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.


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:


Dandelions Take a Stand for Contraception?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Book Review: The Wild Medicine Solution, by Guido Masé

(Click to buy local.)

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

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

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

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

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

Hear, hear.


Fall Harvests for Dark Days

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

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

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

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


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


The Green Man and the Lady of the Seasons

I think it was about a year ago that I was lucky enough to win the Green Man pictured below during a giveaway over at Confessions of a Country Witch.  Nydia of Carioca Witch and Bringing Up Salamanders makes these beautiful hand-embroidered felt god and goddess figures.  She put her etsy shop on hold a while back, which is why I put this post on hold, but I’ve noticed some new designs over at the Carioca Witch Facebook page, so I thought it was about time to post this thank-you.

I really can’t say enough how much I love Nydia’s creations:  They’re beautiful, made with obvious care and skill, and stunningly creative.  Persephone (also pictured, and the aforementioned Lady of the Seasons) was the first that I ordered for myself, and I absolutely the balance of light and dark elements on Persephone, and how subtly the face appears out of the leaves on the Green Man.  Until recently, the Green Man has been living with my jars of herbs, but since our house has been in a bit of a to-do lately, I’ve had them together.  I think they like each other’s company :)


Why I Love Valentine’s Day

Godward-An Offering to Venus-1912
“Offering to Venus,” by J. W. Godward

I’m not sure if I know anyone else who really loves Valentine’s Day.  Those without a significant other feel left out of all the hoopla, and those who are attached are either nonplussed or stressed about the holiday.  For me, it’s a stepping stone that helps me through the dourest part of the winter.

New England seems to be tailor-made for Christmas.  We have crisp, cold days and snowfalls that paint the branches of our bare trees white.  Our evergreens look as though they’ve been drizzled with icing.  Our landscapes sparkle in undulating drifts of white or blue or pink, depending on the hour.  Indoors, we deck the halls with garlands and swags, and we dress ourselves in our cheeriest berry red or forest green.  On New Year’s, we might even wear sparkles.

Then, we seem to remember that our states started out as Puritan colonies.  We revert to greys and browns, and occasionally navy blue.  The landscape is still beautiful, but the roadsides grow dull with dirty snow, and even a fresh snowfall might not be quite so cheerful without the contrast of vibrant greens and reds.

“Pink Rose,” by Jonathan E. Russell

We wouldn’t dream of wearing pastels before Easter, but Valentine’s Day, that dear Hallmark Holiday, gives us permission to break out the bold pinks and purples, and to give red another go.  All the gaudy advertising (with its pressures to make sure our partners receive the most expressive card, the sweetest chocolates, the biggest bouquet) is packed full of these colors.  And flowers!  Cut flowers may be the most frivolous indulgence on earth, but in mid-February, I can’t help but be happy for the sight of them.  So, while I’ve never been one for big, expensive gestures on Valentine’s, I revel in the brilliant hues that it throws my way.

I think Valentine’s Day should be a day of frivolity.  Pink hearts and Victorian cupids aren’t the symbols of fully realized love or devotion.  They’re the symbols of fresh affection, of new found delight in each other’s company.  So if you’ve someone to celebrate with, forget expensive celebrations and do something silly and fun.  If you’re on your own, celebrate your own company with an at-home spa treatment.  Either way, consider celebrating Valentine’s like the kids do:  Give a little platonic love to everyone you meet.  One year I signed and sealed a whole basketfull of cheesy kiddie Valentines and handed them out to everyone I saw that day.  People were delighted.  When I handed out the last few cards of the night at the local pub, I had one friend give me a big hug and break into tears.  I’ll never forget that, and I’ll never forget what it taught me:  Even a seemingly insignificant gesture – so long as it’s made out of love and kindness – is worth making.

PS:  Next year, I’m hoping to have Glitter Dragons Valentine’s to hand out…


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.)


Mother Nature’s Easel: Some Thoughts on Jonathan E. Russell’s Art

Mother Nature’s Wild West, by Jonathan Russell. Used with permission.

When I first started VaguelyBohemian.com, part of the impetus was that I know so many cool people – many of them with nontraditional careers or callings like acting, dancing, juggling, writing, and art.  Now that I’ve got a few blogs under my belt, and a website design that doesn’t make my head spin, I think it’s about time to start paying some virtual visits.

Mother Earth, by Jonathan Russell

Jon and I were already dating by the time I saw his artwork, so you can guess how relieved I was that I loved it.  His style reminds me of stained-glass windows, and I once had a dream about a room completely surrounded by stained-glass versions of Jon’s work.  I think it’s both the shapes Jon uses – which remind me of cut glass – and the gradients of color.  I have “Mother Earth” here at home, and, on those rare occasions when I’m up early, I love to watch this painting as the sun rises:  first just the white edges seem to glow, and slowly, the colors light up too.  It’s almost like watching the sunrise itself.

Waterfall, by Jonathan Russell

“Mother Earth” is part of a series Jon’s been playing with for a long time, where he incorporates the female form into a landscape.  I love the premise for these, and I also love the execution:  While the lines and colors of the paintings are dynamic, there’s also a certain simplicity:  Here are the lines of the body; here are the lines of the landscape.  They’re beautiful as they are, without added sentimentality or (I can personally vouch) without being idealized.

Jon’s Elements series is newer, dating from just the last couple of years.  Most of these pieces are quite abstract – a sort of on-canvas distillation of fire, or water, or ice – but they still contain those dynamic lines and glowing gradients.

Fire, by Jonathan Russell

Like his other work, they also have a wonderful ability to make me look more deeply at the natural world.  When I look away from some artwork, I wish things were different – that I had perfectly-flowing hair, for example.  When I look away from Jon’s work, I’m even more intrigued and impressed by the world that is:  I wonder what it is that makes fire fiery.  I peer at the landscape and try to see the shape of a person lying down in the hills.  I look at the trees and admire the tones and colors of the light coming through their leaves.  Jon’s art doesn’t just make my life richer by brightening up my walls: It also stimulates my imagination and my observations.

I hope you’ll check out Jon’s website and, if you’re so inclined, “like” his Facebook page.  You’ll be able to see more of his paintings and keep up on new developments.  Jon’s work is currently on exhibit at The Gallery at Phoenix Books here in Vermont, so if you’re in the area, you can even see his work in person!