Monday, March 31, 2014

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What it is...

May we always be connected with the possible that is manifest through love.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Immune Support Strategies for the Winter Months

Recently a friend asked me for a recipe for some immune building soup that I made for a party last year.  Then two friends asked me for my recipe for my immune building Chai.  I figured I should honor the rule of three and respond to the asks for tips on ways to incorporate herbs into your food this winter season.  So this weeks blog post will focus on some strategies to support your immune system during the cold and flu season.  And I'll even throw in a few recipes at the end.  :)

Sliced Astragalus Root

One of my favorite immune tonic herbs is Astragalus.  It's a popular Chinese herb and the root is used for medicine.  It is a gentle supportive plant that can go a long way in tending to your health during the winter months.  Astragalus works on a deeper level so it's not one that you want to take if you're getting sick because it can drive illness deeper.  That being said, it's great to take a small amount every day.  A tonic is a herb or medicine that you take every day in small doses to support a body system.  Astragalus is a key ingredient in my "Immune Boosting Tonic" that I have had great success in supporting people's general health with in the winter.  

A great way to take Astragalus (if you're not going to take my Immune tonic ;) is to drink it in a tea or cook with it.  If you are going to make a tea, try to cook it for a longer period of time (6 hours or more) and then strain for tea.  If you're going to cook with it, I recommend getting some of the longer sliced Astragalus root.  Then just take a few pieces and throw it in with your soups, stews, or beans that you're cooking this winter.  It's great to take it out before you serve it because it's woody and not particularly edible.  However, you can always do what I like to do and leave it in and then whoever ends up with it in their bowl has to kiss the cook!

Shitake Mushrooms at the Farmers Market in Oakland

Another key way to support your immune system during the winter months is to eat lots of mushrooms.  All mushrooms have an affinity for the immune system and can help support overall immune health.  One of my favorites are Shitakes largely because they're easy to get organically grown in the stores and they taste so wonderful.  Oysters and Crimini mushrooms are a little bit more affordable and also support the immune system but aren't as potent.  If you have some extra money to splurge, I would recommend trying all the wild and organic mushrooms you can.  Mushrooms have many different flavors--find the ones that you like best! 

Reshi Mushrooms aren't particularly yummy but this mushroom is wonderfully medicinal.  Reshi is another one that's great to throw in teas, soups, stews, and beans.  Like Astragalus, you're going to want to take it out of the meal before you serve it.  Reshi is also a wonderful anti-cancer mushroom as well as can help support the nervous system and even help bring down bad cholesterol!  What can't this mushroom do?  I like to have dried organically grown Reshi in my kitchen cabinent all year long.

Wild Turkey Tail Mushrooms Growing in Big Basin Park
If you're like me and super excited about mushrooms, you might consider going on a mushroom walk.  Once the rains come, we will be in high mushroom season here in the bay so keep your eyes and ears out for classes being offered locally.  The Mycological Society of San Francisco is having their annual Fungus Fair on December 8th so you might also check out that fair to learn more about mushrooms and mushroom identification.

I did say that I was going to give you some recipies, so as promised here they are:

Claire's Immune Building Soup

1 Large Onion
2-3 Large Leeks
6 Cloves of Garlic
8 large Slices of Astragalus
3 slices of Reshi Mushrooms
8-16 Ounces of Shitake Mushrooms
8-16 Ounces of other mushrooms (Oysters, Crimini, Maitake, Chantrels, Matsuake, etc)
1 large bunch of Kale
1 bunch of Dill
1- 1 1/2 cups of Pearl Couscous
4 tbsp Olive Oil
4 cups Chicken or Veggie Broth

Slice mushrooms and throw in pot with Astragalus and Reshi slices.  Submerge mushrooms in a good amount of water (2-3 cups).  Cover pot and bring water to a full boil and then turn down to low and cook mushrooms for a minimum of 30 mins or as long as several hours.  You will need to add water if you are cooking them for a while.  In a separate pot, sautee onion, leeks, and garlic.  After 5 mins of sauteeing, add to the pot of well boiled mushrooms.  Chop Dill, and Kale and set aside.  Add Couscous and broth to the soup (you may not need 4 cups, I've never actually measured any of this, so add broth to taste).  When couscous is cooked add dill and Kale.  Cook for another 3 mins.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve and enjoy!

You can add any extra veggies you might like to the soup.  Carrots, Chard, Celery, whatever you love, play around with it--see what works for you!

Claire's Immune tonic "Chai"

I like to keep a crock pot of tea cooking most of the winter.  After the big pot is cooked, you can strain it and store it in the fridge to drink over the next few days.  These are my approximate portions for about 4 quarts of water.  Here's some herbs I love to put in my Chai.

2 tbsp of Burdock
8 slices of Reshi
10 slices of Astragalus
2 tbsp of Licorice Root (don't use this if you have high blood pressure)
2 tbsp of large chunks of Cinnamon or 5 sticks of Cinnamon
2 tbsp of Fresh Ginger sliced
12 Cardamon Pods
6 Cloves
1 tbsp of Fennel Seeds if my stomach is unhappy

Put in Crock pot and add several quarts of water.  Cook on low for 3-12 hours.  If you don't have a crock pot you can bring the tea to a boil and then turn it down to low and cook for the same amount of time.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Holiday Season Survival Strategies

The holidays are rough.  Stress increases for most people.  We receive lots of messages to go shopping and that the best way to express love is through consumption.  This can be highly stressful if your budget is tight and your kids are clamoring for the years latest toy.  Spending time with our families of origin can bring comfort and ease but it can also trigger childhood trauma and bring out old family dynamics that you could have sworn you had gotten away from.  Grief can come in waves as memories of holidays past with deceased loved ones resurface.  Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common this time of year.  For people in recovery, the holidays are often riddled with triggers and relapse is common. 

Here's a few tips on surviving the holiday season this year.

Don't repress your feelings  The holidays can be really hard.  Sadness, Depression, Anger, and Rage are all common emotions this time of year.  Pretending these hard feelings aren't there can just make them worse.  Let yourself cry, go punch a pillow, call a friend and talk about what's coming up for you emotionally.  Allowing the emotions to come up is one of the key ways that they can move through you.

Pay attention to your stress level   Do you know what stress looks like in your body?  I'm guessing you probably do.  Perhaps you find yourself unable to stop thinking at the end of the night.  Maybe you loose your appetite or maybe your appetite increases.  Does your chronic illness flare up (eczema, RSI, herpes, food sensitivities, etc)?  Do you develop stomach cramps or a pit of pain somewhere in your body?  Listen to your body.  All these can be signs that your stress level is increasing.  If you find that your stress is increasing consider taking an herb that is good for nerves and stress.  Here's a few of my favorite

This plant is wonderful for mild-moderate stress.  It is a delightfully sunny plant that is slightly uplifting and calms the nerves.  I like to use Lemon Balm if there is some mild depression that is accompanying the stress.  It's generally pretty safe and does not have many interactions with medications.  It tastes great and is lovely as a tea or tincture.  I'd suggest making 2-3 strong cups of tea  or taking 15 drops of tincture 3 times a day if you're stress level is on the more moderate end of things.  Just a strong cup of this tea can bring peace and ease after a stressful day. 

Lemon Balm

Sometimes I jokingly tell people that the holidays would be a lot more manageable if we just put skullcap in the water.  This plant is also good for stress.  But unlike a lot of other plants that can be great for nerves, it's not sedating.  So it generally doesn't make people tired.  Skullcap helps takes the edge off.  If you're feeling an increase of stress that is connected with anger and rage, this is your plant.  Fighting with your family of origin?  Kids driving you up the wall?  Skullcap is the plant for you.  Try the same dose as the lemon balm above--2-3 cups or 15 drops of tincture a day.  

Skullcap Blossom

Take care of your body.  What does your body need to feel cared for?  Maybe it means some extra stretches in the morning.  Maybe it's a bath a few times a week?  Can you find some time to rub your whole body down with your favorite lotion, cream or butter, once a day during the peak holiday season?  If you can afford a massage or a trip to a day spa, do it!  

Get out and move if you can.  It can be so hard to maintain your exercise routine when the stress increases.  With the increase consumption of food and stress eating of the holidays a lot of people throw the towel in and abandon their exercise routines.  Finding time for exercise can be very hard when there is so much going on.  But numerous studies have shown that increasing your heart rate for 30 mins a day several times a week can go a long way in reducing stress and elevating moods.  Can you maintain your exercise routine?  If not can you commit to taking a 20-30 min brisk walk around your neighborhood or in a nearby park?

There are many great hills to hike around in the Bay Area

Develop a Relapse Prevention Plan  Rates of relapse and overdose increase dramatically around the holiday season.  Many mistakenly think that this is linked largely to depression and grief during the holidays.  Quite the contrary, for many the celebration of the holidays can be a huge trigger.  "It's been two years, I can have one drink right?  It is Thanksgiving afterall!" or maybe you've had a few drinks and you think, "It won't hurt to just have one cigarette right now...."  If you are in recovery, take some time in the next week or two to develop a relapse prevention plan for the holidays this year.  What does your relapse thinking look like?  What has worked in the past for you to prevent relapse?  What hasn't worked?  What are your triggers that are connected with a desire to use?  Make a contract with yourself about what you will do to prevent a relapse this year.  And if you haven't been to a meeting in a while, consider going back.  Call your sponsor.  Reach out for support.

