My philosophy of blending

On a long walk in the cool, misty December morning I fully composed the elixir that has been slowly taking shape in my mind. I am always gathering inspiration from my surroundings…this thrift store find, that pile of roots, this bakery case or that passage in a book.

I build my elixirs like a little nest, picking up shiny things with my beak, layering them with Birch sticks and  fluffy feathers.

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Today’s elixir is called The Stormy Beaver and it is made of: Pond Lily rhizome, Alder twigs, Calamus and Angelica with Date molasses. I wanted to evoke the darkness of these very short days and to make a meditation elixir which says Nor’Easter, swamp water and furry, snuggly rebuilding times.

I am 100% pro-Science and pro-Serious Herbalism,using simples and blends for medicinal purposes. But then, and not mutually exclusive,  there is art. I’m often putting together some kind of blend in my head or in my basket  or in my hands and people ask me “What is it for?”….here is my answer.

Warning: it’s my philosophy.

I see herbal elixirs as both a symbol, an idea, and the exact opposite–the symbol made tangible. It is the physical manifestation of the intention. Stay with me here. Symbols are one of the oldest forms of human communication. They are everywhere, from a cobbler’s sign shaped like a shoe to a cross necklace to a flag waving in the wind. It’s how we create our identity, individually and collectively. Letters are symbols. Metallica patches are symbols. There are symbols in ancient caves, on the ladies’ room door, the Ikea instructions, the Facebook post.

Some resonate with us more than others.

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We can use symbols to bring something that interests us into our lives. We can use symbols to create a meditative experience, to honor a person, a place, a moment in time. We can use symbols to communicate–with parts of ourselves, with others.

We can use these plants symbolically to evoke something, to bring about a taste, a feeling, an idea. It’s not a New Age concept for me at all, it’s very straightforward. It’s just creating a connection. It’s basic mind-body medicine, our senses as the road to our subconscious. It is pleasure.

The main way I’ll use this type of medicine is during meditation, during a long think-y walk, at the end of the day or at the start of or throughout conversation with people I like.  One  might also use it during sex, prayer, a creative pursuit such as writing or dancing…. I think of most of my personal elixirs as idea-generating, mood-enhancing, stimulating to my imagination or creativity, grounding or moving, calming. Celebratory.

And it sounds a little wacky to tell people that I made this elixir as a celebration but that is at the root of my process. Blending elixirs is an artistic outlet in which I express my nature and that of the plants around me by combining them in ways that please me. Each one is a little poem and can be used as you would use poetry, to create a feeling, to spark a lust for life, to understand something better.

To balance out a darkness or ground an exuberance.

To move stuck feelings or to invite inspiration.

To help us finally  just let go of something.

I encourage others to experiment with this art, too. Don’t overthink it, just have fun. There is no right way to do it, no recipe, no Elixir Overlord. Just choose a theme, paint a picture with plants, and let it sit for a few weeks. Voila! You’re an artist.

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An herbalists’ toolkit for Crisis

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Suicide. It is not something I see a lot of talks about at herbalist gatherings and events. But it is one of the top causes of death amongst our fellow Americans right now. Yes. And most of us know, in the back of our minds, that it is something we need to grapple with but it’s just so damn upsetting and confusing that it’s not being widely discussed right now.

So let’s start.

What can we, as herbalists, educators or other providers of healthcare in our community do to help? Where can we get more information to support our friends, family, students, clients and–even ourselves? It is a big subject which has no one easy answer, but let’s work together to learn more and shed some light into this darkness.

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So first, herbalists cannot “cure’ suicide. I am NOT alleging that we use herbs to fix this, though I do see herbal allies as one of many potential long-term supportive strategies. I’d also like to see us in discussion around the tension between privacy issues and crisis intervention-the whens, whys and hows.

What I would like to see is the development of 2 main strategies:

  1. Have a plan before the crisis.
  2. Know where to refer to for more help.

So, having a plan means asking ourselves what we will do when someone comes to us in a deep depression, with suicidal thoughts or exhibiting signs of risk factors for a suicide attempt. Learning what these signs are is a good start. Some examples here are serious PTSD, veteran status, serious head trauma, use of certain drugs, both prescribed and illicitly obtained,  history of or current severe depression, past history or past family history of suicide attempts. Check out some of the resources here for more information on risk.

And knowing where to refer means asking some basic questions such as: Do you know a trusted mental health-care practitioner to refer to? Do you have the phone number of a crisis hotline handy? Are you willing to call for emergency services if needed? And who can YOU ask for help if you need support or backup?

I’d love to propose that practitioners and educators who feel comfortable discussing crisis can display a hotline number in the office, facility or place of business. I’d love to see Icarus Projects’ books prominently displayed on our shelves and “You are not alone” stickers and posters in bathrooms.

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I’d love to see us use art, poetry, words and actions to communicate our openness to listening and helping to support people in crisis. And for us to just simply say “Hey, YOU can talk to me about this!”

I’d like to see us foster connections that build trust around mental health discussions. I’d like to see check-ins, mutual aid and people just generally giving a shit whether or not others in our community are OK.

I’d like to see acknowledgement that life itself  IS both dark and light, as well as all shades in-between. That some degree of depression is normal, and that you are not broken if you are not 100% happy. I’d like to talk back to the people who blame others for having “negative” thoughts, which are actually normal up to a point, and who seek to gloss over and dismiss the reality of life’s cycles and the systemic issues that help create feelings of isolation and helplessness.

I’d like to see classes, discussions and/or roundtable workshops on suicide prevention included in our education and our events. Both discussion of long-term mental wellness for prevention and discussion of identifying and taking action  in the crisis moment. We may also want to create a safe practitioner space to talk about our own fears, judgement or triggers about suicide so that we can be our best as listeners.  Let’s work together to shed some light into this subject, to come out (if applicable) as survivors or mourners, to continue to dismantle the shame around the subject and help to build and promote  both new and existing  support structures. This is everyone’s problem. We aren’t well-rounded as healthcare practitioners if we aren’t discussing one of the top cases of death. Let’s not wait until we are in the midst of a crisis to put these numbers in our phone, or these resources  into our practice.

__Important: I am not necesarily in 100% agreement with all of the politics or details within these resources. Hopefully this list will evolve. I merely present this list as a starting point. Thanks for understanding that.___

  1. http://www.TheIcarusProject.net This is my personal favorite resource for  mental health related information. I love and trust the Icarus Project and I strongly suggest their books, pamphlets, and resources. They have a Crisis Toolkit available and they host supportive groups all over the country. Queer/trans friendly and anti-oppressive.
  2. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255, put it in your phone, hang it up in your office. This is staffed 24 hours a day, every day. Often someone in crisis may just need to talk, safely, to sort things out, to get through a crisis, and this is one way to do so.
  3. http://www.onbeing.org, episode with Jennifer Michael Hecht on suicide and discussion of her book Stay, episode includes list of resources.
  4. http://www.warmline.org
  5. http://www.sprc.org Suicide prevention resource center. seems rather mainstream to me  but of course not everyone is a raging anarchist with soil under their fingernails so check it out and decide for yourself.
  6. http://www.Trevorproject.org, specifically focused on LGBTQ youth, 866-488-7386, and they have chat and text options
  7. http://www.AFSP.org , American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
  8. http://www.Suicidology.org this seems to be resources for everyone to learn more, rather than just a focus on people in crisis.
  9. http://www.Surgeongeneral.gov has some resources, including stats and reports, search for the NSSP, National Society for Suicide prevention
  10. Crisis: Journal of Crisis intervention and Suicide Prevention, this is a scholarly journal with research and articles.
  11. http://www.NOPCAS.org is the National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide, for those who may feel more comfortable with this identity
  12. http://www.VeteransCrisisLine.net, 800-273-8255, specific to veterans
  13. http://www.StopSoldierSuicide.org
  14. http://www.Youmatter.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
  15. http://www.JenniferMichaelHecht.com/Stay/

And finally, I want to say this. Wherever you are in your journey of life, whether you have lost someone, have made an attempt yourself or are considering it, or are grappling with this issue in some way, YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS. You are important, you are resilient and we are connected. There is always a way, and we will find this way. I am open to this discussion, let’s move forward together.

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Anti-aging politics, self-care and almost a recipe.

“I was just starved, though, to be visible to anybody.”-Joy Ladin, Gender and the Syntax of Being

Oh, my head. Or more specifically, my face. And all of our faces. Here they are, representing us.
How much of our culture is based on faces? Head shots, mug shots, swipe right for the hottie. Profile pictures on everything, from Facebook to Twitter to my “About Me” e-mail. Buy this thing to get a better face. Cut it, love it, hate it, inject it with botulinum. It’s too dark, too light, “uneven”, never good enough.
It is a source of so much of our personal anxiety.
I have one, too. A face, that is. And I think about it, and want it to be lovely.
I want to be seen, but not too seen. Or, seen for all the “right” reasons.
I’ve been thinking about faces and aging, lately. A lot. And how age can, potentially free us from this obsession with how we look, and how that sounds kinda great. Or it can do the opposite.
I looked up herbs for anti-aging, and you know, it seems to be a big industry. And it seems to be mostly full of crap. But it’s not just that a lot of the treatments don’t work as promised but that it is based on a false concept.
The anti concept.
Aging is not, by definition, a battle. It’s not something being done to us, independent of us. It IS us, cells plus time.
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But one can find a lot of articles on “___ # of herbs for anti-aging”. A LOT.
When we, as herbalists and healers, promote anti-aging as an entire category of herbal products what are we saying about time? What are we saying about age? What are we saying about our face?
Aging is not an abstraction. It is just a process. A natural cycle. It is many things to many people.
Some degree of observation (aka people-watching) does tell me, though, that there are a lot of different ways to age. There is the way in which we basically give up and wait to die. There is the way in which we attempt, at all costs, to be seen as something else, to hide, to battle the process. And there is the way in which we wrap ourselves in sensual pleasures, dive into the process, put aside our self-limiting fears of doing it wrong and finally just be who we are, wrinkles and all.
We can’t actually age well if we were not living well before aging became a concern. It is deliciously radical, punk even, to see oneself as whole and worthy, to identify as a process, to live in the culture without internalizing the constant messages that we need to battle our own bodies, not just today but throughout our entire lives.
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“The average woman is so beat down and besieged [by images of youth].” -Iris Apfel

And what is REALLY “anti-aging”? What keeps us from giving up? It’s not just what you apply to your skin. It is not a list of the top 10 spices you can take. It is a steadfast refusal to lose our sense of ourselves, our curiosity, our participation in the world around us. It is refusing to (figuratively) cut our genitals off from the rest of our bodies, or to dis-embody and float off into a world of caring more about The Price is Right or “kids these days” than we do about feeding our own senses.
It is the self-care we do out of love, not fear. The movement that keeps us strong and well. And the connections we have built up and maintained-with friends, lovers, our passions, the Earth and our own rich inner lives.
Oh, and it’s fiber.
It is indeed a paradox that I want to balance total self-acceptance with constant self-improvement, but they don’t have to be in opposition with each other. I’d love to hear how others are balancing this within their own lives, now and moving forward through age and time.
Ah, the ephemeral nature of life.
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Ok, so there is the dramatic stuff. Now let’s get to the juicy bits: my current favorite skincare product. Want to know how to make it? I am a huge fan of very straightforward, stripped-down products which are also luxurious and delightful. I like to do more with less, I like that which does “double-duty”, I like to pack light.
My personal skin-care story is that I have both super-sensitive skin and jumpy hormones, and therefore I am often trying to soothe the angry skin beast. I have tried many things and I do believe that most skincare should be internal–hydration, nutrition, supportive bitters, movement, laughter, sleep and stress management are the ideal long-term plan for most of us.
But anyway, I still wanted the perfect face wash.
I had tried straight coconut oil, straight honey and straight clay powder, all of which worked fine alone, but not amazing and not super user-friendly. Then I discovered something called “The Honey Mud” which combines all 3 and looks amazing…for 80-something dollars a jar. It’s a nice jar, but that’s more than I personally budget for such things.
I’ve now messed around with creating my own, and it’s so luxurious, so delightful and so easy to use that I’m moved to share the “recipe”. ( I use that word very loosely, but I know that recipe = clickbait so here it is.) It is in “parts” which means that YOU tailor that concept to the amount of product you’d like to make.
1 part each of:
raw coconut oil (yes, you can use a different high-quality oil or combo if desired.)
raw honey–(yes, it has to be raw if you want the enzymes and such, don’t ask if it doesn’t, just try it.)
clay-dry powder-I used 1/2 pink Rhassoul and 1/2 bentonite. There is a lot of info available about types of clay, basically some are more or less drying. Use your favorite or get a few and experiment. It’s cheap.

Put these things in a Cusinart or blender and add liquid to thin. Just, you know, blend, check, add a little liquid, repeat. You’re going for a consistency that is goopy and perfectly apply-able.
I used hydrosols as my liquid here-rose, and some cucumber. I love yarrow hydrosol if you can find it. Chamomile, maybe. Use what YOU like, and what you have. You could use nearly any herbal infusion as the liquid, or buttermilk if you will keep it cold.
I also added Cacao essential oil because I find it very pleasurable. Add whichever EO or combo you like, if desired. Or not.
I do not believe that external applications of Eos or herbs are necessary for daily skin care, or that they will magically fix your skin, contrary to marketing copy. But delicious smell is a thing people like.
And, at the risk of stating the obvious, put it in a jar and use it 1-2 times a day to wash your face. Can be left on as a “treatment”, I guess to increase general loveliness, and can be eaten in case of apocalypse scenarios.
Make it, love it, give it, sell it, just don’t tell yourself that it will fix you. Cause you’re great and don’t need to be fixed, and a product isn’t actually going to do it anyway.
Oh–and go watch Advanced Style, an amazing movie about fabulous women over 60 with a wonderful companion book by Ari Seth Cohen.

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