With the holidays and the season for gift-giving upon us, I thought I'd put together an Oprah-style list of "My Favorite (Herbal) Things" for all you generous hearts out there. Here goes:
ESSENTIALS FOR YOUR HERBAL BOOKSHELF
All of Michael Moore's classic Trinity Herb Books:
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West - 2nd edition (2003), $24.95 from Museum of New Mexico Press
Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West (1989), $11.53 from Amazon
Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West (1993), $22.50 from Museum of New Mexico Press
These are arguably the greatest herb books written in the 20th century. In his inimitable witty style, Moore wrote these from first-hand experience seeking out, gathering, making preparations and administering herbs from throughout the North American Continent. Michael Moore (not the filmmaker -- but they do resemble each other somewhat) is one of America's greatest living herbalists. Even if you are not an herbalist, you may find reading these a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Highly recommended!
Find it on sale now at the link above!
This beautiful book is for the most part exclusively available from our website. It was written for our son when he was a small child and who is now 25. It is an herbal for kids. It is beautifully illustrated with herbal stories, herbal projects and even herbal song ditties I wrote to sing along with kids. The many projects include making an herbal tea, oil, salve. It is magnificently illustrated and sure to be a Christmas delight for both children as well as the giver. Especially suitable for kids from ages 4 to 10.
A DELICIOUS HERBAL ALTERNATIVE TO COFFEE?
For your own and another's overworked adrenal glands (what better time to address this than around the often stressful holidays?):
CAFFEA: an ideal healthful alternative to caffeinated beverages
Let's face it: we in the west are addicted to coffee. But while most of us rely on it for that instant "pick-me-up," consider that it is a beverage that works by depleting energy reserves instead of building them. As you feel yourself becoming persuaded by the coffee lobby who is flooding the media with the health benefits of coffee based on its high amount of antioxidants, you should also be aware that coffee works by increasing stress in the body. Now do we need more stress in our lives? Stress in itself causes the increased secretion of stress hormones which in turn deplete our adrenal reserves and contributes to a wide number of disease imbalances.
Caffea is an instant full-bodied roasted beverage that can be taken daily and is made from roasted dandelion root, semen casia tora, roasted beet and roasted barley. It may sound strange, but besides being delicious to drink it gently detoxifies the liver and kidneys, benefits the stomach and pancreas, and helps in regulating blood sugar.
Most people know of the benefits of dandelion root. It is high in essential minerals and vitamins, especially potassium, and has been used for treating the liver and reducing inflammation and promoting the elimination of excess fluid in the body.
The Chinese herb seed cassia tora was the inspiration for this formula. I once was invited to the home of some older Chinese friends and noticed the man of the house roasting some seeds in a frying pan. He said it was the herb, zue ming zi or casia tora seeds, and that after roasting these would be ground to a powder and brewed as a tasty roasted beverage that also lowers blood lipids, reduces weight, improves eyesight, aids detoxification and prevents heart attacks.
Caffea can be drunk as an alternative to coffee or simply because it tastes so darn good! It's available at the link above, $18.00 for 8.6 oz (makes over 100 cups).
The East West School of Planetary Herbology Herb Course
If herbalism is your passion and you want a really big gift that will continue to give healing for you and others throughout your life, you might consider enrolling yourself or a special person in the East West Herb Course.
Read what our graduates have to say about it here.
THEN THERE'S THAT VERY SPECIAL GIFT TO HONOR THAT VERY SPECIAL SOMEONE:
Fragrant Flower Bath
To one gallon of freshly boiled water, add a handful of each of the following dried herbs: lemon balm herb, rose petals, calendula flowers, lavender flowers. Steep covered for 15 minutes while drawing a bath in a specially decorated bathroom space with incense, colored fabric (to tastefully disguise such aesthetically disrupting areas as the toilet, sink or the messy medicine cabinet), a bouquet of flowers (yes men like flowers also), and beeswax candles. Pour the prepared flower water along with several drops of essential oils of rose and lavender into the bath. At the last minute you may add fresh flowers and flower petals (organically grown, please!) to float on the surface of the water. Be sure that the temperature of the water is warm and pleasant before leading your honored recipient into the room.
By candlelight, help your guest out of their clothes and guide them into the tub. Gently ladle the water using your hands or a specially chosen beautiful bowl over their head and back. (Really, try not to employ your everyday kitchenware in this experience, lest you risk the romantic spell being broken.) Allow your loved one to peacefully soak in the wonderful, perfumed water, lingering over the experience as long as they like.
Have a special extra-soft bamboo fiber towel ready for when they arise from the bath. You may also consider a special bathrobe as well. The towel and bathrobe are their take away gift. Every time they wear the robe or use the towel, they will think loving thoughts of you and this wonderful and loving moment you have created just for them.
Afterward, present them with a Go Ji Berry and Ginseng Liqueur which you made yourself using the following recipe:
Rinse the berries and roughly chop them into small pieces. Place the berries and ginseng slices in a glass container and pour the vodka over them. Close tightly and store in a cool, dark place. Stir or shake this mixture once a week for two to four weeks. Strain through a metal colander into another glass bottle or container with a tight cap. To this, add the sugar. Let this liqueur age for at least three months.
(It's too late to complete this recipe as described for this coming Christmas, but you can perform all the steps and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Then carefully pour perhaps a third of this liqueur into a small, decorative bottle, and add more sugar as necessary for sipping now. You can enjoy the rest of the properly aged product in time for Spring Fever romance!)
Sip this exotic spirit with your special recipient in liqueur glasses as part of your romantic experience. You may enjoy this liqueur any time as an aperitif and blood and energy tonic. It can also be poured over ice cream.
An evening like this is nothing without music. Here are some suggestions:
What you do afterwards is yours to orchestrate, but one suggestion is to apply the following "love oil" to each other's sensitive areas. Go gentle with this at first to determine if it will be a pleasant sensation. Be sure to liberally apply it on each other's sacrum. Take time and allow the pleasure to slowly engulf and fill your entire being.
2 ounces each of
5 to 10 drops each of the following pure essential oils:
Have fun experimenting adding these to the base oil. Begin with 3 to 5 drops and increase each according to your own preference (but stay on the low end with the cinnamon, black pepper and ginger). You may purchase the essential oils mentioned above from Mountain Rose Herbs. Alternatively you might try Kama Sutra's massage oils.
Happy holiday gift-giving!
In 2008, Planetary Formulas (now renamed "Planetary Herbals" to account for many of the single herbs that have been incorporated into the line) turned 25 years old. In honor of this occasion, Lesley and I were sponsored by the company to attend the country's largest natural products exposition shows, Natural Products Expo West and and Natural Products Expo East. Planetary's owner, Ira Goldberg, generously arranged to send us out to both shows with all expenses paid. All we had to do was spend time at the Planetary Herbals booth; I autographed and gave away copies of my book Planetary Herbology and Lesley did the same with her outstanding book, Healing with the Herbs of Life.
The Expo West is always held in March in Anaheim, California, and Expo East is held in Boston in October. While I've been to many of the ones held on the West coast, last weekend was the first time I've ever attended the one in Boston.
As you can imagine it's a delight but still somewhat intimidating to have a man walk up to the booth and say how 30 years ago (by the way, check out the photo at left of a much younger me -- probably closer in appearance to how this man remembered me), when I was still using iridology as my diagnostic modality, I read his eyes and gave him an herbal and dietary program that changed his life, ultimately leading him to work in the industry ever since.
(While today I decry such ambiguous healing methods as iridology and kinesiology especially for my own students, I also believe that somehow if we are doing our work with the right intention to assist others on their path, whatever methods that are or were available seem to be just perfect and right for that moment.)
Then there was a woman who said she met me when she was 17 and I was teaching herbology at Heartwood College (now closed) in Santa Cruz. She told me that I somehow motivated her to pursue natural healing and nutrition as a career ... and she is now 55!
