Follow the Sun

Posted on June 13, 2016. Filed under: Healing, Nature, Random Musings |

One of the things I love about this time of year is how the sunrise and sunset (cue the song from Fiddler on the Roof…) aligns so closely to when I wake and go to sleep.  This year I decided to build upon that and surrender a bit to the cycle of day/night.


Yes, cats are so the masters of solar alignment in their own magical way. 🙂

One of the first things that I’ve been doing is using no electric lights.  When I awake (which is just around sunrise) I open the blinds throughout my apartment.  Then  they stay open all day long – only being shut for the night when I go to bed (which is technically a little more than a half hour after official sunset.)

The hard part about that is actually the loss of control.  We’re so used to using our artificial light for our convenience that we grasp hard to that control over “the light.”  When it is cloudy and dark there simply may not be enough light to read and I have to adjust my activities indoors accordingly.  The same thing happens during that time from when it is before sunset but it is no longer quite light enough to read and when I actually go to bed.

I’ve begun listening to audio books or dramatic podcasts (I use a voice controlled device for this so I don’t have to deal with computer/electronics lights.) Which is actually kind of nice since its restful for the eyes just listening rather than watching something or reading.  Plus, there’s something particularly cozy and comforting about being read to.

One of the nice things is how substantially calming it is to let the light gradually dim into darkness (well, as dark as it gets in the city which is why the blinds are finally shut.)  During the wintertime, I still shut off the lights and electronics a few hours before bed and use candles – which is nice but not quite as impactful for me as just the natural setting of the sun.

It is amazing how much it improves the quality of my sleep and my mood and allows me to feel more the real cycle of things that we so disconnect from in the rush of our daily (especially urban) lives.

Let the sunshine in and follow its lead…




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Herbal Madness

Posted on May 22, 2014. Filed under: Events, Healing, Path of the Healer, Random Musings, Uncategorized |

As I mentioned the other week, I’ve been busy lately editing the Herbstalk blog lately, but as we head into the final couple of weeks before the Herbstalk Festival – and you know you want to go don’t you! Heck, I’m teaching there so it’s almost a must! 😉   So I thought that each week, I’d reprint one of my posts from the Herbstalk blog here.   Here’s one I did in February called – Herbal Madness! Enjoy…

Stop! Step away from those herbs…yes, I mean you. I know this is a blog for an herbal festival and so it is all about herbalism, but I just want to make the case for not taking herbs – at least every once and a while. 😉

Shocked Cat (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism

Shocked Cat (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism

It is pretty easy to get in the habit of always incorporating all the wonderful plant friends into our daily lives – teas, tinctures, capsules, etc.   But sometimes I think it is good just to take a break once and a while from them all.

Too often, we tend to think of ourselves as static instead of dynamic. When in fact, we change from year to year, season to season and even day to day as our world changes, our lives change and even the weather changes.

I find it helpful to take a break from time to time and see what is truly going on in your body. What changes have happened? Is there a new normal? Sometimes you can more profoundly recognize the effects of different herbs and what different combination are having on you when you aren’t taking them.

Taking a break and when you’re done – trying a new herb or re-visiting one that you never really connected with before can be a powerful experience.   And one always worth exploring. You may find a new herbal best friend or re-visit a long lost one! More importantly, you may learn something about yourself in the process.

One of the hazards of plant love is that we can begin to see the world through narrowed “herbal” colored glasses. Just like that old piece of wisdom, Maslow’s hammer – if all you do is hammer than everything looks like a nail.  You can see yourself, family, friends and customers and clients no longer as full individuals but as nails requiring an herbal hammer.

I see it all the time on line in places like Facebook, when a simple observation about a momentary mood, event in day, physical ache, pain etc. – invokes a torrent of “herbal” fixes from my many online herbal friends.

I generally just smile, roll my eyes and think “bless their well-meaning hearts”, but sometimes things just are and they pass. It is part of living life, impermanence and being.   Trying to “fix” things through herbs can be just as bad as the over-medicating that seems to be an epidemic in mainstream Western medicine.

Herbs: feel free to use and love them. Share that love with others.

But take a break from time to time to be not so attached. Then you can learn more about yourself and others while remembering to truly see people and be with them and not just see objects to be “herbaled.”

Just my own insane .02

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Enjoy Everything!

Posted on April 20, 2014. Filed under: Healing, Path of the Healer, Random Musings, Seasons and Climate |

It feels to me that the past few months of winter, with their relentless cold and storms, have been especially soul wearing this year.   And I know from talking to others that I’m not the only one who’d felt that way.  As I joked with a friend, if it weren’t for deadlines I don’t think I’d have gotten anything done during that time.

Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism

Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism

One of the problems with winter in our culture, is that we try to keep so busy during it.  Frenetically pursuing to do lists and tasks that require energy better suited to spring and summer.  When instead we should be spending our time quieting down, conserving ourselves and perhaps looking within – more being and less doing.  And working so hard against that seasonal pull can be especially draining (part of the reason I took a break from blogging and was very light on the social media front as well, but I’ll write about that another time.)

But at last it is spring.   The days grow longer and temperatures rise bit by bit. (Or if you live in New England the weather see-saws between seasons in a way that is almost manic depressive in its energy!)  To me, now is the time to break out the to do lists as your energies rise with the season – not January 1 – when  the days grow shorter and weather becomes so challenging!

The beginning of this month was April Fool’s Day.  I’m not much of a prankster, but, for me, I think of the spirit of the day is less in the notion of playing jokes or pranks as it is in sharing joy and laughter.  Remembering fun and to enjoy things – to lighten up.  Making that transition from the dark days and introspection – really a re-birth and very keeping in the spirit of spring.  And let’s not forget Easter time with all of its symbolism about rebirth!

Now take that rebirth energy go and make your to do list and change your life for the better but not in some somber task, work, work, work way – instead take the time to laugh and reconnect with that sense of fun.

As Oscar Wilde said:

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Or in a more fun take, here’s one of my favorite Buddhist jokes:

The Buddhist hands the vendor a five. The vendor gives the Buddhist the hot dog. The Buddhist stands there waiting for change. The vendor shakes her head and says, “Change comes from within.”

So it’s  Spring:  Be reborn, embrace changes and most importantly ENJOY EVERYTHING!

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Make Someone Happy

Posted on August 16, 2013. Filed under: Healing, Random Musings, Spiritual Practice |

I was thinking about happiness,  spirituality, herbalism, yoga and living in general recently.  Call it a confluence of thought leading to an a-ha moment.

English: Emotions associated with happiness

English: Emotions associated with happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part of it came when I was flipping through a couple of volumes of an annual anthology of best spiritual writing and I was struck by something.   Not one of the essays was about helping or even dealing with other people.  They were all about turning in or at times about connecting with nature.  Nothing wrong with that but I was bothered by how not one essay was about spirituality and helping others.

Then I was thinking about a friend whom I would call a self-help addict.  She was always a bit lonely and unhappy, always broke and chronically “busy” running to seminars about improving herself and changing her life as well as  buying books about the topic – while never truly connecting with others or actually seeming to find her own happiness since she was so busy in quest of it.    I could only help but think how much her fuller and richer (in many senses of the word) her life would have been if she channeled that money and time away from her “self-help” and into connection with others.

In herbalism, one of the most popular requests is about herbs to help with emotional issues that really could be said to stem from being lonely and/or unhappy.   And folks go to yoga to often work on themselves in similar ways as well.

While I do think these are valuable tools and great parts of one’s life, I look at some folks using them and think how they are still so aimed just at themselves and change eludes them.

Sometimes, I think when you focus too much energy on yourself and changing yourself it becomes almost like a black hole continually sucking your time and energy inward allowing little light to emerge.  There has to be a balance of energy connecting you out and to others. And, as you do, you get positive energy back from them as well.  And it becomes a wider web of support and connection supporting you rather than a hole growing ever deeper.

Practicing acts of kindness and connection to others is powerful and profound and should be a part of one’s “self-improvement”, spirituality, yoga and other practices.

I think parents can touch upon that magic with their children (and many folks can with the animals in their lives as well) which is of course why it is so easy to spoil them too. 🙂

In other words, make someone happy.

There’s actually a lot of wisdom in that song, which is why I’ve always been fond of it.

So, of course, it is good to be self-aware and work toward changing yourself though whatever modality you are drawn to but try to balance it with energy toward being kind, helping and connecting to others as well.  For that is an important part of your practice and growth as well.

Perhaps in finding the balance of that is where happiness can be found.  🙂

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Mind your mind – or it will mind you!

Posted on June 26, 2013. Filed under: Healing, Spiritual Practice, Yoga | Tags: , , |

While in my usual “I can’t” story, I forgot for a moment I couldn’t and so I did.   Wow, that sounds like the usual bad facebook picture meme with an inspiring picture – so let me try explaining that.

Sometimes our minds can be bullies,

Not always working together (Movie still from Fiend Without a Face)

Not always working together (Movie still from Fiend Without a Face)

and instead of us minding our minds, they mind us.  I had a nice example of this last night in my yoga practice, when I was working on handstands.

I’m at an interesting cusp in my work on handstands.  While I can kick up into handstand more often than not but still need a wall to prop my feet against to hold the pose once I do.   Not quite as developed as say my headstand where I can almost always kick up and I can balance without a wall.  But given that not too long ago I couldn’t kick up in either – the journey is definitely underway.

There’s a story in my head that I can’t balance in handstand without the wall yet, and when I try, I tend to fall down.   But since I don’t always kick up successfully to the wall, I have a moment in between that is really interesting.

There’s a point where after I kick up my mind makes a decision that either:

  1. Yes, I’m going to be able to get my legs up the wall and keeps going to do it
  2. Or, I’m not and slows things down so I fall back to the floor.

But then something happened.  I kicked up and my mind couldn’t decide which of my two “stories” was true – and I just paused neither falling nor touching the wall just balancing.  So as my mind was balanced in indecision between the stories, it lost a certain hold and I found balance that it thought I couldn’t have.

Of course, once my mind realized what was happening the pose fell apart. 😉

This is where a yoga practice is a great microcosm for how we are in life.  Sometimes our minds have stories of what we can and can’t do – but when we let go of those we can find more possibilities than we thought we had.

Remember to mind your mind and not let it run your life too much…

Good doggy (Movie still from Fiend Without a Face)

Good doggy (Movie still from Fiend Without a Face)

Or at least try to get it to stay off the furniture!  🙂

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Splish, Splash – taking an herbal foot bath!

Posted on June 21, 2013. Filed under: Healing |

I’ve spent the paste week or so getting used to the real world post-Herbstalk weekend and all the standing and walking around there got me thinking about feet.  Or more about how nice an herbal foot bath was after the whole thing!

Earthing - (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

Feet, oh my- (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Is there a part of the body that we see so regularly, use so much but take for granted more than feet?  Ah, poor feet I hardly know ye…

But foot baths (herbal and more) are great.  They are good your feet and good for you.  I find they always improve my mood.   They tend to draw energy down grounding you which means they can be helpful with insomnia.

When I have a particularly hard week, I might give my feet a nice soaking every night, it makes life so much better.

You can find actual foot baths in specialty stores with specialty pricing, but frankly I use a simply big plastic dish pan I bought in a hardware store.  Way cheaper and works really well.

Some folks use muslin bags or other tea type bags to put the herbs in before putting them in the water.  I’m a little more free and just toss the herbs in directly in the water.  In fact, I cover the pan with a towel and let the herbs and water brew tea like for a bit before putting my feet in.   Then either use a colander to strain them out when I’m done or just let the garbage disposal do its magic.

Some folks might not like all that wildness and wiping plants off their feet afterward, but frankly there is something very neat and wild about having your feet immersed in with the herbs floating about! 🙂

There are all kind of things you can put in the water:

  • Herbs that are generally good for the skin like – Calendula, Rose, Linden, Chaparral or Lavender
  • Herbs aimed at cleaning things you may pick up like – Sage or Yarrow
  • Salts – don’t just think of  Epsom salt most salts and especially sea salt are pretty good things to have there
  • Surprisingly vinegar good too for your skin and feet – think the every classic Apple Cider Vinegar
  • And, of course, essential oils even if just to lend a wonderful scent!

There are things you might not think of but once I picked up a little infection on my feet and doing several hot foot baths with lots of sliced fresh Garlic cloves did wonders and got rid of the problem promptly without all the icky chemicals and side effects of the over the counter stuff.  🙂

If you don’t remember when’s the last time you treated yourself to one, then you’re long overdue!

While wonderful for you to do for yourself, let’s not forget how special it is to prepare a nice foot bath for that someone special in your life as a surprise!

And because it’s been running through my head here’s a little nifty song and animation about feet.

So put your feet forward and just do it.

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No Magic About It

Posted on April 29, 2013. Filed under: Food and Cooking, Healing, Random Musings |

I wanted to share a thought that has been bubbling in my brain about herbalism gone wrong or perhaps misused.   I recently had a couple of encounters with what I sometimes call magic pill herbalism or thinking of healing as a magic pill.   Something I’ve always been a bit suspicious of.

Suspicious Cat (Photo by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Suspicious Cat (Photo by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Suspicious Cat is also suspicious of such things!

Not too long ago I had a couple of people tell me about their stress problems, adrenal fatigue and how they were taking adaptogens and licorice to help out with that but how they were still having problems.   And in parallel to that was remembering the seasonal rush in the fall by folks to use herbs that stimulate the immune system during cold and flu season and when they felt something coming on.

But as I mentioned to a couple of people – that’s a classic case of the cart before the horse.  What you really need to be doing is give the body something to support it in doing all these things.   Don’t forget your nutrients – the vitamins and minerals your body needs to deal with the losses caused by stress and to support a ramping up of the immune system.

Otherwise, all you’re doing is flooring the gas pedal and not filling the tank and you’re just speeding up the time until you completely crash.

I think that is one of the things I see happen a lot with folks who go crazy with immune stimulating herbs intending to prevent getting sick.   They keep revving the immune system without increasing the things the body needs to do that, then when they get sick they get sick bad.

As a rule of thumb we in the US don’t have a problem with too little protein or calories in our diet, but we generally have a chronic one with vitamins and minerals – which gets accentuated by stress and illness as the body uses these even more quickly and they were already in short supply.

Now I’m not going to go into a whose diet is better debate or advocate a particular diet – but I do think a parody of West Side Story with Paleos and Vegans would be rocking and I may someday write it.   I will just throw out some things both sides could deal with.

Don’t neglect seaweed in your diet if you can deal with it.  Seaweeds (nori rolls do not actually count since they are so processed the seaweed goodness is essentially gone!) are packed with awesome collections of vitamins and minerals – one of the true superfoods.

In the classic world of herbalism you can’t go wrong with stinging nettles which are practically the next best thing and probably overtaking your yard if you look!  Steam them like spinach, throw them in soups – but probably not  raw salad unless you like a numb tongue. 😉

Even just making sure you get a wide variety of different colored fruits and vegetables in your diet is amazingly important in general, but especially if you’re sick, stressed, etc.  Think soups.  Seriously it is not an accident soups are so helpful when you are sick – it’s probably the largest variety of vegetables most Americans get in their typical diet.  Which is incredibly sad.

Really, all I’m saying is I love herbs…they’re great, but step away from treating them like magic pills and remember about eating right.    Don’t just go for herbs when you are under stress, tired, sick or taking things to up the immune system, remember that is the best time to add more vitamins and minerals into your diet through eating a variety of good foods too.  Use the herbs to support you while you work to provide the body with what it needs to work with them! 🙂

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Opening to Possibilities Throughout the New Year

Posted on January 3, 2013. Filed under: Healing, Herb(s) of the Week, Spiritual Practice |

Happy New Year! Finally it’s time for my first, of hopefully many, posts of 2013. Given it is a new year I’d thought I’d share my New Year’s tea blend and thoughts about the meaning of New Year’s.

I was going to post this on New Year’s Day for the symbolism, but I realized that, paradoxically (bonus points for actually using the word properly!), doing it afterward has much greater symbolic value. Because here’s where the work really begins.

Most of us have made resolutions or have thought about goals/hopes/dreams for the new year. Some have done rituals, prayers and/or meditations.

New Year's Altar (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

New Year’s Altar (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

While others chose just to have pie and forget about the whole darn thing! Mind you I’m never dismissive of the value of pie in one’s life -but pie in lieu of making the changes in your life that you want to make, not so much. 🙂

New Year’s is a classic marker time (like birthdays and anniversaries) to pause, reflect and dream. I think it is very valuable to do something at these times, whether it be:

  • Write in a Journal
  • Perform a ritual
  • Pray
  • Meditate
  • Doing a Tarot, I Ching or other divinatory reading
  • Journeying
  • Make resolutions

No matter what, the point is to pause, reflect, make clear and focus your intentions. All of which is valuable any time of year.

Part of it also is opening yourself up emotionally, spiritually as well as just opening your metaphorical heart to the possibilities of positive change.

Here’s a tea blend I like to drink during these times to aid that:

  •  Damiana (Tunera diffusa): I have periods where I’m inordinately fond of Damiana because of its many wonderful abilities. It’s a bit of Nervine as well as anti-depressant, stimulating as well as restoring for the nervous system. Just a great tonic in general for long term stress and folks weighed down with worries. While traditionally seen as a men’s herb for support with sexual problems it is equally supportive for women since its real magic is in its nerve and stress support. Damiana is also known for its spiritual support and is helpful in journeying and guided meditation. The down side is it is a bit bitter. When I don’t use it in tea blends I make a smashing Damiana infused blackberry brandy.
  •  Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.): Not only a bit of Nervine but a classic heart tonic helpful for the spiritual, emotion and physical heart. Useful for heartbreak, sadness and grief. It helps with insomnia and works best cumulatively. You can use the berries but in this case I prefer the flowers and leaves in mixes that are mostly flowers and leaves because I like the synergy of it. It combines well with ginkgo as an aid to memory and concentration so you can remember your resolutions.
  •  Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum): Not only does Jasmine smell wonderful it is calming, relieves tension and is a bit of an anti-depressant. I use it as a gentle lift to the spirits. You could use Rose or Lavender for the same effect.
  •  Linden (Tilia spp.): Linden is another classic Nervine like plant with its calming and emotionally supportive talents. It helps with stress and panic as well as relieving tension and helping you sleep. Think of it as a hug in a cup.
  •  Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca): You know what the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz needed? I mean other than a good ab workout. Motherwort. It’s herbal courage and helps drive melancholy away and learn there is no place like home (sorry couldn’t resist that one.) As well as a classic anti-anxiety herb helping with frustration and stress it is a cardiac tonic and aid for insomnia.
  •  Cinnamon & Licorice: Both have some pretty nifty properties which I talked about before (B.O.B. Blend) but frankly they are mainly here to help moderate the bitterness of Damiana and Motherwort. If you don’t want them you can simply add some honey to the tea as desired after it brews.

If you must have a name for the blend, let’s call it Opening to Change…

I find the combination of these herbs helpful in that opening up process and drinking the tea is part of that process as well. I’ve said it before and it deserves to be said again and again. It’s always best to brew your herbal teas for a while (covered preferably) and spend the time while it brews meditatively and calmly. Then drink the tea slowly and with full presence. It’s part of the healing and opening process. Really and truly.

This blend is potent for alleviating stress, worry and negative emotions – all of which tend to shut you down when you think of, and try to, change your life for the better. Them helping to you to open your heart, mind, spirit (and heck sexually) – makes focusing on the future and change in a positive way far easier.

But just a gentle reminder – it’s one thing to focus your intentions this time of year, it’s another to actually take action about them throughout the year in the face of the ups, downs and grind of everyday life.

While, hopefully, you’re starting off strongly now – it always gets harder. So I’d recommend making some dates in your calendar to regularly pause and drink this tea blend and go back to what you started here and now. Look at your list, pray, meditate, etc.

In other words plan scheduled rest stops during the year to recharge, renew and reorient yourself for when life tries to drag you off track. Whether it be weekly or monthly doesn’t matter. Schedule it now to remind yourself then.

Now go and make 2013 amazing!


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Salve Our Souls (and Skin!)

Posted on November 14, 2012. Filed under: Healing, Herbal Medicine Making |

Salves and me haven’t always seen eye to eye, partly because they don’t come as naturally to me as teas and tincture making.  So last weekend I decided to spend some time salve making with them with an eye toward thinking about the nature of salves and the making of them.

Many like making their herbal infused oils in the sun over a month or so, but I’m a classic double boiler man where you infuse the oil with the herbs for several hours:

Double Boiler of Herby Love (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Some are hesitant about doing that – fretting about the water boiling off while they aren’t paying attention or the oil burning, etc.  I just use a cooking thermometer and check it regularly to see the temperature is good and if you think you might forget to check just set a timer to remind you every 20 – 30 minutes depending how paranoid you feel on any given day.   (Generally you want the water in the bottom pot on a low boil and to not push the temperature of the oil past the low to mid 100 F point too much but don’t obsess about it!)  BTW, IMO, digital cooking thermometer is one of my favorite tools for alleviating needless worry in cooking and medicine making.  🙂

While we’re at it here are some of the other tools I use:

Tools of the Trade – (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

While I keep a separate set of everything for working with my herbs as I do from my food cooking, I keep the same rule with both – NO PLASTIC!  I use just glass, wood and stainless steel (or cast iron.)    But really it is all pretty much the same equipment, especially since my approach to herbal medicine making is a lot like cooking.  I’m more a kitchen herbalist than a faux-chemist herbalist – because that’s where the art and magic lays.

That is also one of the reasons salves had always been more problematic for me.    It was like my long struggle learning to make omelets right.   I had always wanted to check it more, be more involved in the process and it would always collapse because of it.   It took me a while to learn to let go and leave the omelet be to set and cook just right.   And the same goes with salves as well where patience is key.

I think part of the process that has always bugged me is the lack of feedback and interaction.  With teas you can see the color change, smell the infusing herbs and taste the result.  With tinctures you get the wonderful color change and can taste the end product.  With infused oils and salves you get a lack of strong feedback.  When you infuse with olive oil (especially extra virgin) it is already pretty deeply colored and the scent of the oil is fairly strong to begin with.

All that said, let’s look at a salve I made recently focusing on Horse Chestnuts since I had a ready supply.

Herby Line Up of the Usual (and Unusual) Suspects (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

I gathered up my herbs with a plan to focus on two of my favorite aspects of Horse Chestnut – that it is great for skin tone and healing bruises as well so I decided to add in some herbs as supporting players for each of those to make an interesting general skin salve including Comfrey, Chickweed and Calendula.

Ignore the Lavender on the right, I didn’t actually use it.  Lavender just likes to try to force its way into every formula, it’s a bit of an attention hound.  Yes, yes Lavender you smell wonderful, make people feel better and have some pretty nifty healing properties (none better than using neat Lavender essential oil for burns!) –  but not every formula is about you!

I don’t know if it is just because of the feedback problem I mentioned above but I’ve noticed a number of herbalists who are vague when talking about amounts for teas and tinctures get amusingly exact with milliliters and ounces, etc. for salves and oils.    Which I think makes it sound way scarier than it needs to be.  I like ratios because they help you scale things and think more flexibility.

For the infused oil part I go with 4 parts oil to 1 part herbs if dried or 2 parts if fresh.   But I violate that at whim.

Never Exact (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Definitely more than a cup

Once again not so exact (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Does that look like 2 ounces of dried herbs to you?  Nope, and it turned out fine.

While the herbs and the oil were going for a couple of hours with me checking to make sure the water was fine in the lower pot and spot checking the oil temperature with my trusty thermometer – I grated me some beeswax!

None of Your Beeswax (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

You can buy smaller thing of beeswax but there is something satisfying about going all out with a big old block and a cheese grater.  Admittedly that is not for everyone.

When the oil is done I filter out the herbs (a nice tight mesh strainer and a bit of cheesecloth do the job splendidly) then put the oil back to be heated.   Then I add a pile of grated beeswax to the oil and stir until it melts in.

Rather than worrying about the proper amount of beeswax to help the oil set into a salve, I use the spoon method-plus.   I put a metal spoon in to gather a bit of the mixture, pull it out and blow on it until it is cooled down and check the resulting consistency.    If it is not where I want it, then I repeat adding beeswax and testing until it is.  Then just for the heck of it I add some more just in case.   And with rare exceptions, I think adding a bit more than you think almost always works out just fine with cooking and herbalism. 🙂

But let me pause a second (I know I’m indulging in an overused rhetorical device, but bear with me…), and circle back to a point earlier on feedback and salves.

One of the key elements of healing to me is how you approach it.  I tend to believe that just taking an herb is missing the point if you do it in the same pop and go way you do with a pill.  I find it valuable to shift and envelope in the experience of the moment to prepare for it and as you take it.  It’s one of the reasons I like herbal teas.

When I use an herbal tea, or when I give it to someone else to take, I recommend taking the time off from other tasks while the tea is brewing.  Don’t be fussing with your neighbor, partner, watching the news, working, etc.  Pause.  Sit calmly as you can.  Listen to relaxing or fun music.  Smell the tea brewing.  Watch the water change colors.  Experience it and shift yourself and prepare for it.  Then drink it calmly and slowly.     I believe it prepares you for healing as well as being healing unto itself.

With salves you don’t have all that but you help it a bit in the making of them and how you approach using them.   So there are a couple of things I added it the salve (and others often do too) to help.   I had also put in some Turmeric and Sandalwood powders in the oil while it was infusing.   Yes they both have some lovely healing properties but really they are there to shift the color naturally a bit so the end product doesn’t have the same petroleum jelly or beeswax appearance a lot of salves too.  And while the end product had cooled sufficiently I added some Peppermint Essential oil then quickly poured and capped the end product.    So between the two you have a nice visual and scent to help prepare the senses a bit.

When you are applying a salve, don’t just slap it on in anger and haste like an anxious teen covering a blemish before a date.    Take a moment and massage the area gently you are applying it too.  Spread it across your fingers a moment and feel the texture and apply it with care and awareness.  Then gently massage it in.   Your sense of touch is such a powerful thing so be with it in service of your healing.

For the record here’s the end product:

Is that Pangea in that Salve? (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Which is what it is all about.

And never neglect having fun making the label…

Label fun (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbals)

Aw, welcome to the world salve!

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Ayurveda – Initial Explorations

Posted on July 11, 2012. Filed under: Healing, Path of the Healer | Tags: |

A few weeks back I met with an Ayurvedic health counselor and it started me on a bit on an exploration of Ayurveda which inspired some thoughts.

One of the reasons I went was because I was interested in its take on my weather sensitivity. I’ve always been extraordinarily in tune with the weather and its changes and moods. When I was younger it was simply an uprush of energy as storms came in and general mood connections to the weather patterns. As I grew older it morphed into more elaborate and annoying trends. Difficulty sleeping during big weather shifts, lightheaded feelings during increasing temperatures, etc. And, in general, things that in an early time would have earned me an honored place as the weather shaman.

Just to share a classic example that happened recently. I was having lunch with a friend on a sunny spring day. There was no rain in the forecast, yet I told her it was going to rain soon. She laughed and said I crazy. Then while the sun was still out it started raining for about 10 minutes lightly before stopping again. (I decided to not perform my “I’m Right and You’re Wrong Dance” then….)

Now what was interesting to me was the recommended treatment was not herbs but adjusting my diet according to my constitution which is Vata-Pitta. I’m not going to go into the details here of doshas because there are plenty of resources on line about it but you can think about it as wind and fire. I was told that both my Vata was very unbalanced and my Pitta was as well, but we’d start on working on balancing the Vata. And I was given a list of foods to favor and foods to avoid and told to experiment for a month.

In my first couple of weeks, I’ve actually noticed some interesting changes. My dreams kicked into overdrive, my sleep changed for the better and most interestingly I was surprised by two rainstorms. I haven’t been surprised by a rainstorm EVER. I’m not saying everything is perfect given that I’m only a couple of weeks into this and merely by favoring certain vegetables, grains, etc. over other ones I’m noticing such a change is completely fascinating and something that should be and obvious extension from my herbalism studies but somehow seems to be ignored.

When diet is wrong medicine is of no use.
When diet is correct medicine is of no need.
~Ayurvedic Proverb

In herbalism, we often talk about energetics of people and energetics of medicinal plants. (Is it cooling, heating, etc.) But rarely diet and when I’ve seen dietary discussion it is often around the axis of Paleos, Raw food and/or Vegetarian/Vegans. But not in terms of the energetics of food plants – which is interesting because given the relative quantities of food plants we ingest weekly versus any amount of medicinal tinctures, teas, etc. – thus the effects of their energetics would be profound.

On one level it is a tribute to medicinal plants that they can have such a powerful effect despite that. On another level I believe we do a disservice to people in ignoring diet and the energetics of food plants in terms of how they affect health.

I’m not necessarily implying a strict adoption of the systems of Ayurveda, or Traditional Chinese Medicine, in looking at foods. And even within those systems (just as in Western Herbalism assessments of medicinal plants) there are different schools and interpretations of how things get categorized energetically. But it is worth thinking about more and exploring how to include thinking about food, diet and attitudes about food as well.

Food for thought so to speak…

References of Note:

    • Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution by Robert Svoboda. Which made for an excellent overview and I particularly liked how it looks at emotional, physical, psychological and energetics of you and food and how they work together. What it lacks is how to truly put it into practice but it is really not intended for that purpose but more of a philosophic overview and it does that well enough.
    • Ayurveda: A Life of Balance by Maya Tiwari. A more substantial examination of the theory, foods and includes recipes. Much of her discussions of food, preparation of food and how to maintain your kitchen and your life for harmonious health are incredibly beautiful and inspirational. And overall, most of it is highly unlikely to be incorporated into most people’s daily lives – certainly not mine. But it can be a nice touchstone to remind you when your inner compass has gone askew because of the pulls of normal Western living. One of the things I really liked about the book was how the charts looking at the energetics of food according to your Dosha were broken down into the categories of Major (most helpful), Minor (less helpful but still helpful) and Regressive. Which I think works better than the chart I was initially given saying merely favor or avoid – a little too binary for me.
    • The Ayurvedic Cookbook by Amadea Morningstar. Briefer theory section than the other two because it is primarily a cookbook (in case the title didn’t clue you in.) I found the charts and symbol system less useful and less intuitive than Tiwari’s book but still a good resource as well.

I’ll certainly be reading, studying and learning more over time…

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