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Cold water: a seaweed gathering adventure

(on wild places, how to gather kelp, and things to do with it)

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When I was growing up in Scotland, our summer holidays were spent on the west coast, staying in little cottages and bed and breakfasts that were out of the way, with plenty of things to explore. The edges of things and places, where wind meets earth and water, have always called to me like a siren’s song, pulled out a deep longing from inside me that expands and grows and bursts outside its bounds until I am so big I just become the world around me: sea crashing on shore, wind whipping up sea spray, shore simultaneously holding strong and giving over time. Needless to say, I’m lucky that I married someone who feels the same draw to stormy and cold seas, so every time we head north for anything, we find a way to get to the coast.

We’d been in San Francisco, hawking my wares at the Renegade Craft Fair. Early on Monday morning, we packed up the car, made ourselves coffees and packed a bag of cheese and apples and headed, from my brother’s house, across to Half Moon Bay, then down highway 1. I spent the drive thinking about how, if I didn’t know that the world was round and that there were other places out there, I’d assume that I was at the end of the world, at the edge of nothing, gazing out over the raging Pacific that even on a calm day feels untamed and enormous. The marine fog rolled in thick around us, as we drove through cypress groves with Spanish moss hanging down over the road and in the fog with the sea smells there were moments where time got lost. I love these moments. I live for these moments. Giant moments where you’re swallowed by the elements. These are good things. Continue reading

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Bitter + sweet (Hawthorn and orange bitters)

Bitterness (serves 1) 

1 cup of anger
a heaping half-cup of powerlessness mixed with
a tablespoon of regret and a
big pinch of stagnation

Method:
Condense, over time, squeezing it hard into a tiny little ball that looks remarkably like a gall stone, then drop into the body and carry around for a long time.


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‘Eat bitter to taste sweetness’ -Chinese proverb.

This proverb, or something like it (I remember something along the lines of ‘eat bitter to avoid a bitter life’), was thrown around a lot when I was at TCM school. Lately, when I’ve been making batches of bitters for the holiday shows I’m doing, I’ve been tossing it around like a hard candy. It’s got me thinking about bitterness and sweetness, and the balance between the two, both in taste and in life. 

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Hawthorn ketchup

(Things to do with hawthorn: on death, time, funny light, and change)

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Paying attention to the seasons and to what I eat is a way of connecting to the cycles of life. The more connections there are in meaning, the richer life feels: there’s a history, a weight, a gravity that only deepens with each layer. These layers can be different things— they can come from your garden, or from the wild; they can be something you connect to your childhood, or maybe your ancestry. In the case of my obsession with hawthorn in the autumn, the layers of connection aren’t local or from my garden or even from the mountains where I gather the majority of my herbs; the connections stretch across a different sort of plane— one of dreams and magic and rings in the grass and mists that sweep in from far away in a matter of seconds, obscuring the path, making things look… different.  Continue reading

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On connection to the earth

(on cities not being evil, stress, connection and slowness)
oco1Early morning light, coffee cup in hand, I walk destination-less, and watch things: the neighbourhood crows as they chatter to each other and keep a lookout. The sycamores with each falling leaf become more stark against the blue sky. The crunch of leaves underfoot. Morning traffic noises get louder, people wake up and walk their dogs, saying hello to each other in their sweats and hastily thrown-on sweaters. A car alarm goes off, a trash truck passes, a few crows swoop down in its wake while their friends keep a look-out, birds crank up their morning song, a passionflower leaf unfurls from its vine with a satisfying pop. 

These walks start my morning off on a reverent note. The way the light hits things, the way the trees in my neighbourhood change, the way plants push up through the cracks of the sidewalk, and the bougainvillea escape their bounds and curl up telephone poles. Its easy to forget, living in a city, that there is nature out there. Unless you get out and see that life follows the same patterns everywhere it goes: plants will always fight to reach for the sun; the sun warms everything in its path; wind moves around obstacles; earth absorbs. Nature patterns are fractal, spiralling, sacred geometry. These patterns are the language of our world, the form earth energy takes as it moves into existence. I believe that seeing these patterns and these things reaches for something inside us, lights up the same areas, nudging us back to something more primal, more connected to nature ourselves. This connection is something you can have anywhere. 
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On ocotillo

The following is a monograph I wrote for Plant Healer Magazine, on one of my all time favourite herbs, ocotillo. Its one of the four herbs I’ll be focusing on in my class next week at the Herbfolk Gathering. I use it so frequently, for such a multitude of issues, and find that the changes it affects in a person are both long-term and profound. These are some of my thoughts on it, organised into monograph format.

If you’re interested in formulas containing ocotillo, check out this antimicrobial gut healing formula and this waterways elixir.

ocotillo1Ocotillo: Fouquieria splendens.

Energetics: warming, drying, moving.

Actions: Liver stimulant, portal stimulant, circulatory stimulant, lymphagogue.

I was hiking with a friend in the desert. It was night time, there was a full moon high in the sky, and we were making our way to a favourite spot of ours to sit and look out over the desert and chat. The wash we were in became a canyon, the cool grey walls climbing higher on either side. The scent of desert lavender and creosote filled the crisp night air. Silence reigned, punctuated by the crunch of desert floor under our feet and the occasional coyote yip in the distance.

Stillness. One of the things that always strikes me about the desert is how still it is. I don’t mean devoid of life, as once you learn to pay attention to small details you notice the life everywhere: a lizard here, a snake camouflaged under a bush there, small pieces of green shooting out between rocks. But deserts are still because they are masters of efficiency. Why move so much when it’s hot? Why waste water when it is scarce? Movement in the desert (as with most things in the desert) is subtle, and interestingly, in such a dry place, this subtle movement is about water. Water conservation, water movement, water storage. Water strikes the surface of the desert in a monsoon and within days the hillsides and washes are ablaze with colour as life springs up from every crack, every crevice. Fluid dynamics, when observed in a dry place, take on an entirely different meaning, as desert plants seize the opportunity to grow as soon as it presents itself.

There’s a narrow path that makes its way up the canyon wall, and at the top, barrel cactus sentinels stand as lookouts. We passed them, carefully, and came out onto a field of ocotillo. We walked in silence, the moon so big and bright that it cast shadows around us, and at one point, when we came into view of one of the biggest and oldest ocotillos in the area, she stopped, grabbed my arm and, staring directly at the big old plant with its bright red blooms ablaze in the night sky, she whispered ‘what. IS. that?’.

But in order to explain why this was such a big deal, I need to explain a little bit about ocotillo itself, and then about my friend’s health history…

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On water.

I’ll be teaching at the Herbfolk Gathering in Mormon Lake, AZ next month. My recent obsession with scarcity, excess and stagnation of water has led me to thinking about the lymphatic system, its relationship to the fluids of the body, and our relationship to water, as humans who are simultaneously drawn to, and terrified of it. Here’s a little snippet of what I’ll be talking about (water, the waters of the body, the darkness under the surface, stagnation, and herbs for it all), then a veer off into a direction I will not be talking about as much (emotions, oy!). A preview, of sorts. I hope to see you there!  (if you don’t know about the Herbfolk Gathering, you can learn more HERE)

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“The river has taught me to listen, from it you will learn it as well. It knows everything, the river, everything can be learned from it. See, you’ve already learned this from the water too, that it is good to strive downwards, to sink, to seek depth.” -Hermann Hesse

1.

As with most things, it starts with the sea: that giant mysterious amorphous mass of saline and minerals with things hidden in its depths and its unexplored territory. It starts with the sea, and with the interplay of elements, water evaporates and moves in cloud form towards land where it condenses and crashes down to earth, or floats down frozen, depending. And from land, with more elemental interplay, it finds a course, melts, moves, meanders and swishes downhill with ever increasing speed, collecting together, joining branches until it is trickle, brook, stream then river. River moves towards sea, and the cycle begins again.

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On the care and upkeep of ferns in the desert, part one. 

(herbs for hot days)

summer3Dried out grass, leaves and acorn shells crunch under my feet as I head off the trail up a hill to what, in previous years, has been one of my best wildcrafting spots. The changes, from last year to this are staggering: what was a carpet of chickweed and cleavers is still hard and dry; what was a canopy of bay and oak is patchy and stressed. 

Dried seed pods crack and splutter their contents onto parched ground, to lie dormant in wait for water or fire, or both. Heat radiates up from the ground in a constant stream. The air is hot, the sun is hot, the wind is hot, the ground is hot under your feet and through the soles of your shoes. It is relentless, pervasive, never-ending. Out here there is no water, only rock and sun, that relentless sun. It is the rhythm of death looming on the horizon— an element taken to its extreme, deprived completely of another. And it makes me think of how much, even taking into account different constitutions, balance is so necessary for our survival.  Continue reading

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Connection.

(on connection, immersion, being an artist regardless of medium, and salt)

“Who is the person that you call an artist? A man who is momentarily creative? To me he is not an artist. The man who merely at rare moments has this creative impulse and expresses that creativeness through perfection of technique, surely you would not call him an artist. To me, the true artist is one who lives completely, harmoniously, who does not divide his art from living, whose very life is that expression, whether it be a picture, music, or his behaviour; who has not divorced his expression on a canvas or in music or in stone from his daily conduct, daily living. That demands the highest intelligence, highest harmony. To me the true artist is the man who has that harmony. He may express it on canvas, or he may talk, or he may paint; or he may not express it at all, he may feel it. But all this demands that exquisite poise, that intensity of awareness, and therefore his expression is not divorced from the daily continuity of living.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti

salt2Herbalism, to me is just another form of art. A design starts with a few general ideas and solidifies into something solid and perfect and a formula starts as the same thing. Each design, each piece of art, each product, each formula is a message, and each message starts out as a series of separate things that in combination become something different entirely. When it all fits into place, I feel a *click* and for a brief second all is right in the world, until the cycle starts again.

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Soothe.

(On summer heat, prickly pear, and cooling drinks)

nopal2Let’s set the scene: its 100 degrees outside, and the air in your house is still, stifling, stuck. Opening the windows doesn’t help, because the air that comes in is hot. So you keep the curtains closed, the windows closed, and stay still. Sweating. There’s stuff to do, but its too hot. Things to write, but its too hot. Beds to make, but that involves movement, and who wants to move because its hot. At some point the cat walks over and collapses on the tile floor nearby and stares at you, beseechingly, wondering why you can’t make it stop. It doesn’t stop. This is what summer looks like from my perspective.  Continue reading

blood building syrup

Blood building syrup

(a recipe for you, so that you, too, can feel nourished and ready to take on the world)

For last month’s surprise box, I sent out this blood building syrup, and all was going well until it started arriving in warmer places, and, due to the low sugar content, started exploding. Needless to say, I have learned my lesson about sending out low-sugar syrups, and thankfully nobody was injured in the process. Meanwhile, I’ve been taking it every day and loving it (especially given the recent frenzy, driving back and forth to the desert on gathering sprees), and wanted to share the recipe here for everyone else, whether yours exploded or not.

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