Musings on Herbalism, Aromatherapy & Chinese Medicine
Author: Jessica Baker
Jessica Baker is an acupuncturist, herbalist, aromatherapist and educator. Her passion for sharing the messages of the plants is reflected in her private practice and her classes on aromatherapy, herbalism, and Chinese medicine. As a continuing education provider, she teaches at several herbal symposia and acupuncture conferences throughout the U.S. Jessica teaches at The Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism and is an Assistant Supervising Practitioner at the Colorado School of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Jessica is a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild and the Colorado chapter of the American Herbalists Guild. She is on the faculty of the Holistic Cannabis Academy and is a Cornerstone Business Leader at Women Grow.
My husband and I took a road trip to Tennessee for our 11th wedding anniversary (we celebrated our 11th year on the Harvest Moon). As we drove the thousand plus miles to Chattanooga, there were moments when I was overwhelmed with emotion at the beauty of our planet.
This was my first (I think) driving through Kansas, Missouri, and Kentucky. Growing up, we would drive back to Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida to visit family during our summer or holiday breaks, but I don’t remember going this way. I love a new adventure, and even miles and miles of farmland had me enthralled.
The changing of the seasons was palatable, with chilly nights and fallen leaves. With each new terrain, I gave thanks for the opportunity to witness the natural shifts that occur in nature, and within myself. Like a child, I saw everything with new eyes, in awe of the miracle of existence.
As I drove through sunflowers, cornfields, and hay bales I was inspired me to create a tea as pleasing as the journey east with the love of my life (and our hound dog, Alice).
Milky Silk Rose Tea
1/2 ounce dried Rose Petals, unsprayed- for loving life fully
1/2 ounce dried Milky Oats- for nourishing life
1/2 ounce dried Citrus Peel- for regulating energy
1/2 ounce dried Corn Silk- for remembering what’s really important
1/2 ounce dried Elderberries- for strengthening vitality
Mix all dried herbs together and store in a glass jar in a cool, dark place. Take 1 tbsp of herbs and steep in hot water for 10-15 minutes. Strain out herbs, sip, and think of what a wonder it is to be alive, right here, right now. What are you grateful for? How can you help others to see the miracle that is their life?
I am still beaming from my weekend at the Red Earth Herbal Gathering. It will be hard to explain the myriad of emotions I felt as opened myself to gathering with women with the intention for ritual and healing, but I will try. I will describe my experiences if not for personal catharsis, then to entice you to join us next year.
I arrived at Peaceful Meadows Retreat early on Friday morning because I was in charge
of the Wellness tent and needed to set up before attendees came. I was given a shaded area near Registration and right beside the Kid Village. As I unpacked my supplies, I could feel the relaxed, joyful energy of the land and it infused me instantly. I knew deep healing would take place in this sacred place.
As women and children arrived and registered, the Sacred Gateway opened and we were all smudged and cleared with floral water as entered the doorway. Once inside, we burnt our worries and fears and wrote our intentions on fabric to link together with other peoples dreams and wishes. At the end of the entryway, we were greeted by women who offered us henna tattoos, card readings, and aromatic spritzers and elixirs. By the time I made it through the gateway I felt elated and rooted simultaneously. I glided to my campsite on the far edge of the large pond and watched geese take off and land.
Opening Circle was Saturday morning in the meadow near the Red Tent and the Womb Room. Teachers, volunteers, and sponsors were introduced so I spoke about my class, Rooted in Integrity: Working with Essential Oils and the free services we were offering at the Wellness tent. Besides basic first-aid, we had tinctures and elixirs for menstrual cramps, allergies, coughs, and emotional support. I offered tuning fork treatments for a few hours on Saturday afternoon, which was well received by recipients and so healing and fun for me.
I was only able to catch part of the keynote speaker, Lorene Wapotich, on Friday night. Her talk on creating sacred space and ritual resonated with us all. Because of Wellness duties, teaching, and relaxing by the pond with my friend Willow (and her 3-year old daughter Athena), I only attended a couple of classes the entire weekend. Saturday morning I chose to listen to Ann Drucker teach on Maya Spiritual Healing with Plants. I experienced her teachings last year at Red Earth, so I knew I wanted to be in her presence again. As I had hoped, we gave each other limpias, plant brushings and plant baths. We called in the Maya spirits with plants and chocolate, prayed over each other, and laughed and cried all our cares away.
