Yesterday I had a bad day.
That reminds me of kindergarten, when I had regular clashes with my teacher over her inability to understand me and my particular quirks. I had a calendar that I marked every day with a happy face or a sad face. The sad faces were for days when I inappropriately burst into tears at school or in public, and the happy faces were for most other days. Most of the happy faces occurred on non-school days.
Yesterday was a sad face day. The stress of grad school, coupled with a clash with a coworker, sent me into a tailspin of bad feelings, self-doubt, and a lot of tears. I ended up leaving the lab suddenly, over an hour before I meant to, and going home to a dark room, a fuzzy blanket, and a snuggle-buddy (actually two: dog and husband).
And amidst all this was herbal tea.
Looking back on it, I probably should have seen the stress building when I reached for the oatstraw to make my infusion a couple days ago, after days of nettles for my allergies. Oatstraw is supposed to be an excellent calmative, a remedy for jangled nerves and chronic anxiety. But yesterday, I reached for my more potent ally: sage. I didn’t even put honey in it, just a teaspoon in a muslin bag, steeped in boiling water until it was cool enough to drink. As I sipped, I felt the stress melt out, and felt my body relax. I should probably start bringing sage to work with me.
My journey to herbal medicine is a winding, circuitous one. It somewhat starts with my husband, who drinks Traditional Medicinals Gypsy Cold Care tea when he’s sick rather than running straight for the Sudafed. From there, I met his mother and grandmother, who raised him with natural remedies. My mother-in-law was always my go-to resource when I had a problem that conventional medicine couldn’t solve.
But the other thing that brought me to herbal medicine and homemade remedies was being a member of the Long Hair Community. This vibrant, eclectic community of men and women brought together by a love of growing long, healthy hair loves to share recipes for hair treatments, many of which are mixed up in the kitchen, rather than the lab of some cosmetic company. Well, today I noticed that I have a new follower, one of my hair idols from this community. So as a shoutout to her, I’m going to share a proto-type herbal hair vinegar I made for re-acidifying my hair after washing my hair with homemade (by someone else) cold-process soap.
Herbal Hair Vinegar
I made this on a whim, and would much prefer to use fresh herbs. The rosebuds didn’t seem to do much scent-wise, so I would probably stick to sage and nettle alone. It has a lovely, herb-y scent, and I swear it makes my hair shinier. Be careful with this if you’re blonde, as I’ve heard sage can darken hair.
In a 500-ml jar, put:
0.30 oz. dried red roses
0.25 oz. dried nettle leaves
0.30 oz. dried sage leaves
Fill jar with pasteurized apple cider vinegar, cover (use a jar with a plastic lid or put a piece of waxed paper between the vinegar and the lid if you want to prevent rust from forming) and let steep for at least 6 weeks. Strain and use for hair rinses. I use about 2-4 Tbsp. diluted in a 23-oz. jar filled the rest of the way with water. I pour this mixture through my hair immediately after washing with soap, and then rinse it with warm and then cool water.
Well, I had hoped to write about my brandied violet syrup today, but I was inspired (or rather, interrupted) by my old friend. I recently went off hormonal birth control, and just got my first non-pill period this morning, so I thought I’d share some of my herbal allies for my period. So far, most of these are untested, but I have high hopes.
1.) Infusions and Teas:
I love my nettle infusion, especially during allergy season, and my oatstraw infusion is supposed to help moodiness and frazzled nerves, but I’m adding a couple to my arsenal for the next week. Catnip is supposed to be soothing and sedating, good for menstrual cramps, and to help get to sleep. My wish this morning was just to curl up around a mug of catnip tea and spend the day on the couch. But I had to get up, so I packed a few bags of my other menstrual ally, red raspberry leaf. It’s good for strengthening all parts of the female system, and I find it very stimulating, but not jitter-causing like caffeine.
Yes, there is controversy, and I know sugar and caffeine aren’t supposed to be good for PMS, but I find that when I’m having my period, I crave chocolate strongly. And I like to listen to my body. Chocolate is very specific, and I don’t know much else that can truly satisfy that craving. I get dark chocolate, sweetened with organic evaporated cane juice, and lightly salted with a sprinkle of unrefined sea salt. It’s called Salazon Chocolate
, and I just adore it.
3.) Spiritual Practice:
My bloodstone pendant is particularly meaningful to me at this time of the month. I sat in a short meditation this morning to calm and ground myself, and to help melt away my cramps and tension. I said a prayer to the cthonic goddess Hecate, who rules the realm of menstruating women. And I read my Tarot, drawing the Star card, which felt particularly appropriate as I watched the smiling blonde woman on the card pour out libations to water and Earth.
One of the foundations of the Wise Woman Herbal by Susun Weed is the idea of nourishing herbal infusions. These are water-based preparation using a large volume of dried plant matter, infused for a long period of time. In her articles, Susun recommends steps toward a more nourishing lifestyle, including the consumption of nourishing infusions daily. She focuses on what she calls nourishing herbs, which are food-like herbs, rich in vitamins and minerals, which can be taken in quantity without much fear of side effects. Her favorites seem to include nettles, oatstraw, and red clover.
Oatstraw, in particular is supposed to be effective at reducing anxiety and nerves. As someone with anxiety issues, I found this particularly attractive. The flavor is mellow and grassy, and I’ve found I do not like it sweetened, but it is better warm.
Nettle is Susun’s wonder-herb in some ways. It’s rich in vitamins, calcium, and other minerals. It’s considered a good supporter of the blood and general body systems. Other traditions recommend it for general health and vitality. It does have a distinct spinach-y taste, but I find it tastes amazing after a run, especially in warm weather.
Currently, I alternate most days with nettle and oatstraw. I’ve been a bit heavier on the nettle during allergy season, and I have red raspberry leaf on hand for when I’m PMSing. I’ve also purchased some chickweed to possibly drink once a week. Infusions are really simple; the only thing they require is a couple extra minutes and someone to remind you to prep them ahead of time. In fact, it’s a little like soaking grains or making sourdough. I make up my infusions at night to drink in the morning. I weigh out 1/2 oz. of herb into a 500-ml jar, then fill it with boiling water, cap tightly, and let sit on the counter overnight. In the morning, I strain into a mug or saucepan (to heat before pouring into a mug) and enjoy.
Wise woman healing may begin in the weed fields, and I’ve had some good times the past week in the fields, but it blossoms in the kitchen. Making medicines comes secondary to making nourishing foods, using allies to prevent ill health before having to treat it. So today I thought I would share my wise/wild woman lunch. In my efforts to consolidate my lunches and make them more convenient to carry with me to work, I went out and bought a brand new, big, sturdy container in which I make myself a sort of improvised bento box.
I like to make sure I have a whole-grain, a vegetable (preferably a green), and a protein. Mushrooms are wonderful. As Susun Weed tells us, they contain potent anti-cancer properties. Plus they just taste earthy and rich. A dressing gives a zing from apple cider vinegar and a salty broth of tamari. I plan to experiment with miso, and herbal vinegars. And of course, oils. Olive oil is my favorite, but sesame oil is velvety and rich.
This box is composed of a pasta salad made from whole-grain rotini, chopped Kalamata olives, and a dressing of equal parts olive oil and apple cider vinegar plus a half part of tamari. On the other side is a handful of chopped dandelion greens flavored with chickweed. Across the center is a lashing of sauteed shitake mushrooms and garlic. And it’s topped with a hard-boiled pastured egg. A satisfying meal fit to ensure this wild woman doesn’t get the blues.
Hello! Some of you may know me from my food blog, “Running with Knives.” You may know me as someone who’s always willing to experiment with healthy eating. I’ve tried raw food, vegan, vegetarian, primal, traditional, and most of what I’ve learned is that there is no optimal diet for every person in general. Similar to my running, I’ve learned that in eating, it’s best to listen to my body.
My body has long told me that it doesn’t feel quite right with all the chemicals that day-to-day existence involved. I react strongly to side effects, to the point where a cup of coffee after lunch can keep me up much of the night. And I struggled for over a year with frequent infections, to which doctors responded by throwing more and more antibiotics at me. I came out of that with a trashed immune system, enough yeast in my body to start a bakery, and a new addition to my previously-short list of allergies.
Well, I’ve had enough. “Wild, Not Wise” is going to be my chronicle of my forays into herbal healing, in the Wise Woman tradition. Most of my information will from from Healing Wise by Susun Weed, and articles on her website. While I’m not yet experienced enough to call myself a wise woman, I like to think of myself as a wild woman, running free in the outdoors, asking nature to help me feel well.
Welcome to my new blog, and I hope we can share ideas together!