segue to spring

We’re leaving the deep and inward time when the energy stores are collected in the roots of nature and feeling the shift into green things that surface.  Here in southern Colorado we had mid-seventy degree weather yesterday and nearly a foot of snow and 30ish degrees today.  Spring is a vibrant and wild time and can make people crazy!  If life has felt stuck in ennui it is a welcome celebration to feel everything bursting to life after hibernation, but if life has been a bit overwhelming, this season can bring angst, irritation, frustration and on up the scale from there. 

Consider some time with nature to bring harmony.  

If you feel depleted and worn thin, lay awake at night in perseveration, tend toward overexcitement and then crash, it might be good to continue with some root medicine.   Some of my favorites were discussed earlier this year, see ginger, dandelion, also consider dang shen, dang gui, ginseng, huang jing, and turmeric.  If you would like more specific guidance where to start with your home herbal apothecary we can create a custom constitutional herbal formula for you with a phone consultation or office visit.  

If you feel like you just came out of the cave and need to burn off excess energy it can lead to a tendency toward cranky frustration in absence of proper venting. Please use this energy if possible to become more active than was comfortable in the winter, preferably adding some time outside.  As physical beings we need light, sun, fresh air and grounding. Grounding means touching the Earth without a barrier between you and it: hug a tree, take off your shoes and stand skin to ground, dig in the soil with your bare hands.  Research is proving that our physical touch to the planet is required to be mentally and physically well.   Fascinating studies show drastic decrease in inflammation quickly after the body grounds (see Tour de France results when grounding methods are used for injury; grounding and cardiovascular health; grounding in the treatment of colic; grounding for relief from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; the list goes on as the inflammatory process plays such a part in most diseases and chronic pain patterns).  We cannot ground through insulated shoes, buildings or vehicles. 

I know we want there to be some elaborate story around what creates health but many things are just simple: be with nature, eat of it, drink of it, “kneel and touch the earth,” join your community garden.  

Some of my favorite springtime herbs: nettles, milk thistle, raspberry leaf, hawthorne.  And don’t forget to start your culinary herbs in pots: dill, thyme, oregano, cilantro, parsley and chives. Though these herbs are not as medicinally powerful as some of the less-tasty, they are all antimicrobial, antiviral and according to much research, anticarcinogenic.  Use them flagrantly!

Most community supported agriculture (CSA) farms are currently taking membership.  Please consider supporting your local small farmer who is using chemical-free growing methods, or prepare now to grow your own food and herbs this summer to whatever degree your are capable.   I have found that the closer our relationship to where our food grows the more consistent we are in consuming a healthy variety of fruits and vegetables.   

Let thy foods be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food. — Hippocrates 

Lastly, if you have opportunity to test your D3 levels with your primary care physician, I highly recommend doing so as you can more effectively supplement if needed before the summer months when you might get adequate sun exposure to synthesize D on your own. Optimization requires some monitoring as D3 is fat-soluable and can build up to toxic levels if overconsumed.  Keeping adequate stores is an important component to good health.

more dandelion 🦁

Dandelion root is a free source of good medicine and can be found in most parts of the country.  
Before you overlook this powerful, abundant medicine, consider the superpower of a weed.  Weeds are hardy, difficult to eradicate and overall more willful than most gardners.  When a weed has a healing capability, and most do, they tend to be more resilient than their foe.  Please see my prior post regarding weed harvesting safety.

Almost everyone is familiar with dandelions and they are an easy and fun place to begin wild harvesting. Bear in mind that extremely toxic, cancer-causing chemical poisons are readily obtained from any home and yard store in this country, banned by many other countries, American policy hasn’t caught up with the science yet. Avoid any dandelions that have been growing in a place where herbicide or pesticides or even many commercial lawn fertilizers have been used. After that, go wild!  

home apothecary

I learned about the uses of dandelion, (taraxacum) by the Chinese name: pu gong ying. This revered medicine was first written about hundreds of years ago in the Tang Materia Medica and is still used widely in the modern world.   

The root of dandelion is bitter, slightly sweet and cold. Because of this it is often roasted and then brewed as a coffee substitute. In general, our American diet is very lacking in the bitter flavor which is one of the reasons I think we gravitate to coffee. Because coffee can be overstimulating to many, roasted dandelion root is a great non-stimulating alternative that still offers that robust flavor so many of us crave. The bitter flavor in Chinese food theory correlates to the heart. If you are a person who seeks out coffee when you are feeling anxious and then feel overly stimulated and often worse, it is worth considering you might need the bitter flavor to balance the energies of your heart. A wonderful Sufi poems tells us to match the rhythm of our heart with that of the beloved. This, it tells us, will yield peace.

 When our heart organ needs balancing we will naturally crave the bitter flavor. Add overstimulation of a strong coffee and everything seems to get worse. Go out in the back field and dig up some dandelion roots to slow roast then grind and brew, and everything feels right as rain.  
Dandelion comes to mind when I need to cool heat, resolve toxicity and facilitate urination (great also for treating painful dribbling issues). This herb has a downward directing energy. 

It can eliminate hard abscesses or nodules that are internal (and/or the fresh greens externally).

This is also one of the first herbs I might try to brighten vision and reduce redness or swelling in the eyes caused by toxicity or upward rising liver heat. (In the Chinese system, dandelion enters the liver and the “liver opens on to the eyes.”)

Dandelion is a great herb to try if you are feeling slightly toxic digestively from too much food, drink or a wild, wild life.  Also consider it for balancing hormonal patterns especially where lumps and swelling might be an issue.

dandelion tea

I love dandelion.  In this winter season when the life force of nature resides dominantly in the roots we can be comforted by a moderate intake of roasted dandelion root tea.  

root medicine | dandelion root

for food and medicine

It’s easy to renew your connection with the Earth’s abundance, beauty and essential health.  Though you may not remember being a wild forager, there is not a child I have ever met who cannot identify this one.  

dandelion wishes

I’ve often wondered if the dandelion is one of the most overlooked medicine sources in our own back yards. In many places around the country this amazing plant is considered an annoying weed. Yet all parts of dandelion are edible and loaded with vitamins, anti-oxidants, and life-giving nutrients. There are many ways to use this source of free food: herbal jelly, dandelion honey, vinegars, oils, wine, and salad greens, but for this wintertime commentary to come, I’ll focus on the root.  

Before you step out into the wilds of your back yard or elsewhere to pick weeds for lunch, there are a few precautions that you should know:

  • Only harvest weeds that you can positively identify as edible. Keep a field guide on wild plants to reference before you actually consume your harvest.  
  • Avoid picking weeds close to areas of runoff, roadsides, or areas that you do not know if they have been treated with poisons.
  • Do not harvest from areas that may have been contaminated by animal feces.
  • Positively know which part of the plant is edible and discard the potentially toxic part. 

home apothecary

self-sufficiency will reduce suffering 

Something is happening in the medical industry in relation to our population that is similar to the concept of peak oil. There is a viable theory that demand will at some point outpace supply.  

In the very near future there is reason to believe that even if you can afford a bed at your local hospital, clinic, or facility, there won’t necessarily be a trained human being who can care for you.  

This has everything to do with the population boom right after WWII when somewhere between 65 and 78 million babies were suddenly born over a very short span of time in the United States.  

This particular population is referred to as the baby boom generation and if you are a product of those wild times then the concept of home or folk medicine is of particular importance to register as primary health maintenance often becomes less and less easy to just ignore as we age.

But regardless of generation, many things prompt us to seek medical attention and it is important to understand there are still only so many trained medical staff in this country and they are already overwhelmed with the workload they are carrying.  

Population surges combined with limits to trained medical personnel require that we give some thought to home care.

Though most households at one time could manage the elemental health needs of its inhabitants, folk medicine has become a lost art.  

When I speak of folk medicine I am referring to the traditional medicine practices of alleviating suffering in a home or community setting by people who hold no extensive degree of formal medical education, aka: most everyone, for most every household and neighborhood. These basics are as vital as knowing how to feed ourselves and are becoming even more so as the access to healthcare diminishes.

It is becoming essential household knowledge to learn how to use food and an herb or two that you can readily find, as well as few basic techniques that can be performed or administered with things you would already have on hand. 

Folk medicine is a concept that is somehow being lost in the modern outsourcing shuffle. I must politely recommend that your household maintain some basic skills and supplies if not solely for the preservation of your budget but as a tribute to survival and the alleviation of suffering.

To read about ginger root check out my last post. 

wish medicine

In the meantime I leave you with many well wishes for health and vitality!

root medicine | ginger root

young ginger root | sheng jiang

Ginger root is a powerful healing medicine and is usually easy to find at most quality grocery stores.  (Please be mindful whenever purchasing roots of any description that they are from the most clean source you can obtain.) There is a way to use ginger root with almost anything and I encourage you to explore recipes that will expand your understanding of where and how you might get more of this amazing root in your diet. Very simply, you can make tea. Clean the root with a soft brush, slice it thin or grate it, then put it in a cup of boiling water to steam for 3-5 minutes. Drink as it is or add honey, citrus, spices such as cardamom or cinnamon or anise, something savory like dill or spicy like cayenne and it might become your most favored beverage. I love to use ginger root flagrantly. It is anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, aids in digestion, promotes intestinal health, I can go on forever. If you don’t know what to try, try ginger (unless you are allergic or inordinately hot or dislike the flavor) it is worth giving it the first shot to cure whatever ails you. Even if you are hot, young ginger can often bring down a fever (where more aged or dried ginger can bring warmth to cold conditions.)

ginger root mother | gan jiang

The version of ginger root that we use in Chinese medicinal formulations is known as xi xin in the dry powder form and sheng jiang in the fresh young root form, gan jiang is the ginger mother which is tougher, hotter and and more dispersing | asarum, Chinese wild ginger. The very best quality of the thirty different Chinese species is considered to be wild crafted from the Liaoning province in the north. Chinese ginger is very powerful and tends to be used in smaller doses than one might of a root bought in the produce section of the stores in America. If it has been powdered, around 3 grams maximum. Ginger enters the channels of the lung, heart and kidney. It relieves pain and reaches the head, lungs, bones and joints to disperse wind, cold, dampness and phlegm. Typically we will not prescribe this form of ginger if there is profuse sweating in deficient conditions or headache. In the Chinese Material Medica ginger can be found under the category “herbs that release the exterior.” We prescribe it regularly to treat common cold patterns, relieve vomiting, indigestion, nausea, flu, unblock urination and relieve pain. In the Divine Husbandman’s Classic of the Material Medica, sheng jiang, fresh young ginger root, “unblockes the clarity of the spirit.”  

additional note of interest

According to the famous poet Su Shi and the celebrated natural philosopher Shen Gua, in their eleventh century compilation Fine Formulas of Su and Shen, combining green tea leaves with ginger root in equal parts can relieve travelers dysentery and vomiting. I have used this combination successfully when I did not have access to other remedies and find it absolutely invaluable.