I went out to the harvest grounds today to take advantage of the break in freezing weather. Glorious sunshine sparkling on 2-foot high snowfall, and the relative balminess of -8 degree air were not my primary motivations – I was Poplar Scouting!
This year will be a prolific season for the balsam poplar tree. While the trees appear lifeless, nestled snugly under thick coats of snow, their roots and heartwood are busy flowing and creating. On each tree, little buds boast golden drops of precious resin, the color of marigold petals.
I took many pictures but none of them did justice to the excitement I feel each year when the poplar trees herald the first whispers of spring.
(If anyone wants to teach me to take pictures of tiny buds against a snowy background I will trade you some balsam honey…)
There are still 2 weeks until the Balsam Harvest – it seems the sap flows earlier and earlier every year. This season we will have the marvelous Rebecca Smith, ClH, along with us. Rebecca is a former apprentice wrote her thesis on the Poplar family, and is an advocate for protecting the poplar trees of Calgary.
I’m also excited to be preparing our medicines outside this year, with an open fire crackling beside us, and hot herbal teas for warmth. Sharing the wonder of nature’s medicines and the honoring of the trees is a special blessing that brightens and shakes me every winter!
Boil water; add holy basil and ginger root. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer for 5 minutes, keeping the lid on the pot. Remove the tea and strain out the herbs. Add honey and stir until dissolved. Tea can be taken by the spoonful or in larger doses, to coat the throat, dispel mucus and soothe the lungs.
I ran a survey at the end of last year to see what my students were interested in learning in 2016. One of the questions was about the Free Student Clinic. A survey respondent posed a question that I remember asking myself, back in the day when I was a broke student with no extra cash to spare:
Why would a student, who has already paid to study Herbology for 1-3 years, want to pay someone to work in a clinic for free?
(A little background on the Student Clinic: The Student Clinic is a practice clinic where students can build their confidence, while practicing on clients who are aware that they are being practiced on by students. It’s a low pressure environment, and students are free to take their time, and apply their knowledge and skills to the best of their ability. A supervising instructor is always on duty.)
How You Benefit from Attending a Student Clinic
Experience. You have a lot of training under your belt, you have read a lot of textbooks and swallowed a ton of theory about herbs and the human body. So, do you have any personal experiences about how those herbs interact in a variety of human bodies? Have you had a chance to try out a herb/extract/dose and get feedback from a client?Wouldn’t it be interesting and relevant to hear from other clinical students and instructors how their clients react to the herb you want to use, and what their experience with doses and extraction methods have been? If the answer to any of those questions is Yes, then you can probably learn something from the student clinic, the instructor and the students who have more experience than you.
Practice. As Herbalists we absorb and attempt to memorize an exquisite amount of information. Flashcards are awesome (one of my favorite tools!) but nothing quite solidifies a knowledge base in your brain like applying that information to the real world. Also, the opportunity to test that knowledge out and decide for yourself if you like how it works. The Dalai Lama quotes the Buddha, “Respect the teacher, but question the teachings.” That means if you haven’t tried it out for yourself yet, you just really don’t know!
Clinical Skills. Before you jump into starting your own business as a healer, you may wish to learn about the fine art of Bedside Manner (a healer’s attitude and approach towards the person undergoing the healing). If you have never worked in a clinic before, you can be surprised at the number of healing elements that have little to do with your textbook knowledge of herbs and bodies. From creating a comfortable atmosphere, to inspiring the trust of your clients, you can learn so much from watching a practitioner who has experience. How to explain healing and health expectations to my clients and discussing their personal issues in a compassionate manner, are two of the greatest lessons I received from the herbalists I studied under. Skill sets like these are part of what make me an effective healer with happy clients who come away with that cared-for feeling you get after a good listening-to.
Feedback. Clients, the instructor, and other students will (and should) give you feedback on all aspects of your practice. This includes your choice of herbs/doses and combinations thereof, assessment and interview techniques, and even your mannerisms and attitude towards clients. I encourage bold but kind, constructive feedback in my clinic as a valuable learning tool. Other students who sit in as your ‘practice client’ will be especially useful in telling you how they felt during and after the interview, and can provide the kind of feedback you want to receive from a fellow, not a client.
