the elder mother and the flu

(disclaimer:  This is my opinion based upon my own years of reading scientific and historical texts as well as my own experience using these plants.  Do you own research and always follow your instincts.)


Wow, it seems like elderberry has really come into her own this year.  Daily, my facebook feed runs articles on it and various fb friends comment on having it, needing it,  can’t find it.  An herb rich in history with an unbroken cycle of usage for millennia, she still has so much to offer us humans.  But for many years now, I have broken ties with elder when it comes to acute viral infections.  And here’s why.

  1. Cytokines.  Not there is a plethora of information out there on cytokine storms and elderberry.  Some say it’s a thing, others say no.  So.  Remember the swine flu scare many years ago?  That was, for me, a wake up call in our I viewed immunity and the herbs that manage infection.  Many health researchers dug up all manner of data on the 1918 flu pandemic and how the swine flu was showing signs of similar pathology.  That is, they both had a nasty habit of revving up certain cytokines and downregulating others.  Cytokines are immune cells.  Some increase inflammation, which can be good when we have infections, because that’s how the tissues work to sequester infectious activity while working to bring immune cells in.  Other cytokines can reduce inflammation, as in, when the acute phase of infection is over and the body needs to begin clearing our debris.  Chronic infection is another instance when you want cytokines in place that do not create oodles of inflammation.  And as a reference point for this inflammation, it is typically the response from the immune system that makes us feel “sick”, not the infectious organism itself, though given time and lack of immune response and infection would prove quite damaging if not fatal.  If cytokine production goes rogue, we can become septic and well, that is the big fear for most any infectious situation.  Another possibility that needs more research is how viruses are changing.  We know that vaccinations alter our immune function, but we don’t entirely understand how.  Some research touched on viruses actually changing within the vaccines themselves.  This makes for a highly unpredictable virus, potentially infecting a population with altered immune function.                                                    My take on this?  There is some evidence that elder can help the body regulate cytokines, in theory assuring us that the right ones are being utilized at the correct levels in the appropriate situations.  However, there is also the historical note that when elder was utilized during that very cytokine-cascade (the precursor to the storm, with can be life-threatening…the cascade phase is your warning) prone flu of 1918, people were more likely to succumb to cytokine storms.  Now I have never, ever, ever personally seen anything like this result from elderberry and there was a time when it was my go-to because it is so easy to get kids to take it.  I admit that.  But more and more, children (and adults) come to me with damaged immune systems.  Allergies, asthma, even autism comes with a disruption in balanced cytokine production.  And more and more, I felt uncomfortable sending parents off to purchase elder syrup, knowing there was even an inkling of risk, no matter how minute it was, that it could worsen symptoms.  But more than that, I am an herbalist, the vast majority of people come to me ONLY after they are sick and don’t like their other options.  By this point, I am usually staring at or hearing about an individual who is a few days into sickness.  The body is weary and the last thing I feel a wearied immune system needs is more stimulation.  It’s debilitating.  And unnecessary given that we have other options.

2.  While elder definitely possesses antiviral activity, it does so for a very limited number of viruses.  In other words, it’s not broad-spectrum.  There are literally hundreds of viruses that mimic the flu and if yours isn’t flu or one of the scant few that falls within elder’s domain?  Well, you’re out of luck.  And potentially creating the wrong immune cells for what you are facing.  Which wears us out.  And when we don’t recover from and illness 2-4 days sooner as the research indicates we can when we take an herb???  Well, we blame the herb.  We should be blaming improper usage and unknown variables.          So my solution?  Antiviral herbs.  Lomatium is a favorite, though it’s considered at-risk so we need to use it right and use it well, while finding other, more sustainable options.  St. John’s wort has antiviral activity, in fact it’s a favorite against the herpes family of viruses, a notoriously difficult group to contain.  Baikal skullcap is another worth delving into, as is the charmingly named, houttynia or “chameleon plant”.  Some of these can be easily grown in a flower bed, unlike lomatium, which takes a bit more skill (that plus a long maturation period are what deterred restoration plantings and have left it at-risk of over harvesting).  Ginger root, fresh and consumed in a generous amount, preferably as a hot tea with a touch of lemon, is another herb with broad-spectrum anti-viral activity.  The bonus of the antiviral herb is that many of them do double-duty to relieve the potential for a cytokine cascade.  They generally do not engage the immune system as herbs such as Echinacea or elderberry do, but rather prevent viral replication.  In effect, they “turn off” viruses so they can no longer infect healthy cells.  In my experience, this has proven more effective, both to prevent the spread of viral infection and to stop it (nearly) in its tracks.  All without placing more strain on a weakened body.   I often found myself frustrated when relying on elder to fend off something that we just couldn’t kick.  Now, with her as prevention and antiviral herbs as treatment, we rarely have anything to kick.

