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,