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Scholarly Essays on Planetary Herbology

This is the archive for my Herbal Essays that I have written for my Professional Herbalist Certification from the East West School of Planetary Herbology.  The philosophy of Planetary Herbology combines the teachings of the three major systems of herbal medicine from around the world: Western Herbalism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurveda.

Explore the question of balance

The question of balance is one that I have pursued for many years now. Although I hesitate to label myself with any particular faith or system of belief, I often describe my beliefs as most closely aligned with Taoist philosophy. Having studied Taoist philosophy while in college, I am quite familiar with the pursuit of balance in a multitude of ways. In an effort to better understand how the application of a balanced lifestyle can positively impact ones health, I shall examine the degree of balance that currently exists in my life in the various physical, emotional, mental and spiritual arenas. I will identify that which is lacking in each of these areas, how the imbalance in these areas causes discomfort, and finally I will incorporate principles taught in Lesson 2 in order to propose ways in which balance can be achieved in my life.
When I was a child, I recall an after school experience where my mother and younger brother came home from a quick run to the grocery store and my brother had successfully finagled from her a bag of Skittles candies for himself and also a Three Musketeers candy bar for me. Normally I would happily eat my candy and think nothing of it but I suddenly realized that regularly consuming candy was bad for me! I got angry about the situation and rejected the candy out of concern that I was going to get fat. This was perhaps my first realization that the old adage “you are what you eat” is quite true.

As I grew up I made an effort to eat healthy but did not get serious about health and wellbeing until I discovered the film “The Future of Food” and learned about the problems of the industrialized system of food production as well as the dangers of genetically modified foods. Around this time I began exercising and riding a bicycle nearly everywhere I could. I found the book “The Shaolin Workout” by Sifu Shi Yan Ming and began to study the stretches and exercise techniques presented in the book. This “active meditation” was complemented when I took a class on Taoism at my college that encompassed Chu meditation, a form of Taoist meditation, as well as a bit of Tai Chi. I can say without a doubt that these practices were a huge asset to my personal development. In addition to physical exercise, I began to further developing my herbal skills and the application of herbs and supplements became a huge factor in my physical balance.

Currently, the physical degree of balance in my life is quite strong. Although I admit that I do not exercise as much as I should, I still make an effort to work out and keep active. I have a weight bench and heavy bag that I try to use a few times a week, as well as a yoga mat that I use to stretch out and meditate on. I can confidently that my eating habits are probably better now than they have ever been. I eat almost exclusively organic (other than eating out) and have been successfully applying the dietary principles of the Planetary Diet to my lifestyle. Having apprenticed with East West graduate Laurence Layne, I had already read The Way of Herbs and was somewhat familiar with the principles of energetics before starting this course. Having lived in Florida for nearly six years, I had gotten into the habit of eating abundant raw foods; such as salads, fruits, juices of all kinds, yogurt, and various other cooling foods. Now that I have relocated back to the northeast, I am actively choosing particular foods in order to maintain harmony with my cooler climate. Not only I am trying to drink more ginger tea, but I try to cook with more warming, spicy, carminative type foods. I frequently season my food with homegrown Basil, cayenne powder, black pepper, and other spices. Lately I have also been drinking Caraway seed tea after meals to promote and enhance digestion. Thanks to my job in the natural products industry I have a wide availability of supplements that I incorporate in my routine.

The emotional degree of balance in my life is fair and strong. Family is of great importance to emotional wellbeing and I am happy to be back in the northeast where I am closer to my mother and step-father, brother, uncle and friends who I have not seen for many years. However, I am no longer near my father and step-mother, and all the friends and acquaintances I made while living in north Florida. This has been somewhat disruptive to move away from the many friends I have in Florida, but it has provided me with the opportunity to make new friends and develop relationships with people in my local herbal community.

Sometimes the weight of the world is very heavy. I often think about the future of humanity. I wonder if we will continue into the future and evolve and adapt or if we will succumb to our own ignorance. However, I do have great faith in nature. For every problem that mankind has created for himself, there is an answer and it lies in nature. As tumultuous as our future might be, I believe that we shall find success through the creation of biodynamic communities and ultra-efficient buildings that implement bio-mimicry technologies. We shall reinvent healthcare with an emphasis on prevention and encourage the use of food as medicine. We shall rekindle our innate connection with nature and marvel at the respect that we have for such a perfect system. Indeed as Thomas Edison is oft-quoted: “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease”. People will learn that the human body is the vessel for the brain, mind and soul, and thus must be nourished in order to grow, live and be healthy. People will learn how to eat, and not just what to eat. They will learn that poor eating is the cause of multiple problems and chemical laden foods should never be consumed. They will learn to eat what their body needs to be healthy. They will learn how to use herbs to correct imbalances or eliminate diseases. We shall achieve the future envisioned by Dr. John Christopher of an Herbalist in every home, and a Master Herbalist in every community.

The mental degree of balance in my life is exemplified by this course and by my other academic pursuits. I enjoy research immensely and have made a habit of searching the online newsfeed for anything related to herbalism or natural healing. I also stay well informed on a variety of political issues, especially those which are related to my career. I believe firmly that every human being has the right to determine the kind of medicine they use to keep well and will also take this opportunity to echo the statement in Lesson 1 that reads: “…apart from learning the rigors of practice, it is equally important to remain politically vigilant to the ever shifting tides for and against herbal medicine as it continues into the 21st century” (1-35).

The status quo argument would cry out in favor of vaccines, anti-biotic drugs, and the invasive technologies which many rely upon to keep them alive when they have not taken care of themselves. As many individuals are beginning to realize, especially in the case of chronic disease, there is always a more natural, less invasive and disruptive method of healing that is available to us. If we simply look the advent of pharmaceutical medicines, we shall see that nearly all of them are of a natural origin. This should indicate that our solution lies in nature.

A Japanese proverb goes something like “If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.” I believe that this is something akin to what has become of our precious planet. Man, the would-be overseer of this planet, has allowed himself to fall into a state of atrophy where he is no longer content with the essential, the beautiful, even sacred events or rituals of life. Eating a meal, making love, drinking a cup of tea in the afternoon are all wonderful examples. So many of us do still praise these all important activities and still realize the inherent divinity in such an act. But sadly, many others have fallen victim to the animal appetites of these sacred practices. To boot, contemporary man has grown bored with these everyday occurrences and can only hunger for more. Rampant consumerism is the result of this hunger, and the solution will come in a variety of ways.
Having earned my Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy/Religion, I have a deep appreciation for the spiritual and sacred things. I was not raised in a religious home (thankfully) and was allowed to come to my own conclusions about life and the mysteries of the universe. I do not subscribe to any one particular belief system; instead I study various texts and pull from them what is true for me. The teachings of Taoism and the various Earth-based religions such as Wicca or various Native American philosophies are the strongest for me, but I also have a great respect and appreciation for the teachings of Christ and the Buddha. I have also spent a great deal of time reading contemporary figures such as Thomas Merton, Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. All of these traditions and philosophies essentially express the same concept of love.

I will conclude by mentioning an activity that I believe brings all of this together and promotes a balance that most of us are lacking in this age. The activity of gardening is one that has brought much happiness and balance into my life over the past several years. While I lived in Florida I took part in the Student Government of my college and was elected the First Chair of the Green Committee. I made the focus of our committee the promotion of community gardens and locally produced organic produce. During these two years that I ran the project, we had tremendous success, building gardens not only on the college campus, but also at a Jewish Temple, a Catholic Church, and two local elementary schools.

The goal of the project had many aims: to promote community gardens, educate the community about the food system, but most of all attempt to rekindle the innate connection that people have with plants. Many of my fellow students did not even know how to simply dig a hole with their hands and place a seedling in that hole, but I did what I could to teach them while I lived there.The only gardening I have done this season was the cultivation of a small herb garden at my mother’s home in Bomoseen, Vermont. I harvested dandelion root and drank it through the summer and fall. We grew Tulsi (one of my favorite herbs) and made tea. We grew California Poppy and other decorative flowers as well. I hope by next year I will have my own property that I can garden on once again. Gardening, like herbalism, is so fundamental to what we are as human beings. Not only does it enhance our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing, but it also provides us with many important lessons. We learn the science of growing plants, we learn patients, we learn to problem solve and interact with our community. Perhaps most important of all, gardening like herbalism, is empowering. It allows us to grow the plants which will feed us when we are hungry, clothe us when we are cold, and heal us when we are sick. When we take part in this great cycle of life, we discover the magic that has been there all along and a profound respect for all of nature is reborn within our heart

Choose three local herbs and include them as foods in your diet. Describe the recipes + their effects

{Note: this essay is a compilation of herbs gathered in late 2012 into early 2013}

1) Wild Maine Rosehip tea
One of the most beautiful places in the world has to be Acadia, Maine. This past winter, I was fortunate enough to be driving along the coast in Acadia when I pulled over to enjoy the view. Walking along the pull-off area I noticed several rosehip bushes just growing wild on the side of the road. The winter had already set in pretty well and the ripe rosehips were just hanging out waiting for someone to make use of them.

As much as I would have loved to make some sort of jam or sauce, I was staying in a hotel for the next couple days. I figured that since I really enjoy Rosehip tea, I would just gather some up and make a tea back at the hotel.
Rosehips are an amazing herb, rich in numerous anti-oxidants, Vitamin C, bioflavonoids, and many other beneficial compounds. Many people liken Rosehips to a citrusy type flavor and energy, due to their Vitamin C content, and yet I personally have always thought that Rosehips have a very tomato-like taste. After a quick Google search I discovered that Rosehips contain a small amount of lycopene, the heart healthy, prostate-protecting compound in the Tomatoes we all know and love.

Dr. H. C. A. Vogel tells us that Rosehips are also rich in important minerals. In his book The Nature Doctor, Vogel explains that “They are nourishing because of their many mineral salts, such as calcium, silica, magnesium, and phosphorus”(p385). The impressive nutritional profile of Rosehips makes them an herb that should be thought of as a food. Vogel tells us “Seriously ill people who cannot take any other herbal infusion are quite safe with rosehip tea”(p387). Perhaps if all of us took Rosehip tea more often, we would be less likely to be so ill that we cannot take any other herbal infusions.
I was very fortunate to come upon these during the cold winter, especially when I am in need of Vitamin C and other related nutrients! Rosehips are one of my favorite herbs actually, and this was a great find that I will certainly be revisiting in the future.

2) Dandelion Green Salad
As soon as Spring arrived I was eager to get back outdoors. I started my garden mid-April and have been eager to walk through the woods once again. In early May, I set off on an adventure with a new friend to go camping in New Durham, NH. My friend is an eager forager and could not wait to get out into the woods and harvest baby dandelion greens for our meal. After searching the 2 acres around his cabin, we ended up collecting two baskets worth of dandelion greens and returning to incorporate them into our meal. We luckily did not have to forage for our entire meal because the fish were not biting at all. We were lucky that we were able to bring venison steak, onions and garlic. In a simple, yet delicious meal, we cooked the steaks with onion and garlic, and then poured the juice over our dandelion greens salad. Absolutely delicious. I harvested dandelion roots last year and drank them as a tea throughout fall and winter, but I have not had a dandelion green salad in many years, so this was a treat.

3) Red Clover
Recently, while riding my bicycle, I stumbled upon a large patch of Red Clover. I have eaten the Red Clover flowers by themselves, plucking and eating them right off the bush. However, I had never incorporated them into an actual recipe before.

