecting to others. Hopes for sharing information about myself in hopes that you could find pieces of yourself. And the daunting realization that until I begin to shed the parts of myself that I have been clinging on to for the past 5, 10 years, I will not grow into the person that I want, that I need, to become. That sharing the realities of our human experience is what creates connection. That being vulnerable is the only way to truly connect with others. That this rough facade of someone who doesn't care isn't fooling anyone. That no matter how hard I try, or you try, little pieces of ourselves fall out. We leak out of the armor we have built around ourselves. We are messy, we are constantly changing. We are the warmth of summer, the fragility of violet flowers, and the ice cold air that shakes you to your bones in the winter. We are the energy of change, itself.

I want to apologize for how all over the place this post is, but I'm trying not to apologize for everything I do. Here's my commitment to one post a month. Perhaps the next one will be more clearly guided. But it might not be.

 

 

Candied Fennel + Preparing for Thanksgiving

Like my last entry, this post is a combination of a recipe (which is at the bottom, if you just came here for that) and some thoughts that have been swimming (or darting...) around my head lately. A week from now, I will be in sunny South Florida, soaking up as much vitamin D as my sun-deprived skin can handle, eating nourishing and delicious foods with my loved ones, and also snapping quick remarks on the horrific history of Thanksgiving. Since this holiday isn't always easy, I wanted to share some tips that have worked for me in regards to preparing my mind and body for this often anxiety-provoking holiday. And since this is primarily a food-centered holiday, I wanted to throw in a few tips for those who struggle with food and eating, as this time of the year can be especially difficult.

 Vegan potluck amazingness that my dear herbal teacher, Holly Bellebuono, made for me for my going away potluck from herb school

Vegan potluck amazingness that my dear herbal teacher, Holly Bellebuono, made for me for my going away potluck from herb school

Gratitude for what we have, every day

The simple act of coming together to share food, to share that which gives us life and allows us to live, is a sacred act. Ideally, we should be grateful and express gratitude for the fact that we have food and loved ones on a daily basis, but if time slips between our fingers and we don't remember to be grateful until Thanksgiving, than so be it. Thanksgiving is still a great day to sit with your loved ones and share what you are grateful for, whether that be that you are alive (which its quite a feat for many of us, so pat yourself on the back for making it to another holiday season), that you have food to eat, and so forth. Vocalizing what we are grateful for is a great way to be mindful of all that we do have, as we so often focus on what we lack. Furthermore, research actually shows that sharing our joys and positive experiences can lead to "heightened well-being, increased overall life satisfaction, and even more energy," (x). 

A simple way to incorporate more gratitude into your life can simply be saying a prayer before every meal, not just at Thanksgiving and winter holidays. I have been practicing eating mindfully and praying over my breakfast for the past two years. I've found that it makes a substantial difference in both how I eat and how I feel in comparison to how I feel at meals that I don't give thanks or eat mindfully. Praying or giving thanks before a meal, especially if paired with a few deep breaths, is a helpful and grounding way to come into your body and be present before you eat, which is extra important if you tend to rush through meals or if you have a history of disordered eating. Below is the prayer I say before my meals, it helps me to remember to chew my food, to be grateful for the people who picked my food, and for the universe in general, for providing me with the nourishment I need to sustain my life.

"Thank you for this food I am about to eat. Thank you for all the energy that went into this food, and all the energy that I will get out of this food. This food nourishes and sustains me. I choose to eat mindfully and consciously. Thank you , I am grateful." 

I remember sitting at the 2013 Florida Herbal Conference with a friend who exclaimed, "I can't believe I have access to food every day! Every day I wake up and I can have food. How amazing and beautiful is that?" Her expression of gratitude inspires me to this day to be grateful for what I have, to look at life with rosy (but realistic) glasses, and to remember all the blessings in my life. Practicing gratitude - looking for the little things in life, like adorable puppies, changing leaves, dandelions growing in the cracks of a polluted city - is something that has made a significant difference in my outlook and how I feel on a day to day basis.

 Sharing a special breakfast brunch for Diego's birthday, last year in Florida

Sharing a special breakfast brunch for Diego's birthday, last year in Florida

Preparing our bodies for the abundance of ah-mazing Thanksgiving foods

This is a holiday that is centered around eating a lot of food, and I am not here to tell you to watch what you eat on Thanksgiving. Celebrate all you are thankful for and do it with an extra slice of cake if you want! Below you will find a few things to help you physically enjoy your Thanksgiving to the best of your ability

  1. Bitters. If you can swing it, start taking bitters now rather than just on Thanksgiving. Bitters (i.e.: literally anything that taste bitter - arugula, dandelion root, elecampane, endive, etc) trigger our gallbladder to secrete digestive bile so that we can better breakdown our foods, especially fats. An important taste that has pretty much been taken out of the SAD diet, bitters make a real difference in our ability to digest foods and to absorb vitamins and minerals from our foods. Take bitters 10-15 minutes before a meal, and if you feel so inclined, after you finish your meal as well. (bonus- bitters can also help curb sugar cravings, and I have seen them work to help curb binge eating urges as well).
  2. Carminative herbs. If you struggle with digestion issues, or if stress gives you digestion issues (whatsup fellow anxiety folk), here are a few herbs to get to know this holiday season:
    • Ginger root - warming, makes a great breakfast tea (especially with a pinch of black pepper or cayenne, woo!) to help get your digestion movin', relieves cramping and is especially helpful for nausea, fresh ginger decoction is especially useful for those who are perpetually cold and who have dry, stagnant constipation
    • Chamomile - a classic tea that pretty much every household has, chamomile is also a mildly bitter herb as long as you let it steep longer than 15 minutes, and it helps to reduce inflammation in the gut and get your food moving along. Chamomile also helps reduce irritability and hyperactivity (aka children who ate all of the marshmallows off of the sweet potatoes...), and can be useful for stomach problems right before bed
    • Catnip - indicated for digestion problems caused by emotional/nervous tension, safe for children, pair this odd little herb with a pinch of mint as it isn't necessarily delicious
    • Other carminative herbs include lemon balm, anise seed, and fennel (see recipe below).
  3. Walking. If you can, try to go for a walk the morning of Thanksgiving to get your head in the game, or at least to help you relax a little before the big event - and definitely try to walk after the meal. Walking helps to stimulate our digestion and it's a great activity to do if your loved ones are getting a little too nosy or if you simply need a breath of fresh air. For those with a history of binge eating, taking a walk after the meal is an excellent way to avoid going into full-fledged binge mode. Walking is also a great way to get your mind settled if you are uncomfortably full and that feeling is triggering for you. While walking, take time to be grateful for the food you just ate and to admire the changing of the seasons.
  4. Relax. Don't stress about the food- enjoy it. For those with body image problems, a history of disordered eating, or who are obsessive about eating "healthy" - the stress of worrying about what that slice of cake is going to do to your body is more harmful than eating the cake, and the stuffing, and whatever else. Balance is key and this is a holiday where it really is ok to not be completely balanced! If you struggle with disordered eating or an eating disorder, make sure you have a friend or loved one you can talk to or call before/during/after the meal to vent to, discuss your triggers, etc. If you want to be alone, be alone! Go for a walk or play with an animal. The holiday season is challenging for everyone, but especially those who struggle with food (and family,) so be sure to take care of yourself as best as you can <3

// Coconut Candied Fennel Seeds \\

This recipe is inspired by Sheila Kingsbury's recipe from her AHG 2014 class.

Due to the carminative (stomach soothing) and flatulance-reducing properties of fennel seeds, these sweet and nutty seeds are a great post-meal snack to have around on Thanksgiving. They're also great to have around the day after Thanksgiving, when all the leftovers come out and it's basically round 2.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup honey (or maple syrup, I used honey)
  • 2 tsp coconut oil

Instructions

  1. Add the oil to a pan and warm on medium heat
  2. Mix the fennel seeds and coconut into the oil until well-coated, then add your honey
  3. Toast until the seeds and honey are slightly browned and aromatic, about 5-7 minutes
  4. Lay out the mixture in a thin layer on wax paper, the thinner the layer, the easier it will be to break into pieces
  5. Once cooled, break into said pieces and place in the kitchen or on the table!

Eat a few seeds after a meal, and chew thoroughly!

>> For a fun twist, you could try throwing in a few tablespoons of dried coconut or mixing the candied fennel with chopped candied ginger <<

I hope this brief guide to surviving and enjoying Thanksgiving was helpful. If you make the fennel seeds, let me know how they turn out! I brought them to herb class this week and people were shocked at how easy they were to make. I hope you all have a beautiful Thanksgiving, that you think about all you have to be grateful for, and that you can enjoy your holiday and day off work (unless you are being forced to work on Thanksgiving, which is evil).

In love and cheesecake (which I am making for Thanksgiving),

Blaire