Archives for Sarah Holmes

Connecting Health and Politics


With the news filled with political unrest and inspiring resistance, here and abroad, I wanted to take the time to talk about herbalism and health care as political action. I view any step toward taking our health care into our own hands, taking responsibility for our own health, as a political act. A political act is that which challenges the status quo and with the state of our health care system this idea becomes even more obvious.

Everything is connected. Everyone is connected. With the current marches to protest the police killings of African American men, women and children in our country, now is a time, past time, for everyone to take a good hard look at the society we live in. This isn’t just an issue of ‘oh, those bad police officers’. This lack of accountability wouldn’t be happening if our society didn’t have racism built into its institutions and woven into the fabric of our society.

I often find myself very disheartened (literally) when I look back in history and see how little progress we have made in terms of racial equality. When people are being killed for the color of their skin, how can we even begin to think that we live in a just society?

Let me finish connecting the dots. To live in a society where you are targeted because of the color of your skin means that your day to day stress level rises exponentially. And stress is also a killer. The high rate of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and shorter life expectancy among African Americans is not due to genes, it is due to racism. Living under the stress of racism undermines the health of individuals. This holds true for all people of color. All people who do not fit into the dominant paradigm likewise have increased stress in their lives. All of the -isms; racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, to name a few. You get the picture.

Whatever your political affiliation or views, I think most people can get behind the idea that we need to change the current state of our nation’s health. For an ‘industrialized nation’ we are supposed to be ahead in the health of our citizens compared to countries with fewer resources. This, alarmingly, is not true in all areas that such health is measured. Our maternal mortality rate is higher than Canada, most of Europe and Australia (WHO, 2008). Life expectency is lower than in Canada, western Europe and Scandinavia, Japan and Australia (WHO, 2009). The systems themselves are breaking down and what services that remain are difficult to impossible for many of us to access.

So, when you might be feeling disheartened, take heart. Remember the people who are doing good work. bleeding heartRemember the people who are creating change. Remember that you can be one of those people.

I wanted to let you know about people who are taking their healing skills to their communities and the streets, literally, and working as herbalists supporting people who are participating in demonstrations. Street medics. Any of you who have participated in a demonstration, whether it was in the heyday of the sixties or yesterday, know that you can easily get hurt and you often cannot get access to emergency medicine in that context. There is that word access again.

What is also really  exciting about these movements, of taking herbalism to the streets, is that it can spread to longer term services. For example, Occupy Oakland had a Suitcase Apothecary for street medics to work from not just during demos but also to support people living on the streets.

Common Ground Health Clinic  in New Orleans is an inspiring example of this work spreading as well. Common Ground grew out of people responding to Katrina and those who stayed on and established this great health care resource in the community. They no longer have the herbal component, but the clinic is still running.

The community of people who have been supporting the Dine in Black Mesa, Arizona in their stand against Peabody Coal also offer a twice yearly herbal clinic to the people there who have limited access to health resources.

The MASHH Collective (Medicine for All Seeking Herbal Healing) is an all volunteer grassroots collective of hebalists and medics based in Northern California and Oregon comprised mainly of Street and Forest Medics. They volunteer their skills and help get medical supplies & clinical support to a variety of off-grid events, base clinics at social justice movements, as well as disaster zones around the world.

Herbalists Without Borders works with community-based chapters to create educational, clinical, advocacy and grassroots model projects to fill the gaps in health and wellness social justice internationally.  This volunteer organization is a web of diverse herbalists, traditional and natural medicine practitioners, folk healers, farmers, educators, writers, activists and many others.

Flying Needle Project is a free acupuncture clinic in South Africa serving all people who come and focused on people with HIV/AIDS.

Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic in Oakland and San Francisco offers free alternative health care to low income women with cancer.

These are just a few examples that I know about. Because these are often small groups of people doing work in their community, the larger society often doesn’t hear about their good work. What I also know, is that there are people all over this country, and the world, serving the health needs of their community with herbal medicine.

I am grateful for all of you who are working in service to your communities. Thank you for your hard work and dedication.

I urge you to consider your own acts of bravery and compassion. How, in your life, you are making change and if you have any room to expand that care? Our world needs each one of us to show up in whatever form that takes.

Be well.


Cultivating Peace


Shakleford Creek

Peace, both in our global community and in our interior world, is an important part of being in balance and being in good health.  Peace is one of those concepts that is at once complex and really quite simple. I believe one of our drawbacks as human beings is over-complicating things; which means we are putting more emphasis on what our brain has to say than on what our heart has to say. Our hearts hold our true wisdom. I think it is important to explore how we can cultivate peace in the world and in ourselves.

A good place to start is to pay attention to what takes you out of your heart. What makes it easier for you to disconnect; from others, from self. Looking at our words and actions and deciding, does this bring harmony or dissension? And what do I want to foster in this moment? That is not to say that we don’t confront what should be confronted; rather that we work toward  finding the path that allows that confrontation to be productive and create movement toward positive change. As opposed to arguing for the sake of argument. In our dominant culture, those concepts are frequently confused…just look at our Congress.

So I encourage each of you to really stay conscious and make the choice to create connections and harmony – for this is, at the core of things, working against the pattern of disconnect which allows for so much violence and injustice in the world. We can start with ourselves, our loved ones, the people we see each day as we go about our lives; and expand that circle out. For we all indeed impact each other. We are all connected.

Restoring harmony/clearing the air

Sometimes we get out of harmony/balance and we need to clear things out to restore harmony. We can also work preemptively. Keep up a daily check-in with self so that your words and actions are coming from conscious choice and not from a reaction based on old patterns. This can also include cleansing the energy of your home or work space.

For those of you who for health or other reasons, do not want to smudge a space, some flower essence companies make sprays that can be used instead. They are a blend of essences and essential oils in a spritz bottle that you can use on yourself or in a room. For more details about these products, go to their website, but here is some information to get you started.

Purification  spray from Alaskan Essences
Cleanses and purifies your home and work environments and your personal energy field; helps to break up and clear stagnant patterns of energy; clarifying, sanctifying and refreshing; washes away tiredness and brings a sense of vital aliveness.

Guardian spray from Alaskan Essences
Helps to create a powerful force-field of protection in your aura and environment; claim your energetic space, maintain your grounding, and feel the protection of strong, healthy boundaries; joy and playfulness; good for people who are highly sensitive; connects us with our inner light and helps us radiate this powerful energy outward into our surroundings; brightens your mood, lift your spirits, and make room for future possibilities.

Purple Sage  from Flora of Asia  – Brings a cleansing and highly protective energy that ‘throws off’ non-harmonious or disease energies.

Bringing in the calm and peace

Once you’ve cleared out the energy, set your intention for what you want to fill that space with. In this article I’m talking about peace, so here are some plants to support you in cultivating peace. Consider some of these plants also when you are having conflict, or think it may happen, just to help hold the energy.

Pine is used by many Native American cultures to bring in peaceful energy. You can smudge with this, have a pot of water simmering with pine needles in it, make a pillow of the needles to sleep with.

Peace Beach from Hawaiian Essences –  Helps to change the habit of constant motion to allow our bones, blood, nerves, senses, brains and fluids to rest; deep interconnected relaxation that restores our peace and protects our sustainability.

Harlequin Glorybower  from Flora of Asia –  Gives feelings of contentment, peace and joy in physical existence; helps one find the experience of peace in the midst of pain and turmoil.

Schima  from Flora of Asia – Provides peace and solace in times of turmoil; the calming and nurturing energy of the divine feminine gives the experience of grace during stressful circumstances.

Japanese Beautyberry  from Flora of Asia – Provides a base level of peaceful support and trust that all will be well; encourages harmonizing with challenging situations to find the place of peace and ease within conflict.

Lighten Up spray from Alaskan Essences

Helps to uplift, energize, inspire and nourish; when you feel cut off in any way from your inner sources of light; opens and expands energy pathways, dispelling stagnant emotions, and encourages.

Mind/heart balance

As I mentioned earlier in this article, sometimes what is throwing us off is balancing our mind and heart. Here are some plants to support that balance.

Schisandra – grounds excess energy in the head into the heart.

Aquamarine from Alaskan Essences – stills the mind and allows it to function better as a serene place; esp if being overused.

Giant Burnet  from Flora of Asia – a deeply calming essence that releases heat and aggravation from the body; soothes the heart and eases a nervous stomach.

Gigantea Rose  from Flora of Asia – encourages the opening of the heart field so that you can be guided in your actions by your most compassionate self.

Illicium  from Flora of Asia – provides clarity of mind and calm attention so that you can connect to the guidance of your spirit and strengthen the knowing of your true purpose.

Oriental Plane  from Greek Tree Essences – focuses on the heart chakra and how this is the mediator between the head and body; helpful in expressing connection to others on an emotional level; allows for more appropriate emotional judgments.

Replenish spray from Hawaiian Essences – calms and soothes your mind and body, bringing you into a state of deep relaxation; helpful in regaining balance during stressful times, to restore energy reserves, and before bed to enhance restful sleep.

Foothills Paloverde from Desert Alchemy – if you are critical of self or others; deep inner shame and/or self blame; helps to accept and share feelings; brings mind to quieter place, stilling the ego and help be in touch with true self; brings an inner stillness like the moment before dawn.


As Cynthia Athina Kemp Scherer so articulately writes,  “as we move into greater awareness of the oneness of all of humanity, we are left with the task of actually getting along in our daily lives with others.” Here are some plants for supporting us to choose connection rather than disconnecting.

Sea turtle from Hawaiian Essences –  helps us learn how to share space with others so that connectedness nourishes rather than depletes us; increases awareness of and appreciation for our interdependent relationship with Nature and other forms of life; helps us move with grace and peace in any environment.

Oak’s Mushroom from Greek Tree Essences – brings closure and allows the disconnected to connect; helps see the relation between seemingly unrelated things.

Okinawan Holly  from Flora of Asia – helps us open our hearts to others and realize we are part of a greater whole; addresses the polarities of separation vs interdependence, allowing us to release our fears of lack and habits of contracting instead of sharing.

Naked (spray) from Hawaiian Essences – liberates your self radiance so you can express yourself and share your gifts with the world; helps you to be seen and valued for who you truly are.

Rainbow Shower Tree from Hawaiian Essences – feeling showered with safety and angelic grace when we feel vulnerable to allow our full beauty and potential to shine through; encourages group harmony be weaving angelic grace into the fabric of family and community.

Community Spirit Formula from Desert Alchemy – enhances the ability to sensitively and firmly express our personal needs in relation to the group and to contribute inspiration to the community; sparks an appreciation of our place in the greater global community and a sense of responsibility for the earth.

Male Papaya from Hawaiian Essences – manifesting plans into action with flow rather than force; learning to love putting our true self out into the world and seeing the positive impact of our actions; developing leadership qualities

Sweet Michelia from Flora of Asia – holds sacred temple energy; inspires us to seek re-union with our spirit and fosters compassion for ourselves and for others

I hope that this article has brought you some measure of peace today and that, perhaps, one of these plants spoke to you as an ally in your work of cultivating peace.

Be well and walk gently,




mt shasta

Gumboot Lake

Wildcrafting, or gathering plants from the wild, is a topic that brings up many viewpoints and emotions. In this day and age when many plants are becoming endangered it is important to be aware of the impact our plant usage is having on the wild.

Particularly in times of severe drought, such as we are experiencing in California, the negative impact of wildcrafting can be tremendous.

There is an ethical and respectful way to harvest from the wild, however, this is not the year. The plants are stressed, the animals are stressed. We humans, as caretakers of the land, can make the choice to do our job well and just tend, without taking.

I strongly encourage those of you who use herbal medicine to support the organic growers of medicinal herbs. Buy from the small farmers. Avoid buying plants that are harvested from the wild. Grow a couple of your favorite herbs for your own use.

Appreciate each drop of water in your life. Let’s stand in solidarity with our plant allies as they, along with us, struggle through this drought.

Braiding Sweetgrass – Review


Braiding Sweetgrass, book


Reading this book felt like reading a prayer. This is a book to take your time with so you can savor the beautiful writing as well as take in the layers of what is being said. The subtitle of the book, Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants gives you a sense of the content but not the experience.

Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer weaves, or I should say braids, together stories, both traditional and personal, science and her love of the earth. Braiding Sweetgrass is a call to action from the heart.