Saturday night Shaela Noella led a song circle around the campfire. One by one women went around the fire and sang whatever they desired. Bethy Love Light, conscious hip hop artist, performed some songs and many women led songs that were call and response or sing-along. All were beautifully performed. I am still in awe of all the talent by the fire that night. When it was my turn I gathered the courage to sing a song I wrote earlier this summer. It is to the tune of Let It Be and is my devotional to Mother Nature. It felt good (and scary) to stand and sing in front of friends and strangers.
Before I taught my essential oil class on Sunday morning, I attended the Green Tent, an offering from Rachael Carlevale of Ganjasana. The Green Tent is a combination of of yoga, ganja, and ceremony. Rachael is wonderful and her class was the perfect way to start the day.
For my class I chose to teach about how important it is to use essential oils sparingly and reverently. Most of the women in the class didn’t know about sandalwood being harvested to extinction or how much plant material it takes to make very little essential oil (roses are an extreme example, but it takes 20-50 rosesto make 1 drop of rose essential oil!)
I always teach that herbal teas, oils, and tinctures should be the first line of defense, and
then use essential oils when stronger medicine is needed. Essential oils should not be used for every scrape and ailment, not only because of developing oversensitivity to the oils, but because the planet’s resources cannot sustain the current trend of essential oil use. I encourage students that use essential oils for aromatherapy massage to dilute essential oils in carrier oil before applying to the skin. To ensure that essential oils from plants like cedar wood, sandalwood, and even lavender, are around for future generations, we must dilute our essential oils and cease the practice of “neat” application. The students in the class were thankful for educating them about the environmental impacts of large-scale essential oil production and they left class with alternatives for essential oils when working with aromatic plants (incense, aromatic steams, fresh flowers, infused oils).
After my class, it was time for the Red TentInitiation, led by Ixeeya Lin and Astrid Grove. The Red Tent is a place where women gather to give and receive wisdom. Also called the Moon Lodge, the Red Tent was traditionally where menstruating women gathered during their moon time. In offering this space, the facilitators of Red Earth did not necessarily seek to recreate the traditions of other times/cultures, rather they wanted to create space within our present reality to honor the sanctity of women’s experience of menarche, menstruation and menopause.
Outside of the Red Tent, we lined up from oldest to youngest and as snake women began shedding our skins as we spiral danced into a circle. As we entered the tent, we were brushed with plants, smudged and welcomed into the sacred womb. I won’t describe the rituals performed in the Red Tent because they were intensely personal, sad, powerful, and healing. I left feeling more rooted and secure in myself than I have in many months. Joy surged through me as I remembered my own divinity.
Everyone was over-stimulated, full, grateful, and exhausted, so Closing Circle was short and sweet on Sunday afternoon. I finished packing up my campsite and Wellness tent. I was filled to the brim with joy and relaxation, deeply grateful for the power of women healing together, and eager to see my husband again.
Please join us next year at the Red Earth Herbal Gathering! We would love to share these healing practices with you.
My feet ached after three nights of dancing to one of my favorite bands, STS9. Two of those nights were at Red Rocks Amphitheater, which boasts 380 stairs to the top. Needless to say, I needed to soak my feet!
I pulled out my resin foot bowl, filled it hot water, threw in flowers, sea salt, and a couple of drops of essential oil, grabbed a book (Educated by Tara Westover- not the best book when trying to relax, but a must read if you haven’t), a joint, a glass of water, and chilled. It was beautiful.
And not something I do often enough. As I sat there feeling the warmth of the salt water and the aroma of the herbs work their magic, I began to breathe long deep breaths of relief. The intensity of the last couple of months moved through me and freed up tension that entangled my muscles and my mind.
After three eclipses, everything retrograde, and moving into production of my essential oil line, I finally felt like myself again. The effects of a little self-love and recognition for the transformations I have gone through are still marinating, but it feels good. Like I will transcend into loving myself for exactly who I am.
I share my Sunday Evening Come Down Foot Soothing Soak recipe with you, but I encourage you to choose whichever flowers and herbs you need that day.
