Category Archives: Activism

Enough is Enough

Like her? It’s my crotchety old herbalist alter-ego. What should I name her?










I am one of those people who gets contemplative this time of year. Coming down with the death flu that seems to have gripped the nation after Christmas gave me some extra time to think.

Thanks to having a good stockpile of preparations on hand, I kicked it pretty quickly but I was in bed for a couple of days and had a lot of time to muse.

I was pulling myself out of my third English mustard bath of the day when, I was reading a post in an herbal group about how you should never let mustard touch your skin for fear of third degree burns, so I scrolled through some of the other “advice” this person has spewed on to the Interwebz.

Who said it doesn’t matter. What matters is that this person really has no idea what they are talking about. They have never worked with a lot of the plants they talk about. It’s glaringly obvious to someone who has.

My advice to anyone who really wants to learn about herbs is to get off the fucking Internet.

But then your problem is that there are only a small number of books published in the last twenty years that I really think are worth reading and no, I am not going to tell you which ones. This isn’t about calling people out.  Just understand that if I recommend a book going forward, it’s really something worthwhile.

So how do you learn?  The best way is to find yourself  a local teacher or herbal clinician to work with and get your hands into it.

You still have to be discerning. The 70’s were kind of weird. A lot of natural health practitioners had some whacky ideas back then and there was little oversight. Today some teachers are passing along information that they were taught back then that is really just wrong.

For example, I just found out the other day that some teachers still teach people to make milk thistle tea which is just silly. The active constituent of milk thistle is not soluble in water. Another example would be that some herbs being recommended for internal preparations have dangerous pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which make them unsuitable for consumption.

A good herbal clinician is cautious about making universal statements.

Anyone who tells you that a specific formula is “for” a particular chronic disease is guilty of the same kind of reductionist thinking that is muddling conventional medical thought.  There are interventions that may help one person a lot, that don’t do anything for another.

It doesn’t even hold when you are working with acute illnesses. Do you know how many strains of the flu there are? And that they all respond well (or don’t respond) to different interventions. That’s why I write a different flu post every year.

A good herbal clinician should be able to cite specific cases that support their recommendations and belong to a support network of herbalists (not a fucking FB group) with whom they consult when they encounter something new.

Also, the phrase “plants as teachers” doesn’t mean that while sitting quietly with a plant you will suddenly be blessed with universal knowledge without any work on your part. Even people who hear them sing have to work for it. It means that after you work with them enough, through trial-and-error you will figure it out.

That’s how our ancestors learned. They participated in strong skill sharing networks informed by the experimentation of its members. They tried things and when they didn’t work, they talked about their failures too. That’s what’s lacking on the Internet today. A whole lot of people are sharing information they have Googled and have never actually done, but they are very invested in being right.

So this is the person you don’t want as a teacher.

A person who is talking about cleanses, “detoxing”, “alkalizing diets”, parasites, systemic yeast infections, gallbladder flushes, or fad diets.

A person  who teaches about essential oils when their only training is some MLM marketing class. Aside from being potentially dangerous, essential oils are an ecological nightmare. There are less environmentally unfriendly and MUCH cheaper ways to work with herbs.

A person who recommends the use of grapefruit seed extract, colloidal silver, coffee enemas, kratom, or talks about pot/CBD oil (or any herb really) as a panacea, find someone else. Do not work with someone who tells you that an herb or essential oil “cures” chronic diseases.

This isn’t just my gripe. The disgust with this sort of nonsense is coming to a head amongst educated herbal clinicians everywhere. You can get a taste of how frustrated we are by reading this discussion on my Facebook wall where a bunch of us are blowing off steam about the subject.

Thomas Easley’s very excellent article I Call BS brought attention to this problem in the herbal world last year and I’ve mentioned Todd Caldecott’s articles and Sean Donahue’s articles calling out superfoods and herbal detoxes in previous blog posts.

jim mcdonald wrote about the vile atrocity that is GSE some time ago and recently he weighed in on the monumentally awful idea of doing a gallbladder flush.

Professional herbalists have to step up to the plate.  That might mean that some of us have to  be willing to say things like “You know, I have worked with that and I am just not seeing those results” and we have to stop sitting on our fingers when we repeatedly see people make unsafe recommendations.

You might notice that I am getting a little mouthier online.   I will probably get myself in hot water once in awhile, but if the alternative is to say nothing, I just am not willing to do that any longer.

Tonight,  a moderator in the Crunchy Side of Cedar Rapids Facebook group turned off comments in a thread in which I was trying to advocate for the use of gentler, whole herb preparations – especially for children- after I posted a link to the 2016 aromatherapy injury reports.   I left the group because that is the second time I tried to bring up a safety concern in that group to be shut down.   Thankfully the group here in Iowa City is a little more informed.

But if I get kicked out of that group someday too, I will be okay with it.

We have to take a stand somewhere. Enough is enough.

Herbal Activism

Editors Note… I have been asked to explain the term “apologist” as I use it below.

An apologist is anyone who makes excuses for displays of white nationalism (or any other ism) based on the idea the perpetrators are just misguided or uneducated (and consequently can be reasoned out of it) is an apologist and is in effect condoning their behavior.
Furthermore, you believe Nazi hate speech should be protected by the First Amendment, you are an apologist in my book, and definitely part of the problem. I believe the Germans have it right in declaring Volksverhetzung a crime.

Some of you know that I’ve been off my game, lately.  Chronic illness sucks and while I am working hard to get on top of it,  I am feeling a little worthless- especially tonight.

On the other hand I do know  that if I am not physically and mentally capable of handling the front lines, I shouldn’t be there.  I want to be an asset not a liability.

Today, I ventured out onto the Internet for the first time in awhile and saw things that really just pissed me off.

For example today I read, “seeing pictures of those men [Nazis and KKK]  just breaks my heart. They are obviously so lost and full of anger, being fed lies and hatred by our current goddamn administration”

As if those groups didn’t exist for years before the current administration?  Fuck that. I have no time for apologists.

The Nazi, the KKK and all of the other fascist hate groups have always been, this administration just emboldened them. Ask any person of color, anywhere.

It seems that understanding that requires a bit more knowledge than many white liberals seems to possess

Having the patience to educate them on this matter without getting kicked off social media, is not in my skill set.

I do swear to all that is green, if I see one more white person invoke that classist, racist, sexist, homophobe Gandhi while arguing against engagement this week, I am going to come unglued.

Arguing with liberal pacifists and apologists is such a time suck, and I am not good at it.

I decided to spend the time that I would have spent cussing that person out,  writing this list  to remind myself of what I can do from my home based on my skills.

I know there are other lists out there but  I kind of geared this toward people who are into botanical medicine or gardening and really just can’t be at a demonstration for whatever reason.

For me part of this involves doing a better job of connecting with people in my area engaged in activism.  It also involves people in those groups acknowledging that behind the scenes help can be useful.

I’ve reached out to various activist groups in the area to offer my services as a medic, but Iowa being what it is, they don’t even understand what that means. So, maybe I have to work harder at that.

If you don’t have demonstrations in your area:

– Get your Ham Radio license and learn to set up a communication center.  Kind of a long term thing but generally fun and useful.

– If you garden, preserve garden excess with portability and ease of preparation in mind. (For example, I can teach you how to make tomato soup powder. I am going to start adding things like that here on the blog.)

– Host people traveling to and from demonstrations in other areas.

– Learn psychological first aid so you know how help people who have experienced psychological trauma and refer them to the appropriate resources. (I have some training in this and know another person in town who teaches certification classes. I can organize this class if there is interest?)

-If you have training/experience as a street medic, offer a training class.

– If you live somewhere there may eventually be demonstrations, start stocking your apothecary with acute care in mind.

-If not, connect with street medics at demonstrations to find out what they need, then have a trauma kit assembly event.

– Organize food drives and put together food/survival packs to send with people traveling to demonstrations.

-Find out who is organizing local activist groups and ask them what you can do for them?

– Make sure local activists are attending to their self-care. Host a self-care for activists’ event. I know it sounds silly but it is important for resiliency and preventing burnout.

 If you have demonstrations in your area.

– Quietly, host out-of-town guests.

– Quietly, offer your home up as a place where people can eat, sleep and recuperate safely.

