Notes from the 2015 International Herb Symposium

Wheaton College’s beautiful campus during the International Herb Symposium.

I arrived at the International Herb Symposium somewhat flustered and awkwardly carrying my luggage in my arms since the handle on my suitcase had broken.  Not for the first time in my life, I thought that I ought to have packed lighter.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t fail to notice how lovely the setting was:  Wheaton College, with its beautiful quad, reminded my of my own time at college and made me feel right at home, as did the folks who welcomed me in at registration.  I was pretty psyched to be there, as this was my first time attending the IHS, and the list of teachers and classes made me wish for Hermione Granger’s Time Turner:  Should I take “Stress Resiliency with Plants” with Mindy Green, “Medicinal Mushrooms” with Christopher Hobbs, or “Herbal Treasures of Morocco” with Chris Kilham?  “All of them” would have been my preferred answer! Having settled my gear into the sweet little dorm room that was my home base for the weekend, I set about taking all the classes I could.

One highlight was the panel on Good Manufacturing Practices and other FDA regulations around manufacturing herbal products.  Mary Blue of Farmacy Herbs was the excellent moderator while Jovial King and Guido Mase of Urban Moonshine, Deb Soule and another herbalist from Avena Botanicals, and Cris Amarillas and Zoë Gardner of Traditional Medicinals discussed their experiences with the FDA.  All involved were generous in their discussions, and were doing their best to help and not dissuade herbal entrepreneurs.  Still, I was struck by how onerous the FDA’s requirements are for small- and medium-sized businesses and how nonsensical some of those requirements are.

This is one of multiple legal/regulatory issues in herbalism, since herbal supplements have become big business and are attracting more regulations.  One of the first things I did at the IHS was to enter into the raffle being held as a fundraiser for the Fire Cider Three, a trio of herbalists bravely facing up to a company that has trademarked the generic term “fire cider.”  Saturday evening at the IHS, Diane Miller of the National Health Freedom Coalition spoke persuasively on the importance of health freedom.  Among other things, she talked about one of her first cases as an attorney, when she defended a farmer who had been accused of practicing medicine without a license.  (There’s more about that in this interview with Diane, and here’s the website for the NHFC.)

One of my takeaways from this conference was that there are, as I see it, three or four main legal issues facing the herbal community.  (Disclaimer:  The following is my understanding of the issues.  I’m no legal expert, and you should talk to one – and do your own research – if you’re directly affected by any of these.)