After doing a bit of research online, I discovered that there are an abundance of tea and beverage recipes that incorporate Red Clover, but I was excited to discover some more substantial recipes on this website: http://rosesprodigalgarden.org/recipes/redcloverrecipes.html

Since I am always cooking up rice I thought it would be easy enough to add some Red Clover blossoms to my dinner. Here is the recipe that I used:

Red Clover Rice

  • 2 cups rice, brown or wild
  • 2 cups Red Clover flowerettes, plucked out of the flowerheads
  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Cook rice in 6 cups water until done.
  2. While the rice is still hot, mix in Clover flowers, butter and salt.
  3. Serve hot.

This was a simple, but tasty recipe. I actually used jasmine rice which complemented the sweet and salty floral notes of the Red Clover Blossoms. I also cooked carrots, radish, onion, and garlic with this rice to add a little more Yang energy to the dish.

Although Red Clover is typically perceived as a woman’s herb, it is a fantastic blood-purifier and anti-tumor agent. I have personally received great feedback about this herb while working at Old City Remedies in St. Augustine, Florida. We had a mother come in looking for something for her son who had very swollen lymph nodes. The owner recommended that she buy several ounces of Red Clover Blossoms and give it to him as a tea. Several weeks later we received an email with another order for Red Clover, citing that his lymph nodes were visibly less swollen and he was making great progress.

Dr. Tierra discusses some of the properties of Red Clover in his book The Way of Herbs, “Red clover is effective for skin complaints, eruptions, psoriasis and eczema. Its antispasmodic and expectorant properties make the blossom useful for coughs, colds and other diseases associated with mucous congestion”(p185).
One question that seems to be debated within herbalist circles is the issue of phytoestrogens within plants like Red clover and whether or not these herbs are beneficial for a woman who has in the past been diagnosed with breast cancer or someone who is taking hormone therapy for whatever reason. I am always skeptical of synthetic hormonal treatments and believe herbs are the far safer option when it comes to addressing issues of hormonal change.

Exploring Ayurvedic Constitution

After reviewing the material in Chapter 4 and reading various other sources I have to conclude that my physical constitution is predominantly Pitta. As mentioned in the text, we are all composed of all three Doshas. I do recognize the other elements that compose my constitution but in the following essay I will attempt to explain how I have come to this conclusion. In order to do this I shall examine my constitution from three perspectives: the first being the outward appearance of my physical body, the second being the biology of my body, and lastly the psychological or emotional perspective. I will then discuss the various foods, herbs and lifestyle choices that I have incorporated in order to balance my constitution.

I am 5’11” which is slightly taller than the average height for males. I have for a long time weighed in about 160 lbs. and this number very rarely fluctuates. I have brown hair with bits of red and blonde hair in my beard. As mentioned above, I do have moles and occasional pimples or skin eruptions but this has greatly been reduced through the regular consumption of Stinging Nettle tea or other alterative herbs. It is only when I neglect to drink herbal tea or eat foods that aggravate my constitution do I have problems with my skin, which is typically has a tan or reddish color and is somewhat oily.

My father is very Pitta and I share many of the same physical characteristics including heat in the body, a radiant or reddish skin color, a tendency towards pimples and skin eruptions (blood toxicity), a tendency towards baldness, and a medium/muscular build. I typically have a good appetite and digestion, although I have a bad habit of eating too quickly. When I foolishly skip meals I pay the price for it later with irritability and frustrations due to the resulting low blood sugar. I enjoy all types of foods but I do often seek out cold, sweet drinks such as juices and coconut water. Before I knew better I used to drink soda and I am sure this aggravated my constitution as it does anyone who consumes it.

I lived in Florida for about six years and was successfully able to tolerate the heat and sunlight but with the excess heat I do tend to perspire with body odor. The quality of my body odor will vary determine on the foods I have been eating. Typically I have found that eating meat slows my digestion and that I am better off consuming numerous vegetables with high protein grains such as quinoa or rice. Lately I have been getting into the habit of soaking my rice in order to remove the phytic acids in order to achieve a higher level of calcium (and various other minerals).

In regards to functional foods and herbs, I enjoy raw foods (although I have been avoiding excess raw food consumption during the cold winter months in New England). I love honey, fruits and have started cooking with ghee. I have found that ghee is excellent for cooking eggs. I try to drink a lot of herbal teas, coconut water and kombucha. I am even starting to brew my own kombucha at home. Some of the herbs that I drink often include Schizandra, Nettle, Moringa, Triphala and others. I will also incorporate sweeter adaptogens that are not heavily stimulating such as Ashwagandha, Astragalus and American Ginseng. I have been snacking on Indian Gooseberries or dried Amla berries which is an excellent medicinal food, particularly this time of year when everyone is going so crazy over the flu. I will admit that I do enjoy eating spicy foods and this can cause problems. I find that if I consume too much acidic food, i.e. coffee, alcohol, citrus juices, fatty meats or various other spicy foods that I will have canker sores in my mouth that are quite a nuisance. This improper diet can also result in occasional constipation. However, these symptoms are relieved by using the proper herbs and food.

Emotionally I feel that I am a combination of Pitta and Vata characteristics. I would assert that I am intelligent and sharp-witted, with good comprehension and communication skills. I also believe that I can be a jealous and ambitious person. I am also quite hard-headed and irrepressible in arguments. However, I also possess some Vata traits that I presume I have inherited from my mother who has more of a Vata constitutional type. These Vata characteristics include a tendency towards anxiety, nervousness, thinking or worrying too much.
After taking the What’s My Dosha? Quiz, I was surprised at how many answers I circled that were in the Pitta category. I marked 3 for Vata Dosha, 1 for Kapha Dosha, and a whopping 19 for Pitta Dosha. Of course some of these answers could vary and I might have answered a few more in the Vata or Kapha categories, but regardless of that I am still overwhelmingly Pitta. While researching online, I stumbled across the Banyan Botanicals Dosha Quiz which provided me with the following results: Pitta 48.3%, Vata 34.5%, and Kapha 17.2%. These statistics were more along the lines of my original thinking, but they still place me firmly in the Pitta camp. For good measure, I also took the Irwin Naturals Dosha quiz which I found at one of my stores in Maine. This quiz also placed me solidly in the Pitta category.

Ayurveda is a unique approach to health that requires us to expand our thought processes and think about the natural cycle of our three Doshas. I have been able to use this information to reassess my own constitution and even some of my friends and family. I have started to realize how an excess or deficiency of one Dosha can lead to an imbalance in another; for example, an individual with a Pitta constitution might have their Dosha aggravated by a deficiency of Vata Dosha. I started to think of this similar to the way that a fire burns hotter when there is air to feed it. If the fire burns too hot or too quickly, there will undoubtedly be disruptions in health. It is essential that we provide our digestive fire with the correct quality and quantity of fuel and to ensure that we do not burn up all of our fuel at once. The system of elements that occurs in all of the traditions of herbal healing is a great gift to humankind and it will be most intriguing to see how this paradigm continues to shape and evolve the medical conversation in our world.

An Exploration On Taoism

This is perhaps my favorite line from the Tao Te Ching. As I have mentioned in previous articles, if I had to “choose a religion” as so much of the world seems to do, I would have to choose Taoism. I choose Taoism not for any cultural reasons, but more because it is what makes the most sense to me. In my mind, the concepts of Yin and Yang are incredibly valuable concepts that help us to understand how the entire universe works. In this brief article I will attempt to describe my understanding of health by discussing Yin and Yang in Herbalism.

As I have already classified myself as predominantly Pitta, it is a fairly logical leap that I would be more Yang dominant. There are many reasons for this. First of all I am male, and masculinity naturally lends itself towards Yang. Although this is not to say that there are not females that are more constitutionally Yang than some men. There are always exceptions to every rule. This is what is so perfect about herbal medicine; it allows us to craft the exact energetic formula that we need to treat both the patient and the disease.
By employing the use of herbal medicines, we are able to approach a problem in a myriad of ways. Determining an individual constitution requires keen perception and unique inquisitiveness. Growing up as a child, I ate a Standard American Diet, which surely just inflamed my developing Pitta-Yang energetics. Because they have been stripped of all their natural life force, conventional processed foods are dangerous stagnation waiting to happen. Acne, insomnia, stress and depression all resulted from these excess Yang foods that I consumed as an adolescent.

In fact, my first question for herbal healing began with Chamomile tea that I started drinking to help me sleep at night. Looking back now I am remarkably grateful for the simple little yellow and white flowers that set me on a new course in life. Chamomile is just one simple remedy that possesses a bounty of natural chemical compounds and useful energetic properties. Chamomile is well known as a sleep-aid and helpful for tummy troubles. It provided me in digestion and detoxing some of the lower quality foods I was consuming at that point in my life. Chamomile also helped me become less anxious.

Being a flower, Chamomile is energetically more of a Yin substance. For this reason, flowers are typically employed in treating various Yang disorders. Many flowers are Yin, including Echinacea, Calendula, and St. John’s Wort. All of these herbs are different, but all are useful for various degrees and kinds of inflammation, a Yang condition. With the “dreaded” flu season now behind us for the year, we can be thankful that we have Elder flower and berries to shield us from the colds floating around. When examining flowers and then berries, I would call both of these substances more Yin, but I would say that flowers are more Yang than berries. I say this because flowers reach out to the sun, absorbing the Yang energy. Many flowers are bright yellow and resemble the sun in many ways. Mother Nature miraculously transmutes the flower into fruit. Most fruits, especially berries contain a higher concentration of water (in order to nourish the seed that will be the next generation). Both possess cooling energies overall, but this is why I describe berries as more Yin than flowers.

As I began to discover more herbs, I gradually worked my way towards more Yang substances. Ginseng is probably the most famous of Yang herbs. The iconic phallic shape that many roots take resonates with us on a subconscious level. If we look at the biologic example in the previous paragraph, while an herb is growing it is storing its energy in its taproot in order to survive the next cold spell. This is the reason that many Yang herbs are roots and have such adaptogenic properties. Ginseng must endure and adapt to the harsh, cold, dark, wet; one might say the Yin of Winter. In order to do this, these herbs must store up plenty of Yang to counter balance the Yin. While working at the Oldest Drugstore, I discovered the value of Stinging Nettles, which helped clean my blood, keep my skin clear, and gradually help me overcome my allergies. Nettle is dried leaf, so I would still call it more Yin than Yang, but it is a very mild and neutral herb also. As I said earlier, there are exceptions to every rule, but this does not change that the concepts are valuable tools.
The method by which we consume herbs will also change the energies and properties of the herbal. In fact, Yin and Yang even applies to the way in which we take or administer our herbs. As I said earlier, I developed a habit for tea. Taking herbs as a tea, infusion, or decoction are all far more Yin ways of consuming herbs than taking a tincture or smoking your herbs. The reason for this is obvious, with Yin being associated with Water and Yang being associated with fire. An alcohol tincture is obviously a more Yang substance than water. We should be mindful that how we take our herbs will change their varying degree of usefulness for particular conditions. For example, if we are trying to break up kidney stones, or prevent them for that matter, we should take Yin herbs, such as Gravel root, Uva Ursi, Dandelion leaf. Ideally one would take the herbs in a tea form, in order to enhance hydration and help with the flushing of the kidney stones. Taking these herbs as a tea, as opposed to a capsule for instance, will be more effective for the particular ailment that you are trying to treat.

Looking at current events in our country, if an individual smokes Cannabis or even Passionflower to relieve stress or pain, they should consider using a vaporizer or taking their herbs as a tincture. This is especially true if the individual already has an inflammatory condition. For instance, an elderly man with MS and emphysema, should not be smoking his Cannabis, but instead consuming it in a more cooling fashion such as vaporizing or getting the most Yin benefit as a raw supplement or juice. All of these factors should come into play when we are developing an herbal formula for ourselves or our patients.

The reason that I started with Chapter 46 is that I believe that it so accurately depicts the problem with our current society. For far too long, America has had her Galloping Steeds converted and used as War Horses. This is because many people have forgotten the land and how we must treat the Earth with a respect and reciprocity that we must also show each other. Planetary Herbalism is a part of this process and it will be a great component as we try to heal the world. One of the main reasons that I am pursuing this endeavor is so that I am better equipped to heal the world and return the War Horses to the green pastures. When we finally do this as a culture, then the people will stop fighting and return to their gardens.

Five Element Theory

As we round the corner from winter into springtime, it is important that we take note of what this means for our own bodies as well as the environment. With the snow melting away and the warm days return, the old adage of ‘spring cleaning’ suggests that we open our windows to let the fresh air in and begin to welcome some of that new growth of spring energy into out days. The adage refers not only to our homes, but also our bodies. If Yin and Yang describe the ebb and flow of the universe Tao, then the Five Elements describe the cycles within the Tao. In order to explain this idea, I shall guide the reader through the Five Seasons, often discussing how our understanding the progression of the seasons reflects and is intimately connected to herbs and herbalism.

Taoism teaches that the origin of the 10,000 things is Yin. We can look to the most Yin of seasons as a starting point for our journey. Albert Camus wrote “In the depth of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer”. For myself, this idea is so very true, and especially when we all realize even in the depths of winter there is an abundance of life, potential, energy, chi, all ready to burst forth. Seeds and roots of the forest have been buried and frozen in the snow all season. As the sun and spring begin to get closer, the Water Element that has been collecting energy throughout winter is released and goes back into the soil.
The Water Element is reflected in many of our herbs and fruits. Obviously, many plants that grow in swamps, riverbanks and other water-logged areas are heavily Yin energetically and affect the corresponding organs in the body. As we learn in Chapter 6, “the time of day a person feels better or worse can also be a significant factor – each Organ/element has its major time for manifestation”. This is fascinating and provides us with a useful tool in learning our own constitution. For instance, I have realized that in the wintertime, I am more likely to have a bit of mild back pain, which I would relate to my kidneys and bladder. This seems to be related to other factors associated with the Yin of the season, such as the dryness of the air. The cold, dry air drives the body’s energies to the core of the body and slows down metabolic processes. This is why it is important to eat more cooked foods during the winter. Certain foods can irritate the specific organ of that season, for instance coffee is a beverage that will stimulate your unique metabolism, but it also taxing on the kidneys and bladder as it is a powerful diuretic as well. I am a coffee drinker as well as a tea drinker, so it is even more important that I take extra care to consume the proper foods and herbs as there is kidney disease in my family.

Now that the Water Element has been released, it begins to nourish the seeds and plants that were waiting for water. Out of the Water Element, the Wood Element is born. Seeds germinate and establish roots for the first time. The tall trees of the valley soak up the melting snow and use that energy to sprout new branches and buds as they continue their life cycle. The new growth of the forest can be associated with our bodies need to cleanse some of the waste of winter and put energy into new growth. As our metabolism picks back up and the digestive fire starts to normalize, our Liver and Gallbladder are called into action. Through the application of the proper herbs, we can assist our Liver and Gallbladder in detoxifying and excreting various waste products, while also enhancing our digestive fire.

Immediately Dandelion comes to my mind, not only as a fantastic bitter green but also the flowers can be used in delicious syrups and the roots can be dried and used throughout the summer and fall. The leaves are also a useful alterative and diuretic, making them helpful for cleansing kidney and urinary as well. According to Chapter 6, Dandelion clears Liver Heat, along with Burdock root and Yellow dock. After cleansing our blood and liver we can tonify Liver Blood by eating Lycii/Goji berries. I personally love Goji berries it is important that people know not to take Lycii berries if there is a fever, as the Yin/cold nature of the berry can drive the fever deeper. Another useful herb which can help treat a fever, but also harmonize our Liver Qi is Rose petals. I think it is especially important to drink flower teas during the Spring and Summer, both for the cooling aspect and for the alterative properties.

At this point in the spring it is essential that we are outside, re-establishing our natural rhythm with the Five Seasons. If we are inside or live in unnatural environments during the springtime, our bodies cannot recognize where we are in the cycle and the Qi of all our organs is disrupted. Spring progresses into Summer, our days get longer, and before you know it our herbs and vegetables are knee-high and we have a full garden going. The emotion of the season is happy, where we munch on bitter greens and wait patiently for the fruits of our labor. Presumably we should be outside as much as possible, breathing fresh air and circulating our blood as much as possible. Given this idea, the summer season corresponds to our Heart/Pericardium and Small Intestine.

During the Fire of the summer, it is important that we eat more Yin foods (unless Yang foods are needed), but the Standard American Diet does not accommodate this need. If we are eating a lot of meat, it is even more important that we consume the bitter flavor, in order to prevent plaque from building in the veins and “clear cholesterol from the veins and arteries”. Chapter 6 teaches that cooling herbs like gardenia and lotus are used to Clear Heart Fire, while more dense roots like Dang Gui and American Ginseng are nourishing to Heart Blood and Yin. These adaptogenic tonics are very nourishing and will help provide us with the energy we need (according to Ch. 3 Dang Gui is an herbal source of B12 which is an important vitamin in energy production) throughout the summer months. This is useful knowledge and also makes Dang Gui an important herb for Vegans and Vegetarians.

The Fire of Summer burns the woods and returns it to ash, or Earth Element. We can give our gardens a boost by applying wood ash to our gardens during Indian Summer. Indian Summer or Late Summer provides the transition to the Spleen/Stomach and is also intimately related in aspects of energy production. This season identifies with maturation as our fruits are coming in, ripening as Figure 6.3 references. It is interesting that during this season the plant is converting energy to fruit sugar through the miracle of photosynthesis because the Spleen-Pancreas is the key organ in sugar regulation and energy metabolism in the body. It is obvious why a disease like diabetes is on the rise, all we have to do is look at the high amount of sweet flavor Americans chase after constantly. It is easy enough to drink too much sweet fruit juice and sedate the Spleen, but most Americans are constantly ingesting corn syrup and severely harming themselves in the process. If too many acidic foods are consumed, this can also cause a problem in the stomach, resulting in stagnation and a variety of Yang ailments. I especially notice this with consuming too much acidy citrus juices which result in mouth sores or poor digestion.

Humankind discovered that within the Earth Element, lay the Metal Element. Metal is refined out of the minerals of the Earth and provides us with another tool along our cycle. This idea rings true for me, as we should associate the Metal Element with the harvest of Autumn. The falling fruits of the orchards show us the emotion of this season is receiving and letting go. The tree is letting go of the seed within the fruit and the earth is receiving a potential life that could arise next season.

We are now losing daylight and the cold is returning. The change in the air has a direct effect on our lungs and large intestine. Cold energy is trying to rush into our bodies and we must take the appropriate herbs to prevent getting sick. Yang energy will be helpful in combating various cold energies that might try to invade through the Lungs. If the lungs have become cold and dry from the change of air, I am likely to employ tonics such as Astragalus or Ginseng. The pungent taste is identified with the Metal Element and it just so happens that we have plenty of pungent Garlic and Ginger from our growing season. These herbs both possess amazing anti-bacterial and stimulating properties. Another important fact about Garlic is that it is rich in sulfur, an important nutrient involved in detoxification. According to Chapter 6, “The Large Intestine, pairing with the Lungs, is responsible for transporting waste products out of the body and reabsorption of fluids into the body”. Here we can see how valuable sulfur rich herbs like Garlic are during this season.

Once Indian Summer has arrived we know that the cycle is complete and we prepare to re-enter the hibernation of the Winter Season. The Metal Element is shaped and molded into a vessel that we can use to gather water next season. The cold air of the Winter also condenses on Metal Element forming Water Element. As I mentioned earlier, there is a preponderance of Kidney disease in my family, so it is important that I be especially aware of the herbs and foods I consume once Winter returns. After reading Chapter 6 I have discovered that “the kidneys rule the brain, bones (including teeth), produce bone marrow…and manifest in the head hair”. I have tried to apply some of this information by taking the proper herbs and nutrients to nourish these processes. I take Alfalfa tablets for their mineral rich content as well as Kidney Yang tonics Damiana and Ashwagandha. I enjoy both of these herbs, typically more towards the end of the day as they are both rather soothing for the nervous system. I find Damiana to be particularly valuable to the nervous and digestive systems.

I hope this essay has provided the return with a sense of how I am beginning to understand the Five Element theory and how I apply it in my own herbalism. We must be mindful of how the Five Element theory provides us with a working blueprint of the seasons. To live mindful of the Tao is to live a life of herbalism, farming, and gardening. It is merely to live with nature and recognize that our bodily health is connected to the health of the land. What we put in the earth will eventually be in our bodies. Understanding the intricacies of the Five Element theory enables Herbalists to prevent problems in our constitutions before they even occur, making this system of medicine far superior to that of allopathic/synthetic medicine.

Personal Balance and the Eight Principles

My personal balance is one that is always in flux it seems. Of course this fluctuation grows out of erratic diet, changing climate, or various other factors. In this essay, I will evaluate my personal constitution through the lens of the Eight Principles and try to come to a more concrete understanding of the way in which a more harmonious balance can be achieved.

The challenge of understanding External vs. Internal is not as easy as it might seem. For instance, at first glance I was going to classify back pain or neck issues as a more internal problem, but page 7-4 describes these symptoms as being External. The more obvious External symptoms which I suffer from include skin eruptions, acne, moles, dryness (especially in Winter). Our text describes “herbs with an outward and upward direction” as being the most effective in treating these sort of External symptoms. Although I am just now developing an understanding of the directional energies of herbs, I am more familiar with western terminology, such as the concept of diaphoretics, or even the idea of “releasing the exterior”. Herbs that come to mind include Yarrow, Fennel, Anise, Turmeric, Garlic, Cayenne and various other carminatives that enhance digestion, cleanse the blood, and reduce inflammation. Lately I have been taking a variety of herbals for various issues. For skin problems I have been taking Yellow Dock and Sarsaparilla, but these herbs are more of a cooling energy. I am curious as to what effect these cooling alteratives are having on my External/Internal symptomatology.

Internal symptoms include digestive problems, diarrhea or occasional constipation, and low energy levels. I attribute much of this to eating foods that are known to cause such problems (dairy, wheat, sugar). Due to the nature of my job, I travel frequently and do not always bring my meals with me. I end up eating out and the quality of restaurant food is never as good as you can create in your own home. Unfortunately, service people at restaurants will always bring ice water to the table, unless they are told otherwise, and many do not realize the aggravating nature of ice water on the digestive system. As far as low energy levels, I am fairly certain that drinking coffee is not helping my situation, as it causes stress on the adrenals and depletes stores of energy.

The connection between External/Internal symptoms and Hot/Cold symptoms cannot be overlooked. Skin eruptions are by their very nature hot in energy and I am also somewhat prone to sore throat and sinus issues, especially now that the Winter has begun to creep back into our lives. Our text describes Internal Cold disease as most likely to affect the Spleen and Kidneys. As I may have mentioned in previous essays, my family has a history of kidney problems and I have to wonder if it is not due to this relationship between Cold and Kidneys. These type of Internal Cold symptoms are once again most effectively treated with warming herbals.

The concepts of Excess and Deficiency are ones that often elude the American populace, which is strange when one considers that these ideas have been alive and well in Western philosophy since the time of Aristotle, and in the East since before that! We all struggle with the maintaining our balance between excess and deficient, in every realm of life imaginable. In the realm of Excess, my imbalances manifest through thirst, restlessness, skin issues, and possibly issues related to blood stagnation. On the Deficiency side of things, I seriously suspect that I am suffering from a Jing Deficiency, as I have to some degree or another, most of the symptoms listed on 7-15. I again suspect that coffee plays a role in depleting my Jing, and this is of most notable interest that my kidneys are once again directly involved with my disease pattern. I have consumed a fair amount of adaptogenic herbs, even the famous He Shou Wu, which actually does not agree with me. I have an Energy Tonic that consists of 2 pts Bee Pollen, 1 pt. Korean White Ginseng, 1pt. Suma root, 1 pt. Jiaogulan, and a ½ part Kola. This formula does actually work very well when taken consistently in the mornings (better than Coffee!).

Of further interest, I have spent a good number of days Wildcrafting throughout New Hampshire forests. I attended a Mushroom Walk Class with Nova Kim and Les Hook of wildgourmetfood.com and then just recently participated in a Botany ID for Herbalists Class with Botanist Arthur Haines. I have been fortunate enough to discover several of my first in the wild mushrooms: Chaga, Ganoderma, Piptoporus, Turkey Tail, and even a delicious Chicken of the Woods. Now that the cold weather is at my door step once again, I have the opportunity to focus more on restoring my Jing and maintaining my balance. I am planning to decoct the Chaga mushroom and take it throughout the Winter in one of many strategies to rebuild my Jing and nourish my immune system. I am considering blending it with other medicinal mushrooms and ginger, cardomon, anise, and maple syrup extraction- or something along these lines.

Analyzing current state of health and which approach is indicated at this time – eliminating, building or maintaining

As I write this it is mid-November and the winter is just about upon us again. Recently I have been combating minor cold and congestion so I am inclined to argue in favor of the elimination approach. Because we are headed into the cold season, I was originally going to advocate for the building approach, but after analysis of my symptoms I have decided to approach this season from a eliminating point of view. In this essay I will break down my analysis and discuss my thoughts on each of the three approaches.

Just today I was trying to be more mindful of the state of my physical constitution and was evaluating the bit of a cold that I am fighting off. The usual cold symptoms that I face are sinus and throat congestion, as well as a minor cough or sore throat. The onset of these symptoms can easily be linked back to poor energetic/dietary choices combined with the cold, damp weather of New England. Foods that give rise to this congestion include the usual suspects: dairy products, simple carbohydrates (sugar), beer and ice water are good examples of foods that I occasionally indulge in and later pay the price. Dairy products give rise to mucous in the body and the beer and ice water are both cold and damp energetically, thus diminishing the digestive fire and slowing down overall metabolic processes. The excessive mucous results in the well-known runny nose, excessive phlegm, productive cough, etc.

My usual approach when treating such a problem is to tonify digestion by increasing my intake of various digestive herbs, carminatives, spices, and various other Yang energy herbs. As of late, I have been taking Bacillus coagulans probiotic to maintain a healthy gut flora, but also trying to eat more warming foods. The other day, a friend and I prepared a homemade (mostly organic) chicken noodle soup with a large dose of vegetables such as garlic, onions, habanero pepper and spices like cayenne, black peppercorn, Balinese long pepper, basil, sage, and oregano.

In addition to trying to add these spices directly into my foods, I recently purchased a large quantity of bulk herbs and spices. In addition to those mentioned above, I also have procured a good amount of turmeric, thyme, ajwain seed, and caraway seed. Not only do I plan to cook with all of these spices throughout the winter, I am going to be making up tinctures and capsules of this spice formula. Similar to a Trikatu or Hinga Shtak sort of formula, I am going to combine this variety of spices in a formula and take them throughout the cold season in an effort to enhance my digestive fire and eliminate the excess dampness that has invaded my system.

Additionally, I believe it is not only essential to tonify my digestion with these assorted spices, but in the elimination approach it is essential to incorporate the bitter flavor into my diet as well. This is probably the most neglected of the flavors, especially here in the United States. It is to our detriment that we neglect this very important flavor, as it is well-known that the bitter flavor stimulates the secretion of gastric juices in the gall bladder and liver. The increase in digestive enzymes assists our bodies in digesting food and assimilating nutrients, as well as eliminating the excess dampness and mucous that has built up after too many cold foods.

Of course, the herbs I have listed above not only encompass the warming, spicy flavor, but many of them also provide the bitter flavor that we so desperately need. I am very blessed to be a part of the natural healing community where I live, and this provides me with access to any assortment of bitters products I might desire. I have taken the popular Swedish Bitters, as well as more custom formulas produced by local herbalists. I have a close friend who has just made a batch of Pear Bitters that I am quite anxious to try!

Create three different herbal formulas :: Nervine, Alterative, Carminative

For my Antispasmodic/Nervine formula I have started out with a simple tincture of equal parts Tulsi basil (Ocinum sanctum) and Lion’s Tail (Leonotis leonurus). I grew both of the herbs in this extract and I am interested to try them as I do not have much experience with the Lion’s Tail. According to a recent Facebook post by Michael Tierra, the Wild Dagga “has been long used in African herbal medicine for not only the typical fevers, headaches, and flu but also worms, bad bites and stings (as in scorpion), and even type 2 diabetes. It’s a Clear Heat and Toxins herb (anti-inflammatory anti-toxin herb) that has one other very interesting use – smoking the flowers has a psychoactive action”(Sep. 17).

This other interesting use refers to the fact that smoking Wild Dagga has often been compared to smoking Cannabis, so this led me to consider the anti-anxiety qualities of this herb. Considering the herb is a direct relative of Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) I immediately assumed that it offers similar properties as it’s cousin. According to Dr. Tierra in his book The Way of Herbs, Motherwort has both antispasmodic and nervine propeties. He says that Motherwort “has nervine properties, it is good for treating various neurotic conditions as well as hysteria, convulsions and insomnia”(p158). The beneficial, calming effect on the heart makes this species an ideal choice when creating an anti-anxiety, nervine formula.

Holy Basil I am slightly more familiar with, as it is one of my favorite herbs. Tulsi is incredibly versatile, in that it can be used for a myriad of problems, but also just as a delicious, refreshing beverage. I consider Tulsi to be adaptogenic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, carminative, and much more. I have found personally as well as from experience with patients, that Holy Basil offers a wide array of stress relieving properties. In The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs, Tulsi is described as having diaphoretic, febrifuge, nervine, antispasmodic, antibacterial, and antiseptic actions. Although this herb is not recommended for individuals with a high Pitta constitution, I think that some of the more Yang elements of this herb are balanced by the addition of the Wild Dagga, which is more cooling in nature.

I think an important aspect of both of these plants in their relation to anti-anxiety is their action not only on the nervous system, but the digestive system as well. By also acting directly on the “gut-brain” these herbs are promoting digestion, absorption, and elimination which are essential to achieving overall wellness. Both Leonurus and Ocinum contain the bitter flavor, which is so essential in promoting a high-functioning digestive tract.

The Anti-inflammatory/Alterative formula that I created is a wildcrafted creation, containing herbs from the pristine forests of New Hampshire. I have combined Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) with equal parts Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens). Both of these herbs have a long history with indigenous peoples, as well as European colonialists. I have known of the Wild Sarsaparilla for some time time, having first experienced it in the woods of Vermont and mistaking it for the American Ginseng. I have since learned that Wild Sarsaparilla is in fact a relative of Ginseng, being in the same family, Araliaceae. Having similar adaptogenic properties as the American Ginseng, it is surprising this plant is not more widely used.

According to Anticancer Properties of Phytochemicals Present in Medicinal Plants of North America the Wild Sarsaparilla contains multiple anti-inflammatory compounds, such as steroids, sarsasapogenin, smilagenin, sitosterol, stigmasterol, pollinastrenol, glycosides, saponins, sarsasaponin, parillin, smilasaponin, smilacin, sarsaparilloside, and sitosterol glucoside. Many of these compounds are not only anti-inflammatory but described as alterative, pectoral, diaphoretic, and sudorific by Maude Grieves.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is somewhat a companion plant to the Sarsaparilla, found growing right near one another. Most people know that Wintergreen is a delightful flavoring in gums, mints and candies, but not as many people are aware that Wintergreen is a rich source of salicylic acids in the form of Methyl salicate. These anti-inflammatory compounds are the same that are found White Willow and Meadowsweet and serve as the common aspirin. As herbalists it is important for us to teach people about the difference between using whole plant medicine and an isolated chemical constituent. Aspirin is not equivalent to any of these herbs. I would argue that the herbs provide us with a far superior medicine in their natural state. Consuming the whole plant allows the energies of the herbs to work synergistically, instead of acting in one specific, mechanically isolated manner. Sometimes this approach can be useful, however, in a chronic sense the herbal provides us a much safer, more effective option. When combining these two powerful herbs, I believe we have an excellent alterative, anti-inflammatory combination that works on multiple pathways.

The digestive/carminative formula is as follows:
King – 3 parts Thyme
Emissary- 2 parts Ajwain
Emissary- 2 parts Caraway
Emissary- 2 parts Anise
Minister- 1 part Oregano
Guiding- 1 part Rosemary
Guiding- 1 part Balinese long peppercorn

Grind into a fine powder, tamp into 00 veg caps. Take 3 caps, 3 times daily. This formula is a digestive tonic that is useful for gas, bloating, cramping, sluggish indigestion, and other digestive ailments. Considering that several of the herbs in this formula also possess warming properties, this formula is suitable for coldness in the extremities, poor circulation, impaired immune function, respiratory ailments and more.

All purpose liniment:
Anise, thyme, wintergreen, self heal, rubbing alcohol
Solid anti-inflammatory topical. Next time I will add local Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)

Brahmi Oil:
Sesame oil, gotu kola, calamus root

I have made this oil but only used as a body oil, not in the actual practice of Shirodara.

Vegetable Plaster:
Potato/Taro, ginger, flour, water

Over the past few years I have become accustom to the occasional clay mask. I have witnessed the drawing, healing power of clay myself, so I was anxious to try this plaster in much the same fashion. I had originally wanted to make this formula for a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she was a challenge to get to try something as simple as Vitamin D, or even Essiac tea. This was kind of a situation where she wanted to try alternative therapies, but got scared very quickly when she wasn’t magically healed (a problem we as herbalists must overcome with our patients). She gave up after one round of supplements and went to chemotherapy.

Anyway I personally believe this form of treatment to be another great method of bringing medicine into the body. It is important to maximize the delivery systems we have, and even more so for a topical disease like skin cancer, breast cancer, etc. I have not personally treated cancers with this approach but I have read many accounts of tumors or masses being softened, dissolved, or eaten away with an escharotic salve. This approach should not be ruled out by healers of any trade.

CBD + Hemp

This video explores how Vermont’s booming hemp industry has given rise to a burgeoning craft herbalism industry and answers questions about CBD and other herbal products that are being made here in the Green Mountain State.

All the common questions surrounding Hemp and CBD are covered.

  • What is it?
  • How we make our product: Organic Cane Alcohol Tincture 1:3
  • The different ways extract is made
  • Supercritical CO2, Rotovap, Cooked in oil, etc.
  • Varying levels of constituents
  • What is full spectrum, broad spectrum, various definitions
  • Terpenes and Complimentary Chemistry other herbs, other applications CRUDE EXTRACT VS Standardization
  • Synergy in Plant Chemistry

Reishi Harvest 2018

Deep in the woods of Vermont ,we found the most glorious colony of Ganoderma tsugae. I call this mushroom “Vermont Reishi” but some people will quibble and say that only G. lucidum can be called Reishi. I would argue that these Hemlock Reishi are similar enough in pharmacology and adaptogenic quality that they can also be called Reishi.

Either way, they make an amazing dual extraction.

Watch the video to learn more!

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