Herbalism & Birth Control:
A resource round-up

Herbalists talk a LOT about women’s health.  There are good reasons for this:  In my experience, attendees at many herbal events are overwhelmingly female.  Conventional medicine has a history of dismissing women’s health issues, leading many of those suffering to turn to herbalists to be heard.  Herbalism excels at addressing questions of imbalance, situations where the body needs to be supported and nudged, not bludgeoned by pharmaceuticals, and many women’s reproductive health issues are just such questions.  So, herbalists talk a lot about menstruation, hormones, conception, pregnancy, libido, and menopause.

But despite all this, for a while I didn’t hear much talk about contraception.  Maybe conversations about contraception were happening, and I just missed them.  Maybe contraception genuinely is something that more naturally falls under the domain of pharmaceuticals.  One way or another, I’ve continued to be curious about these questions:

  1. Are there herbs that can be used as reliable contraceptives?
  2. How would one look at pharmaceutical contraceptives from a holistic point of view?
    From an herbalist’s point of view, which pharmaceutical contraceptives are the healthiest choices?
    (Of course, this answer is likely to be different for different people.)
  3. In what ways can herbal medicine be used to support a body that is on contraceptives?  (E.g. to diminish symptoms, for long term health, etc.)

While I’ve yet to satisfy my curiosity, I’ve collected more and more bits and pieces – and I’ve been seeing more herbal information on contraception, from classes at the New England Women’s Herbal Conference to a display in a small herb shop in Phoenix, AZ, from Robin Rose Bennett’s The Gift of Healing Herbs to friends sharing links on Facebook.  I’m using this post as a place to log many of those resources.  I hope that, if you have additional resources to recommend, you’ll get in touch or comment below.

Plush Uterus reads about birth control

Why yes, that is a plush uterus reading about birth control.

As always, please be sure to do your own research and make your own decisions.  I’m not a medical professional, and I’m sharing the information here in the spirit of giving us all more tools to take charge of our own health and sexual care.  Some of the links I’ve shared are purely anecdotal and some of them are inspiration for further research.  Others are closer to being fully-realized and practical resources, but you must use your own common sense in evaluating each source.

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to Jim MacDonald and highly recommend his master herbal article index, which is where I found more than one of these links.  I’ve come across others of these articles when they were shared on social networks, and I’m grateful for all of my wonderful herbal friends who share information and resources so generously!

Herbal Contraception

Including guidance on the decision to use herbal contraceptives/birth control.

  • Herbal Contraception” on sisterzeus.com.  This somewhat retro website is the most comprehensive resource I’ve found on herbal birth control.  I don’t know who the author is, but the site has been written thoughtfully and with a real dedication to the topic.  Definitely worth exploring.
  • The Prehistory of Sex, by Timothy Taylor, includes an interesting chapter on contraception.  The author argues that women did have access to contraception, using plants as well as through extended breastfeeding.  While the book doesn’t (understandably) contain practical information, the author’s arguments at least present some hope that useful plant-based contraception exists.

Wild Carrot
Wild carrot, or Queen Anne’s Lace, is the herb I’ve heard the most about as a potentially practical method of preventing contraception.

Granted, neem doesn’t have the most alluring odor.  Still, I’ve heard a lot of secondhand (thirdhand? fifthand?) info about neem being an effective contraceptive as a spermicide or as a male birth control pill. I have yet to find a really good write-up about it, but here’s the best I’ve got:

Wild Yam
This seems to be a controversial one!

A variety of other herbs
Bits and pieces, as well as historical sources.

Notes on Herbal Abortions

Okay, these aren’t herbal…
Non-hormonal, non or minimally invasive methods of birth control.

  • Toni Weschler’s book Take Charge of Your Fertility should be required reading.  This book on the Fertility Awareness Method (NOT the same as the rhythm method) teaches you how to use physiological cues to learn more about your cycle – and be able to work within your cycle to avoid conception.  This could be helpful for women using wild carrot.  Also an invaluable resource for those looking to conceive or just to understand more about their body and cycle.
  • Just gotta put in a good word for the Burlington, Vermont-based Sustain, which sells sustainable, fair trade condoms and organic lubricants.  Glyde and Sir Richard’s are also worth checking out.


Herbalists’ Perspectives on Pharmaceutical Contraceptives

So far, I haven’t come up with much in this category.  Here’s what I’ve found:

  • In this interview, Susun Weed speaks passionately about pharmaceutical birth control pills at around the six minute mark.  It’s indicated just before that that she’s commented on birth control in one of her books (Down There?)


