Decisions are Beginnings.
Self-observation and self-reflection are definitely forms of self care that I'm finding absolutely require we keep our humor about us. For one, it's not as painful as the self-judgments we toss around so easily. I often laugh more these days as I catch myself in any form of sabotage mode. Then I adopt a third person conversation which delivers quite the therapeutic effects of kind self-talk, even if stern, that has that element of humor. "Oh, look what you're doing now, Jen!", is my chat with a curious and inquisitive laugh. With Valentine's Day here and all the social media and commercialization that surfaces, it's easy to get lost or lulled to sleep in the lousy chocolate, mass produced over priced roses that die in days, moving blood diamonds around more, and yeah, some seriously bad cards with ridiculous prices. I walked away years ago from this. Sorry but it's true. Now visiting flowers and trees wherever they're alive, visiting sacred waters of the Earth and other landscapes that heal us, making handmade gifts, and sourcing cacao from kind stewards of the land, plus other ways that really feel true, well that's another story all together (smile).
The truth is this time of year is triggering for many. Many struggle this month around the heart. What's heavy in the heart for you? Are tears trying to move in that self-cleansing way? Is there a struggle to find the space or language to actually feel into it all and therapeutically convey in some creative way what is happening on the inside? Addictions of all sorts are included in a mass of coping skills we've masterfully honed over the years as avoidance tactics and they rear their head often this time of year in place of embracing dropping deeper into the heart to do some dusting and cleaning. Growth hurts. But the truth is holding on takes far more energy than letting go of heart pain.
As spring walks closer and stirs our subtler bodies, I know for me I feel this as either as a scattered way or a sluggish can't get focused way. Obsessive behaviors, irritation, anxiety, and poor timing crop up among my people too. Complaining and whining are at an all time high. So how do you clock this unique way in yourself and own that there's some simple good medicine for this? The number one medicine for this for me is to get outside, anyway, no matter what the weather is doing to re-calibrate with the natural forces. Bundling up for us cold weather dwellers means pulling out the hardy weather garb, again, but let's face it, 40 degrees feels like spring after this much winter and most of us don a thick sweater instead!
"Go to the Water" is the mantra of my ancestors and I seek this inside and out with hikes to natural water places and also through more spiritual bathing in the tub, and sauna. I also sit with my drum and rattle more, journey and make sounds that carry what I cannot find words for. And I paint for visual release and inquiry. Of late I've turn to our food choices too for my body is giving subtle clues to lighten it up. Salads, raw foods, and fruit look more appealing now. Here's another way that I like to re-calibrate on the inside. Jay and I are starting a Kitchari Cleanse this week, Cyrus is not so game for this yet but he's watching as we prepare for a short 3-4 day one to start. We'll go longer if we want to at the end.
This simple, soupy Ayurvedic cleansing dish is made primarily of rice, split mung beans, seasonal veggies and spices. Sometimes I have to start at the physical and walk step by step. This satisfies that in me. It changed my whole outlook on cleansing and transformed my relationship with food and my body. Instead of feeling deprived, it made me feel nourished. Instead of frazzled and delirious with a headache or nausea, I felt grounded, safe, and secure. Coming off it I feel clear and connected. The idea is to stimulate your natural cleansing processes in a slow, sub-radar like cleanse that doesn't stimulate chelation toxicity (releasing too much too fast for our elimination systems). This is hard for the body and a stress that is not good for us. Seasoned fasting lovers know that this is a muscle that must be exercised slowly or one pays dearly.
The beauty of this dish and cleanse is that you can eat. You can eat Kitchari for a single meal to give your digestion a break or do a full cleanse of 3-7 days where you really begin to release stored toxins and accumulation for safe release from the body. It’s a great introductory or seasonal cleanse because you still get to eat something throughout the day but at the same time it's the most effective tool I've found for healing and soothing the digestive system, increasing digestive fire, reducing bloating, clearing the mind, healing attachments to food, sleeping deeper, and kick starting the body’s natural ability to heal itself. While weight lose is not the goal, that just might happen too.
I follow this cleansing diet for days before the plant diet initiations I go to with my teacher where we sustain ourselves on a few ounces of a single plant elixir every four hours for three days and vision quest with one plant. Eating kitchari from one pot prepared each morning reduces our focus and energy demands on food. Think about how much time we spend on food alone from making the money to getting it or growing it, to planning meals, preparing, eating, and cleaning up. It's all good and communal supporting, yes, but a break to focus elsewhere is also so good for us. This eliminates much and frees up so much time. This is also a great diet for a day or two upon returning from questing or fasting of any kind to support integration and landing back in well.
Creating Your Kitchari Cleanse - Keeping It Simple Is The Medicine
Determine the number of days you will cleanse for with 3-7 days being a good place to start. You can always go longer if you feel you want to. Trust yourself on this.
I love adding the ghee and salt later in the process because it makes the flavor jump up more for me. I do this with simple tomato sauce too by infusing olive oil with garlic, basil, salt and pepper, and pinch of rosemary and stir in just before serving. It's amazing how these late additions retain and pull forth the essential oils in the dish.
