Forest Bathing

Recently, it became apparent that I was spending way too much time indoors and not enough time outside. I was juggling everyone else’s needs and forgot about mine. It became obvious that it was taking a toll on my ability to maintain a sense of calm and balance throughout the day. And that’s what everyone needs from me as well as what gets me through the day.

So I decided to take a fine autumn morning to do some Forest Bathing, also know as Shinrin-yoku. In the early 1980s, the practice was developed in Japan as a form of preventive health care and healing.  Over the years, there has been quite a bit of research  that speaks to the benefits of Forest Bathing. But honestly folks, if you have ever spent any time in the woods, you already know the amazing gifts communing with nature provides. We’re talking about some real stress release, which in turn boosts your immune system for starters.

Although I love sharing a walk in the woods and exploring with friends and family, my focus tends to be more on the conversation and not on my surrounding. I’m more inclined to walk faster to keep up and I miss a lot. The deep stress release really only comes when I am bathing in nature. Think of a long soak in a bubble bath with music and candles ~ ahhhh. Therefore, when I really need/want to reap the benefits of the forest, I go into it alone, allowing myself to be 100% present so I can bath in my surroundings.

If you have read my blogs, you know that I love Waterfall Therapy, simply sitting by a waterfall, allowing it to release all the stress from the body. Well, sitting in the middle of the woods, listening to and watching the wind blow through the autumn leaves is also a fabulous stress reliever.

On snowy days, I love sitting outside listening and watching the snow fall around me. I look up, pick one snowflake, and watch it fall gently to the earth. I enjoy watching water falling from tall waterfalls like Taughannock Falls too. I pick one section and follow the flow all the way down.

After over four hours of wandering through the woods, paying attention, listening, observing, I was ready to re-enter and engage in the activities of my daily life again. It normally does not take that long, but I just could not see a reason to pull myself away from such a lovely experience. Feeling stressed?  Do yourself a favor, soak in the forest; you will be happy you did.

All information is shared for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

 

 

 

Adapt and Thrive

As I look back over 2017, it was without a doubt an atypical year for our world, our country, and our home. The saying, “adapt or die,” comes to mind but it makes more sense to me if I reword it “adapt and thrive.” It tends to resonate better for me, although I do indeed respect the original saying.

There is no way I can digest and respond to what has been going on in our world right now, it is too over whelming to tackle but I can focus on a small piece of our lives. This year, I’ve had very little time to focus on the natural world and harvesting herbs except for a couple of moments I stole here and there. With that said, Mike created a wonderful little nursery at our new home for some of my plant allies to move into.  Although, they had a very late start, they do appear to be adapting to their new home and thriving beyond my expectations. Some are even to starting to flower in mid-October!

After I transplanted Arnica (Arnica spp.), it appeared to wither, so I decided to cut off the tops, hoping it would help it concentrate on establishing its roots. For a month, it looked dead, except for a little leaf here or there emerging from the soil. Now it appears that it has settled in and enjoys its new home. It is leafing out nicely, I would be surprised if it flowers this year, but I’m looking forward to it spreading out in 2018.

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris) seemed to make itself at home instantaneously. I didn’t have to provide much support except water during our dry periods.

Three years ago, I transplanted St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatumin) to my old garden. It didn’t come back until this spring, and it did robustly. I collected flowers daily until I moved some of it to our new nursery. It continued to send out flowers but I did not harvest any, allowing it to get acclimated to its new home. Well, it must like its new home, because it is now sending out fresh new aerial parts. I am mentally prepared to wait a couple of seasons before it revisits the nursery but hopeful that it will return next year.

When I moved to a little cottage in the woods in 1998, I became enamored with Spearmint (Mentha spicata). It was growing right outside my front door. After a summer of adding it to my water, sun tea and random dishes, I couldn’t imagine life without it. It really brightens up the day and I have been planting a little stem at each new home since. Spearmint is a rather vigorous plant, and you really don’t need much for it to get established. Perhaps it was not prudent to put it into our nursery as our little plant is really thriving, but we can always find it a new home on the land next year.

A dear friend gifted me Calendula (Calendula officinalis) seeds and although they had a very slow start, they are now sending out lots of lovely orange blossoms. I am hoping they self-seed next year.

Although the new house’s gardens had Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) already, I needed to bring some with me. I cut the aerial parts so it could concentrate on establishing roots. I am overwhelmed that it is already sending out flowers.

Mike was planting Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) seeds for his orchard garden, so I took a couple seedlings for the nursery. Besides its medicinal qualities, it’s a great asset to any garden, as its root secretions will activate the disease resistance of nearby plants; and it intensifies the medicinal actions of other herbs.

Mike also planted some Tulsi, a.k.a Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) seedlings that I transplanted into the garden, which has started to flower. I love how the bees’ pollen sacs are bright red from visiting the Tulsi.

Although, I didn’t have much time to spend with herbs this year, I am overwhelmed with their ability to thrive in our little nursery. I cannot wait to spend more time with them in 2018.

60%

During the first year or so of Mathew’s life, I came to the realization that at least 60% of his personality was formed in utero; perhaps even more. I spent hours watching him interacting with the world in his own personal way, on his own terms. It was fascinating, and I loved observing him move around the world, exploring it; everything he did had such bold intention. I tried my best not to take the lead and simply support his endeavors. When we went to the playground, I sat and watched, similar to an anthropologist, hoping not to change behaviors of their subjects. At times, I would hear, “Where is that boy’s Mom?” They thought he was abandoned. It made me giggle.

I came up with 60%, because life does happen and events and interactions do contribute to shape our personalities. However, there are certainly some core basic characteristics that we own and are solid part of our personalities from the very beginning.  Of course, this figure is my belief based on observations and nothing more. When I look at the lives and directions my brothers and myself have taken, it without a doubt validates this belief. Simply visualize a central point and draw 3 arrows, one proceeding north, one east and one west; you will get a picture of the different paths we have taken in our lives, even though we were all raised in the same loving home.

When I look back to my first memories, they are filled with dreams of exploring and adventures. I have always looked at the earth as my home and yearned to explore every part of it. During the first 7 years of my life, I lived on a very friendly street in Long Island. My exploration started with my block, I was known to walk into neighbors’ houses and make myself at home. Thank goodness everyone knew me and tolerated this behavior ~ a friendly and loving street indeed. I went to a block reunion years later and many of my old neighbors had stories of finding me in their homes, just checking things out or getting something to eat. I distinctly remember feeling that there were no boundaries; it was my block, my home and I was checking everything out. When I was around 5 years old, I dreamed of hiking down the block and building an igloo on the corner house’s lawn and living in it. I was preoccupied with designing and building this igloo. I can still remember it vividly. For my 6th birthday, my brother gave me a suitcase. Yes, a strange gift indeed, or perhaps he was telling me something? Regardless, I loved it; it had big purple flowers all over it. One day I packed it with my favorite blanket and headed towards the backyard. My Mom asked me what I was doing. I said, “Going out to play.” I walked into the backyard and climbed over the fence and started walking, I was going to explore the world. I wasn’t running away, I was going towards adventure.

Later we moved to a house in the woods. I spent my days exploring our backyard and following our stream for miles with my dog. These are just a few of my early memories of exploring.  I have not changed. I still look at the earth has my home and desire to explore it all to find out what’s here and there.

After 13 years, Mathew still moves around in the same bold way, but his preference and exploration is more focused on interacting with the cyber world. If he was left alone, I am not sure he would choose to explore anything else. The cyber world appears to possess infinite possibilities. I am happy to say that he can be still change gears and enjoy the natural wonders that our planet has to offer as well. Although, I do no share his fascination with the cyber world we do share the exploration of our wonderful planet.

 

These herbs are fresh

We became members of the GreenStar Co-op after we moved to the Ithaca area. Co-ops are rather unique because its members are also its owners. Not only do they get the products and services they need, but also have a say in the Co-op’s business decision. As Co-ops go, GreenStar is pretty awesome with three locations in the small college town of Ithaca. I love their progressive focus on building a sustainable future, using profits in the local community, purveying many products from local farmers, supporting local schools and nonprofits, and harnessing the sun for its energy use. They even offer classes on cooking, nutrition, and environmental topics. They are undoubtedly a positive force in the community and we are so happy to be a part of it.

Whenever I walk into the Co-op, I am always amazed how happy everyone seems to be, whether they are working or shopping. Talk about good vibrations! It always seems like a wonderful place to work or volunteer, so every time I passed the employment/volunteer board I would look, hoping to find an opening in the Wellness department with hours that would fit my chaotic schedule. Last fall, I was overjoyed to see the perfect day and time available, and found out it was in the bulk herbs section.  It was perfect! I have a passion for buying in bulk. I even bring my jars to refill and the thought of being around herbs for a morning every week seems like a match made in heaven ~ and it is!

Not only do I get to be surrounded by all the lovely aromas of over 170 herbs and teas, I am learning a lot. I always knew the bulk herbs I was buying were much fresher than the any bottle of herbs but I had no idea how fresh. At GreenStar, they have someone refilling the bulk herbs daily. They order an average of 40-50 pounds of herbs each week. It takes me two hours to make sure all the jars are filled. If an herb is not being purchased on a regular basis, they don’t keep it around because there is no need to waste the shelf space; there are so many herbs vying for space. These herbs are fresh.

Just think about it ~ when you are buying prepackaged bottled herbs, you really have no idea how long they have been sitting on the shelf. In addition, you are committed to that specific amount. It’s not a big deal when you use the herb on a regular basis but from time to time, we all cook something that needs only a tablespoon of a specific herb that we will probably not use again for another year or more. And the cherry on top, over 80% of the herbs are organic while costing less than pre-packaged herbs. Who wants to buy a full bottle? Not me, so it’s a no brainer ~ buy the amount you need from the bulk herb section. It’s fresher and you can buy what you need, not what they want to sell you.

If you’ve never thought about shopping at a Co-op, I suggest you check out your local store. Here’s a directory to help you locate your neighborhood Co-op. You’ll be happy you did.

Learning the natural flow

When moving to a new home and land, I always felt it was wise to pause and observe it for the first year. Live with it, learn it, collect information; get intimate with its natural flow so you can make adjustments that better suit you and your family. Hey, a new home may feel good, but nothing is perfectly matched, everything needs some tweaks or adjustments. However, it is important to pace yourself and pay attention.

I think this process is especially important when looking at the land. Basically, you need to know what’s there and how the land evolves over the seasons. After being on our new land during most of the summer, it may be shrewd to go through two years without making any major changes. Frankly, I have had very little time to really be with the land and experience its nuances, as I have been so busy with painting, packing and moving throughout the magical time of spring and summer.  Most of my time outdoors has been spent relieving the plants from the strangle hold of vines: Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) and Bindweed/Wild Morning Glory (Convolvulus arvensis). And folks, those vines are very impressive, they do not need much time to swallow up plants let alone trees and shrubs. Although Wild Cucumber can cover entire trees, thank goodness, it is very easy to pull off its hosts but Bindweed really grabs hold and refuses to let go unless you unravel it and get to their roots. They really know how to anchor in deep. Along with removing vines, I’ve widened paths and tried to balance the plants on the land, as some seem to have more advantage over others.

Wild Cucumber

Bindweed

As a forager, my desires and the land’s needs will need time to adjust to each other. I can see now that it will need a lot more attention than I’m wired for. Typically, I help the land awaken in the spring and forage my way around it through the seasons. But I fear that it will no longer be sufficient anymore. Therefore, we will need to come up with some compromises as the relationship of steward and land evolves. I have no idea what that means at this moment but know it will take time to evolve as I live with it, learn it, collect information; get intimate with its natural flow.

AHHHHH Ragweed!

My savior

My savior

After a rather mild allergy year, the last couple of nights I have been waking up with a heavy chest, itchy eyes, scratchy throat and a congested head. No worries, all I needed to do is stumble to the bathroom and find my trusty Goldenrod tincture and within a couple of minutes I was able to fall back to sleep. I suspect the culprit of my discomfort is RAGWEED (Ambrosia psilostachya). It’s a rather unobtrusive weed that wreaks havoc with 30% of the human population. It really does not stand out very much as it is a little green plant with green flowers. Since Goldenrod is a much showier plant and comes out at the same time as Ragweed, it is unfairly blamed for late summer allergies. The big difference is that Ragweed’s pollen is dispersed by the wind, while Goldenrod (Solidago, spp.) has sticky pollen and relies on critters for pollination.

There it is hiding among the other plants. It looks quite innocent , but, oh no, don't be fooled.

There it is hiding among the other plants. It looks quite innocent , but, oh no, don’t be fooled.

Ragweed is very adept at wind pollination. Scientists estimate that a single Ragweed plant can release one billion grains of pollen over the course of a single Ragweed season. In addition, the grains are so light that they float easily even on gentle breezes. Pollen has been detected as far as 400 miles out to sea and up to two miles up in the atmosphere. There are a few of things a person can do to try to protect themselves from all that pollen floating around:

  • Close the windows
  • Do not use window fans
  • Use air conditioners
  • Limit time outside
  • Take a shower before bed
  • Don’t hang laundry on clotheslines
  • Use a neti pot to clean out your sinuses

I do not know about you but even though all the items above will help with my allergies, I will probably only do one or two on the list. Take a shower before bed and use the neti pot. So what do I do? Thank goodness for Goldenrod, my allergy savior. During very difficult days, I will do one of two things, depending on my mood. Add 30-60 drops of Goldenrod tincture in my water bottle, that way I will be slowly getting some all day long. Alternatively, I’ll make a quart of infused Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) and Goldenrod to sip throughout the day. Sometimes I add Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculumthat I have in the garden to improve the taste. It has a nice licorice taste and helps aids my respiratory system to boot.

My special blend of Goldenrod for allergies

How do you deal with your seasonal allergies? Please share and I will continue to share.All information is shared for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

We learn what we love

I love sitting outside our new home with my Mom. After living 20 years in Florida our New York rural backyard is quite the change of scenery for her. She often asks me the names of our trees and plants. Although, I haven’t had much time to explore our new land, I am able to answer most of her questions along with adding some interesting details. She always seems amazed and asks me how I know all these things. My simple answer, “We learn what we love.” Basically, I have been exploring the natural world as far back as I can remember. Perhaps, she just thought I was simply playing in the backyard as a child, but it went deeper than that. I would observe how the seasons and land changed and what happened to the critters as they go through metamorphosis in our little brook behind our house. I was very curious about everything in the woods and was fortunate to grow up on over 2 acres of forested land in suburbia.

When I was little we went to the Bronx Zoo, and remember reading a poem by a Senegalese conservationist that was engraved into a stone wall.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.”― Baba Dioum

The quote resonated with me and has stayed with me ever since. I love learning about the natural world, and, I’ve always tried my best to conserve all its wonderful resources. Simply put, I feel at home, at peace in the natural world ~ understanding the flow and connections is down right thrilling for me. The experience centers me. When I go too long without a pause in nature, I can feel its absence deep inside, like my soul screaming for relief. The simple antidote ~ walk outside, hug a tree, and be with the natural world. Some days it may be more challenging to steal a moment from my daily tasks but I try my best to not go too long without it.

I think it is so important to find out what we enjoy in life and pursue it. Yes, we all need to make a living and can’t always support ourselves by pursuing our passions. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that our passions can’t be part of our lives. Some lucky souls may have the good fortune to pursue their passion everyday, while there is always evenings, weekends or time after retirement for everyone else.  Regardless, we must all explore life and find joy, whatever it may be.