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,

PS:  I’ll vote for you.  #dandelionlove

Taraxacum from Bulgaria

Book Review: The Woman’s Handbook of Healing Herbs

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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.

On Healing, Being Healed, and Healers

“Human Element” by Jonathan E. Russell

Healing, to me, is a process by which a person (or animal or plant) returns to whole-ness. This is often literal, for example in the case of a scrape: As the scrape heals over, my skin becomes whole again. Or it might be more figurative: If my digestion isn’t functioning properly, I can’t fully take advantage of the nutrients in my food, so my body won’t work as well as it might. If I can remedy this and heal my digestive system, than I can more fully appreciate my body’s abilities, as well as activities that I might not have had the energy for before. As I heal, my life becomes fuller and my body reaches (closer to its) potential. I think it’s important to remember, here, that wholeness and perfection aren’t the same thing. A body will never be “perfect” (whatever that means), because it is always dealing with stressors (cuts, bug bites, toxins, germs, etc). But so long as that body is wholly functioning, it can deal with most stressors in a healthy way.

It follows that being healed would be a process of supporting the body and giving any tools it would find helpful in dealing with a particular stressor. If I have a cut, that might mean a comfrey poultice. If the stressor is lack of nutrition, that might mean revamping my diet and adding herbal and/or vitamin supplements. If I have the flu, it might mean rest, controlling the fever, and taking echinacea and/or golden seal to help my body fight off the virus. These are all things that I might do for myself or in combination with another’s help.

A healer might just be one who heals. But since healing is a function of the body itself that would make calling someone a healer equivalent to calling them a breather. We use the word “healer” to describe a person’s activity – often their profession or calling. So, I would say a healer is someone who encourages/promotes/assists healing in others – and, hopefully, in themselves!

(This is part of an essay originally written in response to a question on Rosemary Gladstar’s Science and Art of Herbalism course.)

Perfect Health

“Mother Earth,” by Jonathan E. Russell

I feel in perfect health whenever the ocean breeze catches me by surprise – especially in Ireland, where that breeze has traveled over thousands of miles of ocean, and there’s something especially clear about it. I feel in perfect health whenever I’m really, honestly laughing. I feel in perfect health the first many times I smell dirt in the spring (after all that crisp, almost-scentless winter air). I feel in perfect health when I act spontaneously. I feel in perfect health when I first catch sight of a good friend. I feel in perfect health when I fall asleep easily after a long day of fresh air. I felt in perfect health every day I can remember waking up in my grandmother’s house by the ocean (where we spent summers during my childhood, where we spent long days outside, and where we didn’t worry about money or schoolwork or logistics).

I feel that perfect health has both a sense of connection and flow: Connection to the moment, to the environment I’m in, to the people around me. Flow, because in all these times I feel that I can respond fluently to the situation, whether that means physically (being fit and balanced enough to jump down to that rock that’s closer to the waves), mentally (to take part in the banter and make my friend laugh in turn), emotionally (to run with the conversation wherever it’s going), or logistically (to give up the day’s plans for something better).

In most of these situations, being outdoors in the environment figures strongly, too – I know that being near the ocean or at least in a beautiful setting helps me stay in the moment and feel physically stronger. I also feel more nourished (physically and mentally) by the patterns/sounds/smells/textures in nature (light through tree leaves, mountains on the horizon, running water) than by all of the square angles in contemporary architecture and the humming from appliances and gadgets.

(This was originally written in response to a question on Rosemary Gladstar‘s Science and Art of Herbalism course.)

Yummy Crunchy Delectable Food: A Post for Blog Action Day 2011

West Show Jersey July 2010 46

I’ve blogged before about ethical issues concerning food, but this Blog Action Day, I’d just like to say a few words about how delightful food is.  There are such a wonderful variety of tastes to choose from:  earthy-sweet carrots, rich cream (or, for me, goat’s milk), nectar-like honey, warming chai.  I’ve gotten to enjoy an even wider range of tastes since I’ve become a fan of tea and, more recently, a student of herbalism.  Any day can be made better by a cup of tung ting, an oolong that tastes like spring, or the oceany gyokuro.  Herbs might taste super-sweet like licorice, refreshing like lemon balm, or harshly bitter like hops, but they’re always interesting.  Herbalist Guido Masé described Rhodiola as that herb that “tastes like roses and then sucks all the water out of your mouth.”  I doubt you could fail to identify the taste of Rhodiola after that description!

Kulikov Bazaar with bagels 1910Food is fun to taste and smell, but it’s also fun to chop and blend and knead – and buy.  When I lived in Philadelphia, my favorite day of the week was Saturday.  My boyfriend and I would walk up to the Headhouse Square farmer’s market.  I’d buy basic veggies from the Amish farmer there, and heirloom tomatoes and other delightful things from the organic farm stand.  Saturday’s market wasn’t as big as Sunday’s, but there was more opportunity to chat with the farmers, and maybe find out what could be done with that strange vegetable I didn’t know the name of.  As a Vermonter, visiting the farmer’s market felt like a little bit of home.  I’d always impulse-buy something that I hadn’t planned on – often kale, which I knew I didn’t like (at the time), but which is so gorgeously richly green I could rarely resist.

We’d tote our goods back home and I would usually spend the day cooking:  Perhaps making a chili-inspired stew with fresh tomatoes and peppers, and maybe some sweet potatoes and kale.  I might make some brown bread or stove-top pizza, too.  Saturdays always seemed so satisfying, and I felt a lift in low-level anxiety that I always had in the city. 

Ferdinand Wagner MarktfrauI think it was because of all of that basic, nourishing sensory stimulation.  This week I read a blog entry over at Three Highlights that said, “Machinating is what we do when we let the mind spin with little more intention, flexibility, or creative openness other than to ‘get things done.’  It’s not the same as thinking. Or musing. Or imagining. Or creating. Or experiencing.”  Since I spent a lot of time on the computer – and was missing my accustomed natural, low-concrete landscape – this was a real danger for me.  But getting and making good food always lifted that cloud and got me back into experiencing and musing and creating.

So, I guess that’s another reason why I like to buy local, from the grower, and to buy whole food that takes a bit of preparation:  I’m getting even more for my money.  I’m not just getting calories, I’m getting nutrients, and tastes, and smells, and textures, and even conversations and friendships.  I’m getting food for the body – and food for the soul.

Book Review: Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health

If you know me in person, you’ve already heard about this book :)

If you’re looking for an accessible, fun, compassionate, and well-balanced book on herbalism, this title is a great pick.  The bulk of this book is dedicated to specific herbal remedies for everyone in the family — children, men, women, and elders. There are tons of yummy herbal dishes and treats, a section on everyday ailments, and a chapter full of easy and indulgent herbal cosmetic treatments.  The A-to-Z guide of herbs in the back isn’t exhaustive, but it’s extensive and offers some unique information.

Rosemary Gladstar has been called the ‘godmother of American Herbalism’.  She founded the California School of Herbal Studies, the oldest running herb school in the U.S.  She is the founder and president of United Plant Savers. She has written numerous books, including the bestselling Herbal Healing for Women, and has written for or been featured in magazines like Body+Soul, Yoga Journal, and The Herb Companion.  Gladstar has been practicing herbalism for over 35 years, and is considered a pioneer in the field. She lives at Sage Mountain, near Barre, Vermont.

The square layout is nice as well.  The paper quality is lovely and sets off the gorgeous photography in this book.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in taking charge of their own well-being, whether you want to practice herbalism in-depth or just want a few pointers.

45-Minute Mandala (My Latest Fave, Free, Online Yoga Vid)

If you click right here, you’ll find a 45 minute flow sequence with Elise Lorimer, courtesy of Yoga Journal.  I’ve been really enjoying this sequence, because of the lively but unhurried flow, the circular “mandala” the movements describe around the mat, and the strength workout provided.  Most of the movements stay low to the ground, and that’s not for everyone – a friend of mine described it with frustration as “that video that had me lunging around the mat like a monkey” – but I found it both challenging and fun.

Dear Yoga Journal,

Dear Yoga Journal,
Please don’t become yet another fashion magazine disguised as a health mag.  I was cool with your features on yoga wear, though I’m kind of attached to the comfy-yet-flattering sweats that I also wear to bed on extra-cold nights, and I don’t feel a need to be trendy while sticking my butt in the air and trying to keep my hands and feet from slipping in opposite directions.   

But I’m just bummed that you used up paper to tell me that that “This season’s tall boots and structured jackets take you from studio to street without missing a beat,” as you explained on page 32 of this month’s issue.  In fact, though I’m a very amateur yogi and have so far only learned about the yogic principle of aparigraha, or non-jealousy, from you, this fashion spread seems (with its slender, coifed models and fancy, flattering outfits) calculated to cultivate a feeling of jealousy (and thencely consumerism).  And a wise publication once told me that “Jealousy means that we desire to be what someone else is, or to have what someone else has. Rather than finding who we are, we look at someone else and say, ‘I want to be that.’ Aparigraha, in its essence, helps us discover our own selves so that we no longer feel the need to covet what someone else has, or be what someone else is.”

So I hope you’ll show me some yogis with style, and forget about the fashion models.
Yours in regular readership,

These Feet are Made for Walking

A friend of mine – an astute, genuine, young, beautiful woman – expressed yesterday that she believes “deep down, every single one of us loathes her body as much as she loathes the ones she compares herself too.”  She was talking about this culture of insecurity and consumerism that advertising/media has created.  A culture that encourages us (women in particular) to regard our bodies as something that can be primped, plucked, painted, and surgically altered until they’re perfect.

As an alternative – and as a follow-up to the last post – I’d like to offer that we might think of our bodies in terms of experience.  For example:  Say I look at my feet and think, gee, they’re calloused and rough and need a pedicure.  Instead, I might look at them and think of all the miles and adventures they’ve carried me through.  With the first POV, I’d feel distaste, even shame.  With the second, I feel gratitude.

I might even give myself a pedicure because of that gratitude: because my feet have served me so well, I want to take good care of them.  I’ll want to wear good quality shoes, not cheap heels.  I might do exercises to build up the muscles in my weak arches, because if my feet are healthy and strong they can continue to take me on long hikes and stunning climbs.

Which is to say, btw, that rejecting media/consumerist culture doesn’t mean you stop taking care of yourself (or become a [insert big air-quotes] “dirty hippie”).  It means you take care of yourself in ways that make you healthier and better able to take advantage of this life (rather than primping yourself so you fit someone else’s ideal).

So today, if you read this, please find one part of your body that you are grateful for.  It might be your hands that allow you to type out your blog, or your arms that let you to hug your children, or your hips that help you shimmy.  Sit with that feeling of gratitude, and experiment with whether you can extend it to other, less appreciated, limbs and curves and angles.

View from Sun Salutations

I have discovered that the back deck is an excellent place to do yoga.  Thank you, Spring!  As I was finishing, my cat joined me in savasana.