This makes about 4-6 servings. Double it if there's more people in your home joining you or to eat throughout the week, though I do recommend making it daily if that's a possibility for you. To accommodate my work schedule I I make enough for 2 days at a time.
My Favorite Kitchari Recipe
Enjoy! Thank you for coming in for a read and may your day be blessed and your re-calibration plans be underway as Spring approaches.
Much Love, Jen
Are you ready to gently infuse your heathcare with simple green plants for healing? It truly is easier than many think because we hold this knowing through our ancestral lines. Beginning anyway is a beautiful way. xo-Jen
Making Your Own Medicine
With millions of articles and books on how to tincture and all the different nuances of this form of medicine making, I completely overlooked actually adding my two cents to this well covered topic. Seems fitting to have a post and an herbal council this month dedicated to keeping this kind of medicine making in the home apothecaries I so want to see all of you have at your fingertips. Thank you for venturing in for a bit to take in some medicine tending.
So, the oldest and best way in my experience to make medicine from plants is to add them to water. Yup. So gorgeously simple! And you already know some or all of this I bet. These would be called teas (steep 5-10 minutes), infusions (steeped 1-8 hours), and decoctions (simmered 20 minutes or more). Cooking the plants in water is my first and favorite way of medicine making and links me up to my ancestral path for we all have a great auntie or grandparent who knew the plants for medicine and were most likely a well known healer in their time. The smell and taste takes me there.
There are times, however, when a later form of medicine, called a tincture, or plant extract, really shines. These are concentrated plants extracts taken by the drop using a menstruum (vinegar, glycerin, or alcohol) to extract the medicine and sometimes some of the nutrients too, depending on the menstruum chosen. Here's why tincture making skills jumped into the healer's medicine bag as we traveled through time:
1- Longevity and Stability:
An herb, once tinctured, will retain its medicinal qualities far longer than in most other preparations. Alcohol tinctures will last for many years. I do make smaller batches and use them up, and make new. Plus they're heavy to move and we moved twice with a ridiculous number of jars! I suggest making small batches for home apothecary tending. This way you can increase your variety of plants at your finger tips.
2- Easy to Administer and Travel With:
Once prepared in tincture form, the herb is ready to administer with no further preparation. The tinctures are dispensed directly under the tongue or mixed with warm water, tea, or juice and can be tucked into travel bags easy. Just be sure you know the rules for flying with liquids or they'll confiscate your precious medicines.
3- Ease of Preparation:
Anyone is capable of making high quality tinctures. All one needs is good quality herbs, a high quality solvent or menstruum (your solvents are alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin), a measuring cup, jar, labels, a dark place to store them, and a little time with lots of love for the process. You're making medicine. It's truly amazing when you step back and look at it all.
Easy if you contain your excitement and make small batches! Tinctures store compactly and conveniently in a small space, always ready to use. They're excellent for first aid kits too.
5- Cost Effective:
Tinctures are becoming extremely expensive to purchase today making it prohibitive for people to afford their medicine. This is “the people's medicine" – our original medicine and is a birthright to have access to it. So I teach how. Period. It's not hard and so much better to make yourself if you can. What you're paying for is more about the person’s time to make it for you. If this may be what you need, I make for people too. But know you can do it too anytime you want to.
6- Personalized Formulas:
As you learn to work with various herbs, you'll develop favorite ones that just call to you. Your needs will change over time and making your own gives you the creative freedom to design tincture combinations and formulas from your home apothecary.
7- Selecting the Herbs:
Almost all herbs tincture well with the correct solvent. Herbs can be tinctured as a ready-made formula or tinctured as single herbs and combined later into formulas. Most herbalists prefer to tincture herbs as single extracts. This gives them greater control of the water/alcohol ratio for individual herbs and their constituents. It also allows greater flexibility and creativity when crafting formulas. I do make formulas this way professionally but for my family I make smaller jars of the herbs mixed together fresh and they tincture all together. It’s easier and keeps me humbly rooted in tending to my loved ones. I love, love, love the way they turn out. You get to decide what works for you.
8- Selecting the Menstruum:
The menstruum is the solvent used to extract the biochemical constituents (yes, fancy lingo for the medicine and nutrients) of the plant, and to preserve the resulting solution. There are basically three menstruums used in tincture preparations: alcohol, vinegar, and glycerin. Like anything, there are pros and cons to each (more below on this); and like anything, everyone has their personal favorite and considers it the best. There are some intricate things to consider for each. Alcohol sensitivity (means vinegar and glycerin options only), after the nutritional properties (these extract better in vinegar and glycerin), when to utilize heat for better extraction (I warm glycerites), longest shelf life and extraction stronger compounds without heat (alcohol shines here), and dosing considerations (I increase doses with vinegar and glycerin tinctures).
