The hard work

For a really long time, I thought that my “lack of success” was because I didn’t know how to work hard. And to a degree, that’s true. We hear all these phrases- “just put in the work, do the work, do the hard work”, but like, what does that even mean?? I read so many books about steps to success, how to do the things to get where you want to go and every time I felt like I was still missing a crucial piece of the information. Like, ok to all of this but I still don’t know what to *do*. What the daily actions are that eventually create THE BIG THING. How you work backwards from a goal. Part of that is the way that my brain works- neurodivergence and all that entails. Part of it is trauma related- my mom used to get so mad at me because she’d tell me to do a thing- to do the laundry, say. But she had never, ever shown me HOW to do the laundry. If I asked her to tell me what to do, she’d get angry because as she told me years later, she just expected that because I was “so smart”, she didn’t understand why I didn’t just inherently know how to clean a house. Spoiler alert, I still struggle with it. And another piece of it is cultural- we talk all the dang time about doing the hard work, but we refuse to acknowledge that the hard work is hard work. We don’t let people see us or even talk about the mundane, the boring and monotonous, the sweaty and dirty. We make tik-toks about skipping to the good part or going from the very beginning to the end transformation.

A lot of this became clear to me when I really decided to get clear on our garden and farm journey and get productive with it. I felt really overwhelmed because I knew that there was work to be done- clearly there is, but I didn’t know what to do. What does that even mean to dig a new bed to plant into, or to WEED THE GARDEN, or to mulch the garden? The scale felt so daunting. Was I really supposed to bend over until my back hurt and pull out all these weeds? Like, everything that isn’t the one plant I planted? Literally, yes. It took me watching YouTube videos for pieces to click. And not just any old gardening content will do. I LOVE the channels where gardeners make video, especially time lapse, that shows the actual work. The shoveling, hauling, dumping and spreading of compost or woodchops. The double digging or broadforking of beds. The amending- all of it! Because in all of my years of struggle, and also in talking with people about their own garden and farm journeys- a lot of people aren’t opposed to doing hard work. They just don’t know what they are supposed to do.

My mom was also a gardener and so we always had a beautiful yard. She didn’t grow vegetables, due to her own childhood traumas, but she did grow flowers and lush greenery. She had a compost pile back in the early 80’s before it was a cool thing to do. She grew luffas along the fence line and used them to make bath products for my teacher gift baskets every year. She was so talented in so many ways, and I know she worked hard- I would see her come in covered in sweat or in her later years laid up on the couch for days on end because she overdid it in the garden after a steroid shot. But she was also quite secretive about what it is she was actually doing. How you keep a garden bed from turning into a weedy mess overtaken by something you absolutely don’t want there. She would either work while I was at school or she would do it while I had something else I needed to do- like homework. I know I probably complained about being outside, but she never really pushed hard. It was her sacred time, I get that. But as a parent now, for the life of me, I can’t imagine not fighting tooth and nail for my kids to enjoy their time spent outdoors. Even when it’s a fight. Even when I would like nothing more than to put on a movie and go putter in the garden by myself. Just looking and pulling and tidying and picking. Not making much of a dent but keeping my mind and hands busy in a way that keeps the sadness from slowly creeping in. I have come to understand that this is not about me, or is it really about this garden. It’s about my kids learning viscerally the *how* to do it. When they grow older, they may never want to see much less touch another garden bed. But if they want to, or god forbid they need to grow a garden to feed themselves, they will know exactly what the process is to make it happen.

Maybe this is something that seems absurd to talk about. To be fair, it does seem like a good chunk of the population out there doesn’t struggle with things like executive dysfunction. If you do, but you still want to be productive and creative and to figure it all out anyway, I’m here for you! One of the aspects of the world I wish to call in involves more transparency around process and also more communication and less shame around the struggle. I’d love to be in conversation about this topic- what are your thoughts?

Herbal Energetics

If you have been on any of my plant walks or attended any of my workshops, you know that I can get a little prickly with the question “What is this plant good for?”. I know that it’s totally a thing to say that there aren’t any stupid questions- and while that is true- there are questions and then there are better questions. I want to ask better questions than “what is it good for?”

One of the ways that we can go beyond generalizations like ‘elderberry is good for the flu’, ‘ginger is good for the stomach’ or ‘yarrow is good for wounds’ is by using a system of energetics in talking about plants and the body.

In this case, the term ‘energetics’ doesn’t really refer to the ‘energy’ of a plant in a new age way- like the vibe of a plant. To be fair, they absolutely could overlap, but in this case the term ‘energetics’ means a qualitative system of categorizing herbs and the body. There have been numerous systems that do just that over time and space. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a system of energetics built into the framework of understanding, as does Ayurveda with the tridoshic system.

The system that I learned in my herbal education is the framework of Traditional Western Herbalism. In this system, to my current understanding and practice, herbal energetics encompasses a number of categories. Thomas Easley says in his book The Modern Herbal Dispensatory, “Herbs can be divided into broad energetic categories based on their taste, constituents, and basic effects on the body. Learning these basic categories is like learning the alphabet or musical notes: They form the basis for understanding the language of herbalism. Just as musical notes are arranged together to create an infinite array of music, the energetic properties of herbs blend together to create thousands of unique herbal profiles. “

The thing is, this can’t really be learned simply through books and intellectual learning- it by nature must be learned experientially. This is why tea tasting is so fundamental to the curriculum in most herb schools, and why learning to tune in to the body is crucial. This system of energetics is taking a sip of mint tea and closing your eyes to feel into your body. Where do you feel the tea in your body? Is it centralized in one area? Does it feel upward or downward moving? Inward or outward?

I learned and am most familiar with the concept of the 6 tissue states of physiomedicalism, which has roots in the 4 elements and 4 qualities of the Greek system (hot/cold, damp/dry). These 6 tissue states are as follows:

Hot/Excitation/Irritation-red, tender, swollen, rapid pulse, overactivity and overstimulation of the body.

Cold/Depression- lack of activity in the tissues- could be blood flow, nerve response, slow digestion/sluggish gastric emptying, fatigue, blue/purple tissues, stagnation

Dry/Atrophy- when lack of fluid or lubrication in the body creates a lack of movement in the cells. This ultimately affects how the cells can both receive nutrition and eliminate waste products.

Damp/Stagnation- This is when there is a buildup of fluid in the body that isn’t able to be excreted for whatever reason and leads to an accumulation of waste in the tissues,

Damp/Relaxation- Situations where the tissues of the body are too relaxed and too open, resulting in loss of fluid in the body. This can mean anything from menstrual blood to urination to perspiration to saliva. There are usually other specific indications of this tissue state as well.

Constriction/Wind/Tension- This generally refers to tight muscles, but also emotional/psychological tension as well as conditions that are in flux between two states- think alternating constipation or diarrhea. Or fevers and chills.

When we can begin to recognize these states in the body, we can then use them as a framework to understand what categories of herbs would be most helpful in this situation. And this too, is where that experiential understanding of the herbs comes in.