Dr. Kimmerer is a professor of environmental biology at SUNY, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a beautiful writer and eloquent speaker. She is also founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, an organization dedicated to “creating programs that draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge in support of our shared goals of environmental sustainability.” She is also, proudly, a mother.

From these perspectives she offers examples of how we can learn from nature; the plants, the salmon, the waters. While it can be devastating to really look at how much our earth and its inhabitants are suffering, it is also imperative that we do look, listen and feel – and from there move to action. Action in whatever form that takes for each of us.

If you are looking for an inspiring read for yourself or someone else, I highly recommend this book. The reading of Braiding Sweetgrass will be well worth your time.



Surviving the Holidays

written by guest writer, Claire Bohman


The holidays are rough. Stress increases for most people. We receive lots of messages to go shopping and that the best way to express love is through consumption. This can be highly stressful if your budget is tight and your kids are clamoring for the years latest toy. Spending time with our families of origin can bring comfort and ease but it can also trigger childhood trauma and bring out old family dynamics that you could have sworn you had gotten away from. Grief can come in waves as memories of holidays past with deceased loved ones resurface. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common this time of year. For people in recovery, the holidays are often riddled with triggers and relapse is common.

Here’s a few tips on surviving the holiday season this year.

Don’t repress your feelings The holidays can be really hard. Sadness, Depression, Anger, and Rage are all common emotions this time of year. Pretending these hard feelings aren’t there can just make them worse. Let yourself cry, go punch a pillow, call a friend and talk about what’s coming up for you emotionally. Allowing the emotions to come up is one of the key ways that they can move through you.



Pay attention to your stress level Do you know what stress looks like in your body? I’m guessing you probably do. Perhaps you find yourself unable to stop thinking at the end of the night. Maybe you loose your appetite or maybe your appetite increases. Does your chronic illness flare up (eczema, RSI, herpes, food sensitivities, etc)? Do you develop stomach cramps or a pit of pain somewhere in your body? Listen to your body. All these can be signs that your stress level is increasing. If you find that your stress is increasing consider taking an herb that is good for nerves and stress. Here’s a few of my favorite


This plant is wonderful for mild-moderate stress. It is a delightfully sunny plant that is slightly uplifting and calms the nerves. I like to use Lemon Balm if there is some mild depression that is accompanying the stress. It’s generally pretty safe and does not have many interactions with medications. It tastes great and is lovely as a tea or tincture. I’d suggest making 2-3 strong cups of tea or taking 15 drops of tincture 3 times a day if you’re stress level is on the more moderate end of things. Just a strong cup of this tea can bring peace and ease after a stressful day.





Sometimes I jokingly tell people that the holidays would be a lot more manageable if we just put skullcap in the water. This plant is also good for stress. But unlike a lot of other plants that can be great for nerves, it’s not sedating. So it generally doesn’t make people tired. Skullcap helps takes the edge off. If you’re feeling an increase of stress that is connected with anger and rage, this is your plant. Fighting with your family of origin? Kids driving you up the wall? Skullcap is the plant for you. Try the same dose as the lemon balm above–2-3 cups or 15 drops of tincture a day.


skullcap blossom, photo by Claire Bohman

skullcap blossom, photo by Claire Bohman

Take care of your body. What does your body need to feel cared for? Maybe it means some extra stretches in the morning. Maybe it’s a bath a few times a week? Can you find some time to rub your whole body down with your favorite lotion, cream or butter, once a day during the peak holiday season? If you can afford a massage or a trip to a day spa, do it!

Get out and move if you can. It can be so hard to maintain your exercise routine when the stress increases. With the increase consumption of food and stress eating of the holidays a lot of people throw the towel in and abandon their exercise routines. Finding time for exercise can be very hard when there is so much going on. But numerous studies have shown that increasing your heart rate for 30 mins a day several times a week can go a long way in reducing stress and elevating moods. Can you maintain your exercise routine? If not can you commit to taking a 20-30 min brisk walk around your neighborhood or in a nearby park?


photo by Claire Bohman

photo by Claire Bohman


There are many great hills to hike around in the Bay Area

 Develop a Relapse Prevention Plan Rates of relapse and overdose increase dramatically around the holiday season. Many mistakenly think that this is linked largely to depression and grief during the holidays. Quite the contrary, for many the celebration of the holidays can be a huge trigger. “It’s been two years, I can have one drink right? It is Thanksgiving afterall!” or maybe you’ve had a few drinks and you think, “It won’t hurt to just have one cigarette right now….” If you are in recovery, take some time in the next week or two to develop a relapse prevention plan for the holidays this year. What does your relapse thinking look like? What has worked in the past for you to prevent relapse? What hasn’t worked? What are your triggers that are connected with a desire to use? Make a contract with yourself about what you will do to prevent a relapse this year. And if you haven’t been to a meeting in a while, consider going back. Call your sponsor. Reach out for support.

Speaking of support….

Get support If you are feeling overwhelmed by the holidays this year, I encourage you to consider getting professional support. Contact your local herbalist, therapist, chaplain, minister or healer for help getting through the season. The holidays are rough. You don’t have to go through this alone.


Chuck GoldenrodClaire Bohman is a certified clinical herbalist with over 10 years of experience as a professional healer, working as a mental health professional and community organizer before her work as an herbalist. She brings with her over 20 years of experience as a practitioner of earth based spirituality. She has incorporates this perspective into her work and her approach to healing. She is currently enrolled in a Masters of Divinity program at the Pacific School of Religion and will be ordained as an Interfaith Minister in June 2014. In addition to her practice, she currently serves as a volunteer Chaplain at a Bay Area hospital. If you are interested in a consultation or to inquire about handmade healing medicine, contact or check out her website at

For a limited time, contact Claire for a free 30 min consultation. You can discuss strategies to sustain your spirit this season that make sense for your lifestyle or explore healing options for emotional, spiritual, and physical health challenges you may be facing.

Ancestors and Community


We just passed the midpoint between the fall equinox and the winter solstice this past Halloween. The wheel of time seems to be moving quickly these days. In honor of this powerful time of year, I wanted to address honoring our ancestors and how this can be a bridge to our strengthening and building community.

Turn down the lights and let yourself sink into the mood of this season. Quiet yourself. Many cultures and religions focus on maintaining a connection with our ancestors. Those who have gone before us made it possible for us to be here. Because of this, there is an honoring that is due to our ancestors. By honoring who we come from, we are honoring ourselves as well for we are a part of them and they a part of us.

I am well aware that not all of you reading this may feel an affinity for all of your relatives. Or, you may not know your ancestry.  You can, however, go back and, in the universal sense, find a place in your heart to connect with your ancestors. Our ancestors can also be those who have come before us in the work we are doing in the world. Who has paved the road that you are walking upon? Honor those people as well.

While on that spiritual or energetic plane we have the ancestors surrounding us, on the physical plane we have our community surrounding us. So now is a time more than ever to strengthen those bonds of our communities so that we can continue to stand strong together; in whatever form that takes for each of you.

We are in a time where the news is full of scarcity. Let’s think about how can we work toward abundance. Especially abundance for those whose voices are not being listened to; those people who are struggling every day just to survive and have basic rights.

The first question that comes to mind is what gets in our way? For each of us there is something, or several somethings, that prevent us from making the choice to connect rather than disconnect. To reach out rather than withdraw. Often times it comes down to a fear of something, once you get to the root of the matter.

So, what gets in the way of our building community and sharing what wealth we each have? Whether that is the wealth of money itself, or a gift or talent that you have that you could be sharing more with others. And your most valuable gift to the world, the gift of your unique self. What gets in the way of you sharing  your gifts with the world?

So, as always, be centered in your power, grounded and present, and cultivate compassion.

The plants are here to help us with this process. Here are some suggestions:


Fennel – protective, aids in meditation,  gives the courage to face danger/adversity

Rosemary – protection, makes a good floor wash when cleansing your house

St. John’s Wort – protection, consider applying the oil to your body wherever you feel vulnerable

Motherwort – protection, feeling held, energy of the universal mother

Overcoming fearshh_fall

Orange Rose (Rose Chakra FE by Luna Fina) overcoming known fears and phobias

Blue/Mauve Rose (Rose Chakra FE by Luna Fina) trust in self and intuition

Water goddess temple (Bali Essence from Jane Bell Essences) surrounding ourselves with compassion so we can drop into the deep silence and simplicity of who we really are; for contacting your wise heart and ancient wisdom; room for clarity by stilling the mind (what we often have to get out of our way in order to listen to the heart) and allowing the heart to speak

Persian Lilac (Greek Essences) relates to crown chakra, recognizing our wings to take flight into the realms of the spirit world; when you cannot see the beauty of your life; helps keep your heart in your perspective

Petrified sequoia (Greek Tree Essences from Melissa Assilem) survival of the earth; fears about  survival and physical health; generational curses, terror and shock; rigid with inherited belief systems; brings fluidity and a flexible loyalty

Night-blooming cereus (Hawaiian Essences from Jane Bell Essences) overcoming the fear of our shadows; able to contact the stunning beauty of our human and holy entirety; holds and radiates so much light it shatters the illusions of unworthiness, lack and imperfection

Thurber’s Gilia (Desert Alchemy) for fear of never emerging from a limiting situation; fear that you may emerge from your limitations; feeling entranced by your fears;  penetrates through anything fear related; moving beyond the concept of limitations; accessing the courage to be able to face your fears directly

herbal medicine

mountain forest, photo by Madeline Ryan


Connecting with others

Royal Poinciana (Hawaiian Essences from Jane Bell Essences) brings emotional refuge for those who care for others or need to feel safe and cared for; accessing ancient wisdom and trustworthy holding to seed and receive the future

Oleander  (Essences of Greece from Melissa Assilem) relates to the  throat chakra, about communication; is indicated for people who are always seeking truth from others or demanding others take on a truth that does not belong to them; brings a  faith in ones’ own beliefs as it enhances communication with the soul; lets one shout out their real truth

Crown beard (Desert Alchemy)  indicated when feeling alienation; defeatism, ‘what’s the use’ attitude; difficulty expressing your needs; experiencing the world as unsupportive or even hostile; fatalistic attitude; fear of being tortured for speaking out; silence, withdrawal;  gives: knowing ourselves as worthy of love and abundance; trust that the universe supports us abundantly with what we need; knowing the right actions for relating to people harmoniously; transmutation of fears of hostility from others; aware of seriousness of world situation and working with it while keeping faith and staying optimistic

Mesquite (Desert Alchemy)  indicated: emotional remoteness; aloofness; feeling a spiritual desolation within yourself; feeling separated and remote from others or self;  gives; accessing the willingness to cross your inner void and find deep spiritual richness within yourself and others; comfortable connecting with others from a place of compassion and warmth; standing inside the circle of human love

Rainbow shower tree (Hawaiian Essences from Jane Bell Essences) feeling showered with safety and angelic grace when we feel vulnerable to allow our full beauty and potential to shine through; encourages group harmony by weaving angelic grace into the fabric of family and community

I’m not saying that taking these essences alone will change the world. Rather, you can use these essences to support your being so that you can go out into the world and work toward that change in the way that your particular circumstances and talents allow for. You have to do the work, inner and outer – the plants just support us in our work.

So get creative and make sure you are taking care of yourself and each other. Cultivate compassion. We need to make our work sustainable for the need is great.

Be well,



Sleep Time – Part Two



California Poppy

Now that I have covered some of the basics of sleep and good sleep habits, let’s get into some of the more difficult situations and the herbs that are available.

 The definition of insomnia, according to the Merck Manuel, is “difficulty in sleeping or disturbed sleep patterns; leaving the perception of insufficient sleep.” There are 78 recognized sleep disorders. Insomnia is twice as common in women as men

Many people take some sort of sleeping aid regularly or occasionally whether it is a prescription, supplement, homeopathy or herb. While there are varying degrees of physical addictiveness with these different substances, they all have the potential to be emotionally addictive.

Many times I have heard people say they sleep fine when they take X and when I ask them how they sleep without it, they don’t know because they are afraid to try sleeping without it; even years later.

There is a place and time, often with a chronic illness, when a person loses trust in his or her body to find and maintain balance without intervention. This is why it is important to look at the root cause of why you aren’t sleeping well and not just knock yourself out artificially every night.

