BOOKS, reviewed

What I’ve been reading this Winter: I chose 10 books that, to me, correspond with concepts that I would like to see discussed and taught within the word of herbalism. It is nice to read a book, but to me, even better if I can USE it as a tool. I read mostly non-fiction, and I do so with a (real paper) notebook handy so I can take notes on what excites me, what pisses me off, what I need to share or what I must find someone to discuss as soon as possible.

-A History of Public Health: revised and expanded edition by George Rosen

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A sense of our place in history.

I have a love-hate relationship with public health. It encompasses the history of waste management, which I find very interesting, and without a doubt useful. And it also encompasses a person or group trying to force another person or group to change, and a loss of cultural diversity that comes from calling individual humans “the public”. It raises questions around human rights and human responsibilities, access, communication, authority and information. Thankfully, Rosen does bring a bit of class consciousness to the stories, which I appreciate.

This book was originally written in the 1950s and does reflect that time, so if you are looking for something more recent, this is not it. But if you would like to geek out on the journey of public health, especially during the 1700s and 1800s, mainly European and American, this is the book for you. It has people and places, diseases and theory!

And this is one piece of the overall life-puzzle I explore constantly: How did we get here?  How did NOW happen? I just don’t think we can move forward without some information about where we’ve been.

What I found most interesting about this history is that Public Health seems, on first glance, like “the man”  but the reality is full of activists, problem-solvers and creative thinkers, and includes many working women.

 

-Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs, Eastern/Central, third edition by Steven Foster and James A. Duke

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Skills, baby, skills! Field ID, botany

OK, I am going to air out my internet pet peeve: “Can I get an ID?”
Why do we think it makes sense to take a crappy photo and post it on Facebook, where people we don’t know argue over whether it is a tomato or an Oak tree? Like the constant desire for an ID app, this speaks to a modern learned helplessness and an unwillingness to do a little work.
People. Get this book. Learn to ID.
For basic  field ID of common plants, it is convenient and reasonable.

I do NOT use this book for information about plant use, as I find that part of it oversimplified, outdated and overreliant on “used by X tribe for __”  and “experimentally, used as___” both of which I personally find obnoxious.
Example: Prenanthes alba, “Iroquois used tea as a wash for weakness.” This piece of information is so useless to me. What does that even mean?

But anyway, it’s a great book for identifying plants.

-H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

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Finding meaning in the struggle

This book is a memoir of Ms. MacDonald’s journey of mourning. She struggles after her Father’s sudden death, and ends up combining a literary research project and the training of her own raptor  (a Goshawk, Mabel) to pull herself through. Slowly. Excruciatingly.
It is a beautiful book, wonderful use of language, very descriptive, it moves quickly and it’s emotional but not mushy.

I admit to scanning a few of the paragraphs about TH White towards the end, but this is a minor detail.

It ultimately  speaks to how we all need an outlet in life, a way to process all that comes at us, all that is hard to speak about or let go of, whether it is a dramatic death or just dealing with life’s many challenges.

-Out on the Wire, The storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Abel

This is a graphic non-fiction book about making great radio. The issue it hits upon that’s relevant to herbalism is story-telling and public speaking. It took me time to find my voice as a teacher and speaker, and I’d suggest this to new and old writers, teachers, interviewers and anyone who has to speak in front of others.

That is part of what being an herbalist is, really: a good interviewer. A good listener. And someone who can present suggestions in a way that grabs others and keeps them interested.

And many of us create audio or video of our classes, plant walks and/or discussions, so I see this as a useful tool in creating that work, too. Because becoming great speakers is difficult and takes time–but is a worthwhile pursuit, especially if we would like to share our ideas with others.

-Risk, the Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner 

RISK MANAGEMENT

Yes, we need an understanding of risk management in health care. YES, yes, yes.

From the tired old trope “vaccines are the cause of Autism” to the constant claims that a trace of ___chemical means certain death, or an herb that has SOME effect on the uterus will totally abort your fetus, from fearfully kicking trans folks out of “womyn’s” spaces to running for cover from “chemtrails” and conventionally grown bananas we just don’t seem to be interested in assessing real risk.