For example, heat/excitation as a tissue state generally needs cooling herbs to balance. Sour tasting herbs are cooling in nature. Think roselle hibiscus, lemongrass, lemon balm. Funnily enough, these are herbs that are generally grow and are used in the summertime when it is hottest.

Cold/Depression needs warming herbs to balance. Those would be pungent in taste. Garlic, onion, hot pepper. Fire cider, anyone?

Dry/Atrophy needs moistening and sometimes nourishing. Your moistening herbs would be those that are mucilaginous in nature- all of your mallow family plants (marshmallow, hibiscus, okra) fit nicely into that category. Nourishing or building herbs tend to be sweet- licorice, shatavari, even inulin rich roots like burdock and dandelion.

Damp/Stagnation- this tissue state needs clearing of the tissues to happen. This is best achieved with bitter flavors. Some examples of bitter herbs would be artichoke, mahonia species, vervain and dandelion leaf.

Damp/Relaxation means that the tissues need tonification or tightening. This is where astringent herbs would come into play. Truthfully MOST herbs are at least a little astringent/drying but some good examples of specifically astringent herbs are green and black tea, oak, and witch hazel. Rose and other rose family plants are astringent as well (think blackberry root for diarrhea)

Tension tends to need relaxing, and the acrid tasting alkaloidal bitters are indicated here. Think lobelia, vervain and black cohosh. Also, in general antispasmodic and nervine herbs can be particularly valuable here.

To bring this back around to the practice of our everyday home herbalism, we can use this framework to assess the specific nature of what we have going on in our bodies and those of our family. For example, instead of saying, “I have a cold. What herbs are good for that?”, we could say ok, I have a cold. Specifically, I have a cough that feels dry and a sore throat. The sore throat might indicate heat/excitation which could mean that sour herbs would be cooling and balancing in this case. The dry cough would mean that moistening herbs would be most appropriate. How about a lemongrass and marshmallow tea in this case? We aren’t so much treating the cold itself as we are the tissue states leading to specific symptoms. This is a more immediately helpful approach when to say something like “a cold” is incredibly non-specific. The common cold is usually due to one of the many rhinovirus variants that run through the human population all the time, but also is sometimes due to something else entirely- strep throat, allergies, the flu. Who knows? We just attribute a certain set of symptoms (cough, fatigue, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, etc.) to the common cold, but we can do much more to help alleviate symptoms when we get more specific about our experience.

I hope this has been a helpful introduction to the idea of herbal energetics, as well as how we can begin to use it in practice. I’d love to hear any questions you might have!

An Alpha-gal kitchen devotional

I was asked to write out my reasons for practicing yoga, and one of the reasons I came up with is that when I practice with regularity and devotion, shifts happen in my life. My mental health is better. I make better decisions. I feel good. It made me think about my struggles in the kitchen lately and that perhaps the shift I need to make in my mind and heart is this one- one of devotion. It makes sense on a few levels here. Food prep takes place multiple times a day, every day. It’s not negotiable to feed my people, but sometimes I don’t prioritize feeding myself. It can be so easy to get stuck in food ruts, especially when there are ANY challenges or restrictions to note.

I said in my last post about Alpha-gal that I wanted to talk about food itself- what I am eating, what I can’t eat etc. The truth is though, I have been deeply struggling with the what to eat thing. It has been a surprising development because for my entire adult life, I have thrived on creating a diverse and delicious diet with restrictions. I was a strict vegan for a decade, and a raw food vegan for some of those years. I got really good at raw vegan food prep, took classes and workshops, was heavily invested in that community and I loved it. I felt free, not restricted. Once I added animal foods back in to my diet, I was incredibly aligned with the paleo/grain-free way of eating- it just made sense to me. Over time that has expanded, and I have always prioritized eating whole foods grown and raised as close to me as possible. On our homestead, we grow a lot of vegetables, some fruits, some grain and are able to forage and process locally abundant nuts into food as well (acorn and pecan). Our chicken flock provides more eggs than we need, and sometimes the odd chicken when we have an aggressive rooster, etc. We supplemented this with a weekly meat order from a local farm that raises grassfed beef and pastured pork (shout out to Mahaffey Farms, we love you!), a milk co-op for raw milk, butter and yogurt, and then all the other kitchen staples-oil, rice, gluten-free flour and pasta, organic chocolate chips, you know just groceries at the local supermarket. I had my frustrated moments in the kitchen when it would be lunchtime and I didn’t know what to feed my kids, or tired at dinnertime and absolutely not in the mood to cook, but for the most part it was enjoyable.

And then Alpha-gal. You’d think that for a person with experience dealing in restricted diets, that I’d be up for the challenge. That’s where you would be wrong. I am NOT up for this challenge, or at least I haven’t been. Perhaps this reframing of my struggles in the kitchen into something that I am doing for myself first and foremost as an act of devotion to this body/temple (which it is) is the necessary step. Perhaps this reframing of our time spent in the kitchen preparing food for our families to include concepts like ‘self-care’ is what is needed on a larger scale.

It has helped that the garden is beginning to produce abundantly. There is a workflow that has to be maintained or else the food either rots in the garden or on the counter. At this moment, the cucumbers are overflowing. The summer squash is weakly producing, as are the various types of green/dragons’ tongue/yellow wax. The tomatoes are just beginning to ripen and trickling in. The thornless blackberries are coming in by the big bowlful. Herbs, both culinary and medicinal, are in need of daily harvests. Red clover, elderflower, apple mint, anise hyssop, bee balm, lemon balm, passionflower. The last of the late winter sowed carrots and beets. The irony is that within this labor-intensive garden situation, I have begun to feel more freedom and ease in the kitchen. I’m also feeling a certain inspiration, an itch if you will, to step up my game and do the damn thing here.

My greatest heart’s desire has been to live a life close to the earth, in tune with the rhythm of the seasons. This diagnosis took me away from that and it’s taken an entire year to get to a place where I can feel it again, as it manifests through my kitchen. Letting the perfect be the enemy of the good has been a theme throughout my life, and it has been through overcoming this conditioning and finding ways to get to the heart of the matter that has been a place of growth and healing.

Some of the foods and meals I am currently preparing to be nourishing on the deepest levels:

-Roast chicken and potatoes. I can get local chicken and we have an abundance of recently dug potatoes to use. This is classic, delicious and my entire family loves it.

-Chicken broth/stock/bone broth. Any and all of the above using the bones from our roast chicken, extra chicken feet from local farms, leftover veggies and onion scraps, herbs from the garden and whatever fresh or dried wild harvested mushrooms we’ve got going at the time. The best, and super versatile.

-Rice cooked in above chicken broth. I can cook a skillet of garden-fresh vegetables into a stir fry, and it is a balanced meal to have. Adding a scrambled egg ups the nutrition. Coconut aminos are an essential pantry staple for this.

-Getting into the habit of having the best quality salmon we can afford that week. I prefer wild caught anything NOT from the Atlantic Ocean. This can be eaten with those homegrown potatoes, or the chicken broth rice and a vegetable side for a complete meal.