Confidence. Confidence comes of knowledge combined with experience, and enough practice to trust that you know what you know, as well as an appreciation of what you don’t know yet (and knowing that that is okay!). Confidence is a priceless characteristic that cannot be learned in a textbook but just comes with doing something for a long time until you are good at it. It’s easier to build confidence in a supportive environment, such as a student clinic. And when you are less than confident in your formula or advice, there is always someone there to look it over with you!
Connection. There is very little room for getting to know your fellow students in modern correspondence or online classes. This is so unfortunate! Making a connection with people who are passionate about your passions is one of the luxuries of attending workshops, clinics and gatherings. Not only can you learn from each other, you may end up with business partners, role models, and network connections that land you a job interview or refer clients your way in the future. Getting excited about herbs together is powerful energy. Sense of Community is a big and beautiful part to take in at least a few student clinic nights; but be warned – getting together with other herbalists is addictive!
Why Student Clinics Cost Money
Well, there are a couple reasons why we ask students to pay for their learning at student clinic.
Hosting a clinic involves a few fees and expenses. Rent for the location, insurance for the clinic and honorariums for the instructors and clinic director are the most prominent. Office supplies and printing costs are a minor but real expense.
Free clinics often serve a low-income demographic, people who can’t afford to pay the $60-100 to see a professional herbalist. To look at it from another angle, you are volunteering your time to help members of your community.
You may not realize that students who are new to the clinic won’t be seeing clients directly for their first few clinics. Depending on their experience and abilities, they could spend the first 20-30 hours sitting in on the work of advanced students, learning from the instructor or operating the dispensary at the clinic.
The instruction and guidance you receive during all of this, is what you are paying for. Students gain fresh perspectives from the living examples of humans who are experiencing the diseases or conditions we read about in our textbooks. Along with these novel exhibits of human condition, you have access to the collective experiences of advanced students and instructors in the clinic, who take the time to help you understand and apply all that you have learned.
I hope this helped to illustrate some of the reasons student clinics cost money, and also that that money is not wasted but directly benefits you as a herbalist. As usual, I am open to (bold but kind) constructive feedback about this article, and discussion of its contents.
I had the extreme pleasure of working alongside Dr. Terry Willard of Wild Rose College between 2012 and 2014 as a Herbalist in his clinic, a student coordinator, Iridology instructor and as his personal assistant and editor.
Working with Terry, whether we were shooting videos for online courses, managing his store of herbs and flower essences or uploading herbal monographs, was a learning experience in all of the branches a herbalist might choose to follow in his/her career. I learned about the running of a clinic and a college, the making and marketing of tinctures, formulas and cleanse-friendly foods. I learned by sitting in with Terry how to question a client efficiently but compassionately, addressing the root of the problem while caring for the symptoms. I followed his queue by creating my own blog, and took part in the larger herbal community by representing the college at events and tradeshows.
My beginnings in herbal medicine are humble. Casting about for that big something I was going to do with my life, I was plagued by the nagging feeling that there was an important task to accomplish and I was needed somewhere – and if I didn’t get moving I was going to live in the limbo of early-twenties uncertainty forever.
At that time I worked in a trendy cafe and every morning I passed by the Wild Rose College brochure of classes that occupied advertising space in the cafe’s entrance along with ads for yoga studios and babysitters.
One day on my break I picked that brochure up – and encountered the word “Herbalist” for the very first time.
“An herbalist uses plants and other natural substances to improve health, promote healing, and prevent and treat illness.”
quote courtesy of www.healthcommunities.com
Helping people is something that excites me; indeed at the time I was deeply involved in helping people in my life and, for a while, tended to make friends solely with people who needed my help to heal (I hope to write more about this habit of healers and how to make it work for you it later).
I began taking courses at Wild Rose in 2007. On my first day of Botany & Plant Identification I knew Herbalism was the something I had been asked to do, and I never looked back.
Words From My Mentor
Terry was probably my most influential herbal mentor, and his words of wisdom are ever present in my head, whether I am creating a new formula or working with a client. Some of the points that stick with me the most over the years are included below, some paraphrased due to the very general nature of my memory.