 – Quietly, offer to do childcare for people who are more able to demonstrate.

– Organize groups of people who can support those who are arrested by posting bail, and making sure they have support (rides, clothes, etc) through the legal process.  Don’t ghost people who put it all on the line.

The final thing I want to mention is that if you invite people into your home, learn how to vet people and have a safety plan in place, no matter how quiet you are.

Self Care and Activism: What I Learned The Hard Way

selfcareSome of my close friends know that that I am not neurotypical. Even when things are flowing smoothly, daily life taxes me.  I also have genetic chronic health issues. I know how to handle both issues, but it is super frustrating to have to work twice as hard to accomplish anything- including sticking to a regimen.

It has its upside though, I believe that my own struggles make me especially good at helping my clients adopt strategies.   If I can do it, anyone can.  Unfortunately that doesn’t mean I don’t stumble.  Everyone stumbles…

One of my problems is that I am by nature one of those people who needs to do something about the problems I see in the world.  I tend to jump into activism and helping others, often at the expense of my own wellness.  I know that a lot of my friends are the same.

As we move into days when more of us are going to take up the role of activist,  I want to share a story with you.  There are a lot of articles that talk about this on a “how to” level times, but I want to talk about “why?” So here it is — a very personal story that hopefully serves to establish why self-care is a necessity.

My husband and I threw ourselves into the Occupy movement. I had some basic teach-ins on avoiding hypothermia and warding off illness in tight quarters, but none of the Occupiers really embraced  the importance of self-care  to the sustainability of the movement.

A lot of us learned that lesson the hard way.  We lived through tragedy and dealt with disappointments by burning out or turning to shitty coping mechanisms and bad decision making. Recovering from that takes awhile.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always let up to give you time to heal.  The last few of years has been tough on my family.  It seems like just when we got through one crisis, another one popped up. I  was so busy taking care of everyone else, taking care of me slipped through the cracks.

The smallest thing can be your undoing.  For me,  it was  a round of antibiotics that threw me off  my game . Symptoms started cropping up. I fell behind on work because sitting in a chair for too long hurts. Everything I write  sounds like crap because my brain is foggy due to lack of sleep and constant pain. Dealing with getting the Internet company to come out and fix my broken e-mail seems like it is just too much to handle.

All of this is just a very long way of saying, it is easier to stay healthy than it is to get well.

When you work as a clinician, it can be a weird emotional dynamic to admit that in this moment; your illness has the best of you. It is embarrassing.  It seems like a shortcoming, or possibly even a marketing liability which is ridiculous.   I found myself worrying that someone would let me go from an assignment if they found out I was struggling.  So, I chose to keep quiet about it until now.

But pretending to be okay when you aren’t, isn’t setting a very good example.

I will get back on track. I’ve managed my physical condition for most of my adult life with little input from physicians or other herbal clinicians.   Before this fall, the last time I had to work briefly with physicians was after a trip to the ER in 2012.   I am focusing on me now and I’ve got this.  But like any protocol, I won’t be better overnight.

And this time I vow to do that without feeling guilty about putting myself first.   It isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity. It can be the difference between being able to participate in creating the change that needs to happen, or not.  I found the quote above and I plan on living it.

I am thinking lot about how I can better guide my clients towards healthy outcomes, too.  We need new approaches that are inexpensive and accessible–especially as it seems least possible that the country will be taking giant steps backward in regards to healthcare access.

Don’t worry I don’t want to talk about politics…yet.

I want to use my story as an example.  I want to urge my clinician friends to really engage in radical self-care, right now.

Our  communities are going to need us to be at our best.  Remember that your first responsibility in the hard days that may follow is to care for yourself.

It is also important to encourage others to care for themselves.  Reach out to those  clients you think might be in danger of burning out. Insist that your apprentices and students make time for themselves. At Goddard we were required to show that we were engaging in self-care in order to get our degree.

Be wary of groups who don’t encourage their members to take breaks and make themselves and their family a priority.  Know that there are activist groups out there whose leadership will burn through  their volunteers’ spirits and leave them quite literally for dead.

I guess what I am saying is look out for one another, please.  I love you all.