Sunday Evening Come Down Foot Soothing Soak
Handful of Sea Salt (can use Epsom salt)
Handful of dried Organic Rose petals
3 sprigs of fresh Tulsi Basil (from my friend Willow’s yard)
3 sprigs of fresh Garden Sage (from my yard)
6 sprigs of fresh Mints (variety from my yard)
2 drops of Lavender essential oil
Muddle the herbs and add to footbath (bin, or tub big enough to fit both feet), along with the salt. Fill the bath 1/4-1/2 full with water that has been boiled. Add enough cold water to have your feet rest comfortably. Add essential oil and disperse it in the water. Take a moment of gratitude as you immerse your soles in the warm liquid. Soak your feet for as long as you feel like it. Keep adding hot water (it’s awesome if you have someone boiling water and replenishing it for you, but that could be wishful thinking). After you dry your feet, apply coconut oil liberally. Pour the herbal water into your grass or garden. Give thanks for the nourishment they provide.
If you don’t have a bin or tub large enough to fit both feet, or your body wants it, make this a bath soak instead of a foot soak.
Take care of those souls. And remember to keep on dancing.
I am getting excited for the 3rd Annual Red Earth Herbal Gathering in Boulder, Colorado September 14-16! A weekend of gathering with women to honor the Earth, women, and myself is exactly what I need. I already hear the drum calling me into circle and beckoning me into the Red Tent.
The mission ofRed Earth Herbal Gathering is to be a sacred ceremonial container created by and for women to honor and activate our inherent life-nurturing power. We gather together to learn from and inspire each other through ceremony, workshops, deep healing and community building. By recognizing the beauty and power of what it is to be women doing our sacred work, our life’s calling, we step into our collective potential to support the great turning of our planet at this time. The gathering will other workshops, herb walks, kids classes, and a powerful Red Tent initiation
There are some amazing teachers and I am especially looking forward to seeing Ann Drucker speak on Maya spiritual healing plants, doing the WOMB dance with Ixeeya Lin, and practicing yoga with Rachael Caravale of Ganjasana, again this year. Since there are two nights of camping this year, we will have two nights by the fire with a song circle that is sure to bring out latent talent, laughter and tears! Oh how I can’t wait to be basking in that glow.
I will be teaching a class Sunday morning on the conscious use of essential oils entitled Rooted in Integrity: Working with Essential Oils. I will also be heading up the Wellness Area. Besides being a basic first aid station, Wellness will have some tinctures, essences, and elixirs for all to use throughout the weekend. Practitioners are welcome to offer massage, energy work, herbal consultations, or any other offering they would like to gift the other women at the gathering. I will have a couple of openings for Acutonics and Chinese tongue and pulse diagnosis and would love to talk herbs with anyone that wants to stop by!
I can feel the stirring of Autumn on the wind. Although we may still have a few sweltering days left in Denver, there is crispness to the air as the sun sets earlier each day. Like the plants and trees around me, I am beginning to go inward. Usually I don’t want Summer to end, but after two months of stifling heat I need a reprieve. The Yang energy that peaks on Summer Solstice now wanes until Yin overtakes it after Autumn Equinox. The subtle shifts from Yang to Yin is palpable now, the cool evening breeze replacing stifling hot nights.
All around my neighborhood, I see the vibrant flowers begin to fade, as their energy concentrates into seeds that will become next year’s beauty. I notice the same natural cycles are occurring within me, I feel an urge to concentrate and reserve that fiery yang energy of the Summer sun. I want to soak in the last few weeks of sunny, hot weather and eagerly await the relief of Autumn.
Observe what the cycles of nature are reflecting back to you. How has your energy changed since the beginning or middle of the season? What have you harvested from the experiences of the last couple of months?
Life seems a little surreal lately. Maybe it’s all the eclipses, but I have been feeling my shadow side big time. I know challenging times are opportunities for growth and I believe these times are no different. We are all being compelled to see the whole truth about ourselves, no matter how hard it is to wade through the illusions.
Clarity does not come easily, as we have built lies over millennia and the deceptions are ingrained in us. They have become part of our consciousness, part of our DNA. We must do what we can to awaken the truth.
And what is the truth? It’s simple: We are connected to everyone and to everything on this planet. We are alive to play, to learn, to bond, and to love. We are alive so we may honor the Earth and all her blessings, and so we may honor ourselves.
We have been taught that we are here to succeed, to be better than others, and to fear what is perceived as different. We have been fed these lies for thousands of years, and now those ruses no longer sustain us. We yearn for community so badly, but connection is difficult when we have been separated for so long.
For me the solution is easy (easier said than done). I call upon my plant allies, my herbal medicine to bring me insight into myself so that I may be closer to others. I ask for their guidance in how I may soften so that the harshness of our world doesn’t break me in two. I am comforted as they nourish me with their wisdom.
Clinically I have seen many herbs help those that want a deeper connection to themselves and others. One of my favorite herbal combinations to inspire that one love feeling, can be made into a tea with fresh or dried herbs, or applied topically as an essential oil blend (always dilute essential oils before putting on skin).
If you are making a tea, use 1-2 teaspoons per cup. If making an essential oil blend, use 1-2 drops of each essential oil and dilute in 1 ounce of your favorite carrier oil.
Clary Sage(Salvia sclarea)- to bring clarity and compassion to an unsettling truth
Pine(Pinus spp.)-to dispel guilt, shame, or anger that may arise upon your awakening
Rose(Rosa centifolia)- to arouse love for yourself and others
What herbs do you call upon when you feel disconnected from your truth? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
As I say every August 1st, this is an auspicious day for my husband Chip and I. It is the date we drove into California with nothing but our favorite albums and our cat, Mama Kitty. We were young, adventurous and ready to feel the freedom California promised. The passing of Proposition 215 and the reputation for great ganja was the catalyst for our move to Humboldt County in 1997. We were emboldened by our youth, Prop 215, and the freedom fighters that came before. Little did I know that the allure of cannabis would bring me to the redwood forest where I would be initiated into the world of healing plants.
As you approach the Humboldt County line on 101 North you notice that the temperature drops as the towering redwood trees block out the sun. The air stills and time seems to slow down as soon as you are in the presence of these gentle giants. A feeling of serenity and calm engulfs you as you enter the timelessness of an ancient forest. It is a visceral feeling, being in awe of magnificence much greater than oneself.
I still remember the first time I experienced a redwood forest. Their beauty temporarily stunned me, as I stood looking up into their branches. Visions of times long ago instantly flashed through my mind. I could see what it was like before humans separated from nature, before profit surpassed our love of the land, before the decimation of entire forests and their ecosystems. The reality of how recent it all occurred struck me deeply and I began to understand how greatly humans impacted the world. It was a surreal interaction to have these trees communicate with me instantly and so directly. All I could do was listen.
In my book, Plant Songs: Reflections on Herbal Medicine,I devote a chapter to Redwood although the entire book is inspired by my love of these brilliant beings. Here is an excerpt from Plant Songs about the wisdom from the Grandmother Tree that lives behind my house:
Redwood: Think Back, Slow Down, Listen, Remember
There is a 2nd-growth redwood tree beside my house whom I call Grandmother Tree. I have been speaking to this tree since my husband and I bought the property where she lives. Grandmother Tree has one of the largest burls I’ve eve seen at her base. In this burl are the spirits of Green Man and an ancient tree fairy. I see them both very clearly, although it is with Green Man that I most often converse. Green Man has been called by many names: Shen Nong, Pan, and Osiris are but a few. He is one of the manifestations that nature speaks through. With Green Man and Grandmother Tree I have had the most profound insights about humanity’s place in the natural world. I have listened to nature as she describes witnessing the demise of the human race. It is our mad quest for dominance that has separated us from the rest of Life and has stunted evolutionary growth as a result. Instead of working alongside nature, we have attempted to manipulate and control it, to the detriment of all of life on Earth.
The Earth is a living being with countless ecosystems that are always altered and sometimes destroyed by human habitation. The dramatic decrease in redwood trees has also decreased the intense fog that once engulfed and sustained life in the millions of acres of redwood canopy. The loss of canopy and fog has led to the decline of species within an ecosystem that has existed for millions of years. We can’t foresee the consequences of destroying such an ecosystem.
Grandmother Tree has spoken to me about how humans have nearly destroyed themselves time and time again. She says we are a resilient species but not beyond extinction. Her neutrality soothes me. She is matter-of-fact. Her attitude says, We enjoy having you here, but it’s your choice to stay. We can destroy or we can create, and we will reap what we sow. Life on Earth will thrive. The question is, will we?
As I re-read this passage it gives me hope. Human time is so small compared to planetary and cosmic time. I hope we humans change our ways. If we don’t the Earth will survive and eventually thrive again. I really hope the redwoods are part of that revolution.
Here on the coast of Northern California, the mist-covered mornings is a nice reprieve to he harsh sun and dry heat of Denver. The fog hugs the coast in an intimate embrace thanks to what is left of the ancient redwood canopy. I am grateful for the cool breeze and grey skies.
The rhythm of the waves lulls me to sleep each night and the birdsongs sing me awake each morning. I am reminded me that this is when I am happiest. I know that among the trees and by the sea is where I’m meant to be. One day it will be again. Until then I cherish the moments I am here.
I walk around our land and am surrounded by blackberries (Himalayan, which are quite invasive, but the bees love them), huckleberries, and salal berries. Patches of daisies, roses, and foxglove are scattered along side the plantain, horsetail, and self-heal. It’s an herbalist dream around here. I am grateful to have access to these herbal treasures.
I look forward to the berries that will be plentiful soon! Until then I may take a blackberry blossom or two (if the bees allow) for an afternoon sun tea. I have many iterations of “yard” tea, but the fruit blossom teas are some of my all time favorite!
You can use any blossom that grows (unsprayed) around you.
Berry Blossom Sun Tea
Handful of blossoms from your favorite berry bush:
I’ve been fighting the urge to be in a bad mood for a couple of weeks now. There are all kinds of things I can blame it on- politics, regulatory agencies, conservatives. The reality is, I am irritated with myself.
With all of the injustices in the world I don’t feel as if I’m doing enough. I talk a good talk, but there have been weeks of just feeling hopeless and not accomplishing anything. I haven’t wanted to rush out to volunteer or march because it’s been hard to even be around people. I’ll be honest crowds have been intimidating lately.
And that irritates me- because I know that media and politicians love to spread fear and me not wanting to be in crowds is a direct effect of their propaganda.
I’m over feeling paralyzed and frustrated. I’m over blaming “them” for my discontent.
I’ve been seeing so much on social media about self-care being the most important thing you can do to help others. I agree, kind of. Yes self-care is the most important thing I can do- at first. Then I have to do more. We have to do more. Just getting massages and taking time to walk in the woods is actually not enough to change the world. Time and time again, it is direct action that works.
I am at a place again where my anger is no longer stifling me, but preparing me for action. The challenge for me is to fuel this action with love and compassion and not fear and hate (which is sometimes easier said than done!) I always have my faithful herbal allies, reminding me that an open mind and calm heart is the only way forward.
Besides fueling myself with black tea (I have been adding rose petals to balance it out- does that count?), I’ve been using my Water Element Courageessential oil blend. I formulated these blends with the intentions and energies of each of the five elements of Chinese medicine. The Water Element is associated with Zhi, our determination and willpower. When we have conviction, purpose and vitality, our Water Element is balanced and we are able to respond with courage and resiliency. When our Water Element is depleted, we may experience fatigue, lack of control, or fear, which further drains our reserves.
The essential oils in the Courageblend can help bring the Water Element back into balance so that we may be the change we want to see in the world.
Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)- for metal/water connection
Wild Frankincense (Boswellia carterii)- for calmness and serenity
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)- for relaxation of body and mind
Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanoides)- for rooting deep into your principles and desires
You either love or hate the Peace is Patriotic bumper sticker. I love it! To me, peace is the ultimate patriotic act because you love your country, the land, and her people, enough for them to be safe and happy. I don’t believe in the “you have to have war to have peace” paradigm. What you need to have is true sustainability, less consumerism, and a true belief in justice and equality for all (not just Americans).
We can sugar coat it all we want, but it is domination over “resources” that keeps the war machine going. It is corporations like Monsanto, Bayer, Nestle, Exxon, and others that are linked to big governments like our own that continue to spread their agendas of drilling and mining resources and controlling water and food supplies, while selling us pesticides to kill the pests and pharmaceuticals to subdue the rest. It’s a paradigm we all participate in and one that must be evolved if we truly care about our future generations, our water, land, or air.
This 4th of July post doesn’t sound too patriotic. And that’s the point. We’re shifting this reality one breath at a time, one word at a time, one cup of tea at a time.
With that I leave you with a recipe that I hope will encourage you to think beyond the confines of what it means to be an “American.” Maybe it will bring you a deeper sense of what it is to be Human. Perhaps you will go even further and ponder what it’s like to be a Being, one with all other beings on Earth, united in peace and compassion.
Patriotic Peace Tea
1 teaspoon Red Rose petals (organic or unsprayed)- open your heart to allow compassion to come in
1 teaspoon wild Yarrow flowers- bring out your peaceful warrior spirit
1 teaspoon Borage flowers- to release grief and restore strength
Steep all flowers in 8 ounces of hot water for 15 minutes. Set herbs to the side and sip the tea in a quiet, relaxing environment. Observe how it feels to go within. Remember this sense of peace when you interact with others today and everyday.