“The Whole Herb and Nothing But the Herb, So Help You Herbalist.”
I don’t know when Terry started using this expression but I will never forget it. It was a tongue in cheek endorsement of the use of a whole plant in lieu of an extract. Because nature is perfect without our interference, a plant can be relied upon to provide all of the components (including its’ unique energetic imprint) better than any extract ever could. Terry liked to tell us there are thousands of chemicals in a plant that we don’t know about, and the combination and amounts of those chemicals interact in just the right way to give us the needed action of a herb.
“Those are festival foods.”
Referring to breads, desserts, candy and other less than wholesome foods, this was Terry’s way of saying that a particular food is best consumed only during celebrations and not as a part of everyday life. We expect to eat like kings and queens at a feast everyday in the Western world, and reframing that expectation for a client can help them accept that eating healthy foods most days is best.
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
This one is related to the quote about festival foods; I’m sure it is not his own quote but it is one he used often. Terry held that on average most cultures had a festival or celebration about once per month. So, once per month is a good time to cut loose and eat your favorite festival foods.
“Those are software problems, not hardware problems.”
This is a brilliant metaphor for the influence one’s mind has over the health and well being of one’s body. Some people with the strongest minds don’t know how to use and release their mental energy. In short, they think too much, and that thinking increases their stress to the point of having a physical impact on their nerves, organs and tissues. The problem isn’t with the tissues (hardware) themselves but with the overthinking and enervation (software) that caused them to become stressed.
“Watch what you ask for. We are more powerful than we think.”
By putting a thought or desire strongly out into the Noosphere we are making a request that can alter physical reality. This effect is especially strong when compounded by the thoughts or desires of many people.
“Earth, Gaia, Pachimama, Puchimama . . .”
The planet we live on, by whatever name you call Her. Terry would say all four of these names together (usually in this exact order) as if to remind that She is known to and venerated by many cultures. His love of cultures and the wisdom they hold for us has inspired me to research medicinal and spiritual lessons from other parts of the globe.
These expressions hold memories for me that complement the learning I received directly from Terry and from other instructors and herbalists at the Wild Rose College. They keep attitudes and theories that I find helpful in my work close to the forefront of my brain. They have become a part of my culture.
Herbalists have the honor and responsibility of reacquainting the people of our time with traditional lifestyles, a healing education that improves the quality and meaning of life for the people who lack a culture of their own to guide them.
Though he has since moved away from Calgary to the Rainy Coast of Southern BC, Terry Willard has left a legacy of connection and knowledge behind for the little community of herbalists who choose to make Alberta their home.
You can read Dr. Terry Willard’s blog to learn more about his philosophies and thoughts of healing, life, the universe and everything. It is located at www.drterrywillard.com.
This year I moved into an apartment in the city. One if its best features is a 10 foot by 4 foot, South-facing patio that backs onto the quiet alley behind my building. When I first planted a few tomato seedlings in late March I never dreamed that this tiny space would become my sanctuary, complete with dappled shade and soft grass for sunbathing.
The tall vines grow up the railing, keeping me hidden from passersby in the alley below. And the best part – all of the plants in my garden are edible as greens, fruits or flowers!
Tips on Patio Gardening
1. Plant a zealous amount of seedlings of the climbing and vining type.
Planting a multitude of seedlings means you will have plenty of young healthy plants to choose from for your patio garden. I started my seedlings inside in March in a sunny window. My seedlings included black and red cherry tomatoes, sugar-snap peas, chives, thai basil, beets, chamomile, and lettuce mix.
2. You can buy mature plants at the garden center for your garden to give it some green in the early weeks.
I acquired a 4 foot tall rosemary tree that sits in the corner of the garden and brings the eye up. It gave the young garden some ‘height’ while the other plants were still tiny. Some tall leafy garlics and organic strawberry plants, and thickets of nasturtium and sorrel added instant color and body to my garden.
3. Choose planters that are lightweight and easy to move. Weight is an important consideration for unsupported patios. A freshly watered planter with soil and a robust family of plants is surprisingly heavy. My 1’x1’x3′ planters weigh about 40 pounds each before watering.
