Although we are not yet to full autumn many of us are mentally and physically preparing for the changes that this transitional time of year brings. You may be returning back to school or changing up your routine in some way. For those of us who are herbalists, it is a time to store away and preserve the summer’s harvest of fresh herbs, and to say goodbye to the plants until next season. Now is also an especially wonderful time to harvest roots, tidy up your home apothecary, stock up on immune-supporting herbs, and in general, take some time to learn and expand your herbal knowledge.
We recently connected with the good folks at the Farm To Yoga community, whose mission of connecting city people with nature parallels our own. Each year they put together several wonderful events in New York involving yoga, farms, local food and fun and they are inviting the Herbstalk community for a lovely get away coming up at Growing Heart Farm. They are also generously offering all of our Herbstalk readers a discount on tickets. Read on to learn more and hope to see some of you there!…
by Henry Kesner
The dandelion (as I covered in my last post) has become a common friend of our kitchen. We cook with it and drink it and even have a large, botanical reprint poster adorning one of our walls. It has become a landmark and even mascot in our home. While the Dandelion may be the herb king of our backyard garden there is something else that has conquered our kitchen en mass.
Can you guess what it is? Open our cupboard, go on, open it… Yep… Mason jars.
Now I know it is totally hipster to have mason jars everywhere in the home for drinking, storage, pickling, flower pots, light fixtures, you name it. But dare I say, herbalists of all ages and backgrounds have been using mason jars long before I tried cramming my coffee filled mason jar in my skinny pants as I spun off on my bike for work.
Sorry hipsters, the herbalists nailed this one. Mason jars are EVERYWHERE in an herbalist’s apothecary. In our case, we have one, large book case in our kitchen that is void of books and teeming with alphabetized jars of dried and tinctured herbs. Open any cupboard or closet in the kitchen and one will surely find filled or soon to be filled jars of herbs, spices, dried fruits, nuts, and the lists goes on. Take a quick peak out of our kitchen and into the living room and find an old herbarium cabinet also filled with jars.
This is only a start. I have also enjoyed visiting some of the more prolific herbalists of the northeast and have observed a variety of mason jar displays in their home – painted and mounted, each of them a work of art.
For me, the influx of jars in the home was very much welcome and an opportunity to bring the old school in with the new. The jars absolutely speak to my practical side, preserving our food and ingredients in storage friendly containers, allowing me to purchase and divide in bulk. They have also become my favorite food storage containers and summer drink vessels. It is also, by far one of the most beautiful works of art in our home and draws visitors young and old, with or without herbal training into its majesty.
I know, I know, I am trending towards hipster again but also towards fond memories of rummaging through my grandmother’s pantry and marveling at the gorgeous colors of beans and herbs that resided within these glass chambers.
In closing, I say bring on the mason jars. They are beautiful in their simplicity and simple in their beauty. Each one is a work of art, housing a treasure within. To all the herbalists (particularly mine) fill the cupboards and closets of our home with these jars of wonder… Just keep them out of the bedroom, for now at least. Thanks and XO.
Henry Kesner is a founding member of Herbstalk, where he brings his event & operations management skills to the planning committee. A huge fan of the natural world, he has always found ways to serve as a voice for plants and animals of all kinds. For Henry, Herbstalk is a perfect way to educate a wide audience about the power, use, and wonder of the plants that surround us on a daily basis.
Summer is one of the best times to keep learning about herbs since everything is blooming and flourishing. So get out there and harvest your herbs, learn how to identify new plants, or just enjoy all the botanical beauty!
