Archives for Otter Notes


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.



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,



Embracing Fall


It is fall again, the Wolf time of the year. A time to be with community and to help the community.  Fall is also about abundance. The harvest is over and now it is the time to make sure everyone in the community has enough to get through the winter. So fall is also about generosity; of material things and also of spirit.

This is when we share what we have harvested from the garden, the medicines we have made during the year, our time and energy.  This is when we call on the wolf spirit, those who watch over and take care of the community. Do my relations, friends and neighbors have enough food, heat, warm things for the coming winter? What can I do to help with that?

Fall is the time to start slowing down at night, to start turning our energy inward some.  It is the start of the quieting down time.  This is a good time to do a short cleanse for a few days; to change the body both physically and energetically. It is the start of the story telling time.

Out West here, it was a rough year weather-wise. In Northern California in the county I live in, we had the hottest and driest time in over 100 years.  Creeks that have never dried up, including ours  on the land did. The plants could barely live, much less thrive.  There has been a holding feeling, a trying to get through until the rains come feeling.  We have seen the bears coming down looking for water and the snakes in places they usually aren’t.

This is a year to only take plants the plants you absolutely need. It is a good lesson in not going to other places to harvest plants unless you have a long standing relationship with that place  so that you know if  it has been a very hard year on all the beings and taking is not  the order of things at this time.

For the last month the birds have been coming down to the land from the higher country and also the migrating birds and butterflies have been coming through.  They have really been eating the seeds that are around.  I highly recommend that you not cut down your plants in the garden until the spring.  Not only do the birds need the seeds, but they use them for perches and tuck-in places during the winter rains and snows.   All those plants people cut down to make the place look nicer the animals really need.

Photo by Claire Bohman.

Photo by Claire Bohman.

This is the time of year we start to go out and spread seed from the plants that are here.  This year, after seeing how little has grown and that there are less seeds, we have decided to not spread the seeds but leave them for the animals and the birds. It  has been a hard year on them and they will need all the help to get through the winter.  The acorn harvest was much smaller this year, especially after last year’s huge crop.  The animals are having to work harder to find and store their food.

If you are someone who feeds the birds, fall is especially important for them.  For the migrating birds as well as those getting ready for the winter.  Our ‘official’ herb garden is crazy-full with birds eating all the herb seeds and the last round of strawberries and raspberries we left for them.  Even though it feels odd to not be out there spreading seed, it seems like the right decision.

This is a good time to start the deep immune tonics for the fall and winter time.  To start cooking with the medicinal mushrooms and astragalus, if you aren’t already.  To start taking elderberry tea or tincture and to remember to cover up your kidneys and throat from the fall winds.

It is also the time to start to go to bed earlier and sleep more.  Fall is the time to wean away from the cooler, juicier summer foods and start having root crops and bitter greens (which are great all year) and heavier grains and beans.  We have already had really early frosts this year, temps in the high 20’s and low 30’s, and building fires to heat our home.

This is also a time many people are doing heavier work to get ready for winter.  Remember to use one of the best Wolf medicines out there and one of my favorite plants, True Solomon’s Seal.  It is perfect to make the dried root into an oil and rub into muscles and ligaments to keep them from stiffening up and being more vulnerable to tears and rips.  Also remember that True Solomon’s is an endangered plant and to either grow your own and or buy from one of the many organic medicinal plant farms out there. Don’t buy wild-crafted True Solomon’s Seal!

You can also use this plant as a spirit medicine for the fall. It is great for turning toward new ways of being; making the changes you know are needed to have a more balanced self.  You only need 1-3 drops of the tincture once a day or one sip of tea.  If you are using the oil topically, you don’t need to take it any other way.

This is also an amazing time to be in the garden and just walk very slowly around and also to sit quietly for long periods of time.  The energies have slowed down and the plants have a-lot to say right now before they pull their energy underground for the winter.  The veils are thin.  I love meditating in the fall and winter gardens.  The energy seems to really help guide my meditation.

july-2012-054The lighting is also amazing this time of year, its angles are stunning.  Up here,we have lots of golds and oranges and reds going on. You can really notice micro-climates in the area with the color changes and the falling of the leaves.

This is a good time to start to understand what it is to go deeply inside oneself in order to come outside and understand the whole.  Another Wolf medicine helpful for this is  American Wolfberry.  It lets you fully understand your own energy and the parts of yourself you are not filling and or using; the parts of yourself that have been un-used.  Again you only need 1-3 drops once daily.

So this is what we are doing here at Blue Otter School.  Splitting wood, watching and putting the gardens to rest for the winter, putting in cover crops and mulching deeply for the snows (hopefully) to come.  Preparing ourselves with prayer and meditation  and sleep for the classes starting soon.

We also ask that you put out prayers and thoughts, and physical help if you can, for our First Nation’s sisters and brothers , aunties and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers all around this country and all countries  who are putting their lives on the line fighting for the land, the waters and our lives and the future generations.  It is our role as humans to care-take our earth for all beings now, those who have come before and those yet to come.

