Meet Your Herbs: Up Close And Personal At Gaia Farm

Minutes from missing my flight, I snuck into my seat just in time. The airport-dash adrenalin transformed into giddy excitement. Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy sent me to tour Gaia Herbs’ Farm, to sit in fields of flowers in the heaven-on-earth that is Western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Gaia Farm is nestled in Transylvania County, affectionately known as the Land of Waterfalls. It’s hard to imagine a better place to grow medicinal herbs than that rich, mineral-soaked soil, nourished by endless water. I couldn’t wait.

The Mountain Way

Generosity, integrity, and grit are an integral part of mountain culture. The feeling spills over into Gaia’s farming philosophy. This farm doesn’t just produce herbs en masse, but participates in an intricate dance between plants, rain, earth, and sky. In return for being tended with such care, the plants grow strong and vibrant, offering powerful polysaccharides for immunity, adaptogenic abilities for fatigue, and emotional lift for heartache.

On The Farm

After a long breakfast our group followed Gaia’s founder, herbalist Ric Scalzo and master herbalist Mary Bove, ND down into the farm to “meet the herbs.” An interweaving of knowledge and experience took place as each herb was described in detail. Bioscience intertwining with Ayurvedic philosophy, Dr. Bove’s experience as a midwife with Scalzo’s rich understanding of plant medicine. No detail left unturned, herbs that act together in formulas have been intentionally planted side by side. Here are some gems from those walks.

Ginkgo Biloba & Hawthorn Berry
Gathering under thickly leaved trees, we are reminded of Gingko’s memory stimulating effects. Neighbor to ginkgo grows hawthorn, the well known heart tonic. Their placement honors the symbiotic relationship created by ginkgo and hawthorn when put together in a heart-mind formula.

Gotu Kola
Gotu Kola leaves are the shape of a brain! This Ayurvedic herb’s function as a nervine tonic comes as no surprise. Gotu kola is one of the strongest herbs for improving memory and focus without overstimulating hot Pitta constitutions.

Passion Flower & Ashwagandha
Enormous, dewey purple flowers with curling petals nestle sleepily in their vines. Passion flower is wonderful herb for those who can’t sleep, or suffer from anxiety. Coupled with ashwagandha, the famous Ayurvedic adaptogen, this duo replenishes an exhausted adrenal system with an excellent night sleep.

Echinacea Purpurea
Echinacea is Gaia’s claim to fame. Pink flowers dotted with hundreds of buzzing bees stretch into the distance. No one in our crew of herbalists was nervous of getting stung- It was clear they were here to feast on pollen! Echinacea, when prepared properly, is a powerful immune tonic. If you need an emergency “I can’t get sick!” remedy this cold and flu season, echinacea is your best bet.

Lemon Balm & Holy Basil
Lemon balm and holy basil make up another symbiotic pair. Lemon balm brings happiness, while holy basil helps you feel calm in the eye of the storm. This centered, grounded contentedness is the place from which we all make our best decisions, where creativity blooms, and connect deeply with our needs. In this mad world, lemon balm and holy basil are truly our allies.

Appalachian Storytellin’

On our final evening at the Farm, we gathered around in a half circle to listen to the stories of Doug Elliot. In this interweaving of tales with songs, we learned how to make a berry basket from spring poplar bark, that blackberries won’t sweeten without a late frost, and a tale all about three generations of chicken-egg-stealing snakes. Mr. Elliot jokingly incorporated his Parkinson’s tremor, then gracefully let his shaking left hand mold a mournful vibrato on the harmonica. That moment in particular speaks volumes about mountain culture. Hardship comes and goes, and sometimes stays around a long time. There’s no need to worry much- just accept and simply go on living.  In my dreams that night, I heard folk tunes and stories as old as the mountains themselves.

The next morning,  I boarded a plane bound for Santa Fe. New Mexico’s beauty is different- stark and wild in contrast to lush green. Dry air and big skies overhead, replaces humidity and a near canopy of trees. While it’s good to be home, a little part of my heart remains in the Land of Waterfalls.

P.S. If you are as heart-struck as I am about Appalachian Storytelling, take a peek at the North Carolina Storytelling Guild.

 

 

 

10 Benefits Of CBD For Chronic Pain

Honey Colony recently published my article on the Benefits of CBD for chronic pain. Here’s an excerpt:

Cannabidiol, the non-psychotropic compound found in marijuana, offers huge physical and emotional benefit to those suffering from chronic pain. Infused into glycerine, alcohol tincture, oil, or honey, CBD delivers the beneficial effects of medical marijuana without creating a high. For those who still wish to function efficiently throughout the day, CBD is a great solution.

Click here for the full article.

5 Ways Ayurveda Helped Me Regain My Life From Ankylosing Spondylitis

Good Morning!

I’m very happy to share my recently published article on Ayurveda and Ankylosing Spondylitis. It’s been quite a journey putting this story together over the past year. A big, huge, incredible thanks to Honey Colony for publishing this piece that means so much to me. If you have the time today, please take a moment to read 5 Ways Ayurveda Helped Me Regain My Life From Ankylosing Spondylitis. It’s a compilation of the many alternative practices that changed my life, with a big, shining focus on Ayurveda. Please share this information with those suffering from autoimmune or autoinflammatory conditions. There is relief in unexpected places.

Thank you, Honey Colony, and endless gratitude to all the wonderful people who have stood by my side on this 15 year journey.

~Heather

(This is how happy it makes me! The story of this amazing day coming soon.)

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Sauna Luxury In Your Own Bathroom: Seven Easy Steps

Transform your bathroom into a luxury status sauna. Follow these simple instructions and your stress will melt away into the bathtub! Follow these simple instructions to create a sauna in your very own bathroom. Then, instead of hopping in the cold car to head home, you can just make a cup of tea, curl up, and get cozy.

Benefits of Sweating

  • Detoxification of skin and organs

  • Revitalizes and rejuvenates the skin

  • Improves digestion

  • Relieves stress

  • Relieves muscle stiffness, pain, and tension.

  • Reduces numbness, stiffness, rigidity, heaviness.

  • Improves mobility of the joints

  • Balances nervous system

 

Your home sauna may be used a la carte, or as an essential step in detoxification. If you are doing home Pancha Karma, begin your sweat immediately after morning Abhyanga. You may even begin to fill the bathtub while the oil is still on your body. As you heat up, your pores will open to absorb the grounding, nourishing healing oil. Simultaneously, ama (toxicity) that has been loosened by home PK practices will be eliminated. In Ayurveda, it is best to nourish while detoxifying, so that no deficiency or healing crisis is created.

  1. A small bathroom easily converts into a sauna.
  2. Insulate: Cover your windows so cold air does not leak in from outside during cold weather. Roll up towels and place them at the bottom of the door.
  3. Heat: Close the curtain to seal in steam. Fill the bathtub with 4-6 inches of very hot water. You may also use the few inches at the bottom of a shower.
  4. Prepare: Fill a medium sized bowl with cold water and soak a washcloth. Every few minutes, squeeze some cool water onto your face, back of neck, and top of your head. You may leave the cold washcloth on the top of your head if you like. Rose water hydrosol is a lovely way to keep from overheating while in your home sauna. Simply keep a bottle within reach as spritz your face every few minutes. Have a glass of warm water or ginger tea next to the bathtub.
  5. Ambiance: Your swedan is meant to be a healing experience in which toxins are removed from your body, that calms your nervous system. Keep lights dim, light candles, add soft music if you like.
  6. Swedana (start sweating): Place towels on the floor to keep your feet warm. Pull the shower curtain back half way and sit next to the bathtub. A chair or the side of the tub will do just fine!
  7. Meditate: What to do while sitting in the bathroom doing nothing?  For some, this sitting quietly can be quite uncomfortable! Go ahead and simply close your eyes and enjoy the peace. The heat of the steam will naturally slow down your mind.

For some people doing nothing can cause anxiety or aggravation. If you notice these feelings, a great way to work with what comes up is to meditate. Choose a simple phrase that feels powerful and healing to you and repeat it in your mind. When you notice that the phrase has disappeared and you’re thinking about something else, go back to the phrase. Some options I love are:

  • Healthy, Happy, Whole.
  • So Hum: In your mind, say So as you inhale and Hum as you exhale. That’s all.
  • My Body is Healthy, Vital, and Strong.
  • Create an affirmation of your own that supports your healing process.

Less is More 

For some, especially those of Vata and Kapha constitutions, it may feel like you could stay in the comfort of your sauna all day. Swedana treatment is traditionally done for no more than 10 minutes in a sweat box. Since your steam will be less concentrated, 15 minutes will be fine. Pitta predominant constitutions should not exceed 10 minutes in the sauna.

Instructions complete! The only thing left to do is wrap up in warm, soft clothes, make some tea, and curl up with your favorite movie. And the cat!

Medicinal Herbs at Gaia Farm

If  you’re ever in Western North carolina, i highly recommend a visit Gaia Herbs.
Pictures speak louder than words; Here are some of some of the most commonly used herbs in the Ayurvedic and Western pharmacopeia.

tulsi

Tulsi (commonly known as Holy Basil) ready for a close up!

tulsi fields

The Tulsi Fields

lemonbalm

Lemon Balm. Happy and Calm.

gotukolaechinaceafields

Gotu Kola and her taller neighbor, Echinacea.

gotukola

Gotu Kola up close. In some parts of India, centella asiatica is known as Brahmi.

echinacea for days

Six acres of echinacea lay beneath the Blue Ridge Mountains in Brevard, North Carolina. Grown with love by Gaia Herbs.

 

Gizmo the Alien Angel Cat Pisses on the Bathroom Rug

This is Gizmo.

Gizmo the Angel Alien Cat Pisses on the Bathroom Rug is a piece I wrote about a year ago. It has just been picked up by the awesome folks at Elephant Journal, making this girl feel very excited, seen, heard, and understood. There’s got to be Ayurvedic term for that.

Writing your story out, allowing it to become separate from you as you write it, read it, and let it go is one of the most therapeutic choices we can make. Here’s part of mine.

 

Confessions of a French Fry Addict

“Hi, my name is Heather. I am a french fry addict.”  (Yes, this has everything to do with Ayurveda.) I love fries. Disproportionately so. Sometimes, I love them like my life depended on it. And sometimes, my sanity definitely does.

Let’s talk about why- tastes & qualities. In Ayurveda, tastes and qualities provide the reason for a substance’s intense desirability. French fries are starchy, salty, sweet, hot, a little crispy… I remember licking oil and salt off my fingers as a kid. Always extremely excited for french fries, disproportionately so. This must be connected, there’s got to be a relationship between my lust for fries with the satisfaction of that childhood thrill. They make me feel calm and happy. Oil makes it go down easy. Makes it come out easy too. But potatoes, not so bueno for some of our intestinal tracts, including poor-little-mine. But I want them. I really want them. And I need something about them too, in those moments, to drop back into that feeling of childhood contentedness. That must be it, because this craving ignites when I’m stressed out.

As it turns out, there is method in the madness. Starchy foods provide instant energy, salty-sweet-oily foods give a sense of comfort. In fact a major function of the sweet taste documented in the Caraka Samhita (an ancient text of Ayurveda), is comfort & contentedness. Comfort is necessary, contentedness the goal. Sweet, oily, & salty qualities are not the enemy- it’s the method of delivery that gets us into trouble.

So… What will give that sensation of french fries without the soon to be felt undesired effects of cranky-bloated-sleepiness? Sub out the potatoes, bake instead of fry, voila!  Sweet potatoes are one exquisitely delicious option. And here’s another- Yucca. Their light starchy goodness might as well be a potato, only sweeter.  They are also a much more sustaining source of carbohydrates than potatoes. Their light, sweet taste is perfectly complemented by coconut oil as they bake to crispy perfection. A sprinkle of sea salt? Well, alright. Fresh cracked pepper and a touch of cayenne? If you insist.

The remedy for the craving that is not going anywhere, except my mouth. Because it’s my body’s desire for calm interpreted as french fries. And… That. Is. Just. Fine.

Recipe for Yucca Fries

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Slice 1 yucca into french fry slivers. Steak or shoestring, you decide.
  3. Toss with 1 tbsp coconut oil.
  4. Sprinkle with a big pinch of sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  Grind black pepper to taste. Some of us like a whole lot.
  5. Bake for 10-15 minutes until your desired crispiness is achieved.
*Heather remains passionate about all things fried, and figuring out how to eat them without hurting herself.