To help you continue your herbal education throughout these summer months we’ve compiled a list of upcoming herb classes being offered by Herbstalk teachers in July and August. Read on for the full details:
Herbs for Everyday Living
with Steph Zabel
starts July 30th: a 6 week series
Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA
Herbal Medicine as First Aid
with Katja Swift & Ryn Midura
Wednesday, July 9th, 2014
CommonWealth Center for Herbal Medicine, Brookline
An Introduction to Flower Essences
with Katja Swift & Ryn Midura
Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
CommonWealth Center for Herbal Medicine, Brookline
with Brittany Wood Nickerson
Tuesday July 15, 22 & August 5, 12
Greenfield Community College, Greenfield MA
Urban Herbal Dog Walks on the Bike Path
with Nancy Anderson
July 26, Aug. 23, Sept. 27
Entrance to the Bike Path in Davis Sq., Somerville
with Gavin McCarthy
Commonwealth Center for Herbal Medicine, Brookline
Flower Essence Making Workshop
with Linda Patterson
Tuesday Night Dinners: Summer Cooking Class
with Zoe Keller
Beacon Hill, Boston, MA
Formulating for Clients: Creating Constitutionally Balanced Tinctures & Teas
with Margi Flint
August 30 – 31
Ancient Art of Facial Diagnosis
with Melanie Flach
with Melanie Flach
by Jennie Oceane Edgar
Spring brings lovely scented flowers, lime green leaves, and the seasonal migration of birds that left the cold Northeast for their winter homes down South. Spring is also a time when we can step outside of our winter dens with our gathering baskets and walk through the meadows, along the forest’s edge, and even in to the woods to find fresh, abundant, and nourishing food. And for many food foragers, the beloved fiddlehead is a coveted delicacy.
Fiddleheads are easily recognizable by their tightly curled tendril tops. They are delicate, elegant, and radiate a sweet, gentle, and peaceful energy. To admire a fiddlehead is to be held in awe of its energy, it’s burgeoning potential to sprout out of the long frozen earth and slowly, slowly unfurl itself to the world. That is, if a delighted forager doesn’t harvest the tops, first.
This is why ethical and sustainable wildcrafting is so important – when harvesting fiddleheads, only take about 3 or 4 tops before moving on to the next patch. I never harvest more than 50% of a plant, and this practice ensures the plant will have ample ability to proliferate throughout the future seasons. Furthermore, harvesting living plants is also an exercise in gratitude – giving thanks is a wonderful way to build a relationship to the plant spirit realm, as well as a connection to the earth and ultimately, to ourselves. Together, let’s remember to be thankful for and mindful of the abundant food the wilderness offers us, now when the desolate winter is still a recent memory, as well as in each moment, always.
Unfortunately, opinions differ in regard to the safety of consuming certain varieties of ferns. It is difficult to discern which ferns are likely to make one sick, as there are many time-tested instances of people eating fiddleheads from every variety of ferns and faring just fine. Plant identification is very important for any wild food forager, and as a general rule, it is very important to know exactly what plant you’ve encountered and its level of toxicity before you decide to put it into your body.
Therefore, I recommend becoming acquainted with the ostrich fern, Matteucia struthiopteris, which is the most well-known and prolific fiddlehead in stores and restaurants. These ferns are easy to identify because of a prominent U-shaped trough running the length of the stem, on the inner side of the stalk. Furthermore, the stalks are smooth, with no fuzz or scales.
In mid to late spring, harvest ostrich fern fiddleheads when they are 8 to 20 inches tall. Ostrich ferns will grow to be 3 to 6 feet tall, so the size of the plant is less important than the quality of the top, which should be tenderly firm and bright green, while the leaves of the frond remain unfurled. Simply snap the tops off of the stalk with your fingers. Although the fiddlehead is the coveted portion of the plant, the stalk itself is a juicy, refreshing, and nutritious food, and can be prepared alongside the fiddleheads for a scrumptious meal.
And fiddleheads are a great food for the entire family because they are very nutritious, with high levels of vitamins A and C, as well as omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. This means that fiddleheads are a source of antioxidants. They also reduce inflammation and help the body fight the cold and flu. Fiddleheads contain minerals and electrolytes, especially potassium, iron, manganese, and copper. Furthermore, they are a wonderful source of fiber.
While these ferns can be eaten raw, it is recommended that you don’t eat them uncooked in large quantities. Fortunately, there are many wonderful ways to enjoy fiddleheads. When I harvest fiddleheads with the intention of cooking them that night, I love to sauté them in garlic for a simple accompaniment to almost any meal. Since fiddleheads are only available for a short time, sometimes it’s nice to preserve and store them so they can be enjoyed months later. I’ve come to love pickled fiddleheads, and I look forward to exploring many different recipes. Let me know how you foraged and fixed your fiddleheads, and many thanks for reading my musings about our beloved fiddlehead, an ephemeral, nourishing food source that grows close to our homes, and close to our hearts.
Jennie Oceane Edgar is the founder of Wildflower Revolution, a spiritual and educational resource that provides herbal products, services, and classes for all women who seek a conscious relationship with their fertility, sexuality, pregnancy, and overall reproductive well-being. Jennie is a doula, childbirth educator, community herbalist, and Masters candidate at Harvard Divinity School, where she studies earth-centered religions and their healing practices.
by Nancy Anderson
One of the fundamental components of herbal medicine is in the application of a holistic view and, as an increasing number of pet owners are becoming interested in pursuing a more holistic approach to health, the marketing of pet products is rapidly co-opting the term, misusing it and clouding its meaning. Holistic, as it pertains to health, is an approach that encompasses key foundational aspects (including physical, psychological, and social) as part of the whole dog as an individual, while also appreciating the physiological interconnectedness of the whole body. There is no such thing as a holistic dog food or a holistic flea spray or a holistic treat. There is, however, the consideration of how nutrition, exercise, social activity, and more affect the health of the whole animal.
The physical aspect of health is, of course, the largest. It involves not only proper nutrition and herbs, but lots of exercise. Real exercise, where they can stretch their legs and chase and play out in the fresh air and sunshine (or rain, if it happens to be raining that day… they won’t melt!). We appreciate that dogs will sleep on the couch all day and night, but that’s not what their bodies were designed for, and it contributes to a decline in health. We hear a lot in holistic circles about feeding real foods and reducing the number of vaccines, but another important element in canine health (just as it is in ours) is exercise.
It’s not anthropomorphizing to suggest that the psychological and social components of health are also important. Dogs require positive environments with healthy relationships in order to thrive. Training and playing are great, but the manner in which those take place does have a profound effect, even if not clearly visible. Do you understand canine body language so that you know the signals that are being given by the dogs at the dog park, and when your dog is stressed? (There’s an app for that! It’s called Sue Sternberg’s Dog Park Assistant.) Force-free, positive training with your dog in a capacity that (s)he enjoys (or is genetically wired for) establishes teamwork and can benefit the mind in many ways. Provide a crate so that your dog has a safe place when feeling stressed. Sit on the floor and pet your dog from head to tail on a regular basis (it also helps you to identify new bumps and lumps, ticks, etc.). We make fun of ourselves for talking to our dogs, but give yourself permission to do that – a lot! It’s a compassionate connection and they benefit by those small interactions. Anxiety disorders may be caused not only by being left alone, but by a lack of positiveengagement. Dogs do have an emotional life and meeting its needs can go a long way toward achieving health of the whole dog.
A holistic approach is one that plans for health, not disease. In our current, conventional model, we feed dry, processed food, administer multiple vaccines annually, and then, when the dog becomes sick or develops chronic illness, we suppress the symptoms with antibiotics and steroids. The big dog food and pharmaceutical companies are making a lot of money, but our dogs are experiencing a higher incidence of cancer and autoimmune diseases, among others.
A holistic approach to health is preventive. Just as in dog training, we want to set the dog up for success rather than wait for a problem to occur and then work to correct it. If we consider the health model that we’re used to in the 21st century — where we feed processed food, wait for illness, and then combat it with the suppression of symptoms — it becomes clear that this reactionary approach fails to address the cause of the complaint. Herbs can be used in this manner, but that’s not to say that they should. Using 450mg of a standardized isolated chemical constituent to reduce symptoms sounds very much like a conventional approach. Let’s look instead to a holistic view of herbs, for it may inform a holistic view of health.
Each plant contains many (sometimes hundreds of) chemical constituents, some of which may be identified as medicinal in action; but there is an orchestra of chemical activity occurring in the plants, where some depend on others and it’s the complex interplay between these constituents that drives the medicinal actions present in the plant. So, sometimes, when the chemical or compound is isolated, it loses the action for which it was identified. How short-sighted (and arrogant?) of us humans to assume that we know better than Nature. The phytochemistry of plants is complex, and we do not yet fully understand the symbiosis of these chemicals in the plants. By utilizing the whole plant, we are providing the full array of actions as intended.
And so it is with health. Ask a qualified herbalist what herbs would be best used in supporting your dog’s health, and he or she will first ask you a lot of specific questions about your dog. We may identify that a particular issue is occurring in the body, but without considering the interplay of that condition with others – how it’s influenced by other conditions and other organs in the body (and the energetics therein) – we are missing the larger picture. How short-sighted of us humans to expect the more complex underlying issue to be resolved when we are merely suppressing a symptom – a symptom which is providing a clue to the larger issue. It’s not about refusing prescription drugs; it’s about not needing them.
It doesn’t mean foregoing chemicals for the health of your dog while continuing to feed a bag of processed food made by Procter & Gamble. Conversely, it doesn’t mean feeding a diet of fresh, raw foods while continuing to administer multiple vaccines, year after year. It doesn’t mean giving an herbal remedy instead of Prozac® to counter anxiety issues without first providing adequate social outlets for exercise and play. (Of course, many canine anxiety issues are far more complex, but the example is merely to help illustrate the point.)
Please note that ‘alternative’ is not the same as holistic. A holistic approach may employ alternative modalities (such as herbalism, acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy), but one does not equal the other, and conventional medicine can be applied in a holistic manner (though it rarely is!). A holistic approach is not necessarily in opposition to conventional therapies; rather, it seeks to achieve balanced health with the approach most appropriate for that dog at that time. Complementary modalities in treatment should do just that – complement other modalities. Conventional medicine that excludes all integrative modalities is no more complete or accurate than a holistic one that excludes conventional tools. Rather, integrated, they weave the appropriate treatment for that dog with that condition at that time. No approach that is exclusive of all others can really be truly complete.
And isn’t that what we’re aiming for?
Nancy utilizes herbs to help keep dogs vibrant, healthy and happy. She considers each dog an individual with his or her own unique needs and enjoys empowering others to see beyond the allopathic view of canine wellness. She works primarily with herbs native to New England, and feels that they work best as an adjunct to proper nutrition as the foundation of health. Learn more atThe Greater Dog.
by Vincent Frano
Lavender is one of the best loved and most well known herbs around. As a common addition to soaps, perfumes, lotions, and even cleaning products, Lavender is all around us. You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t familiar with its scent, at the very least. Most are familiar with its use in aromatherapy for its relaxing and calming effects, but Lavender has much more to offer.
Lavender has become one of my most valuable medicine cabinet herbs and is now part of my daily routine. While Lavender may be used internally, it’s external uses are many and just as valuable. In fact, I prefer working with this herb externally and rarely use its medicine internally. It’s simple, gentle, and safe for just about everyone of all ages. Some people are allergic to Lavender and may develop a skin rash, so always do a spot test first if you are unsure.
It is said that Lavender’s Latin name (Lavandula spp.) is derived from Old French lavandre, meaning “to wash”, eluding to its use as a bathing herb. A hot Lavender bath is certainly one of the herb’s most popular uses. For a relaxing bath I recommend making a strong tea, using dried or fresh lavender flowers, by steeping the herb for at least 30 minutes to an hour. Draw your bath and pour the strained infusion into the running water. Epsom salts may be added as well to aid in relaxing tense muscles. If you don’t have time to make tea, simply add 30 to 60 drops (roughly ½ teaspoon) of essential oil to your bath water.
