Backyard Apothecary

Greetings, Friends –

Last Sunday we hosted a Backyard Apothecary workshop at the farm. This topic is so important, transformational, and where my true passion lies. I love learning how to utilize, partner and engage with plants to support my own wellness and love supporting others on their wellness journey, too. It feels great to thrive and it feels even better when we can thrive together.

Backyard Apothecary is all about knowing how to take care of your Self with the support of plants that live outside your door, in your community, or even on the world wide web. Yes, “backyard” can refer to what is out your door, however, it is less about plants and more about reclaiming the power of You. Here “backyard” refers to our Self – a vehicle that is our own individual responsibility for which to care.

While it is easy to expect someone else to diagnose our physical ailments (besides, some professionals have gone to school for many years to study about wellness and how to care for patients), it is not fair for someone else to be expected to diagnose the root cause of our physical ailment in a short appointment. Most ailments are caused by spiritual or emotional stress that our body’s have not yet processed or let go in a healthy way. There are many statistics that point to chronic stress or trauma as the root to most ailments, however, typically this stress is not addressed – the physical ailment is instead. When we individually take responsibility to look at our emotions, our stressors, our thoughts that stick around and bother us, we can begin to increase our own awareness of what thoughts serve our being well and what thoughts don’t. Thus, Backyard Apothecary is not just a deep study of plants but also (and more importantly) the study of our own emotional landscape.

With this perspective, Backyard Apothecary reinforces first accessing information about yourself (your constitution) so that you can better understand how your own body operates and what it needs to be in balance. After gaining an awareness of what your body needs to be in balance, one can then navigate the specific plants that offer this support. Because we are all individual in the way we express our selves and our emotions, the way in which our physical ailments surface can be fairly unique. This is a very different way of approaching  wellness than the one-size-fits-all pharmaceutical that is typically prescribed to treat physical conditions. Plant medicine is best for every day use to support the body’s balance while pharmaceuticals are best used for emergencies.

So, if you would like to redefine your relationship with Self Care, here are some phenomenal resources to begin understanding your constitution:

  • Rosealee de la Forêt’s Free Online, “What’s The Best Herb for You?” e-course. You can also purchase or check out her book from your local library, “Alchemy of Herbs” to access her ‘Discover Your Own Constitution Quiz’. This straightforward quiz is based on Chinese Medicine principles of balance and the four energetics that help us maintain our balance: hot/cold and dry/damp.
  • To delve even deeper into understanding your constitution, check out, “Healing With Whole Foods, ” by Paul Pitchford. This reference book provides extensive context on how Chinese and Western Medicines can integrate to support our individual wellness needs. It is my family’s go-to reference book for all things physical health-related.

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Once you have an understanding of your basic constitution, you can then begin seeking out plants that reinforce the opposite quality to help bring your body back into balance. For example, my general constitution is Cold & Dry. My extremities are generally cold, I’m usually wearing layers in a room while others around me think it’s plenty warm, and my skin is typically on the drier side (these are just a few physical characteristics that help me identify my constitution). Therefore, it is best for me to seek out plants that have Hot (ie, cayenne, rosemary, turmeric, horseradish, ginger, black pepper, +) & Damp (chickweed, violet, evening primrose, slippery elm, +) energetics. Rosealee’s e-course and book provide nice overviews of easily-accessed, culinary plants and includes their energetics. This is not typical of most plant identification and herbal medicine books, so look carefully. “The Backyard Herbal Apothecary,” by Devon Young & “The Herbal Apothecary,” by JJ Pursell are two additional examples of books that include information on plant energetics. This is so important for helping us select plants that are most suited for our individual needs.

When we think about creating an apothecary, it is likely to conjure up a visual of an herbalist’s shelves filled with potions, tinctures, and teas. This visual does not include – but should – what most of us already have in our kitchen. Spices! You already have an apothecary in your home! And are not far from taking a small step into transformational self-care practices when you learn how these spices and herbs serve your body. Rosealee’s book & free online resources also contain straightforward recipes to incorporate into your daily life. Food can be medicine and eating can be a self-care practice you enjoy multiple times every day.

There are many resources within yourself and just outside your door that can support your wellness journey. I wish you the best as you navigate your individual intricacies and I wish you joy in discovering the many gifts that plants have to offer. Every plant has a gift and there is a respectful practice to determine if this gift is appropriate for you to experience (Robin Kimmerer’s, “The Honorable Harvest”).

Best,

Megan

P.S. Tell everyone, including Burton Cummings, to get out of Your Backyard. It’s all yours.

Empower Your Self, Pamper Your Skin

Greetings, Friends –

Last Sunday we had a lovely afternoon of soap and salve-making with myself and Jackie of The Wright Soapery. The most important thing about making your own skincare products is the empowering knowledge you gain about the ingredients you’re actually putting on your body. Our skin is our largest organ and absorbs the substances that we put on our bodies. Rosemary Gladstar, famed herbalist, says, “If you can’t eat it, it doesn’t belong on your body.” Here’s a quick overview of The Dirty Dozen to Avoid In Your Skincare. It is also helpful to be aware of the differences between Essential Oils & Fragrance Oils in your skincare products.

This class demonstrated additional benefits of making your own skincare products. When you begin acquiring ingredients to make soap or salve, you are building an arsenal of ingredients that can also be used for many other things such as lip balms, lotions, shampoo and conditioners, body butters, +. So, these ingredients are good investments in addition to being better for you and your body.

Another benefit about making your own soap and salve is that you can adjust the ingredients to best suit your particular needs: what scents to you most prefer? how do you want your product to feel? what quantity do you like to have for yourself and for sharing with others? what physical & medicinal properties best support your body’s needs? You can invest as much as you want into growing or purchasing high-quality ingredients and this does not necessarily mean that it will cost you more than store-bought products. Making your own products typically saves you money.

Jackie provided all of the materials and equipment for each participant to craft their own 6 oz. loaves of soap. Most soap ingredients can be found at your local grocery store (ie, olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil), however, some ingredients are harder to find locally (ie, lye, shea butter, castor oil, essential oils) and might take a trip to a specialty store or an online order. There is a great deal of information about the varying qualities, both physical and medicinal, of body-care ingredients – Magnolia Hill Soap Co has a nice overview here – and it is easy to find more at your local library.

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For the soap-making, Jackie uses SoapCalc – an awesome free tool – to provide guidance on the soap you want to craft. You can type in the ingredients you have on hand and it will automatically give you the appropriate ratios for your recipe. It will ALSO give you ranges for the soap bar quality (conditioning, cleansing, creamy, hardness+)…really cool! Like all new recipes, it is helpful to start small in order to see what the product actually feels like to you and then apply your lessons-learned to future batches.

After we completed the soap-making, I demonstrated the process of making your own salve. The ingredients for salve are generally more straightforward than that of soap – the most basic salve uses only 2 ingredients: oil & beeswax. We used 5 ingredients for this batch: calendula-infused olive oil, comfrey-infused olive oil, beeswax, lavender essential oil and vitamin E. The oils and beeswax are melted together on low heat and then the essential oil and vitamin E are added once removed from heat. This mixture is then poured into the desired (non-plastic!) vessel for future use. Voilà! This creates a general purpose salve that is great for bug bites, stings, bruises, wounds, and dry or tired skin.

I grow calendula and comfrey at my farm and it is an awesome benefit to use these herbs for my physical self-care in addition to my garden’s ecosystem. Growing your own herbs is a great way to begin crafting your own body-care products and developing additional self care practices. For example, calendula and comfrey can both be used for lotions, balms, teas, tinctures, salves, soaps, shampoos, conditioners, bath salts, flower essences, +. It can all begin with planting one plant!

Best,
Megan

A little bit of handmade soap will wash away your fears… but perhaps not your tears:

Fermentation At Its Best

Greetings, Friends –

Last Thursday night we had a lovely joining of folks in the Monticello Community Building to learn about The Whys & Hows of Making Fermented Foods at Home. Dr. Ann Marty started the class with some context on why gut health is so important for our overall well-being. She began with the adage that ‘Food is Medicine’ and discussed the disservice we do to our bodies when we rely on food that is primarily composed of refined white flour and sugar. These refined foods do not feed the ‘good’ bacteria, but instead help the ‘bad’ bacteria to flourish.

Ancient Chinese considered the gut to be “the center” as it influences and controls our immune system and the function of all of our organs – particularly the brain and our moods. Chemicals produced in the gut, such as serotonin and tryptophan, directly feed the brain – influencing cognition, sleep, mood, and memory. Of the trillions of bacteria in our gut, the ‘good bacteria’ produce enzymes that help metabolize our food and enable our bodies to transform and use the nutrients. You cannot receive the energy from your food if you don’t have the right enzymes. The ‘bad bacteria’ do not help metabolize our food and instead fuel the growth of yeast, fungi, and pathogens that can be very taxing on our immune system and body. Check out Paul Pitchford’s awesome talk on “Your Gut Instinct” for more info – this paragraph was synthesized from parts of his talk.

So what foods support ‘good bacteria’?! There are many – and the best options are based on the individual’s needs. However, raw and unpasteurized fermented foods naturally contain ‘good bacteria’ / probiotics, enzymes, and vitamins that enable our body to access, transform, and use the nutrition in the food we eat. Examples include yogurt, unpasteurized kraut, kimchi, pickles, miso, kombucha, and kefir. If you’re not drawn to fermented foods, why not just take a probiotic pill? Here is a great article, by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald, on the 5 benefits you get from Fermented Foods that you cannot get from a probiotic supplement.

Additionally, here are some benefits from making your own fermented products at home:

  • save $$
  • control the ingredients for your own tastes and body’s needs
  • learn more about the transformation of simple ingredients into food that is regenerative and rebuilding for your body
  • have more connection to the way in which your body responds to the foods you’re consuming and continue to refine what works best for you

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After our discussion on the importance of gut health and how fermented foods can support it, I demonstrated how to make Kombucha (recipe snapshot below), Julie demonstrated how to make kraut and kimchi (Sandor Katz recipes from “The Art of Fermentation”), and then everyone got to try samples of the aforementioned. It was so fun to share this class with everyone, learn more about the health importance for our well-being and take away tips for our own fermentation experiments. The best part was getting to collaboratively-deliver this information with Dr. Ann Marty & Julie Birdwell!

If you are interested in participating in a class on this topic, let us know!

The very best to your experiments with wild fermentation and your empowered wellness, Megan

Fermentation Class Trio

Myself, Julie Birdwell, & Dr. Ann Marty collaboratively present on Fermentation

A quick snapshot Kombucha recipe:Kombucha

To celebrate the many and Good Vibrations of Vega-tables: