Dissent and the evolution of a path


Sometimes the world feels full of contention. From the highways to the internet, from massive world wars to minor infractions between neighbors it sometimes feels like too much. The desire to just  get along, to retreat to a safe space where we all agree, where we all just love each other is very tempting.

There are now magazines and websites with only “happy” news and books which tell us that if we can eliminate all negative thoughts we can be better people and create a better world.

I get that.

But I disagree.

As an herbalist I do encounter a lot of anti-herbalism sentiment in the world and there have been times when I wanted to run and hide, to avoid all of the words that challenged me and challenged my path. Fucking Science!  So Judgemental! But as time goes on, I don’t think it is that clear.

I feel like the world of herbalism and the greater world of alternative healthcare is rife with manipulation, New-Age ideas and purposeful avoidance of certain realities.

To be clear, I also feel like the world of herbalism is rife with genius, innovation and interesting solutions and I feel like the world of standardized medicine contains both extremes, too-and everything in between.

And I ask myself, how can all of these things be possible at once? How can I so fully love and so fully disagree with so many people and so many paths?

Sometimes I wish to dismantle or debunk what I see as myths and misunderstandings within my world, whether it is Science, religion, new age thought or health care…but who the hell am I to  claim all the answers?

And I know that it can be so grating, that feeling that someone thinks you’re wrong, knowing someone  is watching you, waiting for you to screw up, to say something stupid, to fail so they can tear you apart, destroy your heart or your life or your path. It is an awkward place to be, and it works to keep people silent and hidden.

And it is rare that I find others with whom I can truly be myself. Where I can engage in healthy debate and present arguments and we can keep on loving or at least mutually respecting each other. (Arguments should not be confused with fights–one is 2 or more people presenting and working through ideas together for a purpose and one is 2 or more people actively opposing each other for no greater purpose)

So few people that I meet are able to navigate this complex world without choosing a side, without clinging to binaries and extremes, without us having to agree on every single freaking thing in order to be allies.

Well, I don’t want to choose a side. I don’t want my love of flowers to keep me from exploring facts or loving data or identifying fallacious thinking. I won’t let my belief in the scientific method keep me from my beloved walking meditations in the forest. I believe we can hold many truths inside of us.

And dissent is a crucial part of the evolution of any culture. Dissent is the way we innovate, the way we move stagnant ideas that aren’t truly serving us or our community. Dissent is a right and a responsibility.

There are many things I personally question which I see promoted within the greater world of herbal healing–astrology, crystal healing, positive thinking, cultural appropriation, homeopathy, cleansing– just to name a few.

But I believe that for most of us,  when we wake up in the middle of the night filled with fear and dread it is not a list of facts that we need to soothe us back to sleep. I can see very clearly where the desire, the need to believe in things comes from. And I see some reasons why people are suspicious of science, why people choose confirmation bias and wish to reinforce precious beliefs that get us through the night.

So how can we move forward, together?


I would like to see more respectful argument and debate happen without the discussion devolving into name-calling, woo-shaming and un-friending.

I would like to see more of us actively seek out new information which challenges our worldview, our beliefs and paradigms.

I would like to see those of us in the herbalist community provide a more active peer-review.

I would like to see unethical alternative health-care products and manipulative or harmful  CAM websites, books and claims actively debunked by those of us within the community.

I would like to see many of the herbal myths which persist actively dismantled.

I would like to see respectful integration and open-minded discussion happen between different types of practitioners.

And I would like access. I would like herbs and movement and nutrition to not just BE accessible to all but to FEEL accessible too. I would also like science to be accessible to all, if desired.

I did a very thorough search via internet, the local bookstore and talking to people to find out what it is about alternative healthcare that turns some people off, and the reality is that it’s pretty brutal out there. The public face of alternative healthcare is full of extreme claims, paranoia, oversimplification, marketing ploys and magical thinking. I think that taking an honest look at this  representation may help us to better serve our community, and that is the real goal for me, not just being “right”.

I think that ultimately, the way our media can be filtered, we have the ability to block out dissent and only hear from those we agree with. We have the ability to constantly reinforce our previously held beliefs and shut out the questioners, shut out the skeptics and the uncomfortable realities. While fully understanding how very tempting this is, I now suggest we shift out of this phase and into one of active self-challenge, accountability, productive debate and deep questioning of everything we hold dear.

So, friends, community, allies, I respect you, even if I don’t agree with you, and I look forward to watching herbalism evolve and grow and change, together.

I am willing to be proven wrong. Heck, I’d even like it.

Let’s talk.


A Hygiene Hypothesis of the Mind

"I break down my model as I  teach it so as not to believe it too much."-Gil Hedley
“I break down my model as I teach it so as not to believe it too much.”-Gil Hedley

There has been some exciting developments in the world of microbial research lately. It turns out that the immune system may get stronger by being challenged. For some time, our culture has tried to eliminate challenges from external things like bacteria, viruses and parasites. We have tried to reduce the discomfort of (most) people in every way possible, from never having to feel cold or hot to never having to walk up stairs or experiencing drippy snot. Culturally, we may have solved some problems with this way of thinking. For example, I rarely get a chamberpot full of excrement dumped on my head while flaneuring through the streets. But we have created problems with this paradigm, too.

However, it is not the issue of the fragility of our physical immune systems that I am thinking about today, but the mental consequences of this paradigm. Resilience, adaptability and mental agility are like meaty biceps-they must be actively challenged in order to grow. And by keeping ourselves away from challenges to our worldview we are complicit in  creating our own fragility.

How does this apply to the world of health?

There are 2 extremes in the world of health-care.  (oversimplification alert)

The first is the super-woo, those un-grounded folks who believe that alternative health-care is the ONLY way, that everything ancient and natural is good and everything “chemical” and medical is an evil conspiracy. This type of person will try any insane remedy as long as it’s marketed with alternative buzzwords like energy, crystalline, conspiracy theory,  ozonated and detox. They embrace gurus, appropriate everything and pursue clean colons like it’s their religion.

The second extreme is the super-skeptic. They worship Science with a capital S. They will never try even the most un-controversial alternative to standardized medicine, such as bitters or meditation or massage. They equate every non-scientist with crystal-pushing homeopathy-sucking snake-handling opossum-humpers and never, ever pass up a chance to put others down. They call everyone who doesn’t agree with them a “quack” or a “witch doctor”, (which BTW is kinda racist.)


So how have we gotten to this state? I see it as a refusal to challenge our own beliefs. It is so easy to see how other people should question THEIR beliefs–but fail to examine our own. And it’s not just healthcare–this happens in politics, culture, religion, food, fitness. My god is the best god. Rap is offensive but Elvis is heroic. Vegans are crazy but Paleo is totally reasonable. Noone should squat. Everyone should squat. Guns don’t kill people! People kill people! But only bad people! And thrift store clothes are full of demons! Agh! How are we even alive?!?!?!

Whew. And this fear-based existence is contributing to an inability to innovate and create and  thrive-and blocking us from working together.

It’s like the other side is a dark forest that inspires fear and distrust inside of us, but it’s actually just what we need…a trip into the darkness, an exploration of some other ways of being, of understanding, of seeing.

We are not facing our fears.

We are not entering the forest.

We are in denial of other possibilities.

We live in fear of discomfort.

It is time to rebuild our bridges, my friends. To integrate, to work together, to create. Time to question what we have accepted, and why. Time to experiment.  If your beliefs are truly your beliefs, they will stand up under scrutiny, under an influx of new information, under debate.

Because listening to opposing viewpoints does not create doubt. Doubt is already there. Exploration just reveals it.

And it turns out that some of our beliefs will be bullhockey.

And it turns out that we may look more deeply at something we dislike and realize it is actually dogshit, and we were right all along. But at least we checked.

So let’s stop sanitizing our incoming information. Let’s stop getting all of our news from sources we like. Let’s stop avoiding people who we disagree with. Let’s stop suppressing and blocking “the other”. Let’s cross-pollinate and come up with some new paths. Let’s get our minds dirty with the beneficial bacteria of a new way of thinking and populate our thoughts with questions and systematic inquiry. Let’s move forward, free from the fear of challenge and change, together.


Ten Minutes a Day


I was chatting with my dear friend Rob recently about people who believe they don’t have enough time to incorporate movement into their lives. I suggested that these people could start with just 10 minutes a day. His response was  “Ten minutes of yoga isn’t going to fix anything!”

Maybe. Probably not. But I am not suggesting someone spends 10 minutes, once,  working out. I am suggesting that every single day you commit to 10 minutes of some kind of movement–whether it is 10 minutes of kettlebell swings, 10 minutes of running, 10 minutes of using  super cheap and portable resistance bands, 10 minutes of dance or 10 minutes of whatever inspires you.

Now I can see how easy it is to claim this is worthless, but think of it this way: our body adapts to what we give it. There is, eventually, a cumulative effect. Let’s say you smoked crack for 10 minutes a day. No big deal, you might say, it’s only 10 minutes. And smoking crack for 10 minutes out of your entire life will most likely not actually destroy you. (I am not suggesting it, just being realistic.)

Let’s say you smoke crack for 10 minutes a day, EVERY DAY. Can you visualize how this will start to change you? You become accustomed to it, you start to want it. You realize you will do whatever needs to be done to get it. It becomes your priority.

This is how change happens for people who aren’t sure they’re all in. An experiment becomes a commitment, becomes a way of life.

The next thing you know, you’re doing squats while watching TV, running to the mailbox and back, taking the stairs-because you LIKE the feeling, crave the movement, not out of guilt or wanting to please someone else.

That is the secret of movement: it actually can provide us with positive rewards in both body and brain.

I love rewards! Maybe you do too?

But you have to start somewhere.


Herbal skin care: put something on it!


I would like to address a few common ideas in the world of skin care. One thing that I notice amongst us humans is  the idea that we always want to put something on it, whatever “it” is. WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!!!! Maybe not. So before we decide what to do, we may want to ask “Should I do anything at all?” Think it through. Many skin conditions are temporary, self-limiting conditions that need time, fresh air and/or  just a little extra nutritional support to resolve themselves. So I advise that we do not always go nuts putting things on other things in the interest of feeling like we are productive people.

But I get a lot of questions about skin, and sometimes we do want to participate more actively in resolving a condition. Here are a few frequent questions I am asked, and my brief response.

Hey, how about a little contact dermatitis?
Hey, how about a little contact dermatitis?

1.Wound care.”How can I stop bleeding naturally?” Ok, if you are bleeding a lot, consider whether or not you need medical care please. If not, consider whether or not stopping all bleeding is ideal. What role is bleeding playing in the healing? It may be flushing out the germs or rabies or fangs or whatever that don’t belong in there. So be wary of suppressing that action.

Additionally, while I am a fan of natural stuff, remember that natural is not always the best. Use what works, whether it is a chemical shit-storm or not. We don’t always HAVE to suffer for our ideals.

It is my experience that most wounds that are not hospital-worthy will stop bleeding within a reasonable amount of time all by themselves. But if not, Yarrow is a favorite. I love a good fresh yarrow poultice. But look at the wound–is it better to use a strong decoction or diluted tincture? Remember, before you put some plant matter into a wound ask yourself how you’ll get it out.

Clean it out and use the proper fist aid techniques and products to protect yourself.

2. Fungus! I get a lot of inquiries for an anti-fungal salve. Here is my thought: NO. I believe that oil-based products are a great way to encourage fungus. So I do not personally recommend any oil-based product on your fungal problem.

I suggest powders to keep the area dry–clay, or clay mixed with herbs. Sometimes you hear X herb has anti fungal properties. That’s cool, but is it going to fix the problem? Probably not all by itself. Having properties against fungus does not mean cures fungal breakouts. So if you wish to include powdered herbs in your anti-fungal blend, try Barberry root, Black Walnut (yes, it stains), Chaparral, Thyme, Monarda, Sage.

I will suggest soaking the affected part in white vinegar and/or salt water often, like daily, too.

But more importantly, try to work on your Microbiome. Supporting the body’s bacterial balance may go further towards healing chronic fungal issues than anything applied externally.

And here is a question–I hear often that we should use flip-flops to prevent ourselves from getting fungus is a public place. Can anyone explain to me what kind of flip-flop prevents spores from splashing onto you in a shower? And then what, you are carrying around these fungi-ed up flip-flops? I just don’t know about this.

3. Rashes. OMG, there are sooo many reasons for a rash to appear. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all rash product. First, determine the cause. Is the rash a symptom, or is it the problem? Treating a chronic symptomatic  rash externally with an herb is not all that useful. Deal with the underlying condition.

4. Acne. Importantly with acne, as with many skin issues, let’s take a moment and address the cultural issues. There is so so much pressure to present with perfect skin, lighter, darker, shinier, un-shinier, and the judgement that comes with acne or any other kind of skin issue just needs to back. off.

Ok, so here is another issue where we can ask about underlying causes. I  see a lot of herbal acne products, usually washes and spot treatments. This may work for an occasional breakout but it is unlikely to fix anything chronic or long-term. In my experience,  Bitters to support the liver and its clearance, especially of hormones, Goldenrod to support the kidneys, and hormone balancing herbs to reduce hormones that swing about wildly are some places to start. I am also a fan of oil-cleansing, I use coconut oil but I suggest you experiment with your own oil combo. (I feel the need to  to mention here that coconut oil is not actually a cure or everything.) I am a fan of probiotic cleansers too. Many of the so-called antibacterial washes do more harm than good. It is not always bad bacteria that is causing your imbalance, and killing all bacteria leaves us with a bacterial vacuum. Bacteria can be great! I have seen yogurt work as a probiotic cleanser if you are not up for spending 50 dollars on such things.

5. Cellulite. Cellulite is not a pathology, it’s not a disease. It is what people actually look like. Get over it. You’d be better off spending that money on a nervine and a nice pair of undies than “cellulite-melting oil”-I call bullshit.

6. Scrapes and stings. I generally think we should allow these things to heal on their own, and I do not make an all-purpose scrapes salve. This is like heresy amongst herbalists, and I am not saying don’t, but I am coming out: I do not currently make or use a plantain or calendula or comfrey salve. If I need something, I’ll use a tincture in a spray bottle, and it is usually more for the purpose of cleaning a wound than speeding its healing. This is usually a combination of Wild Rose, Yarrow and Barberry. I use Propolis tincture on occasion too.

7. Sunburn. I use Rose hydrosol.

8. Windburn. I use oil– Jojoba oil  or a blend.

9. Dry skin. I use the cacao-y-est, dankest, smelliest Cocoa butter I can find. I like butters in general, Shea butter too. I might mix it with a little bit of herb-infused oil. Or not. I add a few drops of Cacao EO (optional) and rub it all over-lips, too. But don’t forget to eat good oils and fats too!

And screw those ads that make us feel inferior for having a freakin dry patch. “oh, don’t be like a lizard”. Trust me, the one thing standing between you and hot sex is not a little dry skin, OK?

10. Poison Ivy. If you read herbal groups and blogs, you may notice a near-universal love of Jewelweed. I admit, I do not care for it as a Poison Ivy treatment. I like the combination of Sassafrass root, Grindelia and Menthol popularized by Herb Pharm. I like Sweetfern as a wash or tincture. I like salt water, the cheapest and most widely available skin solution. Soak in it, swim in it, spray it on.  And I will use a lymphatic like Cleavers internally. But remember, the best treatment is prevention–learn to ID it! However, even fabulous botanists get drunk and stumble into a patch to urinate on occasion.

I believe we should be aware of not pathologizing the normal, varied aspects of our bodies and our aging processes. Wrinkles, “uneven skin tone”, whatever that is, dry skin, oily skin, a failure to present as glowing and perfect are actually just part of alive-ness. Your skin and its appearance are partly a reflection of your genetics, your nutrition, your age, your hormones, your environment, your life experience, your resilience. What your skin is not is a reflection of your moral character.

You are not “toxic”, you are just reacting to life and it is usually normal and temporary. There are situations where skin issues are a sign of a food  or other allergy or sensitivity, of a particularly tough time, or of an inability to manage chronic stress in a way that works and it is great to work on these issues. But this takes time and support and management skills-not quick fixes. I see no need for miracle products,  harsh cleanses or juice fasts to force yourself to appear perfect.

And don’t forget to eat some good fats and gelatinous bone broth, get enough sleep and rest, keep your lymphatic system flowing with movement and massage.( And lymphatic herbs if desired!) Manage stress, consider taking it easy on the alcohol, drugs and smoking and get a little pleasure in your life.

And ultimately, explore the feeling of having a little faith in your body’s ability to heal, the empowerment of being able to handle minor skin issues at home, and the strength to give the finger to those who wish to sell you something “as seen on TV” to fix it all in 30 days or less.

"I have this weird skin thing"
“I have this weird skin thing”

Self-care for all: Nothing to be Ashamed of.

Note: Yes, I have changed the name of this post because the internet is weird.

This morning, I read a post on the Humans of New York page about a young-ish man in NYC who says he is an artist, and is afraid of his Mom seeing a sexy painting inspired by female masturbation.

People commented about how nice he is to shield his parents from sexual images. But do mothers need protecting?

I mentioned that Mothers masturbate too.

The response to my comment has been very interesting, from “EW gross” to “You’re creepy” to “kids these days are sexually repressed” to “I know it is true but I don’t want to think about it.” And then a few who heartily agreed that mothers do in fact get off.

There is an idea in our culture that parental bodies can’t be sexy, or even that they are dirty and need to be covered up, hidden, denied, that the body of a mother is somehow different from that of anyone else.

What’s the harm in denying that women, and especially mothers, are sexual beings who may choose to participate in a very wide spectrum of sexual and sensual behaviors, including masturbation? Well, shame for one. What is there to be ashamed of in enjoying one’s own body? Repression and shaming of a mother who is not afraid of self-pleasure is obnoxious. It promotes the idea that all mothers are the same, and that being a mother confers some special status other than just “Any person who has given birth or been given the full-time care of another person.” Hey, people, one day you may even get turned on by/want to have sex with/actually have sex with/be a mother! Shocking.

But it goes even deeper than just the effect cultural repression and denial of sexuality has on mothers. When we deny ANY category of humans their sexuality, we all lose. Because all humans from birth to death have a sexual side. It is a spectrum, from just a minor part of us to  a very important part of us, but it exists in some way in all.

And the idea that sexuality belongs to young (but not TOO young!) attractive heteronormative perfect people is destructive. It is not that we all have to dwell on specific thoughts that elders or those with different abilities or those with nonconforming bodies have a sexual side, but we can’t actually deny it. People who are not exactly like you can be sexual beings too.

It is not our place to deny or control anyone else’s sexuality or consensual sexual acts just because  we are personally comfortable with it, or believe we are without actually giving it much real thought.


And where does our idea of who can and should be sexual come from? Religion, marketing, media, our personal feelings of shame, our own body image, our family and culture?

Now what does this have to do with health, you may ask? A LOT.  Shame, repression and denial of our sexuality can contribute to emotional distress within ourselves and towards those whose sexuality is  not accepted by society. Masturbation is a cheap self-care strategy which may support healthy sleep, emotional release and overall relaxation of tension and it is a basic right for ALL people to have access to it.

It has been an interesting exercise to see just how deeply many people’s fear and disgust around this subject really run, and it is a personal mission of mine to shed a little light on the subject.

While I respect your right to be repressed and full of fear around your body, I do NOT accept any person trying to push that crap on me and I stand for mothers everywhere, people everywhere, who wish to do whatever the heck they want with their own bodies, and don’t need protection from the very idea of mothers as sexual beings.


Bark: You can do it!

Late Winter means tree time around here. It’s Maple-tapping time for some, though I’m missing out this year. And collecting bark for others! So here’s the thing about bark: it seems to intimidate people, but it’s pretty darn easy. It’s like falling off a log. Here is what you do:
Go outside. That’s the hard part for some, I know. But try it.
Find a tree. I use a fair number of different barks medicinally: Alder, Cottonwood, Aspen, Peach, Pine, Tuliptree, Willow, Birch, Black Walnut, Wild Cherry. Just a few examples. Use what you have.
It is handy to have a field guide, so you know what the heck you are collecting.
The you either cut the tree down, find downed bits or politely prune the tree. I don’t usually suggest going nuts cutting trees down because hey, trees are nice to have around. But– There are valid reasons to cut trees down–clearing land, thinning to manage a woodlot, firewood, it’s growing into powerless, it won’t stop taunting you.
So anyway, I sometimes hear “Oh, no, I couldn’t cut down a tree.”
Of course you can. Pretend it’s 1850 and wield a saw. You can.
But often you won’t have to get quite so burly, and can just pick up what the wind blew over.
I generally drag my booty back home, but you can de-bark it outside if you want to. Here it is great to be outside if you keep moving but not exactly balmy so I tend to drag my tree or branches home.
So then you take off the bark or chop up the twigs. With most trees I don’t get way into de-barking very small twigs, I just Felco them up. I throw all the buds in, too. It’s a great way to test out your medicine too because it exacerbates every hand-pain you’ve ever had.
I’m just going to insert a few photos here so you can get the idea. I used to use this crappy little Wusthof knife with a broken tip that I’d inherited when cleaning out my dear late great-aunt Bertha’s apartment but honestly it’s a piece of crap so I just invested in a great mini-drawknife. But fancy tools aren’t the main thing. The main thing is you. And the tree.
And then I like to tincture the fresh material, or make an infused oil. You can dry it for later use too. This will totally depend on what bark you’ve gathered and what your goal is.
What I am working on this week is Sweet Birch, aka Black Birch (Betula lenta) and I make a tincture in grain alcohol, an elixir with honey in Brandy and an infused oil which I may or may not then turn into a salve. This is a joy to rub on after a de-barking session, or after any workout. Tired feet rejoice in a Birch rub too. And if you’re into foot soaks, or any bath-taking, try Birch. It tastes and smells delightful, and it mixes nicely with other barks such as Aspen, Alder, Willow and Cottonwood.