A hot Lavender bath does more than simply calm and relax your mind, it has a similar effect on your body. A body ravaged by tension or stress would do well with some Lavender. The herb is warming and stimulating, helping to loosen and move stagnation. This aids in the relaxing of tense or knotted muscles and in moving congested lymph. The steam from a hot bath disperses Lavender’s fragrant aroma, which has a calming effect upon the nervous system. Lavender’s scent is soothing, uplifting, and calming. It is beneficial to those who suffer from depressed mood, stress, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue.
One of my favorite uses for Lavender is treating tension headaches. An infused oil, salve, or essential oil in a carrier oil may be applied directly to your temples, forehead, and back of the neck. Additionally, all of these applications are wonderful in massages for the lymph glands (particularly along the neck), muscles, joints, breasts, shoulders, or feet. Every morning after washing up I will use a lavender salve to massage along my neck, jaw line, and behind my ears. I’ve noticed it has helped reduce the swelling of my lymph glands in that area, which had been a persistent issue for me.
Lavender is a vulnerary herb and can be applied topically to acne, eczema, small wounds, and dry skin to aid in the healing process. A tea wash, salve, or infused oil are all useful in these cases. It is also a handy pest-repellant, particularly the essential oil, which can be added to bug sprays to keep away some insects. Of course, you can also keep a Lavender sachet by your pillow or apply some Lavender oil before bed to help relax you into sleep.
These are just a few of Lavender’s many talents, which I encourage everyone to explore. It’s a valuable herb that goes far beyond its fragrant perfume, a benefit to men and women alike in this stressful, modern world.
Vincent Frano is one of the artistic forces behind The Bower Studio, which will be vending their products this weekend at Herbstalk. Learn more at: www.thebowerstudio.com
by Jenn Falk
“The entire Universe is concentrated in the garden. The garden allows us to become one with nature. And when we meditate we cannot separate ourselves from nature.”
I took this quote from a snippet that I saw in a little docu-piece online about Japanese gardens. Isn’t it lovely? It’s the essence of what Pepperand I will be getting at when we teach our special Yoga/Herbal-infused/Mindfulness class this year at Herbstalk! I’m super grateful to my dear friend, Steph, for welcoming us as the first ever yoga class to be taught at this event.
In reality what this class offers is a meditation on friendship. You see, once you start a mindfulness practice such as yoga or meditation, your lifestyle changes. It’s inevitable. We learn to become better friends with ourselves, and with other creatures and life on this planet. This can manifest in a variety of different ways. One amazing friendship that can be forged on this path of inner growth is each and every one of our relationships with plant life. You might begin to take in your surroundings more, noticing the changing seasons and with that the types, colors, and energy of plants around you. You might start to crave owning more houseplants and then truly pay attention to them. You might attract more friends who are gardeners, herbalists, nature explorers. What you put on or in your body changes as you put more reverence into the idea that we are a part of nature. I see it happen all the time! It’s a lovely thing to witness happen to friends and family who begin dedicating time to their yoga/mindfulness practice. We begin to transform our lifestyles and welcome the healing and open energy that can come from nature.
This is why Herbstalk is such an amazing creation for those of us here in an urban environment. We are able to learn from some of the best in their field about how to engage closer with the plant world. There will be all varieties of classes, teachers, and business owners to take it in from. Everything from learning how specific herbs can support your nervous system, to how plants can aid in your spiritual process, to creating and sustaining an herbal/natural beauty routine.
For me, discovering and staying open to the magic of plants and herbs has always been a feminine and spiritual experience. As teenagers, Steph and I would head out into the parks, climb trees, create our own rituals in our backyards…and this created healing that allowed us to forge a deep friendship — one that still remains my oldest and dearest to this day. I believe the fact that our friendship is still going strong is due to this weaving of our spirits with how we take care of ourselves through our belief in and our love for the natural world. What occurs when you pay attention to your own day-to-day mindfulness or healing process is a respect for and honoring of our own bodies, and thus with nature. You don’t have to become a plant expert/healer/herbalist extraordinaire, or a yoga teacher/wellness practitioner to reap these benefits or learn more.
