Song of the SeasonRead Now
By Susan Staley
You could say that every season has their songs. And if you said this, you are probably someone who listens to and for these songs. To consciously participate in and observe the “natural world”, and then shift the way you live your life to match these observations is a fundamental of healthfulness. Some would say that the more attuned we are to the changing seasons of our lives in general, the more balanced and happy we are as individuals and communities, alike.
I think back to early March when the first calls for mandatory quarantine around the country went out. At that time in the season the days were still short and dark, and it was still truly cold in the northeast. This region spent a couple solid months inside as much as possible as winter transitioned into spring. Albeit to say it was a difficult and disorienting time for many people.
And then off in the distance... a birdsong you haven’t heard for a year. And the last of the snow waves away at long last. Patches of green and swollen tree buds catch your eye while driving down the highway or from your kitchen window. Maybe you went to the same tree everyday for 2 weeks to watch the buds unfurl in their slow elvin splendor of fresh green. And maybe this feeling, this display, of new energy and growth enlivened and lifted a part of you too. Spring's bloom causing you to remember that things change. Maybe your focus shifted. Maybe you were able to make that one move. These of some of the songs of spring.
And what of autumn, spring’s transition season sibling? The call of autumn is from within. Within the roots of the trees that call the sap downwards into the earth. It is the trees who release their crisp leaves, watch them whisper and wave as they fall. It is a time to let go of that which cannot come with us into the future. Maybe we grieve and honor our losses. Maybe the cooler weather beggs us to bring the warmth and light of Fire inside our home. Maybe the tea pot whistles more often. Autumn’s song is a remembering song. We remember where we have been and we are strengthened and inspired by it as we move into winter with tenderness and trust.
May we cultivate a deep curiosity and sensitivity to the subtle changes of the seasons around us, in turn developing a keener view of the small shifts and various states that occur within us on the regular and throughout our lives. May we remember that “there is a time for that”, and find greater ease and flexibility for following the season’s lead.
Susan Staley is a clinical and community herbalist and staff member with Railyard Apothecary. She deeply values those herbs and plants commonly available in most grocery stores, and the where the edge blurs between food and medicine. She works with individuals with a variety of health goals including immune, digestive, and mood support. You can schedule a conversation with her or other members of Burlington Herb Clinic here.
DIY Herb Salts!Read Now
Herbs salts are just what they sounds like, a mixture of herbs and salt. Their extraordinary quality is rooted in their simplicity and elegance. And their ability to bring complexity and yum-factor to a multitude of dishes is noteworthy.
Salt is a mineral with drawing and purifying qualities that has a deep affinity for water and absorption. Salt draws and releases moisture as circumstance dictates. These qualities make salt a superb partner for drying herbs and absorbing the aromatic components of the plants. We can imagine that the making of herb salts is an age old method.
To prepare you will need the following ingredients and tools:
Method is thus:
Combine equal parts salt with fresh herbs by volume. Add both to a food processor and process until texture is uniform and appealing. Spread mixture onto a tray lined with parchment paper in a dry, warm/ room-temp room out of direct sunlight. The herbs will dry in a matter of days in the above environment. You can run your fingers through them to assess dryness. Once dry store in an jar. Make a great gift.
Herb salts are an easy way to brighten dishes such as roast vegetables, potatoes, popcorn, soups, eggs, dipping oils, and salads. The sky is the limit! Enjoy!
Susan Staley is a clinical and community herbalist staff member with Railyard Apothecary. She deeply values those herbs and plants commonly available to us today in most grocery stores, and the where the edge blurs between food and medicine. You can schedule a conversation with her or other members of Burlington Herb clinic here.
What Is a Nervine, Anyway?Read Now
by Susan Staley
A nervine is a term used to describe a broad category of plant actions that interplay with the human nervous system. There are 3 large subcategories of nervines: the nervine tonic, the relaxing nervine, and the stimulating nervine. As with any category of herbal actions (ie. adaptogen, bitter, nootropic, immune stimulant, etc.) plants can be further characterized by defining their qualities such as aromatic, warming, and moistening. Although beyond the scope of this article, a sense of these characteristics is helpful to identify which herbs will be most helpful.
Nervines help to restore, balance, and bring ease to our nervous system. Depending on the individual this might be calm and focus, uplift and move, deep relaxation and rest, or a need to bring ease to the mind or heart. Because the body is really a whole (rather than a collection of parts), and a person is really a whole (rather than a collection of body, mind, and spirit), when we support our nervous system we support digestion, immunity, cardiovascular systems, and adrenal health. And we support our emotional heart and our minds too. We don’t need plants to support our nervous systems, but they sure are helpful.
A nervine tonic is an herb that broadly supports nervous system function and integrity. These tonic plants are helpful when a person’s nervous system has been affected by an extended period of extreme circumstance such as prolonged stress, trauma, or substance abuse. Nervine tonics can be helpful for physical nerve damage as well. Often nervine tonics are also nervine relaxants such as skullcap or milky oat. Other nervine tonics include ashwagandha, schisandra, and st. johns/joan’s wort. Mineral-rich herbs may also be considered nervine tonics.
A nervine relaxant is an herb that helps to bring a sense of calm into a person’s perception and increase parasympathetic nervous system activity. Nervine relaxant plants can be supportive any time of day, whether to support irritability connected to digestive upset, brighten and calm mid-day, or ease into rest and recuperation at the end of the day. They can also help with pain (anodyne is another sub category of nervine). Some cooling/neutral nervine relaxants include linden, lavender, chamomile, anise hyssop, lemon balm, and motherwort. Warming nervine relaxants include damiana, monarda, kava, and angelica.
A nervine stimulant is an herb that brings excitement and stimulation to the nervous system and engages the sympathetic nervous system. This can be especially helpful for sluggishness (that is not related to adrenal fatigue!) or a tendency towards depressive qualities in body, mind, or spirit. Some of our most famous nervine stimulants include camellia sinensis (tea plant), coffea species (coffee), and theobroma cacao (chocolate). Other herbal nervine stimulants include rhodiola, guarana, and guayusa.
The information above is a basic guide to familiarization of these plant actions, but it is important not to get hung up on the categorization of the plants, particularly because each plant is complex- just like you! For example, plants carry a range of effects and have affinities for various body systems. Blending a nervine relaxant with a nervine stimulant, or a nervine tonic, is often a balancing blend that takes into account the broadness of human experience by supporting various areas of body, emotion, and mind.
Additionally, a person with significant muscular tension may feel tired or have difficulty focusing because of the energy it takes to continue holding tension. In this case one may benefit from working with a relaxing plant that can help liberate stuck energy and improve outlook. A relaxing nervine might have the desired invigorating effect for this person, rather than a stimulating plant which could cause even more tension. As always, we are able to be our best selves when we combine herbs with nourishing food, clean water, fresh air, body movement, connection, creativity, service, and deep sleep as circumstances dictate. Here’s to your health!
Susan Staley is a clinical and community herbalist and staff member with Railyard Apothecary. She deeply values those herbs and plants commonly available in most grocery stores, and the where the edge blurs between food and medicine. She works with individuals with a variety of health goals. You can schedule a conversation with her or other members of Burlington Herb Clinic here.
The cooler temps and dryness that accompanies them urge us towards herbs and herbal preparations that support circulation, immune function, and lung health. Horseradish root, Armoracia rusticana, is another super valuable medicinal herb almost hidden in plain sight. When feeling "stuck" in various physically ways, and even mentally or emotionally, consider working with this plant.
This root increases circulation in the body, moves mucus in the upper respiratory tract and sinus, helps stimulate heavy stagnant digestion, and even supports the lymphatic system. Think secretions!! The preparation method below is a good one to recall when you, or someone you love, needs quick and direct nudging and warming. Whether emotionally or physically.
Preparing fresh horseradish root for storage:
Take desired piece of root (no need to peel) and either grate by hand or us a food processor. Remember that as you grate the root you will release strong aromatics into the air. It will likely cause your sinuses to tingle and drip and maybe cause your eyes to water. This is a desired effect! But be warned, take care when deeply inhaling the fresh chopped herb, especially when using a food processor, as the aromatics can be very strong at this point!
Transfer root into a clean jar and cover with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and honey to your taste. A good ratio to start with is 2:1, vinegar:honey*.
This preparation is ready to take immediately. From here you can store in the fridge and take spoonfuls, including root bits, as needed and desired. Alternatively, you can strain after a couple weeks.
*honey helps to support the action of the horseradish with its moistening and healing qualities, but can be omitted if needed/desired.
Preparing fresh horseradish root for immediate use:
Grate a small amount of root as needed. This root can be infused in hot water to make a tea (add honey if you like), or blended with some combination of vinegar and honey as seen above. You can also simply grate fresh root onto bread, crackers, cheese, or vegetables as desired and eat plain.
For dosing, remember that horseradish is hot and spicy as well as being a digestive stimulant so avoid eating on an empty stomach. For acute illness try multiple spoonfuls/day. For a more long-term tonic approach, work with a spoonful/day.
Whole fresh root can be stored in the fridge wrapped well in plastic, or frozen. If you prefer making larger batches at a time freeze the root whole, otherwise, for more frequent smaller preps cut into smaller pieces and use bit by bit as needed.
We have local organic horseradish for sale in the shop right now from Shelburne Farms via Spoonful Herbals. For every pound sold a $2 donation will go to the Herbal Justice Fund.
Susan Staley is a clinical and community herbalist staff member with Railyard Apothecary. She deeply values those herbs and plants commonly available to us today in most grocery stores, and the where the edge blurs between food and medicine. You can schedule a conversation with her or other members of Burlington Herb clinic here: https://www.burlingtonherbclinic.com/
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