Speaking of support....

Get support  If you are feeling overwhelmed by the holidays this year, I encourage you to consider getting professional support.  Contact your local herbalist, therapist, chaplain, minister or healer for help getting through the season.  The holidays are rough.  You don't have to go through this alone. 

Until the Winter Solstice, contact me for a free 30 min consultation. We can discuss strategies to sustain your spirit this season that make sense for your lifestyle.  You also might be interested in my upcoming workshop "Surviving the Holidays" on Saturday November 16 from 1-4pm.  We will focus on plants and practices to get you through the holiday season this year.  This workshop is by Dana or by donation and will be held in Oakland.  Please join us! 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Winter Care

We are almost at the exact halfway point between the fall Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  Today marks daylight savings time here in the US.  As the time changes, I always seem to notice the earths shift towards darkness even more profoundly after this day.  This time of year I often find myself sleeping longer, more drawn to fatty and rich foods, as well as more prone to feeling sad, lethargic, or generally unmotivated.  The cold and the rains often push me indoors which leads to less exercise and less energy.

Sound familiar?  I have been having conversation after conversation with clients and folks in the community to describe a similar shift in their energy as the earth turns towards darkness in the fall and winter.  Holiday gatherings don't tend to help.  We receive a lot of cultural messages that this is supposed to be a happy time *cue "It's the most wonderful time of the year" and/or some other holiday carol of a similar vein.  I'll go more into self care strategies around the holidays in a post later this month.  Today I'm going to focus on ways to take care of yourself as the season shifts. 

First of all, the energy of winter is the energy of quiet and stillness.  Look at the plants around you and the land for guidance around how to approach this season.  Most of the plants have released their seeds and are releasing their life that exists above the earth.  The trees are releasing their leaves and drawing their energy back down into the earth.  Remember it is completely normal to draw your energy inwards, sleep more, and gain a little weight.  This is the energy of the season.  Accepting this and leaning into the inclination to nest and hibernate can go a long way in having a sweet and sustainable winter.

Seasonal Depression 
All of this being said, it is not unusual to feel gloomy as the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer.  According to the National Institute of Health 6% of Americans suffer severe Seasonal Affective Disorder.  A larger 14% suffer from a lesser form of this disorder.  There is a lot that I could say about SAD and it's treatment but I'm going to focus on a few suggestions that I have seen be very helpful. 

Full Spectrum Lights
Light therapy has been shown to be a highly effective treatment for seasonal depression.  There are lights that are sold specifically for SAD--I like the full spectrum bulbs.  Light treatment in the morning seems to be more effective than later in the day.  I suggest sitting under the light for at least 30 mins.  If you live somewhere where there is sun in the winter, try to get out and sit in the sun for at least a half an hour on days when you can. 

Flower and Plant Essences
There are a number of different flower and environmental essences that can be very helpful in shifting away from the winter blues.  I love to use Calendula with my clients for this purpose.  I have some wonderful Calendula medicine that was made on the summer solstice so it has some extra sunny magic in there.  My favorite environmental essence is "Solstice Sun" by Alaska Essences.  This essence was made on the Summer solstice far enough north that it was created during a full 24 hour cycle of sunlight.  I can't speak highly enough of this essence.  If you know that you suffer from seasonal depression regularly, I invite you to consider making some medicine during this next summer solstice with the intention of bringing that sunshine of the solstice into your spirit during the winter months. 

Try to out and go for a hike even if it means bundling up like crazy

Keeping your body moving and staying physical when you are feeling depressed can be one of the most difficult things to do.  However, if you can will yourself into a regular routine of moving your body for 30 mins or more 3 times a week, you will likely experience significant improvements in your emotional state within a few weeks.  Multiple studies have shown that exercise can be as effective if not more effective in treating depression.  Figure out what you need to make it happen--a gym buddy?  Maybe a committment to ride your bike to work 3 times a week?  Maybe a weekly hike and twice a week 30 min walk around your neighborhood?  You won't regret it.

Take on that personal work you've been postponing
Is there a new spiritual practice you have been wanting to explore?  Start journaling, drawing, knitting, or reinvigorate another creative practice that opens up room for that energy of pulling in to blossom.  Are there books you have been putting off reading?  Now is a great time to pick them up again.  The energy of winter is slow and deep.  Lean into the season and don't be afraid to dive into your shadows.  The spirits of the land are opening to support that deep and slow growth process within. 

Connection with the land 
I believe that part of what makes this time difficult is it is easier to disconnect from our connection with the land because we are indoors more.  Setting an intention to connect with the land 2-3 times a week can help you stay tuned in with the earths energy of turning inward during this time of year.  This can be profoundly validating and sustaining during the winter months.  If you go for a hike, you can exercise while cultivating your connection with the land.   I invite you to consider ways that you can care for the land during this winter season.  Does it make sense to commit to picking up trash in a certain area?  Perhaps involvement with local efforts to restore the land or protect a first nations sacred site will help you deepen in that connection. 

The winter months can be very hard for many of us.  The stress of the holidays doesn't help either.  If you suspect you may be suffering from a more severe form of SAD, I encourage you to seek professional support from an herbalist or another emotional care provider.   Consider reaching out to a healer to develop strategies to get through the winter.

Until the Winter Solstice, contact me for a free 30 min consultation. We can discuss strategies to sustain your spirit this season that make sense for your lifestyle.  You also might be interested in my upcoming workshop "Surviving the Holidays" on Saturday November 16 from 1-4pm.  We will focus on plants and practices to get you through the holiday season this year.  This workshop is by Dana or by donation and will be held in Oakland.  Please join us! 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Echinacea: You know this plant already or do you?

So it's almost November and we are officially in cold and flu season.  One of the most popular herbal remedies for the seasonal bugs is Echinacea.  Copious amounts are bought and sold throughout the world each year.  People take this plant in high doses and low doses, tincture and pills, drink it in teas, rub themselves down with oils infused with it.  I have even seen this plant put in shampoo alongside claims that it helps grow hair back.  This plant has become so popular on the "herb trade" that it has been added to United Plant Savers list of plants at risk of becoming endangered in the wild due to over harvesting. 

Echinacea blossoms growing in the mountains of California

Yes.  There is an almost obsession with this plant and the many miraculous claims that go along with it's medicine.  I have been fascinated with claims about this plant over the years.  So my work with this plant has involved research, experimentation, and conversations with elders.  There's been a lot of studies about Echinacea through a western lens.  Some have shown this plant to be helpful at preventing colds and flus, others have shown it to have no effect in preventing these bugs.

My own experience is that this plant can be very helpful at keeping colds at bay if used effectively.  Echinacea works best when it is taken at the onset of a cold or flu.  It has anti-microbial (anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral qualities) qualities and I have seen and experienced this plant nip colds in the bud when it is taken at the right time.  I have also seen this plant be used too late and have little effect.  I suggest keeping some Echinacea around for use at the first sign of a suspected cold.  Be sure to have Echinacea as a single note tincture or tea, not in a blend because often mixes with Echinacea are sold that contain herbs that are unnecessary or sometimes contraindicated at the onset of a cold (yes even in immune formulas!).

Making medicine with organically locally grown Echinacea Root

I always emphasize with folks that this plant is NOT an immune tonic.  It is processed through the kidneys and using it over a long period of time can have a negative impact on kidney function.  I usually encourage folks to take it for no more than ten days without consulting an herbalist.

So there--we got the cold bit out of the way.  Whewf.

I love the spirit medicine of this plant.  It's such a deep plant to sit and meditate with.  I have found that this plant can offer keen insight into the ways that we are being called to shift and change.  This plant can point us in the direction of transformation that is need in our lives.  I like to include this plant in formulas when people are in times of transition and change in their lives.  I have found Echinacea to be wonderfully supportive during these times of metamorphosis.

An Echinacea blossom begins to emerge

I have also found this plant to be potent after long periods of illness.  Often when we are struggling with chronic or prolonged illness it can be hard to readjust as we begin to shift out of illness or imbalance.  Our bodies, minds, and spirits can become accustomed to the way of being ill in such a way that even as we move towards healing, it is hard to recognize it because the illness is so entrenched.  I have found this to be particularly true with mild to moderate depression.  Echinacea helps to shine light on the ways that you can begin to morph into a new way of being that is more in balance.

A locally grown rhizome that I decided to plant in soil this fall

Growing this plant can be a profound way to work with this plant if you are in a time of transition in your life.  It likes rich soil and good sun.  It's great to propagate this plant with root cuttings in the fall--right about the same time it becomes good to keep in your medicine cabinet.  To connect with the spirit properties of this plant, consider carrying a bit of the root in your pocket or place it on your altar, place a bit under your pillow and invite it into your dreams, or take 1-3 drops of it and then sit and meditate with its energy.

As we turn towards the darkness and quiet reflection that the winter invites, I invite you to consider getting to know this plant in a new way.  What does this wise green blooded ally have to teach you?

Beauty abounds...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Honoring the Dead

Every year my heart lifts on the first night that I notice the change in the air as the seasons begin to shift. There's a distinct smell that becomes present in the fall. The nights grow longer and a certain mystery becomes present. I can sense it most profoundly at dusk and dawn—the liminal times of our days here on earth. There's something magical about this shifting of the seasons. As the light passes into darkness and warmth turns towards cold. The plants draw their energies down into their roots—releasing the last of their seeds as they prepare for the winter. I have been taught that a part of the in-betweenness of this season extends beyond our earthly realm of perception. Since I was a little girl, I have celebrated this time as the season of the dead. I have been taught that this is the time when the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest. The tradition that I first learned about this time of year is that of my ancestors, the Celtic tradition of Samhain.
The Spiral Dance is a modern Pagan celebration of Samhain
Samhain is officially celebrated by many modern Pagans beginning at sunset October 31st and ends at sunset on November 1st. Ancient Celts looked to the world around them and saw the life of the earth turning towards death and some historians ascribe this as the roots of the holiday. Legend has it that the ancients used to dress up in scary outfits to scare away the evil spirits (some say this is the root of Halloween costumes). However, it is hard to really know much about this holiday because scholarship on pre-Christian European religion tends to be shoddy at best. Historians do seem to agree that the Catholic holiday of All Souls day was created through and incorporation of this holiday into Christian tradition.

We do know is that celebrations of the dead and the waning light are present in many different traditions throughout the world. Perhaps the most well known celebration of the ancestors at this time of year is “Dia De Los Muertos”. This is a Mexican and Central American holiday that is celebrated by folks throughout the diaspora. This is a celebration of honoring the dead and the ancestors. 

The blooms of Marigolds or Calendula Blossoms are present in many Dia De Los Muertos Altars.

Many families create altars, art, and make food offerings for the dead during this time.  Marigolds or Calendula blossoms are commonly found on Altars for Dia de Los Muertos.  The Aztecs believed that the smell of these blossoms would bring back the souls of the dead for this festival.  This tradition is still very present today and Calendula is used by many during this time to call forth the beloved ancestors. Graves are visited and stories are told. Historians also seem to agree that the Mexican Catholic celebration of All Souls day is an incorporation of Dia De Los Muertos into Catholic tradition.

More towards the beginning of the harvest season in Hong Kong, many people observe the celebration of Yu Lahn which honors the dead and incorporates giving offerings to the dead into the traditions. In the Hindu tradition, the holiday Diwali is a 5 day celebration that occurs sometime between mid October to mid November. Diwali is a celebration of light and the goddess Lakshmi. Diwali and Samhain mark a new year in both Hindu and Celtic tradition. Many Jewish people also observe a new year in the fall, during the season of Rosh Hashanna. Isn't it interesting that so many traditions recognize the harvest season as the time of the new year? 

For Diwali, altars are created to honor and celebrate light

Now before I move forward I want to offer a caution. While I am focusing on the similarities between these traditions, there are also many differences. I do not want to essentialist any of these celebrations nor water them down by lumping them together. Each are distinct holidays that emerge from a particular historical and cultural context as well as a particular land base. That being said, it has been fascinating for me over the years to learn about these different traditions and revel in the beauty of the connections and differences between them.

This week, as we move closer towards Dia De Los Muertos and Samhain, I invite you to consider creating some space in your life to honor this time of year. Take a moment to spend some time in quiet stillness outdoors and breath in the shifting of the seasons. Listen to the land and to your ancestors who may feel closer to connect with right now. I invite you to ask these spirits and ancestors, how to honor them and this change of the season. Do they whisper,

Create beauty in your home for us”,
leave us offerings outside, here in this place”,
tell a story of my life to someone who never knew me”,
take time and remember me”
go to my grave and bring me flowers”
light a candle for the light as the sun turns towards darkness”

I invite you to listen to the land and take time to give thanks for those who created you. Give thanks for the ancestors and spirits who have given you life. For without them, we surely would not be here today.

I dedicate this blog post to Naraya Elder, Stanley Guardipee who crossed over yesterday October 21, 2013.  You touched the lives of so many brother Stanley.  I have lit a candle on my altar for your journey to the other side.


You will be missed.