  1. FDA Regulations
    Good Manufacturing Practices
    It goes without saying that quality control is essential, but the testing requirements on many herbal products are a heavy burden on small and medium-sized herbal companies.  The cost of these tests encourages large batches and mass production (and, it arguably follows, mediocrity).  It sounds like the FDA is essentially assuming everyone is guilty (of neglect or deceit) until tests prove the product is actually what they say it is – even if common sense could have proven that without expensive lab tests.  While lots of companies in this country care more about the bottom line than about quality and even safety, it’s shameful and counterproductive to hobble those manufacturers who are genuinely trying to make the best product possible.
    All herbal product companies – no matter how tiny – are subject to these requirements.  Compare this to food production companies which, in the state of Vermont, don’t need to get a health & safety inspection if they’re bringing in under $10,000 gross per year.  Herbal products are regulated comparably to pharmaceuticals, when they’re overwhelmingly closer to food than to drugs, and many herbs are food.  While companies do need to be held responsible for the quality of their products, regulations should be clear and reasonable.
    Structure/Function Claims
    Language on the labels, websites, etc. of a company producing herbal products may only describe the way in which a product supports normal health as defined by the FDA – and must not say that the product treats a given condition.  Companies are, in many cases, forced to talk around the actual effects of the herbs.  For an example, check out Traditional Medicinals’ description of Throat Coat tea.  It’s a great description, but nowhere do they say that this tea relieves a sore throat and – in my experience – it does, in a jiffy.  I haven’t talked to Traditional Medicinals about this, but I’m betting that the reason they dance around the phrase “relieves a sore throat” is that they’re not allowed to say that.  If so, this is a great example of this FDA regulation hindering clear language.  For more information on structure/function claims and how insidiously they effect clear communication, I recommend this talk by David Hoffmann.
  2. Trademarking and Patent Issues
    There’s a real danger of large companies trademarking the names of and even patenting the recipes for traditional herbal remedies.
    A while back, a company called Shire City Herbals trademarked the name “Fire Cider”.  What’s wrong with that?  Rosemary Gladstar has been sharing this remedy widely under the name fire cider since the 1970s, and the use of the name prior to Shire City’s trademark is well-documented.  Herbalists, therefore, regard “fire cider” as a generic/traditional term.  It’s as though someone tried to trademark the term “chicken noodle soup”.  You can find out more about the campaign to Free Fire Cider hereTrademarking generic terms limits other producers’ ability to communicate clearly with customers in an industry that is already severely limited in the language that’s allowed on labels.
    Recently, the New Yorker reported on the patenting of traditional recipes.  While a trademark reserves the use of marketing language, the patent-holder actually “owns” the recipe itself.  Accordingly, patents are only meant to be issued for genuinely unique recipes.  The fact that patents have been issued for traditional recipes is, frankly, pretty scary, since it costs a lot to fight those patents.
  3. Not Practicing Medicine without a License
    While it’s legal for herbalists to educate clients about the use of herbs, the language a clinical herbalist can use is limited due to restrictions on practicing medicine without a license.  Herbalists must strictly avoid diagnosing, treating, or preventing diseases or prescribing remedies.  This is, in many ways, just fine:  Conventional medicine has brilliant diagnostic tools available.  Generally herbalists don’t want to “treat” people so much as they want to empower people to care for themselves.  But sometimes this issue comes down to semantics and hinders clarity.  There are plenty of herbs that will, essentially, cure (read: give your body the tools it needs to heal from) plenty of conditions, and herbs can treat all kinds of symptoms.  We should be able to talk about that without worrying that a slip of the tongue will render us vulnerable to prosecution.
    While it’s imperative that each and every health practitioner be completely transparent about his or her training and experience, I think it’s important to question why conventional medicine is given such a privileged position.  Self care is a personal responsibility and individuals should be able to consult with whomever we think is best qualified to help us.  There are ongoing efforts to give individuals to choose their health practitioners.  You can find out more at the NHFC website.

During the last class period of the conference, David Hoffmann taught “Veriditas, the Green Man, and Herb Hugging.” This was a moving but not warm and fuzzy talk that I wish you all could have joined me at, because I don’t feel like I could do it justice with a quick explanation.  I’m just going to pull out a couple of quotes here.  I should say that these are, obviously, pulled from a larger context.

“I think product issues are the door through which capitalism is trying to take over herbalism.”

“Luckily they’re not burning us any more.  They’re just bankrupting us.  And in a capitalist culture that’s almost as bad.”

I’d like to just take a moment to emphasize that last one, in light of the above issues:

bankrupting ws

I am deeply grateful to the folks who are, despite the frustrations and challenges, fighting the good fight to keep high quality herbs accessible.  I especially admire herbal companies that provide opportunities for education:  You know that people aren’t just in it for profit when they sell bitters – and also teach people to make their own bitters.  It’s vitally important to keep teaching people to make their own herbal products, to make herbal products so ubiquitous that it’s as impossible to legislate them into inaccessibility as it is to legislate chicken soup.  Herbalists absolutely deserve fair compensation for the time, effort, and energy (as well as expenses) that go into crafting herbal products and making them available for purchase.  On the other hand, we mustn’t forget that, if we’re willing to put in our own time, effort, and energy, the plants will gift us with the rest.  Herbalism can exist outside of capitalism.

On an herb walk. You can see Edna Lou in the background.

That’s easy to say and nice to think about, but even better to experience:  A year or two ago, I came across a post about a bus named Edna Lou.  Edna Lou and Guisepi of the Free Tea Party travel around serving free tea to people at festivals, farmers’ markets, city streets, and so on.  I was, of course, intrigued – and I was pretty psyched when I saw that the tea bus would be at the IHS.  Despite this, my New England reserve reared its head, and I didn’t head straight to the tea bus:  My topsy turvy logic was that I didn’t want to bother the folks on the bus by asking for tea.  (A more sensical thought might have been that, if people have traveled so far to gift tea, they’re probably excited to share it.)  It wasn’t until Saturday night when – after a lovely time over at the Herbalist’s Ball and some excellent conversations – I was wandering back to my dorm room, perfectly satisfied to be heading to bed.  And yet, as I walked past the tea bus, I felt myself sort of leaning toward it, pulled in by the lovely thought of folks having tea.  “There’s free tea,” one of the people who was wise enough to be already hanging out at the tea bus said, and that was all I needed:  I spent the rest of the evening and some time between classes on Sunday sitting on cushions outside the tea bus, enjoying brilliant company and delicious tea courtesy of the wonderful people who had brought Edna Lou to the IHS.  Afterwards, I wished I had another week at the IHS – not necessarily to take more classes, because my brain was already bursting – but to drink tea at the tea bus, sitting on cushions and discussing classes and unpacking them with other attendees.  You can bet that – whenever, wherever – I next spot Edna Lou, I’ll make a beeline for that tea bus, because that little space of free tea and awesome people was a huge part of what I loved about attending the IHS.

Heading home both smarter and wiser, I made three trips to the car with my luggage:  One with the troublesome suitcase, one with most everything else, and one with my arms full of seedlings to plant in my garden.

Free tea! Hospitality at its best.

 

The view from the tea bus’s outdoor seating area.

 

Closing circle at the International Herb Symposium.


Rob Stewart’s REVOLUTION

I have a confession to make: I don’t watch environmental films.  After all, I know what they’re going to tell me, right? And I’m doing my best, right? Do I really want to listen to someone tell me how bad things are when I already know? But flattery will get you lots of places, and when I was offered the chance to screen and review Rob Stewart’s new film Revolution, I said yes.  (For the record, I didn’t have to promise the review would be good, and I don’t get any kick-backs based on click-throughs.)

Flamboyant Cuttlefish.  Production still courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

What I’d been forgetting is that films don’t just tell, they show.  Revolution is, firstly, stunning.  It’s filled with shots of creatures that make you think, “Wait, that’s a real live living thing?  That’s so crazy and cool and gorgeous and just plain weird!”  In the narration of the film, Stewart says, after describing his first experience with a shark, “…sharks were like dragons or dinosaurs, but they were real.”  This film is filled with images that remind you of how fantastic and unlikely and breathtaking this world is.  Just for that, it’s worth watching.  Just for the sheer joy of remembering that we’re on the same planet as creatures like cuttlefish and baobab trees.

Of course, it isn’t all happiness and joy.  There are darker images:  Ruined coral reefs.  The Alberta tar sands.  Huge plastic bags full of dead seahorses, caught for consumption.  The impact of these images lies in the fact that they’re not shoved in your face the way Game of Thrones loves to spatter blood around.  Instead, they’re presented almost gently.  As in, huh, bags full of something brown.  And then you recognize that they’re seahorses, small ones, so there must be thousands in those bags.  And then you think of the way seahorses move, because you’ve been watching gorgeous images of sea creatures.  And perhaps, if you’re like me, you think of how seahorses have always been one of those animals that seem to be out of a fairy tale, one of the creatures in this world that really seems to argue for the reality of magic, or something even better.  And seeing them there, body after body piled into clear plastic bags, so obviously a commodity speaks for itself.

Production still courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Rob Stewart and young activists in Saipan. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

It’s this gentle, almost meditative quality that really drew me into the film.  Told almost conversationally, in the format of a memoir, Revolution follows Stewart’s own experiences: learning about animals as a kid, making the film Sharkwater, and realizing that it’s not just sharks that need saving, it’s the oceans, the forests, the atmosphere, and us.  While Stewart does call his audience to action, he’s not shoving an agenda at the viewer, and this film is refreshingly lacking in pontification.  Stewart acknowledges both the crushing frustration of watching politicians do nothing again and again – but also offers evidence that hope is merited, that people really do care enough to make changes.  He encourages personal action and personal responsibility, while acknowledging his own outsized debt to the environment incurred in the making of the film. Perhaps the best thing about this film is Stewart’s talent for sharing his own contagious affection for the creatures filmed, for the natural world as a whole, and for the young activists striving to make things right.

Sifaka. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Sifaka. Image courtesy of REVOLUTION. www.therevolutionmovie.com

Conversations about the environment so often only happen among those who already agree with each other.  The liberals talk about how scary global warming is, while the conservatives, I imagine, talk about how crazy those conservationists are.  This is a film that I think might be able to cross those boundaries, because you just can’t help but be delighted by shots of leaping sifakas (a type of lemur)  and pygmy seahorses, because it’s a first-person narrative (“I did this” instead of “you should do this”), and because this is a story told in an openhearted way.  I know no one wants family fights over climate change, but this is a film that just might start a conversation instead.

I was ready, when I hit play, for the harrowing statistics, the overarching problems.  They’re problems that I already fight to contribute to as little as I can, that I already obsess over, that, frankly, I usually do my best to avoid hearing more about.  What I wasn’t ready for was Stewart’s modest way of presenting our generous and exuberant world – the world we’re fighting for.  As he asks, “What if we had a world to fight for instead of fighting against our problems?  What kind of world could we create if we designed it to be beautiful for us and all species?”  It’s worth finding out, and if you want to share with friends why we’re fighting for that world, or if you could use a refresher yourself, watch this:


All I Want for Christmas is This Cool Swag from Indie Artisans

Eek!  My last post was Halloween-themed and it’s almost Thanksgiving.  I’d better get a jumpstart on the next holiday with some gift giving suggestions for Christmas and Yule.  Here’s what I want for Christmas: Support these and other indie artisans so that we’ll be living in a world full of creative, talented people.  Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive:  If I listed all of the artisans and companies that I love, this page would never load – and some of my favorites (you know who you are) aren’t actively selling their work right now.  There are also tons of jawdroppingly talented handcrafters and artists that I haven’t even discovered yet.  Don’t hesitate to tell me about them in the comments!  And now, without further ado, I present to you:

A basket of goodies from Carioca Witch. (Photo used with permission.)

A basket of goodies from Carioca Witch. (Photo used with permission.)

Carioca Witch

Nydia Macedo, a Brazilian witch and the artist-owner behind Carioca Witch, says, “Creating and recreating goddesses and gods from several pantheons, as well as familiars and runes, is how I fulfill an important part of my spiritual path. Hand-embroidering and sewing them together is like bringing these adorable deities to life over and over again, honoring their power and reaffirming my spirituality. This is the reason why Carioca Witch exists – my love for my pagan path and the opportunity of seeing my art being sweetly spread in literally hundred houses around the world – from Canada to China.”  I’m constantly struck by how beautiful Nydia’s work is, and how each design is so evocative of the deity it represents.  When her creations arrive, they’re always even richer in color and workmanship than I imagined from the photos.  My long-term plan is to collect the gods and goddesses related to healing and plants and hang them around the edges of my herbal workshop, with a scarf or garland swagged between them.
Make it personal: By giving a god or goddess that is special to the recipient, or who might be particularly helpful to the recipient at this time.
If you just can’t decide: The Yule ornaments are absolutely stunning!
How to order:  Browse Carioca Witch’s Facebook page and then message Nydia for more info.  Custom creations take time to make – and to ship from Brazil – so order early and often ;-)

 

Advent calendar from Sweet Enemy Art. Used with permission.

Advent calendar from Sweet Enemy Art. Used with permission.

Sweet Enemy Art

Kristin Richland swears her artwork isn’t “whimsical,” and I understand why.  We often use the word “whimsical” to dismiss work that has a fantastical element, and you just can’t dismiss Kristin’s artwork:  Sometimes I look at one of her pieces and find it charming – and then am absolutely caught up in the depth and specificity of expression on this rat’s or that tiger’s face.  Sometimes I look and think, “oh, that’s cute,” and then realize that the image is actually complex and haunting, and sometimes even rather disturbing.  Kristin Richland’s brain contains some pretty cool worlds.
Make it Personal:  Peruse the offerings on Society 6 (prints and products) and Etsy (original), or get in touch with Kristin to ask about a piece you don’t see there.
If you just can’t decide:  Quick, get the advent calendar!  Or, for this time of year when we celebrate light in the dark days, get a print of “We Gathered One Night.”
How to order: Click the links above, and don’t forget to follow Sweet Enemy on Facebook and read the blog.

 

 

Small pitcher from Doolin Pottery. Teapot from Rooftop Pottery. Large mug from Please Touch Pottery. Spiral mug and shot glass from Dancing Pig. Bowl from Glen Cross Pottery.

Small pitcher from Doolin Pottery. Teapot from Rooftop Pottery. Large mug from Please Touch Pottery. Spiral mug and shot glass from Dancing Pig. Bowl from Glen Cross Pottery.

Your Local Potter

I first fell in love with pottery at Doolin Pottery, in County Claire which – sadly – is no longer there.  I’ve since branched out, and I’m a repeat customer at Dancing Pig‘s and Glen Cross’s Pennsic booths, and this year I added Please Touch Pottery to my favorites.  The tea pot I use for herbal teas is a gorgeous fairy-tale-like creation from Rooftop Pottery, right here in Vermont.  When elsewhere, pottery is my favorite souvenir, as it’s fully functional – not just a shelf-sitting knick knack.  On the other hand, it’s not merely functional: I find tea and hot chocolate taste so much better drunk from a handmade mug than a mass-produced one, and my life also feels richer and more textured when I use handmade cups and bowls.  Since I’ve collected mugs of various sizes, as well as water glasses and a few bowls, I’m currently on the lookout for plates, which I understand are surprisingly hard to make.  Some day I’d like my full collection of dishes and bowls and vessels to be handmade, all mis-matched from different makers and with different memories.
Make it personal:  Purchase a cup, goblet, or mug that’s just right for the giftee’s favorite beverage, and include ingredients for said beverage.
If you can’t decide:  You really can’t go wrong with a good mug.  How about this one?
How to order:  Visit your local farmer’s market, craft show, or craft store, or check out the links above.

 

Used with permission.

Used with permission.

Urban Moonshine

With Urban Moonshine, you give the gifts of yumminess and good health all in one.  These bitters and tonics are a delicious way to take your medicine, and they come in gorgeous packaging.  The people at Urban Moonshine are flippin’ brilliant, and they source crazy-vibrant herbs, many of which come from Zack Woods Herb Farm (another business I’m a huge fan of).  If you’re in on the trendiness of bitters in cocktails, you will absolutely love this company’s product.  If bitters sound like something you’d rather avoid, take heart:  They’re amazing for your health and, after a while, actually taste good.  For a start, try Urban Moonshine’s Maple Bitters, which has been called “bitters with training wheels.”
Make it personal:  Use the Urban Moonshine Holiday Gift Guide (click on image at right)  to suss out which bitters or tonics are best for your giftee.
If you just can’t decide:  Embrace the holiday spirit and give them Joy.
How to order:  Right here at the Urban Moonshine website.

 

 

Juniper Ridge incense.

Juniper Ridge incense.

Juniper Ridge Incense

This is the one company on this list that I’ve always bought via a ‘middleman,’ my local co-op, rather than direct from the source.  That being said, their product speaks for itself:  This is pretty much the only incense I burn.  The scents are amazing, not at all perfumy, thanks to their use of wildcrafted, minimally-processed plants to make this incense.  I always keep their sage on hand because I find sage a little heady while it’s burning but love the scent it leaves in the room.  The other varieties that I’ve tried (sweetgrass, pinon pine, and juniper, which might be my favorite), are so delicious that I can sit right near them, and it’s only after a while – or after leaving the room and returning – that I realize what a gorgeous scent is filling the space.
Make it personal: Choose a scent that has special meaning to the giftee (or, even better, make your own incense in that scent).
If you just can’t decide: You can’t go wrong with sweetgrass.
How to order: Right here at the Juniper Ridge website, or ask for it at your local co-op.

So, there are a few ideas to get you started, and hopefully to inspire you to look around your own region for awesome artists, artisans, handcrafters, and other concoctors of wonderful things.  If you have any suggestions for me, please don’t hesitate to post them in the comments!

PS:  I know some blog posts of this sort are paid advertising.  This one isn’t!  I’m just posting about these people and products because I like them :-)


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?


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


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.


Wildflowers in the Bog (Doolin, Ireland)

As the foliage here in Vermont starts to take on a golden tint, I’m still remembering the lush midsummer wildflowers of Doolin.  Here are a few photos, taken while walking through the bogland above the village.

Dandelion and, I believe, wild thyme.  Dandelions seemed much less prevalent in Doolin than in my hometown.  Perhaps because they thrive on challenges, and the locals in Doolin don’t fight them the way we do in the States!

Nettle and dock together:  The irritant and the anecdote.  (Of course, nettle is itself an anecdote for a lot of ills!)

Honeysuckle mandalas.

This is a thistle.

Acts of Beauty, and Some Late-Night Giggling

Windelbahn. Turf Labyrinth Prussia. For a Pelicaning. Pic tak... on TwitpicYou remember how I resolved not to feel sorry for myself about not making it to Pennsic this year?  I’m doing a good job.  After a month of traveling, it’s great to be back home.  Still, I have whiled away a few minutes here and there looking for news of Pennsic.  This evening, I was surprised to come across a Twitter account by the guy I knew only as that-guy-who-draws-chalk-labyrinths-at-pennsic.

Labyrinth,PennsicPavement is ugly.  There isn’t a ton of it at Pennsic, but there’s enough that I welcome seeing it transformed from plain old blacktop into a labyrinth (or, sometimes, a sundial).  One Pennsic evening last year, I was tired and hungry, so we went to that-place-that-serves-hotdogs-really-late.  What should be in front of it but a giant labyrinth!  (Pictured here.)  Logan and I walked all the way to the center together, and then I ran all the way out.  It was fun and silly and grounding and a bit strange – to be dressed in garb, running through a labyrinth, late at night, in front of a hot dog stand.  Absolutely made the evening.  Many thanks, Labyrinth Guy!


Galway’s Welcome Party

Yarrow

 My first destination within Ireland was Galway.  When I worked there in ’05, Galway really felt like home to me.  But when I returned for a couple weeks in ’07, I felt out of place – like revisiting your old college campus and realizing that most of your acquaintances have cycled out, plus you don’t have a purposeful reason to be there anymore.  This year, though, I was surprised by what made me feel really at home:  The plants.

Plantain!

Every morning I recognized new herbs on the path from my friends’ house into town.  First yarrow, then plantain, then St. John’s wort…  During the Apprentice program at Sage Mountain, these were plants I was too shy to admit I had little idea how to find.  We’d walk by some plantain on an ID walk, and the teacher would casually talk about the parallel veins and healing properties of the plant, figuring we all knew what plantain looked like, since it’s so common.  I nodded and figured I’d look it up later, so it wasn’t until my trip to Ireland that plantain and I were properly “introduced.”  It was so much fun to see these plants – which I’ve been using dried in teas and oils and tinctures – growing live and wild all over the place!