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The Biophilia Hypothesis

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So, this morning I was applying a medicinal yarrow salve to a minor scrape that I had received the night before in no-contact sparring (or not quite so “no-contact” as the case may be!) As I applied the salve, the earthy scent of yarrow filled my senses and I felt drawn back in time to a memory with this plant: sunshine warming my shoulders as I harvested this wonderful yet diminutive flower, the minor discomfort of small twigs digging into my knees as I knelt, the spicy, herby aroma of the yarrow as I selected my clippings, the low droning buzz of bumblebees.  It was like I had preserved this healing moment and was able to savor it for a later time – when I needed a little physical healing and maybe even a little emotional healing after a seemingly endless winter – to feel that warm kiss of summer. 

I have never felt that way when opening a tube of Neosporin!

One of the most enjoyable aspects of learning about herbalism and my journey in the study of plant medicine is the increased contentedness to the natural world.  In fact, as I struggled to find a word to describe this feeling, I came across what is known as the Biophilia Hypothesis – a concept and a book by Edward O. Wilson, which surmises that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other life forms.  This contentedness manifests itself in three key areas of our intelligence:

Cognitive:  how integrated we feel to nature and life. 

Affective:  our sense of caring for nature (and even how nature cares for us).   

Behavioral: in which we demonstrate our commitment to protect nature. 

One of the things I truly love about herbalism and plant medicine is feeling this greater shared connection with nature, which brings so much joy and beauty to my life.  This connection and deeper appreciation of these plants extends into medicine making.  What a feeling it is to be able to browse through my humble home apothecary and mix just the right tea blend that I know will help ease my daughter’s cramps.  Knowing exactly where everything in that tea blend came from, where and when I harvested it, and that it is natural, in the truest meaning of the word – brings such a sense of empowerment. 

cool and shady beneath these young trees

This feeling of empowerment as it relates to our health is so often lost these days in our pharmaceutical-focused health care system where we are often the passive recipients of a symptom suppressorWhen a pill is prescribed to stifle a symptom, many times this practice actually neglects addressing the underlying issue that caused the symptom in the first place.  With herbalism and holistic healing, the practice is truly one of healing the whole self, not just a knee-jerk reaction of trying to control symptoms.  Using plants as the medicine they were meant to be opens a whole new door of awareness and connection to nature and healing that has become more and more lacking in our modern culture.

What would it mean for us and as a society if instead of turning to a pill and a quick fix every time we perceived something as “wrong” if we looked towards ourselves and our environment? How would our lives be if we began to make changes in our lifestyle choices and began to heal ourselves from the inside out?  By no means am I suggesting that there is no place for modern medicine.  We are fortunate that we have cures and vaccines and new breakthroughs ever day.  There is obviously a necessary place for modern medical intervention.  But when we are bombarded by pharmaceutical ads and a society that makes us feel like something that is perfectly normal is a new kind of “condition,” and that the new normal is to be “on something,” there is a greater underlying issue.  The idea of holistic wellness empowers us to be the architects of our own health and calls upon ourselves to be accountable for our health. At the very least, it permits us to be graciously present in the moment.

When I make my stinging nettle tea this afternoon, I will be mindful as I gently crumble the leaves into my tea ball.  I will pause and recall the marshy patch where I harvested this nettle last spring when frog song filled the air. I will even remember fondly the mosquitoes that whined around my head as I took my clippings.  This simple cup of tea truly becomes a gift of physical and emotional nourishment. This small moment in the day, this tiny meditation is not only a way to pay respect to myself as I nurture my own body and healing, but to the earth as well. 

Stengle Terra Rose – a vintage dish set and awesome thrift store find!

I encourage everyone to pause and take a few moments today to appreciate and respect the natural world all around us.

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Rosehips are Red…

Make Rosehip Syrup for yourself or someone you love.

Rosehips are one of the most recognizable wild edibles when foraging.  The bright splash of color is often quite stunning against a wintery backdrop, and makes for easy identification and harvesting. Depending upon the variety of rosehips, they may be tiny and barley-shaped, or larger – nearly the size of small cherry tomatoes.  If you are foraging your own rosehips, try to use them sooner rather than later.  Don’t forget to leave some for the birds – rosehips are an important part of our feather friends’ winter diets.  Fresh is best, as long-term dried storage lessens the potency.  Also, be sure that the rosehips you are harvesting have not been treated with any pesticides.

All rosehips are edible, but don’t just chomp them right off the bush – each hip is filled with seeds and tiny hairs that can be irritating if swallowed.  Full of vitamin C, rosehips are also an excellent immune booster.  Because of their anti-inflammatory properties, there are even studies that show rosehips being a successful herbal treatment for relieving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.  (Arthritis Foundation)

Check out my recipe for a delicious syrup that can be used as an herbal supplement for arthritis, to strengthen the immune system, and as a delightful dessert topping.  That sounds like a triple-win in my book!

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Love and a Bin of Recalled Lettuce

“But I deserve a second piece of cake – work has been so stressful!”

“Might as well live it up – this stuffed pepperoni pizza isn’t going to eat itself!”

“I’ve been depriving myself all week – why shouldn’t I eat this whole bag of Oreos?  I deserve it.”

“I can’t throw out this banana cream pie – that would be wasteful!”

These are the things we tell ourselves – our justifications for why we continually treat our bodies like garbage cans.  We rationalize destructive behavior and we do so with the words we choose.  For many, our relationship with food is fraught with guilt, shame, and embarrassment.  No wonder we use words like good, bad, binge, and cheat, to describe our categories and interactions with food.  

And it is also no coincidence that the first three letters of the word diet spell die.

We all know people or we ourselves have:

Looked in the mirror and said “fat!”

Compared ourselves to others.

Ate next to nothing on a dinner date, only to come home and binge eat when all alone.

Said, “As soon as I lose x amount of weight, I will…”

Starved ourselves.

Ate until our stomachs hurt.

Then ate some more.

Made ourselves throw up.

Felt guilty about eating something

Weigh ourselves excessively and obsessively

Avoided weighing ourselves excessively and obsessively

Lied about what we ate

Cried about what we ate

This Valentine’s day, when we are surrounded by pink and red hearts and bombarded with ads for flowers, chocolates, and happy couples, think about what it really means to love ourselves. Consider “treating” ourselves with behaviors and activities that show we love and respect our bodies.  Words are so powerful; they can hurt and they can heal.  When we get stuck in a mind-rut of thinking of food in terms of punishment and reward, it is truly no surprise that we have a culturally collective psychosis surrounding food.  And everyone has a comment, right?

At the grocery store, the amount of “healthy” food in my cart will often elicit some kind of comment like, “wow – you must be a vegetarian,” or a “you sure eat healthy!”  My grocery store ventures are even more interesting lately as every few days I am forced to buy several dozen heads of Romaine lettuce for my increasingly temperamental geese.  Even with the recent e. coli contamination, I offered to take what the store couldn’t legally sell:

Cashier: “Wow. You must really like lettuce.”

Me: “Why, yes!  It’s my favorite food!”

The thing that always makes me laugh though is the realization that had I loaded my cart with the same amount of frozen pizzas and liters of pop, no one would have raised an eyebrow. Why is that?

But think again about the words we use to describe our relationships with food.  Are we living our lives with the idea that to be healthy and to eat healthy is somehow an act of deprivation?  How fully have we succumbed to the idea that food (and especially junk food) is a reward?  How can we ever develop a healthy relationship with food if we are carrying around so much baggage about it?

The honest answer is: we can’t.

Until we can realize and actually physically feel that a nutritious meal is one of the greatest acts of self love and care we can give, we will be stuck carrying that same baggage. 

Now, no one thinks it’s a good thing to eat kale and lettuce all day (well, maybe my geese), but most of us have some awareness of how food makes us feel – and I don’t mean the taste as we chew and swallow, like “Oh God chocolate!” but how we physically and emotionally feel after we eat.  Do we feel bloated?  Tired? Crampy?  Flushed?  Heart burn?  Guilty? Sluggish?  Does it feel like we have a brain fog or that we can’t concentrate?  That means that our body is sending us a message about the fuel we just put in it.

I’m not keen on using an “engine analogy” as I am totally unqualified to do so, but it reminds me of when I start my lawnmower and do the first spring mow.  If I fill the tank with the crummy old gas that’s been sitting around in the garage for the past few years, of course the mower runs choppy and I’m lucky the thing doesn’t conk out before I even finish.  Apply this to food: if we fill our own gas tanks with inferior food, our bodies aren’t going to run properly either.  And here’s the real kicker: it gets even worse over time.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

So.  What can we do about this going forward?  Now obviously this isn’t an instant or overnight thing.  We have to work on changing our attitude toward healthy food as well as our feelings about ourselves and how we take care of our physical bodies.  Healthy food, food that is lovingly prepared, with simple, fresh, natural ingredients is as much joy to the pallet as it is to the body.  Eating should be relaxed and enjoyable. When we feed our bodies with good, wholesome food, it impacts all the other areas of our lives, too: We feel more balanced and comfortable in our own skin.  We feel good.  We sleep better.  We make better choices. We feel more emotionally stable.  And here’s the real kicker: it gets even better over time.

What small steps can we take today to incorporate healthy food choices into our meals? 

What is one simple act of love and self care that we can gift to ourselves today? 

One of my favorite indulgent treats that I enjoy lovingly preparing as much as I do eating are these Vegan Brownies.

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The most important meal of the day

Yet 31 million Americans do not eat breakfast!

In the Journal for Obesity Studies, women who front–loaded their calories toward earlier in the day i.e. – breakfast, tended to lose more weight than other women whose calories were distributed towards the end of the day.  However, the quality of the calories counts, too. Keep in mind, many consider energy drinks and sugar-laden specialty coffee drinks with whipped cream to be “breakfast.”  A large frappichino made with whole milk and topped with whipped cream has almost 500 calories, 18 grams of fat, and the sugar equivalent of 18 chips Ahoy cookies!  Well shiver my timbers!

That’s a lot of calories for a drink!

So what does this mean?  That skipping breakfast might not be the best choice in the long term.  And eating a crappy breakfast isn’t too smart a choice either.   As a society, we tout the importance of breakfast, yet 44% of us do not have anything to eat in the morning.  An even more tragic statistic is that nearly half of the population feels that trying to make breakfast healthy takes the enjoyment out of it.

In our recent history, the idea of eating “healthy” has almost morphed into some form of punishment where “healthy” is slurping down some premixed diarrhea-inducing “detox” swill every morning with grim determination, feeling famished 30 minutes later, white-knuckling it until lunch where we feast on carrot sticks, a can of tuna, and if we’re really livin’ it up; a dollop of fat free mayo. (Unless synthetic preservatives, low-grade oils, sugar, and undisclosed “natural ingredients” are considered healthy these days, there is no reason anyone on this planet should partake of this particular condiment.  Try making home made mayo or just using a smear of avocado or hummus instead!)  If breakfast and lunch are full of nothing but deprivation, it is usually by dinner time that we are all sorts of hangry and fresh out of will power.  It is at this point that we end up giving into temptation at the local drive thru or take out.

We feel guilty, we feel like crap, and most likely, despite our best intentions, we do the same thing again the next day. 

ad nauseam

ad infinitum

Food does not have to be awful and eating should be an enjoyable experience. Somewhere along the line though, as a culture we have developed a psychosis around food and even the way we talk about and interact with food has become full of labels, distortion, guilt, and shame.

“No thanks, Brad – I only eat clean now.”

“Well I did blow on this cheesy-poof after it fell on the floor…”

Why is it so difficult to commit to a healthy breakfast?  Why for so many, is it a punishment- going-on-torture to have a little healthy somethin’ somethin’ before we officially start our day?

Aside from just not being excited about breakfast, it seems that there is one main reason we skip breakfast: not enough time. We may have visions of spinach and goat cheese omelettes floating in our heads, but when reality kicks in; pop tarts it is!

A wonderful way to save time in the morning AND have a healthy breakfast is do a little prep the night before.  Remember, we want it to be easy and enjoyable to have a healthy breakfast.  One of my favorite make-ahead recipes that can be thrown together in about 5-10 minutes (hands on with 20 minutes in the oven) is a simple breakfast casserole that will set you up for the week.  You can toss in any kind of veggie you like, it can be portioned out and eaten on the go if need be, it can be doubled, it can be frozen, it can be put together entirely during commercial breaks, it’s filling and healthy, and most importantly, it will make your taste buds happy!

Healthy Breakfast Casserole

Here’s to you and to second breakfasts!

When we have a little more time in the morning, things will go a lot more smoothly – the whole dynamic of the day changes.  When our days begin with good nutrition we have set a solid foundation and our bodies thank us.  Say goodbye to blood sugar spikes, cravings, mid-morning munches, and late-afternoon brain fog. Doesn’t it always seem if we are running late, the rest of the day is spent trying to catch up?   A little peace and nutrition in the morning goes a long way in helping us to make much better choices throughout the day.

Next time we will be talking about how all it takes is one In-A -Gadda- Da-Vida the night before to help get on the right track in the morning.

I don’t think he knows about second breakfast…  

-J.R.R. Tolkien The Fellowship of the Ring

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Winter Hair

Is this your winter hair equation?

Dry + Cold + Frozen Winter weather = dry, brittle, fly-away hair. 

It doesn’t have to be! 

Here are some of my favorite tips to help tame those frizzy fly-aways.

Static electricity + Fluffy Kitten = Sparky Kitty

Shampoo less.  I know.  It’s hard to get out of the everyday shampoo routine, but unless we work in the Ebola research lab for the CDC, there is no reason that we have to “disinfect” like that every day.  Too frequent shampooing literally strips your hair of all the essential moisture and natural oils that protect the hair shaft and give our locks that glossy and protective sheen.  Shampoo strips away this protective coating. While we may feel psychologically that we need to shampoo and condition every day, I think you will be pleasantly surprised how gorgeous your hair actually looks if you just give it a day off.  

When you are shopping for cute hats, keep in mind that while wool and cotton blends can keep your head warm, they can be coarse on the hair and lead to split ends.  These fibers are especially damaging for anyone with coarse or curly hair.  A winter hat lined with silk or satin will help prevent this damage.  If you are crafty, you can sew an old silk scarf into the lining of your hat.  If you aren’t crafty, wrapping your hair in a silk scarf before you put on the hat will do the trick, too.

Use a hair repair mask or leave-in oil treatment at least once a week. Dry winter air strips hair of that protective oil and essential moisture.  Using a supplemental treatment will go a long way in repairing damage while preventing and protecting, too.  There are many options available at the drug store, or you can use things you have in your kitchen.  One simple treatment is to slather room temperature organic coconut oil through your hair and massage into your scalp.  Comb through with a wide-tooth comb, wrap hair in a towel, and let it mellow for at least 30 minutes.  When you wash it out, your hair will feel smooth and restored.  I have also created a really nourishing hair mask that truly saves my head from looking like a scare crow. Hair Repair from the Bumblebee Cottage contains nettle, rosemary, and ginkgo – all plants the work in synergy on different aspects of keeping your hair healthy. Plus it smells amazing!

One last thing – and this is really hard for me – is don’t leave the house (or gym) with wet or damp hair.  If you are blessed with thick hair, your ponytail can still be damp in the afternoon from your a.m. shower. If you can air dry naturally, or blow dry with a low heat, you are far better off.  Should your hair should actually freeze because it’s still wet, it will cause breakage and damage. It also sounds really creepy when it cracks! If you can blow dry at the gym, awesome. If not, tucking your locks into your new fluffy lined hat or wrapping it in a scarf will at least protect it until you can deal with your hair later.

Even incorporating just one of these will help nourish and project your hair.  Spring will be here before we know it!

“May the hair on your toes never fall out!”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit