Archives for Otter Notes

Winter Visions

As we settle into winter it is that time to go within. An important part of winter is slowing down and that slowing down gives us the opportunity to tune in; to ourselves and each other. Even if your life is just as busy during the winter, I encourage you to make more effort to relax, pay more attention to your dreams and allow your visions to come forward. Even if your life looks the same from the outside, you can make subtle shifts in your internal process that can make a big difference in your experience.

Winter is dream time, visioning time. This is a good time to make the effort to make what is in your subconscious conscious. Let your heart and imagination soar and explore what it is you desire; explore where you want to focus your energy in the coming seasons.

 And don’t worry about the details of how to make this happen. As most writers will tell you, don’t edit as you write. Let it flow and then you can go back and revise. Otherwise it is really easy to get stuck and not write anything. Or in this context, get stuck and not imagine something better.

So ask yourself, what is your vision for your life? In the coming months? one year from now?  five years from now? 20 years from now? What is your vision for the world? In the coming months? years?

As we become more clear, we are better equipped to make any changes that need to happen. This clarity enables us to renew our commitments and be clear about our priorities. This  allows us to be more solid and stronger in ourselves, so that whatever is happening around us, we can stay on the path that we have chosen; or, at least not be blown too far off course.

Take some time to connect with yourself, in all the ways that work for you. If you aren’t sure how to connect with yourself, there are many ways to consider; talking with a trusted person, art, dance/movement, meditation, Divination tools such as tarot and the I Ching are helpful for some people to connect with their subconscious. Ritual and ceremony help us to see more clearly into ourselves and our dreams.

One way to connect with your deeper self is through dreams and visioning. I’m not a big advocate of dream books per se, as symbols can mean such different things to different people. My approach is to sit with what those images mean to you. Sometimes a dream is just a releasing of the day. Sometimes a dream is trying to get our attention and tell us something. And sometimes a dream is prophetic. In any case, our dreams allow us a window into our relaxed, subconscious.

If you don’t remember your dreams, you can work on this. Keep a pen and paper and a small light by your bed. When you wake, allow yourself to be still and quiet and see if you can remember an image or fragment of your dream. Some people say to set an alarm and you will often be woken during a dream, which can make it easier to access. I don’t recommend that for anyone with sleep issues, but as an occasional tool, that can be helpful.

If you really can’t access your dreams, you can work with your subconscious during your waking hours in some of the ways suggested above. If you have easy access to your dreams you might consider planning your dreams; having a focus/intention for something you want to envision or a problem to work out.

First, you need to relax so do what you know works for you and allow yourself some time and space this winter to relax. What follows are some medicines that can help you with your winter visions.

Tiger’s eye (Alaskan Essences) lets you release false emotions in dreams; see the different between your emotions and your true self

Scepter amethyst (Alaskan Essences)  lets your energy connect with universe and spirits to receive and hear messages

Dolphin blessings (Hawaiian Essences from Jane Bell) helps those who can’t calm down enough to open up to dreaming; slows you to a natural rhythm

Whale (Hawaiian Essences from Jane Bell) lets’ you understand messages, visions, teachings that happen in our dreams; good for planning dreams around our patterns

Northern Lights (Alaskan Essences) takes you to other places on consciousness in yourself; break past limitations

Full moon reflection (Alaskan Essences)  lets you open to your dreams and work things out; greater awareness in your dreams

Altar eagle (Taken Under Wing) for moving back and forth seamlessly between ordinary life/tasks and visionary, big picture activities and experiences

Preening (Taken Under Wing) for meditation, re-aligning body/mind/spirit with your nature and the universe; bestowing blessings with your presence

Powa (Taken Under Wing) for subtle realm and psychic work

Little Cerato  (Flora of Asia) is useful whenever you feel alone and disconnected from your higher self or universal support; It helps you connect to guidance so higher thought can be accessed while remaining grounded

Illicium (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

Japanese Alder (Flora of Asia)  provides a sense of deep rootedness, a knowing of what is real and true;creates the environment for growth, so you can confidently act on possibilities that open to you; offers clarity of thought so concrete actions may be taken, especially for those who strike uncharted paths; quiets self-doubt

Queen of the Night  (Desert Alchemy) can help us sink deeply into the intuitive root of our being to ground our subtle sensitivities; it helps us open to the qualities of the moon in our daily life, experiencing the blissful perspective of deeper understanding, feeling and sensuality

Rainbow Cactus (Desert Alchemy)  is a searchlight to illuminate something buried; releasing petrified emotion without becoming entangled in it; excellent for meditation or regression work as it facilitates easy movement from one state of consciousness to another.

Sacred Datura (Desert Alchemy) facilitates seeing beyond our present view of reality to a more comprehensive, visionary state; when appropriate, it supports us in letting go of a known or familiar reality, such as a relationship or job, without feeling threatened

Ironwood (Essence of the Desert) weak, nervous, collapsed ego, mental fog, deep sadness, spiritual depletion; physically and emotionally strengthened; mind cleared; grounded strength as well as quiet expansion of spirit; feeling the divine within; empowered, gentle, humble, grace

Single Delight (Alaskan Essences)  feeling isolated and alone, especially during depressing times; unable to sense or feel connected with one’s soul family; teaches us that feelings of separation can be healed by opening our hearts; clear our inner vision; opens heart to support and connection to life; ease the pain of separation

Bladderwort  (Alaskan Essences)  unable to see the truth at the core of an issue; easily deceived or taken advantage of; unable to make a decision that supports your highest good; develops inner knowing ; strengthens and supports our ability to perceive that which lies at the core of an issue or situation; clear through illusion; simple beauty of the truth

Green Fairy Orchid (Alaskan Essences) defensiveness; attachment to separation; caught up in the dualities of life; difficulty communicating from the heart; invites to open heart; venture into realm beyond the mind and ego; asks us to transcend our identification with the limited self and focus instead on the essential oneness we share with all life: balance masculine and feminine energy

Sphagnum Moss (Alaskan Essences)  feelings of failure, of never getting it right; overly critical of one’s healing journey; supports our ability to turn inappropriate judgement into unconditional love and acceptance; opens heart in the moment so we can see what is truly in front of us

Sometimes a little protection helps to open up dream work as well. Consider adding a protective plant to your bedtime ritual. So many plants are protective so find what resonates for you on a scent level. Smell is a great way to engage your subconscious and limbic brain, so find a protective herb that you respond to the smell and use it in that way before sleep.

 Protective plants include: St. John’s Wort, rosemary, agrimony, angelica, basil, cedar, mugwort, myrrh, lavender. Just to get you started.

So take some time to relax, soften and connect with yourself. Give yourself permission to dream, during sleep and during your waking hours. Let your heart guide you and lead the way into a better future.

Be well!


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.



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!