Herbalists’ Thoughts on Supporting the Body while on Pharmaceutical Contraceptives

While pharmaceutical contraceptives seem to be pretty safe, they’re still often systemic and may be used for decades of a woman’s life.  Are there specific ways we can support our bodies while on contraceptives?  So far, I haven’t seen anything on this.

I’ve seen various vaguely medical websites proclaim that there’s a long list of herbs that shouldn’t be taken with hormonal birth control, for fear of interactions.  The one or two herbalists I’ve asked about this have said that it’s not an issue.  When I asked a nurse who had studied herbalism about possible interactions with the Mirena IUD, she said that she wouldn’t worry; the only herb she might avoid is St. John’s Wort.

I have come across some helpful information for women coming off of hormonal birth control, who might have trouble normalizing their cycles:


From prehistory to the pill.

From prehistory to the pill.

Et Cetera

I’ve often found myself frustrated by how birth control seems to be treated as a women’s issue since, after all, it takes two.  Why are the only options for male birth control withdrawal (remarkably ineffective), condoms (definitely useful, but hardly perfect) and vasectomies (admirable in men who know what they want – and don’t want – but a choice many men seem wary of)?  It turns out that, in part, we can blame a woman.  Of course, she had her reasons.

The Birth of the Pill, a pageturner of a pharmaceutical history book by Jonathan Eig, begins with the story of how Margaret Sanger (the founder of Planned Parenthood) approached biologist Gregory Pincus to develop a birth control pill.  Sanger had worked in poor and crowded tenements in New York in the 1910s, where many women died from the strain of too many pregnancies or self-administered abortions – and where abusive relationships and marital rape were commonplace.  These experiences convinced Sanger that women must have access to a birth control pill which, unlike abstinence, withdrawal, or condoms, does not rely on male cooperation.

While there’s still a long way to go, this book is a reminder, sometimes sobering, of how far we’ve come in the last hundred years.  It’s a fascinating read, and I recommend it for anyone who’s tempted to take birth control for granted.  For all their flaws, the protagonists of this book possessed audacity and will.  Rather than resting on their laurels, let’s create pressure for even better birth control.  Do we do that through the pharmaceutical industry, or will we find that better option on our shelves of herbs?  I don’t know the answer to that question – and honestly I’m not sure how to influence the pharmaceutical industry, behemoth that it is – but I’d love to hear what you think about this.  Please don’t hesitate to comment below!

Fighting for Herbalism: Urban Moonshine, the FDA, and RAILYARD Apothecary

Last week, I shared some reflections from my time at the 2015 IHS, mostly around regulatory hurdles facing herbalists.  Speak of the devil:  This week, the local alternative paper Seven Days published a story on Urban Moonshine’s struggles with FDA regulations.  The piece details how:

[Urban Moonshine founder Jovial] King and her employees put in countless hours and spent tens of thousands of dollars to fix the issues. She hired lawyers and consultants to help her parse the legalese. Her herbs underwent a battery of chemical tests at professional labs. She signed a 10-year lease on a much larger, more suitable production space.

Yet, the latest inspection still failed to satisfy the FDA, and Jovial has made the difficult decision to outsource to a larger manufacturer.

I’ve been buying Urban Moonshine products for the last five years, and during that time I’ve gotten to know the company well, through picking up orders (in person, since they’re based about half an hour from my home) and through attending classes with Jovial and with Guido Masé, the company’s chief herbalist.  Through my herbal studies, I’ve also gotten to visit Zack Woods Herb Farm, where Urban Moonshine sources many of their ingredients.  It’s been such a joy to see this company grow so successfully while still staying local and constantly demonstrating their commitment to incredibly high quality products.  The company is staffed with smart, experienced, mindful and heartful herbalists, and I’ve always been completely confident of the quality of Urban Moonshine’s products.

Jovial and the other folks at the company have incredibly high standards, and I’m confident that Urban Moonshine will continue to put out products that meet those standards even as the actual manufacture is outsourced.  I’ll certainly continue keeping my shelves well-stocked.  But it’s also heartbreaking that the company has been forced into this situation:  Urban Moonshine was already making products of a superior quality, right here in Burlington, Vermont.  This is a company that was keeping it local, and it’s a crime that they’ve been forced to outsource because of arbitrary technicalities.