Steps to Tincturing the Traditional Folk Medicine Way
Menstruum (Solvent) Choices
(Here's a little excerpt from "Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons" at ElderMoon School of Herbs on-line herbalist training journey with the medicine plants.)
The following is a list of the solvents (mentsruums) commonly utilized in making herbal tinctures and some guidelines for what plant constituents they most effectively dissolve:
Alcohol has both prolonged keeping power and serves as a powerful solvent or extractor. It has the ability to break down, absorb, and preserve much of the plant material. There are many varieties of alcohol used, though every herbalist has their favorite: brandy, rum, vodka, gin, Everclear, and 190 proof grain or potato. Alcohol that has a natural water constituent (such as those listed above) is called 'Aqueous Ethanol' and generally has a water to alcohol ratio of 40-95% alcohol. Aqueous Ethanol dissolves: alkaloids (limited), organic salts, organic acids, most glucosides, sugars, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, tannins, bitter compounds. Absolute Alcohol, or Pure Grain Alcohol, is more effective for dissolving resinous and waxy material. It is used to dissolve: wax, resin, fat, balsam, oleoresin, glycosides, some alkaloids, sugars, vitamins, volatile oils.
Easy Starting Point: Begin tincturing with 100 proof potato vodka. (50% alcohol and 50% water).
Glycerine is a chemical constituent of all the fatty oils from both animals and vegetables. An excellent nutritive solvent, glycerin does not have quite the versatility of either water or alcohol, but its advantages are that it tastes good because it’s sweet, is safe and effective for children, and is in and of itself very nourishing and soothing. It dissolves: sugars, enzymes (dilute), glucosides, bitter compounds, saponins (dilute), tannins, minerals, vitamins. Glycerine also has excellent preservative qualities. It’s great for children’s preparations and for those refraining from alcohol where the use of alcohol in tinctures would be prohibitive. Be sure to request Vegetable Glycerin when buying; it is of a much higher quality. Vegetable Glycerin is available at many natural food stores and herb stores. These tinctures require a period of warming and a slight dilution with water in making them. Quick note for the curious: we dilute 4:1 with distilled (mineral hungry) water, chop herbs small using the same proportions given above, and warm the closed jar in a water bath for a few days at the start and again at the finish (we use a crock pot on lowest setting) with a total of 6-8 weeks of sitting and shaking occasionally. These are also light sensitive so tend well to preserve the medicine.
I used to teach a FOUR hour class on vinegar and herbs! Water is the first and made by the Divine which is why it's the best solvent to start with as a budding herbalist. Vinegar, especially apple cider vinegar, is one of the oldest solvents used. However, it's not highly regarded today by many herbalists or medicine making companies and is considered secondary to alcohol as a solvent due to the greater strength of and shelf life of alcohol. Though not as strong as alcohol, it has other definite advantages and should not be ignored. Apple Cider Vinegar contains minute quantities of trace minerals our bodies crave and has a mild acidity that balances and aids digestion. The acetic acid and potassium content help to activate the friendly bacteria in the digestive track. I highly recommend Vinegar as a solvent for tonifying/nutritious herbs and for preparations that are taken over a long period of time for health maintenance, such as in high vitamin mineral formulas and tonic formulas. Vinegar is an excellent solvent for children’s formulas and for alcohol sensitive folks too. Vinegar tinctures are excellent for extracting some plant alkaloids (such as lobeline from Lobelia), but are not as good for extracting the more acidic biochemical ingredients and so doses are usually doubled as a general rule for making sure one gets the proper amount of the more medicinal compounds.
A commonly taught thing about Vinegar Tinctures is that they “will not last very long”. Most say 6 months. I disagree and have not had one spoil yet and many herbalists I know agree. What I teach is make enough to get to the next harvest (plus a little extra is my practice). When a vinegar tincture goes bad (and you WILL know) it's usually the quality of the vinegar and it will smell sour and have fermentation bubbles forming around the edges. Non-pasteurized live vinegar will sometimes form a mother and this is fine. It means it's alive, not spoiled, and you just have to remove “the mother” at the surface – which can be used to make more vinegar. Using the rule of one season to the next keeps your stock moving and freshness then remains at the top of your practice too.
Happy Tincturing and Apothecary Tending
This month we are deepening our tincturing skills at ElderMoon School in our Monthly Herbal Councils. We'll cover weight-to-volume tincturing as another step beyond this traditional way. While the traditional folk way is absolutely enough, some want to deepen their practice with medicine making. We'll cover the climate within the herbal circles as they attempt to justify and legitimize their existence by standardizing. There is a place for this as herbalism evolves. In the end we all usually come back around to water based preparations made from plants we tended and stored in our own apothecary (smile) but it's so good to travel the road anyway and come back to that and be in community too all along the way, eh? We'll speak to all of this in council.
Do check out the recorded and archived herbal councils each month (BTW free if you're already a student in other courses here at ElderMoon School). It's so worth the low commitment simple hour a month to plug in and enjoy 'talking plant' in community. Much Love, Jen
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Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine