Vine of the Soul: 8: Healing the Spiral Helix

DNA_double_helix_vertikalI am aware only of the struggle to survive. I have no thoughts. I am writhing in the mud of existence, a single-celled organism. Dim light flickers on and off all around. I move only very slowly, and with great effort, through the soup I swim in. Over time, thousands of years it seems, I become vaguely aware of myself. “I” am lying on my belly, moaning softly. I am no longer amoebic, I have evolved to have a rudimentary shape consisting of a head, organs, a spine.

Something hurts. I become aware of this sensation and as I focus on it the sensation grows. I locate the pain, it is in my core, in my rudimentary spine. I focus. I go deeper into the pain. I see an elongated spiral with a mesmerizing checkerboard pattern. It looks similar to a coiled snake without head or tail. I am aware now that something is there, within the spiral, causing the sensation of pain.

I watch this spiral ladder and observe what is happening. The Medicine is working there, altering the pattern. Slowly and meticulously the magnificent, complex pattern is being changed, and I realize this is what hurts. Then, from another universe far, far away, I hear a sound… “shhhhhhhhhhh”…

I am instantly snapped into another reality. I understand that the sound I just heard is a helper, encouraging me to be quiet. I understand that I had been moaning rather loudly with the pain I am experiencing. Slowly I regain my equilibrium. I am in an Ayahuasca ceremony, on my mat within the community circle. I am lying on my belly, drenched in sweat, lightly drooling onto my pillow. I notice the pain again deep inside my core and remember the spiral… the pattern…

Hours earlier, as I sat waiting for the Medicine to arrive, I had set an intention for this evening’s ceremony. Setting an intention is an important part of any self-work. The purpose of the work is personal growth, and personal growth requires awareness of our shadow-selves. I typically take 3 to 6 months in between Medicine ceremonies to integrate the gifts of self-awareness the work offers. It is now my second year with Grandmother, and I have traveled ever deeper into my journey of self-healing.

As a result of this work with Ayahuasca, I have come to understand that I have never fully healed from the devastating experience of the collapse of my marriage, between 2003 and 2004. My now ex-husband had slowly, over time, become addicted to pain killers after a back injury. When he could no longer obtain enough prescription drugs to satisfy his growing addiction, he turned to illegal drugs. Like most addicts, initially he tried desperately to hide his problem from me. I noticed some disturbing behavior, but running a large contracting business is tough, and I chalked it up to excessive stress.

By the beginning of 2004, his behavior was so erratic and damaging to the business and to our marriage that he finally confessed he was addicted to heroin. The next four months were, hands down, the hardest of my life. Anyone who has ever lived with a drug addict understands- nobody and nothing comes before the addict’s master- his drug of choice. The lies, betrayals, inhumane behavior and total annihilation of trust are devastating.

I survived the destruction, but sadly he did not find recovery. He left the area when his addiction caused him legal issues. Exhausted and beaten, I filed for divorce. Over time, I came to terms with the experience, and even found grace within it. I forgave him and myself, and became a more compassionate, spiritual woman. But deep within my heart, a scar remained that I did not even recognize until my healing work with Ayahuasca.

Now, lying there on my mat, I recall my intention. I had asked Grandmother to heal any lingering damage that the extreme trauma of that time caused my spirit. For the past two hours I have been in a completely regressed state as the Medicine worked within me. Even now, I slip in and out of awareness as I continue to experience a deep pain and shifting within my core, located near the small of my back. I remain lying on my stomach for some time. Eventually the pain lessens and my awareness remains more in the reality of the room, and the visions of the spiral helix fade away.

I can now focus on the magnificent singing and music going on around me. I roll slowly from my belly to my side, and relax. I gaze with compassion at the brave souls to my left and right. I am relieved to be back, and filled with wonder and humility at the gifts of the Medicine…


 

Deep trauma can literally change DNA. We tend to think of emotional trauma as a psychological issue that affects our emotional health and stability. However, studies are now indicating that trauma can literally change us on a molecular level.

Dr. Sandro Galea of Columbia University authored a study on trauma and DNA changes. In a 2010 NPR interview, Dr. Sandro has this to say about trauma and molecular changes:  “What we are thinking is that trauma that somebody experiences results in molecular changes around the DNA that result in changes in what genes are expressed and not expressed. ”

Speak with any person that has survived deep trauma- rape, war, domestic violence, life threatening illness or accident- and they will likely tell you that the experience changed them as people. They often say they will never be the same again. Many trauma survivors continue to work though issues and evolve into a “better” person. Better is good, but it is still different.