-Dutch baby- these puffy German oven pancakes are super easy to make, can use up a LOT of eggs and whatever fruit we have ripe at that moment. It always ends up slightly sweet, custardy, eggy deliciousness for breakfast or an afternoon treat.

-Herbal pesto- Using whatever herbs are currently calling to me in the garden, along with garlic or perennial onion, nuts or seeds, olive oil, lemon juice and salt to make a super nutritious addition to our meals.

Some foods that I want to experiment further with are:

-chicken livers. I made a pate that I was underwhelmed with but will definitely try it again. I feel strongly about the inclusion of organ meats in our diets and a general more nose to tail approach to eating, but it isn’t easy for those of us born into a culture where we cut our teeth on diet coke and poptarts. I was taking a beef liver supplement and periodically adding small amounts of beef liver into our ground beef dishes with good success pre Alpha-gal.

-duck fat and more duck in general. I would love to find a source for locally sourced duck, or perhaps that would be in the future for Dan to pursue learning to hunt. Who knows.

-Fishing as a food source. We live right on a popular lake for fishing and Dan knows how. We have the equipment a fishing license. It just is a matter of spending more time doing it. It’s been a long time (since childhood) that I’ve had fried white perch. I’d love to make that happen.

-I’d like to take the plunge and order emu steaks and pot roast from Amaroo Hills Farm. I miss this type of meal the most.

-Replacing some of my vegan dairy products with homemade versions or finding replacements. The vegan butter situation is making me sad. I really miss real grass-fed butter a lot. Vegan butter is truly garbage- it’s essential margarine with an enormous marketing campaign to make you think otherwise. Also, I used to make a lot of cashew based nut cheeses so I can get back to it easily.

To be honest, I’m not really sure what the aim of this post is. Maybe more than anything it’s to document my thought process and journey with Alpha-gal. Food is important, but nourishment is even more important. If you have, or know someone who has Alpha-gal syndrome, perhaps this can serve as a bit of inspiration for them as well.

I have a number of herbalism related posts coming up, so now back to your regularly scheduled content!

My journey with Alpha-gal, thus far.

I didn’t anticipate writing this out here, but I felt the call and so here we are. I don’t even know where to begin, because I am still not sure what many of the moving parts are in this story. I think it started around 2016, when I started feeling unwell. It was a really peculiar thing in that it seemed really specific. I couldn’t do any intense physical exercise without crashing. It didn’t happen every time, and so I would start feeling great and strong and then the very next workout, I would crash so hard that I would end up not being able to exercise in any way for 2 weeks to a month. I remember telling friends that I was scared because I just never felt good, ever. My body felt constantly run down, and it felt impossible to know if I was feeling anxious and depressed because I felt bad or vice versa. It was really bizarre and the one doctor I consulted was patently unhelpful. There were no tests run, and a reluctant sigh of an offer for antidepressants. I was depressed, but I was mainly confused. I had two ear infections back to back, which is unheard of for me. I’d never had an ear infection in my then almost 40 years of life. I got an intense stomach flu. I then got the actual flu, some godawful strain of it that had me crawling to the bathroom for two weeks and basically imprisoned on the top floor of the house because I was too weak to walk down the stairs safely. I should have gone to the hospital, in retrospect. My mom died right after that. I think she got that same flu I had and it was too much for her weakened and already hospitalized body. I found out I was pregnant two days before she died, right when I finally felt well enough to visit her in the hospital. I didn’t know I wouldn’t see her again.

It was a time. But I kept on just going. We bought a house and moved onto our 4 acres. I nursed and raised that baby, and our other with the most minimal of support systems you could ever dream of. I am so grateful for the friends and family that we do have, but it isn’t enough to remotely function as our village. And I just kept feeling bad. All the time. Tired, weak and anxious. Inflamed. That was the only word I could ever come up with to describe how I felt in my body- inflamed. I got rashes on my chest, dyshidrotic eczema on my fingers, my scalp felt tight. I felt so itchy and physically uncomfortable in my body. I was miserable, and I had no clue as to why. I constantly feared the worst, which didn’t help with my increasingly intense anxiety. I went to see a few doctors and I insisted on getting a few tests run. All my tests seemed fine. My thyroid was fine. Kidney and liver function fine. Major vitamin and mineral levels fine. No markers for Lyme. All the things fine. White blood cells a liiitle elevated, but you’ve probably just been fighting an infection. Nothing to worry about. Fine. You’re fine. I was so not fine and I didn’t know what to do. I just felt sick and tired.

I didn’t know what to do, I couldn’t afford to keep paying insurance copays for doctors that were not helping me, who truly didn’t believe that anything was wrong with me. I honestly didn’t even believe myself. My symptoms were so vague and so weird that most of the time I sincerely thought that the issue had to be that something was wrong with me mentally because it clearly wasn’t anything else. I ended up really leaning into my diet, because I felt like that was the one place where I had some level of control over how I felt. I felt like I could at least nourish myself well and do the right thing. Food and how it affects us on a physical, mental and even spiritual level has always been a core interest of mine. Understanding how humans have such diverse diets, and what the core elements for optimal functioning is such an interesting rabbit hole, so I thought I at least had the skills to do something here. I had already been eating gluten-free for over 5 years at that point, mainly because I figured out a long time ago that my body didn’t do well with gluten- it started to give me a rash on my chest and arms when I ate it, so I stopped. I had been vegan for almost a decade, most of those years heavily into the raw vegan diet. It was such a paradigm shift for me that even though I don’t think that diet was great for me long term, I am so grateful to have had the experience of a radical dietary shift like that. After my first pregnancy and giving birth, I knew that being vegan wasn’t going to work for me. I felt it in my bones a long time before I was willing to actually add in animal products again.

So, at this point I was gluten-free, and tried to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Bone broth, local grass fed beef, local pastured pork, homegrown veggies and wild greens, fermented foods, lower glycemic gluten-free or paleo style baked goods. Driving to Texas in order to buy raw milk. I love food and I’m not perfect, but even our treat and impulse splurge foods were “organic and gluten free” versions of whatever. Fancy expensive supplements and vitamins to fill in any gaps or blind spots in my diet. We were beginning our journey with gardening, homesteading- learning how to grow the most nourishing foods with our own hands. We were still avid foragers, spending lots of time in nature harvesting and preparing wild foods. I was finishing the chapter of my life driving to Austin and back to wrap up my training as a clinical herbalist. I had what felt like *all the tools*. I felt like I was doing the objective right thing.

I still had the exact same symptoms. I agonized over where I could make better choices. Was it my objectively wild sweet tooth sabotaging my health? Was I drinking too much coffee and burning out my adrenals? What was I doing wrong? I just knew it was some failure on my part- some blind spot I had, something obvious I was missing out on and why was I so stupid? What the hell was wrong with me?? Why did I feel like shit all the time?? It wasn’t a good time. A few months before my Alpha-gal diagnosis, I had plans to find a rheumatologist and see if we could figure out an autoimmune diagnosis. Everything seemed to point in that direction.

It carried on like this until June of 2021. Some relatives came in from out of town, and we decided to get barbecue. I figured it was as safe of a food as I could find- if I didn’t use the bbq sauce and just got meat and veggies it would be gluten free. Maybe they’d have a baked potato. It was fine. And then that night, hours after our meal my skin started to feel like it was burning. I looked down at my arms and saw welts forming all over. My chest started burning. I ripped my shirt of in the mirror and saw the welts all over my chest, my face, my legs, my stomach. My whole body was burning and covered in what I quickly realized were hives. I didn’t know what to do so I ran a bath and got in. It didn’t help. I was in so much pain and crying and finally decided to drive myself to the emergency room. It was an ordeal, but I finally made it there and they pumped me full of steroids and antihistamines. The hives went away. I felt better. They told me to go to my GP to get a referral for an allergist. I did that, and it was only by miracle, an afterthought when I was about to leave after my allergy testing that I mentioned spending a lot of time outside and tick bites. My panel came back that I was reactive to red meat which isn’t common but also didn’t raise any alarm bells.

I’m allergic to a whole LOT of things, apparently. Pumpkins, peanuts, corn, shellfish, dairy, citrus fruits, basically every single pollen under the sun, pet dander. So many things. But most importantly, I am Alpha-gal reactive. I have an anaphylactic allergy to all mammal foods, including dairy, and some seaweeds like carrageenan which set of the chain of responses in the body. I have to admit that I don’t feel like I have a deep grasp on the specifics of it or a full understanding of the mechanisms by which this wild ass allergy work.

What I do know is that all mammals, except for apes and old-world monkeys, have a carbohydrate or a sugar that is called Alpha-gal (galactose-α-1,3-galactose). Sometimes, via the saliva transmitted during a tick bit, we can become sensitized or reactive to that carbohydrate. Most allergies are in response to a protein and so Alpha-gal is unique in that is a sugar. The specifics of the way Alpha-gal reactions work means that it is incredibly hard to determine cause and effect when it comes to triggers. Most allergic reactions happen quickly after ingesting the trigger food, but with Alpha-gal, reactions are delayed. They usually happen between 2-8 hours after eating mammal foods, but in some cases can even happen much later than that. In the years that I was dealing with feeling so bad, not once did it ever occur to me that it could be from meat.

It’s really weird to have a tick-borne illness. It’s also weird to know that I’m allergic to beef and pork and that we ate so much of it. It’s weird to look back on how awful I felt for such a long time. We are a little less than a year out from my diagnosis and so far, I have avoided any major reactions. I have had a few minor ones- nursing my toddler after she had beef and in response to something from a vegan AND gluten free restaurant, from what I suppose was carrageenan.

I feel like I am healing. I don’t feel inflamed all of the time. I can push myself hard physically (in a good way!) and have it be strengthening and beneficial to my body not a reason to shut down completely. I am beginning to have energy again for the more complex aspects of being human. I feel positive about my life and my future. It’s honestly been incredibly destabilizing to me to know that all of my physical symptoms (and a large part of my mental/emotional ones too) were due to an undiagnosed and untreated allergy. It feels like such an insignificant thing- like I don’t have much of a right to feel any type of way about it. I think for me, the traumatic parts of this diagnosis are not so much the diagnosis itself but the years that I suffered unnecessarily from it.

Cases of Alpha-gal syndrome are currently increasing, especially in the Southeast where we are. If you are someone who spends any time outside and you know you have been in contact with ticks and you have strange symptoms that are kind of like allergies but feel more autoimmune then definitely get checked. Not everyone who gets bitten by a tick will become sensitized to the Alpha-gal carbohydrate and develop Alpha-gal syndrome. It’s not entirely clear if the allergy eventually goes away or not, and it is recommended to monitor your levels via a blood test.

I have planned a post that goes more in depth about this food journey with Alpha-gal syndrome. I’ve had to overhaul the way I eat, cook and even think about food. It’s really hard and it’s still a constant battle to feed my family but mostly myself. I still have an idealized way of eating in my mind, and for the most part it isn’t a possibility for me. I cannot rely on fast food, ever. I have to be prepared and take responsibility for myself 100% of the time, preparing my own food from scratch to make sure I stay safe. Tentatively, there are a small handful of restaurants I have eaten at in the last year, and I haven’t had a reaction. I can’t let my guard down though. I am meant to always carry my epi-pen.

I’d also like to talk about herbal support I have relied on, both during the height of my illness and in the last year. Obviously, herbs can’t cure Alpha-gal syndrome, but there are so many ways that they can support in many ways, both on a physical and emotional level.

I’d love to answer any questions you have about Alpha-gal. This isn’t a well-researched informational post. It’s meant to be my personal experience, and because of that I’ve let it be what it is without editing it into a well-planned narrative. It’s rough, and that’s fitting of this whole experience. And really, the hard truth is that I got bitten by the tick that transmitted the fluids that sensitized my body causing Alpha-gal syndrome while I was outside- foraging, gardening, walking, sitting, maybe teaching even. It’s relevant to this blog because I guess fundamentally there are risks to being outside in nature. It doesn’t mean it’s not worth it to do so. I don’t regret my lifestyle. It hasn’t made me rethink the time I spend outside. Just in the last few days, my family and I have found more than one tick crawling on our bodies at bath time. It’s that time of year. We aren’t staying indoors all summer though- just taking extra precautions to find them before they latch on.

Prunella vulgaris//Self-Heal for Self-Healing

If someone asked me to describe self-heal as a plant, honestly the first thing that comes to mind is “a jaunty little plant”. And I mean, it kind of is, right? In typical mint family fashion, Prunella has an upright square stem and opposite leaves. She’s quite stiff looking in that regard- there’s nothing frilly or lacy about her leaves. Simply, utilitarian, to the point leaves. Smooth and slightly oval. Leaves. The flowers though, are pretty special. Self-heal, or heal-all as this plant is also called, first sends up a tubular flower head. The distinctive individual flowers blossom from this collective head, and sometimes do so in a way that looks like a violet crown circling the flowers’ head.

Self-heal is a perennial returning each springtime, and now coming up to the end of April, the flowers are on the verge of opening. Given the right location, self- heal grows as a “weed” over much of North America. Self-heal is generally thought to be a European import that naturalized but there is some debate on that. From what I understand to be most current understanding, Prunella vulgaris subspecies lanceolata, or lance-leaf self-heal is a native plant, but Prunella vulgaris subspecies vulgaris is non-native and introduced. What is the distinction then? That European self-heal is a weed, but that lance-leaf self-heal is a wildflower? Maybe that is part of the conversation that self-heal wants to have- a specific healing pattern around the ways that we box ourselves into categories and slap labels with arbitrary distinctions about what is good and what is bad. Semantics for their own sake instead of a deepening and expansion of understanding instead of a collection of facts. What if we could learn to just be- both for ourselves as well as letting things outside of ourselves simply be what they are.

It’s something to think about- and the energy of self-heal to me is very cerebral. It’s the third eye chakra- clarity of vision beyond the most obvious level. What illusions about who I am do I hold to be evident? Perhaps self-heal allows for discernment here.