It's like a vague dream, that parade of people, faces and personalities that have passed by and through my sphere and claim to have been influenced by me. I act delighted and astonished, but the reality for me is that I was only me then, since, and now, nothing more nor less. Certainly I feel blessed to be told periodically how I have been the instrument for another's advancement and well-being, but from my point of view, there really was nothing else for me to do. I was always only doing my thing, and part of my thing is learning and sharing whatever I have gleaned with others.
Then lo and behold, there was the macrobiotic guru Michio Kushi, walking along with his wife and another Japanese friend, perusing the circus of natural products at the expo. Counting macrobiotics as one of the major past influences of my career, steeped in the teachings of George Ohsawa, Michio Kushi and a few others whom I consider as heroes, I found myself like one of my own admirers mentioned above, walking up to the gaunt, mid-80s Kushi, shaking his hand and thanking him for the powerful influence he has had on my life.
I remembered how many questions I had always wanted to ask him, such as "Why did Ohsawa reverse the definition of Yin and Yang, making macrobiotics obsolete for Chinese acupuncturists?" But realizing that I had already answered those questions satisfactorily for myself, I let it pass, just grateful for shaking his warm hand and thanking him for his brilliant teachings.
In the old days when I was a beatnik and later living as a hippie in Haight Ashbury, we had a name for people who frequented the places where we congregated and lived on the weekends or evenings after a "straight" job: we called them "weekend warriors." At the Natural Food Expos it seems the reverse; the liberals and ex-hippies who attend the events donning suits and ties, fancy and straight garb, are like weekend warriors in reverse, so to speak. They really are a dizzying array of contenders in the industry who are vying for greater credibility and respectability as they try to make a buck for what are essentially the simplest things: good quality, wholesome, organic foods and products.
But like any other commercial enterprise, it is nothing short of astounding to see what some people are willing and trying to do to make money - better paper, better water, better whole grains, better bags to carry the stuff around in, questionable overpriced homeopathic products -- the emperor parading in the booths up and down the isle indeed wearing no clothes, but no one dares to say so (after all, they paid their several thousand dollars to be there, and they have as much a right as anyone to their B.S.).
So the shows are actually fun for two to a maximum of four hours ... and then, as your gut feels a little queasy from the mixture of who knows what you ate as you were grazing from the thousands of free samples, which you begin to realize that like other such things were there may be inevitably more sham than virtue, it becomes tiresome and you'd really like to leave.
As one booth operator said as I walked past his flavored water booth, "I've got another three days to put up with this bullshit!"
Thankfully, I missed the usual bellyache described above because I decided not to sample everything or anything that struck my fancy, realizing that some of this stuff alone or in combination is probably not without some minor health risk. So, while it may not be the most glamorous fare, I managed to be sure to have whatever fermented foods I could find. This turned out to be some prepackaged miso soup and macrobiotic sauerkraut. That really helped.
I couldn't help feeling some pity for the few vendors who scraped their last few thousand together to purchase a booth space and didn't have enough to even have a real display, and only managed a lone person. It's a matter of too little too late and you're out.
But back to herbs and therapies that work. I'm teaching a class on herbal baths and soaks at the American Herbalists Guild Annual Symposium this weekend, so allow me to tip my hat to Michio Kushi by providing you the recipe for the following wonderful bath from the Japanese macrobiotic tradition, of which Kushi has been the leading exponent for at least 40 or more years.
Ginger Hip Bath: This bath is very helpful in case of serious dysentery. For less severe diarrhea, you can make the ginger water less concentrated: use about 1/2 pound of ginger for 8 quarts of water.
Ginger bath taken as a whole bath: Add ordinary ginger water to a whole body bath. This is very stimulating and yet relaxing.
Ginger bath taken as a footbath and/or hand bath: Use ordinary ginger water. This bath is good in cases of rheumatism, arthritis or gout.