Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What a busy winter that was! It wasn't very cold (I only wore my long-johns what, maybe three days?) but it was busy. I spent the winter finalizing my new book and preparing and producing a new Audio CD program. What a wonderful feeling to birth them out into the world!

The book is The Essential Herbal for Natural Health: How to Transform Easy-to-Find Herbs into Healing Remedies for the Whole Family, which was published by the wonderful Shambhala Publications and is distributed by Random House. I'm so excited to get this into the hands of budding herbalists and crafters who want to use the more than 200 recipes in the book to make herbal remedies. It's written to empower families to sustain and heal themselves naturally, with guidance for using herbs for infants, children, teens, women and men.

The audio CD series is "How to Use Herbs for Natural Health," and it's a professionally edited and mastered audio collection organized by body system. The six CDs cover healing with herbs for the Cardiovascular System, the Skin, the Immune System, the Nervous System, the Digestive System, and guidance for establishing self-esteem through Positive Self Empowerment.

The CDs are available individually or as a complete set--and the sturdy, colorful protective case makes them a great gift. They're all available on my website and will be included in the:

da da DA!
New Heritage & Healing Herbal Studies Program! It's in process right now and will be part written and part audio CD. The program is designed to be a comprehensive introduction for men and women wishing to learn the botany and history of herbal medicine. It will take between 1 and 2 years to complete and will confer a certificate upon completion.

Email me to learn more! It will be open for enrollment by May 2012.

Thanks for everyone's kind support and good wishes while these books, CDs and program have been germinating and sprouting. These connections make the work worthwhile and very satisfying!


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#14

And of course, the last edible is actually at the top of my list, one of the most delightful and important herbs I can mention, and one of the ones I simply must include with my spring meals. Dandelion greens are wonderfully bitter, sharp, crunchy, tasty, and bright. They offer a depth of flavor that, in my opinion, is only matched by cultivated broccoli rabe.

Dandelion greens can, of course, be eaten raw, right where you’re standing in the garden, or where you get out of the car between the road and the house. Of course you don’t spray your yard, so unless they’ve been the unfortunate visitor from the family dog, they should be fine to eat. Early spring dandelion greens are more bitter than their fall leaves (same plant, different harvest) and are collectively known as “spring bitters” or cleansers, since they are hepatic and help the liver do its job of removing toxins and cleaning out from a long, sluggish winter. Raw dandelion greens provide iron, toxin removing support for the liver, and plenty of minerals to make them a top choice for your evening meal.

You can also cook them. They don’t need much—just a swish around a hot skillet and they’re ready to be sprinkled with vinegar. Or top your pizza with chopped dandelion greens and add goat cheese and garlic, and whatever mushrooms you have available. This makes an excellent change from spinach pizza and gives a boldness that we don’t often expect. I also chop dandelion greens and toss them in with pasta or sauce just before serving, so they are lightly wilted and soft but not fully cooked.

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#13

Red clover is a perennial favorite with adults and children alike, popping up its sweet head at the edge of every meadow and field. Though its cousin white clover is seldom used in culinary applications or in western herbal medicine, red clover (Trifolium pratense) is prized, partly because it makes a truly delicious tisane, and partly because it is a virtual medicine cabinet in itself.

To enjoy red clover’s unique talents, harvest several handfuls of the tops—the flower blossom plus the three little green leaves directly underneath them. For a lightly sweet tisane, or light tea, brew a handful of blossoms with 1 cup water for 5-8 minutes; sweeten with a touch of clover honey if desired. Children love this tea because it is sweet and lightly fragrant; adults love it because it is soothing and regenerative. In fact, red clover is considered an alterative or adaptogenic herb, meaning it helps the body adapt to stress and alter the way it reacts to outside stimuli.

Shred fresh blossoms into your salads and onto fresh fruit and vanilla ice cream. Try dipping large fresh blossoms into a chocolate sauce they way you do strawberries. Shred the blossoms into a vat of chocolate, add almonds if desired, and spread on a sheet of parchment paper on top of a cookie sheet. Place this in the refrigerator for an hour, then break or slice into bars or bark. Enjoy!

to Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#12

I have to mention watercress simply because it did me the favor this late winter of being the first wild plant to present itself for my edible enjoyment. I often enjoy watercress but don’t consider it one of my top ten, but apparently it wants to be included on this list, so I’ll oblige.

Watercress is a cress, a member of the mustard family, which is why it exhibits that familiar sharp, mustardy taste. All cresses are edible, but they vary in how bitter they are; some are so bitter that even with multiple boilings and changings-of-water, they still cannot be eaten. But watercress graces us with sharp tanginess without much bitterness, and it’s a joy to snip off the new growth, rinse away the slugs and snails, and munch that bright crispness in the earliest days of spring. Look for watercress where the water stands on the ground: marshes, wide creeks, and shallow ponds. It likes to keep not only its feet wet, like elderberry, but its whole body wet.

Use watercress in fresh salads or as a munch pick-me-up during the day, straight from the colander you washed it in.

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#11

Are we past 10 yet? Quite possibly, but I can’t stop. There are so many wonderful edible plants that are ready to be tried and enjoyed. Greek oregano is one, and it’s so easy to grow all you have to do is throw down a few seeds in the garden and by fall you’ll be weed-whacking you’re way through the dense, lush, Mediterranean-scented oregano patch.

It requires sandy, well drained soil that’s also somewhat rich, with full sun but it tolerates shade. Sound contradictory? It is, simply because oregano likes to grow in virtually any habitat south of the Arctic and north of the South pole.

Culinarily, Greek oregano (which differs from Mexican oregano) gives pizza that piquant flavor of Italy and lends pasta sauce that pizzazz we all expect from tomatoes. Used fresh, it makes a lovely addition sprinkled onto your favorite Roman dishes, but the real flavor comes after the oregano leaves are dried. Store them in an air-tight container and use within a year.

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#10

Ginger isn’t something many of us grow, as it is a strictly tropical plant that needs great warmth, sunshine and humidity. But thankfully we are lucky to find the delicious ginger root in almost any vegetable market, and it keeps well. Incredibly versatile and enjoyed in a wide array of the world’s top cuisines, ginger root adds warmth, spice, and an incredibly deep tone to any food.

Ginger’s warmth properties make it a wonderful medicine (which we’ll learn about in the article Holly’s Top Ten Medicinal Herbs), but for our purposes here—which are culinary—we’ll discuss how to enjoy it as a food, and beverage.

Chop ginger coarsely to add to stir fries or to many Thai dishes. Make a strong ginger tea and use half tea and half water when cooking rice for an Oriental meal. Toss a slice of ginger in with the beans while they’re soaking or pre-cooking, as this helps them be more digestible. Candy ginger slices by lightly steaming them and then dipping in a simple sugar syrup.

Finally, make and enjoy ginger root tea. Best made from dried ginger (with the peels on), this tea is strong, enlivening, and perky. Steep one teaspoon of dried chopped ginger with one cup boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Strain and add honey and/or lemon juice (in the winter) or add honey and/or mint leaves (in the summer). Be ready to be active after drinking it!

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#9

When most people think of roses, they imagine William Shakespeare, or a garden in full bloom, or Valentine’s Day. Few people actually think of eating the roses, but I admit I am one of that crowd. There are actually two parts of the rose that can be considered top-notch edibles: the hips (that is, the ripe fruit that forms after the flower has fallen), and the petals.

The hips are high in vitamin C and as such make a valuable contribution to the winter larder. Make a simple tea (decoction) from the hips, or a syrup, and take it by the teaspoonful as a medicine. It tastes strongly tart but can be tamed with a little sugar or honey.

And the petals? Sprinkle fresh, light rose petals on top of a summer green salad, or on top of fresh fruit or even ice cream. It’s also easy to candy them by dipping them carefully in a sugar syrup and allowing them to dry on a screen. Roses help heal the heart—emotionally, so eating them as a sweet treat is surely on target for what Mother Nature intended for this beautiful plant.