As a medicinal herb, outside of the realm of my own personal feelings or intuitions about the matter, self-heal offers this same clarification. Self-heal is an astringent, like most green plants to be fair, and can help tonify and clarify boggy tissues. Traditionally used for coughs, colds, sore throats- these are all conditions where a tonifying, drying action can be needed. Energetically, self-heal is cooling which makes sense for hot conditions like fevers and infections.

Self-heal is a vulnerary herb- literally referring to the healing of tissue- and is an excellent remedy for cuts/scrapes/burns/bruises any instance where wound care is needed.

Self-heal is exceptionally rich in bioflavonoids and antioxidants, including rosmarinic acid. These antioxidants scavenge the free radicals, the particles, metabolites- the waste particles from our cells that are part and parcel of the life process- the metabolic process- that they perform. In this way, I think of self-heal as being powerfully protective of our beings at the most cellular level. It is this process of free radical damage, which is part and parcel of being alive- of breathing, digesting, performing cellular functions, being exposed to the sun, to stress- the list could go on. This free radical damage is, essentially, the aging process. Not to say that the aging process in negative at all, and also not to oversimplify it to say that the only reason we as humans age is due to free radical damage. That’s not true, but what if incorporating incredibly simple routines in our life- harvesting plants, drying them, making tea from them and drinking them- could allow us to focus our precious life energy on something other than attempting to repair that damage, over and over again?

Prunella is chemoprotective, hepatoprotective, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, antibiotic, digestive, vulnerary, restorative. In terms of the immune system, self-heal has been shown to be powerfully antiviral and active against a wide range of microbes. This is one of the ways in which it is known as “heal-all”. It’s just such a powerful generalist in terms of healing action. This plant is so much more than just its ability to “kill bugs”. Although it’s not wrong, it isn’t a truly holistic way of looking at plants as healers. Going back to the aspect of protection- I feel like this energy cannot be overstated. I see self-heal as a plant to turn to when one feels like they have come to a crossroads or a brick wall in their own healing journey. When you aren’t getting answers and don’t know where to turn next. When you know you’d like to summon your inner healer but feel like you don’t know how.

I enjoy harvesting the flowering tips when they have just come into bloom. This will spur a new flush of flower heads, and I like to dry them and store them for use throughout the year. Self-heal is a gentle plant, and I usually rotate it in and out of my herbal infusions along with nettle, oat tops, red clover, dandelion among others. It’s a good one to have on hand as a tincture for any time when you feel like your health is challenged and feeling run down. A tincture can be easily added to hot water to make a hot tea facsimile, or it can be used as a mouth rinse or in wound care. To that end, a tea can be made and the resulting liquid used as a compress or wound wash/soak.

I have gone through the last of the self-heal tincture I made way back in the herb biz days. I’m happy to get to make another batch this year!

If you’ve followed my work, you know that I love making herbal infused vinegars that I use as a kitchen staple. Self-heal works so well in this way, and pairs beautifully with any of the fresh seasonal berries available at the same time of harvest. It’s also technically a wild edible, so if you wanted to cook them up as a potherb you totally could. There’s also nothing stopping you from chopping them up finely as a salad ingredient.

However you ultimately choose to use self-heal, I encourage you to make something this spring. Even if you simply set the intention to find a patch of it somewhere- then get outside and look for it. It’s abundant enough where it is found to be thoughtfully harvested, distinctive enough to be easily identifiable.

Leave a comment about your plans with self-heal this season, whether you want to meet for the first time or have a recipe in mind to try out!

Antioxidants galore!

State of the garden, mid-April

What’s happening on the homestead here in mid spring, going into the 4th year of growing plants, expanding our gardens and really dialing in what and how we would like for things to work. I thought I would do a sort of brain dump as to what is going on, not only for future years but also in case anyone else is curious about what small family homestead scale gardens and food forest style orchards look like and some of the moving parts.

A meals worth of pickings from the April garden

Fruit trees:

The peaches and the plums just flowered! Most for the first time, but one for the largest profusion of flowers yet and I am so hopeful we will at least get to try a peach this year!

Goumi berries are in full flower now, and it looks to be a larger crop than last year.

Mulberries are juuust about to ripen. It’s our big trees largest crop ever, and I really wish the wind would chill out so it would stop losing fruit.

One of our Pakistani mulberries is doing pretty terrible right now, but the other one has fully leafed out. Probably no fruit this year but I am hoping that the other one is late to come back- it got zapped harder by a late frost than the other.

Thornless blackberries are flowering and beginning to set fruit. Maybe better than last year?!

Figs look to be at the beginning stages of setting fruit- maybe this is a breba crop?

Fuyu persimmon starting to flower for the first time ever! Native persimmons just beginning to leaf out.

Elderberries still leafing out.

Pawpaw leafing out, which means still no flowers and still no fruit this year. That’s ok- it’s early days (year 2-3)

Kumquats are developing new leaves. I just want them to fully recover from winter and be strong. I anticipate fruit in the fall, but that’s not much of a concern.

Loquats are getting new leaves, too. They did not flower this year and will not fruit, but I want them to hopefully recover from the winter (they are still recovering from the polar vortex that took many of them out completely)

The vegetables:

We are harvesting lettuce, beets, green onions and a few snow peas. Pea shoots can be had, as well as herbs like lemon thyme, parsley and some flowering cilantro. Fava beans are just starting to produce bean pods.

We’ve got cucumber, tromboncino squash, melons, summer squash, tomatoes, tomatillos, red noodle beans, yellow wax bush beans, potatoes and garlic in the ground.

There’s about half the ginger and turmeric in the ground and are waiting on the other half to fully sprout before planting. Some is still in the ground from last fall- we’ll see if it resprouts (it should)

The weeds:

Poke shoots and greenbrier tips

The chickweed and cleavers have gone to flower and about to peter out, but we are still harvesting it periodically. Purple dead nettle is definitely at the end of its life span.

Self-heal is growing well. Lyre leaf sage is in full bloom and attracting all the cool sphynx and hummingbird moths.

Poke is at prime harvesting time, and greenbrier tips are abundant, too,

The mushrooms:

Very first picking of ava beans, a small clutch of golden oysters and a couple of winecaps 4/12/22

Golden oyster log is fruiting! Winecaps (Stropharia rugosoannulata) are fruiting in the margins and the shiitake logs are weakly fruiting.

Our super low tech methods for growing mushrooms outdoors have been fair to middling. There’s a lot to say about it, and perhaps I willl do a post on it here soon. I haven’t, because truly, who wants to read about a fully mediocre success at something? But then, maybe people can learn from our mistakes? And also, there is so much more to it that simply that we are crap at growing mushrooms. There are a complex constellation of factors, many of our control. I digress….

There have been some wild oysters too that we have come across. Those are always welcome, as are the wood ears periodically fruiting too. It should be peak morel time now, but we haven’t found any yet and it is not for lack of looking. Ash trees seem to be late to leaf out and so we aren’t counting them out just yet.

The perennials:

Yarrow, comfrey, heartleaf skullcap, nettles, houttuynia, moringa trees, lemon balm, daylilies, wild chervil, bee balm, passionflower.

We still have the rest of the seedlings still growing out, overwintered cherry tomatoes and peppers, corn, sweet potatoes, okra, winter squash, sorghum and pole beans to plant. I also want more flowers in the ground- I’m not sure how many zinnias will come back- I see some tiny sprouts but I want to plant more. Sunflowers. Red amaranth. More marigolds. Holy Basil. Roselle hibiscus.

There’s so much more that I just wouldn’t even know where to categorize it- the new gynostemma vines I am super excited about, the Tithonia we successfully overwintered, the veggies and herbs still growing out and not ready to be planted out yet.

There’s still a lot of stuff to be planting out over the next while, both new and upcoming seedlings as well as overwintered plants.

Work currently being done and continuing into foreseeable future:

Weeding. So much weeding. Some can be mowed or scythed but some of it needs digging up and potting up- elderberry suckers, hoja santa suckers, Jerusalem artichoke sprouts.

Fertilizing beds and adding fertility. This year, we are mulching with giant salvinia- I don’t know what to call that. Is it foraging haha. Giant salvinia and burying so many fish parts that were dumped by local fisherman.

I hope that gives you some ideas to diversify your garden ecosystem this spring season!

Buckeye showing out, showing off and bidding you good day.

A Home Garden Apothecary in 5 Plants

Since I began learning about herbal medicine almost 2 decades ago, I’ve held firm to the story that I did not grow up around plants in this way. My mom and both of my grandmothers were all gardeners to some extent, but not herbalists.

The other day, I burned my arm with hot steam from the kettle. I was distracted and beginning to feel overwhelmed and boom I hurt myself. As is usually the case. I immediately went to the sink and started running cold water over the burn, and then as soon as I could I went and broke off leaf of aloe vera to use immediately. It was completely instinctual- I didn’t have to consult one of my books to see what herbs are good for burns. There was a pathway already carved out in my neural network. The mechanics of my body knew what to do. It was second nature because I cannot remember a time that my mother did not have an aloe vera plant growing. Further, I can’t remember a time that I haven’t had one in any of the houses and apartments I have ever lived in. Where did I get an aloe vera plant in our crappy moldy Victorian terraced house in Southampton, England? I have no memory of how it came to be there, but I know we had one. I know we had one in Spain, because the huge loft floor to ceiling window light allowed our largest aloe plant to flower, and I had never seen that happen before! I’ve always had an aloe vera plant, and I’ve always used it- for burns, other skin irritations, sunburns, even blended into drinks and smoothies when my digestion feels a little off.

And truly, this is how our relationship with plants should be- so intimate that it’s second nature. This is how we really get to KNOW a plant beyond the memorized uses and active constituents. We know them so well that we take them for granted, even. I didn’t even consider Aloe vera to be “an herb” in that way. I didn’t even give it credit for the lifelong relationship that we have.

And it got me thinking about what, then, are other plants, other herbs that are just as easy to grow in pots or to have on hand. What other plants can we use to have a tiny fresh apothecary anywhere we go and have them be a part of our wellness routines? I’ve narrowed it down to 5, and I’d like to share what plants I believe every household should have on hand.

  • Aloe vera

Aloe vera can be easily grown as a houseplant, as long as you have a sunny spot to place it. I find that Aloe does especially well if allowed to be outside during the warm seasons as long as adequate rainfall or water are provided. As mentioned earlier, aloe is emollient for the skin, and a vulnerary. It is especially soothing for burns and sunburns because of the thick, coating quality it has when applied topically to the skin as a vulnerary. You can see burned skin immediately soak up the moisture from aloe into the dry and damaged cells. You can tell when you need it. Aloe is also wonderful in skin care, due to moisture retaining and skin healing properties including compounds which promote tissue repair. I’ve been getting more serious about my skin care routine since I turned 40 and sometimes if I don’t have any products to use on hand, I will use fresh aloe after washing my face.

Internally, aloe has a laxative effect, which may or may not be something you are looking for. If you aren’t but would like to make use of the soothing gel for digestive irritation, simply scoop out the gel from the inside of a leaf but be careful to avoid the skin or the yellowish inner lining of the skin.

Aloe vera is probably the easiest plant to use effectively, just cut open a leaf and rub the exposed goo on your body!

One of our aloes that lives inside, desperate for a propagation session
  • Mint

There are so many different types of mint (peppermint, spearmint, water mint, chocolate mint, orange mint and more), most of them would work just fine growing in a pot. If you have an outdoor spot to put your potted plants, just like the aloe, mint will benefit greatly in the summertime. Mint can be used most obviously as a flavoring agent or simply a nice tasting tea, but some of the specific uses for mint would be- as a digestive herb, for mild nausea or after overindulging. Mint is both carminative and aromatic. Really, any time that your digestive system feels like it needs a little attention as it has an overall relaxing effect (antispasmodic) on the tissues of the digestive tract. When you know, you know. In addition, it’s a great respiratory herb for any congestion- the aromatics help to open up stuffy noses and chests. You can use mint in this way as a tea, or as a respiratory steam (my favorite way!) Finally, mint can be used as a nervine– an herb to soothe the nervous system during moments of emotional distress.

Depending on which mint you have access to, do some research on the specifics of that mint but most of them can be used interchangeably. A nice tasting mint tea is the most pleasant and easy way to utilize mint as a medicine. Lightly steep fresh or dried mint leaves, taking care to cover the pot while you do as the aromatics tend to volatilize easily- you want the in your tea not the surrounding air!

Water mint popping up from the leave after a winter being dormant
  • Lemongrass

Lemongrass is the one herb here that might seem exotic to many, but it grows incredibly well in our growing zone. It is an actual grass, growing in a clumping fashion and propagation is quite easy. It dies back in the wintertime, but here in early April, it is beginning to come back. Once you have it established, it really requires little attention and offers so much back! First, as a tea it has a wonderful lemony flavor. It has an energizing feel to it but is also quite calming. It’s interesting to note that beekeepers use lemongrass essential oil in a number of ways in the hive, including inside of an empty hive as a swarm lure because the smell of lemongrass is the smell of a happy hive! Drinking the tea of this plant does generally induce feelings of wellbeing. Of the plants included, this would be my go to for any strong feelings that are felt as negative in the body, or where the emotional “lift” of a nervine herb is needed. It is said to have stimulant properties, although in my experience it is minimal. Either way, I think that is the “lift” that I mean, and can be especially helpful for the kind of depression that makes you feel uncomfortable heavy and sluggish, lacking in motivation.

Additionally, lemongrass is traditionally used for fevers, coughs and colds. It is a diaphoretic herb that can help the body sweat out a fever. It can also be used to deter mosquitoes. If you have a patio, growing some in a pot around your seating area can be an attractive way to make sitting outside in the summer months more enjoyable.

Using lemongrass can be as simple as making a tea with the fresh or dried leaves, and/or the chopped root. I like to braid fresh bundles of fresh lemongrass together and let them dry to use later in tea, or added to broths, soups, stews or curries where I would like to have the fresh lemony flavor added in.

one clump of lemongrass ready to be harvested and divided
  • Ginger

Ginger is a hot and warming plant. In that way, it increases peripheral circulation and can be used as an anti-inflammatory for painful rheumatic conditions like arthritis and joint pain that feel better with the application of heat. A ginger foot bath for painful feet or even a ginger bath is a great way to achieve this. Due to this same warming and diffusive action, ginger is also an effective diaphoretic herb in the case of fevers- increasing circulation and sweating in order to ultimately break a fever. It can be used to aid the digestive system for more intense nausea, especially in the case of travel/motion sickness. Further, it’s soothing antiseptic actions on the digestive tract make it an excellent choice for GI infections. Ginger can also be a powerful ally for menstrual cramps and PMS, in no small part due to this inherent warming action that ginger has on the smooth muscle tissues of the uterus.

ginger in the garden the first year we ever grew it!

Although ginger is native to Asia and has not been commonly cultivated here, the truth is that Louisiana is a great climate for growing ginger. We have grown ginger, and related turmeric and galangal for a number of years now and it will even overwinter during mild winters. If you don’t have the space, the patience or the desire to grow ginger yourself, it is found these days at just about every supermarket out there. It’s definitely a staple of a well-stocked herbal kitchen.

I find that grating ginger works well to make a quick and effective tea. 1 tsp per cup of water, boiled for a few minutes and then drinking. You could also soak a washcloth in the tea and place it on the body as a liniment. For this, you would want a larger amount of tea and could simply chop a large root per saucepan of water.

  • Garlic
beautiful harvest of fresh homegrown garlic

I feel like garlic doesn’t need a much of an introduction speaking to its utility in the kitchen. It is indispensable to many varying cuisines and flavors. Garlic is an amazing medicinal powerhouse on its own. Antimicrobial and stimulating for the production of white blood cells, garlic has been used for many different types of infections. Similarly, garlic is an anthelmintic herb that has been traditionally used as a worm/parasite treatment. It is also extremely healthy for the heart and circulatory system. Garlic is a very hot herb and it does not agree with some people especially in the digestive system in large doses. Just be aware and watch for stomach irritation, especially in kids. Garlic ear oil is a classic remedy for mild ear infections.

Although garlic is extremely easy to grow, even here in Louisiana if you use the right variety of garlic (softnecks, turbans and creole varieties do especially well here. It’s the hardnecks that don’t) and have the garden space to give up during the long growing season. You could grow a small crop easily in a raised bed or even a large planter on a patio, but it is also easily available to purchase cheaply at any grocery store. It is something that most kitchens already have on hand and getting to know garlic in another way is a simple step forward.

One of my favorite ways to prepare garlic for medicinal (and culinary) use is to make a garlic honey. You simply fill a glass jar with peeled cloves and cover with honey. Let sit for a month or so, checking it regularly to make sure honey is covering the garlic fully and opening to let it burp (this does ferment a bit- thats normal and it’s alive!) You can then eat the garlic cloves whole, or add them to recipes and even use the garlic flavored honey in marinades, salad dressings, etc. It also lasts virtually forever. Give it a try.

With these 5 plants, we have remedies on hand for burns, sunburns, muscle aches and pains, digestive discomfort and nausea, infections in general, mild ear infection, menstrual pain, the heart and circulatory system, cough, colds and fevers, mild emotional fluctuations, stuffy and congested noses and chests, and rashes, scrapes and abrasions. This is by no means an exhaustive list and within each plant there are layers upon layers of information that I can’t even begin to cover in the limited scope of this article. I am also learning daily more about these and other plants! That’s an excellent place to start developing deep and lifelong relationships with these plants, discovering your own information about them and honing the skills to quickly and effectively use them!

Pine Pollen as Food and Medicine

Pine pollen is such an intimate part of my existence right at this moment in ways that are not entirely pleasant, and it felt like the perfect time to take a deep dive into this literal force of nature. Both to remind myself and to share about this incredible plant in a deeper way than ever before.

Right now, a fine yellow dust is beginning to bathe everything. Everything. The cars outside, the sidewalk, and if we happen to have a rainstorm it will pool and be washed into thin lines of yellow- everywhere. It’s a sight to behold and people here in the south HATE it.

I get it. My eyes are puffy and I look like I haven’t slept in years (also true due to small children in my house), my chest and sinus cavities have a constant “am I getting sick, or is it just allergies?” dialogue with my brain. It could really be felt in the body as misery, if I let my emotions go there. Hence the necessity of this reframe.

Soon, there will be a veritable explosion of growth in plant life. It will appear as though the small transplants in our garden, and the young shrubs and trees we’ve planted, the forest all around- everything- will have taken a quantum leap and grown a foot since yesterday morning. The new leaves on
the deciduous trees in the forest around all of a sudden look wow, so lush, vibrant, and GREEN. Have I ever really seen that particular shade green, green.

They’ve all just been bathed in growth hormone, in botanical Jing. That pine pollen that’s been settling and soaking into the soils around is an absolute superpower of a complex phytochemical factory. In fact, this is critical to healthy forest ecosystems. Sterols and other plant based steroidal compounds are just
that are essentially growth hormone are just one class of the many, many constituents found in pine pollen. Plants soak that up and convert it into vitality and growth. The effect of plant steroids
on germination and plant growth is actually well researched in agricultural science and pine pollen contains many of them, including those in the class of brassinosteroids and gibberellins. I am not a phytochemist and I generally loathe to reduce complex plants down to just their constituent parts, but these particular chemicals are a huge reason why I’m bothering to write this.

Pine trees are usually dioecious, the female part being the seed producing cone (or pinecone) and the male parts being the pollen producing catkin. This pollen is what fertilizes the cone in order to produce seeds. Pines are also wind pollinated, and this pine pollen is under a microscope shaped perfectly with large “ears” or sails to catch the wind.

Our bodies obviously process nutrition in a different way than plants, but there is so much historical and prehistorical information on record about traditional uses of pine pollen, as well as clinical study, that we can make a statement like “It can be of benefit to the human body to consume pine pollen.”

Pine catkins in the dehydrator to dry fully before sifting the powder

Pine pollen is one of the plant medicines that Dan and I have worked with for the longest time. We first became aware of pine pollen as a nutritional supplement when we lived in Madrid, Spain. There were many pine trees around, mostly Pinus pinaster or maritime pine, and we began to harvest pine pollen for
our own consumption. Although there was some information to be found on why it was beneficial to consume, there was little information on how to actually process it into a consumable powder. It’s full of tiny little insects in need of filtering out, the moisture content is very high and your pollen powder will actually mold quite quickly, the fine powder becomes airborne so easily and you can lose hours of processed powder with one unfortunate sneeze.

As a food, it is nourishing and building. In fact it is quite high in protein. This is one of the reasons it is a traditional postpartum food for women- it replenishes some of the vital force that is inevitable lost during childbirth.
Pine pollen also shines in the vitamin department, with clinically significant amounts of Vitamins B1, B2, B6, E, C, A and D3 as well as numerous trace but essential minerals such as zinc, selenium, magnesium, copper, calcium, iron and more. I generally use pine pollen powder as a smoothie add in, or if I am making a batch of no-cook energy balls. There are many recipes for adding pine pollen powder as a portion of the cornmeal in cornbread. I don’t tend to make cornbread a lot, but I have added it into my gluten-free pancake batter many times. I’m not sure how it changes when exposed to heat, which is why I tend to eat it in ways that it remains in it’s raw form.
This is purely anecdotal, but during my first pregnancy I was vegan and I CRAVED pine pollen powder. I came up with so many recipes- raw cacao and nettle brownies with pine pollen frosting, pine pollen cashew white chocolate, lemon and pine pollen cake bites. Suffice it to say, I consumed quite a bit of pine pollen at this time. During my second pregnancy, I was not vegan and I did not crave pine pollen in the same way. In fact, I don’t think I consumed it even once until the postpartum period.

A version of said nettle raw brownies with pine pollen frosting, made to share at one of our early public talks

When pine pollen is tinctured, it becomes an entirely different medicine. Standard dosages of pine pollen tincture are absolutely a masculine body medicine and not generally suitable for the health goals of female identified folks.
It is tonic, nutritive, adaptogenic, androgenic, antioxidant, antiviral, immune support, hepatic, supportive to the endocrine system, and more!
The androgenic effect of pine pollen is that it elevates testosterone and DHEA (a master hormone) levels in the blood, and balances the ratio of androgens to estrogens. Many men find this to be highly beneficial in terms of overall ability to build strength, healthy libido, stable mental and emotional states and a general feeling of virility.

There is some interesting data coming out of the trans community, showing that pine pollen could be an important ally for transmasculine folks during transition especially when access to pharmaceutical hormone therapy isn’t available.

I do not want to speak for this community, and information is hard to come by- I am compiling links below and will add to this as I am able:

A fat half gallon of pine pollen tincture for the menfolk ❤

It appears that the effect of pine pollen, specifically the plant steroid compounds, have a modulating effect on hormone levels not just a simple increase. In the case of the prostate- they do decrease inflammation in enlarged prostate, but if the prostate is too small (such as in castrated rats), it increased the size and prevented atrophy.

It seems that the use of pine pollen for men as an aid to vitality and vigor is most effective as the testosterone levels begin to naturally decline in middle age. It is generally not recommended for younger men under the age of around 40, primarily because testosterone levels are naturally high enough that there isn’t a need for supplementation. My husband Dan, who is now in his mid 40s, has been taking pine pollen tincture long term now. Like with any herb, he cycles in and out of use with it, but pine pollen has been part of his routine for almost 20 years now. His experiences with pine pollen are that it isn’t so much about increasing brute strength and virility in the way that we think of in popular culture of maleness, that is truly toxic masculinity. He feels that Pine calls in clarity of thought, quick and decisive decision making, quicker reaction speeds. These might not be what you think of in terms of archetypal male traits necessarily, but perhaps a recalibration of our ideas around what masculinity really is, is quite overdue.

Another specific usage for pine pollen would be in the case of chronic conditions such as chronic fatigue, Lyme disease, hepatitis B and C, AIDS and other chronic diseases where low energy and fatigue are common and debilitating conditions. In this case, pine pollen would work in a fundamentally different way to a stimulant which simply steals energy from the body that can’t possibly be recovered in a way that creates a vicious cycle of dependence in order to function, and then ultimately feeling more depleted.

An interesting thought to ponder is the idea of xenoestrogens- the estrogen like chemicals that absolutely flood our environment and bodies. They are found in plastics, which are found in…everything now, even our breastmilk. I am not aware of research specifically on the impact of phytoandrogens on xenoestrogens, but it certainly something to consider in our search for balance in all things.

To increase androgen levels, only pine pollen tincture works. Once it goes past the GI tract, it isn’t effective in that way anymore as the acidic environment along with the simple process of digestion renders the hormonal component inert. Being alcohol based, a tincture bypasses the digestive system to go straight into the bloodstream.

To give credit where credit is due, the vast majority of the information on the impact of pine pollen on male health, Stephen Harrod Buhner and his book Pine Pollen: Ancient Medicine for a New Millenium is definitely the go to for information, especially the clinical research from China and Russia.

A note- as someone who is absolutely reactive to airborne pollen, I do not have a systemic allergic reaction to ingesting pine pollen. My experience is that it works entirely different in the body when ingested as opposed to breathing it in. That said, please be safe and do your due diligence if you have known allergies. Your experience may be different to mine. As with any new food or herb, go slowly and see how you feel.

I would love to hear your experiences with pine pollen! Whether you have eaten it as a food, used it as medicine or experienced “the pollening” this time of year, leave a comment and let me know.

Nadi Shodhana for the Pine Pollen Times

Happening right now in northwestern Louisiana and also probably the entire South is the beginning of the few weeks of time each Spring when everything is covered in a fine layer of yellow dust. In an attempt not to be vulgar, I will just say that we are breathing in the reproductive…. stuff…of male pine tree sex organs. Which is really just about the wildest thing I’ve ever really thought about.

These are the male reproductive organs of this Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda)

Pine pollen is powerful food and medicine in its own right. I’ve written about it a little before here and am currently composing a deeper dive (stay tuned- this week!!) That said, my respiratory system hates it! I sat down to do a little breathwork practice to open up my airways and to help shift my emotional state out of self-pity for my immune response this time of year. This really helps me, especially in conjunction with regular washing of my nasal cavity with saline spray. I know, I know- neti pots. I don’t love using them, and I find the majority of the benefits I achieve with saline nasal spray. I thought perhaps someone else might want to do this practice, too. I hope you give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Paleo Acorn Flour Pancakes

image.jpgI love pancakes, and I go through periods where I make them *a lot*  because they are easy, cheap, quick and versatile (hello flatbread for chili and curry!)

Now that I have discovered I feel so much better when I don’t eat grains, all my go to recipes and mixes for gluten-free pancakes don’t work. Over the last few years, I have experimented with all sorts of recipes for paleo pancakes, including those not so wonderful egg and banana concoction that was an Internet craze in the paleo world, plantain flour, almond flour, coconut flour and more.  I know that tapioca is a controversial paleo ingredient, but I am using it for this recipe because it gives a wonderful texture and doesn’t cause my sensitive system any issues. I hope to experiment with arrowroot or kudzu root powder soon as an alternative.

These pancakes have the texture of more of a crepe or a British pancake. If you make them large, you can roll them up. The Brit in residence here approves!

Paleo Acorn Flour Recipe

1 cup acorn flour

.5 cups tapioca flour

2 eggs

.5 cups almond milk or other milk (raw cream is the most amazing!)

.5 tsp baking powder

pinch vanilla powder

Whisk very well or blend all ingredients in a blender until very smooth. Pour small circles into a hot and lightly greased cast iron skillet or griddle. Let cool until bubbles form throughout the pancake and then flip with a spatula. Let cook one or two minutes and remove from heat. Serve with a nice grass fed and full fat butter and a sweet and delicious syrup. I am absolutely loving our Shagbark Hickory Syrup on these pancakes. I don’t usually do much sugar but my body is *really* loving the Shagbark right now.