Seasons and Climate

Surviving Our Winter Snowageddon

Posted on February 27, 2015. Filed under: Kitchen Herbalism, Seasons and Climate, Urban Herbalism |

You may have heard that here in Boston we’ve taken a right turn at winter wonderland and dove straight into more of a nightmarish wintery affair.  This has inspired me to share some of my tips for surviving emotionally and spiritually during our Snowageddon.

Nowadays, we look outside our windows to witness scenes like this:

Snow Bound  (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Snow Bound (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Which don’t exactly inspire hearts filled with gladness and joy.  And then when we head out we navigate walled mazes of snow…

Snowy Wasteland  (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Snowy Wasteland (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Just so icky!

One of the first things many herbalists will run to in these times are various combinations of nervines and adaoptogens to help ease that underlying nervous tension and to support you dealing with stress.   Which is a great start but I’m not going to dwell on this too much except to say there are a lot of them and finding the ones that work best for you as you need them is hugely helpful.

Personally, I sometimes go for  a blend I call “Reset Your Nerves” that I make in various forms and drink a couple of cups a day for the worst weeks of things:

Reset Your Nerves Tea (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Reset Your Nerves Tea (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Which is a combination of Tulsi, Oatstraw, Linden and Skullcap and or Passionflower.  And then I supplement things with homemade mushroom capsules with things like Reishi, Chaga and Cordyceps – which I’ll have a couple of times a days with meals.

Then sometimes I go with adaptogenic teas with things like ginseng, ashwaganda, eleuthero or chaga.  It’s depends on what is wanted or needed.

Beyond that when it is particularly cold and the season is filled with storms resulting in strenuous work like shoveling snow and hiking in the cold to get anywhere – I think that is the best time to break out the hawthorn to support your heart as it has to work even harder than normal.  Brew up some generous portions of hawthorn tea and carry a bit of hawthorn berry tincture with you.  It’s good for your nerves and your emotional heart as well – which is also struggling during the wintery onslaught!

There are a variety of supporting practices that I like doing depending on how things are going.

On the caring for you by caring for your skin note, I’m fond of:

  • Doing weekly home facial steams.  Usually on Friday night to help let go of the week.  Just boil up a pot of water, throw in the herbs, cover and turn off the heat.  Let them steep for a bit.  Then lift the cover and put your face over it a towel covering your head for capturing the steam.  Some great herbs are linden, elder flower (great for the sinus too so it doubles as a sinus steam!) and frankly any of the kitchen herbs that get commonly called Italian seasonings like Basil, Sage, Rosemary, etc. are great here and smelling them is so healing for your mood.
  • Never neglect the awesomeness of a foot bath.  Additions such as the nicer essential oils or herbs are wonderful.  Sometimes, I like going in a different direction and try to deal with winter shoe feet ick of all stripes by cutting up  some fresh garlic (let it sit a bit) and throw it in the hot water along with Epsom salt, Apple Cider Vinegar and sometime Tea Tree oil – it feels cleansing, tingling and warming to the soul and the soles!
  • Don’t forget the value of oiling your skin – in the depths of winter I tend to use sesame oil infused with herbs and warming things like ginger and massage it into my skin in the morning after I shower.  So amazing!
Garlic Foot Bath (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Garlic Foot Bath (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Yes, yes, that fresh chopped garlic floating in my foot bath water! 🙂

As silly as it may sound – go to bed early.  Yes it means you have less time in the evening, but even if you don’t realize it at the time your body and spirits will appreciate any extra sleep you can get this time of year.  It’s not like we aren’t all getting chronically sleep deprived in the US anyway, so it is always good advice.

It’s always a good time to indulge in a little food therapy.  Like the magic hot homemade soup on a wintery day:

Parsnip Ginger Soup (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Parsnip Ginger Soup (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

This was a wonderful Parsnip Ginger soup I made.  I grated some fresh ginger (a couple of tablespoons full), chopped up some onions, parsnips and shitake mushrooms and sautéed them for a few minutes in some pastured raised cow butter then added some water, tomatoes and some pepper and sea salt and let it simmer until it was yummy and warming awesomeness!

Provided you’re not snacking on sugary stuff all the time – this is exactly the time where a little chocolate therapy can be called for.

Healing by Chocolate - (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Healing by Chocolate – (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

Some of my personal favorites from my emergency chocolate blizzard stockpile!

And last but not least…when there is already too much snow on the ground and there is yet another snowstorm in the forecast – don’t forget the vastly underrated value of just plain running and screaming in the night to release some stress! 😉

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No, no, no – seriously no.

Posted on November 13, 2014. Filed under: Path of the Healer, Seasons and Climate, Spiritual Practice |

It’s Fall.  Despite any denial to the contrary.  We’ve had the calendar shift, the clock change and the weather, despite New England’s always amusing dance of the many temperatures and weather patterns, is shifting toward Winter and away from Summer.  Except there is still that part of us that is pulled by society’s busy, busy, frenzy into working as if it is not.  And that struggle makes life more stressful than it should be.  So not a surprise. 😉

Like many of us who know better, I slip into that mind set too.  Keep doing more.  Produce.  Accomplish. Strive, etc.   So I decided it was time for some harsh medicine.

What did I do?

  • I took the week off-line essentially.  The bare minimum that needed to be done.  No real social media, web surfing, etc with its pull to consume more and stare more a the monitor doing nothing profound.
  • Arranged with my day job that while there was too much going on to take time off, that I would be occasionally come in a bit late, leaving a bit early, taking a slightly longer lunch.  Not too much – but enough (and they didn’t need to know the reason why) that I could pause on the way to and from work to look at the world around me.  Take in the trees, the sky and the stars.  To sit by the river after eating lunch.  To live in a time, even if to a small degree that wasn’t quite as bound by the rushing pull of the clock, etc.
  • I set aside the non-essential things.
  • I set aside the herbal work that I thought needed to be done and could wait.
  • I read fun things, I watched silly movies.
  • In my off time, I RELAXED.  I PAUSED.  I REFLECTED.
  • I laughed.
  • I shifted the time to being rather than planning, thinking and such.

Of course, it wasn’t easy but I find it an essential part of the seasonal transition that we neglect and a great prelude to the change of seasons.   Shifting from running about to delving within.

Fall Beauty in Boston - (Image by Michael Blackmore Mad Crow Herbalism)

Fall Beauty in Boston – (Image by Michael Blackmore Mad Crow Herbalism)

Stopping and looking at the trees who show us the change with deep beauty, but build on the reality of changing for the new season.

Learning from the Herbal Kitty

Herbal Kitty Sunshine Therapy (Image by Michael Blackmore Mad Crow Herbalism)

Herbal Kitty Sunshine Therapy (Image by Michael Blackmore Mad Crow Herbalism)

That sitting in a sunbeam on a chill Fall day is the best medicine.

I say go and:

  • Break out that cup of Linden tea.  Or Tulsi Tea, or Chamomile.  Perhaps some Lemon Balm, Mint or whatever nervine friends best sooth your being into greater harmony with yourself and to be less driven by pull of a societal life out of balance.  Sit and drink.  By candlelight if you want – or pull open the shades and look a the Moon as you drink at night.
  • Draw a nice hot bath, light some candles, mix in some Epsom salts and throw in some herbal teas to sooth your body and your mind.
  • Dance, sing, make art and beauty.

It’s not like the media is going to say stop watching the news, ads, buying things and go relax and be at peace.  That’s the opposite of what helps them sell things to you that you don’t need to appease that hole you feel when you are disconnected from what brings you joy, calm and connection to self, other people and nature.

So you have to pause and do it for yourself the hard way.  Even if it is in small bits within the sea of your ever flowing life.

It’s Fall, make peace with it and yourself.   I feel better after doing it myself

Just my 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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Bracing for Winter Part 1 – Food!

Posted on January 7, 2012. Filed under: Food and Cooking, Seasons and Climate | Tags: , |

Here in Boston we just recently had our first real blast of wintery cold with lows in the single digits and wind chills below zero. The kind of days where you feel the cold creeping deeply into you and you can feels parts of yourself withdrawing inward.

All of which got me thinking about things that I like to help deal with winter’s onslaught.

Ice Fortress of Doom (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

For me, it boils down to incorporating three types of things into what you eat, take and do – things that are:

  • Grounding,
  • Nourishing, or
  • Warming

are so important.

Let’s start today with food because one of the foundations of health and happiness is what you eat. Let’s look at a soup I made the other day.

Root Soup (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

It was really a thrown together soup of assorted root vegetables including daikon, potatoes, golden beets, celeriac, garlic and onions with some seaweed and spinach thrown in – and seasoned with a bit of gluten freed tamari and maple syrup.

Non Recipe (I don’t “recipe” but instead tend to just throw things together and they work): I started with about a quart of water (I added more water as it looked like it needed in the course of things), threw in a couple of tablespoons of tamari and a 1/2 cup or so of dried seaweed. I love the stuff from Maine Seaweed I turned it on high and while it was warming up, I chopped up a half a garlic bulb and a couple of yellow onions and threw them in. I left it to simmer while I peeled and chopped a couple of each of daikon, potatoes, beets and celeriac and threw them in. Then washed, chopped and threw in a bunch of spinach. Simmered for an hour. About half way through, I threw in a couple of table spoons maple syrup. When done – pure awesomeness.

Root vegetables can be very grounding (and nourishing!) and I like incorporating them in a lot of things. Beyond the ones above parsnips, carrots, turnips and rutabagas work well for soups.  I also love incorporating the wonderful varieties of winter squashes around.

I also like  bakes like the one I made the other week:

Root Bake (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

(This was just some peeled and chopped winter squash sweet potatoes and walnuts with a little olive oil and water to keep in moist baked for just around an hour at 400 F)

Other great things for winter bakes are beets, parsnips and carrots.

As part of the nourishing, I like to also have greens in things – plus they can add that feel of spring’s hopeful return.  Never underestimate the awesomeness of spinach, chard, kale and collards in things. Plus if you can get them dandelion greens, are a great addition.

I also love cooking with seaweed and I keep a variety of dried seaweeds around. The easy to cook ones like dulse, I just throw into potato bakes or stir fries. The longer cooking ones I put in soups, cooking rice and cooking beans (Paleo pals can just ignore the last two and just cook it with your meats but soak them well first – all day or overnight – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.)

The better mushrooms (like Shiitake, portabella, etc.) are nourishing and grounding. I like putting them in where I can find the excuse – and when I have them around! You can use them into just about anything or centerpiece them like maybe make a mushroom based soup with a couple of varieties and throw in some leeks, greens and maybe serve over some quinoa! (I’m going to have to try making that, it sounds great!)

It’s not thought of in this way, but sweet is nourishing to your spirits in proper amounts. (Wean yourself off adding processed sugar to things. The less of that crap you have in your diet the more you appreciate the nourishing ones in cooking.) In winter, I like throwing a touch of maple syrup in soups, bakes, stir fries and sautes. It really makes a difference. And throw in honey with tea or a little with heated cereal in the morning!

For warming things – garlic, onions, leeks are my frequent friends. I sometimes like turmeric, mustard and even a dash of curry in things. Or I put some sliced ginger root in bakes, soups, etc. for just that extra kick. If some of these things bother you, try smaller amounts and pre-cooking them by starting them cooking in with the water and sauce on a low simmer while you chop and prepare everything else, then cook them with the rest of the food as normal. That way the warming effect can suffuse through, but mellow a bit so it is easier to deal with.

Wow, that’s a whole lot about foods in winter. Part 2 will be either be about herbs or about actions – with Part 3 being whichever I don’t do in part 2! 😉

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