What DO I use elder for?  Well, I make a tincture that includes elderberries for use as a preventative.  I find the syrup is excellent for sore throats and to calm relentless coughing.  The berries added to teas while fighting a cold can also be helpful, as the cold doesn’t affect the body so intensely.  (But that could be changing, too!)  When summer arrives and we are sitting on jar upon jar of elder syrup because no one got sick (whew!), I add a bit here and there to smoothies and popsicles.  It never hurts to fend off the especially dreaded summer cold, either.  So I have found it a more beneficial ally in preventing viral infection than treating.  Now I do believe if one begins using it AT THE VERY ONSET OF SYMPTOMS, it may shorten duration significantly.  But in my experience, a day or 3 in and you will just wear yourself out.

Also, it’s important to know that one can certainly wildcraft elderberries as long as the source is clean of sprays and pollutants.  But there are significant details to remember.  First off, make sure the elder you are eyeballing is a safe kind.  Some are toxic.  Black is the safest; the red berry variety is not safe.  The flowers are good medicine, especially beneficial to induce sweating to break a fever.  The berries MUST BE COMPLETELY RIPE WHEN YOU PICK THEM.   Elder plants produce a compound that contains cyanide.  The compound is always present in stem, roots, leaves, bark, seeds and UNRIPE berries.  Once ripe, however, the berries are fair game.  BUT the seeds still contain this pesky compound.  And that’s why we make syrup, so that the itty bitty seeds are cracked open to release their deleterious components.  If you do gobble up the berries, you will likely throw-up, or wish you could.  Some people get diarrhea.  The body does what it does to pass this stuff through quickly, but with no harm done because no one can manage to down an obscene amount without purging it anyway!  Also cool to know…it’s the cyanide component that gives elder it’s cough-reducing quality.  So there ya go.  Also, some people are more easily set off by this than others.  There are folk out there with livers of steel who can graze on berries as they harvest.  I am not one of these people.

Ok, there it is, my two cents.  Respect the plant and use her well.




A Glimpse Beyond the Veil

I’ve been thinking a lot on autumn.  My mom once commented on how I decorate for fall, but not for spring.  Considering how much I love the sun and warmth and loathe the oncoming winter, it was a valid question.  I told her then that fall needs a little help getting excited over, but spring celebrates herself.  Which is not true at all, about the autumn months, with her vivid display of foliage and fragrant cool breezes. In spite of my harsh feelings for winter, there is just something about the autumn season that I revel in.  And it’s nothing to do with ghosts and ghouls or even pumpkin lattes.

Autumn is an exhale.  Winter is waiting.  Spring signals time to begin.  Things will be planted daily.  Summer commences with maintain these plantings and managing their bounty for later use.  And that is a hefty load of effort, let me tell you.  So as the light dims and the air chills, my body feels grateful for this permission to slow down into what I WISH were a season of hibernation.  But that is not all of it.  There is a magic to autumn that the other, far less subtle seasons, simply do not possess.

Being in North America as a descendent of Europeans poses an interesting quandary.  My people brought Christianity with them, and somehow within that came, oddly enough, Halloween.  Never a holiday that I could wrap my head around.  Studying plants always leads one back to ancestral roots, one way or another, and for me this landed me on the Samhain festivities.  Which did explain Halloween, but the thin veil idea still only felt like myth to me.  Not that I don’t love a good story, but it wasn’t made real.  I crave real.  Meanwhile, the shadows of the native people in this land and their autumn moons have my respect and regard, but still do not feel real to me.  What then, has been standing just outside of reach for so much of my life but always, always just teasing me come October?

A cool evening, window cracked as I move through my yoga practice in the darkness, I think I may have touched the answer, however briefly, for the first time.  Autumn IS the time of a thin veil, but maybe not so much between myself and the spooks of Old.  I think maybe it is the time when natures is at her thinnest.  She is exhaling.  Dropping crisp leaves that rustle as the critters of day and nights shuffle through seeking provision for the coming winter.  Acorn fall to the ground, persimmons too when the drier breeze picks up a bit more.  Crickets slow their song and the air smells of fungi, both mushrooms that creep moonward after a tease of rain and yeasts on those late to ripen fruits that can make one the finest of sourdough starters.  We are all exhaling this time of year and for an herbalist, the quiet in the air as life settles in for a season of rest and survival can be a magical time.  It is harvest season in the woods and on her fringes.  Not only is there a bounty of medicinals and foods at our disposal come autumn, but stories as well.  Stories being told by trees and mushrooms, stories by bayberries and birds, acorns and mice, maybe even children and leaf pile.  Terroir is at its greatest this time of year, after months of growing and feeding, the earth is relaxing into herself and releasing an abundance of stories free for the taking, if one is willing and able to use more than just the ears to hear.  The harvest we sow now, as the veil thins, will be most resplendent of the season when we call upon them later.  The herbs will cool and calm during the strain of those final winter days, and early spring planning.  Berries dried now tastes of coming of age in a time of leaf mold when we crack open jars full in the months to come.

