Herbalism

Herbalism

What Flower Essences Are Teaching Me About Connection


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Sticky monkey-flower – aka Diplacus aurantiacus. This native plant with glowing, translucent orange trumpet flowers and sticky green leaves was the first plant I ever made a flower essence with. I had the privilege of getting my intro to flower essence-making with Taylore and Stashca of Windfall Herbal Studies. They instructed us in the basic process of making a flower essence, which looks something like this:

Ground yourself, get quiet, sit with the plant, and listen for any messages. Once you’re feeling attuned, state your intention and ask if you can make an essence with them. Set a bowl of water near the plant to create your essence, and let this brew for a few hours.

In listening to sticky monkey-flower, I was surprised how many messages I received. I’d figured that it had been a long time since I’d talked to a plant, so how would one talk to me, now? It turned out that my classmates had this experience too, because when we circled up after sitting with different plants for fifteen minutes, everyone had something to say about what sticky monkey-flower shared with them.

Even more interesting is that we all seemed to reach a consensus about what had been communicated to us. Though sticky monkey-flower, also known in the essence world as orange monkeyflower or its old botanical name, Mimulus aurantiacus, is commonly associated with warmth and sexual intimacy, during this plant-sit, a different dimension opened for us. Many of us got messages from this plant about boundaries, while others heard messages about vibrant self-expression. To me, the message of joyousness and strong boundaries is another shade of what’s commonly held up as sticky monkeyflower’s botanical personality.

The beautiful sticky monkey-flower in full bloom! Took this pic while on a trip to Pinnacles last spring.

Since that day, I’ve made many more essences and conducted my own plant-sits. With each of them, I’m still surprised about how much plants have to say to me. I’ve learned that it’s not a matter of whether the plants are animate, but really more about honing my listening and connection skills. To successfully make a flower essence (or, in my opinion, any plant medicine), you need to listen, state your needs and intent, get consent from the plant, and be open to connecting to their wisdom and resource.

I think these skills for connecting with plants lay a blueprint that can be followed when pursuing connection with all types of beings – human, other-than-human, places and land, etc. Listening is so key to really connecting with anyone! Asking questions with the intent to listen and learn can open up worlds of connection within a conversation. Stating your needs and intent is a beautiful practice in medicine making, and a challenging but truly rewarding practice in building relationships. For me, this brings to mind this quote from the Relationship Anarchy Smorgasbord on building relationships: “Remember, you must agree together on what is in it! No sneaking items in without the other knowing, or there will likely be disappointment or conflict later.” The importance of stating your needs, desires, and intent aloud, and getting consent from whoever you are connecting with about those statements, is key to connection.

Finally, being open to connecting to wisdom and resource is something that takes a lot of vulnerability, and is also important in connecting with others. Truly, our problems pale in comparison to the wisdom, resource, and ability that surrounds us. Anarchist ethics of solidarity, mutual aid, and DIY embody this truth very visibly. “We are all we really have” and that is a lot! Personally, allowing myself to reach out to others for that connection, wisdom, and resource is something I struggle with deeply and work on regularly. And it’s really no wonder, when we live in the world of the loneliness epidemic, that so many of us struggle with patterns of isolation. The process of essence making continues to be a great teacher for me in this area. On a related note, a couple years ago I came across this Ted Talk called “Isolation is the Dream-Killer, Not Your Attitude” – and honestly, it’s kind of a fun watch!

I hope these thoughts I’ve shared here are inspiring or helpful in some way. The themes of working with flower essences and connection are a big part of the offering I have coming up, Cultivating Closeness. This is a live online 4-week group program that invites you to work gently and intentionally on your patterns of relating to people, plants, and place in the company of wise plant allies and like-minded people as we transition from the depth of winter to the first inkling of spring. If you liked this post, you might enjoy the class. It closes Jan 21st, you can register for a space here.

You may also enjoy being on my mailing list. You’ll hear from me about twice a month – I like to share herbal resources and insights as well as notes on my upcoming events. Subscribers also get to vote on the topics of my annual free community workshop series.  I’m not on social media, so this is the best way for us to keep in touch. 