As herbalists, I think we especially need to make that a strong part of our lives and herbal work.  To make sure we are caretaking the land, putting roots in the ground, planting trees, spreading seed and insuring that the plant people who give us everything are thriving and growing in numbers.

Be well, stay healthy and walk in peace and kindness.



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 –



How to make an herbal vinegar


herbal medicine

Photo by Claire Bohman.

Herbal vinegars are a great way to bridge that oh-so-fine-line between food and medicine. They can also be a nice way to introduce herbs to the uninitiated and those with sensitive palates. Once made, they are quick and easy to use, good for those busy people in your life who can’t take the time to make some tea. Last, but certainly not least, they are delicious.

Herbal vinegars can be sprinkled over your food or used as a base for making your own salad dressing. Some herbs actually work better as tea or vinegar than tincture because they need either the long cooking and/or the acidity of the vinegar to pull out their minerals and make them more bio-available.

The other good news is that making an herbal vinegar is quite simple. Here’s how you do it:

  • Start with a clean, glass jar with a plastic lid. If you don’t have a plastic lid, cut a square out of plastic bag or use some plastic wrap to cover the jar before putting on the metal lid. Vinegar will eat through metal over time. If that happens you have corroded metal in your vinegar; besides not tasting very good it is not good for you!
  • Choose an organic vinegar that is on the light side; such as apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar. A vinegar such as balsamic will mask the flavor of the herbs you infuse in it.
  • Fill your jar with herbs, fresh or dry, and gently pack them in if they are fluffy.
  • Pour in the vinegar covering the herbs ½ to 1” above the line of the herbs. If the herbs are not staying under the surface of the vinegar you can put some rocks (clean and non-porous) in the jar to hold the herbs down. The herbs will oxidize, turn black and eventually mold if they are exposed to air.
  • Keep your herbal vinegar in a cool, dark place – like a cabinet – for 2-4 weeks.
  • Strain out the plant matter and you have a vinegar.


additional tips

If the vinegar is cloudy you have probably used an herb that contains starches, which is fine, just keep it in the refrigerator since the starches will cause it to spoil more quickly. Most herbal vinegars, if stored properly, can last up to a year and are a great way to take your herbs.

You can get creative and play with the colors as well. I learned from Karyn Sanders to put fresh chive blossoms in rice wine vinegar and it will turn a lovely shade of lavender. Also consider the color in such plants as lavender and red basil.

Speaking of basil, when it really takes off in your garden, you can have more than you know what to do with. Consider making an herbal vinegar. It is a great way to keep large quantities of fresh herb from going bad.

So, as Julia Child would say “Bon Appetit!”

Be well.



Rattle Those Bones ! – Part 2

alternative healing

Red Banks on Mt. Shasta. Photo by Sarah Holmes.

To listen to a radio broadcast on this topic from The Herbal Highway, go to this link: 

Back to basics, back to our bones. In my previous article I covered osteoporosis, basic bone info and focused on diet and exercise. In this installment I’ll cover supplements, and herbs; for physical, emotional and spiritual support.


If you have received a diagnosis of osteopenia or osteoporosis, you may want to consider supplementation. Also, if your digestive system is not working well and you are not absorbing all of the nutrients that you are eating, you  may also want to consider supplementation.

If you simply aren’t eating well it is really best to put your time, energy and money into eating better rather than taking supplements. It is possible to over-do supplements, contrary to popular opinion there can be too much of a good thing. So, the safest route is to eat what you need. Eating well is better for your overall health anyway.

All of that being said, there are two supplements to consider for bone health; vitamin D and calcium.


Vitamin D

  • vitamin D along with adequate sunshine helps your body to absorb calcium
  • adequate sunshine is defined as three times per week for about 10-15 minutes; if you are younger and spend time outside regularly.  ‘They’ say older folks need more sunlight because there is an assumption that they are getting out less and their body is now less able to utilize sunlight efficiently. If you are older and spend quality time outdoors, you are likely getting enough sunlight and using it well because your body is used to doing that function. Younger folks who never spend time outside may need additional sunlight along with their elders. For folks that cannot get outside,  full spectrum lighting is important.
  • The recommended dose for adults is 400- 800 IU; for men and women over 50 it is 800-1000 IU



  • Calcium is an important mineral for our bone composition. Calcium citrate is the form most recommended.
  • A recent study found no link between increased calcium supplementation and increased heart risk; which has been a concern to some people. (National Osteoporosis Foundation, 2012, )
  • Calcium is also important for healthy nerves and proper heart function.
  • The recommended dose for adults is 1000 mg/day; women over 50, 1,200 mg/day; men over 50, 1000 mg/day.



botanical medicine

Photo by Moose Wesler.

Tea and herbal vinegar are the best ways to take your high mineral herbs. Think of these herbs as concentrated food. Vinegar is especially helpful as it makes the minerals easier to assimilate. I’m not including the full list of what these herbs do, but giving you a glimpse with a focus on bone health.

  •  Oats – (avena sativa, not oatmeal); straw for tea or vinegar or fresh milky top tincture or vinegar; thought of mostly for adrenal and nervous system support, but is highly nutritive and good for the bones as well
  •  Nettles – aerial parts;  alterative, anti-histamine, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, astringent; nutritive: calcium and magnesium, to name a few;  improves hair, skin, nails;  warning: do not use leaves post flower (oxalate builds up and can cause kidney irritation/stomach upset)
  •  Red clover – flowering tops; nutritive: high vitamin and mineral content; alkalizes blood; anti-histamine; warning: fresh plant is estrogenic
  •  Alfalfa – aerial parts; nutritive: high vitamin and mineral content


The following herbs are  less food  and more medicine. So that means, take them with more caution and check with your health care practitioner first if you have a serious illness and/or are taking pharmaceuticals.

  • Comfrey – leaf; one of its common names is ‘knit bone’;  anti-inflammatory; demulcent;  stimulates laying down of bone matrix; helps heal broken bones;  heals damaged tissue, encourages cellular growth; aids connective tissue healing; also high in calcium and other important minerals; warning: do not use on punctures or deep wounds; leaf is safer than root for liver concerns
  •  Yellow dock – root; cold and stimulating; blood cleanser;  anti-microbial; liver stimulant; high in manganese, magnesium, calcium and other minerals and vitamins; warning: not for acute liver issues/disease, not for long term use
herbal medicine

Photo by Karyn Sanders.

I second that emotion…

Last but not least, let’s talk about the emotional and spiritual aspects of osteoporosis.


On a metaphorical  level, our bones are our structure, the frame, what holds us up, our foundation. This can take us to issues of feeling supported, ‘does anyone have my  back?’ ‘feeling stabbed in the back’. People often experience their back going out when they have had an emotional upset or betrayal with a close person in their lives. Even though our skeleton is throughout our body, I also relate it most strongly to the root or first chakra; which is again, about our foundation.


It is not uncommon for people with osteoporosis to feel vulnerable and fragile and get very fearful. That real fear of breaking bones can permeate other areas and become a generalized fear. This isn’t helpful. It is important to stay strong in your spirit while you strengthen your bones. Otherwise it can be easy to feel fragile on all levels.


So, when we have a physical issue, it is important to also look at possible emotional, spiritual and energetic patterns as well. You can argue, and it will vary from person to person, what came first; the physical imbalance or the energetic one. In either case, both need to be addressed if both are being impacted. With that in mind, here are some essences to consider. You can think of this list as a starting point, if you don’t find one that speaks directly to you, it will give you an idea of what direction to go in:


First chakra specific: ancestors, survival, root, grounding


  • Red rose (Luna Fina, connection to earth and sky


  • Valonia Oak (Greek Tree Essences, connecting to the earth’s center, awakening kundalini, brings self-reliance; walking without crutches


  • Petrified sequoia (Greek Tree Essences, survival of the earth, survival fears and physical health; inherited belief systems


Gem essences

Jane Bell once explained that the gem essences in general help with structure, provide a matrix. Since they are mineral and our bones are largely mineral, there is a nice affinity here. Here are a couple of gem essences, from Alaskan Essences ( that you might consider:


  • Peridot – projecting failure when attempting to learn or do something new; feeling unprotected while in ‘the void’; provides support and protection for any new cycle of growth; supports the heart; supports deep experiences of healing and transformation


  • Aventurine – lacking stamina; wanting to quit when faced with obstacles; fearful when facing the unknown; strengthens the central, vertical axis (sounds like the spine, right?) which stabilizes us during expansion; provides energetic support structure that helps us move into and through new experiences with grace and perseverance


Other supportive essences:

  • Aloe (Desert Alchemy, – impatience with healing process; resistance to allowing anything you have ‘stuffed’ or repressed to come up; key quality of this essence is feeling supported from within self (so you are providing your own support/structure); cultivates patience and surrender to the healing process; gets you in touch with the underlying joy


  • Milky Nipple Cactus (Desert Alchemy, ) – problems with mother connection;  issues about nurturing; needing constant attention from others; avoidance of deep issues; brings calming, rooting, belonging to the earth, autonomy; helps ground energy firmly to the earth; brings a secure sense of connectedness to the physical level


  • Restructuring elixir  (Keeping Time,  – for strength and focus in the midst of intense transformation


  • Still Here elixir (Keeping Time, – helps you to be present by rooting you in the earth and attuning to the north star


  • Coral (Hawaiian Essences, ) – creating structures for pleasure and nourishment in our lives to allow fluidity of movement within our bodies and in the world; good for nourishing bones and fluids; again an essence made from something largely mineral


  • Lava (Hawaiian Essences, ) – holds the wild creative potential to flow with change rather than resist it; owning our power to manifest intention into form; resistance; here we have literally, liquid, fluid rock


Hopefully, this has given you some pause for thought to look at how you are nourishing your bones and how you are nourishing your spirit around issues of strength, support and grounding. Take the time to evaluate where you stand in your self care around your bones and see what steps you can take toward improving your attention to this important part of our bodies. Afterall, the foundation is what all else is built upon.

Be well!