The air thins come autumn (and in the south, this is no small feat),  and with it the veil things also.  Maybe not the veil of time, or between the living and dead, but a thin story we tell ourselves.  That we are separate from this living organism we stand upon.  We are in fact, not.  To live so is to be forever holding one’s breath and never exhaling and drawing in another.  We are given much from the natural world and during these shortening days, she offers us guidance and possibly even a peace offering.  An opportunity to reciprocate and try again.  But we must continue to breath, to listen, to feel, and not just with our hands, to experience terroir.  The flavor of a place.  Carl Sagan told us we are star stuff.  The Bible tells us we are dust of the earth.  They both tell us we are of something bigger than ourselves.  Raold Dahl reminded us that “those who don’t believe in magic will never find it”.  Autumn is saying to us, “be still and believe”.

What’s Missing

This year I celebrate 20 years of learning and growing and failing to learn because I didn’t grow enough.  Twenty years ago I dove into plant medicine.  A person can learn a lot in 20 years.  I have accumulated a veritable library on the topic of holistic medicine, ranging from diets, specific illnesses, plant chemistry to stones and energy medicine, both from the earth and from devices.  So many words and ideas and history have passed through my mind.  And looking back on it, it was really the moments without them when I truly began to learn.  Because as the universe would have it, experience cannot be beaten.

I clearly remember the anxiety as a teenager when I received certification as an herbalist and how I knew there was so much more to know and I was worried I wouldn’t know enough when it mattered.  And I was right to do so.  The books can only convey so much.  Another’s hands-on life and the subtle nuances one perceives while living it, can never be fully expressed to another.  One has to live one’s own path and in most cases it has to be built.

My first real education came raising babies, who are now children, elbow-deep into the half-grown life.  No amount of book know-how prepares you for the very things you are prepared for when you neglected those innocent, all trusting eyes you saw open for the first time would be the ones needing your all.  No amount.  It’s a hard lesson to learn.  To turn off one’s own heart to the very reason it is beating so that you can think and manage a situation clearly.  But you learn it, hard way and all.  And it might possibly be the most important lesson of herbal medicine.  How to step out of your emotions so that you can clearly hear your intuition.  Because intuition is our greatest asset.

Then came Lyme.  I learned more from Lyme disease than the entirety of my previous existence.  So much about myself, ecology, synergy and lack of.  How diseases can unfold, how plants interact, how important it was to listen to that quiet sound of the universe that hums a merry tune if only we would clear the noise and trust it.  Lyme sent me back into the garden.

And it is from this garden that I approach the outside world.  Reductionist thinking has no place in the garden.  Then are no good or bad plants there, either.  Just ones you know how to use and ones you don’t (but should, because one just never know…).  There are bugs.  Some bring hope of a future with food, medicines, seeds for more years to come, while others bring desolation.  With eyes open to the whole picture and the wind humming again the skin, the lesson in synergy can show us what happens when not just our garden, but our own bodies fall out of balance.  It is all about balance, after all.  Something our species has rarely excelled at achieving.

A recently published book by a “renowned physician” has had me thinking for a few months now.  I have yet to read it because I know it will irritate my herbalist sensibilities.  The idea is he is helping us to avoid the harmful compounds found in plants so that we can be healthier people.  I can’t help but wonder, has he spent much time in a garden??  Not a well’ manicured series of rows with nary a weed betwixt.  But  a garden, garden.  Where an assortment of planted species are benefitted by the encumbering weeds and insects.  The weeds, I have found, often provide shade for those plants who have replanted themselves by “going to seed”.  They maintain moisture in the soil.  And many can be managed so as not to overtake by being consumed by us or our animal friends.  Insects tell us our ecology is off.  And they encourage our plants to produce stronger defenses, which often results in more nutrients for us.  This, of course, is not always the case.  Some plants require a homeopathic dosage so as to benefit us at all…and their protective compounds may be toxic to us.  But more and more I am realizing that it’s not the plant, it’s the human using it.  We eat the same foods, over and over so that we take in the same nutrients.  But we also take in the same toxins.  Our foods are not immune to this.  Maybe it’s the stimulation they cause that keeps our systems on our toes.  After all, we have grown up with the plants.  Maybe again, it’s the chemicals man has made that is the real cause of burden.  Our kidney could handle oxalic acid, if it weren’t for the burden of glyphosate.

The mildest of plants, traditionally used on the most vulnerable of us, babies, contain components that when used isolated and repeatedly will can some sort of harm.  But only a human would try this.  In the garden this is never so.  When we pull up the weeds to the extreme.  We lose diversity.  We lose synergy.  We lose the message they are telling us, that we have not made conditions ideal to our preferred plants and while we work to correct this, maybe we should get to know them.  There will always be some we will never have high regard for.  But it is what it is.

I guess maybe it comes down to how are we to apply what we have learned?  Knowing about anti-nutrients and organ-straining components in our foods makes it possible for us to avoid these foods or prepare them in different ways to reduce the undesired bits and pieces.  We humans once again find a way to beat nature with our cleverness!!  Ahhh, but there was a time almost 20 years back when studies showed how the currently dreaded phytic acid (an enzyme inhibitor found in things that sprout) was able to prevent certain cancerous cell growths.  In the blink of an eye, a certain dietarily-opinionated organization turned the tables on phytic acid and now we in the know can either avoid grains, seeds, nuts, and beans, or ferment them, or soak them in something fermented, or sprout them.  Because that’s what our ancestors did.  Did they?  Always?  Or did they diversify.  It’s quite possibly that with the advent of agriculture over foraging that they indeed learned that a little extra handling made a better product.  But I also suspect there was more variety.  Even at the dawn of agriculture, there would have been more variety heading into winter than the staunchest collective of farmers gets to our tables any more.

We lack diversity, on many levels.  We missed the boat on synergy, ecology and why they matter.  We forgot that half of the medicine is found in the process and not the product.  We find it easier to malign what we find in a lab analysis than to get out there and find out for ourselves.  Find our own synergistic path.  Our place in the ecological world.  We can’t survive by basing what we know on petri dishes, books, someone else’s interpretation of the world.  In the end, it’s our own independent observations, combined with those of others,both similar and diverse, that will save us.  We cannot demand change from corporations without changing our daily ways, our choices.  We cannot demand farmers produce what and how we want them to if we are not willing to put forth effort ourselves.

So in 20 years, what have I learned?  Much more than I can express in a day.  It may take a lifetime, after all.  But I know there is much more I want to learn and that I am finding it less and less out of books, but more and more right where I am.  Everything we need for our time here lies before us, the flowers and the weeds.  Local food, medicine, fibers, these things are just the beginning.  The greatest harm we do ourselves and others, and maybe most especially, our future great-great grandchildren, is not opening ourselves up the bigger story.

Of People and Plants


Passionflower, calmative nervine extraordinaire.  My yard knows me so well.



Moons ago, I was an herbalist at a local shop.  This was at what felt, to me anyhow, to be the beginnings of the current interest in alternative medicine.  Not that it has ever truly gone away.  Suppressed, burned, whispered in code, but never “away”, bless it.  It was my beginning and many of the students of the 60’s and 70’s back-to-the-land movement were now the teachers of this one.  But my time at the shop did predate the current prepper, oiler and paleo trends that have risen up from what feels like a vastly different landscape than that under which my own seeds of interest were sewn.  For myself, I felt a remembering of sorts.  Something that was always there, but I was now remembering how to be a part of.  I lost count of how many times I was told, “Oh herbs, they’re gonna be real popular one day.”  Yea.  Okay.  As if they had not been for the previous millennia.  Or two.  But anyhow, that was what I heard.  And since I had been a teenager when I enrolled in my school of choice and began formal studies, it was reassuring to hear that I wouldn’t forever stick out like a sore thumb, as there were not many of me around.  And here we are, one day is here.  It’s not what I had envisioned, but it’s here.

Still sticking out like a sore thumb, I had no understanding of what it would cost when “one day” arrived.  I didn’t understand at the time how prone we are as humans to replace one system with another, only giving it a fresh coat of paint and a new name, while patting ourselves on the back for the perceived changes we have made.  I didn’t understand that we could and would pick and choose, as we have in so many other ways, the parts and pieces that we like, leaving the rest forgotten.  And wonder why the effects are not as we read.