All you have to do is stay willing to open up your senses. Possibly watch the lunar cycles, and enjoy each season. Try and see where your interests in plant-life comes out! It could be in consuming tea, using herbal tinctures or elixirs to boost your system in some way, planting a garden plot, or even just taking trips to local gardens for enjoyment. The options are endless in how slowing down through mindfulness and yoga can connect you deeper into what surrounds us via plant wisdom and medicine.
Pepper and I met this past year in Elena Brower’s Art of Attention teacher training, and immediately hit it off through (what else) learning about our love for plants/herbs/the natural world! Our class for Herbstalk will go deeper into this idea of weaving together how we discover wellness with our relationship to plant life. The 2-hour class will involve: meditation, some kundalini kriya, some yin postures, hatha flow, prolonged restorative shapes, sampling herbal elixir, flower essences, aromatherapy, and short discussion.
It is on Sunday morning, June 8th at 9:00am at Herbstalk at the Somerville Armory on Highland Ave.
We look forward to seeing you there!
“The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.”
Yoga teacher Jenn Falk has been guinea pig and friend to herbalist and Herbstalk founder, Steph Zabel, for 20+ years. She credits her friendship with Steph to all she knows about herbal wisdom and her respect for it. She’s also married to an organic garden professional and artist, and they are raising their family to love the use of herbs, grow vegetables, and take care of the Earth. Learn more at:www.yoginijennfalk.com
by Nathaniel Putnam
I recently had the joy of attending a conference called Medicines from the Edge down in Costa Rica. While I have experience with the flora of the rainforest, Costa Rica is the most biodiverse country in Latin America. From mountains stretching to over 10,000ft down to sandy beaches along the coast, the plants reflect a rich history that spreads across time and place. Among the old indigenous native species, there are invaders from Europe and new immigrants from the Caribbean Islands and Africa. One workshop reviewed over 60 medicinal plants that were mostly brand new to me. Still in one local park, I ran into familiar friends: dandelion and plantain; seeds that traveled on the boots of the Spanish. But outside that cultivated area, the vines, trees, and herbaceous plants become a raveled mess to untangle and explore more in depth.
Fruit-bearing tree permaculture has expanded in these tropical regions of the world as our diet takes on a more global flavor. I can walk into a grocery store like a Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s and find 5 kinds of coconut water and coconut oil, along with juices from acai, noni, and mangosteen fruits. Down in Costa Rica, I recognized a bumpy yellow cucumber-like fruit called sorosi or karela but here in the the States, it is known as bitter melon.
Anyone who has tried bitter melon knows of its “bite” and tasting this fruit is an adventure that requires a strong will and a strong stomach. Cleverly enough, the genus name,Momordica comes from the Latin word, momordi, meaning “to bite”, a reference not to the taste but to the shape of the leaves. Traditionally, the leaves and fruits are used in medicinal preparations but all parts of the plant can be used in various ways.
These can be brewed into a tea for when you are tired or have a stomachache from eating too many sweets.
The tea can also be used for malaria, worms, and other parasites as well as tumors, bacteria and viruses.
On occasion, a strong tea can be used to stimulate uterine contractions.
The leaves are applied topically for scabies, rashes, eczema, sores and infections.
The red fruit is cooked in oil and added to tortillas.
The fruit juice is harvested by crushing/mashing the fruits.
This remedy is one of the most common used for high blood sugar across Latin America.
A traditional dosage for high blood sugar is the juice of 1-2 fruits consumed twice a day.
If you can’t get fresh fruits or pods, use 1 cup of a leaf or whole herb decoction twice a day.
At a similar rate, a 1-3 ml dose of a 4:1 leaf tincture can be used.
You can also find bitter melon extracts in tablets or capsules; about 1-3 grams, twice a day.
Research has shown that the plant has a mixture of saponins, peptides, and alkaloids that enhance the cells’ uptake of glucose, promote insulin release, and increase the effect of insulin. The plant contains proteins that inhibit guanylate cyclase, an enzyme linked to psoriasis and the growth of leukemia and cancer cells.
A Word for the Wise:
Like many bitter plants, bitter melon can be strong and effective. Toxicity is low but be respectful.
Take caution before using this plant with anyone who is pregnant, breast feeding, or trying to get pregnancy.
Similarly, diabetics should use with caution while monitoring their blood sugar levels regularly and adjust the dosage of insulin as needed.
Bitter melon can increase the effectiveness of anti-diabetic and cholesterol-lowering drugs.
A Final Thought:
Some say that bitter melon does not take well to be cultivated and often grows better in the wild.
A few folks that I spoke with talked about the wild and free soul of the bitter melon.
If you are adventurous enough to try one, I suggest you let the plant do the talking.
Nathaniel Putnam serves as the Educational Coordinator of the Medicinal Plant Program at UMass Amherst. He has traveled to over 15 countries and leads a field study course to Peru on the medicinal plants of the Amazon rainforest. He also writes about ethnobotany, with a focus on plants for mental health and use in psychotherapy. Nathaniel is co-founder ofPsymposia, a conference on the nature of psychedelic plants.
by Cathleen Miller.
When I sit with a client for the first time, I spend a lot of that session listening to the ways that they talk about their experience of illness and wellness, what their aspirations and fears sound like. The words they choose tell stories about how they see the world and how they experience themselves in it.
I listen for ways that we can shift their dominant narrative to improve the potential for healing. I learn what feels nourishing and nurturing to them, and what they struggle to integrate or what they avoid. I try to imagine weaving a web that creates safety and commonality, opening a space where nothing is inherently wrong. I try to empty my mind of any stories I have created from reading their intake form—instead, I listen to them identify why they are there and what they hope to gain from our work together; and I listen for plants that speak during that time too. That first conversation is such an amazing opportunity for co-creation, and a chance to build connection that will last through the relationship if we do it well.
When clients talk about their bodies, we can hear patterns that could use some tending, some lovingkindness, some acknowledgement. I often feel that at least fifty percent of the work of the session is just about making sure that the person you are sitting with feels heard and accepted. There is so much healing just in that practice of listening intentionally. When we pair skillful listening with supportive activities that can help shift deeply-ingrained patterns, then magic can happen.
I work with a lot of people who have experienced trauma and struggle with a variety of the aftereffects—often feeling unseen and unheard in the world. I use flower essences with nearly all of these clients, and I also offer writing exercises to help shift the energy that arises from doing the intense work of facing their fears and shadow selves. If we can help our clients make meaning out of the experience of illness, then it turns into a teacher instead of just something that is happening to them. It can become an ally, or at least a good source of information.
Given the power of story, I am very careful not to suggest to clients that their thoughts manifest in their bodies. This is a story that many healers use to talk about the power of our thoughts, emotions and intentions. While it is undoubtedly true that our emotions and thoughts are powerful, and that patterns of thinking can certainly result in illness, I prefer to use words to affirm the body’s intelligence, resilience and ability to heal. I never want a client to walk away believing that they caused their illness; instead, I want them to believe firmly that no matter the circumstances they are now in, their body-minds are full of the potential for healing and wellness. The stories we tell ourselves and our clients matter—with our words, we build the foundation of the healing relationship.
Cathleen Miller is a community herbalist in Portland, Maine, where she sees clients and creates products as Delicious Ginger Teas & Tonics. She is co-founder of Reclaiming Our Roots Community Herbalism, where she teaches classes, tends a garden of medicinal plants, and helps to stock the community apothecary. Her blog is deliciousginger.wordpress.com.