Another reason to have easy to move planters is that your garden will evolve as the seasons progress and your plants get bigger, flower and produce fruit. You may want to move them around to give some plants more sun or shade depending on their preference. I arrange my garden like I arrange furniture, to freshen up the place and make it new again (this is a huge advantage of container gardening by the way). Get planters with handles for bonus points.
**Make sure your planters are at least 12 inches deep.**
My first set of planters were too small (only 6 inches deep) to sustain my tomatoes and peas so I ended up transplanting them into larger wooden pots mid-season so they could make it up to the top of the railing.
4. Arrange planters around the perimeter of the patio, leaving space in the center for your sanctuary.
I found a 3 foot by 9 foot roll of soft, realistic plastic grass to grace the center of my patio; I call it ‘the lawn’. It has become a second living room where I can read while laying in the sun. I even removed my deck chairs in favor of lounging on the lawn. This picture was taken in June when my peas and tomatoes where still less than a foot tall.
Decorating my garden included adding a couple of pretty river rocks that act as miniature tables, a peppermint plant from my mother in law’s garden and a small firepot for chilly nights. There is also a barbeque sitting over the railing. As you can see we managed to pack a lot of living into a small space. Next year I plan to get a garden gnome to guard the sanctuary!
5. Train your viney plants to grow up the railing, filling in the gaps with bushy flowering/fruiting plants.
Privacy is important to me. Although my patio backs onto a quiet alley I prefer to sit down on my lawn and pretend I live in a jungle. I can see out but my neighbors can’t see in.
Have Fun and Personalize Your Garden
Cherry tomatoes are my all-time favorite garden fruit! The amount of tomatoes we got out of our 3 3-foot planters is astounding, and with only 1 tray of lettuce we couldn’t keep up with eating what we produced.
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor
And while you are at it, take a picture of your patio garden to share with me and other gardeners in the comments below. Happy Herbing!
This wheel is used to determine which of your subtle bodies are most effected by your activities, and which of your bodies are lacking for stimulation, with an eye for bringing balance to your Self as a whole. It will also help you to increase your positive, happiness-promoting behaviors while decreasing unhealthy or detrimental habits. It is a tool for you to use as you see fit, to map out where to put your energies to create more happiness and fulfillment in your life.
You can print this chart off by enlarging the above image and downloading it to your computer.
Sit down at a writing surface with a handful of colored pencil crayons. Give yourself at least 30 minutes of distraction-free time in which to complete this chart.
For each activity you perform, decide which of your subtle bodies you are supporting or subtracting from. It may be easiest to begin with your daily activities, starting when you wake up, and work your way through a typical day. You can give each activity a number if you want to quantify them. I usually give them a number to represent the hours I spend performing the activity in one week, or a number that represents how good or bad for my happiness I believe the item is.
For example, let’s start with breakfast. Eating feeds your physical self, so you can include it in the physical circle on the chart. Maybe you also eat meals with your family or roommates, making it a fun social event – if this is the case, write something like ‘eating together’ across the physical and social areas.
There are activities that are good for many subtle bodies, like exercise, playing outdoors, or doing yoga (which can be good for all the bodies). Write them in or across multiple circles to represent how they sustain you.
Here is a sample chart that includes both positive, neutral and negative activities. You may wish to also include your thoughts, beliefs and emotions. This chart is known as a ‘Snapshot’:
We can improve our overall happiness by engaging in activities that fulfill many of our parts at once, while reducing the amount of time spent at negative activities, or neutral activities that do not bring us any lasting value.
Once you have worked your way through a typical day, add weekly or intermittent activities to your chart and give those activities numbers to reflect how they improve or remove from your health and happiness.
See the sample Snapshot above for a visual suggestion of how to fill out this chart.