So many came and went through the doors of that little herb shop.  The curious, the skeptical, the experienced, the desperate.  There were those there who were simply fed up with their doctor.  Some came with hope, others snide and borderline angry.  Some remembered their grandparents using such things, others spoke as though the mere thought that plants were anything more than ornamental or weedy was pure fantasy.  Still others came in with stories.  There was the man who had brewed a traditional blend of herbs every week for his wife with cancer.  She cleared the cancer from her breast and they were believers after that.  There was the mom, the lone voice in the late ’90s wilderness, whose child had never spoken a word or acknowledged her presence after her 2 year well-child visit.  Autism.  The atmosphere was entirely different at the time and she was, for all intents and purposes, on her own.  She came to us for hope. Two years later, this most diligent mother that I ever did meet, announced that her child spoke the words, “love you” to her and looked up when she walked into the room.  She was coming back.

Most of the time, someone would want the easiest thing.  “Does this come in a pill?”  “Can I just take one a day?”  “Does it taste good?”  You learn to cater to each category.  And you wonder just how much help you are being.  Healing and nourishment come in many guises.  Usually not in a one-a-day pill, though.

I’m further and further away from that world now.  Marking the places where the pokes grow on our property for spring root-digging.  Increasingly feeling the gentle tug of the vining honeysuckle that grows along the fence by the clothesline.  The bark that wants to be touched, though not peeled, and the subtle shock of energy on the palm when one does.  The leaves that rustle as they tumble, each with their own song, to nourish the fungi that will be popping up soon to contribute its own gifts to this place.  This place that is increasingly forgetting its own place and how we could all fit together in it.  Where we come from, how we are taken to be.  We are not at all that different, this species nor that one.  Not at all.

One customer who stands out was a young (though older than I at the time) man who would come in for powdered herbs.  (I enjoyed the ones who purchased the bulk herbs best of all; they often came with stories.)  He would tell me about his blend and what he was going to use it for.  One herbalist to another.  I, paid and trained, he, word of mouth, traditional.  Usually, it was something his dear grandfather had sent him in for.  They put them into capsules together, but not with one of those spiffy Cap-n-Qwiks that produce 25-50 capsule per batch.  By hand, the two of them, one generation to another, sharing lives, memories, time and tradition.  That is medicine at its finest.  It’s not the magic pill that one only takes once daily, or that tastes good, or that is small and easy to take.  It’s the process.  The mother with hope.  The husband with a faith.  The man with time.  This is what heals us.

Nobody wants to dig up roots with me, or harvest and hang vines and bouquets throughout their homes for the winter months.  There was a time that I didn’t do it, either.  But I was hollow.  I could take a handful of pills and feel lost as the physical changed for the better.  That sort of healing never stuck for me.  Something else would call for attention.  Ache for nourishment.  I found it in the process.  Tasting the tinctures that would alter my physiology, growing the plants so as to learn about their lives and how they could fit into my own and others who may seek me out.  And finally searching the plants themselves out, herbalist to source, to know what they truly can offer us.  The process has been as healing as the plants themselves.  And I imagine that young man, who would not be quite so young anymore, has turned to them as many times as I have, even as his grandfather has likely passed away by now, to comfort his body and soul.  Experiences like that aren’t easily forgotten.

It’s not an easy answer, one that someone wants to hear when they reach out to me for advice.  I tried for years to give the easy answers, the ones that left folks feeling comfy enough that they may just give it a try.  I found it disappointing to all parties involved.  They wouldn’t get the results they desired and I wouldn’t see the results I knew they were capable of.  I don’t know how to convince another person that life is worth it.  Worth making the time to reach the source ourselves.  Until one has experienced it personally, it’s hard to imagine just what could possibly be missing in the first place.  But I assure you, if you’re reading this, it is missing and it feels so good when it is touched upon.  Healing is multi-faceted.  We need elders, community, and an understanding of the process it took to bring our traditional medicines to us, from seed to human hands.  Reductionist thinking does not work for the natural world, where we reside.  There is an infinite amount of knowledge and experiences to be had and I’m afraid I’ve grown bored with products, products, products.  It’s time to be a people who do things and know things, not just people who have things.


Today, We Dance

With Lyme, that is.

From living with a chronic disease, I have learned that I require a proverbial smack upside the head before I get the message and consider myself for a moment.  My live revolves around my home, the family of humans, the family of critters, the family of plants and all of the spaces we occupy.  We do things and we make things and we grow and raise things.  This is our life in a nutshell.  It’s busy, though small.  As summer ever approaches, I can hardly stand myself.  The sun!  The warmth!  The steamy, thick air and all of the shades of green!  It’s all so overwhelmingly wonderful!  After days and days spent mostly in the kitchen performing various and sundry tasks, my young daughter and I headed out at day’s end to shovel…fertilizer, shall we say?  She loves this task, this silly lady.  It was lovely to be out in the setting sun with her after so much time inside taking on the other end of this food production gig.  But as evening rolled in and the kids tucked into bed (it’s not as quaint in reality as that sounds), I felt it.  Sore muscles.

I’ve no idea if bodies in general feel this way or if mine did before Lyme, but ever since my cortisol levels shot up sky-high during that sordid affair and the months of waiting and waiting for them to come down in response to supplementation, I have learned that sore muscles are my canary in the coal mine.  They mean I have pushed too far physically and if I don’t whoa-Nelly myself down, trouble will ensue.  Trouble ensued.  And caught me quite unprepared.

After a perfectly normal morning, the terrifying feelings of disassociation set in after lunch.  Then the metallic taste in my mouth.  Oh yes, hello dear Lyme.  You have too much free time on your hands, don’t you darling?  So, trying to hold back panic and tears (I will live in fear of that vibrating-out-of-my-body feeling FOREVER), my brain tries to function through the spirochete wreckage.  Nosode, andrographis!  These have been my trusty mates through the post-Lyme adventure.  All flare-ups have been graciously minor, before now.  But this being my first full-on neurological episode in 2-ish or so years, I wanted more.  And there it was.  Rife.

The Rife machine is a gizmo that generates frequencies.  Since everything, everything, everything emits them, we can know at which frequencies various disease organisms (among other things) vibrate and which ones they cannot survive.  This specific Rife already carries the anti-Lyme frequency, so 3 minutes of hands-on with it and whatdya know!  So. much. better.  It’s not over, this I can be certain.  But I can sit here and type this.  I can make dinner and toss hay to the goats.  Maybe scooping poop with the youngin’s will have to wait, but life is a compromise.  Ha.  But I will not separate from this mortal body and float away into the abyss.  No.  Not this night, Lyme.

Life is endlessly fascinating and humbling.  A thing as simple to most as muscle soreness, something that my diet of mainly living foods and daily yoga have helped me avoid more times than not in these post-Lyme years, can so easily set up the stage for what *could* be disaster.  And it could happen still, this I know.  But I’m determined to never stop dancing.  The Lyme is here.  In my head.  Sometimes I have to be reminded of that.  Sometimes, the universe has to smack me upside that stubborn head and threaten to take my day job away before I remember to put down the work of life and get on with the dancing.  With Lyme, I have been given perspective.  In all things, there must be balance.

Tulsi, otherwise known as Holy Basil.  One of nature’s great balancers is just popping back up in my garden!  Surely, this is a message.

Driving the Cold Winter Away

It’s possible that one who hasn’t written a blog in 3-ish months shouldn’t tackle the process while careening head-first into January.  I guess for many people January may be a symbol of fresh starts as indicated by the online onslaught of ‘new year, new you’ -isms.  But in my world, January is the beginning of the struggle with seasonal depression, distinguished from it’s counterpart, my personality type, by the fact that I, instead of knowing that I can switch gears to shift my mind (a battle I had to learn how to win early in order to learn how to live with it), gasp for breath at the abyss that is How-Am-I-To-Survive-Until-March.  March.  When, while still in all likelihood not warm, thanks to this late-to-the-game winter we’re having in the deep south, the sunlight will once again look hopeful enough that I and the trees may think it’s worth hanging on for one more spin around the sun.  Yes folks, welcome to the depression episode.

One of the weirder aspects of seasonal depression, for me anyhow, is that nights are easy.  Cozy and dark by 6 o’clock and still, I think I just might survive.  It’s the daylight hours that grate on my soul.  I feel betrayed by the sun, who’s beams no longer provide even a glimmer of warmth by 3pm.  It’s not why I sit outside or open the blinds, ya know, to feel cold.  NO.  I do so to experience bliss.  All that the sun promises and more.  And yet winter, though she taunts us southerners with warmth as she pleases (or not), she withholds her brilliant direct hit of sun-rays.  For me, anyway.  I neeeeeed those blessed particles to travel millions of miles for the sole purpose of kissing my retinas, skin and garden with sweet, sweet hope.  And winter, oh they just almost make it.  I can tell they are there…but simply just out of reach.

The geese are finally flying south from here.  Yes, just beyond the winter solstice, the geese have decided that winter will in fact arrive.  And cold or not, it certainly feels that way after a few bonus rainy and warm months.  I envy those birds, just sometimes.  That they might always follow the sun to where she shines the brightest, but I do appreciate the seasonal shifts, if only for the perspective they bring.  And I’m not a fan of packing, which all travel entails.  For humans, anyway.  I have a difficult time settling into a winter rhythm.  Spring and summer are so full of life and work here, with gardens, livestock and children.  Autumn feel like a sigh of relief after the work of summer.  Winter, I’m realizing, is certainly for settling in.  With quiet, warm projects.  And lots of tea.  The children learn and create and learn again.  So why can’t I?  Projects keep my mind off the sad.  And a winter garden brings me hope that if glorious green life can not only survive the chill, but thrive in it, so will I.  And goat-baby births, although those too often bring chaos and anxiety along with them.  But soon enough, a mere month, in fact, I will be back out to the garden preparing for months of growing and making, eggs will be hatched, more goats born and the process of making the most of what the sun brings will once again be more than enough to keep the depression at bay.  Most days, anyway.  But until then, there is January.  I feel confident that time and age will make these low-light days easier.  I feel it happening already, though this year’s impending sad did catch me off guard a bit.  Oh, January.  The seed catalogs that arrive post-Christmas can only do so much and sometimes it’s just to remind us of time.

I’ve tried many of the suggestions to fight seasonal depression over the years.  The lightbulbs?  Please.  They’re like vegan pound cake.  Supplements, meh whatever.  The more recent findings on depression as an inflammation issue, rather than mere chemical misfortune, intrigues me.  I’ve experienced my own everyday brand of anxiety and depression ebb with my ever-evolving diet.  My current status as a high-raw veg is no exception, as the post-Lyme depression is a fierce opponent.  I had the ill-fortune of making its acquaintance a few years back.  It was a deep, dark foe and I had no choice but to ride the wave and see where it took me.  Now, I still have moments, if you will.  But the raw-er the diet gets, the more greens, the lighter the battle, swiftly fought.  So the inflammation thing fits.  I do think that these benefits spill over into the seasonal sort of depression as well, but really nothing can eradicate it, in my opinion, except for a massive ball of elements spewing forth photons.  For some of us, it’s simply who were are.  Finding a way to walk gracefully down this road, year after year after blasted, er blessed year, is part of my story.  I’m learning to enjoy it more with each trip around the sun.  It holds a sort of poetry for me, if the world outside of my head will only quiet down enough to hear it.  And they do, often enough these days so I can be reminded that while it makes no sense to anyone on the outside, it’s beginning to for me.  And it only makes the warm, long days I’m learning not to pine for that much sweeter.  In the meantime, as I pseudo-hibernate my way to the next equinox, I can console myself with the books and yarn and seeds and stories that I won’t be able to indulge once the season shifts to that of what we so lovingly call, “go time”.  Summer.  When the empty shelves and freezers will need to be filled once again.  So that in these winter months we can rest, assured by the sun’s bounty preserved around us that in it’s own good time, we will be full of hope once more.


System Maintenance…Ours, That Is

I don’t care what the calendar says, it’s fall and this girl knows it.

Fall is in the air when pears fill our tummies, pumpkins await their freezer destination, goats must be bred and kale must be planted!  So much to be done before the “calm” of winter.  Fingers-crossed that actually happens, that calm thing, that is.  Before we settle in to cold and flu season, it’s time to get ourselves in order as well.

With seasonal changes, there is much chatter about “going on a detox” or “doing a cleanse” as the seasons transition and while that’s all well and good, I can’t help but think how much simpler life would be if we would just live in such a way that our bodies are allowed to detox daily.  As they are designed to do.  Detoxification is, after all, an ongoing process within the cells of our liver.  We systematically cleanse our organs and tissues each night while we sleep, brains getting top billing.  While seasonal cleansing can be very beneficial, if we aren’t eating and living in such a way that our daily detoxification needs are being met, then there will be very little benefit to come from seasonal weekend “detoxes”.  The tip of the iceberg comes to mind.  We could, in fact, be merely stirring up stuff that a brief cleanse won’t have the time to flush out!

I’ve come to experience detoxification as a lifestyle and not a special event.  When I get worn down and can’t just bounce back, I am reminded that living with a chronic infection (Lyme, Epstein Barr) means more gunk must be sorted out of my cells and cleared from my body every. single. day.  This on top of the daily toxic exposures none of us are immune to (air, water, food, clothing…the depressing list is endless).  Our bodies really can’t wait for us to set aside a weekend or a week.  They need us to get on board NOW.  And stay on board.  Whether one has a chronic issue or not, making choices each day that address our organs of detox is imperative if we want our bodies to thrive.

So where to begin?  Obviously diet will be key here, as a diet rich in vegetables will ensure a multitude of detox channels are able to do their job.  Firstly, there is the roughage factor.  Can’t start dumping toxins from the bloodstream if there’s no clear exit.  Vegetables, especially raw, will provide an assortment of fibers to both stimulate the colon to do its thing and feed the microbes that work so hard to keep us alive (and break down hormones and chemicals that may pass them by) so they have a home.  I truly believe one cannot eat too many vegetables!  The green leafy guys provide the nutrients needed for the liver to best achieve a hearty detox while their chlorophyll content works great in assisting toxin removal from cells and the bloodstream.  You really can’t go wrong with a diet LOADED in veggies!

Fruits, especially when eaten raw, benefit cellular and kidney cleansing assuming we aren’t eating so many that our gut microbes aren’t being thrown off by yeast.  Fruit, when eaten with pretty much anything other than leafy greens, will oftentimes ferment in our guts because most of us don’t have a healthy microbiome.  Even when we think we do.  Stress, Tylenol we took 20 years ago.  Everything has an effect on the friendly (and not-so) flora.  So while eating fruit can be cleansing, it can also contribute to the problem if not done correctly.  It generally likes to be eaten alone.  If you can’t swing that, keep it simple with greens and nuts and seeds, maybe some fermented dairy.  If you feel sluggish or bloated afterward, you’ll know your body chemistry is off key and you’ll need to eat fruit in isolation until further notice.

Avocados, people.  Eat them.  Often and in hearty amounts.  We need the good fats in a raw state to feed our cellular membranes and glands.  The biggest benefit I have experienced from a raw diet comes from the raw fats!  I had no idea how much differently they would affect my body from their cooked forms.  Avocados are also an excellent food-source of glutathione, the mother of all antioxidants and cellular detoxifier extraordinaire.  Eat a few a week, ok?

Beyond this, consider cutting back on animal foods.  With very few exceptions, they are acidic within our bodies, which stalls the detoxification process.  When we do eat such things, they need to be eaten with a healthy dose of alkaline greens to offset the negatives.  Remember, even the healthiest of foods are no good if they aren’t eaten mindfully.  Add something fermented to the mix to aid in digestion of everything, but especially meats.  I always have a ferment when eating a cooked meal.

Water, water, lemon water, raw cider vinegar water, unsweetened cranberry juice water.  Everyday.  Don’t hold back.

I’ve found juicing (veggies!) a few times  a week to be super beneficial in keeping Lyme at bay and keeping me alkaline when the toxic die-off tries to get the better of me (never. again.).  When I cut off the juicing for a while, I noticed a definite down-grade in my daily livin’.  So it’s back on the roster until further notice.  I really feel that it helps my body cope with the slow trickle of die-off that occurs even when Lyme is being as dormant as Lyme can be.  Creating an alkaline environment throughout our bodies is really key to feeling well while dealing with a myriad of stressors.

Dry-brushing.  Come on, it’s super simple and takes maybe 30 seconds of the day.  Get a natural bristle shower scrubby (or loofah) and beginning at the feet and working up, gently brush the skin in a hear-ward direction.  Then hop into the shower and it’s back to business as usual.  That’s all it takes to give the lymph system a major boost and help the skin maintain its own magical cleansing capabilities.

Exercise, although I’m not a fan of exercise for the sake of exercise.  I like yoga, walks, working on stuff that requires some oomph.  Get your heart rate up, sweat.  Do this daily, even if it’s just a little bit.  Sweat is one of our best routes of elimination.  Movement in general pumps lymph throughout the body, another key factor in cleansing.  And then there are all of the other benefits exercise brings to the party.  Rebounding is a quickie way to reap a bundle of benefit.

Herbs.  So many to choose from.  Bitter roots are so wonderful in keeping the liver up to par.  Some of my favorites include dandelion, milk thistle, and yellow dock.  Bitter leaves and tonic herbs can help flush excess fluids from the body while providing an excellent array of minerals, which will benefit that ever-crucial alkalinity.  Dandelion leaves, nettles, comfrey leaves are some of my favorites in this department.

Comfrey leaves begging to be smoothified.

We know we should make a little effort to nourish our body’s daily in order to maintain our health and prevent long-term problems, so it’s no surprise that supporting a healthy detoxification system is just as important.  A healthy, smoothly operating system can get the maximum benefit out of the foods we eat and the experiences we live.  It certainly doesn’t take much and it beats waiting around for something to break before making the effort to fix it!  Try it for a few weeks, soon you won’t even notice that you’re doing the trendy detox thing every day.  You’ll be too busy feeling awesome.