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Herbalism

Rosemary: Remembrance for Folks of European Ancestry


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This month on Patreon, we’re focusing on Indigenous solidarity. One plant that stands out to me when I concentrate on this theme is rosemary. Much like the at-risk white sage (Salvia apiana), this plant can be burned as incense and to purify, protect, and bless people, objects, and ceremonies. Unlike white sage, however, this plant has a much longer history of use by folks of European descent, and is also widely grown and easily acquired without endangering the plant population. Here’s a plant profile on rosemary, including some information on its use for smoke. This plant profile was originally shared alongside a podcast and resource document for patrons supporting my work at $3/month and up – learn more here.

Rosemary Plant Profile

Salvia rosmarinus

Lamiaceae, Mint family

Where it Grows: Commonly found as a hedge in landscaping

When to Harvest: Year-round, but has beautiful purple flowers in the spring! 

Parts Used: Flowers and leaves, sometimes twigs

Special Qualities: Warming aromatic plant commonly used for cooking, this herb is a carminative, helping the body to dispel gas and bloating during the digestive process. It also has a bitter component, stimulating the liver, gallbladder, bile production, and digestive juices. Cerebral vasodilator, which means this herb improves blood circulation to the brain, making this plan excellent for headaches, studying, and other cognitively demanding tasks. An expectorant – beneficial respiratory actions and frequent ingredient in fire cider. Antioxidant properties which protect the blood vessels and the brain. Also considered antidepressant, possibly because of its overall warming and stimulating effects. I consider this a stimulating nervine. Due to its heavy warming action, it’s also used in cases of arthritis and other cold, boggy conditions of the joints. Rosemary is also a helpful herb for stimulating hair growth. 

As a Smoke Herb: Rosemary has a long and varied use as an herb affiliated with many different spiritual events and public occasions. In Ancient Greece and Rome, rosemary was used at funerals, weddings, festivals, in magical spells, and as incense in religious ceremonies. Rosemary was thought to be a cure for Bubonic plague, and was burned in hospitals and sick rooms throughout Europe as an incense to purify the air. There is a strong historical association in many European cultures between rosemary and memory, or, as the saying goes: “rosemary for remembrance.”

My Favorite Preps and Uses: 1. Tea blends 2. Hydrosol 3. Tincture

Safety Considerations: 

Avoid using large doses during pregnancy or when trying to conceive, in cases of vasodilative headaches, and if you are actively bleeding/attempting to staunch blood flow. 

Sources:

If you enjoyed this plant profile, you’d probably like being on my mailing list. You’ll hear from me about twice a month – I like to share herbal resources and insights as well as notes on my upcoming events. Subscribers also get to vote on the topics of my annual free community workshop series.  I’m not on social media, so this is the best way for us to keep in touch. 

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Herbalism

Mullein: A Friend for Fire Season and Beyond


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It’s my personal opinion that everyone in the western so-called “United States” would do well to get to know and love mullein. This plant may be just what so many of us need in this time of fire, smoke, and pressure on the respiratory system. Recently in my consultation practice, my mutual aid work, and my personal life, mullein has been called for over and over. It took this as a sign that it’s a great time to talk more widely about this plant.

What you see below is a full materia medica entry on mullein, referring to how I know it best and how I personally use it, as well as ways I have read about other herbalists using it. This entry was originally posted on my Patreon with an accompanying podcast episode for my $3/month and up patrons. In the podcast episode, I go more in-depth on this entry and talk a bit more specifically about fire season. I also posted in my Patreon’s community Dsicord server about the process of harvesting and drying mullein for tea. If you’re interested in seeing what other goodies my patrons receive, check that out here.

Mullein is a plant that I full-heartedly love. It’s helped me find so much expansion and grace within my own body, and I’ve seen it do the same for others, both in the short term and over long periods of restorative healing. Please read on and experiment with what calls to you!

Mullein, Verbascum thapsus

Scrophulariaceae, Figwort family

Where it Grows: Temperate climates, compacted/burned soil, sand/gravelly soil. Ranges from high desert Arizona to Canada. Found across what’s known as the US, some states have it listed as invasive (it’s not native but was introduced, likely from Europe). I typically find it in high coastal prairie zones where it’s getting a lot of sun. It seems to like disturbed soil and will pop up in gardens as a weed. 

Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, and roots are all used separately. 

Harvesting Guidelines: A great plant to weed-rescue whenever it pops up in gardens or lawns. These plants are biennial and some herbalists recommend that if you’re harvesting leaves only, and not the whole plant, that you gather leaves in late spring and summer (presumably before the plant is in full flower) from second year plants to avoid damaging first year plants by taking too many leaves and stunting them. Only second-year mullein produces a flower stalk, first year mullein is simply a basal rosette of leaves. 

Constituents: Flavonoids, mucilage, saponins, tannins, volatile oils

Mullein spire in bloom!

Common Preparations and Dosages: 

  • Tea made from the leaves is most effective for respiratory challenges. Strain through a cloth to get all the little fuzzy hairs out, otherwise you will end up with an irritated throat
    • The fuzzies can also irritate your skin and nose so do be careful with these
    • Mullein leaves take a long time to dry so be thorough with them to prevent mold.
    • Overnight infusion: put 4 tbsp of mullein leaf into a quart jar and pour over boiling water. Let this infuse for at least 8 hours or overnight. Strain out the plant material through a cloth and enjoy. Combine with honey if desired for taste or sore throat issues. Drink a quart a day as a tonic. 
    • Another method for making mullein tea: pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp of dried leaf and infuse 10-15 minutes. Strain through a cloth and drink. Prepare and drink this up to 3 times a day. 
  • Can incorporate mullein into an herbal face steam for a direct application to the lungs. In a similar manner, mullein is often a part of herbal smoke blends. 
  • Apply whole leaves or poultices to areas with muscle spasms, is sometimes also applied to broken bones or similar injuries to be used similar to comfrey – knitting the tissues back together
  • Mullein flower and garlic ear oil for ear infections

Energetics: Moistening, cooling, and relaxing

Tastes: Green, tastes like plant

Actions: demulcent, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, mild anti-spasmodic, lung tonic

Specific Indications: 

  • Leaves are very useful for respiratory infections. Considered specific for bronchitis characterized by a hard cough and soreness. Reduces inflammation while stimulating fluid production, thus allowing for expectoration (coughing up phlegm). 
  • Helps allay anxiety associated with not breathing. Folks who carry this fear may tend toward tightness in the chest and lungs, mullein can help alleviate this. It can also be helpful for people whose throats are closing from anxiety. 
  • Excellent tonic to the lungs to boost overall respiratory health and function. Some have success with beginning daily infusions of mullein a few months before fire season and notice they are less affected by the air quality. 
  • Topically apply leaves onto spasming muscles to calm them
  • Daily overnight infusions of mullein is one of the most commonly recommended and highly successful treatments for asthma. Inhaling smoke of mullein leaves during the onset of an asthma attack while focusing on lengthening the exhale can quell an asthma attack. 
  • Root tones trigones/center of pelvis, indicated for nighttime incontinence, swelling of ovaries due to its affinity for gonadal tissue, and root is also specific for low back pain and inflammation and spinal issues
    • This is a wonderful Doctrine of Signatures moment – the roots look quite bone-like
  • Flowers are sedative and antimicrobial
    • Mullein flower oil can be heated and used for ear infections
    • Mullein flowers are great for wound healing (highly vulnerary) and are good for acute infections
  • Flower or root oil is indicated topically for testicular inflammation

Combinations:

  • Quick ear oil: mullein flowers, garlic tincture, and hydrogen peroxide (this will foam, that’s ok). 
  • Combine with lobelia, a low-dose herb and powerful antispasmodic, for asthma and panic attacks
  • Combine mullein tea with yerba santa flower essence or honey, this is also helpful for a variety of respiratory infections or anxiety-related difficulties

Contraindications and Drug Interactions: Seeds contain the insecticide and fish poison rotenone. Make sure the herb is not contaminated with seeds (tiny black balls). 

References:

“Mullein,” Western New York Urology Associates

Windfall Herbal Studies Lecture, 2019. 

The Gift of Healing Herbs, Robin Rose Bennet

Medical Herbalism, David Hoffman

And personal experience 🙂

Disclaimer: I am a folk herbalist, not a doctor. All information discussed is solely for educational purposes and is not meant to treat, diagnose, or cure any ailments. Anything you do to take care of your health is your decision and your responsibility.

Herbalism

Announcing Open Hours: Community Mutual Aid and Accessible Herbal Learning


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I’ve been dreaming about the possibility of working closely with other people to expand the mutual aid apothecary projects I’m working on. Last year, I joined a local group of herbalists to do things like offer tea and remedies to local unhoused folks and campesinxs in south county, as well as offer medic support at public events. This has been a wonderful experience, and we are continuing to work on projects together. But what I really wanted was to spend more time preparing herbs with other folks in person. I also saw the potential for the work put into each of these projects to also be an experiential education opportunity for folks wanting to look further into the realm of herbalism especially from a liberation-focused lens. Plant medicine has so much it can bring to the struggles we face today – for better housing conditions, warding off state repression, facing climate catastrophe, etc. I wanted a way to get more folks involved while also growing the work I and other local herbalists are already doing.

That’s why I’m so excited to announce that I am beginning to offer Open Hours, a time when we can get together outdoors to do garden, apothecary, and distribution tasks. This includes doing plant cultivation work, creating herbal medicines, and doing things like bottling, labeling, and boxing up remedies for distribution.

Who is Open Hours for?

This offering is primarily for folks local to what’s colonially known as Santa Cruz. I’m offering this as a way to give people a chance to access free/low-cost herbal education, while also helping me do the things that need to get done to keep my apothecary stocked, so I can keep donating medicines and providing herbal aid.

This offering is intended to serve the purpose of providing experiential education to folks who may have economic difficulty accessing herbal experience and education, either because they can’t financially afford classes, or because they lack access to garden space, materials, and supplies. Open Hours are not structured as a class, but more as a collaborative work session. Participants learn by doing, whether that’s how to press out a tincture or how to harvest mint leaves to encourage plant growth.

This offering is also for folks who are interested in getting involved with herbal mutual aid! If this is something you want to learn more about and collaborate on, I am so excited to meet you and work together.

COVID-19 Safety Info

Please note, due to household safety precautions, I am only allowing folks who are vaccinated to come to Open Hours. I respect that there are a multitude of perspectives on the vaccine, particularly in relation to structural racism. This is a personal choice I’m making to preserve the health of my housemates and myself, not a denial of differing points of view. 

How Do I Come to Open Hours?

The first-ever Open Hours are scheduled for next Thursday, July 29th from 2-4 pm. RSVP by contacting me! Then you’ll get an email confirming your attendance. There will also be some notes on location and further info about COVID-19 safety.

Herbalism

Towards an Anti-Oppression Herbalism


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Many people who are familiar with my work publicly are most acquainted with what I’ve done in the realm of racial justice and white fragility, namely with my zine, A Letter to My White Friends. Those who know me through this lens might be surprised by this pivot towards plant medicine, since it’s not usually something I write about . However, I am very clear about what values I envision upholding through my herbal practice, and they are the same as those I have championed through my writing.

Many herbalists, including a few that I’ve had the pleasure to learn from, do upstanding work. They endeavor to steward the land and be in right relationship to the plants they use, and pay reparations to the Indigenous groups to whom the land they practice on originally belongs. They deconstruct oppressive models of health that are linked to capitalism and patriarchy. They provide care in free clinics and donate medicines to those in crisis. However, like many practices under an oppressive society, there are many ways in which herbalism can be contorted by colonial and profit-motivated tendencies.

Today a friend asked me, “So is there oppressive herbalism?” and my answer was a resounding yes. The ideas of health and wellbeing are subject to the particulars of one’s world view. Many practitioners end up perpetuating models of health that are productivity-based, ableist, fatphobic, transphobic, etc., because they fail to examine their own assumptions about what “healthy” means.

There are also issues of cultural appropriation and environmental degradation to be wary of. Many herbalists continue to act out colonial power dynamics as they tout “superfoods” and exoticized healing practices. The cultivated herb industry, much like the industrial food system, can and does degrade the Earth. Wildcrafting exacerbates these effects by further disintegrating ecosystems. Often, the cultures which originally used the plants as medicine are not acknowledged, or are subject to purposeful erasure, as is the case with groups indigenous to Turtle Island/the US.

