Archives for Musings

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.



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.

Fabulous Flowers

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apartment buildings in Thailand

A dear friend of mine emailed this photo to me. I have to say it really moved me in several ways. The sheer beauty of these buildings makes me smile. The architecture is interesting to start with but the addition of so many plants just takes it over the top. In a good way.

Imagine if  all of our homes  so beautifully reflected and showcased nature? Most of us don’t live outside anymore, but we can bring the natural into our everyday lives. I encourage you to do this, even in small ways. Bring some plants into your home, put potted plants on your balcony. Think your house is too small or crowded for plants? Consider a hanging basket.


Colombian balcony

Don’t have any outdoor space that is yours? Check with the city about the parkway near your house or a corner you walk by everyday. I’ve seen some really beautiful and simple landscaping that people have done in cities in these public places. Creating a bit of natural beauty in the midst of the urban concrete is a big gift to everyone who sees it.

Some traditions believe that flowers absorb negative energy. Imagine all the good vibrations in these apartment complexes.

Maybe you do have a yard. Consider adding plants with flowers and if you already have some, plant some more that bloom at different times. When I take the time, which I try to do often, to stop and really look at a flower, I am amazed over and over again. The variety of shapes and colors and color combinations is endless.
So, don’t just stop and smell the roses, but stop and really look at them, touch them. Let yourself experience your spirit lifting just from taking a moment to be present with the beauty.
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rose in bloom. Photo by Claire Bohman

Be well!

Mountain Springtime

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early spring bloom of bloodroot

Spring is such a lovely time of year. Here in the mountains the weather can be unpredictable and that lends another interesting layer to the season. As we move to sunny days in the 60’s to snow flurries to gentle rain to night time temps in the 20’s I get to feel that slow move to spring. This year, and last, we don’t have that full steam ahead breakthrough into the warm sunny weather and I find that I appreciate all of it even more having the contrast.

herb school

evidence of Stella's morning foray

 Working in the garden feeling the sun on my bare arms and then getting cozy by the fire later that night makes for a nice combination.

Most of our plants have been very slow to venture above ground so far. This last week has encouraged a few to make the push. The bloodroot has bloomed however, that can happen even in the snow. Everyone else is biding their time.

We keep the dead, aerial (above ground) portion of the plants in place through the winter for the birds to use and into the spring to protect the new shoots from the freeze. At this point, the blend of old and new that some of the plants have create these amazing sculptures; the ghost of last year blending with the fresh green of this year.

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I’m always reminding  my clients and students, and thus myself, to look to nature as their guide. So when I look at these ‘sculptures’ it reminds me to not be too hasty in throwing out the old, to temper that spring rush with some slowness of winter to make sure that I keep anything still of value before discarding that which no longer serves me.

Sometimes in our rush to make change, we can dismiss what value there is in what was. So on my cold spring nights and the days where clouds hover with a few last snowflakes, I try to take that time to reflect. Then the sun comes out and I can shed some layers of clothing and allow all of that energy rising in the earth to move through me and get me going.

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lemon balm

Spring is a time of renewal, rebirth, new beginnings. This is a good time to start a project, make some changes, and, of course, clean out those closets. Eat lighter, add in more raw foods, drink lots of water and start, slowly, moving your body more.

Enjoy the season and be well!


winter thoughts

mt. shasta herbal energetics

sunrise from school

wow- what an amazingly cold morning! when i was outside at sunrise, it was 16 degrees out.  it has been a very cold winter so far. waking up everyday with frost encrusted trees. for some reason though, the cold is bringing in the bald eagles. spotted 2 in our field the other day and a pair are living on the upper part of the property.  i have been checking pretty regularly on the plants and adding some extra mulch here and there because of the hard freezes.  the creek is flowing really strong and the plants down there look ok.  the spikenards are happy with the water higher and the spice bush looks happy despite the hard cold.  i have been feeding the birds lots of seed and fat to keep them alive. the little birds will die from these cold nights and the frost. i don’t want to lose any of the birds- not only for their sweet song, but for all the bug eating and pollinating they do.  have been making a-lot of medicine and doing meditations with them.  it’s nice not to have so much constant work in the gardens. just get to stroll around the land and check on everyone.