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Shhhh. Be very quiet….

Posted on June 4, 2016. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Yes, I’m still about.  I’ve just been taking a break from blogging and teaching while I adjusted to a new place to live the past year.

20160312_114936

But soon I’m resuming things.  Just taught a fun class at the always awesome Herbstalk Festival – which marked the end of my teaching break.

And I have a blog post coming up soon.  Then we get back to the more normal teaching, writing and social media presence.

Taking a break is always good and resuming when it feels right – is just right! 🙂

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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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My Little Chickweed

Posted on December 5, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Uncategorized | Tags: |

Chickweed and me have been having this crazy little affair going on.

Mouse-ear-chickweed

Chickweed (Stellaria media) ; Family Caryophyllaceae

Chickweed is just wonderful in the many ways you can use it – how it molds itself to be so very helpful in so many forms is just part of its special magic.

You can eat it in salad, cook it with foods, make it into tea, juice it, make vinegars with it, make salves, oils and just about anything you imagine you do with it.  But before we get into some of that, how about if I get the herby facts out of the way…

It has lots of useful phytochemicals – as well as vitamins and minerals in it such as:  flavonoids, triterpenoid saponins, coumarins, mucilage, vitamins A, B, C, D; calcium copper, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

In herby speak its actions are considered:   antiarthritic, emollient, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, demulcent, astringent, febrifuge, expectorant, antitussive

In words we may actually know, it is historically used for things like: gastritis, colitis, peptic ulcers, IBS, constipation, asthma, dry coughs, bronchitis and sort throats.   Or in other words it is great for soothing the irritations in the respiratory and digestive systems.

Externally it is most often used for anything where there is inflammation and heat involved such as  eczema, itching, heat rashes, sunburns, oils and acne.   Fresh leaves can be helpful for burns as well as for  insect bites where their drawing action is great as well as to help in drawing splinters.

Kind of a nifty list, huh?

In general, Chickweed has a great affinity for fluids helping to release them when blocked and to aid their movement within the body.  It’s easy to think of it as dissolving blockages in the body – physical as well as emotional.   Culpepper thought of it as being under the domain of the Moon with its connection to water and flow.

Part of its magic as a cooling and soothing herb is that it helps with excess pitta and makes for a great ally in Spring when those of us with occasional Pitta imbalances can feel it most.

Beyond just the usual teas/infusions here are some of the fun ways I like to spend time with Chickweed:

  • Infuse it in wine – a great traditional remedy for rebuilding strength after a prolonged illness
  • Make flower essence which helps you be in the present and let go of the past – who knew Chickweed had such a strong Buddha nature!
  • Make a Chickweed infused vinegar which is wonderful nutritive (throw it on salads!) and great for baths and the skin in general
  • Throw some fresh Chickweed in with some water a blend it for a refreshing juice
  • Take that juice and freeze it in ice cube form to have around to sooth dry skin, rashes or just throw in your drinks year round

And just plain eating Chickweed and drinking Chickweed tea to is pretty awesome.  I can’t count the times I didn’t know what I wanted and it turned out some Chickweed tea was the answer!

Somehow it’s like a song (with apologies to Barnes and Barnes and their song Fish Heads!):

Chickweed, Chickweed,
Rolly-polly Chickweed,
Chickweed, Chickweed,
Eat them up, yum!

In the morning,
Laughing happy Chickweed,
In the evening,
Floating in the soup!

(BTW – here’s the original song…)

Now, while I will never get that song out of my head, I always welcome Chickweed in my heart. 😉

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He’s back or What’s Happening?

Posted on November 4, 2013. Filed under: Kitchen Herbalism, Site News, Trees, Uncategorized |

My overly long hiatus from the blogging world is over.  I had intended to take a little break because things were just so busy, but it ended up a tad longer than I thought.  But I’m back to regular posting and I’ve had lots of exciting things happening.  So pull up  a seat…

Shocked Cat (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism

Shocked Cat (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism

And try not to look so darned shocked that I’m back.

I’ve been mainly working on two things in my herbal life lately.  One is finding a nice location to teach monthly herbal workshops in my neighborhood in Boston.  After a long search, I finally found one and am starting up a mostly monthly series of herbal workshops.

The first two of which are coming up shortly.  The first one is on one of my favorite topics TREES! Cause trees are the bees knees!

10 Trees to Know and Love
(Herbal Healing Circle – Boston)
Sunday – November 17, 2013 from 1 – 3 PM;
Spontaneous Celebrations, 45 Danforth St, 1st Floor, Jamaica Plain, MA (google maps)
(Just a two minute walk from Stony Brook on the Orange line!)
Cost: $25

Trees make for great medicine, but there is more to trees in herbal medicine than just Elder, Hawthorn and Linden.  This workshop is an introduction to some of the herbal uses of our friends the trees – starting with just  ten of the many trees  available to us.  Hear about the varieties of common local trees, as well as some of the not so common ones.    Learn harvesting tips, where to buy and how best to work with them. 

Come and learn so you won’t end up “barking” up the wrong tree.

And in December I’m tackling another favorite topic – things you can do with what you most likely have in your kitchen:

Herbal Magic in Your Kitchen
Sunday – December 15, 2013 from 1 – 3 PM
Spontaneous Celebrations,  45 Danforth St,  1st Floor, Jamaica Plain, MA (google maps)
(Just a two minute walk from Stony Brook on the Orange line!)
Cost:   $25

You don’t need to order things from specialized stores or even hunt for them in the wild – you can make magic with herbs and foods you commonly have in your kitchen.  Come to this workshop and share the fun as we explore the wonders hidden in your spice rack and lurking in your fridge that you never suspected you had!

Or what I sometime call MacGyver herbalism.  😉   I was so tempted to call it that too. But I did just barely restrain myself.

In 2014 I’ll be lining up some more workshops that I’ll be teaching as well as bringing out some guest speakers from amongst the many gifted herbalists in the Boston area – many of which are part of my circle of herby friends.

The other project is something I call the Boston Herbal Salon:

Community of Plants (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Community of Plants (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

which was partly inspired by the last couple of Herbstalk Festivals here in the Boston area. One of the things that we all loved was catching up with folks that we hadn’t seen in a while.

It was then I decided we needed a semi-regular social gathering for herbal folks and the Boston Herbal Salon was born.   I had a first, kind of testing the waters, one at the end of August where ten of us met one Sunday afternoon in the garden yard of my place.  We had so much fun just talking and connecting that I knew magic was being born.

Now the next Boston Herbal Salon is coming up:

Boston Herbal Salon
Tuesday, November 19 from 7 – 8:30 PM
Hosted at the Commonwealth Center for Herbal Medicine, 25 Saint Mary’s Court, Brookline, MA.    Directions at link – (directions)

We herbalists all love spending time with our plants friends, but it can be just as much fun sharing that love with others. So come on out to the Boston Herbal Salon where you get that chance to meet and share that joyful celebration of our plant pals with those who feel just the same way. The Boston Herbal Salon is an informal discussion/get together for herbalists (both current herbalists as well as those on that path) in the Boston area. It’s a chance to socialize and network a bit with other herbalists.

Bring a favorite herbal recipe to share with the group or a good herbal story!

We’ll talk, laugh, share bodice ripping tales of forbidden plant love (well maybe not so true….) There will be teas, snacks, tinctures and more. But most of all fun!

And it promises to be even better!

So that’s what I’ve been doing during my blogging vacation. 😉

Now that you’re caught up it’s time to go back to my usual collection of silly and inspiring tales of herbs, yoga and spirituality.

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Book Review – Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr

Posted on July 17, 2013. Filed under: Book Reviews, Path of the Healer, Random Musings, Uncategorized, Yoga | Tags: , , |

I recently finished reading Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr  for a book club discussion and have to admit that it, and the discussion at the book club, stirred up a lot of thoughts for me about yoga practice, healing, herbalism and life.

Cover to book Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr

Cover: Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr

The Basics:

Even setting aside my complete aversion to heat to the point which hot yoga is as about as welcome a practice to me as a soapy bath is to a cat.  I have to admit the book was a bit of bear for me even though there were parts that I found good (such as his way of really getting into the heads of the some practitioners) because there were others that I found almost painful (like his sidestepping the more egregious goings on.)   I felt at times that the author was trying too hard to present all sides and often looking a bit too much to rationalize some of the behavior in the beginning of the book.

While he does toward the end of the book begin to look at some of the problematic aspects of Bikram and his style of yoga – he tries a little too hard to sidestep using the word “cult-like” to describe some of the goings on and that is just screaming out even through the filter of the author’s narrative.  Let’s face it, what else can you call a man who while leading a teacher training sits on an elevated throne, with a special air conditioner to keep himself cool while overlooking a sea of students sweltering in the heat, as a collection of women massage his body – it’s hard to sugar coat the imagery, and expletives, which something like that invokes.

At times, I try to be generous and assume he’s simply trying to present “both” sides while trying to preserve his access to write the book – as well as letting us draw our own conclusions. At others, I suspect it’s a disturbing blind spot.  Still a worthwhile read in trying to understand a world I, for one, would never want to be part of.

 The Deeper Stuff:

What’s really interesting to me about all of this is the issues of pain, growth and what is yoga (and healing) in general that this stirred up.

I often look at these people who pursue these extremes of heat and exertion in yoga (and other things) and I tend to wonder if some of them are a bit addicted to the brain chemicals the body releases to help you deal with it pain and stress on the system.

Frankly, when it is hot your body doesn’t want to be terribly active.   And if you’re exerting yourself extremely in the heat it can only assume your life is in danger and releases chemicals to suppress pain and cover up the damage and shifts the flow of blood and oxygen to the where it would be most needed until the crisis is over (which means shortages to the rest.)

That’s where it gets interesting to me.  Advocates for that sort of thing talk about how you can get deeper into your poses than in normal temperatures.  But then I see accounts of people, like in the book, who can’t do the same poses in a normal temperature room that they can in a hot one.  So essentially it seems to me to be a prop – but one that some of the advocates aren’t letting go of so they can learn to do the work without the external aid.  So at best it can be a illusion of a short cut to what their practice could be like, but actually isn’t.   As well as perhaps illustrating a classic Western obsession with achieving a destination, while missing the point that the true wisdom lay in the journey there and not the actual destination.

More importantly, it seems antithetical to what I view yoga as being.  Part of yoga is learning to listen and communicate with your body.  At its best, it can be a deep communing and learning encompassing both the body’s places of ease and discomforts.  When you push into such  an extreme position that your body masks its own injuries and pain to keep you going you’ve lost that connection and communication and instead are embracing a lie and false view of self. That is missing the meaning of yoga for me.

Beyond Yoga:

What struck me beyond this- is how much it parallels the way it can be sometimes with Western medicine, with herbalism  and in life in general as well.

Too often, we seek a drug or an herb to mask a symptom – lose that connection with the body and so avoid the deeper truth of what is going on.  Cover up that persistent itch or pain that is a warning and miss dealing with the deeper cause of it because you mask the symptom – avoiding communication and exploration.

Or we do something to mask a symptom of what may be going on with our lives and cover up that discomfort rather then learn from it to see what it is we truly need to change about how we are, and what we do, in our world.

Something to think about, isn’t it?

Just my insane .02 in reaction to the book.

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It’s Greek to me….

Posted on June 7, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I wanted to share a post I did for the Herbstalk blog as their very first post in case you missed it and give one more plug for the festival which is this weekend!  Go already! 🙂

May was a little light for blogging for me, but after the Herbstalk festival is over this weekend, I’ll be resuming normal (whatever that means!) blogging here!

Once again just go!  🙂

##################

Hello Herbstalkians?  Herbstalkites?  Herbstalkers? ….Oh, just Hey You!

Welcome to the Herbstalk blog where we’ll be presenting posts from the folks who run Herbstalk, the vendors and the teachers.

Last year, I had the privilege of teaching one of the first classes taught at Herbstalk, on honey, and by popular demand I’ll be teaching an expanded version again this year.  And in the year in between I’ve been having a blast teaching, writing and exploring all kinds of herbal wonders including tree medicine, essential oils, and salves – and of course even more about honey.   But one of the things I’ve been having the most fun with lately is Oxymels.

Sometimes I think the name Oxymel sounds like 50s children’s show puppet.  (“Oh, Oxymel when will you learn?”)  But what it is actually is a mixture of honey and vinegar that has its roots all the way back in ancient Greek medicine.

A plain Oxymel can be as simple as mixing say 4 parts honey with 1 of vinegar (Apple Cider Vinegar the preferred one in most herby circles) or just 1 part each and take that as a simple tonic.  It’s refreshing, energizing and good for fevers and respiratory issues.  You can gargle with it for sore throats and coughs.  Or use it as a base for cough syrups.

But Oxymels can also be used as the menstruum (solvent for extracting) for plant medicines just like tinctures but with Oxymel instead of alcohol/water mixtures.  They are great to use for folks who can’t have, or don’t want, alcohol.     Even though I work with alcohol based tinctures regularly (and make some pretty amazing ones) I tend to philosophically like the non-alcohol ones better.   Since as a whole the body treats alcohol as a toxin and the notion of not adding to that toxic load when healing has a lot of appeal to me.

I’ve been focusing lately on make nourishing Oxymel tonics like these:

here-come-the-oxymels

The one on the left with the lovely dark color is a brewing seaweed mix of digitata kelp, alaria and  longicruris kelp.   Seaweeds are just amazing nutritional powerhouses packed with amazing vitamins and minerals.   But frankly, I find most seaweed (other than dulse) pretty unpalatable.     Straight up seaweed vinegars are great for extracting that nutritional goodness, but are very much an acquired taste that I haven’t acquired…. but an Oxymel is another matter and should make for a wonderful nutrient filled health tonic.

The one on the right with the lovely more golden color is a brewing mix of Red Clover, Dandelion leaf and Nettles which I’m thinking of as a spring cleanse tonic.   Red Clover and Dandelion are classic spring herbs to cleanse the system and Nettles are a classic bit of nutritional support with some cleansing power as well – making this a great spring cleansing tonic.

How I made these was to mix equal parts of honey and Apple Cider vinegar in a big measuring cup and stir until well blended.   Since I was working with dried plants, I filled each pint jar about ¼ to 1/3 way with the respective plant materials and added the Oxymel into each one until full and stirred well to get out any air bubbles.   Use can make larger sizes of course, but I like using pints for my first round experiments.  Then I put some wax paper over the top and screwed the lid on – because the wax paper will help protect the metal from the vinegar.    And of course labeled them with the mixture ingredients and date I put them together.  Now I’m letting them sit for about 4 to 6 weeks, shaking gently every day.   Then in early May I’ll press out the liquid and enjoy the magic.

I hope this is wetting your appetite a bit for the wonders of Herbstalk in June.  I’m looking forward to seeing you all there! 🙂

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Herbstalk – Mega groovy!

Posted on May 13, 2013. Filed under: Events, Uncategorized, Urban Herbalism |

There’s something groovy and magical in the air.   No it is not the Groovie Goolies*, but it is the Boston area’s own groovy, magical urban herbal festival – Herbstalk!

herbstalk2013posterLast year was the first year it came to be and this year we’re doubling it to be two days of pure awesomeness.    So come on down to the Arts in the Armory in Somerville, Massachusetts on Saturday, June 8th and Sunday, June 9th and get your RDA of Peace, Love and Herbs (no actual RDA of which has been established but really can you ever have enough?!?)

(Last year, I got to be one of the very first teachers, teaching one of the first classes and this year I’m coming back to teach an expanded version of my Healing with Honey talk. Yay!)

This year,  leading up to the festival we’re running an Herbstalk blog, which I’m editing, with contributions from the organizers, teachers and vendors for the festival.   So in anticipation for the festival it’s the best place to get a sneak preview for the magic to come.  Check it out as you count the days to Herbstalk.  🙂

*Any resemblance between the Herbstalk organizing committee and the original Groovie Goolies:

is purely coincidental! 😉

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Herb(s) of the Week: Pipsissewa

Posted on February 26, 2012. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week, Uncategorized |

Pipsissewa was the first plant I “heard” while wide awake. At that point I had felt the presence of plants in my dreams but not while awake and in the world.

I was attending a plant walk and the group had separated to do their own explorations. I was hiking along a path and I felt something subtly tugging at me. I walked back to where I had felt it, but saw nothing. Yet I still felt a presence. I stepped slightly off the path and parted some plants and concealed by them was this beauty:

Pipsissewa -Chimaphila maculata (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

This particular Pipsissewa is Chimaphila maculata or the Spotted or Striped Wintergreen while the usual one that is used by herbalists (when they use it) is Chimaphila umbellata (here’s a link to some nice images of that one), but it is medicinal as well – in both cases it is the leaves which are the medicinal parts.

I instantly felt a connection to the plant as one I should work with, even though at the time I didn’t know what it was! At the time, I felt it less as an aid to physical ailments as one for emotional and spiritual ones.

It’s a traditional Native American medicine and the common name comes from the Creek Indians who called it “pipsisikweu” or “breaks into small pieces” referencing its antilithic qualities (breaking down gallstones and kidney stones.) It’s used for urinary tract problems and stimulates urine flow while disinfecting the urinary tract. As well as good for relieving fluid build up (and another reason I got interested in it as well in considering as part of a Meniere’s protocol.) It has also been smoked by as a tobacco substitute (okay but what hasn’t by someone somewhere?)

I like Matthew Wood’s take from his book The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants:

 “Pipsissewa is a great ‘eliminator of kapha,’ if I may coin a phrase. It warms and activates the lymphatics and kidneys, the carriers and the persers of water in the body. It is indicated when the tongue is swollen and coated in the middle. This might be an indication of ‘spleen yang deficiency’ in traditional Chinese medicine, a category similar to ‘scrofula’ in old-time Western medicine. There is usually congestion and stagnation of fluids and buildup of waste products. It warms and dissolves these congealed fluids and moves the wastes. Thus it is useful in cold, swollen, sluggish conditions and patients. In addition, it contains tannins that astringe the tissues and return them to good tone. It is indicated in the sluggishness, water retention, and weight gain of middle age.”

I’ve certainly noticed the fluid motive tendencies of it just working with the tincture.

Unfortunately, there are environmental concerns with Pipsissewa and it is considered a bit endangered in areas like New England.  I suspect that is partly because it likes small wild fires to spur its propagation and we tend to discourage those on our attempts to manage nature to our short term needs. Which is a shame for such a beautiful and useful plant. (Which oddly enough makes me think of the Kenny Roger’s song Lucille with a twist: “You picked a fine time to leave me Pipsissewa…” I’ll mercifully spare you the rest running through my head.) The plant can be a skin irritant which is a reminder to approach all plants with respect (although I’ve never had a problem with it bothering me.)

Ever since I first met it though (and every time since I’ve seen it) I’ve grow more and more drawn to exploring the flower essence of it. Allegedly it is useful in clearing ambivalence, releasing judgment and shame while cultivating innocence and wonder. Or another way I’ve seen it put finding light in the darkness. Which given its tendency to well shaded areas, produce such brilliant flowers and propagate via fire – seems fitting and powerful. I’ll be exploring those aspects soon.

Here’s a close up of the flower (with annoying hominid digits way to apparent!):

Close up of flower Pipsissewa -Chimaphila maculata (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbals)

References of Note: I actually liked Indian Herbalogy of North America by Alma Hutchens best and found Grieve’s A Modern Herbal Volume II useful as well. Although very brief in its coverage I found some interesting tidbits in Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs by Steven Foster and James Duke. And, of course, there’s almost always something good in Matthew Wood’s The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants

My Own Take: Overall, I think it better to use other plants with similar medicinal properties given the population problems, unless nothing else will do. Which is a shame because I think it has a lot to offer as a powerful healer and plant ally and I feel it has healing magic yet to be discovered.

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