Other studies show an even more startling effect of trauma. “Epigenetic inheritance” is the idea that environmental influences such as smoking, poor diet and stress can affect the genes of your children and possibly even grandchildren. That’s right, inter-generational changes in our genes caused by environmental or emotional stress.

Rachel Yehuda studied the genetic changes to Holocaust survivors caused by severe trauma, and found that the genetic changes can be passed on to the children of the survivors. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents,” said Yehuda.

Can Ayahuasca and other catalysts for deep spiritual healing repair damage to our DNA? And could our efforts at self-healing be like ripples flowing forward through generations of our sons and daughters?

 

[Author’s Note: There are MANY paths to spiritual healing & awakening; sacred plants are only one path. My purpose in these writings is to share my personal experiences. I am not suggesting that working with plant entheogens is an appropriate path for everyone. In fact, I caution anyone who wishes to work with these plants to do so only after great introspection. All people considering this path of exploration should work diligently to find authentic healers to work with. Persons with addiction issues, those who have been diagnosed with mental illness and people with deep emotional issues should work directly with healers who have the knowledge and professional background to address after-effects that may arise from this profound work. All photos posted are attributed to their original source(s) and are not mine.]

Vine of the Soul: 5: Shaman and Student

"Ayahuasca 2010" by Awkipuma - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Ayahuasca 2010” by AwkipumaOwn work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
I’m sitting quietly in the back of the room, nervous and uncertain. The circle of brave souls are silent as everyone waits for the Medicine to arrive. I had no idea that part of my being “in service” included taking more Ayahuasca. I reflect back on the previous night’s experiences, when I was within the circle. There is no way, I think to myself, that I will be able to function. Time passes, and the circle begins to rustle and shift. She is arriving.

The shaman begins shaking his “chakapa”, a rattle made from bundled leaves. His medicine songs, icaros, seem to intensify the Medicine. People begin to vomit into buckets- purging. I stand and walk softly into the circle to replace a used bucket with fresh. I remove the biodegradable liner and tie up the contents. All these bags go into a large trash can and will later be buried in the Earth. It is believed that the Earth can safely take this purging of negative/wounded material and renew it. I accomplish my tasks well, perhaps I will be OK.

There is a break in the purging within the circle and I sit in the back, watching the shaman as he sings, rattles and walks through the circle. He is dressed simply in a white smock covered in symbols. He is a short, broad-shouldered, brown-skinned man with intense, penetrating eyes. His voice is strong and deep, and the songs he sings are getting inside me. I begin to feel the vibrations and hear the ringing sound from the previous night. The ringing becomes a buzzing and suddenly the room is filled with neon colored geometric shapes. The shaman recedes until he is a small dot in the distance. The room has become a high-ceilinged temple with an amazingly long corridor. I feel sick and nauseated. I hear someone purging and I take a deep breath and stand. The colors recede for a moment and I do my job, changing out the bucket.

The trash can is down the steps, near the bathroom. I walk gingerly down the steps, pleased that I can accomplish this. I change out the bag, and turn to go back up the stairs. I stumble backwards in shock when I see that the floor has become liquid. Under the water of the once solid surface, enormous multi-colored snakes undulate gently through the hallway. They are beautiful. I stare for some time, then squeeze my eyes shut, remembering my duties. When I open them again, the ground is solid, the snakes are gone, and I go back into the ceremonial space.

The purging, crying and moaning in the room goes on for some time then diminishes. The shaman has taken a seat at the head of the circle but continues to sing, alternating between drum, rattle and chakapa. I have studied shamanism intently for almost 8 years at this point and I am fascinated as I observe him. I have read countless books and attended dozens of experiential workshops and retreats that explore the various multi-cultural practices of shamanism. Here I sit with a man who was raised within a shamanic culture and has dedicated his life to healing, and I wish to observe as much as possible in between my own bouts of nausea and neon colored visions.

I see that a petite blonde woman, whom I previously noticed, is moving from prone to sitting.  Earlier this afternoon, the herbalist in me had noted a harsh, rattling cough that seemed to come from deep in her lungs. The shaman considers her and continues his song, rattling directly toward her. She begins to rock faster, and faster still as the shaman sings more loudly. I lean forward, mesmerized, my own nausea momentarily forgotten. She suddenly bends deeply and reaches for her bucket- and at the same time, her head swivels in my direction. She looks directly into my face, and her eyes are completely black, round and shiny as marbles. Her mouth opens to a repulsive rictus, jammed with sharp, jagged teeth. Her back humps up and she slams her face into the bucket as a glistening chunk of slimy-looking, black goo shoots from her disgusting mouth. Her face is now hidden by the bucket and the cascade of her crinkly blonde hair. I am frozen in terror. I shoot a look at the shaman, who is also leaning forward in his chair, directing his song forcefully at the vomiting woman. She gags and gasps for a few moments and then sits up with a deep breath. Her face is once again her own. She sighs and slowly sinks onto her mat, hands folded under her face. The shaman sits back in his chair, satisfied. His singing softens, and he resumes his attentive scanning of the circle.

I sit stiffly with my hands over my mouth, eyes wide, not breathing. I realize the bucket must be changed. I cannot. I WILL not. I look pleadingly to my left, and another helper nods and attends to the bucket. Remarkably, she does not seem to have seen anything unusual. I am trembling and my own nausea has returned. No weekend workshop could prepare me for this. No paraphrased bullet list of shamanic practices can explain this. No expensive bear claw medallion, no beautifully painted drum, no hand-made beaded medicine bag can conjure this. In this moment, I am deeply aware that I have just experienced my first unambiguous demonstration of a shamanic healing. I am also cognizant that the honor of witnessing this healing was a gift and a teaching from the Medicine.

As I calm myself, I become aware of and grateful for the benefit of the purging. I look around the circle and see the beauty in these courageous explorers, and no longer is the vomiting disgusting. I hear myself saying “let it go, sister”, and “good job, brother” as they purge. I take buckets up and down the stairs. At one point I go into the bathroom, the nausea forcing me to my knees in front of the toilet. As I get up to wash my hands and splash my face, I look into the mirror. My eyes are swirling and as I lean closer to stare into them, I shape-shift rapidly. An old sorcerer woman, a spotted jaguar, a glass eyed alien-looking being, then just me again. I wonder how long I have been staring and resume my duties.

The ceremony is nearing its close- an hour or two to go. The shaman walks amongst all of us, singing.  He lightly, repetitively thumps each of us for a moment with his chakapa. He brushes my chest and heart area with his leaf bundle and I immediately begin to cry. I cry for some time afterward, years of sadness pouring out through my opened heart. I hear the Medicine whisper to me about my habit of isolating from others. I see the faces of dear ones and recognize the beauty within each of them…


A majority of the most powerful entheogens are illegal in the United States.  Shamanic cultures have been using plants for enlightenment and knowledge since the origins of spirituality. Some of the entheogens on the Schedule 1 drug list (Felony to use or possess even for research) are Ayahuasca, Cannabis, Cocoa Leaves, Iboga, Peyote, Chacruna, “Magic” Mushrooms and Peyote. How ironic, then, that these illegal entheogenic plants have been used in shamanic cultures to successfully treat persons with addictions, mental illness and overall spiritual deficit. In Peru, Ayahuasca is recognized by the government as a national treasure.

Ayahuasca is considered by shamans, ethnobotanists and spiritual seekers to perhaps be the most overall potent and effective plant entheogen.  Ayahuasca, which translates to “vine of the soul”, is a thick tea made by shamans in Central and South America. Ayahuasca  is being used, along with traditional methods, outside of the U.S. to treat people with drug and alcohol addictions.  A 2013 Canadian study concluded “Ayahuasca-assisted therapy appears to be associated with statistically significant improvements in several factors related to problematic substance use among a rural aboriginal population. These findings suggest participants may have experienced positive psychological and behavioral changes in response to this therapeutic approach, and that more rigorous research of ayahuasca-assisted therapy for problematic substance use is warranted.”

How interesting that Ayahuasca and other entheogens seem to assist addicts in recovery by offering a new spiritual perspective. This same methodology can be found in the highly successful 12-step recovery programs. 12-step programs are “spiritual, not religious” and claim to address the underlying spiritual deficits that are the root cause of addiction. Even more curious- although separation of church and state is one of America’s founding principles, 12-step programs, which are based on Christian doctrine, are often mandated by the judicial system in this country, while treatment through natural plant sources remains illegal.

Ayahuasca works powerfully, if sometimes painfully, to reveal personal truths to the user. However, as opposed to addictive drugs & alcohol, and other drug-therapies like methadone, Ayahuasca appears to have no permanent negative side effects, including addiction, even in long-term users. An impressive 2012 scientific study concluded “The assessment of the impact of long-term Ayahuasca use on mental health from various perspectives (personality, psychopathology, neuropsychology, life attitudes and psychosocial well-being) did not find evidence of pathological alterations in any of the spheres studied. Furthermore, Ayahuasca users showed a lower presence of psychopathological symptoms compared to controls. They performed better in neuropsychological tests, scored higher in spirituality and showed better psychosocial adaptation as reflected by some attitudinal traits such as Purpose in Life and Subjective Well-Being.”

[Author's Note: My purpose in these writings is to share my 
personal experiences. I am not suggesting that working with plant 
entheogens is an appropriate path for everyone. In fact, I caution anyone who wishes to work with these plants to do so only after 
great consideration. All people considering this path of 
exploration should work diligently to find authentic healers to 
work with. Persons with addiction issues, those who have been 
diagnosed with mental illness and people with deep emotional 
issues should work directly with healers who have the knowledge 
and professional background to address after-effects that may 
arise from this profound work. All photos posted are attributed to their original source(s)and are not mine.]

Vine of the Soul: 4: The Gift of Being in Service

"Ayahuasca prep" by Terpsichore - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ayahuasca_prep.JPG#/media/File:Ayahuasca_prep.JPG
“Ayahuasca prep” by Terpsichore – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ayahuasca_prep.JPG#/media/File:Ayahuasca_prep.JPG

My first meeting with Ayahuasca is over, and I lay on my mat in the darkened community area, only a flickering candle for light. The shaman closed the ceremony half an hour ago, but I cannot seem to find the strength to get up. It is around 2 am. Most of my fellow Journeyers have gone to the kitchen area to get some food. There is a huge pot of bland but nourishing soup on the old gas stove, and plenty of bread and fruit for dinner.  I should be hungry after fasting and emptying myself so thoroughly, but I am disinterested in food.

I drift in and out of awareness, but gently now. Finally, I decide to try standing again. My legs feel like a new born foal’s. This is one experience that I will have every time over the next few years- this feeling of being newly born into my body after a ceremony. Other than that, and the peace and serenity toward the completion of the ceremony, no two visits with the Medicine will ever be alike. Amazing.

I gather myself and weave through the room, detouring around the few remaining people still laying on their mats. I cautiously navigate the stairs and then step outside. The night is warm, velvety and sweet. The mountains squat together in silent silhouette, silver stars adorning their heads. I realize that I have been standing, frozen in wonder, with my mouth agape. I head toward the warm light of the kitchen.

When I arrive at the kitchen, the lights, noise and movement overwhelm me. I cringe back as the wave of sensations flow over me. When I can manage it, I smile and nod at a few people gathered around a bowl of fruit. They return my smile gently and with understanding. These people are my brothers and sisters. We have traveled the Universe together and returned. My previous feelings of exclusion are extinguished- that was just me and my stuff. Still, I am unable to carry on conversation. The questions people ask me, while exceedingly basic, seem unfathomable. I grab a hand full of grapes and head for my little bed by the window.

The Medicine comes for me off and on all night. I continue to have liquid bowel movements all night. I sleep and dream and she tells me little things. She shows me how afraid we feel of our bodies- how out of control. She shows me images of us being in horror as a disease or illness seems to take over our physical bodies. She tells me that we feel out of control of dis-ease because we have forgotten that physical illness is the end point. The issue, she shows me, begins days, months, years- even lifetimes- before it ever shows up in the physical.

I wake up in the morning feeling tired but clean. Remarkably clean- mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. I spend time taking notes in the quiet of my shared room. My roommates and I smile at each other and exchange morning greetings in low voices. Finally, I get up and begin the day. This is my day of service, and my first task is to change the bedding of those who are leaving today and replace it with fresh bedding for new arrivals. Toward the afternoon I am asked to help neaten and arrange the community area in preparation for the evening’s ceremony. This work is shared by many and is not heavy. I am happy to be quietly helpful.

Evening has arrived and the mats are formed again into a large, neat circle. We smudge and the smoke of Palo Santo wood and White Sage herb fill the room. Flowers are arranged, floors swept. Tonight’s Journeyers begin to arrive. This time, I am seated in the back of the common area and not within the circle. Tonight, I will change purge buckets, fetch water, and offer a steadying arm for those who need to walk about while with the Medicine. Four others are here in the back of the room with me, also in service. I feel pleased and relaxed, ready to serve.

The shaman enters and opens the ceremony in the same way as the previous night. I am quite astonished when, after each member of the circle drinks from the little silver cup, the shaman comes to the back of the room and offers the cup. How did I miss this last night? I feel completely unnerved and unprepared to ingest more Ayahuasca. I smile and shake my head no, but the shaman insists by gently pushing the cup forward. A woman leans over to me and whispers that all people in the room must “be with the medicine” during ceremony. I look into the shaman’s eyes and he nods encouragingly, holding thumb and index fingers close together in the symbol for “just a little”. When I peek into the proffered cup, there is just a tiny bit less than last night. How will I do this???? I tip back the cup…


The shaman can connect with entities that cannot be seen with the naked eye. Mark Plotkin, ethnobotanist, traveled to the Amazonian rain forest and spent several years studying with indigenous shamans. In his book “Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice” he noted that when a person was physically, spiritually or emotionally ill, the shaman went into the forest to get cures for the patient. When Plotkin asked the shamans how they knew what plants to use, the shaman’s reply typically was that the spirit of the plant gave him the cure. Plotkin believed for some time that this was a metaphor for a cultural reference that he did not understand. However, as the trust between he and the tribal people grew, he was drawn deeper into experiences that proved the shamans initial statement was no metaphor- the shaman literally gained direct guidance for his patients through direct communication with the plants.

Working in partnership with local plants has always been a cornerstone of shamanic practice. Plants are used by all peoples for food, shelter and medicine. Most indigenous spirituality has also included using plants as entheogens- tools of enlightenment and knowledge. Entheogens are natural plants that produce an altered state of consciousness.

Entheogens differ from hallucinogens in that they are not created in a lab by a chemist, but are instead a direct product of nature. The word entheogen comes from the Greek “entheos” and “genesthai” and translates to “generating the divine within”. It seems no surprise that our Western culture that has dismissed the importance of spirituality in everyday life has also dismissed the spiritual possibilities of entheogenic plants.

 

[Author's Note: My purpose in these writings is to share my 
personal experiences. I am not suggesting that working with plant 
entheogens is an appropriate path for everyone. In fact, I caution anyone who wishes to work with these plants to do so only after 
great consideration. All people considering this path of 
exploration should work diligently to find authentic healers to 
work with. Persons with addiction issues, those who have been 
diagnosed with mental illness and people with deep emotional 
issues should work directly with healers who have the knowledge 
and professional background to address after-effects that may 
arise from this profound work. All photos posted are attributed to their original source(s) and are not mine.]

Compassionate Consumption: Eating With Awareness

Food. What to eat and what not to eat. What to consume consumes our thoughts- some of us obsess over it. Vegetarian? Vegan? Paleo? Organic? Wild harvested? Whatever is on sale? The daily special at my favorite restaurant? Many people are shocked to find out that I am not a vegetarian or vegan. As an herbalist and shamanic practitioner, people assume I would be. But it is exactly because I am a shamanic herbalist and wholistic healer that I am not a vegetarian…

But what of the ethical issues? We are all aware by now of the ghastly treatment of animals raised purely as food for humans. The widely available video footage of this abuse brings tears to my eyes. There is also data available that indicates a percentage of global warming is caused by the manure of our food animals. A widely cited 2006 report estimated that 18% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions were attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry- and further studies have shown that figure as high as 51%. Finally, all the land and grain required to feed meat animals lowers the availability of less expensive grain based foods for the millions of hungry mouths of our ever-expanding human population.

These are excellent reasons to drastically lower our meat consumption. Eating huge chunks of animal protein because we can afford to do so is a bad idea by all accounts. But is animal protein the main cause of our terrible modern health issues? And is it the moral obligation of the human being to avoid eating anything with consciousness… with a face… with eyes that look back at us with emotions that we clearly identify as emotions we recognize and feel too?

From the perspective of the shaman, everything is alive. Everything has consciousness. Everything vibrates with life force energy. As an herbalist, I have come to understand the great power of the Plant Nation. Plants have provided us with food, medicine, clothing, and shelter since we arrived on this Earth (in whatever way you feel we arrived). This budding awareness  (pun intended) at the beginning of my walk as herbalist was enough for me to look closely at my own anthropocentric ideals. In my human-centric way of viewing the world, I had put consciousness on a hierarchical scale, with life forms being most like humans at the top, and those things less like humans at the bottom. This left plants very near the bottom of my chart. Plants could be eaten, weeded, hybridized, monocultured, and thrown away at will. After all, plants don’t have a face, right? And who has heard a tree cry when it’s apple is plucked?

Shamans use plants as medicine, and as powerful, compassionate teachers and allies. As I have moved ever deeper over the years into my practice as a shamanic herbalist, I could not ignore the ancient and conscious bond between shaman and plant. I have explored plant consciousness and in doing so have glimpsed my own true face and the faces of my plant teachers. Plants are aware and intelligent. I have learned how to speak with them- and in honor of our alliance plants speak back to me.

Diet is a personal choice and the issues are very complex. There is no one-size-fits-all way to eat, of that I am certain. I do know that every time I put something in my mouth- I have taken the life force (life) of another being. Every time I breathe I kill microbes and other microscopic beings. I must take in life force energy every moment in order to maintain my own life. This is the way of the Earth- and it is good.

It is an inevitable part of life on Earth to eat and to be eaten. I do my best to honor the body I was given. For me, this means eating with the knowledge that EVERYTHING I eat has a face. When I am eating at my best, I eat the least processed and organic foods I can find. PROCESSED MEANS MADE WITH HUMAN INTERVENTION: Mono-culture grown vegetables. Animal feedlots. Pasta & breads & crackers. Margarine. Soy meat & milk substitutes are very processed have you ever SEEN a soy bean? It must take a lot of processing to get milk or meat outta that bean. Why not just eat the actual bean of the soy plant? Vegetarian meat and cheese substitutes are very processed. The meat of a naturally grass-fed and raised cow is less processed. Less processed still- a wild deer. I choose the foods that have the least amount of human handling before they got in my fridge.  Better still, eat plants and animals that thrive without human intervention, in their natural and chosen habitats. That trumps any label- organic, free range, pastured…

Want to learn more about eating vibrant, living plants and the health benefits of doing so? Join me each year- this year in June- for a Wild Food Retreat. We will identify, harvest, cook and eat wild plant foods that surpass organic. Foods that fit into your body chemistry like a key in a lock. You might even grace your July 4th picnic table with some of the wild plant dishes you will learn to cook and eat. You will no longer say you cannot afford organic- it will be sitting at your feet. And we all- human and plant alike- will enjoy the communion.

Let Food Be Thy Medicine… Healthy Homeostasis for the Holidays

…And Medicine Be Thy Food. How interesting that this quote is by Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician who is considered by some to be the Father of Western Medicine! It seems we are finally paying attention these days to his words of wisdom. More and more of us are realizing the powerful link between food and health.

This clearly is not a new idea. Many cultures do not have the distinct boundary between food and medicine that we have here in the West. In China, nutrition therapy is a part of the traditional health care- TCM-  Traditional Chinese Medicine. TCM uses herbs, energy medicine and food as a combined approach to wellness and longevity that dates back as early as 2000 BC! In 1500 BC, Ayurveda was being used in India as a form of medicine. Ayurveda also uses herbs, spices and foods to maintain a healthy balance in the body.

Many of us are turning to alternative, wholistic practices to stay healthy and vibrant. This time of year can be particulary challenging to our good health. Cold & flu season is upon us, and we are out and about shopping and attending holiday parties, increasing our chances of exposure to viral and bacterial infection. We may overindulge in unhealthy food and drinks, as everywhere we go we are offered holiday treats. And, if our daily lives are not busy enough already, we are decorating, cooking, planning, running…

Stress disrupts homeostasis– the healthy, balanced stability within our bodies. Stress taxes our immune, adrenal and nervous systems and can lead to hightened vulnerability to microbes. Please note that stress does not always come packaged in negativity! Preparing a meal for an extended family gathering, for example, can be fun and satisfying. But the extra time, money and energy needed to prepare for the gathering, and the disruption of our daily routine can cause stress.

We can draw upon the wisdom of ancient traditional medicinal practices to maintain homeostasis and stay healthy during the holidays. This year the flu has come early- and so many of us are already sick! I would like to offer you some simple, inexpensive ways to protect yourself and your family from viral infection- and keep your holidays healthy.

Food first. Did you know that garlic, ginger and honey are some of our most powerful natural antibiotics? And that mushrooms, especially shiitake and maitake types, stimulate the immune system? And that many of the herbs and spices found in your cabinet have been shown effective against pharmaceutical resistant bacterium? Here is a list of the very best foods, culinary herbs & spices that you can eat to stay healthy this season:

 

  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Honey
  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Onions
  • Thyme
  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin
  • Cloves
  • Rosemary
  • Cayenne
  • Lemongrass
  • Lemon
  • Mushrooms (esp shiitake & maitake but all mushrooms are heathy!)

Spice it up! Eat extra ginger with your sushi. Choose dishes that have lots of garlic & onions. Use honey & cinnamon in your tea and coffee instead of sugar. Better yet, drink hot chai tea made from REAL spices and use raw honey for sweetening it. Add fresh or dried herbs to every dish you cook. Here is one of my personal favorite recipes for staying healthy- and it tastes GREAT~

Mushroom Immunity Saute

  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 dried hot peppers, crumbled OR 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you like spicy)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 lb mixed mushrooms, sliced (I use shiitake, maitake & baby bellas. Use your favorites)
  • Fresh or dried herbs of choice from the list above. I love Thyme in this recipe, but Sage, Oregano and Rosemary are delicious as well.
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, coconut oil or ghee
  • Lemon, butter, cheese (optional)
  • Cooked brown rice or whole grain pasta

Warm your pan on medium-high heat and add oil or ghee. Add mushrooms and onions and saute until they begin to brown and carmelize, stirring frequently to avoid burning. You may need to add a tad more oil or ghee if too dry. Add garlic and ginger and cook 2 more minutes, stirring. Add hot pepper and herbs, cook and stir a few more minutes until fragrant. Serve hot over rice or pasta. Top with a squeeze of lemon and fresh organic butter and grated cheese if you eat dairy.

Now the medicinal herbs. I have over 200 herbs in my apothecary, but when it comes to colds & flu, I love these trusted friends:

  • Echinacea Purpurea herb & root (our local species)
  • Sage leaf (salvia)
  • Goldenseal ROOT (hydrastis canadensis)
  • Elder berry & flower (sambucus)

Echinacea is without equal for treating strep throat and the early onset of colds and flu. For sore throat or strep, use echinacea tincture. Drop or spray the tincture in the back of the throat, letting it mix with your saliva. Do this about once an hour until throat is no longer inflamed and painful, then several times a day until completely resolved. Please use a high quality brand- or contact me for Echinacea Throat Spray from my apothecary.

Goldenseal is a powerful antimicrobial herb- and works so well it is endangered. You must use the root of this plant- beware of inexpensive capsules that contain only leaves. Goldenseal keeps the mucous membranes in the body healthy. Use it for full blown colds & flu, urinary tract issues, and anytime there is inflammation of the sinus area.  Take capsules (1-2 00 size caps up to 4x daily) of the powdered root or a dropperful of tincture 3-4 times daily. Also unequaled for cuts & wounds topically.

The Elder plant is a gift from Nature. The berries can be used to prevent viral infection and to reduce the duration of viral infection. The flowers are used to to relieve inflammation, congestion & infection of the sinuses. Every year I sell GALLONS of Elderberry & Echinacea Antiviral Elixir that I make from organic berries & herbs. Taken as a preventative or at the first sign of infection, Elder is extremely effective. The berries and flowers taste good- use berries as a syrup, tea or tincture once daily during cold and flu season as a preventative; 4-8 times daily at onset. Flowers should be steeped as a tea and sweetened with honey for use as a sinus decongestant.

Sage is an old & wise plant that has been use for millenia in cultures where it grows. Use Sage for cooking, in tea, for burning as an air purifier. Particularly effective for upper respiratory infection accompanied by sore throat and mucous. I make a large bottle of Sage vinegar every year and keep it on hand for my clients. Sage vinegar, mixed with some hot water and sprayed or gargled in the throat relieves sore, inflammed throats. A dropperful of the tincture 6 to 8 times a day will dry up a drippy, wet cold. And Sage tea is the best cold medicine I know. Here is my recipe:

  • 2 teaspoons dried Sage (make sure it is recently dried and still potent)
  • Juice of 1/2 Lemon
  • Pinch of Cayenne powder
  • 1-2 tablespoons raw honey

Place Sage in a tea bag or diffuser into a mug. Squeeze lemon into mug and add a pinch or Cayenne. Cover with boiling water, steep. Add honey and sip the tea as hot as you can tolerate it. Dink several times daily for wet, mucous cold & flu.

Happy Homeostasis to You and Yours this Holiday Season! Please email me with questions or if you need any of the herbs or preparations mentioned here.

The Outrageous Cost of Healthy

The search for good health has become incredibly complicated; elusive; expensive. Recently, during an energy healing session, my client broke down into tears saying “I just do not know anymore what to eat, what to take, and who to believe.” A sentiment shared by many. Shiny packaging promises a miracle of science and technology, while displaying a pretty green leaf to assure us that it is ‘natural’.  TV pharmaceutical drug ads show serene couples bathing side by side in outdoor claw foot tubs, surrounded by incredible natural views as they hold hands… deeply in love. This can be your life too with the miracle of that drug- please don’t bother with the pesky side effect warnings. Powerful, beautiful people with sleek bodies and perfect families drive shiny new cars. Surely your biceps will get bigger if you drive a Ram or Powerstroke? Raw power will be yours in a Jaguar or Barracuda? Money and prestige in a Country Club or Diplomat??

 

The nation’s largest retailers spend millions every year on marketing. These costs are rolled into the price of their product, whether that product is a drug, cosmetic, automobile, food or service. And marketing professionals earn their pay by researching what attracts you. What you yearn for. What excites you. It is a powerful game played very well by corporations to increase the bottom line: Profit. Now, I am not saying profit is bad! I want to profit too! What I am saying is that we often become confused by conflicting, seductive information- even when our own good instincts and intelligence tell us otherwise. We have become habituated to spending the largest chunks of our income on products and services that keep us trapped into stressful jobs and lifestyles. We say we want to change- eat better, excercise more, adopt wholistic practices, live our dreams- but we simply cannot afford it. I challenge you to explore that paradigm, friend.

 

Food is a great place to start.  Seductive ads for hot, salty french fries and a smooth, yummy milkshake (I drool as I write this) get our cravings going. And this fast food is so inexpensive! And FAST! And organic food is so expensive and time consuming. All that chopping and slicing. But who hasn’t heard at this point about the dangers of GMO’s; the nutrition deficiencies of monoculture crops; the increased incidence of disease caused by pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics? So why do we keep eating this stuff? Government subsidized foods and crops are deceptively cheap. We pay for them via our tax burden, and when we are shopping at the super market we feel we need to choose the inexpensive stuff because we simply cannot afford organic, free range, hormone free. Crazy. We are a nation of overweight, stressed, disease ridden people. We throw away TONS of food each year. Research indicates that Americans eat out 4 to 5 times a week, spending over half of our food budget in restaurants. So I ask you- can we really not afford organic, or are we lost in habits that override our intellect? Is it truly about the cost of the organic food, or more about choices? Hey don’t get me wrong- I love to eat out with my friends too! And everything I put in my cart at the market is not organic. And I really get tired of the constant work in the kitchen. However, I value my health and I pay more for my groceries. I shop at farmer’s markets. I raise my own eggs and vegetables. I pressure can and freeze food from my garden and the markets. I shop at these markets as well as my grocery store more frequently than I used to, and buy less so that I waste less. This is hard work that takes time! Organic is hard. Living a long, healthy life is good.

 

Healthcare is another hot topic these days. As an energy worker and herbalist, I am always hearing clients say that while they know they benefit from Wholistic care, they simply cannot afford it. How much do you really pay for your health care? Add up the monthly amount you and your employer pay for your health insurance. Multiply by 12. Now add in the cost of your prescriptions. That’s a lotta cheddar, my friend. But we NEED our insurance, right?? Maybe we do. But what about choices? Here is a big question to ponder- would you stay at your job if you did not need the health benefits?  Do you like being told how to spend that huge chunk of your income? The U.S. has the highest cost per person for health care in the world- but we only rank 37th in overall health. Read the eye opening report by the World Health Organization for yourself. Did you also know that 80% of the world’s population uses ‘alternative’ practices as the first line of defense in staying healthy, using allopathic (Western) medicine only as a last resort? I am not saying that Western medicine should not be used. If you break your leg, please go to the ER- my herbs won’t help you. But herbs and supplements can and do help you to speed the healing of that broken bone- without the long term damage that continued exposure to pharmaceuticals & those unwanted side effects can cause.

 

Our allopathic health care system is frighteningly ignorant in the prevention of and recovery from disease through diet, nutrition, stress reduction and plant medicines. These alternative practices are gentler on the body and encourage homeostasis- a body in balance. Homeostasis offers us a way to feel vibrantly healthy, a way to enjoy our days instead of simply surviving.  I see so many people who have been ‘cured’ of diseases by allopathic methods, only to be rushed out of the health care system, with bodies that are alive but somehow… unwell. So what are we to do?

 

Choose with your eyes open. Trust your intellect. Scrutinize your choices. If you cannot recognize the ingredients in your food or cosmetics, are they really natural and chemical free? Does that ad or packaging play to your emotions? Can a pill really make you skinny? Does an expensive new car, and the painful monthly payment, really improve the happiness in your life? Americans are the most overworked developed nation in the world- want some data on how much you work? Click here. Now look at where you are spending your very hard earned income. Are you choosing or are you being directed?  Do you really know how the cheap food in your store is grown and processed? Watch the movie Food, Inc.  Want to get started on organic eating on a budget? Know the Dirty Dozen– the most highly pesticide contamined foods- and choose organic instead. Want to know more about the benefits of plant based phytomedicines vs. pharmaceuticals? Come chat with me, or watch the movie Numen. I have the DVD- anyone want to have movie night? Message me, we’ll get a group together. Change in our world begins with each one of us. Change is hard. Life is good. And in the end, shift happens.