Getting a Little Deeper
Activities are an easy place to start, but we are also affected by our thoughts, feelings and beliefs. These are important to include on your chart, as they definitely effect your happiness! At first you may not know many of your own thoughts, feelings and beliefs, or how they are effecting you. You will learn more about them with time, so don’t worry about it now if they are not obvious to you. If you are unsure about these parts it is best to work with a counselor who can help you become aware of your thoughts and feelings and encourage thoughts that lead to positive change. As an example, a common belief in depression is something along the lines of, ‘I’m not a good person’ or ‘I’m not lovable’. This kind of belief can have a huge negative impact on your life, effecting many of your subtle bodies. Any thought, feeling or belief you want to change can be included on your chart. Write it out so you can look at it in the daylight; it’s something you can change.
Don’t forget to put positive beliefs and emotions on the chart as well when appropriate; for example, maybe your love for your pet or a friend is a motivating factor in your life that improves your happiness in many subtle bodies. Feeling close with a loved one can be positive in a social, emotional, physical or even spiritual way!
For more ways to balance your Wholistic Self, see part 2 of this post. Thanks for reading!
Connective Tissue Soups are great for strengthening, repairing and relaxing inflamed muscles and ligaments, and for building strong bones and healthy bodies. Whether you are starting a new fitness regiment, or just want to show some antioxidant love to your muscles and bones, this anti-inflammatory soup will make you feel alive and ready to climb mountains!
You can make this soup gluten-free by using Bragg’s aminos sauce instead of soy sauce. A vegan version can be made by adding 1/2 pound oyster mushrooms and 4 tablespoons of coconut oil instead of chicken – although the rich proteins and other body-building-blocks provided by the chicken is a part of the healing magic of this soup!
1 roast chicken
6 cups water
6 bay leaves
3/4 cup raspberry leaf
3/4 cup comfrey leaf
6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms
6-8 stalks green onion
2 tablespoons powdered steam extracted Chaga mushroom powder
3 cups of your favorite mixed vegetables, chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4-6 tablespoons chickpea miso
2-3 tablespoons tamari soy sauce/ Bragg’s amino sauce
4-12 jiggers Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
Pepper to taste
Optional: 4 tablespoons oyster sauce
Quarter the roasted chicken and put it, together with the ingredients in Section A, in a large pot and cover with the water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and cover, simmering on low for 2 hours.
Remove the soup from the heat and allow to cool slightly; strain through a colander, saving both the solid and liquid portions. Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer to remove the little herby bits. Rinse the pot and put the liquid portion back in.
Allow the solids to cool in the colander until you can pick out the chicken. Give the quarters a quick rinse (comfrey likes to stick to meat), and, after picking the meat from the bones return the bits of chicken to the pot with the liquid portion. Optionally you can rinse the mushrooms and put them back in the pot as well; I only do this when using fresh mushrooms since the dried ones are so tough! Discard the chicken bones and the rest of the solids.
Add your favourite mixed vegetables and minced garlic from Section B. Some of my favorites include broccoli, baby corn and red pepper. Simmer lightly for 5-10 minutes, until the veggies are just a little soft. I prefer to simmer for less time, so my vegetables retain some of their crunch and flavour.
Remove the soup from heat. Now it is time to make a miso paste. If we don’t make a paste with our miso it won’t mix well in our soup!
Put your tablespoons of miso into a mug, and add 2 tablespoons of warm water. Using a spoon, mash the miso with the water to make a well-mixed paste. Add a couple more tablespoons of water and whisk the miso to make a thinner paste. Fill the mug up with water and stir it around a little to mix the miso. Now you can add the miso-water to the soup and stir it in.
Add the rest of the ingredients in Section C, tasting as you go. You can add more Frank’s for more heat, or more soy sauce for additional saltiness.
Enjoy 1-2 cupfuls of Healthy Connective Tissue Soup per day! When reheating your soup, warm it just enough to serve – this way you will preserve the richness of the miso, a key ingredient in the savory flavour of this soup.
The WWHG is a collective of inspired experts on Natural Health, Sustainability, Permaculture and Traditional Knowledge, serving up a weekend of fun and learning in the poplar forests of Rocky Mountain House!
Tickets are still on Early-bird special until June 10th, 2016 for the low price of $195 for the whole weekend! Fresh organic, vegan option GF food is included in ticket price. There is even special programming for the kids! Please check out www.wwhg.ca for more info and to get your tickets today.