Responding to Antibiotic Resistance:
a resource round-up

There have been some pretty scary headlines in the news this week.  Stuff like:
Drug-Resistant Bacteria Are Common Killers
Antibiotic-Resistant Infections Lead to 23,000 Deaths a Year, C.D.C. Finds
‘We Will Soon Be in a Post-Antibiotic Era’
Yes, Agricultural Antibiotics Play a Role in Drug Resistance
While antibiotic resistance has been a concern for some time, I can’t recall it ever receiving this type of press or this degree of validation from the CDC.  And if the issue is old news to some, it’s no less urgent for that.  So, what’s to be done?

According to the New York Times, “The report said that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” It also said that about half of antibiotic use in people is inappropriate.”  Will lawmakers and regulatory agencies regulate this from the top down?  Will large livestock farmers stop using antibiotics excessively?  I don’t know.  But we can influence this from the bottom up, by refusing to buy meat raised on farms that regularly dose their animals with antibiotics.  (Talk to your farmer, your butcher, and/or your grocery store manager to learn more about how your meat was raised.)  We can also talk to our doctors and figure out if we really need to take antibiotics for a given issue.  These are a couple of basic steps we can take, by deciding what goes into our bodies, and what practices we want to support.

Having made those decisions, it’s important to have tools to prevent the need for antibiotics – as well as alternatives/complements to pharmaceutical antibiotics should the need arise.

On this subject, I can’t recommend any book more highly than Stephen Harrod Buhner’s Herbal Antibiotics.  While this book provides great tools for fighting bacterial infections in general, it focuses on resistant strains.  Buhner also gives a comprehensive overview of the issue of antibiotic resistance, and describes in fascinating and alarming detail the ways in which bacteria are able to adapt and how they work in the body.  This book is readable for laypeople, though Buhner’s suggestions are well-documented enough to impress your M.D.  In addition to scads of scientific studies, Buhner draws on his own experience, as well as traditional and current uses among herbal practitioners.  A companion volume, Herbal Antivirals, is due out later this month.  (You can read Buhner’s response to the CDC’s report here, at Inside Storey.

For common ailments, I find Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health to be invaluable.  It contains recipes to help you fight off all sorts of issues, from earaches to UTIs.  My go-to recipe from this book is Fire Cider.  I always have some on hand, and I find it can help me fight off just about anything if I catch it quick enough.

As good as these books are, it’s of course far better not to get sick in the first place.  In addition to basic practices like getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising, taking adaptogens can help build a strong, responsive immune system.  My prime reference here is the aptly titled Adaptogens, by David Winston.  Adaptogens fall under a wider category of herbs referred to as tonics.  Tonics are safe to take regularly, and they build good health in general (though they often address one system especially).  Guido Masé’s Wild Medicine Solution includes a wonderful discussion of tonic herbs, and specifically addresses immunity.  The whole book is a great introduction to using herbs for better overall health.

I grew up believing that bacteria were no longer a threat, having been all but vanquished by pharmaceutical antibiotics.  One of the most valuable things I’ve learned from Buhner’s book on the subject is that bacteria are far more complex and adaptable than I imagined.  I no longer believe that we possess any “silver bullets” in this battle – and I think we’ll lose if we continue believing that we have the capacity to wipe out bacterial infections wholesale.  Instead, I think it’s time to take an honest look at our vulnerabilities and our strengths, at how it’s possible to support the immune system and give it a competitive edge, and at the rich and varied resources we have in the form of whole plant medicines.

Books featured in this post include:

 

 

 

 

Click any of the covers to order from your local indie bookstore.


Shoutout: New England Women’s Herbal Conference

I just wanted to give a big shout-out to the New England Women’s Herbal Conference.  After all, this conference, which takes place in late August, has over 60 fabulous workshops for all levels, fire circles, dancing, drumming and earth ceremonies, Circle within A Circle for teenage women, Kids Kamp for 2-12 year olds, crafts, hands on activities, herb walks, canoeing, swimming, massage & oasis for relaxation… What more could you ask for?  PLUS, they’ve extended the Early Bird deadline to June 15th, so now’s a great time to save on entry.  Click here for more info and to register.

Full disclosure:  I’ve been working on some social networking for the conference, so don’t forget to wander over and follow https://www.facebook.com/womensherbalconference for you Facebookers and http://twitter.com/womens_herbal for Tweeters.

 


Dandelions Take a Stand for Contraception?

Scandelous dandelion, virginal rose image from One More Soul, a website dedicated to “fostering God’s plan for love, chastity, marriage, and children.”

Scandelous dandelion, virginal rose image from One More Soul, a website reportedly dedicated to “fostering God’s plan for love, chastity, marriage, and children.”

This image, I have to admit, almost leaves me speechless.  My first thought was to note the amazing feats of illogic.  How, for example, does the use of contraception lead to single-parent homes?  Contraception – by definition – prevents you from becoming a parent in the first place.  And why is contraception the root of (dum dum DUM) “Sexual Chaos“?  I mean, in my experience contraception generally requires some ability to think ahead, and planning isn’t an activity I’d call chaotic.

But true to form, I’m more interested in the choice of flowers.  I’m not going to dis the chastity rose (although I’m not sure any sort of flower is especially chaste…plants in general are awfully good at getting it on), even though it’s not much like the wild Rosa rugosas that I love best.  But a dandelion?  What substances were these people taking that made them think that the roots of a dandelion – one of our most successfully prolific plants – made a good symbol for contraception?

I suspect the logic went something like: Dandelions=Weeds. Weeds=Bad.
Contraception=Bad.
Dandelions=Contraception.
Sigh.

Dandelions are adaptable.  Dandelions are scrappy and resilient.  Dandelions are crazy-good medicine.   Dandelions are generous:  We mow them down and pull them up and spray them dead, and no matter how often or how shortsightedly we reject them they keep coming back, stronger than ever.  Dandelions stand their ground.  They’re independent and sturdy, not to mention cheerful and cheering.

No matter how we vilify them, dandelions pop up in the ugly cracks and crevices and make those places more beautiful.  This graphic is bizarre and in some ways very ugly, and so maybe it’s only to be expected that a dandelion found its way into it.

I’m totally down with roses, and I’m totally down with loving families of all shapes and sizes and styles.  But when someone compares my choices to a dandelion (and yes, I do use contraceptives) I take that as high praise.  So my second thought when I saw this poster was, “I’m a dandelion!  Yay!”

On this glorious spring day, I’m raising a toast to the dandelion. Will you join me?


Book Review: The Wild Medicine Solution, by Guido Masé

(Click to buy local.)

I’m giving a great big virtual cheer that The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic Plants has been published and is on my shelf. I’ve been anticipating this since I first heard last May that Guido Masé – clinical herbalist, cofounder of the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism, part of the team at Urban Moonshine, etc. – was writing a book. It’s even better than I’d hoped.  Why?

  • It presents a system for using herbs in daily life that’s so accessible it goes beyond simplicity into elegance.
  • Guido both speaks hard science and can translate it for laypeople.
  • Storytelling is a skill near and dear to my heart, and Guido uses storytelling to great effect to both illustrate the uses of herbs and to communicate how powerful these plants are – physiologically, spiritually, and culturally.
  • The recipes included are easy and delicious.  I’m particularly enamored of the hot chocolate recipe, which tastes smoothly bitter and rich, everything I’ve always wanted coffee and Guinness and hot chocolate to taste like.
  • The herbs that Guido focuses on are easy to find and generally very pleasant to take: Think chocolate, ginger, and peppermint.
  • The photos are gorgeous.
  • While many books on natural health can leave you feeling like you’re fighting a losing battle (as though to be healthy, you must rid your home of every molecule of plastic, drink only spring water newly burst from the earth, eat tons of fish, never eat any fish because they’re all contaminated, and spend every waking hour doing mindfulness exercises), The Wild Medicine Solution is inspiring.  You come away from this book feeling that your body is strong and resilient, and can deal with the challenges of modern life if only you give it the right tools.

The upshot: If you have to deal with the stress and stressors of modern life, please read this. Accessible to non-science geeks and very appealing to those who like some soul served up with their science, this book is also a good one for skeptics who want scientific proof before they’ll buy into the validity of using herbs.

If you still have doubts, you should wander on over to The Wild Medicine Solution page on Guido’s blog:  You’ll find that this book is also recommended by David Winston, Susun Weed, David Hoffman, Michael Tierra, and others, including Rosemary Gladstar, who said:

“I have a new favorite book in my herbal library. What is most masterful about Guido’s teachings and writing is the way he weaves folklore, tradition, and science flawlessly together, making a sensible cohesive argument for the daily use of these common and important plants. Guido has written a classic.”

Hear, hear.


Farmers and Moonshiners

Herbs!

I posted earlier in the fall about how I tried growing some of my own herbs this year, but came up against an unexpected roadblock (in the form of contaminated compost).  Luckily, I have some pretty awesome sources for herbs:

My cat quickly decided that this bag from
Zack Woods was hers.  The catnip (which had been
in a plastic bag inside the paper bag) was so
yummy and fragrant that she played with the empty
paper bag for days.

For dried herbs, my first stop is, without a doubt, Zack Woods Herb Farm of Hyde Park, Vermont.  These wonderful people grow, harvest, and dry herbs so full of life that it seems you can still smell the summer breezes and the warm earth when you open up a jar of their herbs.  Anything I can get from Zack Woods, I do.  While I would love to have gotten to work with more fresh herbs from my own garden this year, I really feel that anything I make with Zack Woods herbs is vibrant and nourishing.

My other go-to business for dried herbs is Mountain Rose.  While this company isn’t local to me, they are pretty awesome, and provide a lot of info about their herbs, which are all either organically cultivated or wildcrafted.  From everything I’ve heard, they’re really good people.

I was lucky to win some Urban Moonshine
bitters from Mountain Rose earlier this year!

For extracts, my original favorite – the company whose products made me realize just how much more fun it is to sip herbal extracts than it is to swallow capsules – is Urban Moonshine.  This company is local and run by awesome people, who you can “meet” in this video.  I’ve found their bitters and tonics to be extremely effective – not to mention delicious.  As an added bonus, their packaging is really cool, which means that a bottle of Urban Moonshine makes a hip hostess gift.  Far from the grannies of ages past who would pinch your nose until you swallowed your medicine, Urban Moonshine makes it fun to take their tinctures, and there are all sorts of recipes for cocktails and other tasty beverages.  While I love formulating my own extracts, I also always keep some Urban Moonshine bitters and tonics on hand.  They’re great go-to formulas, add wonderful flavors to drinks, and – thanks to their beautiful packaging and general yumminess – are perfect for introducing newbies to the world of herbal extracts.

So, while I haven’t gotten to experiment as much as I’d like with making herbal preparations from seed to sip, I’m grateful to know some wonderful people who do good work.  I feel that buying from people I genuinely like, whose work I respect and trust, is the next best thing to doing it yourself.

Thank you to Pagan Blog Prompts, where “Who Makes Your Tools?” asks, “When it comes to the tools of your practice, does it matter who made them or where they come from? Does something you made yourself have more power?” for the inspiration for this post!


Fall Harvests for Dark Days

This last spring I planned for some fairly ambitious container gardening, which unfortunately came to naught.  The mustard thrived, and the roses survived just fine, but most of the seedlings just stopped growing and the poor tomatoes looked like they were being tortured.  It turned out the compost I’d purchased had been contaminated with some nasty persistent herbicides.  It was heartbreaking, but still, I’m lucky to have a source for stunningly vibrant dried herbs (Zack Woods Herb Farm, here in Vermont), and so I was able to order lemon balm, and tulsi, and angelica among other good things.  They’re all tucked into mason jars in alphabetical order on my shelf, ready to get me and others through the winter and remind us of greener times when things were growing.

I was also lucky enough to complete Rosemary Gladstar‘s Advanced Herbal Studies program this year.  We began in May, and that first Friday as I came over the hill into Orange, VT, it was like driving right into a cloud.  We experienced all four seasons through the program – even, during the last weekend in October, a bit of winter with snow that stayed on the ground and temperatures solidly below freezing one night.  (Since I was camping, I was distinctly aware of those temperatures!)  The last Sunday, as we each stood up to receive our certificates and congratulations from our teachers, another cloud enveloped Sage Mountain, recalling our first day there.  Of course, then the mountain and roadsides and our gardens were swelling with new growth, whereas now each frost seems to trim back what greenery is left.  It’s time to tuck in for the winter, to rest more, to hunker down and reflect on the year.  After six weekends (one each month) packed full of invaluable herbal information and inspiration, I felt (and feel) that I have a lot to reflect on, so it wasn’t so sad to leave, that afternoon, as I’d expected it would be.

As much as I’ll miss the sunshine and long afternoons stretched out in the summer heat (I could have used a few more of those, really…), I’m content to be moving into darker days of rest and reflection.  One song has it that “summer’s a lover who always leaves before it’s the right time to go,” but this year, after something of a breathless summer, I’m ready for the exhalation that winter brings.

This post is inspired by the prompt “What have you harvested this year? How are you saving your harvest so that it lasts through the winter? What other preparations are you making before the snow falls?” over at paganprompts.blogspot.com .


Book Review: Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs

Click on cover to buy
from your local bookstore.

I’m far overdue in posting about this book, which has been out since the spring.  This is the newest from Rosemary Gladstar – an inspiring herbalist who I’ve been lucky enough to study with, and one of my absolute favorite herbal authors.  Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs is an ideal book for the beginning herbalist.  It starts out with easy-to-follow instructions on growing and using herbs, and continues with profiles of 33 easy to use and easy to find herbs.  Having read this book – written in Rosemary’s friendly and inviting style – I think even the most tentative students of herbalism will be inspired to dive in and start gardening and harvesting, concocting and decocting. I’d also recommend this for more experienced herbalists – in large part because this book focuses on some of the herbs that are so widely available that it’s easy to forget they’re also medicinal.  This is a gorgeously designed book that’s a pleasure to own and use.


A Love Letter to Dandelions

Dear Dandelion,
You must have been the first flower I knew by name.  I remember making crowns of your blossoms, and wishing on your seeds, as my breath against their feathery parachutes launched them to unknown adventures.
Sunlight through a dandelion
Growing up, I didn’t know your properties or constituents, or that you could nourish and support.  But you were always welcome in our yard, because you’re cheerful and friendly, and we’re all better off with more cheer and more friendship.

Now, I can’t get enough of you.  Every time I see dandelions pop up where they’re unwelcome – without angst, or resentment, or any ill feelings – I’m filled with hope at the sight of such good-natured tenacity.
Maskrosor 01
When people pull you up and throw you away – or poison you – I think they must be mad.  A lawn without dandelions looks bereft.  Don’t they know how you can help our bodies take up nutrients and let go of toxins?  Don’t they know how tasty you are?  Don’t they know you’ll come back anyway?

I made a lot of wishes last year, and I’m watching them come up already.  You’re the first flower that’s bloomed in my yard this spring, in a crack between front stoop and driveway.  I’m enjoying chai brewed with last year’s roots.  I’m looking forward to my first salad with dandelion greens, and I think I’ll pick some tomorrow.

Yours always, with many thanks,
Kristen

PS:  I’ll vote for you.  #dandelionlove

Taraxacum from Bulgaria


Book Review: The Woman’s Handbook of Healing Herbs

Click on image
to buy from your
local indie bookstore.

I’m a big fan of this relatively new title by Maine herbalist Deb Soule. It strikes a wonderful balance in tone and depth: accessible to someone with little or no experience in herbalism, but specialized enough to contain valuable info for even experienced herbalists. It speaks from both the intellect and the heart, and is a nurturing and practical book for any woman interested in natural health to own.

The Woman’s Handbook of Healing Herbs covers a range of topics, and contains a true wealth of information for women who have specific health concerns as well as for women who just want to stay healthy.  Herbal formulas (with clear instructions) are set apart from the text, which makes them easy to find and follow.  The book is a trade paperback on good, heavy color, with lovely black and white illustrations by Susan Szwed.  It also contains an extensive list of resources, full citations, a Latin-to-Common-Name glossery, and a general index as well as an index of formulas and recipes.  A wonderful book to start with, these details make it all the more usable.

Author Deb Soule is the founder of Avena Botanicals.  A gardener, she teaches and consults with women and health care providers around the country.  She lives in Rockland, Maine.


Book Review: Kid’s Herb Book: For Children of All Ages

Click on image to buy
at your local bookstore.

Okay, I’ll be honest:  I don’t have any kids, I’m a youngest child, and I don’t babysit for love or money, so I’m not your obvious first choice to review a kid’s herb book.  But I will say that, while I purchased this as a gift for a young acquaintance, I want a copy for myself!  The recipes are not only fun but very, very useful.  The songs are a little silly, but are great learning aids for helping young and old remember which herb helps with which conditions.  The stories are absolutely charming.

If you’re buying this for a little one and not yourself:  Very young children will need some help with the text, so you get to share in the fun.  Middle grade children will be all set with the text, but will need some help with many recipes.  All children will need your help in either safely IDing and wildcrafting plants, in growing an herb garden, and/or in buying dried herbs from the store.

I totally recommend this, for young and old.  And just in case you’d like some advice from someone who knows all about children, no worries:  I asked my mom to take a look at the book, and she recommends it too!