Did you hear what the Attorney General of New York did a couple months ago? He ordered Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens and CVS to remove herbal supplements from store shelves. All herbal supplements. He somewhat prematurely claimed that testing showed nearly all of them to be missing the herbs listed on their labels.
Further testing is still necessary to verify his claims. But true or not, what do you expect from a big box or chain store where the motto is “Always low prices”.
At the intersection of cheap and quick, more accurately.
Convenience is King
Let’s remind ourselves why these stores exist. They’ve figured out that your attention span as a consumer is short. Lots of products and brands are competing for your dollars. So, you’re likely to make a choice based on what’s in front of you at any given moment, NOT based on hours of researching for the best quality (or price) product.
Just like when I shop at a gas station and see a hot breakfast sandwich smelling so yummy, I know I’m getting a poor substitute for a real breakfast. But I buy it anyway because I’m in a hurry and it’s convenient. I don’t have time to sit down for a restaurant product, so I’m sacrificing quality for something that’s more important to me – convenience. In that moment, it’s good enough.
Good enough is ok when it comes to the occasional meal on-the-run. But for something you take every day to promote vitality and strength and health, it’s worthwhile to give more thought. To ask around.
When you shop at big box stores for health products, you have to know that health is not the business they’re known for. Their business is making money selling household and personal items you want at cheap prices.
Give Them What They Want
Americans want herbal supplements, to the tune of $41 Billion in 2013. That number is growing rapidly for lots of reasons; mainly, an expanding public awareness of the human and financial expense that pharmaceutical meds have laid on us.
You want healthier alternatives, and you’re turning to dietary and herbal supplements in record numbers. Big business has picked up on these trends and served it up on a platter. There it is, the Echinacea you saw on daytime TV last week, touted by a doctor in scrubs, and it’s only $5.99. Why not try it?
After all, it’s safe. Some federal body somewhere is keeping herbal supplement manufacturers accountable for quality, right? Yes. There are regulations governing the claims made on labels and the processes of manufacturing itself.
It’s Not That Simple
But like every industry, some manufacturers take every cost-cutting shortcut they can get away with, and others stake their reputation on quality by pulling out all the stops. They take steps beyond what’s legally required to identify and ensure the purity of the plant matter in their products.
Those are the companies I want to stay in business. And you probably do, too. So why do some consumers accept questionable quality from their herbal supplements? Why is it ok to buy herbal products from a discount store that’s all about price-slashing?
I ran this by one of my patients, and here’s how she explained this phenomenon.
You have a mental checklist of what it means to be healthy. And that list includes maintaining peak performance so we can continue to “go, go, go”.
Take a daily vitamin. Check.
See the doctor once a year. Check.
Eat bananas for potassium. Check.
Beyond the act of checking off ‘healthy’ activities, there’s very little thought given to whether these practices have any value for you personally. If the TV doctor says its good, and your sister-in-law says it works, then it must be good for you.
It’s hard to blame people for checking boxes and choosing cheap. Access to reliable information about what’s effective and safe is hard to come by.
Too often, information about herbal supplements is provided only by the companies selling them– NOT an impartial way to judge reliability.
So what’s a discerning consumer to do?
Here are 5 Ways you can sort out herbal supplement quality:
- Ask your friends, coworkers and relatives where they buy their supplements and why.
- Be skeptical of pyramid and multi-level products sales. The products may be good quality, but they’re often very overpriced.
- Save your money and eat the food equivalent. Concentrates and juices are easy and convenient, but they usually don’t contain any of the fiber and other materials that maximize the nutrition of that healthy food. Fresh blueberries beat blueberry supplements, any day.
- Talk to your herbalist. Their patients have taken lots of herbal products in liquid, capsule, tablet, fresh and dried plant forms, and they’ll be aware of ineffective or poor quality herbal supplements.
- Form a relationship with an herbal or holistic provider. Get to know them, so when you need help making healthy choices, he or she can recommend alternatives to fit your budget and personal needs.
You can’t send a sample of every dietary or herbal product you take to a lab to verify its authenticity. And you don’t have to.
Working with a professional herbalist means you have the best chance of finding herbs that are appropriate, safe and effective. Save yourself time and money.
Set up an appointment with Mo. Check!
How to Choose An Herbal Remedy That Works
If You Were a Plant, What Kind Would You Be?
Tony and I meet in a small room once a year for a couple hours, and what we do is enough to satisfy both of us for another year. I feel so good after we’ve spent time together. We don’t waste time on small talk. We get right down to business.
Tony is my health insurance agent.
We get along great, because we agree completely on one very important thing – the best way to lower health costs is to take care of yourself.
Taking His Own Advice
Tony’s an ambitious guy, and he makes it a priority to keep my health insurance cheap. He’s gotta make a living, just like me, so he makes it his job to keep me happy. I’m not his typical client, as you can imagine.
And he’s not your typical insurance agent. We had our annual insurance review recently, and I noticed that Tony, who is 70 years old, looks as good or better than he did last year. From the smile on his face to his enthusiasm for work, he’s one of those rare people you know you’re gonna like right when you meet ’em.
“Did you lose weight?” I asked him.
“About 12 pounds,” he answered in his typical no nonsense, matter-of-fact tone. Then he excitedly shared that he recently took up practicing yoga at home 4 days a week. “I want to improve my flexibility and strength so I can keep golfing 3 days a week.”
Can you believe this guy?
My 70-year old insurance agent is practicing downward dog to his “Yoga for Wimps” CD 2 hours a week, between a 15–minute recumbent bicycle warm-up and 15 more minutes of stretching and hamstring work.
The Power of Inertia
For the same reason that I want my healthcare providers to be the picture of health, I appreciate that my health insurance agent practices what he preaches. And does he ever.
What keeps a guy like that working – and working out – at his age? It’s like that law of physics – an object in motion tends to stay in motion. His philosophy is “use it or lose it”.
People fascinate me, especially the ones who live in ways contrary to popular habits. On my morning walk one day, I greeted this guy who had paused his daily jog momentarily to pick up trash from the street. During our brief conversation, I discovered he’s long past retirement but still teaches at a local university Math department.
What compels him to jog in his 70’s? “You gotta keep moving to feel young and healthy.” Today, after our usual quick exchange of hellos, he proudly announced that he’d beaten his one and only health problem (insomnia) by quitting soft drinks. This guy totally gets it – he’s exercising his power to choose health.
Uphill Battle Worth Fighting
I’m 52 next year, and staying in shape and good health takes a bigger commitment than it did 20 years ago. This is truer every year.
Up through my 40’s, I could take a 45-minute walk 5 days a week and that kept me at a consistent weight, without too many reasons to see a doctor, other than yearly checkups.
These days, I need twice as much exercise, plenty of daily herbs, and I have to be on guard about everything I put in my mouth. Weight goes on SO easily and comes off only with serious struggle. And it’s not just me. Women around my age tell me this every day.
The last time I had a check-up (full disclosure: this was in early 2014 for an insurance physical), my blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol were all inside a ‘healthy’ range. Problems like these run in my family, so news like that is always a sweet affirmation.
I watched my dad exercise every day until he died jogging at age 60 – 15 years longer than his father and brothers lived. He set a good example, and I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t quit exercising, no matter how lousy I felt.
Walking, yoga, Qi Gong and hiking make me feel energetic. When I feel good, I’m likely to eat well and feel optimistic. I try not to resent the time it takes. Of course, sometimes I’d rather be spending it on my butt watching TV or eating vanilla sugar wafers. Man, I love sugar wafers. But they don’t love me.
Some days it’s a struggle and some days I look forward to the time outside or on the mat, sweating and swearing at my yoga teacher under my breath – “Oh pleeeease, not another plank”.
The Lesser of Two Evils
Staying healthy as we age takes a bigger chunk of our time and attention. And some days that kind of sucks.
But it doesn’t suck as much as being sick all the time.
If you need help getting well enough to start working out, let’s talk. Adaptogen herbs can restore the strength and energy you’ve lost to chronic illness or poor lifestyle habits. You can read more about adaptogen herbs in this earlier blog.
The next time I see Tony will be around Christmas next year. And that’s soon enough. He’s already given me the gift that keeps on giving – a cheaper monthly premium than last year and a good reminder to keep moving.
I’m planning for plenty of healthy years ahead of me.
Related Post: An Ounce of prevention and a Pinch of Attention
I’ve been quiet lately.
For the past 3 months or so, no emails, no blogs, no monthly newsletters. And barely any Facebook posts or Tweets.
I haven’t given up on technology or social media. I’ve been doing other work. Actually, I’ve been studying.
And getting together with groups of other herbalists – there’s a growing community here, you know.
And I’ve spent lots of weekends with my grandbaby, who’s now almost a year old! Here she is:
For a while, I wondered if I’d run out of things to say about herbs. But there’s been plenty of inspiration lately.
In fact, my patients are responding to their herbs so well that my patient schedule is filling up. That’s great news for my practice.
Not all the news is rosy
But, to be completely honest with you, not every patient is doing as well as I hoped.
Like LouAnn, who suffers from painful arthritis and persistent fatigue.
LouAnn’s been coming to see me for a year, but around 6 months ago, her progress started to level off. When this happens, sometimes it’s because the patient has gotten tired of taking herbs and constantly having to monitor their health habits and practices.
It’s hard to blame people for slacking off. Getting healthy when you’ve been struggling with chronic illness can be a chore. A serious uphill climb. It’s like a full-time job with no vacation.
But LouAnn takes her personal health seriously. She never takes a day off from the herbal and lifestyle plan we put together.
Definitely not a quitter.
No one to blame
But something happened. She stopped improving. For a month or two, whenever she visited me, we’d try to sort out why no changes were happening.
“Did you stop taking your herbs?” No.
“Has your life been extra stressful lately?” No, not particularly.
“Are you still exercising?” Yep, still at it.
Does that ever happen to you?
Do you ever feel like just when you have a grasp on something, you have to return to the basics and re-learn what you thought you knew?
It was so tempting to take her ‘lack of progress’ personally.
Digging deep for answers
But instead of pointing fingers or just accepting that she’d stalled out for no good reason, I realized she wouldn’t magically get better with time. This would take some extra effort outside of her appointments. Time I was spending posting, emailing and writing.
I set her patient file aside and in my shrinking spare time, instead of blogging about a cool herbal remedy, I dug deep into my herbal resources – professional books, textbooks, practitioner guides and Chinese Medicine philosophy – for answers.
And it’s starting to pay off.
Studying patients like LouAnn, with complicated health histories and unusual symptom patterns, makes me question my assumptions. And in the end, it rearranges what I understand about ALL of my patients.
Fortunately, my patients don’t mind becoming a case study. Unfortunately, other things I really like to do, those blogs and newsletters, have to be put aside for a while.
I’m glad my practice is attracting patients with more complex concerns.
Otherwise, my clinical skills might get a little stale.
I might start to think I know everything.
I might stop trying so hard.
Today, I’m back to blogging just long enough to tell you that I’m still here.
I’ve just been a little quiet lately. Questioning my assumptions.
Sharpening my herbalist skills.
Thanks for hanging in there with me…
Related post: Are You Listening Or Just Waiting Your Turn?
I have a secret.
I used to be ashamed of my secret, so I kept it hidden.
Especially from other herbalists.
If they discovered the source of my shame, I feared rejection, loss of respect and failure.
Now I know there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
So, I’m ready to declare the one thing I’m most afraid to admit.
I DON’T TALK TO PLANTS.
I always imagine a collective gasp among my colleagues when this kind of thing gets out there.
What kind of Herbalist doesn’t hear the plants talk?
Isn’t that how herbal healers acquire their knowledge?
Isn’t a deep, spiritual connection to plants a pre-requisite for this profession?
Hearing plants speak is probably a handy thing, but it’s not part of my toolkit.
When I was in herb school, our yearly gatherings in the redwoods of California were one big circle of plant people. People who cultivate herbs, people who wild craft and harvest them for medicine, and the ‘my grandmother was a wise woman who taught me how to heal with plants’ kind of people.
My path was a little different.
I grew up in a suburb of Omaha. We were one city block from a cornfield and a 10-minute skip to the nearest creek. There’s a Nebraska sensibility in my soul. I’m as common and native as a sunflower after 47 years on the Great Plains. Even with my prairie state roots, the healing power of prairie plants was lost on me until recently.
My first teachers, Mom and Dad, never knew there was a field bursting with medicine surrounding our growing subdivision. Their generation was lured by a siren song that promised wonder drugs from the corner pharmacy.
Nature’s own medicine chest faded from their minds like two-party phone lines and black and white TV.
The past decade of studying herbs helped me recognize a few of nature’s most common weedy healers like plantain, ground ivy, nettle leaf, motherwort, and dandelion – in the yard, the neighborhood park, practically every open space in our river city.
Until recently, I didn’t recognize native herbs that grow in carefully restored prairies a few miles from my urban home.
I’m still at a loss to identify lots of common, local plants and weeds that herbalists like me use in clinical practice every day.
So this Summer, I’m working my way backward. I’m getting out of the clinic and into the field, where the plants have a chance to tell me their story.
I’m wearing out my Android battery taking photos everywhere I go. These amateur pics tell a story of medicinal herbs pointed out to me or discovered on prairie walks from rural Kansas to just outside city limits.
Butterfly milkweed or Pleurisy root
Pleurisy root (butterfly milkweed) – What a show-off. In botanical medicine, orange signifies anti-oxidant properties, especially for the eyes (think carrots). Maybe it does strengthen the eyes, but in my practice I use it when someone with a history of respiratory problems points to a rib and says “it hurts right here when I breathe”. Native Americans, including the Omaha tribe, were known to prize the root for ceremonial use, for bronchitis and lung disorders, and swift healing of wounds and sores. Can you picture a swollen snakebite covered with a mash-up of plant roots? It sounds so intriguing! 
Prairie Phlox standing tall in a field of Summer grass
Prairie phlox – (pronounced flox) I once planted ornamental phlox in the cracks of a retaining wall, and watched it grow year-after-year until it cascaded over the rocks like a bright purple veil for just 2 weeks every summer. I can’t say for sure which phlox relative this is, but Native Americans treasured phlox as a tea for pregnant mothers to insure the birth of a female baby, as a ceremonial Love Medicine, and even as a “wash to make children grow and fatten”. 
Echinacea pallida on the Kansas plain
Echinacea – it’s a popular Top Ten remedy for cold and flu, and here’s a little-known-fact: Native Americans called it snakebite medicine. Eclectic physicians used the root topically to cleanse and remove the putrid smell of festering boils. Nice. 
Lead plant [Amorpha spp] with its pea-family leaves mingles with prairie grasses
Lead plant – seeing this plant up close taught me why it’s called bird’s wood. It’s one of the tallest and sturdiest plants on the prairie, a nice perch for wayward birds. My favorite common name is buffalo plant – smearing a plaster of the roots over the skin was said to attract buffalo and ensure for the hunter a good kill. I haven’t used it as medicine yet, but the leaf is said to close wounds and cure eczema topically, and kill parasites and worms when taken as a tea internally. 
Wild Indigo flowers in full bloom
Wild Indigo – Warning: you might want to put your lunch down before you read this. Wild indigo roots and leaves are used for conditions that have lots of ‘putrid heat’ – translation: pus-filled, decaying, infected and inflamed tissue. Gross. It must’ve been an essential herb for seriously infected wounds with the threat of gangrene. 
Wild violet hidden under towering early Summer greens
Wild violet – My Native American herb book says wild violet varieties were used for respiratory problems like cough, mucus and even asthma in children, plus hundreds of other uses. It’s in my own daily tincture because I know it keeps the lymph system functioning well, especially in the breast area or Liver meridian. Last week, a patient of mine applied a poultice of crushed violet leaves to a large, nasty-looking cyst and wouldn’t you know, it broke right open and started draining. Powerful medicine for such a delicate plant. 
Rattlesnake master stands out from the softer grasses around it
Rattlesnake master –don’t walk too close to this one, with its sword-like leaves edged with spikes. It’s not hard to spot. It looks out of place on a prairie. The common name reflects its use as a rattlesnake bite remedy, but a curious practice by 19th century medical students and doctors points to it as an emetic (induces vomiting) to purify themselves after a patient death. I wonder if today’s physicians have anything like a purification practice, other than a good hand-wash or anti-bacterial foam. 
I’ve got two good Summer months of prairie walks ahead of me. Check back every now and then for more pictures – and stories – of native herbs I’ve discovered.
Have you had a healing experience with plants that you’d like to share? Can you teach me more about native prairie plants? Do plants speak to you? Share your plant experiences and pay it forward. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Native American Medicinal Plants, Daniel E. Moerman, Timber Press, 2009.
2. Eclectic Materia Medica, Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D., 1922.
Enjoy reading this popular recent blog post:
How to Choose an Herbal Remedy That Works
“My period is like clockwork – it comes every two weeks.”
“Seven days of hell, that’s what I call it.”
“I might as well stay home from work.”
You don’t put up with horrible periods because you have some twisted relationship to pain and misery. You just don’t know what else to do.
Maybe you’ve worked with your doctor, tried multiple combinations of hormones, and even put yourself through major or minor surgery looking for solutions.
There’s a new game in town, though it’s anything but new.
Plants to the Rescue!
Herbal healthcare is experiencing a much-needed resurgence across the country, as part of a larger health revolution. There’s a not-so-subtle undercurrent that’s pulling us toward safer, more natural, sustainable remedies.
Every day, more women like you are turning to natural solutions for discomforts like these:
- Headaches and migraines
- Fibroids, cysts or lumpy breasts
- Chronic yeast infections
- Crabby, irritable, weepy or sad feelings
- Long periods
And let’s not forget these lovely ones:
- Spotting between periods
- Mid-cycle pain
- Breast tenderness or swelling
- Moderate or severe menstrual cramping
- Cyclical bloating, gas or nausea
- Chronic diarrhea, constipation or both
- Infrequent periods
- Irregular or short cycles
Any single one of these symptoms can be miserable on it’s own. More than one at a time can completely disrupt and drain the joy out of an otherwise great month.
The Queen of Period Problems
One of the most distressing and exhausting problems for women is heavy periods. What do I mean by heavy?
- Super absorbent tampons are a joke
- Backup pad protection is no guarantee you’ll contain the overflow, especially at night
- Embarrassing stains are so common that you never, EVER wear white pants
- You make frequent bathroom visits to check for leaks
Excessive bleeding can make you feel like the life is being drained out of you, ounce by ounce. And often it comes with a crampy, dull, aching sensation, as if your pelvic cavity is being turned inside out. Like everything is dropping to the floor.
Now You See It, Now You Don’t
If you’re a patient of mine, you’ve probably heard me talk about Qi [pronounced ‘chee’]. Qi is an elusive but vital energy source that permeates every breath, digestive function and blood cell. It’s sort of like wind –you can’t describe what it looks like, but you can see the effect it has.
You can see the effects of weak Qi in heavy bleeders, especially. It’s the full-time job of Qi to keep blood inside the body. When blood literally pours out, and for that matter, when skin sags and the bladder or uterus prolapse, these are signs that your Qi isn’t doing its job of holding things in place.
Why does this happen? Two main reasons: heavy blood loss itself depletes Qi, leading to the proverbial vicious cycle. But other factors can weaken Qi, such as long-term emotional and physical stress, resulting in gradually heavier periods.
The Downside of Hormones
Hormone therapy can regulate monthly blood flow – so does herbal therapy for many women.
You may get temporary relief from a hormone patch, cream or pill, but tinkering with hormone levels won’t address the underlying Qi deficiency that led to the bleeding. A key symptom of Qi deficiency will remain – weakness.
The classic Chinese formula for deficient Qi, Four Gentlemen, contains tonic herbs for weakness, the most common side effect of excessive menstrual bleeding. When you’re feeling bone tired, lack an appetite, experience loose stools, and your skin has an unhealthy yellowish complexion, tonic herbs restore strength, improve digestion and bring back your luster.
Blood loss also starves the heart and mind of vital nutrition, robbing you of restful sleep and weakening your memory and focus. Blood tonics like the well-known Dong Qui and lesser known rehmannia, white peony and ligusticum restore blood to the rich, nourishing fluid needed to keep your heart and mind sharp.
Relief from insomnia, poor memory, fatigue, and digestive weakness is a lot to ask from any hormone supplement. Fortunately, this is where herbal and natural therapies do their best work.
Yes, Ma’am, Herbs Can Do That
While Chinese herbal formulas help rebuild Qi, herbs like yarrow, shepherd’s purse, raspberry leaf, eclipta, ladies mantle, tienchi ginseng and even our kitchen friend, cinnamon, can lighten blood flow and tone the female organs. These herbs individually or in combination give you hour-by-hour relief from heavy bleeding.
Mineral rich herbs like nettle leaf and oatstraw gradually replace lost nutrients and freshen a sallow complexion. Yellow dock root releases stored iron into the blood, relieving mild anemia.
The herbal approach to hormone imbalances naturally nudges your body’s built-in capacity to heal, without the risks associated with hormone replacement.
“Let Food Be Your Medicine”
Naturally, food also helps to gently restore Qi and blood.
A nourishing diet of warm root vegetables including squash, beets and sweet potato fill your plate with color and your mouth with the mildly sweet flavor that strengthens Qi. Dark, leafy greens restore iron and other minerals to a weak, depleted blood supply. Beef and lamb are a protein power duo when you feel wiped out by your periods.
Self-Care is NOT a Luxury
Rebuilding Qi takes some time and patience. In the meantime, light exercise, rest, extreme self-care and major de-stressing maneuvers have to be moved to the top of the list.
Start with something as simple as letting those calls rollover to voicemail and taking a few moments for a power nap. Do you have a supportive family member who might alternate meal prep or shopping duties with you?
Can you fit in a 20-minute walk after dinner? Exercise, rest and support are not luxuries when you’re exhausted and weak; they’re a prescription for recovery.
Qi deficiency by itself isn’t a life-threatening matter, but ignored long enough, it morphs into a depleted immune system and lower resistance to disease.
Today is always a good time to start new habits that support a long, healthy life. If you’re tired of heavy, draining periods every month, choose something safe, natural and effective for long term relief.
Call today for an appointment that just might change the way you think about healthcare. Period.
Related Blog Posts in this Series:
Herbal Relief for PMS-related Acne, Cramps and Migraines
I have a confession to make. The last time I planted a vegetable garden, I was 10 years old. It was a little patch of lettuce on a bare spot in our suburban lawn.
Before that little backyard experiment, you probably have to go back 3 or 4 generations to find a farmer in my family. Maybe that explains why gardening isn’t something that comes ‘naturally’ to me.
Lately, something‘s been tugging on me to get my hands dirty and plant some herbs. So I called on my friend Chelsea Taxman for a little practical advice. Chelsea is the Education Director for Truck Farm, an urban agriculture education program in Omaha. Here’s a little peek into our conversation:
Mo: I’m thinking about planting a vegetable or herb garden. How many plants should I start in my first year?
Chelsea: Mo, the amount of plants you grow depends on how ambitious you are in the first year. If your schedule is busy, start small. Work with something you can check in on every day. There are salad green varieties available on the market that can be planted from seed and harvested within 20-40 days. Quick crops like lettuces, arugula or radishes provide instant gratification. Success with a few plants will help you feel more confident to try more the next year.
Mo: Are there certain plants that are especially easy for first-time gardeners to grow in our Nebraska climate?
Chelsea: Perennial plants (meaning they die back in the winter and come back up in the spring) are recommended for first-time and even old-time gardeners. Perennial plants and herbs need less attention and less water each year, but you still reap the benefits of their beauty and fragrance, and you’re creating habitat for the wild.
I recommend herbs in the Lamiaceae (mint) family if you have space. These plants smell and taste delicious, their flowers attract pollinators, but they do spread throughout the garden if not controlled. I personally like when they spread in between my other plants, but my garden isn’t the most tamed.
– Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis); especially good as a tea to calm nervous tension, promote restful sleep and relieve mild seasonal affective depression
– Catnip (Nepeta cataria); fussy babies and adults feel relief with catnip tea
– Mint (Mentha species); summertime is great for this cool, digestive herb that tastes sweet and mildly spicy
– Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium); avoid internal use without some herb knowledge, but it’s a great ground cover
First time vegetables that are “easy” include radishes, spring greens, lettuces, beans, spinach and other cooler season crops. First-timers might want to stay away from midsummer plants that need a lot of attention, a lot of heat and even more water. This includes melons, corn, tomatoes and peppers, to name a few.
Mo: Is it ok to start with seeds outside? And what’s the best time to plant my seeds?
Chelsea: This again depends on the crops you want to plant. Yes, you can start root crops like carrots, radishes and beets in the spring when the soil is thawed. Also, lettuces, salad greens, arugula and spinach can all go straight in the ground as seed. Most seeds can start outside except longer season crops that need more attention and heat like tomatoes and peppers. Most people start these ahead of time as well as some herbs, kale and Brussels sprouts. There are just so many options, Mo!
Mo: Can you explain a simple, 3 or 4-step process for preparing the ground for planting?
Chelsea: I am still a young gardener, but this is my process the past few years. I start preparing my beds in the fall by layering fallen leaves and compost (grass clippings, coffee grounds, etc.) all over the area of my future garden site. This can be referred to as Sheet Mulching. Then the material will sit all winter long under the snow and decompose adding more life to the soil.
In the spring when the ground is thawed enough to dig, I turn the leaves and compost under the top layer of soil. Some people call this Double Digging. I use hand tools and elbow grease instead of machinery like a tiller. This year I will be adding more cover crops to my garden in the fall and spring like Buckwheat. A cover crop will cover the soil that I’m not currently cultivating and keep the top soil from blowing away in the wind. Cover crops can also add nutrition like nitrogen into the ground when I turn it under.
Mo: For gardeners who have limited yard space, what herbs or vegetables are easy to grow in pots?
Chelsea: There is often the option to join a neighborhood garden or community garden for more space and support your first year. I have heard of neighbors sharing their backyard and space, too. As far as pots go, there are many plants that can be grown in pots. Herbs and flowers are generally easiest. I wouldn’t start these from seed, but I would support a local grower and purchase plant starts. You can find local growers at Farmer’s Markets in Omaha and sometimes during garage sales. Nursery plants are locally owned, but sometimes they tend to use more harmful chemicals than a local organic grower.
I know many people who have success with tomatoes and peppers in pots. The most important thing is space. Make sure your pot is large enough for the root systems. There is even a corn variety called Blue Jade that can be grown in a pot! (seedsavers.org) I wouldn’t recommend root vegetables, but you can always try.
Mo: Where can I look for help if I have a bug problem or general questions about how to water, fertilize, grow or harvest my plants?
Chelsea: I recommend you contact the Master Gardeners in Omaha. You can reach these experts through the Douglas Country Extension. The Common Soil Seed Library (inside the Omaha Public Library’s Benson Branch) offers ongoing free classes about seed starting, germination, seed saving and more. The listings are online at the OPL website.
Mo: What if my garden grows like crazy and I have baskets of extra food or herbs?
Chelsea: There are many places that accept donations or might even purchase your extra production. Or get to know your neighbors, let them know what you’re doing in your yard and share the abundance. You can share your surplus online through websites like Small Potatoes, NextDoor, Facebook, etc.
Table Grace Café at 16th and Farnam Streets is a donation-based restaurant that sources locally grown food. The owner and chef, Matt Weber, will happily take your donations. Call ahead or stop by.
A native of Omaha, aspiring herbalist, permaculturist and home gardener, Chelsea travels to Omaha Public Schools offering education to youth about where our food comes from today. Chelsea incorporates lessons of healthy eating, movement and sustainability into the Truck Farm curriculum. She is a Registered Yoga Teacher and co-founder of Black Iris Botanicals, a wild-crafted and locally-sourced herbal beauty product line.
As a student in herb school, I remember learning about a system of medicine where families would pay the village doctor to keep them healthy, but once a family member became ill, the service was free. What a brilliant twist on today’s approach to medicine – provide incentive to keep you from becoming a patient.
I’m not suggesting you pay me in chickens to keep you well all year. But if you could correct unhealthy patterns before they become disease, would you? If you could switch the focus to staying well instead of insuring expensive fixes to preventable problems, wouldn’t that make good sense?
Today, I saw a patient who totally gets this approach. She isn’t suffering from any serious problems, eats a healthy diet, does work she loves, and is in a fulfilling relationship.
She’s a model patient, and frankly, seeing her was a no-brainer. Until I understood what she was asking from me.
She wanted a different kind of patient-provider relationship than I’m used to having. Instead of struggling to correct problems, she wanted my support and guidance to stay well.
She saw me as someone who could step back, look at her whole life, her daily practices, her dreams for the future, and offer some advice on how to stay in the good health place she’s in.
In the end, what she wanted was help managing her enthusiasm for the projects ahead of her, without getting overwhelmed and disorganized.
Health care isn’t about insuring against what might go wrong. It’s what you do to prevent that: exercise, schedule down-time, stay in community, laugh, work, eat a variety of foods, and check in with someone who asks what you’re doing right, not what’s going wrong.
Who’s keeping you accountable for your own good health? Is there someone you can call to ask about minor concerns before they become major problems?
For years of vitality, not a future of prescriptions and surgeries, start now with a baseline assessment, then follow up regularly to stay on the health track.
You can expect to feel healthy and vital as you age, and if that’s not the message you’re getting, then it’s time to see someone who practices health, not medicine.
What are your practices for staying healthy? Do you follow a special diet, workout plan or spiritual practice that keeps you well? Share your comments here and let us know what’s been working for you.
Jan sat down across from me with a familiar look on her face. Hope. Resignation. Confusion. Overwhelm.
And next to her, in one of those reusable grocery store bags, was a jumble of every health food store supplement she’d bought in the past 6 months, some still unopened.
This was how Jan understood her health problem up until now – as a collection of deficiencies that she could supplement her way out of. It’s a pretty common misunderstanding, and it’s not her fault.
We fall prey to this thinking because we’ve been trained to think of health care as a one-for-one proposition.
If anti-depressants are for depression, and statins are for high cholesterol, then there’s probably a vitamin, mineral, anti-oxidant, enzyme or protein for every disease, symptom or syndrome.
The thing is, that’s sort of a piecemeal approach that never really gets to the bottom of things. When heartburn, bloating, headaches, pain, insomnia, rashes are viewed as unrelated and disconnected problems, each with their own separate solution, we miss the big picture.
When you take a this-for-that approach to health care, you never see the patterns that emerge from looking at the bird’s eye view, like the tendency of your problem to be spasmodic, or worse in cold weather, or have a damp quality, or that stress makes it flare up. These patterns provide subtle clues to the remedy or healing method for you.
Instead of asking what pill goes with what symptom, ask what’s the nature of your misery?
- Is the problem worse or better with heat?
- Does it stay in one place or move around?
- Is there pain, and is it sharp and stabbing or dull and achey?
- Does the problem get worse when you feel tight and tense?
- Are there other symptoms that mimic the sensation, frequency or severity of the issue?
Your problem has unique qualities that distinguish it from everyone else’s. So it makes sense that the remedy you take to feel better matches YOUR variety of trouble.
Let’s look at digestion, for instance. When symptoms like heartburn, gas, abdominal pain, bloating, belching, diarrhea, constipation, cramping or hemorrhoids get to be a regular thing, it’s time to look for patterns and apply some general rules:
Cold makes things loose, clear or white, mucusy and slow. If your digestion or stool has these qualities, you need a remedy that warms things up. Herbs like fennel seed, cardamom pod, cinnamon bark, thyme leaf, sage leaf, oregano leaf, horseradish, ginger root, rosemary leaf, garlic bulb and black pepper introduce warm, stimulating, toning properties, lessening the constant need for over-the-counter anti-diarrhea products and even relieving a constantly runny nose.
Heat makes things activate. That’s mostly a good thing, until there’s too much heat. That looks like burning or heat sensations, hot burps, irritation, bleeding, redness and swelling (anywhere in or on your body). Look for herbs that cool and calm the heat– lavender flower, mint leaf, basil leaf, dandelion root, plantain leaf, elder flower, marshmallow root.
Most of these herbs for heat coat and soothe irritated tissue, especially in the digestive tract, reduce swelling, and allow heat to clear. This can eliminate or reduce the need for anti-inflammatory medicines or antacids, which deplete essential stomach acid and worsen digestive irritation over time.
When energy gets stuck, there’s usually cramping, pain, gas, bloating or constipation. Choose herbs that relax tissues and allow the ‘Qi’ to flow. Anti-spasmodics like cramp bark, skullcap, wood betony, hops, and oat seed blend well with the hot or cold herbs mentioned earlier, depending on which category you fall into.
When both your mood and your stomach are fussy and irritable, choose herbs that soothe, heal and calm your over-sensitive nervous system: catnip, chamomile flower, lavender flower, oat seed, meadowsweet, peppermint, anise seed, blue vervain and lemon balm.
Plants know how to repair themselves and grow in cold, hot, soggy, dry, crowded or stressful conditions. They reach around obstacles for light, water and nutrients. In you, they gently nudge your built-in healing capacity.
Remember Jan? Jan was off to a good start buying and trying supplements one at a time. Her intention was to find a natural way to solve an imbalance before it became a disease with a name.
Like Jan, you might be looking for an answer to solve the supplement puzzle and avoid expensive medical visits, tests and medications. Looking for patterns in your symptoms helps you decide where to start.
Next time you reach for a supplement bottle at your local health food store, ask yourself ,“Is there a plant with this name that grows in nature?” If it doesn’t grow in nature, it’s not an herb. If it’s not an herb, it doesn’t carry the healing energy of a plant that’s survived and thrived against all odds. Start over and look for an herb that matches your symptom pattern.
Multivitamins, CoQ10, fish oils and iron supplements might be useful replacements for simple deficiencies, but they won’t stimulate your body to heal itself the way herbs do.
If you’ve been struggling with a chronic problem that’s not responding to ordinary dietary supplements, turn to the plants. Herbal Medicine, and especially Traditional Chinese Medicine, have safe, natural and effective answers for many of today’s common ailments.
Tell me how you applied an herb to a health problem. Did it help? What was the result?
8 seconds. That’s how long I searched Facebook to find a blog/link/post about some kind of food being ‘bad’ for me. Then, when I Googled the phrase ‘bad food’, I got 2.1 billion search results. Billion! That’s more than Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber combined!
Food-bashing is nothing new.
In the 70’s they told us fat was bad for our arteries, so my mom switched us to margarine instead of butter- my dad had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a family history of heart attacks. His doctor told him to cut down on salt, so the only time we enjoyed that spice was on taco night – and boy, did we load it on! And forget about eggs. No way. Big killer.
In the 80’s we counted calories, because we were already starting to put on weight from the so-called food that replaced the evil fats we cut out the decade before.
In the 90’s, convenience was king, and we threw out all the rules and enjoyed our fast food lunches crammed into our 10 hour workdays. Why? Because it was all about success and big houses and keeping up with the Joneses.
Honestly, I don’t remember all the food fads over the past 40 years (and excuse me if I mixed up my decades), but some pretty lousy advice has been handed down under the guise of ‘research’ from food manufacturers, healthcare providers and mass media.
I feel so guilty eating practically everything these days, because somewhere, at some time, every food on the shelves, in the CSA box or from the garden has been so demonized that I’ve had the fear of God scared into me over ever bite I take.
Even something as purely healthy as an egg gets analyzed, researched and questioned until someone comes up with a ludicrous list of qualifications a simple egg should meet to enter our mouths:
- Omega-3 enhanced (what in the world did those poor chickens have to go through to qualify?)
- Gluten-free (seriously?)
- Farm-raised – what farm these days is good enough to meet this standard?
- Local (that’s always nice, I guess)
- Fresh (doesn’t that go without saying?)
Remember when eggs came in 4 sizes and that’s all we cared about?
For that matter, remember when the only bread choice we ever considered was homemade or store-bought? Now we worry about gluten, whole-grain, transfats vs polyunsaturated ones, and food coloring – since when does bread need to be colored?
For once, I just want to eat without running through the pedigree of my meal. I know I should be buying my food from local, organic farmers with free-range animal products and environmentally sustainable practices. I fully support these practices, in theory, but when it comes right down to it, I’ve realized that this takes an enormous amount of time and effort and planning.
And I’m working on it, little by little. I started by shopping the organic section of my grocery stores, reading food and farming blogs, and I’m finally going to join a CSA this Spring and see what THAT’S all about.
But for now, I’d like to pour a bowl of oatmeal without worrying about whether it’s organic or gluten-free, and top it with walnuts without wondering if they’re covered in pesticides, and mix it up with some organic milk that might not be from a farm nearby, and top it off with dried cranberries that probably have some sugar added because I couldn’t find the unsweetened ones I’m supposed to buy.
It would be a little slice of heaven to enjoy a warm spoonful of breakfast and not once, not even for a split second, wonder if the grain in there is genetically modified.
I love to eat, but we’ve taken all the fun out of eating in our culture. Food is a minefield of potential cancer-causing, inflammation-inducing terror. No wonder everyone is so confused and stressed about what to feed their families.
Today, for just one meal, eat without guilt, or fear, or disappointment. Before you start your new eating habits – low fat, high fat, low sugar, no sugar, vegetarian, paleo, vegan, grass-fed – enjoy that juicy steak and baked potato smothered in gravy with a side of delicious, and sugary, fatty, gluten-laden pie for dessert with a big smile on your face.
Life is stressful enough. Enjoy your food, even if it’s not the most healthy thing you’ve had this week. Then tomorrow, pick just one thing to do differently. Eat a little less, skip dessert, add a vegetable to your plate without worrying about who grew it. You’ll get there. It’s a process. One step at a time.
If you’re serious about eating more local or considering joining a CSA, check out my Resources page for links to trustworthy products and businesses in our community.
Could forgiveness heal a relationship that’s important to you? My guest blogger, Life Coach Nancy Dennis, shares personal insight on how she learned the lesson of forgiveness.
I remember when I was first presented with the concept of forgiveness being a conscious choice. It had nothing to do with how I felt, wrongs being righted, or justice. Now this was news to me, because I had been wronged, deeply wronged, and anyone would agree with me. But here was an opportunity to see something differently. Not looking at what had happened, but looking at how I was going to choose to ‘be’ in the light of it.
What I learned was that forgiveness was not about saying what had happened was now OK or forgotten. It simply meant two things:
1. I would choose to no longer allow myself to roast the other person on the spit – to turn over and over again the wrongs done, and turn up the heat of my anger and resentment.
2. I would choose to no longer play the victim card — not in my mind, my conversation or my actions. The facts were facts, without right or wrong, and I was no longer reopening the wound and poking at it.
Up until that time, I believed that you had to feel ready to forgive, to in some way say “this is now OK”.
But forgiveness had nothing to do with feelings, or never remembering, or saying it no longer mattered. It had everything to do with moving on.
I was encouraged to begin this process when I was ready to commit to those two things – no more roasting on the spit, and no more victim.
Now here’s the interesting part…I found myself resisting this guidance. I convinced myself I just needed to get my head around it, needed more time, wanted to feel better about the concept – you get the drift. And then I proceeded to wrap this up in a nice tidy bundle and put it on the shelf way back in the recesses of my mind – in my “someday I’ll do this…” box.
It wasn’t until about 6 months later that forgiveness came up again. I was asked to look at how much time I had spent reviewing and rehashing the wrong done to me. And then to look at how long in physical time, the event had taken.
Lastly, how much longer was I going to surround myself with this toxic essence, when I could just decide to set it down, let it go, and be present and thankful for the here and now?
I realized it was time to forgive. To just lay it down, no more roasting on the spit, no more victim, no more looking back. Just let it go. I made the conscious decision to forgive, and I made the promise to myself that if I ever again brought up the thoughts or feelings, as soon as I recognized what I was doing, I would remember that I was no longer allowing myself to think like that – I had let this go. Love and peace and blessings to all.
If you’re reading this, and you find there is something or someone you need to forgive – if it’s niggling your heart – then I encourage you to make the choice to forgive. I guarantee you it is not serving you well.
From my own personal experience, forgiveness has been one of the best things I have done in my life.
You can reach Nancy for more life wisdom at email@example.com or http://www.coachnancydennis.com. Nancy is a guest instructor at Natural Healing Omaha workshops, including Women’s Health Series 2014 – 6 Steps to Whole Health, which includes her class “Healthy Relationships for Life”.