Sunday, November 1, 2015

Simplicity & Following Your Dreams!

            My sincere apologies for not posting any blogs in a long time, I have gone through a few major life events, its been incredibly hard, but incredible, none-the-less. I finally moved out of my parents’ house almost 1 ½ years ago, into a pretty cool old house in Minneapolis. I also successfully paid off one small college loan, and am working on the next few! Also more related to my 2014 new years resolution, within the next year or two, I will be doing a Working Holiday Visa (of 1 year) in New Zealand!!! So I can visit all “The Hobbit” and LOTR filming sites, do amazing hikes, see the Maori culture, make a bone carved necklace, and much more.

            I’m getting ahead of myself though. The most incredible thing that has positively influenced me the most in the past 7-8 months was the fact that I read Marie Kondo’s book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”   (link to amazon here   ).

            I am ever grateful that my sister, while we were skyping mentioned that she had started reading this really cool book, by a Japanese organizing specialist. After this conversation, hearing so many good things about her, and her recently published and super popular book, I looked up all I could on her. I read numerous articles reviewing her book, and praising her professional skills as a consultant (that’s her job-helping people tidy up their places & thus their lives). As soon as I could I received a copy of Marie Kondo’s book from the library, which took a while, since it was so popular. So on a cold night in February, I was quickly reading through her book, and started to tackle all my stuff—or tidy up—as Marie Kondo would probably say. Her method is simple, but extremely easy to use, and really makes sense once you get started.

1) tackle categories, not rooms: this is an easier way to deal with clutter, otherwise you’ll never seem to be able to diminish the chaos
2) respect your belongings: consider your clothing’s feelings, are they rolled up on the floor or shoved into the closet.
3) Nostalgia—is not your friend: focus on one category at a time, and don’t let your emotions get a hold of your project
4) Purging Feels SO very good: pile everything of one category on the floor, say clothing, then channel your energy and go through it in one go. If it doesn’t give you joy ditch it, donate/sell it whatever, but don’t let it linger. If you feel on the fence about it, you are probably feeling guilt (which she does mention as one of two reasons we feel we should hold onto stuff), but it’ll pass…so kick it to the curb. You’ll feel lighter!
5) Fold, Don’t Hang:  to better respect your clothing Kondo prefers a certain type of folding method,
6) The Fold: and placing items into shoeboxes (without the lid of course). I found this to help keep everything looking fresher, and much tidier.
7) Fall in Love with Your Closet:there is breathing roome for your clothing, for you itehat to wear.

8) Rediscover your Personal-Style: when you narrow down your clothing, decorations, books and everything else, you are left with your favorite things—what gives you the most joy! With that said, it is easy to find more happiness in having fewer items, but of what you cherish more.

Once this was in Place…I had the time, space, and mental capacity to pursue other personal endeavors, passions…etc. This is still a bit of a working process for me, because for some more major or nicer items, I am keeping out some hope that I can sell them, versus just donating them and hoping to get a tax break.

            After working on applying for really cool full-time jobs, so I didn’t have to work two part-time jobs anymore (they weren’t hiring for full time-ironically), I finally caught/got a break!! I was offered a full time position at a local food co-op here, starting in front end, and I finally was able to transfer to a more preferred department (to produce—though my top is HBC but that’s another story). I really do love the produce department, I get to work at my own pace, move around a lot, work with incredible people, and it is not a particularly mentally-taxing position at all. This being said, I had the mental energy to pursue my true passions, writing, herbs & my small business. I submitted, hopefully they will publish it, an article about Elderberry for the upcoming winter/flu/cold-season to the ever popular Western Herbal medicine journal “Plant Healer”. My most exciting news apart from finally landing a full-time job at a cool place, is that I got an incredibly well paid part-time writing/administrative position with an Herbal School. So far I have completed social media updates for them to post, and a newsletter, and will soon be completing a second newsletter!

         I am very happy and excited that I have successfully accomplished several major life goals recently, hoping for many more quickly (like paying off loans then travel), but I still have many more long-term goals to reach. Wanting to travel for me is one of the top few things I LOVE to do, along with anything herbal and gardening-related, and writing. A book I adore entitled “Less is More”, co-authored by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska, beautifully “Travel has become one of my greatest passions and one of those indulgences that I permit myself several times a year. For me, transporting myself to a different world, a different culture, brings home to me the importance of the here and now—living in the moment… I want to feel that I am truly in the moment and not just recording it” (pg 112).

         What I want to get to is the feeling of “I no longer dream of escaping to a better life. This is a good life. It will still change, evolve in different and surprising ways, but the restlessness is gone. It may seem simplistic to say, but living life in accordance with one’s values is a deeply satisfying thing” (pg 113).

         So what are those long-term goals for me? Here it is in a nutshell. In the next two years, work very hard to pay off most of the rest of my college loans, and save for New Zealand. Then year three, work and travel in New Zealand, year four travel and work through Australia & South East Asia. Travel back home for a bit, then work abroad a lot in Europe, I really want to learn from herbal companies there, get more farming and gardening skills, and just enjoy travel, life, different cultures (see above quote). Otherwise, I want to find a cool place to settle in, get a little land, garden, do permaculture, and have TONS of herbs. Start up my herb business (successfully) and do that, plus writing for myself and other organizations…maybe I even want to have an herbal practice. I want to be a healing-pillar in my community, so to speak.

          Will write again soon, cheers for now!

References/Further Information:

Marie Kondo’s website

 “Less is More” by Cecile Andrews & Wanda Urbanska

Thursday, January 16, 2014

2014 New Year's Resolutions!!

It has come to my attention that I have not posted a blog in, a while, the fact that I have to think really hard about when means it’s been “too long”. SO firstly, I apologize, I have been insanely busy with two major customer-service based jobs, not trying to make excuses, just to explain. Thanks to those who kept viewing my pasts blogs despite this break in posts, otherwise I hope you can look forward to more posts monthly/bi-monthly from now on.
            With that said, here is my first blog of the New Year! The topic appropriately with the new year having just started is about my resolutions, and I felt ten of them was a nice solid number, not too many to get overwhelmed, nor too few.

My 2014 New Years Resolution(s)~

1)      Actually ‘take’ days off, not just have a day off and jam-pack it with to-do lists, seeing friends (whom I love dearly but I need to prioritize myself too!), and running errands. I am making a promise to myself to 3-4 days a month, read books in my pjs all day, get a massage, go for a long walk, eat chocolate, whatever—just chill out!

     2)  Run several 5ks! I have been getting back into running due to an awesome job with a bank which I love, having lots of confidence in what I do, and having a semi-grown up profession/career path, I got insanely motivated to run 3-4 hrs a week, and cook even better food! This makes me feel physically good, I have a lot of energy, I sleep well and thus perform very well at both of my jobs. So I decided hey, lets make a goal of running a few 5ks with my mom! So here are several ideas for races to do: the Irish one, the National Running day, and the fall Monster dash, though I know there aren’t all the races in Minnesota for the year, just some main ones!

3) not worry so much about what is in the future, just be in the present, and have fun!

“Happiness can only be found if you free yourself from all other distractions” –Saul Bellow
 (  -source of above quote)

4) Be more grateful, gracious, and realize how awesome I have it! I heard of this inspirational and uplifting little project you can do called “the 365 grateful project”, via, I believe. I have been doing this project for the past two weeks and have found even the smallest things really do make a huge difference in my level of happiness, in how grateful I am: example…during the coldest part of the winter (so far), I didn’t realize how grateful I am for nice hot food (egg, cheese, potato, ham bake to be exact)! The website is:
a gorgeous japanese garden, I believe near kyoto, I always think of
Japan when I think of relaxation, and peacefulness... (taken by me)

5) PAY back parents, and some college loans! This may seem trivial, or oh well why pay it back now…so on. If you have college loans you’ll understand the feeling, finally making and saving enough to start paying back my parents, and college loans, of which is the rough equivalent of a decent house—no joke—it is such an incredibly-stress-relieving action, sure its money leaving my bank account BUT it is the peace of mind knowing I won’t be gaining x-amount of interest, so I’m really saving money, sanity, stress…etc. I got really motivated to do this by a dear friend who is resourceful, a health nut, frugal (not cheap-just money smart), friend who introduced the “Total Money Makeover” by David Ramsey. ( Though I had to read it 2 times for it to click, man, it has really been a godsend! Knowing that I’ll be debt free that much sooner, makes me actually start to see the light at the end of the long and crazy tunel. Also see the ‘debt snowball’ tool on his website:

6) Do other fun volunteering things I love! I love my two current jobs, but of course outside of work I enjoy working on my etsy business, an in the Minnesota based North Country Herbalist guild (, but I need to make MORE time to enjoy cooking health food, making kombucha, water kefir and fermented veggies; removing invasives at the native plant sanctuary Eloise Butler Garden, and go to Weston A. Price chapter meetings (find yours

7) Take a few awesome trips & plan future trips! Now that I have a good paying job where I actually—gasp—get PTO (paid-time-off/vacation) I can plan…for the future! What a relief, for a minute I was starting to worry.
            Save to visit my dear friend in New Zealand! Having been the filming country for the LOTR, Lord of the Rings trilogy, and now the first 2 of 3 The Hobbit movies, we need to visit where the hobbit village took place!

8) Research, take classes, and save to get educated in: naturopathy, nutrition, and permaculture. Paying someone to take a class seems easy and cheap, but recently I've been coming to the relization that here in the states we LOVE to pay someone to do ______for us (From haircuts, growing food, making beauty/cleaning products, and teaching us), this being said I am going to invest lots of time, energy and hopefully get places to try out, permaculture, vermi-composting, strawbale house making, to vertical gardening. Also, I am reading alot about nutrition, from reading the book "eating on the wild side", to learning the benefits of kombucha, water kefir, and foraging some own food each year. Being able to teach/help-myself, and be resourceful, teach others than once I know it well enough, is such a lost art, and very important! *side note, one of 
my favorite permaculture books is here...

9) MOVE OUT into an apartment/house, which means moving out of my parents’ house.
Thanks to the above David Ramsey book, combined with health-nut eating frugal friends, I have been very confident in my ability to: save enough money before moving out in case of a job switch/emergency, and to save for the future. On top of that, I am really feeling good about living on a budget, due to some awesome friends saying hey I'm in this food co-op, here are prices for organic produce, want to order some with me and we'll have healthy good quality food for cheap!?...yes please 

Also, paying off my parents, as stated above, and others help to up my savings (having lots of money saved, but also lots of debts is counter-productive), helps with some fear and stress of moving out, having less debt...well means just that...less debt! Alot of this also worked because I started to buy primarily with cash, or do all my errands one day a week and leave my cards at home (credit & debit).
Back to the food buying, I buy in bulk from locally started food co-ops, make my own menu plans, and soon I will even take measuring spoons and a calculator to grocery stores, buy with cash, leave plastic (debit/ at home….etc
           And last but not least # 10...which is an article on "20 things to let go of before new year"

Enjoy, Cheers & Happy New Year!! 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Herbal Hair Treatments & Recipes: Henna, Hair Rinses & More

Henna:   Sanskrit: Madayantika, Hindi: Mehndi.  

            Thy henna lies soaking in a fine red bowl.
            The love juice of henna is a lovely tint.

            O Lady, who has painted thy hands?
            The love juice of henna is a lovely tint.

            O Lady, put thy hand on my heart.
            The love juice of henna is a lovely tint. ~ Folk song of Rajasthan

Henna Plant
            Henna has found it’s way throughout many aspects of the way of life in India, from dyeing hair and beards, to being a physical and symbolic representation of a major life change. The night before your wedding, it is called the “night of henna”, where the bride’s palms and soles of her feet are decorated with popular floral and fertility designs. The henna, or mendhi?, is made of dried henna leafs made into a thick paste. This same paste, in certain/specific regions of India, is also used to stain a bridegroom’s palms, the deep red color left behind after drying and washing off the extra stuff, left on the skin, is said to/symbolizes: the deep love between a husband and wife.
            As previously stated it is also a major cosmetic in India, and through the ‘Near East’, where it is often grown as a common shrub. Egyptian mummies were found with hennaed nails, and Pliny referred to this plant as the “Cypress of India”, whereas to the Hebrews it was “camphire”, sourced from the Song of Solomon.
            “My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi”.
            Besides in Egypt, women thousands of years ago also colored their hands and nails with it, men their bears and moustaches, and both men and women to dye and condition their hair. Such color, being all red base though in a spectrum of blond to black and purple, is so treasured, they dye the manes and tails of horses in India. The flower, as the song excerpt previously suggests, are in small clusters of rosy white or red flowers, which are very fragrant and also used to make perfumes, and sleeping pillows, which are considered: an anti-irritant, a deodorant and antiseptic. It is also used by Ayurvedic physicians for: skin irritations such as heat rashes and skin allergies, and to cool the body during the intense heat of summer. Lastly, the leaves and flowers are used to make lotions and ointments, used externally for: boils, burns, bruises, and skin inflammations, including sores from leprosy  (Patnaik, 124).

Hibiscus: Hibuscus rosa-sinesis, Sanskrit: Japakusuma, Hindi: Gurhal (Patnaik, 131).

The flower is fuller in cooler than that of a pomegranate, and may be the size of the red rose, but the red rose…opens simply, whereas when this opens a stem on which other petals grow is seen like a heart among its expanded petals…This is not a common matter” – Babur, first Moghul emperor, Babur-nameh (1525)

            When it comes to this gorgeous flower, often found throughout tropical areas such as Hawaii, India and China, is more of an ornamental aspect of culture compared to having a cosmetic use. In India and China the flower is worn behind the ear, I did this not understanding it symbolizes a tropical version of the Claddha (celtic ring) certain ways of wearning either symbolize your single, or not single, status to society. The leaves and flowers were traditionally boiled by Chinese and India women, which they mixed with an herbal oil before applying to their hair as a stimulant to “the growth of luxurious tresses” (Patnaik, 131).  Currently, the Chinese took this idea even further and used the hibiscus flower juice in a faous herbal oil and conditioner, which is now bottled and sold throughout eastern Indian under the brandk “Jaba Kusam”. It’s main use is due to its effectiveness against dandruff.
            The Hibiscus flower dates back to reference in ancient Hindu mythology, where it was offered in the worship of the Goddess and Ayurvedic medicine, also “seems to lend credence to the particularly female virtues of this plant”, as it was prescribed often as an emmenagogue historically (promoting a woman’s period) (Patnaik, 131). The root of the Hibiscus flower yields a drug, which Ayurvedic medicine believes, is useful in treating veneral disease, also an extract from the flower is used often in preventing unwanted pregnancies, “inhibiting the flow of semen in men, and bringing on temporary sterility in women”, these physicians also believe this herb is postcoitally effective in it’s anti-conception properties (Patnaik, 131). Of course this last claim can often spark much …negative… especially in India where population control is of ‘paramout importance’. It has been tested on male animals and found sterility, but it seemed to be too limited to occasion interest as a male contraception, though the findings “as regards a possible natural postcoital contraceptive for women have been more impressive” (Patnaik, 131).
            Lastly, one study conducted in 1974, being an uncontrolled clinical trial, where ethanolic extract of the hibiscus plant was given to women. This extract was “carried out in 21 women in the reproductive age group by administering…3 divided doses from the 7th to the 22nd day of the menstrual cycle (a total of 229 cycles).
 Fourteen women did not have pregnancy for 4 years whereas 7 women dropped out of the trial for various personal reasons” (Medicinal Plants of India, Indian Council of Medical Research, 1987). (patnaik, 131).
Rosemary: “Let this Rosemarinus, this flower of men, ensigne of your wisdom, love and loyaltie, be carried not only in your hands, but in your heads and hearts. Grow for two ends-it, matters not at all Be’t for my bridal, or my buriall”
- Robert Hacket 1607 at a Wedding Sermon
(, Rosemary History).

            Rosemary during wedding ceremonies has traditionally symbolized, along with the above, “fidelity, love, abiding friendship, and remembrance of the life the woman had led prior to her marriage” (, Rosemary History). Rosmarinus officinalis is this Mediterranean herb’s botanical name, though it was commonly referred to as sea dew, due to the “light, luminous color of the flowers which, at a distance, can look as blue as the patch of sunlit morning dew” (Seymour, 96).
            This herb was a favorite of the Greeks, having been brought west by Romans, was commonly grown by Spaniards and Italians to “ward off witches”, (Seymour, 97), and was “reputed to keep nightmares” (Brown, 139)“venomous serpents and melancholy” away/at bay (Sumner, 27). Rosemary was commonly infused in white wine and drunk for treating “poor circulation, low blood pressure…headaches” (Keville, 71). It was thought as an effective youth inducing herb, since the Queen of Hungary, 14th Century, dabbed “her ancient and paralysed limbs  
with rosemary distilled in alcohol, recovered her agility, and grew so youthful that the kind of Hungary proposed to her ; supposedly where ‘Queen of Hungary water’ got its name (Seymour, 97). Also, Shakespeare referred to this shrubby woody herb in Hamlet, where it was said “There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance” (Globe theater), which later Elizabethan’s wore “to their brows to help their memories” (Seymour, 97).
            Currently, it is used to treat pain, increase circulation, thus improving headaches, migraines and memory (Brown, 139). The essential oil, which is commonly used in beauty products has an “invigorating…and antifungal” (Bremness, 122). I personally love to put strong sage, hibiscus, thyme and rosemary tea with apple cider vinegar as a hair rinse after I use conditioner. Rosemary makes an excellent dark hair conditioning rinse, makes hair softer, can help improve dandruff; treats dry skin by encouraging “oil production…[and also] chamomile, lavender…and small amounts of peppermint” (Keville, 321).
    Thyme: “According to legend, thyme sprouted from the tears of Helen of Troy(Brown, 143).

            Writers, it seems, myself included, have always seemed to “have a soft spot for thyme, possibl[y] because…thyme has no nicknames: a sprig of thyme is a sprig of thyme, sweet and plain” (Seymour 115). Coming from the Greek thymon (Brown, 143), or Thumon, being a “symbol of thumos…spirit [or] courage (Seymour, 116), and was believed to overcome shyness. In mythology helped revealed Duessa’s true identity, being a ‘filthy foul old woman’, a witch in Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen, while she was bathing in herb magical brew of thyme, ‘oregon’ and rue (Seymour, 115).
            Greeks and Romans considered thyme to be a “strong antiseptic [and disinfectant] and credited it with a multitude of powers, including anti-aging”, and appropriately was used by the Egyptians as an embalming herb (Brown, 143). Medicinally, it was used historically for treating: flatulence, inflamed liver, bad breath, sore throat, headaches and fevers (levy, 161). And lastly, in Culpeper’s time as “a digestive, and for hangovers…whooping cough, and as a purge for catarrh and for any lung-connected illness” (Seymour, 116). Currently, it’s properties include: antiseptic, calming and nerve tonic, for musclar pain, colds and depression (Bremness, 132-133) lung and sinus ailments (congestion), expectorant (Keville, 139). “Researchers have found that…[herbal stimulants] relax intestinal muscles and relieve cramping” (Keville, 90), thyme also, “Stimulates production of white blood corpuscles to resist and fight infections [and] promotes perspiration” (Brown, 143), and overall, Italian researchers “found...thyme, [and] lavender… stimulate immunity” (Keville, 105).

Chamomile: really just a blond hair rinse…for hair products. Further information will be coming soon in my herbal beauty and product recipe blog!

Sage: “a tea of sage tops is one of the most refreshing and beneficial available to mankin
                                               ~ Juliette de Bairacli-Levy (pg 141)

The name Sage comes from the Latin salare, meaning “to cure”, or salvia meaning “to save”. It went by the name of mashkodewashk aniibiishan by the Ojibwe. Several primary ways this herb has been used historically is as a water, to cleanse the body, remove odors, and eyes; smudged, eaten or smoked, to treat colds, and coughs; as a honey for asthma, and burned to cleanse lodges during contagious illness and other major rights. William Turnet noted in his Herbal, in 1568, that clary sage “helps the memory [and] quickens the senses” (Keville, 295). Juliet de Baracli Levy, our famous 20th-21st century herbalist noted that internally, this herb was excellent in treating congestion, fevers, sore throats, digestion (lack of appetite, flatulence, constipation), and externally: wounds, sores, excessive bleeding (Levy, 141), and poison ivy.
            Currently, sage is seen as a disinfectant, antiseptic, aromatic and astringent herb, helping to calm and strengthen the nerves. This helps in relieving “nervous headaches, help[ing] to ease lung congestion [colds and fus] and stimulates digestion/liver function” (Brown, 139). The hydrocarbon known as salvene in sage is thought to be why it is astringent, aromatic, bitter, and stimulating, thus enhancing memory.
            As far as beauty uses of sages goes, I never really understood its use, until I looked it up. Guess I just subconsciously knew it was good for my hair—ha! Some cool recipes I found include:  mix sage leaves with thyme, lavender and rosemary for 1 week, infused in apple cider vinegar, becomes an aftershave; for graying hair, boil the leaves for half an hour, strain and massage into hair 4 times a week to produce a “fairly convincing dark collour while helping the hair grow, and look glossy” (Seymour, 103).

Black Tea Henna Recipe:
            -1 part black tea
            -1/2 part hibiscus flowers
            -1 part thyme, rosemary and other herbs
-Mix the above ingredients, and steep 2-3 tsp/cup of water (make 2-3 cups). Strain and let cool until luke warm.
- Mix the cooled liquid with henna color of choice, I do red and copper (the hibiscus brings out the red, and rosemary and thyme brings out the brown shades). Mix till it is the consistency of semi-thick mud. NOTE- you can always ADD more henna, but you can’t if you are one, out of henna, or two have way too much. So add a little tea at a time.
-Apply to clean, dry hair and cover with a plastic bag. Leave in for 3-6 hours depending on how intense you want the color to be.
-Rinse out, let fully dry and enjoy the gorgeous natural hair color!

Hair Rinses:
-Apple Cider Vinegar & Herbs
            Fill a bottle ½ way with Apple Cider vinegar
            Fill the rest of the bottle with the following concentrated tea recipe

Brunet and Auburn Herbal Hair-Rinse:
            Mix the following in a pyrex glass measuring cup: 2 tsp black tea, 1 tsp hibiscus flowers, ½-1 tsp sage, 1 tsp thyme, 2 tsp rosemary. Pour boiling water over, steep for 15-35 minutes, strain. Let fully cool and pour into a bottle you can keep in the shower area.

Queen of Hungary water: My favorite way of using herbs for beauty, is by making “Queen of Hungary Water”, recipe from Rosemary Gladstar’s book “Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health”.
            “this wonderful astringent lotion has been hailed as the first herbal product ever produced and marketed. Legend has it that the early Gypsies formulated it and claimed it to be a cure all…is an excellent astringent of the face and great rinse for dark hair. The gypsies used it as a hair rinse, mouthwash, headache remedy, aftershave, footbath…”

Lemon Balm Melissa officinalis

6 parts lemon balm
4 parts chamomile
4 parts roses
3 parts calendula
3 parts comfrey leaf
1 part lemon peel
1 part rosemary
1 part sage
½ part thyme
Vinegar to cover (apple cider or white vinegar-I used apple)
Rose Water or witch hazel (I did separate batches with each)
Essential oil of lavender, or rose

1) place the herbs in a widemouth jar. Fill the jar with enough vinegar that it covers the herbs by an inch or two. Cover tightly and let sit in a warm spot for 2-3 weeks.
2) strain out the herbs. To each cup of herbal vinegar, add 2/3-1 cp rose water, or witch hzel. Add a drop or two essential oil if desired.
3) put in bottles, with a  sprayer, or a small 1-2 oz jar with a thin top, I used mine as a toner after I shower or wash my face. Keeps indefinitely.

-Natural Beauty at Home by Janice Cox
-Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar
-The Garden of Life by Naveen Patnaik

Works Cited
Ba├»racli-Levy, Juliette De. Common Herbs for Natural Health. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Pub., 1997. 141-61. Print.
Bremness, Lesley. Herbs. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2002. 122+. Print.
Brown, Kathleen L., and Jeanine Pollak. Herbal Teas: 101 Nourishing Blends for Daily Health and Vitality. Pownal, VT: Storey, 1999. 139-43. Print.
Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 teas, tonics, oils, salves, tinctures, and other natural remedies for the entire family. Adams, MA. Storey, 2008. 130. Print.
"Historical Uses of Rosemary." Web log post. Rosemary History. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Sept. 2010.
Keville, Kathi, and Peter Korn. Herbs for Health and Healing. Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale, 1996. Print.
Patnaik, Naveen. The Garden of Life: An Introduction to the Healing Plants of India. New York: Doubleday, 1993. 124-31. Print.
Seymour, Miranda. A Brief History of Thyme and Other Herbs. London: John Murray, 2002. 96+. Print.
Sumner, Judith. The Natural History of Medicinal Plants. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2008. 27. Print

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Enough: The Scanadanivian Idea of Lagom & Wabi Sabi in Japanese Culture

...How to Find your Way Through
American culture of ‘bigger is better’, to
Finding your own 'just right'...

            Have you ever wondered why, and how, so many things here in the United States are large, spaced out even space inefficient, and how this slowly consumes one’s hard earned money, time and energy? I know I personally feel lost among many things that are time, money, space, energy, and environmental resource wasters, sometimes yeah I even use more than I need…I feel like it can be very hard not to, having been brought up in such as society. But think about it, who TRULY wants to:

“worry about how we’re going to get it and getting it and going
into debt for it. Rather than doing without…I’m sure it would lead to a simpler life if we didn’t have to worry about the things we didn’t have” ~
Rosalynn Carter  (Andrews, 15)

            With this idea in mind, I would like to in this blog, cover two interesting topics related to the idea of— enough. First we have the Swedish idea of lagom, and secondly, the Japanese concept of Wabi-sabi. The first topic, an excerpt from the book Less is More, is by Alan AtKisson, who at the age of 40 learned Swedish, and appropriately soon after moved to Sweden. He thought their culture quite interesting, and found it not so ironic, with Sweden being a wealthy country it possessed many shopping malls, and also, not surprisingly “the advertisements that drive us to them” (Andrews, 102). Sweden, as many people may know is where the world-famous brands such as Ikea, and Hennes & Mauritz come from, though, despite the ‘ususal consumerist excesses’ one finds there, they also have something to offer unlike most other countries, the concept of: lagom (Andrews, 102). Not to my surprise, this concept, and way of living and simplicity—if you will— has no direct English equivalent, and appears quite often in Swedish conversation. For people in Sweden, it captures something essential about the culture. 
            “Lagom has to do with quantity, with the “how muchness” of something. Lagom is neither too much, nor too little; but neither it is just “enough”... Meaning “exactly the right amount” ” being widely applicable to everyday life in Sweden (Andrews, 102).
“if it were a place it would lie north of sufficiency, but south of excess”, when something is “just right” that is lagom (Andrews, 102). Alan first encountered the idea of lagom when he visited his wife’s apartment for the first time, outside of Stockholm. The simple-but-comfortable style has always appealed to him, though he was amazed to find she only owned two towels (where in America most people have a whole closet full). “the concept of owing just two towels was just mind-boggling” (Andrews, 102-103). She said when the towels are dirty I wash them, and if they wear out, she buys very good ones again, because they last a long time since they are high quality… “why do I need more than two…De tar lagom?” (Andrews, 102-103).
            If you can understand this idea of lagom, other aspects of Swedish culture and design start to make sense. Some rules of Swedish design include, that: materials should not be wasted, function proceeds form; nothing is gained by excess; and something important is lost (Andrews, 103). The origins of lagom, is quite interesting. In the time of the Vikings, when they would pass a bowl of beer around in a circle, it was expected that “everyone would drink exactly the right amount for them…and leave exactly the right amount for everyone else(Andrews, 103). Lagom comes from two words, “lag” meaning team, and “om”, meaning around, so a sense of togetherness, and social solidarity became a pillar to Swedish culture and politics. Social solidarity means, the “commitment of the well being of others, not just oneself” (Andrews, 103). Not surprisingly, there is no adequate English word, or phrase, that comes quite matches lagom, it has a certain attractive quality that “enough” and “sufficient” in English lacks (Andrews, 105).  To many, “enough” sounds like it should have the word “barely” in front of it…for some reason, and to use “enough” never sounds like… [insert word- enough-here] (Andrews, 103).
            Of course, with anything good thing, it comes to an end, or in lagom’s case a limit. For instance: How much is enough chocolate cake, or what is lagom for the earth’s maximum amount of CO2, on the flip side, calling your boyfriend lagom, would not be a very good idea (Andrews, 104). Similarly to this Swedish concept, is a Japanese parallel, the phrase meaning: “I have just what I need”. Though in this an a later blog, I will cover Wabi-Sabi, Zen & Chado. Research suggests that people often want “more than what is around them” this desire seems to be deeply wired in the human organism, that we have seemed to develop over millennia in hostile environments, both natural and social, to have more than enough to defend “against the vagaries of an uncertain future”, hoarding being the modern day extreme (Andrews, 105). We are more likely to get the idea of lagom to most people, since it speaks a lot to what people want in life.
            A tangent/note, that I felt was very applicable to the above idea. One of my new favorite books, The Name of the Wind written by Patrick Rothfuss, which is an amazing tale spun of a gypsy boy, with a feeling of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Having nothing when he goes to University, he reflects on his new surroundings and room later in this book:“I set my battered copy of Rhetoric & Logic on the shelf over the desk. My lute case leaned comfortable in the corner. Through the window I could see the lights of the University unblinking in the cool autumn air. I was home…looking back I count myself lucky…true at Anker’s the crowds were not as wealthy, but they appreciated me in a way the nobles never had. Think in terms of shoes. You don’t want the biggest you can find. You want the pair that fits. In time, that tiny room at Anker’s came to be more of a home to men than anywhere else in the world” (Rothfuss, 454-455).
            Lastly, part of a chapter on Wabi-Sabi, authored by the editor in chief of  Mother Earth Living (combination of Natural Home Magazine & The Herb Companion magazine), Robyn Griggs Lawrence. She grew up in Iowa, where she was able to find the beauty in old abandoned barns, and was taught to appreciate true craftsmanship, from her father being a wood worker. She believes Wabi-Sabi is an important means of helping people accept and embrace their homes as sacred, nurturing spaces—just the way they are (Andrews, 157). Wabi-sabi is an umbrella for many other ideas that came to light around the time of 9/11, right when she happened to have her first article of this topic published. Some other topics related to it include: simplicity, slow-food, reusing and recycling.  This idea is an ancient Japanese philosophy which roots, not surprisingly, in Zen, revering austerity, nature and the everyday. Wabi-Sabi stems more directly from the Japanese tea ceremony, Chado, the Zen ritual for making and sharing a cup of tea, whose origins go back to warlords in the 15th century Japan. The ‘waby’ way of tea (wabichado), grew out as a backlash against right warlords having gaudy imported good based ceremonies, championed by a still famous tea master, Sen no Rikyu.  His simple tea ceremony, with tea severed in locally fired bowls and flowers in fishermen’s baskets, quickly became the most sought-after way to have tea, with wood and bamboo replaced porcelain (Andrews, 158-159). Wabi, is an interesting poet’s word, being slightly melancholy, is the author’s favorite description. It is: “the feeling you have when you’re wating for your lover.” (Andrews, 159). The status of these monks rose alongside wabi in the 15th century Japan, as people grew war-weary, and the upper classes grew tired of conspicuous consumption.

“Simplicity, the aesthetic of the everyday samurai, took on a new nobility.
 No matter how much wealth they had, everyone
in Japan could make and share a cup of tea(Andrews, 159).

            No one really seems to know how sabi got hooked with wabi, but we do have a meaning for sabi: “the bloom of time”, connoting tarnish and rust, the enchantment of old things. Brings appreciation for dignified, graceful aging: worn cobblestones, weathered wood, oxidized silver (Andrews, 157-162).
            Lastly, for an introduction to the Zen making of tea—Chado. I will start by saying, I love tea, A LOT for an American (my opinion), and when I first heard about the Zen art of making tea, you have no idea how ecstatic I was… ! With American’s drink of choice NOT being tea, we can still integrate lagom and Zen ideals into our lives. 
The most important tenet of the tea: ichigo, ichie, or “once in a lifetime”…reminds us that every meeting is once-in-a-lifetime occasion to enjoy good company, beautiful art and a cup of tea (Andrews, 162). This being said, here is a wonderful take on a tea bowl by Christy Bartett, a San Fran based tea master.  She has had this tea bowl for 22 years “every time I look at it, I still see something new…you can’t be lazy. It’s up to you to see and see something new, to sustain your interest in the world around you. It’s not up the world to entertain you. It requires effort to be interested” (Andrews, 161).

“if you can’t find beauty—for free—when you are poor, you won’t be likely to have it when you are rich…even though you may have bought and paid for it” (Andrews, 160)

-Less is More co-authored by Wanda Urbanksa & Cecile Andrews
-Simply Scandinavian by Sara Norman

Works Cited~
Andrews, Cecile, and Wanda Urbanska. Less Is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society, 2009. 15+. Print.
Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind. New York: DAW, 2007. 454-55. Print.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Herbal Sedatives Part 2: Kava-Kava & Valerian

High Quality Hawaii Kava
where Paul Strauss works in the winter
      Next we have a very popular sedative herb, Kava-Kava, whose botanical name is Piper methysticum. It is commonly known as a muscle-relaxant, and a traditional social drink among traditional Polynesian people. Having great ritual and cultural significance, it was taken as a daily tonic (Brown, 129), believing it helped them to communicate with their gods. Hawaiian native American tribes chewed the root for sharp, blinding headaches, lung troubles, chills, and to prevent contagious diseases, including: skin diseases and eye troubles, and weakness of body (Moerman, 365). Used in an alcoholic drink for incuding hallucinogenic states during religious cermonies, stimulates than depresses the nervous system (Mabey, 96).
            Piper methysticum’s properties include: analgesic, sedative, euphoriant, antiseptic, anti inflammatory (Balch, 85); Aphrodisiac, diuretic, (Brown, 129). Eases insomnia, fatigue, nervousness, giving a deep restful sleep with vivid, clear and colorful dreams, and also relaxes tense muscles, useful for chronic pain (Brown, 129), and due to it containing kavalactones releases tension in the skeletal muscles, so is a muscle relaxant overall (Balch, 85). The analgesic strength of kava is comparable to procaimadie and even cocaine, also deadens the pain of kidney and urinary tract infections, the painkilling effect is felt for up to 24 hours (Balch, 86).
Paul Strauss, owner of Equinox Botanicals
showing us how to make Kava tea
            Kava doesn’t impair user’s mental alertness, unlike other heavy duty sedatives, though the lactones present in this herb, tend to have a depressant effect on the central nervous system (Brown, 129). Overall, German researchers have found that kava is effective in treating anxiety, based on measured brain waves of people who were subject to anxiety (Keville, 33). Kava is found to improve mental functioning and mood, and contains several chemical constituents which interact with the brains benzodiazepine receprots (also activated by tranquilizers) (Balch, 85).
            In one of several clinical studies, kava helped more than 50 people reduce both depression and high anxiety levels, and this difference was noticed only after a week. Another study, conducted in Germany where kava was given to women who suffered from “anxiety, depression and other symptoms associated with menopause, the symptoms were relieved and women reported and increased sense of well being” (Keville, 32). Lastly, several other studies showing that people with symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety, including “agoraphobia, social phobia, and anxiety disorders, were “significantly reduced in people who took kava versus placebo” (Balch, 85).
            Next we have another favorite gentle-sedative herb of mine, Valerian. Having gotten a bad rap/reputation from being an addictive substance by Hitler, it’s fame can be traced back to the 1300s when it was recommended to cause “truculence, [or] having a truce [from fighting]”. If you gave valerian to two combatants, thought… the writer urged, that they would immediately become tranquil and lay down their weapons (Foster, 193). This interesting smelling root herb was also utilized in 1592 by Fabius Cauna who is said to have cured himself of epilepsy, it was also used for treating shell shocked soldiers throughout WWII (Seymour, 118-120).     
us hand-making kava tea
was very strong but so relaxing
            Valerian, coming from the Latin valere, means “fare well” and was often referred to as all heal in English, (Seymour, 118), not to be confused with the commonly called all heal which is Prunella vulgaris; Valere, was also thought to mean “to be powerful or of well being” (Brown, 144). The Greek philosopher Discorides, referred to this plant, in the 1st Century, as “phu” which accidentally got turned into “phew” and this is where we get the common phrase “pee-you”, meaning something smells …in a bad way…similarly to how valerian root actually smells, like insanely dirty gross socks (Foster, 193).

            Historically, was commonly used for a slew of ailments, including: migraine, hysteria, vertigo, insomnia, and convulsions.  Culinary-wise, the poorer classes of Northern England found it “essential in flavoring soups and broths” stated John Gerard in his 1596 Herball (Foster, 193). Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries it was referred to as one of the best ‘tranquilizers’and antispasmodic herbs, and as a sleep aid. William Cullen stated /wrote in 1808 ... “its antispasmodic powers in genera are very wel established: and I trust to many of the reports that have been given of its efficact”(Foster, 193). Later, was officially listed in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1820-1936 (Foster, 194).
            Presently, valerian is commonly sold in tincture and teas, whose properties include: antispasmodics, anodynes, carminiatives, hypnotics, nerviness; worm expelling. This sedative herb also relieves stress, muscle spasms, cramps, mental depression, despondency, migraines, insomnia, fatigue and nervous conditions. Valerian root affects the central nervous system, stimulating it in fatigue and calming it in agitation (Foster, 193), thus helping to relieve anxiety, encourage sleep and improves quality of sleep (Brown, 144). Relaxes muscles to the digestive tract, soothes that system, and relieves indigestion, constipation, especially when due to nervous tension; valernic acid is believed to be one of the antispasmodic compounds, treating IBS, and cramps (Balch, 139). Valerian root has similar compounds as barberry, goldenseal, Oregon Grape Root (berberine), and Echinacea, thus inhibits candida (Keville, 81), and has been used in dozens of over the counter sleep aid medications (Balch, 139).
part of our group at United Plant Savers'
'Goldenseal Sanctuary' waiting turns to make kava tea
            Experimental data indicates that there is a scientific basis for valerian being a mild sedative, having antispasmodic properties and relieving pain and increasing coronary blood flow (Foster, 194). Related to the latter bit, it might help slow brain damage due to excessive alcohol consumption (Keville, 28). Large studies have confirmed, that as a calmative herb, it helps improves: restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, hysteria, headaches, nervous stomach, menstrual problems, circulation and lower blood pressure (Balch, 138). Overall, one study’s findings were interesting, valerian seems to be what you need it to be, it is “sedative for agitated patients, while it stimulates someone who is suffering from fatigue” (Mabey, 124). Related to this idea, a Germany study amazingly enough, (U.S. take note), successfully treated children that were hyperactive, and found valerian to greatly “improved their learning skills, muscle coordination, and reaction time after taking for [only] a few weeks”, they were also less anxious, aggressive restless and fearful over 25% of the children completely recovered! (Keville, 229-230).
Valerian at Quiet Creek Herbal farm
Brookville, Pennsylvania
            Studies done in Germany, in 1993, concluded that valerian helps you to fall asleep more quickly, especially if you are elderly or habitually are a poor sleeper, and in addition, it helps you to have improved deeper stages of sleep, thought to be due to a similar compound found in the sedative barbiturate, by depressing the nervous system (Keville, 38). Lastly, another similar study (double-blind), done of 128 participants, showed that by taking a water-based extract of valerian this improved subjective ratings of sleep quality, reduced the time in which it took to fall asleep (sleep latency), also relieved insomnia, leaving the participants without the side effects of grogginess or the ‘hangover’ feeling (Balch, 139).

Works Cited Part 2~
Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Herbal Healing: A Practical A-Z Reference to Using Herbs with Vitamins, Minerals, Nutritional Supplements, Natural Healing Techniques, and Prescription Medications. New York: Avery, 2002. 85-85, & 138-139. Print.
Brown, Kathleen L., and Jeanine Pollak. Herbal Teas: 101 Nourishing Blends for Daily Health and Vitality. Pownal, VT: Storey, 1999. 129 & 144. Print.
Foster, Steven, and Steven Foster. Herbal Renaissance: Growing, Using & Understanding Herbs in the Modern World. Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith, 1993. 193-194. Print.
Keville, Kathi, and Peter Korn. Herbs for Health and Healing. Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale, 1996. 28, 32-33, 38, 81 & 229-230. Print.
Mabey, Richard, and Michael McIntyre. The New Age Herbalist: How to Use Herbs for Healing, Nutrition, Body Care, and Relaxation. New York: Collier, 1988. 96 & 124. Print.
Moerman, Daniel E., and Daniel E. Moerman. Native American Medicinal Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2009. 365. Print.
Seymour, Miranda. A Brief History of Thyme and Other Herbs. London: John Murray, 2002. 118-120. Print.