The general classification of prescription sleeping pills is hypnotics or sedatives; to varying degrees all drugs in this class are addictive. You build a tolerance (meaning you have to take more to have the same effect) and withdrawal from them can cause a temporary recurrence of sleeplessness. This class of drugs also has an additive affect with other central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) depressants.

In other words combined with alcohol, anti-histamines, anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, or opiates; their actions are even stronger. In the elderly, these medications can cause restlessness, excitement and exacerbate symptoms of organic brain disorders. Always consult a doctor before starting or stopping a prescription medication.

Some folks have the opposite problem, they sleep ‘too much’.  This is more commonly seen with depression or fatigue (from adrenal burnout typically and/or menopause). Or, they are getting a sufficient number of hours of sleep but don’t feel rested.

A quick note on sleep apnea. While there are different types of sleep apnea, the basic concept is that during sleep,  breathing recurrently stops long enough to cause measureable blood deoxygenation. So, the body isn’t getting enough oxygen. This can cause many problems including inflammation, nightmares and day time anxiety.

So, in order to combat insomnia, we need to address the root problem; physical, emotional, spiritual.

Sometimes insomnia is based in the emotions and so you want to consider if it is something old or something new (borrowed or blue…just kidding).  Getting as far as a conscious understanding of what is going on can go a long way. If you need additional support to work through what is keeping you up, seek it out. Your sleep is important and you are worth it.

Now, I know that some of you work third shift/late night/irregular schedules. This can really throw your body off, especially in the sleep department. You will need to pay extra attention to getting the best quality sleep you can knowing that you are working against your natural rhythms in relation to light and dark. Besides light cycles, our circadian rhythms respond to ambient temperature, meal times, stress and exercise. So, if you can’t or don’t want to change your work schedule, you can work with the second list to get your body in a healthy rhythm.

How do you feel when you can’t sleep?

Part of sorting out the puzzle of insomnia is to observe what is happening. If you are lying awake and/or wake up during the night ask yourself the following:

  • Is my body tense? Where?
  • What emotions am I experiencing?
  • What am I thinking about? Is my mind calm or racing?
  • Do I feel safe? Sleep is a vulnerable time.
herb school photo


Do you wake at the same time? If so, one of your organs may be waking you up and some tonics to that organ may help. Below is a highly simplified version of the TCM body clock; just to give you a starting point.  According to Traditional Chinese Medicine the following times relate to the following organs:

7-9pm heart governor

9-11pm triple heater (not one organ correspondence, simplified about metabolism)

11-1am gallbladder

1-3am liver

3-5am lungs

5-7am large intestine

7-9am stomach


I take a two-fold approach when using herbs to help with sleep. For some, all you need to do is work on the lifestyle suggestions discussed earlier and perhaps take a nervous system tonic during the day. Some folks need a formula specifically taken at bed time. Do not take these herbs in combination with sleeping pills without consulting an herbalist.

Sometimes I use one of these and sometimes they are nice in combination. As I’m sure you realize there are many reasons for sleep disturbances, so there is no one perfect sleep formula. Many sleep formulas that you see on the market simply put several nervines together in hopes of knocking you out. That isn’t herbalism, that is using herbs like pharmaceuticals.

Out of respect for the plants and yourself, take the time to make a more thoughtful, elegant formula. Really look at what the problem is and address it. Even a lovely herb sleep formula shouldn’t have to be used in the long term; the underlying issues need to be addressed so that, hopefully, one day, you don’t need any sleep aids.

Here are some plants to consider:

Passionflower – cooling; antispasmodic for the nervous system, relaxes tense muscles, insomnia with body tension component; nerve  pain, improves nerve circulation; hypotensive (lowers blood pressure); sedating, ; contra-indications: strong Rx, hypotension, bradycardia; not in large doses with sleep apnea

Vervain – cooling;  nervous system tonic, mildly sedating, anti-depressant, mind chatter, OCD, anxiety, stimulates and cools liver; headaches due to tension; contraindications: pregnancy, liver disease, low blood pressure, not in large doses with sleep apnea

Chammomile – warming; anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory; anti-spasmodic; calming to nervous system; nervous tension held in stomach;  contra-indications:  excess stomach acid, hot and stimulating in large doses

Motherwort – neutral temperature; nerve and heart tonic, anxiety, menopause, high blood pressure due to stress, menopausal tension, hyperthyroid, sedating; contra-indications: pregnancy


herbal medicine

Lavender. Photo by Claire Bohman.

Lavender – cooling;  anti-depressant (strong) anti-spasmodic especially in stomach; hypotensive; nervine; reduces anxiety; calming; sedating; contra-indications: stimulating to some, strong plant and many folks just adverse to its energy (while others love it).


California Poppy – neutral; anti-anxiety, restless leg syndrome; helpful in insomnia where the environment is too stimulating and difficulty staying asleep; somewhat pain relieving; contra-indications: check w/ practitioner with Rx


Oats – as tonic, not necessarily effective as direct sleep formula but as day time support; adrenal and nerve tonic; mild anti-depressant, nutritive, best in small frequent doses; aids in recovery from chronic illness

Skullcap – cold; tonic to nervous system; relaxes body from nervous tension; antispasmodic (also helpful with restless leg syndrome); hypotensive, decreases nerve pain and inflammation; reactivity; not sedating; twitchy nerves; contra-indications: hypotension, migraines (with care)

Valerian root; dry can aggravate depression for some folks and cause more of the hang over feeling some people get with valerian; recommend fresh root only on this one, in general; warming; analgesic (relaxes muscle tension); hypotensive, especially if stress induced; sedating, decreases anxiety, tremors and panic;  contra-indications: stimulating to a small number of people but irritating if you are one of them; do not use long term, pregnancy, breast feeding, depression, low blood pressure; strong Rx

Now, after reading about these plants, remember to utilize the strategies in both parts of this article. The goal in holistic medicine is to address the root of the problem. So, even if you are using an herb instead of a pill, it isn’t holistic unless you are looking at the bigger picture; as opposed to substituting an herb for a pill.

So take a deep breath, slow down, relax  and …


Sleep well!


Sleep Time – Part One


To listen to a radio broadcast on this topic click here.

Sleeping well is an integral part of our health. Sleeping well is also something a lot of people struggle with. If sleep is not your issue, hooray! Get off the computer and go outside.