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#8

Berries in general are high on most people’s Most Enjoyed Wild Foods lists, and mine is no exception. But should I include Autumn Olive, with its firm, red berry? Or the Beach Plum, with its exquisite mauve-purple gem? Raspberries? Blackberries? Blueberries or huckleberries? While I spend inordinate hours every summer gathering these berries with my children, (and eating them fresh and raw with stained hands and mouths), I must include here in the Top Ten Edibles list the Elderberry. Why? Because it just doesn’t get much attention, that’s why, and it’s incredibly easy to harvest and prepare into delicious food. My beloved “mentor” herbalist Euell Gibbons commented that hundreds of thousands of pounds of this berry go uneaten every summer, and it’s true—I rarely come across other elderberry connoisseurs even though these lovely small trees grow plentifully around marshes, bogs and streams.

The lovely elder is much more medicinal than it is edible, so the bulk of its information will be in the Top Ten Medicinal Herbs article, but I will say here that its plant matter (leaves, flowers, berries, bark) should be harvested with utmost respect for its inner deity, or Elder Mother. Legends abound about the Hulda Mutter who, in old European folk lore, resided inside the trunk of the tree. Great care was taken when harvesting the wood for firewood and many peasants refused to cut it for such a menial purpose, instead bequeathing to the elder tree the highest status of the land and using its products (if at all) for strictly healing or musical purposes. Indeed, the small hollow twigs can be made into rudimentary flutes, and the leaves, flowers, berries and bark are all venerated for their healing effects on the respiratory system, bronchial chambers, immune system, and for skin complaints.

So how do you enjoy the edible berries? First, be sure to cook them. This is important, since the berries have a rather rank scent about them and will cause upset tummies if eaten raw. But cooked…they impart a rich, earthy flavor and combine wonderfully with blueberries. Add them into your recipes for muffins and pies, using half elderberries and half blueberries or huckleberries.

Another way to use elderberries is to harvest them and place them fresh into a glass mason jar. Follow your favorite cordial recipe and cover them with vodka or brandy, and sugar. The longer they steep the mellower they become, and once strained will delight guests with their vibrant purple color and sweet flavor.

Elder flowers are also edible and are usually prepared as fritters. Harvest the entire flower head from the stalk and dip it into a prepared bowl of batter. Fry quickly on high heat and serve with a light honey or sweet-and-sour sauce.

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#7

Wood sorrel (Oxalis) is that tiny little clover-like plant you see growing on the sides of trails, with almost invisible yellow flowers and infinitesimal Hindenberg-shaped seed pods. To convince yourself of the worthiness of this divine little snack, snip off a few leaves (and even better, a seed-pod) and pop them into your mouth. Taste that tingling, tangy citrus flavor? It’s lemony and delicious and sharp, and that mouth-watering tanginess is the result of this plant’s high concentration of oxalic acid. 

Use the leaves and seed pods frequently as little highlights in your salads, or quick nibbles on your herb walks, but don’t indulge in a whole plate—oxalic acid in great quantities can turn into calcium oxalate in the body, possibly forming kidney stones. (By the way, spinach is also high in oxalic acid.)

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#6

Every gardener is familiar with the next on my list, lamb’s quarters. Properly called Chenopodium album, lamb’s quarters begin in early spring as ¼ inch high bluish-green bi-lobed sprigs. These tiny seedlings often carpet a rich area such as a garden or cultivated field, and they can be eaten beginning now all the way through their maturity, which is in late fall. At their height, lamb’s quarters grow 7 or 8 feet tall with branches that reach out several feet and leaves the size of your hand. They are annuals and will rapidly self-sow, but don’t worry—they’re entirely welcome. (Of course, remove those that will shade your vegetables.)

Lamb’s quarters offer two distinct types of food to the discriminating forager: the leaves, and the seeds. The leaves are green on top and pale silver underneath, like a raspberry’s leaves, and are deeply serrated and soft, with a dusty quality about them. These can be plucked and eaten raw, or they can be gathered en masse and steamed much the way you would steam turnip or spinach greens. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and vinegar, and you have a side dish par excellence.

These greens are incredibly high in minerals, in fact they are as nutritious as spinach and should be consumed in the same ways. I’ve read that lamb’s quarters were cultivated by the American colonists and traded, but since they readily grow wild they were not a viable commodity.

So to the seeds: In the late fall, the large plant will virtually be falling over with the weight off its small, brown seeds. They hang in slender little bunches and can easily be stripped off by hand and collected in a bag. Do this, because you will be rewarded with nutty-flavored seeds that, when lightly roasted, add a delicious (and highly nutritious) crunch to oatmeal, granola, and even salads. Try baking them in your breads and muffins; they are hearty and grounding. Many “hippies” soak them and use them like TVP, textured vegetable protein, as a meat substitute. Imagine: all this for simply enjoying the sideline “waste” areas of your garden!

to Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#5

In early spring, jewelweed sprouts alongside skunk cabbage in all those wet and swampy places we love to look but fear to trod. The soft, murky, marshy areas underneath the trees is usually too unstable to hold our footsteps, but just perfect for jewelweed, a member of the Impatiens family, to grow. These are the plants that have the yellow or orange flowers in the summer, and the same plants that boast the pods in the fall that pop out their spiraling mass of entrails (seeds), which is why they’re nick-named touch-me-not.

At the beginning of spring, look for little, light green sprouts popping through, similar to basil sprouts in that they have one large lobe on each side of the stalk—and that’s it. Each lobe has a little notch in the end, and they are very flat, round and pale green. This is a baby jewelweed, and at this stage it’s edible.

Simply snip off the top part of the sprout with your finger and thumb and collect in a basket; add these snips to your green salad for a delightful crunch and sweetness. Once the sprouts grow to about 4 inches tall, they’re getting too tough to be enjoyed as an edible. A true spring delicacy!

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#4

Ready for another seldom-discovered edible treat from Mother Natura? Another edible treasure you should look for in the woods is the creamy white blossom of the honey locust tree.

I love this tree. It’s useful for firewood, for fencing, and (though not many people know it), for wild dining. The mature tree produces white flowers that form a sort of drooping cluster, much like wisteria, that will cover the tree in the mid-to-late summer, depending on your location. 

The best way, I was taught years ago, to enjoy these delectable flowers, is to snip off the cluster at the stem and immediately dip it into a bowl of ice cold water. Then simply, and gracefully, eat the cold, sweet blossoms. Heaven!

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#3

If you’re prone to wandering around in the woods for hours at a time and nibbling on anything that looks half-way tender, you might have come across young Solomon’s Seal shoots (Polygonatum bi-florum). These poke through the forest-floor mast in early, early spring and look less like asparagus than they do little slender whorls of green. They tend to have a greenish/bluish/grayish cast about them, and are usually smaller than the diameter of your finger.

Solomon’s seal leaves themselves are not edible, but the shoot is. That is, the stem growing south of the leaves that heads down into the rich, shady soil. Grasp carefully at the soil level with the fingers and thumb, and slowly pull straight up. The entire root will come up (which is exactly why you need to practice restraint and only pull up 1 for every 10 you see). Wipe off the dirt and you have an edible, crunchy, sweet, juicy hors-d’oerve, ready to enjoy immediately.

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Holly's Top Ten Edible Herbs...#2

Lemon balm’s cousin, mint, is well-known and beloved as an edible all over the world. Called herba buena in Mexico, and used all the way across the world in Moroccan green teas, as well as everywhere in between, mint is a versatile, welcome addition to many world cuisines. Southern U.S. custom has us sipping mint juleps, but there are other wonderful ways to use this culinary (and did I mention medicinal?) herb. Chopped or sliced, the fresh leaves are the traditional garnish for tabouleh, and many grain dishes enjoy the addition of mint and/or lemony herb leaves.

Mint comes in all flavors and sizes. When I was the head gardener at the historic Mast Farm Inn in the lovely Valle Crucis, North Carolina, I routinely harvested bouquets of fluffy apple mint from the sides of the creek that ran by the centuries-old cabin. Many gardeners grow chocolate mint, or pineapple mint, but my favorites for medicine and eating are plain old peppermint (Mentha piperta) and spearmint (Mentha spicata).

These two mints are noticeably different: peppermint usually has larger leaves and a more pungent, sharp flavor. Spearmint has smaller, more petite leaves, and a much sweeter flavor. When preparing sparkly sun beverages with children, use spearmint, as it is generally tolerated better by picky eaters, and when making a summer blend with zingy flowers such as hibiscus, combine both peppermint and spearmint for a well-bodied beverage.

Mint is known to increase blood circulation and can be helpful when you’re feeling sluggish; this is why it’s often included in hot chocolate concoctions and given in the depths of a cold winter.

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Holly’s Top 10 Edible Herbs

Of course, on any given day, my list of favorite and most-used herbs will be somewhat, or even radically, different. It’s seasonal, naturally, and based on what’s going on in my life and the lives of my family members. And are we talking top 10 wild plants that I get to go look for in the dark green forest and spend a lovely afternoon foraging for? Or are we talking top ten culinary herbs that have made their way to me via our amazing herbal heritage and, miracle of miracles, are either growing in my own garden right now or are waiting for me on the grocer’s shelf? Regardless of the provenance of these herbs, or how dirty my hands became in the process of acquiring them, these are the ones I love, that are dearest to my heart. In general, I tend to gravitate toward a couple of handfuls of plants for my edible and medicinal needs. These are my favorites, the plants I adore, those that give my spirit the nudge it needs occasionally and those that make my body radiantly healthy. Here are the top ten edibles; the next article will showcase the top ten medicinals (and beware: it just might grow a little, to say 12, or 20). I apologize in advance; I can’t help it.

Let’s start with a zinger: Lemon Balm. Melissa (which means bee) is a lovely moundy round shrub of an herb, with stalks that reach upward and yet keep themselves in more or less of a mass. The flowers are rather diminutive and are barely noticeable, aside from belying their minty ancestry, but it’s their leaves that we’re interested in here. These leaves are roundish, ovate as botanists like to call them but really closer to just plain round. They’re indented on the edges (serrated), and they’re nice and thick. Held in your hand, they feel feather-light but are actually substantial, especially if compared to really delicate leaves of, say, the jewelweed.

Lemon Balm smells of lemon, hence its name, and it tastes of lemon too. This is thanks to its high essential oil content, which is a boon for those of us who love citrus flavor of all kinds, and who tend toward melancholy or even colds and flu in the winter. I use lemon balm in all my winter teas because it is a wonderful anti-viral, particularly against the herpes simplex virus. (For this reason, by the way, it makes a stellar lip balm for cold sores.)

Lemon balm is so medicinal I can’t help but say oodles about it, but we’ll save the majority for Holly's Top Ten Medicinal herbs because I have a sneaky suspicion it’s going to end up on the top 10 list there, too. Lemon balm is useful in so many medicinal applications, especially those dealing with the mind or the emotions.

Edibly, lemon balm makes a tasty addition to salads, can be nibbled raw, chewed like tobacco, or sliced and enjoyed at the moment you put a bowl of quinoa or tabouleh on the table. The best way to enjoy lemon balm is to make a beverage with it. Lemonade springs to mind, of course (and blended with tangy tops of sumac this is a supreme summer iced beverage!), and lemony hot tea in the winter makes for a mouth-puckering, health-inducing warming, healing beverage. Simply dry the leaves in a cool, drafty, dark place, and crumble one teaspoon of them per cup of boiling water. Steep at least 8 to 10 minutes, though steeping for much longer gives a bolder flavor to the tea. (I recommend 20 to 30 minutes). And if you use fresh leaves, double or even triple the quantity as fresh leaves give a milder tea.

To Your Whole Life,

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Violet Honey is the Bomb

Another wild green you're likely (and lucky) to come upon is violet. This is a common plant most of us are familiar with, but did you know its flowers are edible? And its leaves are medicinal?

The leaves are traditionally used for respiratory ailments, just as self-heal is, but it is more of an expectorant. These are actually quite strong and work well in remedies for coughs and bronchitis. It's easy to tincture violet, and it also works nicely in salves. Now is a great time to harvest early spring wildflowers and leaves to make early-season salves, tinctures, and to dry for teas.

And how about honeys? I love to harvest fresh herbs, chop them, and cover them with honey. Cover the pot and let it sit overnight, and heat it very gently to strain in the morning. The honey will be fragrant with the scent of the herb you infused in it; violets make a very subtle yet charming and utterly delicious honey.

For more remedies, please visit Vineyard Herbs!


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More Wild Greens You Can Eat!

Getting the garden and yard ready for the spring involves shoveling, raking, and of course, weeding. Some of the lovely wildflowers you might encounter in your spring activities are lilies, daffodils and violets, and some of the herbs are violets (considered a medicinal and edible herb as well as a wildflower), self-heal, and mint.

Let's talk about self-heal. It's related to mints, and it boasts dark purple and deep green leaves and flowers similar to oregano. It's also called heal-all, which is a good indicator that in times past, our European and Native American great-grandmothers really treasured this plant for its extensive list of benefits. Today, it is largely forgotten, which is a shame because it's a beautiful little flower that requires no work, it's easy to harvest, it's perennial, and it's actually quite useful.

As a medicinal, self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) is included in many respiratory remedies, not because it is an expectorant but because it soothes and protects. We often forget that our lungs need protecting--doctors teach us to be very pro-expectorant. Get that mucous out! Get that coughing out! They like to evacuate fluids from the body. It's very satisfying for them, and is has been for centuries. (To learn more about evacuation medicine and the alarming practices of purging and blood-letting, read  Green Pharmacy by Barbara Griggs.) Self-heal is mucilaginous, so it soothes sore and raw bronchial tissues and helps them relax.

When you're in the garden and you cut yourself, reach for self-heal. Chew the leaves briefly until the mass feels thick and wet in your mouth. Apply this poultice to the cut, and know that you are providing your body with quick, easy and 100% natural juices that will work much more nicely than a tube of stuff from the drug-store.

For more natural wound or bronchial remedies, harvested from fresh plants, please visit Vineyard Herbs.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Wild Greens You Can Eat!

Well, it's been exactly a month since my last posting, and boy has it been busy! My son's 11th birthday this week and my daughter's 9th next week; I'm getting certified as a holistic life coach, which is wonderful since I already incorporate coaching into my herb consultations and I've long been a practitioner of manifestation; and spring-time--it's here! Working in the yard is a great way to begin this new vibrant season.

Herbs you may come across at this chilly but sunny time are watercress and mustard. These are sharp and pungent herbs that are slightly bitter, and these tastes tell us a lot of what these herbs do for us. Pungent herbs (others include pepper, garlic, and yarrow, for example) get our blood moving and bring blood flow from the core to the periphery, which often makes us sweat. Arugula does this nicely in salads, complementing the sweet buttery lettuces with a sharp bite.

When you come across watercress (in cool, shady and wet places like streams and ponds) or mustard (often called cress or creasy greens, growing in farmlands and gardens), please harvest them. Take scissors and snip off the tops, and when you have a large bunch or bagful, place them in the top of a steamer on the stove and steam them as you would turnip greens. Watercress can be eaten raw, but mustard is too spicy and also very bitter unless it's steamed or otherwise cooked. Of course, this bitterness is what "blood cleansing herbs" are all about, waking up our digestive systems after a sluggish winter, but if it's too bitter it's hard to eat! Once steamed (or boiled), drizzle with olive oil and plenty of vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add fun things you might desire: walnuts, feta cheese, or even cranberries. This makes a lovely bright green side dish, and it's very nutritious! What a great way to eat wild greens!


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Evening Primrose and the Evil PMS

I hope you haven't had the evil PMS that I've had in my life, but if you're anything like the hundreds of customers who use my Wild Yam PMS Jam, or the clients who call me for herbal healing guidance, you've experienced the emotional mood swings (less like a pendulum and more like a demolition battering ball), the bloating (less like a helium balloon in the belly and more like the Hindenburg), the food cravings (I keep Green & Blacks Chocolate Company in business), sore breasts, water gain, depression, blah blah blah.

We've all been there to one degree or another, and PMS and the menstrual cycle has been experienced for centuries, though under different names. The Flow, On The Rag, the Dot, Aunt Red, and especially...The Curse. Need I say more?

So...How to treat these nasty, cyclical symptoms? Conventional medicine would have us believe we must live on Ibuprofen and The Pill in order to reduce or relieve these symptoms. Thankfully, that's not the case. Herbal medicine is powerful stuff--equal to or stronger than any curse we have to deal with. Black cohosh, vitex berry, wild yam, lemon balm, motherwort...all these are wonderful herbs. But have you tried Evening Primrose?

This lovely flower--the seed, actually--boasts a high content of gamma linoleic acid (GLA), that wonderful, soothing fatty acid that saves our exhausted bodies from having to make more work for ourselves. We normally convert GLA from linoleic acid, a metabolic process necessary when we eat food such as sunflower seeds. But this breakdown-metabolism is not without consequences; specifically, it creates waste in the body, much like an automobile breaking down gasoline creates exhaust. And what does the body do with this waste? The liver tries its hardest to excrete it, but often a great deal of it must come out of our other excretory channels--and most often this includes the skin and lungs. Eczema, psoriasis, acne, asthma... These can all result from this and other metabolic processes in the body.

So Evening Primrose gives our bodies the pure, unadulterated fatty acid it needs, without any conversion necessary. And this helps our livers, which in turn helps--you guessed it--our hormonal balance. Because the liver processes so much metabolic waste (including spent hormones), its health is directly related to our hormonal health. By inference (and of course, experience), taking extracts of the seed of Evening Primrose can help reduce the severity of PMS symptoms.

Talk it over with your local, trusted herbalist. It is, once again, an opportunity for good health.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Strange Story of Opportunity

One night, a young woman wandered into a garden of flowers. She approached a lovely butter-colored flower and reached out to pluck it--but as if sensing her presence, it closed up tight. "Oh, how I wish I could have used you," she mourned. "How I wish I knew your secrets. You were so beautiful, so bright. I saw you from a distance and walked a long way to reach you here where you are growing among the red clover and the buttercups and the yarrow. But now you're gone."

The flower said nothing. It stayed closed up tight. The young woman lay down beneath the tall stalk of the primrose and fell asleep, dreaming of wine and future husbands and tormented bleeding times. "I just want to be clear," she cried in her sleep. "I promise to listen, to be receptive, to open myself to learning. I'm ready."

When she awoke, she looked up. Above her seemed to be a tiny sun, beaming down at her. But the sun was just rising on the horizon. She looked closer: the blossom of the Primrose was opening, the same blossom she was sure was going to die and fall the night before. It was full and yellow, and had decided to open again--just for her. The blossom smiled at her, and revealed its secrets.

A strange and perhaps silly story; a belief in the timing of miracles; a love for the flowers; a certainty that what you ask for will be answered, in one way or another. Be patient. Be persistent.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An opportunity is the Universe's way of answering our requests. The catch is, we often don't realize we've made any requests (at least consciously), so many opportunities are viewed as freak chances, random happenings, or even as meaningless coincidences.

Was it a freak chance that William Withering long ago met up with a wise village woman in Shropshire, England, and "discovered" her methods for using foxglove to treat heart failure? Was it coincidence that, in mythology, young Kore fell down a hole and was dragged to the underworld, forcing her mother--the Grain Goddess Demeter--to mournfully create winter? More personally, was it a "random happening" when you first met your spouse? Or that you were born to the parents who birthed you?

So many chance meetings and experiences take place that we pretend to be unaware of why they are happening. "Surely I didn't create this," we think. "Wow, how lucky that I ran into you today!" Or, "I don't know, it's what I asked for but now I'm not so sure I should take it." These negative thoughts undermine our ability to see that we are, in fact, creating our own destinies and the Universe is happily obliging, giving us exactly what we ask for.

What are you asking for, right now?

And is the Universe giving it to you? Maybe...right now?


Monday, February 21, 2011

A Flower's Little Secret

The plant world is forever inspiring me with its ability to maximize opportunity. The fact that plants will climb a fence, reach toward the sun or scatter their seeds for optimal fertilization is often explained botanically and biologically, but, heavens, there seems to be something greater behind those abilities and aspirations than simple DNA.

The lovely flower Evening Primrose takes advantage of its opportunities in quite an efficient manner. Its buttery blossoms open each morning, enjoy the sunshine, then close up tight at night. Are they conserving energy? Do they have a secret? The reserve their beauty for daylight when they'll get the most bang for the buck--sunshine, fresh air, and visiting pollinators. But it's possible there's more to it than that.

Evening primrose has been appreciated for centuries mostly because Theophrastus, in about 350BC, lauded the plant for (basically) healing hangovers. He also said the plant gladdened the heart and would tame wild rough beasts (including, presumably, drunk humans).

Native American tribes used the stems and leaves to soothe inflamed tissues (both externally and internally). And recently, thanks to scientific inquiry, we have discovered that the seeds hold a very valuable oil that helps regulate hormonal cycles in women (hallelujah!), heals skin diseases such as eczema, treats anxiety (just like lemon balm), and acts like vitamin E.

How much more can this one little flower offer humanity? In part, it's a question of opportunity--how can we maximize our opportunity with this botanical specimen and "get all we can out of it"? Which of course is not a wholistic approach, at all. We should be grateful, accepting, and honoring of Mother Nature's gifts. And of course we are. But I ask you: do we, personally, really maximize our opportunities like we should? Aren't there myriad possibilities out there waiting for us to act on them, yet we ignore them out of fear, uncertainty, or anxiety?

Naturally, there is a fine line between optimizing our opportunities and exploiting that which gives us something. Evening primrose is not one to be exploited: we know that just by watching her flowers close up each evening. She's not about to let herself be exploited. But she does have something to teach us, and medicine to share with us, if we're respectful...and receptive.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I Intend It...Therefore It Is

Ah, the power of intention. Not as in, "I meant to do that, but I forgot." But as in, "I want to see such-and-such in my world, so dammit, I'm going to make it happen." Intention is a great creative force: it's the power of desire captured in the physical. It's hands-on wishful thinking.

Intention can lead to great things in life. Without desire, how will we get anywhere? Only a banal existence can come from rote learning, habitual doing, and mindless following. To really live requires desires--and the intention to create that which one desires. Once you've tasted desire and have taken the next step to manifest in your life the result of that desire, you never want to go back. This is the lesson we have to teach children--keep dreaming, desiring, intending and manifesting. This (and not following or being passive) is the true path to an enriching life.

As Helen Keller said, "One can never consent to creep when one feels the impulse to soar." And the power of intention can be the rocket fuel that gets desire off the ground. Manifest what you desire in life and settle for nothing less!

Toward fulfillment,
Holly at Vineyard Herbs

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Classes for the Winter!

Join me for what promises to be 2 warming, inspiring series of classes this winter and early spring! We'll meet in the comfortable, beautiful Up-Island Co-Housing space in West Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard on Wednesday evenings at 7:00 pm... The first series is The Winter Apothecary Classes, which begins Wednesday February 23 and will focus on a different topic each week, each meant to bring clarity and inspiration for using natural, herbal remedies for a variety of illnesses or concerns.

The first focus of this series is Healthy Digestion: Improve your Digestion, Improve your Life! We've all heard the maxims about eating properly, but what about those wonderful tasty plants that are considered--not food--but medicine? And even tonics? They are frequently overlooked but can provide an effective and even delicious way to improve digestion, soothe ulcers and eliminate gas, heartburn, constipation, and other troublesome tummy problems. Informative, detailed and casual. $20. Go here for more details.

Also mark your calendars for a wonderful intensive workshop beginning April 27! The Buttercup Lifestyle Workshop TM is a five-week journal-based intensive to explore and engage The Buttercup List, the result of Holly's sixteen years of study with international healers. This workshop covers the five personal tenets essential for attaining natural health and reaching self-fulfillment. More to come later, pre-register to reserve your spot for Wednesday evenings from 7-8:30 pm April 27 through May 25. $125.

Thinking healthy!
Holly (here with a gorgeous giant flower and a hand-made lei while interviewing traditional polynesian healers and botanists in Hawaii!)

Monday, February 7, 2011

This Child Was The Original Slow Food, Organic Revolutionizer

I'll bet you know the story of a child who was born into slavery in the 1860s but whose extraordinary gift for communing with plants brought him great fame, only to be later stuck in history books in a dry, boring manner that fails to celebrate his true genius. Though he is honored today as being a "chemist" and something of an inventor, this child really opened entire fields of study for Americans and introduced hundreds of new products, all from natural sources. Today he should be heralded as the ultimate "slow food" director and the quintessential "think global, act local" hero. The great "organic naturalist." He really started the movement.

As a child, young orphaned George was said to have played not with other children but alone in his woodland garden. He cobbled together tossed out window panes and bits of garbage to create cold frames where he nurtured young plants to life. He even "healed" sick plants and explained to his caregivers that he was going to his "garden hospital and take care of hundreds of sick plants." Eventually people began to see that he really was healing plants and they brought him their sick houseplants and garden plants--all of which thrived after George got hold of them.

As an adult, George was recruited by Booker T. Washington to work on the faculty of Tuskegee Institute (later Tuskegee University) in Alabama, where he first set up a laboratory to study the health of the soil. A very pious young man, George dubbed his lab "God's Little Workshop," and here he brought his students to learn to "listen" to the plants.

George was the first--I repeat, the first--in Alabama to create garden compost to benefit the health of the soil. This was at the turn of the century when early chemical fertilizers were being heralded as miracles for vegetables. But George understood the chemicals made people sick and could not possibly help a growing vegetable reach its mineral potential. When the results were measured, George was finally recognized as the brilliant agriculturalist he was. Now, instead of being referred to as George, born into slavery, he was called, respectfully, by his full name: George Washington Carver.

We all know from our dry textbooks that Mr. Carver worked miracles with peanuts: he discovered their protein value and pulled seven different oils from the nut and eventually made hundreds of patentable products from them (though he never, unfortunately ((pun intended)) pulled patents on any of his discoveries). But we're probably all surprised to learn that he revolutionized the use and appreciation of sweet potatoes. Let alone his accomplishments in chemistry and war-time inventions, Mr. Carver is single-handedly responsible for introducing the sweet potato as a delicious and nutritious food source to the American diet.

He did much more than I can print here in this blog. But my point is this: never underestimate what you have to offer to the world. Each of us is brilliant and has a unique gift to share. You may consider yourself "unimportant" as did many slaves and descendants in the 1890s, whose work and contributions went neglected, especially in the south. You may even be told you are unimportant--as was George Washington Carver. As was Martin Luther King Jr. As were Booker T. Washington and Ida B. Wells.

But these people didn't let that stop them. They listened not to what other people said of them, but only to what their hearts said.

Here's a little inspiration for today: go out and listen to your heart.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Journey of A Thousand Miles...To Reach Us

Here's a bit of trivia about the ancient philosophy of Ayurveda: Approximately five thousand years ago, the most knowledgeable sages of India trekked, individually, thousands of miles to meet at a central location in a Himalayan cave. Here these wise philosophers gathered to discuss, of all things, the eradication of all human suffering.

Did they accomplish their mission? Obviously humans still suffer; Siddhartha and Jesus notwithstanding, as a lot we can be a pretty miserable crowd. Thankfully, we also recognize wisdom when we see it, which is why, I believe, Ayurveda has survived. (We also recognize beauty and goodness, which is why humans have survived.)

So what does Ayurveda tell us? It teaches us about proper use of food, medicine, exercise, study, contemplation, obedience, and even sex. Generally, it advocates moderation in everything, which is a very sensible approach to health as well as to academia and career pursuits, and of course to relationships.

Since we've been talking about sweetness, and how wonderful it is to be sweet, we should also consider Ayurveda's point of view on sweets: keep it moderate, and it's great. We shouldn't ignore sweets or consider them unhealthy--in fact bringing a certain sweetness to life can expand your sense of generosity and compassion.

How do you do it in a healthy, moderate way? One way is with our old friend licorice. The sweet root offers much more than just a sweet taste--it helps with a myriad of health concerns such as coughing, digestion and ulcers...but more on these later this week.

Licorice Almond Milk
Today: a sweet recipe using this delectable and ancient herb. Following along the alkaline-promoting guidelines of Ayurveda, this simple milk invokes the healthy protein benefits of almonds with the anise-flavor of licorice.

  • 1 tsp dried licorice root
  • 1/2 tsp orange peel or cinnamon, if desired
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon honey, if desired

Place the dried licorice root (and optional orange peel or cinnamon pieces) in a mesh teaball and dangle in a saucepan. (If you don't have a mesh tea ball, simply brew the licorice root loose and then strain it out when you pour your mug of milk.) Pour in the almond milk, make sure it covers the licorice ball, and bring to a simmer. Brew on medium-to-low heat for 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure the milk does not burn. Add honey if desired, and pour into warm ceramic mugs. (Note: Ayurveda encourages drinking this milk after sex to restore the energy. What a great excuse to experiment with herbal medicine!)


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Ayurveda of Licorice: Blessings of the Sweet Root

Yes, it's good to be sweet. As much as our society encourages us to avoid sweets, sugars and treats, we can't ignore this vital taste--and this wonderful energy--because sweetness is so good to us not only physically but also emotionally. We tend to eat salty, act bitter. We eat pungent, act sour. That's not balanced! It's best to have all the flavors--and attitudes--in moderation. This time of year--especially during this phenomenal winter of snowstorm after icestorm when we're all getting a little cranky--it's important to introduce a little sweetness into our lives.

Ayurveda is a healing system from India that draws on ancient philosophies of diet and body constitution to create balance in one's life. I am by no means an expert on Ayurveda, but I was intrigued to read about its philosophy toward certain tastes, including sweet. Here's an excerpt from Dr. Vasant Lad's Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing Second Edition:

"Excessive use [of sweet] can produce many disorders in all the doshas (body constitutions). Sweet foods especially aggravate kapha and cause cold, cough, congestion, heaviness, loss of appetite, laziness and obesity...abnormal muscle growth, lymphatic congestion, tumors, edema and diabetes." But there are good qualities to this favorite of all tastes, too: Dr. Lad says that when used moderately, sweets can be wholesome to the body and promote the growth of "plasma, blood, muscles, fat, bones, marrow and reproductive fluids." Especially sperm, he says.

I think the key is moderation. One way to get some sweet into your system this winter, without over-indulging in hard candies or sugar-laden cookies, is to drink licorice tea. This is not the same as eating little black licorice candies, which may or may not actually be licorice and certainly do not have the same healing qualities as a brewed cup of Glycyrrhiza glabra. Sweet root, or licorice, is an ancient indulgence; people have swooned over its mesmerizing taste for probably thousands of years and it has been a hot commodity across countless nations.

At the health food store, purchase a small baggie of dried licorice, and try to ensure it has not been unsealed from the vacuum-packed bags they receive the herbs it. Get it fresh. At home, spoon out one teaspoon and pour over this (into a teapot) one cup boiling water. Let steep 5-6 minutes. The tea is ready at this point, but an even better recipe is this:

  • 1 tsp Licorice root
  • 1/4 tsp Orange peel
  • 1/4-inch stick cinnamon bark
  • one tsp of other sustaining herbs such as fennel, fenugreek, ashwagandha, damiana, or nettle

Pour two cups boiling water over the mixture and infuse (brew) 7-8 minutes. Strain (don't add any sweetener!) and enjoy hot!

For a ready-made delicious mixture, check out Vineyard Herbs' Aquinnah Cliffs Licorice Tea and our other signature blends. More tomorrow on how to use this valuable herb.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Be Sweet Today

With all the hype against sugar these days--blood sugar highs, diabetes and obesity, hypoglycemia, cardiovascular troubles, terrible health--it's no wonder we feel pressured to stay away from sweets. Sweet treats will rot our teeth, rob our memories, and make us generally all-around sticky no-good people. Or so we're told.

There is a certain truth to it, of course. An excess of anything will cause imbalance, and moderation is always the best course. Sweets do play havoc with our protein/potassium/salt/amino acid/you-name-it chemical balance that we try so hard to keep ship-shape. So it's important to not overdo the sugars, especially refined sugars.

But I'm afraid this resistance to sugars has led us, as a nation, to abstain from sweets in general--even sweetness to each other. Sweetness to ourselves.

I'm here to say we all need a bit of sweet in our lives. Maybe even a lot of sweet. Not necessarily food sweets. But giving, kind, syrupy, stick to your teeth, heart-felt loving sweetness. When was the last time you gave yourself a hug? How about giggling out-of-control with your children? Rolling around on the floor with someone special, sharing the darn sweetest evening of love, laughter and silliness?

It's this kind of sweetness that warms our cockles and bastes our hearts with the joy of living. Otherwise we'd be dry and sour. This balance is part of who we are: we're meant to laugh, to be silly, to joke and to bestow sweet, loving gifts on others. This kind of love will never rot your teeth--instead, it will anchor you to the light, bolster your health and (I think) improve your immunity. Nothing beats chocolate love.

Be sweet today-- to yourself and to those you love,

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ginger Around The World

You've made ginger cookies, you've had ginger ale. The posts this week have discussed making ginger tea (infusion) and briefly mentioned its use as a muscle soother and nausea remedy. So how about something completely delicious? Ginger syrup.

Syrups are easy--and very enjoyable to both make and use. Simply chop the ginger root very fine and measure 2-4 tablespoons. Place this in the bottom of a sauce pan and add 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until you're left with only 1 cup of water. In other reduce, reduce by evaporation the liquid by half. Now strain the ginger out, return the "tea" to the pan and add 1/2 cup sugar or honey. This creates a thick, very fragrant, not-terribly-sweet syrup. REmove from the heat and stir until the tea and honey are completely blended. Pour into a mason jar and store in the refrigerator. (This is important: it won't keep at room temperature.)

Enjoy this syrup in teas, added to oatmeal, drizzled onto waffles after maple syrup for a zingy taste...or even added along with chopped candied ginger. This will really get your blood moving!

The Buttercup Book List (TM) for this week looks at The Garden of Life: An Introduction To The Healing Plants Of India by Naveen Patnaik (Doubleday, 1993). This is a lovely book with a general and intriguing introduction to Ayurveda, the Indian "Way of Life" as well as a compilation of sacred plants, medicinal plants, culinary plants, cosmetic plants and aromatic plants used in Ayurveda and throughout India. Colorful illustrations on nearly every other page add to the comfortable feeling that this is a culturally rich and evocative read, and since it's full of myths, folklore and anecdotal information about a wide variety of exotic and compelling plants, it's a must for any herbal bookshelf. Pick it up if you see it at a used book store.

Enjoy the syrup!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Cinnamon, Ginger & Lemon, Oh My!

This trio of tree bark, root and citrus fruit is quite a combination. Separately they are used in various desserts and tangy chutneys. But medicine?

Yes! Herbalists around the world prize these plants and the medicines made from them for healing and soothing many an illness. This week we're looking at ginger--the tropical root of Zingiber officinale. I've used this particular herb for years as a pharmaceutical as well as including it in various delicious dishes. Ginger root is valuable for addressing colds and flu, as well as easing stomach gripes and pains, increasing blood flow throughout the body and relieving chills, reducing fever and stimulating the entire body.

In the last post I suggested making a tea with ginger root and also making a honey. To make a medicinal honey, you can take two approaches: the first uses fresh herbs and is, in my opinion, the stronger of the two methods. Be creative with your herb choices: lavender makes a superbly flavored honey, as does mint. Ginger can be chopped (flesh and skin) and honeyed for an enlivening addition to any pot of tea or even added to oatmeal, hot grains, and sweet and sour salad dressing.

Chop coarsely the herb(s) you wish to use in your honey. Place the ginger in a large stainless steel pan or bowl. Cover with honey; start with one cup honey to 2-4 tablespoons chopped ginger. Cover the pot or bowl and allow to sit overnight. Honey at room temperature is very thick and viscous, so in order to strain it, the honey must be gently heated. Place the pot on low heat only until the honey liquefies. Immediately strain the roots out and reserve the fresh-smelling, vibrant honey. Use up to one teaspoon of this glorious, zingy honey per cup of mint, lemon or other herbal tea, and enjoy!

The second method uses dried, and usually powdered, herbs. Simply purchase dried ginger and add 1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried ginger for each cup honey. Mix with a spoon and enjoy. Over time, the honey will thicken considerably but will still be lovely for teas and to spread on toast.

For ready-made tea, go here for Vineyard Herbs' signature line of teas, especially our Organic Ginger Lemon Tea. And be sure to purchase a few roots of ginger at the store to begin making your own teas, honeys, and--tomorrow--I'll show you how to make syrups.

Holly Bellebuono

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Fierce Root: Ginger for Warming the Chills

Ginger makes The Buttercup List this week. It's a great herb--the root is the part used--and it's very common so most people are familiar with it.

But do you use it for anything other than an occasional stir-fry or a Thai soup? Ginger is very versatile and deserves a place not only in the larder for dinners but in the medicine cabinet for healing.

Ginger root is warming. This by itself is enough to grant it access for the winter months. Ginger can be taken fresh, of course, and it's delicious and spicy. It can also be taken in capsules, in tincture form (a concentrated liquid extract), in powders (mix a little powder into your honey and spread on toast), or in tea.

When making ginger root tea, chop the ginger coarsely and leave the skins on. Place one teaspoon ginger in a small tea pot and pour 1 cup boiling water over top. Steep, covered, for 8-10 minutes, and then strain. Add a tiny spot of honey and sip. This is a natural remedy for sore throats and coughs, and it is wonderful for helping circulation. Ginger tea can be drunk to warm those cold hands and feet that somehow never get warm, and it can be a soothing yet expectorant tea for coughs, encouraging the lungs to expel the fluid. If you plan to drink it throughout the day, chop enough root (and skins) for 5-8 teaspoons and place in a larger teapot; cover with one quart boiling water and steep 10-15 minutes. Strain, add 1 tablespoon honey, and store in a thermos.

Taking a bath? Add ginger tea to the hot water and enjoy how it makes you feel. Keep it out of your eyes, and massage your muscles while you're in the bath.

More tips tomorrow on how to use this wonderful herbs,

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fierce Heat: Advice from a Zapotecan Midwife

I had the great fortune to interview a remarkable woman last year. Dona Enriqueta Contreras is an extraordinary midwife from Oaxaca, Mexico, with a fiercely successful record (she delivered more than 2,000 babies in her 60-year career without EVER losing a mother or baby in childbirth). And more than that, she has fierce friends. They love her. She is widely regarded as a leader in her community, and in many communities of North America that value motherhood, natural childbirth, women's rights and strong medical health.

I learned more in the few hours I spoke with Dona Enriqueta than I have from any interview I've done. She appears to be a sweet little old lady, but no. It's complete deception! She's a thunderbolt, and she rocked my world with advice and guidance that I didn't believe I was ready for, or, to be honest, wasn't sure I needed at the time. She told me to be strong and stand tall. Of course, we all believe we are strong and confident.

But she said to take it further. Don't back down, she told me. (And coming from a woman who has stood up to Mexican government authorities, I gathered her meaning was one of resistance, fighting and tenacity.) Don't give up, she said. Stand your ground and don't let yourself be bullied. She was speaking from a platform of advocating for empirical study for midwifery students who are increasingly bullied by the Mexican government to take classes, take notes, read books--but not actually help deliver babies. This, according to Dona Enriqueta, is ludicrous, and she's made her views known. (American restrictions for midwifery study are not as empirically based as they should be, either.)

I endeavor to put Enriqueta's words to action in my own life. I'm not a midwife (thought I am forever grateful to the midwives who helped deliver my own two children) but as a healer, herbalist, mother, teacher, writer, wife, and business owner, I think of her advice frequently and ask myself, "What would Dona Enriqueta say if I did this?" Her fierce Zapotec eyes are enough to tell me--be strong!

Where in your life can you be stronger? Fiercer? Take a deep breath and be like the Zapotec midwife who shepherded more than two thousand women into motherhood. Don't be bullied by your employer, by the utility provider, by a salesperson, by your spouse. Be strong!

And join me on July 6, 2001 at 4pm at The Polly Hill Arboretum on Martha's Vineyard for a slide show presentation and tea reception to "meet" Dona Enriqueta and 19 other remarkable international healers from my years of herbal interviews. Go here for the complete calendar from Vineyard Herbs.


February Free Consulations

In the spirit of Valentines Day (love, compassion and the giving of loving gifts), we're offering free herbal and nutritional consultations.

Please call (508) 687-9600 or email Holly to schedule a free, half-hour phone consultation during the month of February.

Interested in enhancing your diet? Adding nutritious or healing herbs to your daily routine, but not sure which ones are right for you? Addressing a health complaint? Wishing to re-connect with natural remedies for a fitter and healthier you? Discuss these concerns and preventive ways to keep you feeling your best, or traditional methods for addressing stubborn, chronic illnesses with Holly in a friendly, encouraging environment. Family centered, individualized attention.

Holly is a certified herbalist with sixteen years experience consulting, teaching and writing about herbs and herbal medicine. She approaches healing from the perspective of the body's natural desire to be healthy and the mind's innate knowledge of how to be healthy. Consultations are relaxed, positive, and confidential. Normal consultations are one hour at the rate of $90; enjoy this free consultation to start you on the road toward natural and radiant health!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Warming & Waking Up

One of my favorite "mentors," if you will, was the great mythologist Joseph Campbell. He didn't know it, but he greatly influenced my life and provided me with hours of contemplation and inspiration. Campbell explored mythology, consciousness and metaphor--without getting bogged down in the academic science of it like Carl Yung. Instead, Campbell approached these subjects from a sense of wonder and awe--and subsequently guides the reader into a safe place for introspection and exploration.

Campbell advocated getting out there and making the most of your life; creating an adventure that would take you farther than you'd ever imagined. This, he said, would make your life meaningful and worth living. "The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature." In other words, to wake up and be a part of things.

There are many ways to wake up, especially in the depths of winter when it's so cold: Fall in love. Get a dog (we did, and boy is he keeping us busy!). Bask by the woodstove. Eat a hot bowl of soup. Study something new. Get active (we joined our new local YMCA and are loving it). Appreciate something. This is a big one: the more we are grateful for what we have, the more our hearts open up to the expansive giving of the universe. Gratitude, joy, wonder. This is the heartbeat.

Find this rhythm and you've woken up!

Enjoy your day,

Friday, January 21, 2011

The USDA's Biobased Label: It's Not Organic!

As of today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is introducing its newest voluntary program, BioPreferred, that will allow qualifying manufacturers to label their products with a “biobased” certification. The program is designed to decrease the amount of petroleum in certain consumer products and increase the use of biological ingredients, such as soy and other plant or animal ingredients.

Now, typical consumer items such as trash bags, packaging, lips balms, inks and glues that have previously been manufactured primarily with petroleum, can be made with some natural content and be labeled "biobased." This means products from the produce aisle of the supermarket to the housecleaning aisle to the skin care aisle will have the opportunity to boast a new label certifying them petroleum-reduced or even petroleum-free.

This is a step in the right direction. But please be aware this label does not signify organic. In fact, the USDA's directive states that certain qualifying products are only required to have a minimum biobased content of 25 percent! This means that in certain products, such as animal feeds, up to 75% of the product can contain petroleum-derived or contaminated ingredients, and still boast the "biobased" label and certification. Now, even products that aren’t even close to meeting organic rules can be certified ‘biobased,’ which will likely be confusing.

I believe this USDA measure will be beneficial across a wide spectrum of industries in the effort to reduce dependence on petroleum and finite oil supplies. But, consumers looking for body care products with real quality should look to their community’s traditional herbalist first. Herbalists have always cared about the consumer, making products with top quality natural ingredients and concern for the environment. I’ve never used petroleum in my body care line, for example. I use beeswax in my salves, which is a traditional—and natural—method.

To view our full catalog, go here. And read those labels!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

So What Do You Do With Dandelion?

I know, it's winter. There's no dandelion out there to be picked. So you know all about this wonderful herb and can't harvest it right now. What to do?

There are several ways to enjoy dandelion and reap its goodness, even during snowy January.

First, harken back to your community herbalist. She probably has a good store of dandelion vinegar, wine, tincture, elixir, dried root, tea, or even root beverage ready for you to try. Go here for dandelion leaf and root tincture; go here for delicious d. root beverage (at the bottom of the page, called DandyBlend).

Ever had roasted dandelion root tea? It's basically a coffee substitute. It tastes rich, and it's thicker than tea (more like coffee). It's got a natural sweetness, but also a natural bitterness (part of its digestive quality) that makes it ideal as a mineral-rich pick-me-up on a cold winter morning. We sell a granulated drink so all you have to do is add boiling water. You can also add sweetener and milk, and voila! A nourishing satisfying winter drink with all the tonic benefits of dandelion root (yes, women, you probably need that extra iron!). This drink even employs the goodness of roasted chicory and roasted beetroot without any caffeine or additives.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dandelion: The Verve of Life

A common weed, you say? Yes, but if it were Google it would be a billionaire. I'll bet there are many, many publicists and marketing professionals who wish they were half as successful as the dandelion. It manages to be everywhere at once, a marketer's dream.

Everyone knows dandelion; it's the little weed with a bright yellow flower that turns to fluff with seeds that scatter with wishes in the wind. Taraxacum vulgare's leaves are deeply serrated--giving it the name dent-de-lion, or tooth of the lion. But I think its name reveals more about its personality than its physical shape.

Dandelion is another herb that perseveres. It's found everywhere from rich, shady gardens to dry, sunburned gravelly lots. It holds on tight with a deep taproot and launches its seeds to the far corners of the universe, with ultimate hope.

Most people use dandelion as an iron supplement and a liver nourisher, and for these purposes you can find more information at It's fantastic for helping stimulate digestive "juices" due to its bitter flavor and it helps the liver manufacture new cells and succeed at its job as a toxin remover for the entire body. But today I'm discussing a lesser known virtue of this common plant: its traditional use as a weight-loss aid. Because dandelion is a diuretic, it causes the body to lose water. It accomplishes this with astonishing efficiency, and while commercial diuretics cause the body to become potassium depleted (and can therefore be dangerous to the cardiac system), dandelion naturally re-supplies the body with the potassium it loses, keeping a healthy balance. It's because of this function that dandelion tops the charts in helping people lose water weight, which can be the beginning of a successful weight loss program. (Excess water weight is harmful to the heart, because it must pump a greater volume of fluid through channels meant for less. Removing excess water gives the heart a break and puts less pressure on arteries and vessels.) Combine water weight loss with healthy eating, conscious food selection, appropriate exercise and the determination to accomplish a goal, and dandelion can be pivotal in helping people begin to achieve their ideal weight.

Its versatility and reliability put dandelion at the top of The Buttercup List. Not to mention, dandelion improves liver and endocrine function by strengthening the liver's ability to "cleanse" the blood and remove toxins through to the kidneys. And of course, dandelion's naturally high levels of iron make it ideal for women with heavy menstrual periods or those who struggle with anemia. Vineyard Herbs creates a concentrated tincture of freshly harvested dandelion root and leaf (Liver Cleanse Extra Iron Formula) which can be taken daily; we also sell a delicious dandelion root beverage that can be a coffee substitute with its rich, deep flavor and velvety consistency. Tomorrow we'll have ideas and recipes for making dandelion a delicious and productive part of the daily diet. Enjoy!


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Perseverance, and Strrretching

Five petals. Five posts a week, plus one to recap and look ahead. Today's post continues our lesson from the buttercup, that cheerful yellow weed everyone loves to hate, but from which we can learn a great deal. We can look it this weed's success and make a mental note about perseverance, about tenacity, about never giving up.

But what about when you're wrong? Tenacity doesn't mean being stubborn or insisting you're right when you might not be. The buttercup is one of those weeds, along with mint and ivy and morning glory, that twists and turns and climbs. It grows so fast you can almost watch it; morning glory seems able to take over a garden in a single day. Plants may seem to be still and unmoving, but in fact they have the uncanny ability to move, transport themselves and sometimes even relocate. Physic-ly this is because their cells are responding to photosynthesis by adding cells to the darker side of the stalk, enabling the stalk to bend and stretch toward the life-giving light. If a morning glory is climbing a fence, it bends itself around the fence post in a circuitous direction--essentially going out of its way--to get to its final destination.

Ah, a lesson in disguise. These plants are persistent. They're not giving up but they're not stoically stubborn, either. They stretch, navigate, explore alternate routes. And so must we.

So, not to belabor the point, I'll get to the book review. The book is The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I read this book last week and fell in love with it--with the characters (who are very personable and real), with the theme (about class structure and equality and rights and friendship), and even with the setting (1962 rural Mississippi). The characters are almost all women, who, with the tunnel vision of 1962, perform their roles as employer or servant. The women all know each other, work with each other, socialize with each other, and pray on Sundays. But their lives are vastly different. The white women live lives of apparent ease until you realize they are tortured by things not so apparent on the outside. The black women live lives of apparent hardship until you realize that while their lives are difficult, they are perhaps richer emotionally and spiritually, especially compared to some of the white women who have closed their hearts and minds to what would otherwise make them more complete, holistic beings.

The Help makes The Buttercup List because of its heartfelt writing style, because much of it is based on true stories experienced by the author, and because it has the capacity to teach us exactly what the buttercup and the morning glory can teach us. Namely, to persevere and at the same time, to stretch. Two of the characters in The Help aren't content with their social structure--they recognize that it is wrong-- and they work to change it. These women stretch (in fact, they put themselves in great danger to do so), but because of them the flowers of Jackson, Missippippi blossom all the brighter.

I highly recommend The Help and also encourage you to look for a part of your life that needs changing. Where could you stretch a little to make a change happen? Where can you bend or change something (your attitude? your locale? your relationship?) in such a way that you explore all the options? Like photosynthesis encourages a flower to bend its stalk toward the sun, so can you. Look around for the warming sunshine in your life and bend your entire existence toward it.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Hang In There: Tenacity is Buttercup's Lesson

The little yellow buttercup is one of those plants we never see in medicinal herbals; it's not a healing herb, it's not an edible. It's not even a cultivar, since its persistence in taking over a garden makes it one of those flowers generally hated by gardeners. But is it all that bad? In fact, it's not. One of buttercup's greatest teachable lessons is tenacity. We can learn a lot from a small, insignificant herb that has the strength and staying power to root its way across fields and gardens, through parking lots and cities, across meadows and farms--all the while blooming its cheery, bright blossoms.

Working on a project? In the middle of a crazy commitment, perhaps wondering if you can complete it? Responsible for something difficult? Scared? Many plants have the silent ability to teach us lessons, and the buttercup is no exception: it teaches the lesson of perseverance. Of never giving up. The creeping buttercup is referred to in some dictionaries as an "opportunitistic colonizer" or in other words, a very successful weed. Take a clue from this flower and mark your opportunities. Claim your space. Branch out, roots and all, toward what will make you whole, happy and successful. Weeds across the world are those very plants that have struck out on their own and multiplied so veraciously that they are not only known and recognized wherever they go, they are also among the most vigorous and healthy plants in any given area. Unwilling to say no, unable to be driven off, weeds (and buttercups in particular) are hardy, flexible, bending, changing, stretching, reaching, twisting, climbing. In short, they do what it takes to survive.

And sometimes they survive in a harsh atmosphere. Doing so requires they adapt in peculiar ways. The buttercup, for example, is not only inedible--it's actually toxic, especially to cattle and sheep that may graze it in the pastures. It displays its toxicity with a foul taste that warns cattle to leave it alone--and they do. As a result, buttercup lives. It's this tenacity--this going the extra mile to ensure its survival--that enables buttercups to thrive...and it's this lesson from the plant world that can inspire humans to dig down, recognize your strengths and your unique abilities, and to survive. Not only to survive, but to flourish, especially in the face of difficult times.

I'd always hated this little weed when I gardened, ripping it out mercilessly and following the long skinny roots to their source in an attempt to eradicate it. But it was always futile; the cheerful yellow flowers would pop up again. The buttercup lived. I look back on those gardening days a little wistfully now, thankful that I had the opportunity to experience the tenacity of buttercup, recognizing its beauty now and appreciating the fact that it, like all the other herbs I love, has a lesson to teach me. Perseverance. Overcoming obstacles. Becoming an "opportunistic" and successful being. Flourishing in whatever endeavor I decide to pursue. We can all be so successful!


Sunday, January 16, 2011

This Week: Tenacity & The Dandelion

This time of year I receive a lot of questions about natural and botanical ways to keep the body fit, healthy and vigorous. We're all in the throes of winter (at my house right now, the yard is an ice skating rink upon which even our dog can't stand up straight). We're hovering around the woodstove and eating filling, hearty meals. Exercise may include going to the gym or working out in the basement; seldom do we have the snow-free or wind-free days that allow us to enjoy sunshine and safe exercise in the outdoors. It's during these months that people, rightfully so, concern themselves with weight maintenance and, symbiotically, the health of the liver and the digestion. As an herbalist, I guide many people toward herbs and nourishing therapies that can truly make a difference in these cold winter months.

This week's focus, then, will be on the liver. It coincides nicely with The Buttercup theme of tenacity, since the key herb for the liver is the Dandelion. We all know this weed--it's everywhere and it makes a point of sticking around. Just last month there were still blossoms peeking through the dead grass. It's a long-term herb for a long-term organ: your liver is vital to the proper functioning of your body.

Two years ago I happened upon a lush, two-foot high dandelion growing in the shade. I was astonished at the health of this plant--normally we see it as a flat, crushed, stepped-upon, forgotten weed. But this one was soaring up toward my knees with full green foilage. I won't belabor the metaphor--it could easily be compared to the healthy human body--but I will say that this herb, as do others, offers clues as to its purpose and use for human health. The old-fashioned Doctrine of Signatures is an outdated and superficial method of determining how to use a plant, although sometimes it happened to make sense: the yellow color of barberry and goldenseal roots comes from the alkaloid berberine, which does indeed help with the health of the liver (with which the color gold is associated). While dandelion contains no berberine (it contains choline), its orangish/yellow color guided early herbalists to use it as a hepatic (liver) herb. It is a wonderful liver tonic, a "loving massage" for the liver, if you will. Use it frequently.

There's also a metaphor with your emotional and spiritual health. Do you, like the dandelion, frequently feel flat, crushed, stepped-upon or forgotten? We all do, at times, but it's the strength of your tenacity that will determine how quickly you rise up again. Sometimes a vitamin or mineral deficiency can contribute to these "down" feelings, and simple herbs like dandelion can quickly and easily help the body's natural balance of vitamins and minerals right itself. This week's posts will show you how easy (and tasty) it can be to include dandelion as part of a mineral-rich, liver-strengthening diet.

So, dandelion. Tenacity. The Buttercup List this week will address liver health, perseverance, and ways to use that wonderful weed from your yard. Can't dig it up right now? No problem, we've done it for you. Prepared medicines and delicious dandelion beverages are available at Join us throughout the week for more complete information, helpful ideas and inspiration.