Finding a Good Herbalist

Yesterday I taught the Vitalist Chinese Medicine class at the Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism, as I have for the third year in a row. I just have to say how much I Love teaching about qi, the vital life force energy that encompasses all of life; transcending time and space; and taking herbs that help you propel your life forward. I mean how cool is it that I get to talk like that. And have people take me seriously! Even after I have them stick out their tongues at each other!

I love that so many people, including herbalists, are getting excited about Chinese medicine. I have heard more and more Western herbalists dappling with the concepts of Chinese medicine. And I think that’s awesome. I also find it concerning, because although there is a vague grasp of the theories, there is a deficit in understanding how to correctly diagnose the patterns that are causing the imbalances within the body. Giving or recommending an herb without the correct diagnosis can at best, kinda work, and at worst, exacerbate a condition instead of improving it.

I have clients come to me all the time telling me that they were given an herb or formula that either didn’t work or made their symptoms worse. It is usually because of two reasons:

  1. The client wasn’t compliant with the timing and doses given OR
  2. It was the wrong herb or formula based on their constitution and the root of the problem.

Chinese medicine shines in the ability to accurately diagnose patterns and get to the root of the disease. A lot Western herbal practitioners did not learn diagnostic skills, and therefore treat symptoms instead of addressing the cause of the disease. I noticed I lacked the ability to diagnose these patterns until I went to Chinese medicine school and spent years learning the nuances of the medicine.

Many Western herbal teachers are now teaching how to properly diagnose patterns that manifest in the body, but the information is slow to catch up with many herbalists. Most herbs are completely safe so not having the correct herb for someone usually does no harm. What it does do is perpetuate the thought that herbs don’t work. And we know that is not true! If you are an herbalist that works clinically, I urge you to please find a teacher that will guide you in the art and science of pattern diagnosis. If you want to find a reputable herb school or a registered herbalist to work with, check out The American Herbalists Guild directory (you’ll find me there!).  

You can also check out the first season of my podcast, The Herb Walk with Jessica Baker, where I interview some of my favorite herbalists!

For the love of plants,

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Jessica 

when energy flows, wellness grows 

My Top 3 Healing Plants of 2017

Nine days into 2018 and I feel great! All of the political and societal problems are still here but I am taking a different approach to “stress” this year. Instead of getting wrapped up in fear and drama, I pledge to step back, take a deep breath, and let my words and actions be led by love. Not a passive, “sending love and light,” but with compassion, truth, and justice. It won’t always be easy to remember, as I can get easily angered, fired up and passionate. I have to keep this promise. My health and happiness depends on it.

The last few months of last year I felt like I was not accomplishing anything. I couldn’t focus or complete any project I started the last couple of years (my book Plant Songs, my essential oil blends, my new website). I realized I was paralyzed by fear and spun by all the confusion and turmoil in the media. Now that I recognize my fears, I have made huge steps forward on so many levels! I have moved into the final phases of production on Plant Songs and I have a renewed sense of faith in who I am and what I can do. I am ecstatic!

So many plants helped me overcome my fear and distraction. Without my connection to herbal medicine, I would be lost and I am forever grateful for their gifts. For me, these 3 herbs were essential the last 6 months and will continue to be there when I need them going forward.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)– I take a 5:1 tincture of fresh harvested St. John’s Wort flowers almost every day. It is essential in winter when there is very little sun and also for when I get discouraged, frightened, or frustrated by politics. I know it is time to start taking it again when I start beating myself up for not being enough. I also love St. John’s Wort essential oil blended with Vetiver and Rose Geranium and diluted in Apricot kernel oil, and applied to my temples or chest when I need some compassion, courage and strength.

Cannabis SativaHemp essential oil has been key to reducing the pain from scoliosis and an injury from a few years ago. Working with meditation, herbs and different physical modalities to change muscular patterns and dissolve scar tissue has taken a lot of energy and willpower. It has also exacerbated pain as my spine shifts and moves. A roll-on blend of essential oils of Hemp, Frankincense and Pine immediately applied to the top of my shoulders, and around my pelvic girdle has done wonders for my healing.

Milky Oats (Avena sativa)– My morning cup of Milky Oats tea starts my day off with the nourishment my nervous system needs. Avena sativa is a nervine and is sweet and nutritive, taking the edge off like no other herb I know. My favorite blend to ease the tensions of the outside world is Milky Oats, Rose petals, Elderberry, and Lemon Balm. It is nutritious, floral and delicious!

May these plants help you as they have helped me. May you give back to them in return.

For the love of plants,

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Jessica

when energy flows, wellness grows

Photo credit: High Times

Medicine for the Soul Tea

I have shared this recipe before, but it is one of my all-time favorite teas. It is sure to nourish your body and soul, and help with any residual holy day blues you may be experiencing. Enjoy!

Medicine for the Soul 

2-3 tsp Milky Oats (Avena sativa)

2-3 tsp Hawthorn Berries (Crataegus spp.)

1-2 tsp Sage (your choice- Pineapple, White, Clary)

1/4-1/2 tsp Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)

Simmer Hawthorn berries and Cinnamon in 2-3 cups water for at least 5 minutes.  Turn heat off and steep Milky Oats for at least 5 minutes.  Add Sage the last 1-2 minutes of the steep.  Strain herbs and drink 1/2 cup of tea per serving.  Feel the herbs move through out your body and observe any sensations that may arise.

For the love of plants,

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Jessica

when energy flows, wellness grows

Winter Solstice Celebration

Winter Solstice is the celebration of the longest night of the year. It is a time to gather with loved ones and reflect on the past year. It is a time to honor what we have lost and gained. We celebrate the harvest and the cycles of the Earth. We honor our own cycles and what has transpired for us since the last dark night.

On Winter Solstice, we gather to write down what we need to get rid of before the return of the Sun. We go deep within and root out our darkest fears, so they can be brought to light, transformed, and released. Build a fire and write down these fears, throw them into the flames and watch them burn and be transformed into smoke and ash. Now write down what you want to cultivate in the year ahead. It can be cultivating kindness, community, or money. Tape your intentions to your bathroom mirror and say them out loud every morning. You will be surprised at how quickly these thoughts and words become reality.

As you hold your ceremony, you might want to have your herbal allies to help bring insight into your fears and intentions.

Herbs that Ground & Guide

Rosemary– spicy, aromatic, and stimulating, rosemary reminds you of who you are. Rosemary guides energy through all three burners (san jiao in Chinese medicine) and transforms dampness, bringing clarity to all situations. A sprig in 8 ounces of hot water will also help with bloating and nausea after eating.

Reishi mushroom– bitter and calming, reishi mushroom assists you in going deep. Reishi calms the mind and the spirit, making it an important herb in quieting an overactive mind and nervous system. One medium sized mushroom can be decocted in a quart of water for 1-12 hours as a medicinal tonic (take 1-4 ounces of decoction daily). The longer you boil, the more bitter the tea becomes.

Marshmallow root– cool and nourishing, marshmallow root soothes irritation in the digestive and urinary tracts. It benefits anybody that needs to be nurtured and supported. One tablespoon of marshmallow root simmered in 8 ounces of water for 15 minutes makes a grounding, earthy tasting tea.

For the love of plants,

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Jessica

when energy flows, wellness grows

Image credit: Annya

 

The Herb Walk Podcast Interview with Jane Bothwell

I wasn’t going to release another podcast episode until next year and then I thought you might want one to listen to on your holiday travels! In this episode I speak with my very first herb teacher, Jane Bothwell.

We discuss her annual medicinal cannabis conference and her many herbal offerings in northern California and around the globe (she is taking small groups to Hawaii and Greece in 2018). Jane’s herb school, Dandelion Herbal Center, is nestled in the redwoods in beautiful and remote Humboldt County, California. An ideal location to connect with the spirit of plants! Through her Festival of Herbs series, she invites herbalists like Rosemary Gladstar, Pam Montgomery, Christopher Hobbs and others from across the U.S. to visit and share their wisdom to the herbal community. She is a gift to us all and I am so happy to share a little of her story with you!

Enjoy this episode of The Herb Walk Podcast and Subscribe today to catch up on all of Season 1 and find out when Season 2 is released next year!

Spiced Cocoa Love Recipe

Yesterday was National Cocoa Day, and although I didn’t know that was a “thing” I am always happy to sit down and enjoy a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

Here is my go-to recipe for an aromatically spiced hot chocolate.

Aromatic Spice Cocoa Love 

8 ounces of organic almond or coconut milk

1-2 heaping tablespoons of organic, fair trade cocoa powder or chocolate sauce

1/8-1/4 teaspoon organic powdered cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon organic powdered nutmeg

1 teaspoon dried organic rose petals

Warm the almond milk and stir in cocoa powder, cinnamon and nutmeg until milk powders are well blended. Turn off heat and steep rose petals for a couple of minutes. Strain out petals and pour cocoa into your favorite mug. Extra points for dunking in your favorite cookie!

For the love of plants,

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Jessica

when energy flows, wellness grows

Image credit: Pinterest

On the Road Again

I am on the road again. This time driving back to Denver from Northern California. I’m a little sad to leave my epic coastal home to come back to “Babylon,” but I am more than a little excited to see my Colorado friends. I’m also thrilled to finish up the first line of products for Baker Botanica….and hopefully have some ready for release in the next month or so! We’ll see how it all goes.

Also wanted to let you know that my book, Plant Songs, is in the production phase. This means that I’m working on the cover art and formatting for the book. I will have a printed copy of Plant Songs in hand in January 2018! Agh!!! It’s so exciting and scary at the same time!

It feels good to wrap up these projects by the end of the year (and to have put out the first season of The Herb Walk Podcast).  It has been a whirlwind year of intensity and amazingness! I look forward to a more mellow December to assimilate it all.

For the love of plants,

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Jessica

Feels So Good Foot Bath Recipe

As the days darken and the nights grow cooler I look forward to evenings cuddled up with a book, cozy blanket and hot cup of tea. A couple of times a month I make these nights even more special with warm foot baths. I blend together my favorite flowers, hydrosols and essential oils and escape into my own aromatic oasis. Foot baths are super easy to prepare and are more rewarding than you can imagine.

Ooh, That Feels So Good Foot Bath

Bring a stockpot full of water to a boil.

Turn off heat and add a handful of your favorite fresh or dried herbs

Let herbs steep for 10-15 minutes.

Strain out enough liquid for you to enjoy a hot cup during your foot bath

Pour the rest of the tea in a plastic or resin tub large enough to place both feet

If necessary, add more warm water to cover up to your ankles.

Once the footbath is at a comfortable temperature, add 1-2 tablespoons of Diluted essential oils to the water and swirl to mix with water.

Place both feet into tub, sit back and enjoy your cup of tea.

My favorite herbs for a relaxing foot bath:

Rose petals, Lavender and Calendula flowers, and Skullcap

I like to use coconut oil as my carrier oil for essential oils in most baths because it feels so yummy and moisturizing. It’s great for rough areas like our heels so it’s perfect for foot baths.

My favorite essential oils for a relaxing foot bath:

Lavender, Vetiver, Frankincense (ethically harvested), Hemp, Ylang Ylang, Rose Geranium

Only 1-3 drops of essential oils is needed per 1 ounce of coconut oil. Remember it takes a lot of plant material to make a small amount of essential oil. Use sparingly and respectfully.

This is a super simple recipe, yet relaxing to mind, body, and spirit. Take the time for yourself tonight. You deserve it.

For the love of plants,

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Jessica

when energy flows, wellness grows

 

Find (& Spread) Peace and Harmony

I just spent five days at the Pacific Symposium at the Catamaran Resort in San Diego. The Pacific Symposium brings Chinese medicine scholars from all over the world together to share their love of this ancient medicine.

As always, I come back full of enthusiasm and reverence for this life I have chosen. I am reminded that we are dynamic energetic beings that are deeply connected to all life in the universe. We are of one source of energy or qi, navigating time, space, and matter as best we can.

We are also broken people. On a constant quest for self, we have forgotten our innate connection to everything else. Chinese medicine reminds me that we are wood, earth, fire, water, and metal. We cycle with the planets, moon, and tide. We cycle together, in rhythm and harmony.

It is evident that we are out of rhythm, out of sync with this universal energy. We all feel it and it is manifesting in the extreme violence, fear, and sadness that is pervading our society. It is overwhelming. Thankfully we have a multitude of tools to help bring us back into balance.

Breathe– the most obvious and for me sometimes the hardest

I hold my breath all the time. Throughout the day when I begin to feel tired, anxious or fearful I notice I am holding my breath. Check in with yourself and see if you too are holding your breath.

Practice Gratitude– not for what you have, but for what nature provides

I find that when I have gratitude for air for breath, trees and plants for food, medicine, shelter, and clothing, and water for all of life, it brings me a sense of peaceful wholeness. Breathe and notice what you are grateful for.

Take your Herbs– food is medicine

I have had subtle and profound changes in my life from taking herbs. I sip a cup of warm chamomile tea after dinner and I begin to relax. I add a pinch of cinnamon and ginger to my morning oatmeal and I am warmed by their presence. From basil in our pesto to pepper on our eggs, herbs have been an integral part of our daily lives.

Keep it Simple– life is easier than we make it

Breathe, say thanks, and remember our plant medicine. If you practice these three things I promise life will be a little easier. I’m not saying it is going to solve all the world’s problems, but it will make your day a little better. Remember when we are more balanced, we will be less aggressive, afraid, or apathetic. Sometimes that is all we can do for the world.

For the love of plants,

cropped-jess-plant-bath

Jessica

when energy flows, wellness grows

Plant Spirit Communication

These holy days of honoring our ancestors always make me a little sad. I have lost a lot of loved ones (two and four legged) and my altar usually overflows with pictures and names of friends and family that have passed over. I am in San Diego this year so my altar is small and sparse, with only my medicine bag, some gemstones, and a few oils and elixirs I like to travel with. Although I can’t honor them the way I normally do, I still thank them for all the wisdom and love they have given me.

In Chinese medicine, many aromatic plants have the ability to “open orifices.” This means that they can expand our consciousness and open our heart and mind to new thoughts and experiences. Aromatic plants also transform dampness, which can bring us more clarity of thought and action. While the opening and transformative powers of aromatic plants help connect us to our own spirit, they can also help with communicating with our ancestors and other spirits as well.

There are a few aromatic plants I call upon when I want to deepen my insights, meditations, and communication with the spirit realm.

Marigold– the aroma of Marigold is the only flower that the dead can smell; opens communication between earthly and spirit realms

Clary Sage– brings clarity of thought and feelings; increases visionary awareness

Rose– transforms all grief and heartache, helps to see the beauty of life

Frankincense– opens chest and lungs, reduces constriction caused by loss and grief

Cinnamon bark– warms and invigorates, strengthens gate of fire, provides grounding for deeper meditation

I hope you find the aromatic plants that call to you and discover all they have to offer.

May you, and your ancestors, be nourished.

For the love of plants,

Jessica

when energy flows, wellness grows

 

Herbs & Spices for Samhain

Today we celebrate Samhain, a day between times, where the Celts celebrated the end of Summer and the beginning of Winter. It is the feast of the dead, a time of the thin veil, where spirits, ghosts and beings of other worlds walk among us. To appease them, remember to leave food and drink offerings on altars and doorsteps for the “wandering dead.”

Today is also known as witches day. An auspicious day where medicine made is very strong as it is infused with all the celestial energy of timeless space. Add herbs and spices of the season to honor the coming dark, cold time.

Some of my favorites herbs for Samhain are the warm carminative spices of ginger, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon. I decoct the spices with freshly harvested roots of dandelion, yellowdock, and angelica for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and throw in a pinch of mugwort leaves to help with dreamspace and astral travel. Sip throughout the night as you celebrate the spirits around and within you.

For the love of plants,

cropped-jess-plant-bath

Jessica

when energy flows, wellness grows

Photo credit: Smithsonian

Autumn Ritual Tonic

autumn-let-go

In Chinese medicine fall is associated with the metal element. Each element has several correspondences like seasons, colors, organ systems, and spiritual entities. For metal the organ systems are the lungs and large intestine and the entity is the corporeal soul, or Po. Our Po is housed in the lungs and is a dense energy that manifests as pride, envy, greed, shame, guilt, or negative judgments when the metal element is out of balance. When we are tormented by feelings of resentment for ourselves or others, this is our Po acting out.

During fall many people also notice the arise of unresolved grief or sadness. Grief also settles in the lungs and can be felt this time of year. I always think of friends and family that are no longer here. I do rituals to honor their life and their passing.

Autumn is the season of letting go of what no longer is and what shall never be again. It is the season of impermanence and acceptance. I have trouble with that sometimes and I find my Po dwelling on the past or I become full of fear and doubt. What helps me is to make nourishing medicine that will strengthen my Qi and ground and calm my Po. I love this grounding root and bark blend. The herbs in this tea strengthen and nourish and bring me back to center. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Autumn Ritual Tonic

2 astragalus roots (Huang Qi)- strengthens lung qi

2 pieces mimosa bark (He Huan Pi)- calms spirit, moves qi

2 rolls of cinnamon bark (Rou Gui)- warms interior, benefits gate of fire

2 burdock roots (Niu Bang Gen)- nutritive, strengthens lungs and digestion

Rinse roots and bark. In a stainless steel or glass pot, simmer plant material in one quart of spring water for 20-30 minutes. Strain herbs and set aside to make another batch. Sip warm tea throughout the day to feel nourished and calm.  

For the love of plants,

Jessica

when energy flows, wellness grows

Transforming Fear into Wisdom

I have been frustrated and fearful lately. Frustrated at our political system, upset about humanity’s disregard for life, and angry with myself for the insecurities that hold me back from living my truth. I am afraid that we have taken our consumption and greed too far. I fear we have done irreparable damage to the planet. I fear that the one in five plants that are becoming extinct are warning signs for human survival. I mourn the devastating loss of countless species that have perished because of our unrelenting desire for power. I mourn humanity and our genocide of countless other life forms.

There are many days that I don’t know what to do with these thoughts and feelings. At times I can push through and think that the planet is equipped with ways to deal with our destruction. In other moments I am hopeful that we will gain an unyielding understanding of what needs to be done to reverse global climate change and evolve into a more enlightened, compassionate species.

Most of the time I remain realistic and know that the Earth will prevail much longer than the human race. We are but one species in a long line of beings that have come and gone before us. Our damage may be irreparable to us, but life will live on. I am grateful for that. It is enough to keep me peaceful in our violent world.

It is with the love of my husband, family, and friends that I have the courage to acknowledge these personal truths. It is in my women’s circle and at herbal gatherings that I gain the clarity to move beyond emotion and into action. It is Nature herself that gives me the strength to carry on and to share to my thoughts with you.

I am grateful for my knowledge of herbalism and the deep connection I have with the Earth and her cycles. Despite my fears I will continue to be strong. I will be a voice for the plants and I will spread as much love as I can . I will continue to share the innate wisdom of plants with anyone that will listen. I will overcome my fears of being misunderstood, dismissed, or ridiculed for believing a different paradigm is possible. I wish the same for you.

For the love of plants,

 cropped-jess-plant-bath

Jessica

when energy flows, wellness grows

My Adventures in Peru

It’s hard to explain the Amazon rainforest to those that haven’t experienced it. I’ve listened to others tell me all about their trips to Peru and how much they loved the people, the plethora of plants and animals, and none of their explanations could’ve prepared me for how utterly amazing this place is.

IMG_3166My husband Chip and I started it off with a day in Lima, scouring music stores for a Peruvian made guitar and a 10-stringed Andean instrument called a charango. Much to our surprise, we came across a luthier that had both in his shop. My charango is so new I can still smell the varnish on it! On the plane from Lima to Iquitos, the guitar got a little banged up, but it just adds to the story of our Peruvian guitar.

Once we arrived in Iquitos, we met up with our friend Kelly (aka “Sparkles”) that has been coming down to the Amazon for 17 years. After the unfortunate death of the owner of Refugio Altiplano, he was asked if he would be interested in buying it since he had been attending ceremonies there since 2000. Much to his (and our) pleasure, he was able to pull it off and is now the proud custodian/proprietor of a natural medicine-healing center with over 20 years of history of helping people heal.

Refugio Altiplano is over an hours boat ride up the Amazon River on old cattle grazing land surrounded by 1,200 of acres of rainforest preserve. It is a beautiful property with El Centro, a meeting area that includes the kitchen and dining area, several rustic jungle casas, and a maloca where ayahuasca ceremonies are held.

They also have a large medicinal herb garden OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwhere they are growing peppers, aloe, and noni, alongside wild sangre de grado (dragon’s blood), una de gato (cat’s claw), chacruna, and ayahuasca. The reverence that Jose, a Mestizo shaman, and the true custodian and guardian of Refugio Altiplano, has for all of these plants is as palatable as the oxygen rich air the rainforest exudes.

It was during the ayahuasca ceremonies that I truly experienced Jose’s love of plant IMG_3248medicine. Once he began to pray and sing the ayahuasca songs, I could feel the sacredness of his words infusing me with love that transcends time and space. Once Daniel, a very humble and powerful Shipibo shaman, begins to sing an icaro to each one of us, I was already deep into the medicine of ayahuasca. An icaro is a song that shamans sing to induce a profound state of healing and awareness. It is unlike anything I have experienced before. Beautiful and deeply, deeply healing.

The river, the people, the shamans, the abundance of medicinal plants, they are now ingrained in my body and in my soul. They are again a part of me, as they always have been, as they always will be.

With love,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jessica