Since entering the herbalism world a few years ago, as a beginner, and then a student, I have been surprised by the great variety of practitioners and philosophies out there. There is certainly a spectrum of practices, and I believe no practitioner is perfect. I never intend to chastise practitioners, but instead I write this as a set of guiding principles for my own practice. This is a living document, inviting collaboration from those for whom it resonates. Here are the values I want to embody and strive for in my practice:


Anti-Oppression Herbalism is:

Explicitly Anti-Kyriarchal

Any model of herbalism that is anti-oppressive must be explicitly against all forms of oppression and domination. Being explicit about this is important for several reasons; it lets those being treated know what values are held by practitioners, gives anti-oppression work and thought a greater platform, and encourages other herbalists and health practitioners to investigate their values and state them clearly. Racism, class oppression, gendered oppression, and all other oppressions are also great factors in our overall health. Anti-oppression herbalism acknowledges that oppressions are often root causes of our health difficulties and individual physiological patterns, and steers away from victim-blaming while seeking to constructively address this truth.

Seasonally and Cyclically Attuned

Herbal treatments that are recommended and procured are sensitive to fluctuations of the seasons. Many herbs are not always available in fresh form, or perhaps not available at all. The anti-oppressive herbalist understands and prepares for this and doesn’t demand something from the Earth that it can’t give at that time.

Similarly, anti-oppressive models of health take these fluctuations into account. Unlike allopathic medicine or traditional psychotherapy, where the primary goal is to “fix what’s wrong” with a person’s body or mental health so that they can continue to adapt to and be a “productive member” of our society as it currently is, anti-oppressive herbalism seeks to support people through their own fluctuations of energy and capacity. It’s understood that health and wellness look different at different times for different people. This model allows for people to be seen and treated as their full selves. It also promotes a transformative view of health, wherein we as a society are pushed to accept everyone’s individual capacities and needs, rather than enforcing an idea of health that pushes people to conform, be productive, and serve a profit motive. Resting is subversive — anti-oppressive herbalism supports this!

Earth-Stewarding

Wildcrafting is the principal issue to address when thinking of how an herbalism practice could be earth-stewarding. Many herbalists have taken the stance that wildcrafting should not be engaged in unless you have a long standing relationship with the land and the plants you’re gathering. Wildcrafting can wreak havoc on the population of a species, like we’ve seen with white sage and echinacea , and on the larger ecosystems they reside in. It is in our best interest as anti-oppressive herbalists to care for and preserve these ecosystems. Herbs can be cultivated with regenerative agricultural practices for those who have land access, or gathered from cultivated sites on invitation.

As for wildcrafting, tomes could be written on the subject. There are many plants that are widespread and grow as “weeds” and others that become available as windfall or landscaper’s trimmings. In my personal practice, I continue to gather these and do “weed rescue” in my friends’ gardens. However, I do recognize that even in doing this, being in relationship with the plants is important. It’s important to know how they grow and how your gathering will impact them, ask permission to work with them, and offer them your thanks in the form of care, tending, ritual, etc. The land-tending practices of Indigenous groups need to be revitalized, and as anti-oppressive herbalists, it’s in our best interest to push for this and advocate for the return of the land and its care to Indigenous groups.

Many plants are traditional medicines of Indigenous groups. I think it’s important for herbalists to learn the traditional uses of the plants around them, and respect the fact that some plants are not for everyone. There are many plants that were originally the staple foods and medicines of Indigenous groups that have since become commodified, exploited, and over-harvested, and this has harmed the traditions and livelihoods of the groups that originally used them. This is wrong. As anti-oppressive herbalists, it’s our job to stand against this, rather than profit from it in any way.

Low-Impact

Dosage is a key issue to ensuring low-impact herbalism. Lowest effective dosing is practiced by many practitioners for the health of the plant population, and for low impact on the body. Plant essences and spirit doses of tinctures can also be used for this practice.

Sourcing herbs and supplies is another concern when it comes to impact. Using herbs that are locally abundant can be one solution, and ensuring that herbs are sourced from growers who use organic practices is another. Sourcing packaging materials from small businesses and local sources can also reduce impact.

Reparative

By reparative, I mean paying reparations. Paying reparations to the Indigenous group whose land you’re on is a good start. Donating a portion of your income or service to other marginalized groups on top of this can also be a wonderful addition to your practice. Incorporating a historical understanding of how people have become disenfranchised of their land, resources, and traditions into the mechanics of your business can be a way to slowly repair these harms.

Agency-Enhancing

When treating individuals, we can focus on helping the person better understand their body and the bodies of others and their relationship to plants and the earth. Our goal in doing this is to make it possible for them to heal themselves and others, rather than continuing to rely solely on experts. In this way, we can apply a transformative model of service, by providing aid and solidarity and assisting individuals in navigating and changing the health conditions in their lives.

Listening to individuals is of the utmost importance in this process, just as listening to marginalized communities is integral to real social change. Many herbalists come from middle class backgrounds, and with this comes a tendency to sort of “manage” clients, akin to a savior mentality or codependency. As anti-oppression practitioners, we abandon these dynamics in favor of joining those we treat in solidarity, seeking to build their agency with the understanding that their health is our health, too.

Decommodifying

Anti-oppressive herbalism is not focused on the movement of herbal products or silver-bullet formulas, but on treating people and empowering them to work on their own health. I believe that in order to really be transformative actors in the face of capitalism, anti-oppressive herbalists need to shift the focus of their businesses away from products and ready-made formulas. Herbs and herbalism are already aggressively commodified by businesses like Herb Pharm and the like. We can help reverse this tide by focusing further on passing on our skills and knowledge.

Supporting ourselves as practitioners can take many forms — there are ways of dispersing knowledge while still making it accessible to people who are low-income. Many herbalists already offer sliding scale and scholarship options in their practices.

Accessible

Jargon is explained and decoded, and herbalism teaching caters to a variety of learning styles and abilities. Ideally, herbal treatment is widely available in many different locales and at a variety of price brackets, including pay what you can and free clinics.

Culturally Informed

The historical cultural uses of every plant are known and widely taught. Originating cultures are credited with forming the foundations of our practice and are honored for these reasons. Various herbal traditions from around the world are understood, respected, and acknowledged, but are not appropriated by practitioners outside of that culture. In cases where practitioners are using/teaching healing modalities from other cultures, this is done with explicit permission from a practitioner in that culture, fullest possible understanding of both the spiritual and practical aspects of the practice, and a commitment to stewarding the full breadth of this knowledge by passing it on respectfully.

Supportive in Times and Places of Struggle

Herbal care is made available to those in need at sites of struggle against oppression and in marginalized communities. Whether this is prisons, refugee camps, protest camps, organizing groups, or areas affected by disaster, herbal care is used to shore up the wellbeing of those fighting hegemonic power and those targeted by it.

Power-Building

Herbal care specifically for community organizers, leaders, and bridge-builders is meant to protect the health of these people as they take aim at the current world order and work to create new worlds. By bolstering the health of these people and helping them avoid burnout, they are better able to carry out their work of dismantling prisons, growing gardens, dissolving borders, educating others, and reducing harm against vulnerable populations. Power-building herbalism also seeks to give people skills to survive outside of a fragile, oppressive, and unaffordable medical system.

Non-exclusive

Anti-oppressive herbalism doesn’t exclude those who need or believe in western medicine. There is a false dichotomy here, because both can work in tandem. A disability justice framework is applied; herbs do not negate the real need some folks have for elements of western medical practice. These needs also need to be prioritized. Practitioners take to care to avoid shaming those they are treating for engaging in western medical practices.


These are the principles of anti-oppressive herbalism that I’m striving to uphold in my own herbal practice. As I wrote above, this is a living document that I expect to change as my practice continues to grow. If this resonates with you, or if you have constructive criticism for me, let’s collaborate! Please reach out — anti-oppression work is a group effort and I’d love to be connected.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge some groups and practitioners that inspired this writing: Bay Area Herbal Response TeamHerbalists Without BordersStascha StahlLa Loba LocaSolidarity ApothecaryRise Up! Good Witch, and Blue Otter School of Herbal Medicine all inspire me with their praxis and mission to provide care to others. Thank you for the work that you do!


This essay was originally written for my Patreon supporters, and accompanied by a podcast. If you enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting my work! Anything from $3-$45 helps tremendously and goes to cover my basic living expenses. Patrons receive a range of benefits, from monthly live Q&A’s and resource lists, to workshops and bi-monthly herbal care boxes. You can find my Patreon here.