The reality of risk is that it is complex, that humans fear what grabs their attention and ignore what kills us slowly.

The reality is that we seem to want to blame someone. Anyone.

And most of the media we hear is based on  gross oversimplification, fear-mongering, and quick and easy words about difficult subjects.

So we need to really get how to ask questions!

Even just the most basic–What is the actual risk of doing or not doing this thing?

And ultimately, having a grasp of how risk management affects us, as practitioners, as end users, as participants in a system, might be the most important way to create  cultural shifts, to make change away from fear-based decision making  and towards more practical  management of our risk.

Systems Thinking for Social Change by David Peter Stroh

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Problem solving!

Quite possibly my favorite subject. We often talk about treating the problem, not just the symptoms. But how?

We can’t often change these underlying problems without a shift in how we look at these problems, without shifting how WE understand them.

Systems thinking is one possible solution to creating a broader perspective on these problems. It gives us tools to talk about things, to diagram the problems we are facing. And that is how to start.

This book has some interesting ideas for helping us to create that broader thinking. Chapters like Why Good Intentions are Not Enough, Storytelling for Social Change and Facing Current Reality excite and invigorate me.

I definitely suggest it.

 

-Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen

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Age Power to the Old People!

Ack, I loooooove this book. It’s an easy read, a break from all these wordy chaptery things. It’s about elders who are still having fun with their looks and outfits. But it also speaks to a deeper issue–shaming the aging process with our shitty marketing campaigns for wrinkle creams and butt slimmers. And herbalists do it, too–same baggage-laden products and concepts with an all-natural label stuck to the front.

Turns out that using the wrinkle cream designed for your face isn’t good enough for your neck, which has its own special needs and requires a separate  “décolletage cream”. UGH.

So this celebrates people–mostly ladies, in this case–who are rocking their wrinkles and it shows their style, beauty and spirit in an inspiring and fun way.

-Mind Over Medicine , Scientific Proof that you can Heal Yourself by Lissa Rankin, MD

-Cure by Jo Marchant

Mind-Body connections

I am going to write about these 2 together because I am lazy and want to go take a walk.

OK, how  many times have we heard someone get mad at being told “it’s all in your head”? And yeah, when people say that as a put-down, it IS obnoxious and shows that they don’t understand the mind-body connection. But what if we take control of that narrative for ourselves? What if, when we hear something is all in our head, we say YAY! That means that, though it will be long and hard, thought it will take work, I can create shifts myself!

That means it’s mine!

We often go to a practitioner wanting them to fix us. But sometimes getting better requires our participation, and rather than seeing that as a problem, maybe it is an opportunity.

Self-empowerment is an interesting concept, as it holds a lot of potential for healing but also some potential for loneliness. Challenging standard ways of thinking is not always easy or straightforward. But if the story is mine, that means it’s mine to destroy, or change, or accept–or some combo of these.

Of these two books, I’d strongly recommend Cure and weakly recommend Mind over Medicine–I think Marchant’s book is the better of the two.

I am super excited about new studies and ideas around changing our brain, around mindfulness and neuroplasticity. It is exploration  and it is Science. If you like Oliver Sacks, if you wonder how the mind and body intersect, if you struggle with something that is “all in your head”, or know someone who does, if you like stories, check these books out.

-Fuzzy Memories and Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey

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HUMOR

I am including these two for the sole reason of fighting the trend to take ourselves too seriously, and because humor  heals.

Happy reading!

 

Special Social Ops

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A modest proposal:

Have you ever gone to an herbalist conference? I have!

Have you ever felt lost and alone at an herbal conference? I sure have!

Have you ever wished someone would solve this problem?  I have–times 1,000.

I love events such as classes, conferences, herb swaps and community celebrations. But many times I have felt like a molecule in a sea of atoms, wandering around trying to figure out how people make friends. I have practiced and now I have the ability to randomly inflict myself on other people. But crap, it’s still hard sometimes.

I would love to help solve this problem for others!

I propose that organizers of events finagle a Special Social Operative to help bring people together and create the best possible space for events.

This person would ideally be a dialogue facilitator, an introducer, a bridger of gaps and a destroyer of social barriers. An emotional logistics coordinator who can take the social temperature of individuals as well as the group and distribute hugs, nervines and directions to the bathroom as needed.

This person (could be more than one person, actually)  could help create a space for blowing off steam in between classes, plan check-ins or movement breaks and help mediate misunderstandings.

They would ideally be armed with Very Clear Signs, a bunch of fun icebreaker-type games to help us reduce our social inhibitions and create connections and a big ol’ box of toys–for example, I have one of those big gym-class parachutes, some jump ropes, balls that bounce in all kinds of silly directions, art supplies  and some obstacle course props.

Planners may also consider adopting the system currently used at some Neurodiversity conferences where people who’d like to be approached display a green card, and those who want cheerful social coordinators to back the heck off display red.

We now generally abandon all of this to the commons, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who has ever felt left out.

I think that by including a social operative in our event planning we can encourage some team-building and bonding, creating a more intimate event which feels even more fun than ever. It could also take some of the pressure off of organizers, who may have “actual business” to attend to.

I would love to help develop this role, putting my hard-won skills to use, and I look forward to conversations that can be created around making it happen.

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herbs can do WHAT??!!…towards a people’s science

oh, science, how we have given ourselves over to you, so unquestioningly, so blindly. we have created a culture of us and them. we use that grand equalizer- “a study”- to back up every fricking harebrained idea humanly (and unhumanly)possible. but where do these studies come from? and where are these studies leading us?

observe

there has been a slightly amusing outcry from fiscal conservatives ever since the national science foundation put shrimp on a treadmill to test their response to changes in water quality. they have a point here-number one, who gives a crap about shrimp working out.  it doesn’t really correlate to reality in the wild. and number two, you could have saved a lot of money, nsf. call me. ask me how any animal responds to a change in water quality. BAD!! okay? changes in air, water, soil quality are f-ing bad. it doesn’t take a degree to know, in the very core of one’s being, that when we poison the earth, things go downhill for the inhabitants.

according to science daily.com, “potatoes reduce blood pressure in people with obesity and high pressure. mm-hmm. “neutron scattering confirms dna is a stretchy as nylon.” ok. “humans are wired to respond to animals” wow.

this is not a people’s science. this is a huge money pit which has little to no bearing on our day-to-day lives, and which separates us from figuring things out ourselves. it reinforces the idea that there are some people who “do” science, and others who don’t. science today is about as grounded as a cumulo-nimbus.

we need a people’s science. we need a grounded science that is participatory and empowering. with no animal testing. no chimps in cages. no mascara on rabbits. no shrimp on treadmills. common sense.

unschooling always

for example, we can study the issue of global warming all day and all night but ultimately it DOES NOT MATTER if humans are causing warming. if our actions are making the air and water and soil unusable, and they are, then we need to stop. now. that’s it. there is nothing to argue about. would you let your kid play on the brownfield? drink the river water? no? ok, experiment conducted.  conclusion-stop dumping waste.

in the interest of taking back science we can all declare ourselves scientists who use the scientifc method.

-ask a question.

-do background research. (more than one source please! and don’t trust the  internet)

-construct a hypothesis

-test with an experiment

-analyze results, draw conclusion

-true? false? etc?

-report results.

every time we make observation in real life we are doing science. every time we question we are doing science. every time we dissect random bodies we are doing science. (are you paying attention?)

i call on everyone to create and participate in homemade science fairs.  people’s science. herbalism, gardening, botany, bugs and sticks and sex and kids and cooking and bioremediation and honeybees and model volcanoes and bacon and pheremones and sociology and rocks and dogs and tide pools and crab fat and moldy bread and compost and worm bins and falling leaves and making salves and bones . observe people in their natural habitat-at the busstop, at the mall, stopped at a red light.  do experiments. report results. have fun with it.

science belongs to everyone who participates.

can i eat it?

essay on postpartum support printed in fireweed zine

i personally think you should go out and get fireweed zine. it is great. however, due to several requests i am making my essay on holistic postpartum support-printed in fireweed zine #2-  available here. -t

Holistic support for the new mama in a scrubbled-up world.

By traci picard

When a person becomes a mama for the first or 3rd or 9th time there is a special kind of change going on, and it’s intense, it’s never easy and most of the rituals we have relied on since the dawn of time are either gone or cheapened into oblivion. As many of you know it is difficult enough in our current addled society to keep yourself from lying in the road and waiting to be run over without the added burdens and joys of parenthood. However, the transition can be eased with a little bit of perspective, wonderful herbs and a few other healthy(groan…) life choices. I won’t lie, you won’t spin coal into gold but you may be able to work a lesser alchemy and manufacture a shiny nickel.

In the first few weeks your life has been turned upside down. Your identity is replaced, your body upheaved. But I am not going to address the many wonderful ways herbs can help the physical  healing process. I am more concerned with the moment all the excitement wears off and you are left with a big ol’ wtf that seems to stretch out in front of you for the next few years or so. The newness has worn off, your body is a new kinda normal and the world looks very very different…

The world can feel like a hostile place. The coping mechanisms you used to rely on may not work so well now. Many wonderful people succumb to depression, inertia, passing to fit in, constant tension and confusion. However! You are now part of the ancient cycle of mamas living  out the process. You’re doing it! And there ARE ways to increase your chance of making it through postpartum not just intact but stronger, awesomer, fiercer. Ok, maybe you won’t be intact-you may lose something in the process but you will gain too-you trade in your old heart for a bigger more beautiful one which just may need a little extra protection from the cruel world.

I have compiled a list of flexible suggestions to help you make it through the day, the week, the 18 plus years…

* daily movement: make it a priority to get some kind of physical activity. This is not a you’re-fat-lose-weight-guilt-inducer!! Moving about helps stave off the enemy of emotional wellness-stagnation. What this will look like varies greatly for different people. Some like a gentle walk, others hit the gym and yoga can be a nice option too. Try not to get hung up on your ideal-a tai chi video with a toddler “helping” or a walk with baby in the sling is way better for my morale than lying around remembering the fun stuff I did before mamahood. You have a new standard now, and Movement is great for your circulation and is a time to think, get centered, and burn off some of that nervous energy.

*nutrition-delicious nutritious foods help you recover physically and mentally. Especially when breastfeeding you can improve your energy level and stress load with a diet high in good protein and fiber and low in simple carbs and white sugar. Don’t beat yourself up over an occasional lunch of fried clams with a shot of whiskey but aim for good meals and snacks which make you feel awesome. processed foods can get out of the way to make room for a more nourishing approach. A good multi-vitamin can go a long way towards filling in the spaces in your culinary life and a daily dropperful of liquid vitamin B can literally work wonders on the brain!

* community-having a connection with others is especially important when going through this transition. All ages! This  includes other kids, elders, and everyone in between. Finding your community can be a lifelong process with ups and downs. But trusted people who have your back, and you have theirs, who can be called upon in times of need or times of joy are vital to life and sanity. Cultivate your relationships like a gilded garden.

* projects-a life’s mission may sound daunting right now. However, having projects which you love to do, work that is meaningful, education that works for you or any kind of life practice affirms your self worth. I understand that this is hard, especially for those of us without the luxury of a wage earning partner or reasonable cash flow. However, goals power the moment in a way that nothing else can.

* avoid triggers-got a questionable uncle? Fox news? Competitive and creepy  mommy and me clubs? Run! You don’t need to only hang with cheery fembots but those persons who make you feel like crap, question your parenting, put you down or make you feel defensive have no place in your postpartum life. and try not to spend much time facebooking with your childless semi- friends who don’t understand or respect the leaky boob, the family bed or just how bad you really need a nap.

* instincts- post partum is a fine time to admire the way we have still got a certain special something in this techno-peopled world that is kinda magical. Sure, parents magazine and the entire medical industry deny it but mama you’ve got  a crazy awesome instinct inside you that has burst out—make friends with yourself.

* sexuality-post parenthood sexuality is a loaded topic which deserves attention. Yes you can have great sex again-but it takes more. More planning, more lube, more of a sense of humor!  Of course sex may not mean intercourse-just taking time with yourself or a partner to explore your new body can help. Enjoying physical closeness with a trusted friend, self love, a little erotica can all remind you of what gets you sexually invigorated. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing people cannot be parents and sexual beings at the same time-and this is reinforced by society and the media. However you  acquire it an orgasm can be a great tool healing and connection for the body and mind. Allow me to recommend a great book! Check out The Mother’s Guide to Sex by Anne Semans and Cathy Winks. Lots of relevant info for the new mama and the old mama alike!

* process-the birth experience can be transformative and traumatic at the same time. Whether your birth was transcendent and awesome or painful and stressful-or a little of both-the benefits of talking about it, writing, using art, movement or sound to process and come through the whole experience can be very healing. Do it alone or with  a trusted person and start yourself towards understanding what the heck happened!

* nature-the plants are there for you. If you can get yourself out there the birds and soil and worms and water can be profoundly healing. To me, even a vacant lot of mugwort and pigeons restores my faith in the natural world. Look how the earth renews! And you will too. We can take the earth’s advice and grow where we’re planted. Tenacity, community, the cycles of life and a natural flow are all outside our door when we get out of the house and explore. A sense of stagnation creeps in all too easily when we spend too much time indoors. Inertia is a powerful force indeed, and a self-fulfilling kinda force.

* communication- you may not even know exactly what you need. But noone else does either! Now is the time to advocate for yourself. Speak up, communicate your needs and wants to others. Family, partner(s), coworkers, health professionals, random people on the bus….Practice now, as you will advocate for your child(ren) for years-and eventually need to teach them how to communicate!

* oh, yeah-what about herbs?!? Above all else, nourish. Give your body what it needs to heal, to work hard rebuilding, lactating, hauling that sweet little baby around and dealing with sleep deprivation.  Nettles, oatstraw, fennel seed, tulsi, raspberry leaf all work in an infusion. Digestion and assimilation can always use a little help-try burdock root and bitters.

Relaxation takes on a new importance- baths! With or without the baby you can steep your tired bones in lavendars and mints, roses, sage, cinnamon or vanilla– whatever moves you. Don’t have a tub? Footbath! Follow with a massage oil-infuse herbs in a carrier oil or add a tiny bit of essential oils. Don’t forget to give yourself a little of the mamalove you shower on your little one.

For tension and stress skullcap tincture soothes the edges of a crazy world. It is a very multi-purpose herb, gentle yet effective for tension headaches too. Sometimes you need to diffuse the sense of dread that creeps into your day. Also try any combination of passion flower, milky oats,  rose petals, catnip and chamomile in a child-safe tincture blend. Lemon balm helps to restore the sense of humor/levity when it’s been hijacked by life. For more severe tension a little bit of blue vervain can soothe jagged emotional edges well. Each person is different and an herbalist can help to come up with the right nervines for the individual.

The range of experiences we experience after becoming a mother is vast. Sometimes it feels like way too much! And that won’t go away-it will ease, it will fade, it will improve but your heart has a new chamber lady and you’re in for a hilly ride. A fabulous heartbreak. And you are definitely not alone.

First aid kits, emergency preparedness and stockpiling tp!!

In light of recent natural and unnatural disasters I have been thinking about emergency preparedness. I dreamed that the water was rising and I had to pack up my ONE bag(quickly) and get the heck out!! Ah, and it’s not such a dream at all….as many of us know this happens time and again, we get complacent, feel safe, it won’t happen to me–it just might!  Shit happens. In this family we value preparedness quite highly, and it has served us well so far.

I encourage all people to build a first aid kit and an emergency stash of supplies. What you put in there varies wildly according to your personal needs, where you live and how much of an anal retentive freak you are. For example, some of us constantly run out of tp and maybe have like one Band-aid in the whole house. Others have 2 years worth of food for themselves and their little militia buried in the backyard along with a tidy backstock of sewing needles, birth control and bayonets a la Ragnar Benson….good barter, he alleges.

Somewhere in the middle feels right to me. One could indeed obsess over all the things you MIGHT want to have handy if the entire East Coast is wiped out but- maybe set some limits. Personally, I would like a bag with one full change of clothes including wool socks, underpants and brassiere, flashlight/headlamp and batteries, water vessel and purifier, a small amount of non-perishable food, tp, a toothbrush, copies of my most important documents, a basic sewing kit, and a multi-tool with knife, scissors, pliers, etc. Some type of feminine protection is a bonus for the ladies -reusable such as the Diva cup may be more useful in some situations. A baby may need diapers.  A dog may need meat and a leash. Basically, it is important that each member of the family has some stuff in a bag including children and pets. Additionally, I’d include a sturdy spork and bowl, matches and an extensive first aid kit.

a sack of healthcare

As a mother and care provider as well as a semi-responsible community member it is very important to me to be able to treat myself and others with herbal and conventional first aid in the case of an emergency.  A basic rundown of my emergency first aid kit is as follows:

Basic purchased 1st aid kit supplies such as bandaids, tape, gauze pads, etc.

Tweezers(splinters, ticks, etc.)

Any prescription medication or medical device you or your family needs to survive(ie insulin, inhaler, etc)

Children and adult benadryl and epi-pen(if you have potentially fatal allergies)

Raw honey(burns, wound dressing, food)

Milk thistle seeds and activated charcoal caps(poisoning)

Tissues, cotton swabs, alcohol swabs

Propolis-raw, tincture(highly protective, healing, use for tooth issues, wounds, sore throat and mold allergy)

Yarrow powder

Twine, paracord, rope-like units.

Swiss army knife

Garlic!

Lip balm, oil(windburn)

Rosewater spray, aloe gel(sunburn)

Pine resin-raw, tincture and salve(drawing, highly protective, lung medicine)

Tinctures-it is hard to narrow this down! Cause I am a “tincture person”. Personally I would prioritize Wild Rose, Ginger, Yarrow, Bitters blend, Nervine blend(Scullcap-based), Arnica(external use), Comfrey(external use),  St. john’s Wort, Usnea or another local lichen,  Barberry or Oregon Grape, Elecampane-mullein blend, Alder-Monarda blend, Lobelia-Black Haw liniment,  and Mugwort or a local Artemisia.  Were I to have time to pack and a way to transport I would also add Turmeric, Goldenrod, Burdock, Dandelion, Aspen, Sweet Annie, Solomon’s Seal and Fennel-Catnip. But, you  know, who is gonna carry all of that.

some useful items

Salves. An all-purpose pain salve such as Cottonwood bud, Pine and Birch is a must for me as well as an Arnica/Goldenrod combo.

I would also pack up some powdered Goldenseal, a bit of dry Usnea, Linden and  some Nettles and Sage.

small size tinctures for travel

Random useful items include in first aid kits are a whistle, some clay to make a drawing poultice, dried or candied Ginger, Angelica stem, and Licorice sticks to chew, Vitamins like B and D, iodine tablets, and a few empty waste bags.

Ultimately, the most important item one can bring in an emergency is skills. Easy to carry but timely to acquire those special skills that will serve us well through life are priceless. Identifying wild (and not-so-wild)edibles and medicinals, hunting, fishing, processing and preparing real food items with no electricity or running water, and the all-important waste management skill–including how to build a safe composting or other type of toilet! Communicating is a skill too-with all types of persons including total psychos, those who are freaking out and  those who are injured.

learn now to tell the difference between a rose hip and a nuclear reactor

So much the better if you never need to use your sturdy well-stocked emergency bag. But don’t be caught with your first aid pants down and no way to get the absolute basics if you and your community are evacuated, washed away or lost on a desert island. Plan now for an emergency and you will be prepared-as much as one can be.

yo, what’s the dose? tinctures, teas and more!

recently i have had a few lovely people who have ordered herbs ask me:

“what is the dosage?”

ah, the big and eternal question. as a seller of medicinal herb tinctures and tea blends i generally do not recommend a dosage when handing over the product-especially through mail order. why? because it is different for everyone. my assumption is that you came to purchase the herb after doing significant research and/or working with a holistic practitioner.

it depends on the person, the condition, the herb and the “magical extra”: the blending of all 3!

now i would be happy to help persons with a dosage guideline or range on inquiry, and of course i give dosage range to those i am working with as an herbalist. however, this explains why my herbal tinctures do not arrive at your house  with printed dosage. i hope this helps my wonderful customers to understand where i’m coming from, and thank you all so much for ordering from my little  herbal apothecary.

pressing goldenrod tincture