While there are many possible physical causes of sleep disturbances,  it is important to look at the whole picture. Many factors go into sleep quality; stress levels, eating habits, pre-bed activities and hormones, just to mention a few.

It is also important to look at your relationship to sleep. Many people do not allow themselves enough time for sleep and are in a constant state of sleep deprivation often supplemented with a stimulant of choice; coffee and nicotine being common ones.

What does this say about how you are taking care of yourself if you won’t even allow time to rest?  I understand many people have busy lives, sometimes fueled by economic necessity and/or child rearing, but there is a point where something has to give and sleep gets its time.

For some people sleep is the only time they ever slow down and relax. So slowing down, in and of itself,  is unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable. It is a lot to expect of yourself to go from 110% all day and then abruptly stop and sleep.

In some ways, a lack of sleep can be more taxing on the mind and spirit than the body. What kind of message are you sending to yourself if you constantly deprive yourself of something so vital and nurturing as sleep?

We also need to allow ourselves our dream time, time to connect with our sub conscious and inner wisdom; this too helps us to keep our balance in this very out of balance world.


Why is sleep important?

Just what is your body doing for all those hours while you could think of many other ways to fill that time. Experts say adults need an average of 7-9 hours of sleep per night. For teens 8.5 – 9.25 hours per night are recommended.  It is a myth that we need less sleep as we age. Our sleep is just more likely to be interrupted as we get older.

Lack of sleep can be linked to : weight gain (hormone disruption affects growth hormone, appetite and insulin), Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, negative mood and behavior, decreased productivity, poor memory, lack of alertness and safety issues (at home, work and on the road).

Sleep contributes to healthy immune system and more balanced hormones as well as emotional and spiritual relaxation.


Napping isn’t just for five-year-olds   2012-12-21 12.39.41

I’ve been delighted to see articles about napping in several types of media lately. Most of the chatter seems to be stemming from a fairly recent study on naps published by the US Department of Vetereans Affairs Medical Center .

When we are young and when we are old, we are encouraged to nap. However, it seems our culture has limited more and more the acceptable ages for napping. Take back the power of a nap!


Here are some reasons why you might benefit from a nap:

  • Increase or restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%.
  • Scheduled napping can help those who are affected by narcolepsy.
  • Napping has the psychological benefits of providing relaxation and rejuvenation.  A nap can feel like a luxury, time away, without the hassle and expense of an actual vacation.


Tips for a successful nap:

  • A short nap (20-30 minutes)  is usually recommended for short-term alertness. This type of nap provides significant benefit for improved alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy or interfering with nighttime sleep.
  • Find as restful of a place as you can and that the temperature in the room is comfortable. Try to limit the amount of noise heard and the extent of the light filtering in. While some studies have shown that just spending time in bed can be beneficial, it is better to try and get some actual sleep
  • If you take a nap too late in the day, it might affect your nighttime sleep patterns and make it difficult to fall asleep at your regular bedtime. If you try to take it too early in the day, your body may not be ready for more sleep. So find you optimal time.


Good sleep habits

  • What to avoid before bed: all the blue screens in your life (TV, computer, smart phone, etc.), food, vigorous exercise, lots liquid
  • What are your body’s natural tendencies/rhythms? Are you working with them or against?
  • Create a bed time routine. This will help signal your subconscious that it is time to slow down.
  • Is your bedroom esthetically pleasing? Comfortable? Calming? Dark? Quiet?
  • Lower your stress level during day so you have less winding down to do at night.
  • Get enough exercise but avoid strenuous exercise up to three hours before bed. Exercise earlier in the day can aid sleep.
  • Reduce stimulants; especially in the late afternoon and evening, but also during the day. Remember that nicotine is also a stimulant.
  • Avoid alcohol. While it makes some people sleepy it can backfire when it wears off. If you are awake when it wears off you can feel energized and if you are asleep when it wears off you may wake up.


july 2012 054Essences

Here are some examples of essences that can be helpful for a good night’s sleep:

Peace Beach  (Hawaiian Essences, changing the habit of perpetual motion to allow our bones, blood, nerves, senses, brains and fluids to rest; deep interconnected relaxation that restores our peace and protects our sustainability

Dolphin Blessings (Hawaiian Essences, helps you to cultivate an affinity for the resting cycle and an awareness of restoration through connectedness; deeply experiencing how rest, play love and joy recalibrate our nervous system toward greater health and well-being

Olive (Greek Tree Essences, builds and maintains new pathways in the brain and slows down the striving

Moon Milk (Planetary Essences, comforting, nourishing, gentle; brings in the energy of the moon, the time when most people sleep

Japanese Beautyberry ( Flora of Asia, ) toner, provides a base level of peaceful support and trust that all will be well; the energy encourages harmonizing with challenging situations, to find the place of peace and ease within conflict

Giant Burnet  (Flora of Asia, deeply calming; releases heat and aggravation from the body; soothes the heart and eases a nervous stomach


So, take a look at your relationship to sleeping and relaxation. Come back in a couple of weeks and I’ll go over some of the common sleep problems and what we can do about them. In the meantime, take a nap!


Sweet dreams!


Spring is on the wind


herbal medicine


Welcome to spring! The spring equinox, from a scientific perspective, is when the light and the dark are in perfect balance. This happens on the spring equinox and the fall equinox. Our days will continue to lengthen up until the summer solstice.

Spring in the mountains, where I live, can bring sunny, short-sleeve-weather days or snow. We really get to see the adaptability of the plants as they work with dramatic temperature changes and variable conditions. Looking to nature is a good way to check in with yourself.

As this transition happens from winter to spring, allow yourself some ease and gentleness. Don’t dive into full-speed-ahead-gear all at once. Winter is a slow time and spring is a very active time, so find your balance through this transition.

People often get sick during season changes; especially the two that bookmark winter. This winter has also produced some particularly strong bugs wreaking havoc on many people. So, easy does it. Keep building your immunity (think of astragalus or medicinal mushrooms) and use your common sense.

Spring can be a good time to do a gentle cleanse, however, if you are sick or just recovering…wait. You want to cleanse when you are feeling strong, especially if you are doing it without the guidance of a professional. Cleanses when you are sick or weak often deplete you further and weaken, rather than strengthen you.

During spring we want to lighten our foods, start moving away from the heavier and fattier foods of winter and bring in more fresh, green vegetables and fruit as they come into season.

Spring is about new beginnings, creativity, sexuality and birth. We can feel this in our lives even if the weather doesn’t indicate that spring is in the air. It is a good time to start projects, create change and just plain create.

In order to start with the new, sometimes we need to clean out the clutter and make space; whether that is on a physical, emotional or spiritual level.

Below are some essences to support your energetic shift into spring. It is time to readjust and find our new balance to reflect the changes of nature. I’ve loosely sorted the essences into different categories; motivation, awareness/clarity, creativity, sexuality and courage.



Saturn Sipper (Keeping Time Planetary Essences) clarifying, strengthening resolve

Mars (Keeping Time Planetary Essences) upright, rooted presence

Sticky Geranium (Alaskan Essences) tendency to procrastinate, feeling unfocused and indecisive;  lacking energy to reach goals; helps move to decisive and focused action; enables you to move on to the next step with focus and sense of order;  tunes into inner knowing and releases old programming and resistance;  helps free up inner potentials and move in life with energy and enthusiasm

Ladies’ Tresses (Alaskan Essences) lacking enthusiasm, prone to procrastination;  promotes awareness of our life goals; become aligned with soul forces and move forward along a chosen path; helps release trauma that can be in the way of accessing that information

Cliff rose (Desert Alchemy) unfocused and unmotivated;  meaning to manifest creative idea or project but not quite following through due to lack of clarity about intentions;  uniting will, intention and power to act;  helps keep you connected to ‘the source’ and bring that energy into a manifested



Diamond (Alaskan Essences) lack of clarity about the future;  confused about what one is supposed to do; helps to see through illusion; strengthens ability to act in alignment with our purpose

Paper Birch (Alaskan Essences) difficulty making decisions that affect life direction; unsure of where we are on our path; lacking determination to reach goals; gives calm determination, steady awareness of purpose and focus that comes from a clear connection with deeper levels of the self

Aquamarine (Alaskan Essences) maybe you think too much, this essence helps when you have repetitive thoughts that are difficult to let go of; not present to others because of being preoccupied; overstimulated from study, worry, thinking; brings a calm cooling clarity to an overactive mind

Pluto  (Keeping Time Planetary Essences)  deep, spacious, transformative

Greenland icecap (Alaskan Essences) helps us to become more aware of our own deep impulse for change and the fears that can obstruct those positive impulses; helps to embrace rather than fight those fears so they can become guidance for our movement from old to new



Wild Iris (Alaskan Essences) lack of trust in one’s own capacity to create; blocking creative expression because of unwillingness to share self with others; helps create new thought structures that encourage the flow of our creative energies; stimulates creative awareness and potential and allows to flow in a relaxed and focused way from our center

Bougainvillea (Desert Alchemy) agitation or nervousness, feeling uninspired; creativity blocked or not flowing naturally; grief; relaxes and slows the body, especially through deepening the breathing; calms  the mind allowing for reflection and inner listening; helps sadness be felt without suffering



Green Jasper  (Alaskan Essenc es)synchronizes body rhythms with earthly rhythms especially when there has been a disruption to the natural flow (as in abuse); restores earthly sensuality; connects us with our instincts; opens to the energy and grace of the wild feminine

Pomegranate (Desert Alchemy) helps free feminine, creative, sexual, artistic energies; for women acceptance of femininity, for men enhances relationship to inner feminine

Cardinal Flower (Desert Alchemy) allowing only your senses to dictate your responses; feeling at the mercy of your sexual desires; helps with conscious use and direction of life force, mastery of the body and senses; transforming sexual energy into other usable types of energy



Alpine Azalea (Alaskan Essences) self-doubt, low self-esteem; for those who only have conditional self-acceptance; connects with a vibration of love and helps to release old patterns of self-doubt; as old patterns are released the corresponding parts of the body where these patterns were being held come into balance; this strengthens the overall flow of vital life energy

Tamarack (Alaskan Essences) no confidence in one’s unique skills and potentials; helps maintain a conscious, grounded connection with the source of our own individuality; enhances awareness of who we are, strengthens knowing of our true selves, unique abilities and what we can do


Enjoy the sun and may your sprouts (in whatever form they take) be vibrant!

Be well!


Good Grief


herbal medicine


To listen to a radio broadcast on this topic go to:


Grief is an unavoidable, and important, part of life. Grief can also be really challenging to find a balance with. Grief is often not dealt with very well within our culture and so when we are going through it, there isn’t always the support and understanding that we need to go through our process; even, or should I say especially, within ourselves.

When I talk about grieving, I am talking about loss. Loss could mean the death of a loved one, human or otherwise. Loss can also mean the loss of a job, home, relationship, you name it.  Beyond the personal, we also have more global issues that can bring us grief; war, global warming, lack of food, water, medicine. The list goes on.

Moving from one stage of life to another can be a time of grieving as well as celebration. Our dominant culture doesn’t offer much in the way of meaningful rites of passage for moving from one stage of life to another so these can be times when people get stuck in the grief process.

It is important, because it is so often not talked about, that each of us find our own balance with grief. Before, I mentioned the word process. Grief is not a moment, but a process, especially over big losses like the death of a loved one. So, finding that balance of feeling and processing  your feelings and going back and forth is important. Good days and bad days.

Like most of life, if you are in your power and in your heart, most things become more clear. So you will know when to have more compassion for yourself and you will know when you need to get yourself out of bed and into the world. And you will know better what you need so you can express those needs to the people in your life who are there to support you. Sometimes the well-meaning just miss the target and can make you feel worse. Grieving is an individual process that looks a little different for each of us. If the people around you are not comfortable with your grief, you may need to expand your web of support. That can be part of the gift of times of transition.


herb school

Bleeding heart. Photo by Claire Bohman

The herbs and essences

There are, thankfully, an almost endless list of plants and essences to support us. Here are just a few to give you an idea of what you might be looking for. I have them loosely categorized, of course there is overlap, into the following categories: shock/trauma, nurturing, expressing feelings, transformation/transition and reconnecting with life.



Comfrey – feeling cut off at the knees; trauma from sudden loss; helps re-integrate self and experience; brings structure and form; helps with transitions, especially grief

Skullcap – gives ability to handle things; helps with shock or fears; allows to grieve without being edgy; gets out of mind and into heart and body

Judas Tree (Greek Tree Essences) supports you to retrieve pieces of  your soul that were unwittingly given away or left during trauma

Tamarisk  (Greek Tree Essences)   relates to the breath chakra which includes the lungs; helps you to relate to the leaves of the tree which exchange the life breath with us; for those who cannot take a breathe without trauma; releases unwashable grief and repairs the body’s filters



Honey Paw Elixir (Planetary Essences/Elixirs) – for deep nuturing and feeding from an archaic root

 Moon Milk  (Planetary Essences/Elixirs) comforting, nourishing, gentle

 Royal Poinciana (Hawaiian Essences) brings emotional refuge for those who care for others or need to feel safe and cared for; helps you to access ancient wisdom and an openness to receive the future

Water Goddess Temple (Bali Essences) surrounds you with a mist of compassion so that you can drop into the deep silence and simplicity of who you really are; connecting with your wise heart and ancient wisdom; makes room for clarity by stilling the mind and allowing the heart to speak; grounds your focus in your heart

 Dolphin Blessings (Hawaiian Essences) cultivating affection for the resting cycle and an awareness of restoration through connectedness; deeply experiencing how rest, play, love and joy recalibrate our nervous systems towards greater health and well being

Peace Beach (Hawaiian Essences) changing the habit of perpetual motion to allow our bones, blood, nerves, senses, brains and fluids to rest; bring a deep interconnected relaxation that restores your peace and protects sustainability; good too if burnt out from being caretaker

Ancient Power (Bali Essences) access core power and strength of the earth connect with own authority, power of truly being present of being able to move forward in life with core strength; balanced masculine energy of grounded strength and authority, sense of gentle and safe containment; act from heart with intention and authority


Expressing feelings

Hackberry (Desert Alchemy) resistance to grieving process; seeing yourself as inadequate for the length or depth of your grieving; resistance to allowing old grief to surface and be felt; gives permission to feel grief; helps complete or continue unfinished or unresolved grief

Wolfberry (Desert Alchemy) deep sadness from past; holding onto or denying grief; feeling overwhelmed by too many things happening at once; gives: allows personal grief or sadness to take you to a transpersonal level; empathy; feeling emotions while not being victimized by them

Blue Elf Viola (Alaskan Essences) – emotional repression; unable to get in touch with and process deep-seated anger, rage and frustration; difficulty resolving conflicts, esp in group situations; gives: calming vibration supports the process of understanding and releasing deeply held anger and frustration; understand the root of these emotions; brings heart into the process, forgive those responsible (including self) and bring whole emotional cycle to completion

Bougainvilla (Desert Alchemy) agitation or nervousness especially if accompanied by shallow breathing or a spastic diaphragm; feeling uninspired; creativity blocked; suffering with grief; relaxes and slows the body through relaxing and deepening the breathing; calms the mind allowing self-reflection and inner listening; helps us to find peace and ease in the face of hardship or crisis through inner stillness; facilitates an easiness with feeling grief and sadness; helping sadness to be felt without suffering


Transformation/Transitioning from life in this form to the next – for the person dying and/or their loved ones


Beyond Time with Sister Infinity Elixir  (Planetary Essences/Elixirs)  for stepping through a doorway into a vast expanse

Restructuring Elixir  (Planetary Essences/Elixirs) for strength and focus in the midst of intense transformation

Pomegranate (Greek Tree Essences)  allows you to recognize when closure is needed

Persian Lilac  (Greek Tree Essences) crown chakra, recognizing our wings to take flight into the realms of the spirit world; when you cannot see the beauty in your life and  see everything in terms of monetary worth; helps keep your heart in focus

Banyan Tree (Hawaiian Essences) strongly rooted presence that helps us stay grounded while integrating change and growth during times of expansion good for times when our life is up in the air. Soothes our nervous system when we feel tired and wired

Thurbur’s Gilia (Desert Alchemy) fear that you may never emerge from a limiting situation or from your own limitations; feeling entranced by your fears; fear from losing previous sense of self; gives insight and movement through anything fear related; moves beyond concept of limitation; courage to face fears; comfortable in limbo state while old self has dissolved and new self is not yet apparent

Sphagnum moss (Alaskan Essences)  feelings of failure, overly critical and judgmental of one’s healing journey; unable to see the positive side of transformational experiences; supports our ability to turn inappropriate judgment and criticism into unconditional love and acceptance; helps open the heart in the moment when the urge to judge or criticize first appears and clothe the object of our judgment with unconditional love


Reconnecting with life

Sweetness of Life Elixir  (Planetary Essences/Elixirs)  for opening to life, with strength and support

Aliveness Elixir  (Planetary Essences/Elixirs) for gently powerful embodiment with a sense of graceful fruitfulness

Sun Shine  (Planetary Essences/Elixirs) warm, uplifting, radiant

Jupiter Juice  (Planetary Essences/Elixirs) expansive, smooth, grounding

Yellow Rose (luna fina) bringing in your own sun

Violet Rose (luna fina) awakening to love and light

Chiming Bells (Alaskan Essences) if you are feeling sad, discouraged, worn out and feeling out of touch with life; brings regeneration and renewal when you have lost track of who you are; helps reestablish peace and stability at the physical level of your being and opens you to the joy of physical existence

Plumeria (Bali Essences) brings sensual aliveness; embodying pleasure; helps you to feel pleasure in every cell of your body; encourages you to take care of your body and reclaim and own heart connected physical sensuality and pleasure

Tundra Rose (Alaskan Essences) motivated by fears, especially of dying; uninspired; lack of clarity in thought or expression; if you have lost hope; communicates a love for life; affirmation of the power of life over death; brings our deepest fears of living into the light of love so we can be motivated by a love of life rather than a fear of death


So don’t run out and get all of these at once; or buy them all for you friend who is really going through it, you’ll just overwhelm them. Select one or two, three at most to start working with. Get to know them. Notice how they move in you and see where they support you to move through your process.

Most of all, remember to have patience and be gentle with yourself.

Be Well!




If you can’t find these essences at your local herb store, go to the individual websites for further information.

Rose Chakra Flower Essences –

Greek Tree Essences –

Planetary Essences –

Hawaiian and Bali Essences –

Desert Alchemy –

Alaskan Essences –