This outcome is also frightening because, as Jovial put it, Urban Moonshine is the “canary in the coal mine.”  There is no exemption from the FDA’s “Good Manufacturing Practices” for small herbal businesses, or even for micro-businesses.  While all the wonderful home-based herbal start-ups that can be found at farmer’s markets are less likely to be targeted by FDA inspections, they could be at any time.  If a company as well-run as Urban Moonshine can’t make it past the FDA regulations without outsourcing production, how can a one-person start-up have a hope of doing so?  There is a very real potential for the enforcement of these regulations to make it impossible to start an herbal business, unless you already have significant financial backing.  Herbal medicine is kitchen medicine, so this makes about as much sense as making it impossible to start a home bakery.  The way the FDA is enforcing GMPs is showing itself to be hostile to small and medium-sized businesses – and so also hostile to nurturing strong local economies.

What’s the good news?  The folks at Urban Moonshine are resilient and resourceful.  In the face of all of this, they’ve launched a new project, RAILYARD Apothecary – a crowd-funded project that will make herbal medicine more accessible to the local community and create a place for herbalists to organize on a national level.  Both of these are vitally important if we want to educate the community and the government about herbs and organize to keep the government from legislating herbal products in ways that favor mass-production and mediocrity.

I really, really want RAILYARD to happen.  I’ve already donated to the Kickstarter campaign, and I hope that – if you can, and you care about herbal medicine, education, health, and strong local economies – you will too.  Please watch the video below to learn more, and then click here to donate and to check out the brilliant rewards being offered to backers.

I put parental controls on my own devices: Here’s why (and how)

Polylerus at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Does being online sometimes make you feel like one big busy head? There’s an app for that. (Image is “The Wikipedian” by Polylerus)

 Screens are ever so shiny, and I’ve always been something of a magpie.  No matter how much I know – in my brain and bones and even my toes – that I’ll be happier spending the day gardening outside, the screen is still alluring.  It’s even more captivating at night, when I can ensconce myself in a comfy chair and the pale glow of the monitor.  Inside that screen, there is so much internet.  So many thoughts on so many subjects, lots of which are genuinely important.  I confess, I’ve spent too many hours researching and exploring late into the night.  Worse, when I finally do lie down and turn out the light, my brain stays busy, insists on continuing to click away at various subjects and to-dos.  I have yet to wake particularly enlightened for my evenings of seemingly important ether-surfing, nor do those sessions help me wake up well-rested or cheerful.

I’ve decided that computers might as well help me with the solution as well as the problem:  I’m retraining my inner screen-junkie with what are essentially parental controls for grown-ups.

On my pocket oracle (aka an ipod touch), I use Moment, an app that allows you to set limits on the amount of time you spend plugged in each day.  I have it set to send me a gentle notification after every half hour spent on-screen –  a good reminder that the day is passing by outdoors as well as on the clock in the corner of the screen – and to kick me off after a few hours of accumulated screen time.  The more important feature for me, though, is that it lets you set screen-free hours.  I use this to keep myself off this tiny-but-addicting screen from 9:30pm until the morning.

When working past 9:30, I use my laptop, which has the genius program f.lux installed.  While this program doesn’t actually kick me off the computer, it changes the overall tone of the monitor’s display throughout the evening, getting more and more amber starting at sunset.  What’s the point? While light of any kind can suppress melatonin (and so interfere with sleep), blue light, like that from your computer screen, does so more powerfully.  Since I started using f.lux, I find that I’m more likely to turn the computer off as soon as I’m done the work I genuinely want to do, and I’m much less likely to get distracted and click this link and that link and always one more link.  Even better, when I do go to bed, my mind is quieter.  I no longer feel like I’m click-click-clicking at whatever thoughts rise up, but instead can let them float off and take care of themselves for the evening.  If you ever work on a computer after dark, this program is a boon to your sleeping self.

It’s been said that one of the most important skills these days is knowing what questions to ask Google, or your search engine of choice.  But it’s still even more important to ask yourself the right questions.  “Do I really want to be online right now?” and “Is it really productive/creative/useful for me to be online right now?” are two questions in my daily repertoire, and I’m all for any tools that help me remember to ask them.  There is, after all, so much world outside of the screen.

Local on a Budget: Food

Giuseppe Arcimboldo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“The Greengrocer,” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
This fellow ate his vegetables!

Food might be the most rewarding thing to source locally:  Slicing a fresh tomato from your garden or from the local farm stand, you taste the land, air, and rain all bundled up in that gorgeous red package.  This tomato is as good as it is because of the land it was grown on and the care taken by the farmer (or by you).  You literally cannot get a tomato just like it anywhere else in the world.

Now, let’s get something over with:  Mass-produced pasta and tomato sauce is cheaper than local, fresh food.  Yup.  And I’m not going to claim that it’s not.  That being said, eating local isn’t just for rich folks going out to dinner at that fancy restaurant with duck liver and such.  Eating local can be practical, as well as delicious and nourishing.

It does help to keep an open mind about what abundance looks like.  For a while now, Americans have figured that abundance meant things like meat or eggs at every meal and brand name cookies for dessert.  I think abundance looks like mason jars full of grains and beans that I bought in bulk at the local co-op.  It looks like a box full of in-season vegetables when I pick up my CSA.  It looks like a big mug full of tea made from the lemon balm plant in my yard.

As a reminder, you don’t have to do everything at once.  Just change one thing this month.  (It’s a great time for picking your own apples at your local apple orchard, for example.)  And then one more thing next month.  Take one step at a time.

With food, as with other products, there are a couple different “levels” of local.  The questions to ask are:  Was this food grown/raised locally?  If a prepared food, was it prepared locally?  Is the retailer (e.g. a grocery store) a local business?  The more “yes” answers on your shopping list, the better.

And finally, for the tips:

    • Buy produce directly from the folks who grow it.  As much as I love co-ops, it tends to be a lot cheaper to buy produce at a farmer’s market (or even better, at the farm) than in a grocery store.
    • Don’t worry about certifications.  Instead, talk to the farmer.  Part of the reason organic produce is more expensive is that it’s expensive to get certified.  If you find a local farmer who uses organic or near-organic methods, don’t worry about whether or not they have that USDA stamp.
    • If in doubt, buy something that grows where you live, and buy it in season:  E.g. Can’t decide between apples or mango?  If you live in the northeast, buy apples.  They’ll be cheaper, and you’ll probably get a better specimen of fruit.  Likewise, enjoy the yearly glut of tomatoes in the late summer, a time when they’re plentiful and so less expensive.
    • If you have the space for a garden, start one.  Even if it’s a small space.  Even if it’s just a couple of pots of herbs that you can use to season your food or make tea.  In fact, my advice is to start small, see what works for you, and perhaps upsize in future years.
    • Buy from the bulk section.  Most health food stores have a bulk food section for dry goods.  These are often very reasonably priced, since you’re not paying for packaging or brand name advertising.  Also, you can get only the amount you need.  So, if you rarely use nutmeg, and just need a teaspoon for a particular recipe, all you need to buy is a teaspoon.  It’s much cheaper than buying a whole jar!
    • Reconsider how much meat you eat.  Many Americans eat hearty servings of meat at least twice a day.    Dr. Andrew Weil says,

      As little as two ounces of a protein-rich food a day may be enough to prevent protein deficiency in most adults; four ounces will certainly do it. That means a four-ounce serving of meat or fish or chicken or cheese or tofu. (Click for source.)

      That means that we can cut back on meat a lot – or entirely if you choose to do so – and still be healthy.  Since meat is expensive, this is a great way to save.  One option is to halve your meat consumption, but eating really good local meat when you do.  You can also try using less expensive cuts of meat.

    • Think about joining a CSA. With CSAs (it stands for “Community Supported Agriculture”), you pay up front for a share in a farm’s produce at the beginning of a season.  Then, you pick up your share every week or so during the season, either at the farm or at another local pick-up location.  You usually get more produce than you could have bought at retail for the same amount of money.  Take the time to research different CSAs, talk to farmers about what their CSA is like, and if you can talk to folks who have taken part in CSAs.  Each one is different, but they can be a lot of fun and a great way to save some cash and make shopping for veggies really easy.
    • Buy basics, then cook it up yourself. Bread. Beans. Soups & stews.  These things are all so much cheaper when you buy the basic ingredients and then cook them up yourself.  Don’t have time to wait for bread to rise?  I am a huge fan of a basic Irish brown bread – and one of the best things about it is that it’s a quick bread.  Dry beans are super cheap – and super easy to cook, then freeze for later.  Soups and stews are amazing catch-all dishes to make with leftovers or whatever you picked up at the farmer’s market.  They’re also a great way to stretch meat.  How about a kale & sausage soup? Or a beef & potato stew?  You don’t have to use a lot of meat to make it taste rich and feel indulgent.  Lentil soup might be the cheapest yet most satisfying dish ever.  It’s also super easy to make your own vegetable broth, and it’s a good way to use up carrot greens and many other vegetable bits that you’re unlikely to eat.
      If you’ve never tried cooking with a slow cooker, try now.  Your crock pot may be your new best friend.
      This part takes some time, but it makes a big difference in your budget – and in the quality of food you end up with.
    • Check out your local options  for discounted food.  There’s a store that’s local to me that sells, among other things, blocks of cheese that aren’t perfectly rectangular, dinged cans of food and other items with damaged packaging, and yogurt that’s nearing its expiration date.  The store itself is local, and a fair amount of the food they sell is produced locally.  Their discounts help balance our food budget.  Some stores and markets sell bruised or about-to-be-overripe fruit or veggies at a discount.  There’s always the possibility of bargaining at farmer’s markets, too, when folks are packing up – especially if you’re buying in quantity.  Ask around and see what the options are in your area.

The single most important tip I can give you is to talk to people:  your friends, your local farmers, the folks who work at the co-op, etc.  Maybe your neighbor knows about a great farm stand, or your coworker belongs to a CSA that she loves, or your cousin knows about a co-op that has great deals on cases of yogurt.  Shopping local on a budget takes some research, but that research can be as easy as a conversation if you ask around.  You might be surprised about what great resources your friends and neighbors are.

On the other hand, you might live in an area where people aren’t as conscious of shopping local.  It’s still worth asking around (after all, our grandparents bought from local farmers and butchers long before “Shop Local” became a trend), and it’s also a good idea to pass on the info you learn to others.  You might have to do a little extra footwork to find those great local farms and businesses, but you can be even more influential in keeping them around by passing on your own tips to your friends.

Q:  What are your tips for buying local food on a budget?
Q:  What does abundance look/smell/taste/sound/feel like to you?

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.

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?

Local on a Budget: Introduction

Les compteurs d'argent Nancy 3018

Shop Local: Don’t let these folks hoard all the dough!

I was on FB the other day when I noticed a friend’s status update.  He had postulated that the US is lacking in jobs because big companies have outsourced them to countries with cheaper labor.  Big Boxmarts buy the cheaper products that were made by folks in far-off places, and small local vendors just can’t compete.  Consumers buy from box-marts because they don’t want to pay for quality goods made by their neighbors when they can get cheap stuff made by underpayed labor abroad.  And so, the money we spend goes partly to those folks in far-off places, but mostly up the corporate ladder.  Because we buy cheap instead of buying local.
Veronese, Paolo - Juno Showering Gifts on Venetia (detail) - 1554-56

Take a lesson from Juno:
Patronize your patrons.

This all sounds pretty depressing, but it isn’t, because the opposite could be true:  We could buy local instead of cheap.  We might not be able to buy as much, and we might have to transition little by little, but we’ll be part of an upward spiral instead of a downward one.  Our purchases will go toward our neighbor’s paychecks, and when those neighbors buy local too, local businesses will thrive.  Then they’ll hire.  Unemployment will go down and meaningful employment will go up.  You know what else?  Small businesses are innovative.  Some of those exciting new ideas will create products that go beyond the local market, beyond the national market.  Soon, we’re making stuff the rest of the world wants, and money starts flowing into our town/state/region/country instead of out.

When the economy crashed, the government handed out stimulus money and hoped we’d spend it.  My only expertise is as an observer, but it seems to me that the problem isn’t that people aren’t spending:  It’s that they’re spending in all the wrong places.  I think choosing to shop local and independent can go a long way towards saving the world.

This is when most people object that buying local is expensive.  It can be, but it doesn’t have to be, and I say that from experience.  Keep an eye out for “Local on a Budget” posts.  Everyone can afford to buy local, and I’m going to tell you how.

In the meantime, here are some great resources for finding local and independent businesses this holiday season:
your local Local First organization
Indie Store Finder
Shop Small (a campaign by AmEx, which is not a small local company, but still a good resource)
Local Harvest

Saving the Harvest

“Autumn,” by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

When I moved to Philadelphia, I was psyched about shopping at Trader Joe’s.  I’d heard about the place for years, especially from some friends in L.A.  It sounded like some kind of crunchy paradise, where food was both organic and cheap.  The nearest Trader Joe’s was quite a ways across the city, but my boyfriend and I would zoom over on his motorcycle and then make our way back, with groceries strapped to the bike and my back, him steering and me balancing a full chicobag in each hand.

It was great, until I read the label on a can of beans or something (something not at all exotic) and saw that they were from New Zealand.

I eat organic because it’s healthy – but also because it’s better for the environment (which ends up being healthier as well).  So I felt like the organic-ness of the food was canceled out by the fuel that was expended getting it from New Zealand to Philly.  It was a bummer.

Now that I’m back in Vermont, I try to make organic eating affordable by getting things in their basic form (veggies instead of soup, flour instead of scones), by taking part in a CSA, and by shopping at an awesome local store that sells “discounted gourmet foods.”  This generally means that they’re selling, say, a dented can of coconut water for 75 cents or a case of near-expiration Liberte Greek yogurt for under $5.  (Believe me, I can eat Liberte yogurt fast enough to beat that expiration date!)  I don’t know if you have a store like this near you, but I’m really glad I do.  I also feel good about shopping there because a lot of their food (even though it’s perfectly yummy and healthy) would go into the dumpster if they didn’t exist.

I got to thinking of all this because I heard an interview on Here and Now about all the food that does go into the dumpster.  In that interview, Jeremy Seifert of the documentary Dive! (about dumpster diving) mentioned that 96 billion pounds of food go into dumpsters in the US every year.  That’s 96 billion pounds of food wasted, not to mention the labor of the people who grew and processed that food, the land that food was grown on, any pesticides and fertilizer that went into those crops, and all the fuel and packaging involved in getting that food to the store shelf.  That’s heartbreaking.

Times are hard, but in a land of such abundance, I think the primary solution may be simple:  not to waste what we have.

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.

Clean Living in a Dirty World

Back before midsummer I promised some “Mea Culpa Mondays” – in which I demonstrate ways to alleviate my green-related guilt and make life easier at the same time.  Since time has danced his merry and compulsive way into fall, I guess I should get on that!

Today’s suggestion regards household cleaners:

If the Smell Makes You Woozy, 

Don’t Spray it Around Your Home
For me, this guideline nixes most brand name products, so I’ve joined the “old wives” by using human- and eco-friendly substances like:

  • white vinegar: (usually cut with water) for disinfecting and general cleaning
  • baking soda: for scrubbing and deodorizing
  • castile soap: e.g. Dr. Bronner’s (usually cut with lots of water) for general cleaning
  • salt: for scrubbing
  • a detergent base: such as Sal’s Suds (cut with lots of water): for stripping grease/oil

The prices can’t be beat, and these fellas know how to multitask.  I clean pretty much everything in the house with these ingredients, so I don’t need to store (or pay for) specialized cleaning products.  When I have time, I like to get creative by adding essential oils and such.  But mostly, I take one of the above mixed with water and spray it on…whatever…and it works.  It’s just a matter of using common sense to figure out which of these ingredients is best for the job at hand.

So next time you run out of window cleaner, tub cleaner, tile cleaner, dish soap, furniture polish, laundry detergent, or whatever, shame the scrubbing bubbles and the animated bald men, save yourself some cash and karma, and prove that cleaning up can be chemical-induced-headache/nausea/sore throat/guilt-free. ;)

* According to Better Basics for the Home, by Annie Berthold-Bond.

A Share of a Feast (Thrifty Thursdays)

Welcome ’round the table, friends! Please load up your plate with pesto-drenched pasta, fresh salad, and kale-potato-tomato frittata, because lord knows there’re scads of veggies in the fridge!

CSAs are programs where you pay a farm up front for a season’s worth of food, and then pick up a share of the farm’s produce each week.  “CSA” stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which is to say you can feel good about supporting a farm in your community.  More to the point, on this Thrifty Thursday, CSAs often save you money over the price of store-bought produce.

Each CSA is unique, so it’s very important to choose one that will suit your needs.  Word of mouth is the best way to find a good, satisfying, reliable CSA.  If you don’t know anyone who’s already signed up, try localharvest.org, and don’t be shy about asking prospective farms about what you should expect.  For more advice, check out “CSA The Right Way” from Vegetarian Times.

A CSA can be an adventure, since you might get veggies you’ve never tried before, and more veggies than you’re used to eating.  But they are a rockin’ way to get good, often organic, produce at a potentially deep discount.  Lots of farms are still accepting entries for summer shares, but time’s awastin’, so check out a CSA near you and get some high-quality yet budget-friendly food in your belly!