The Journal Diaries 1: Letter to Mycelia + Herb Class Notes (26 years old)

This is the first in a new blog series, sharing some of the hundreds of journal entries I've made over the years. I started journaling at age 12 and have kept up with it, more or less, ever since. I have a shelf full of old diaries and notebooks; it's the first spot I'll run to if there's ever a fire. I have learned so much about myself and my neuroses and patterns and, more than anything, my strengths and my enduring interests by re-reading my journals now and then. Writing down my thoughts has been perhaps the single most important practice in my life.

I remember being a teenager and thinking "Maybe after I die someone will read my journals and realize they're not alone." A decade later, blogging came along, and I realized that I could use this new medium to share my deepest, most secret, most shame-inducing truths with others so that they, and I, would know that we're all in this together. And blogging did open up a whole new world of connection for me, and has empowered me to share and trust my voice, no matter how vulnerable the subject matter I'm writing on.

Through this series, I hope to realize the dream I had 20 years ago of sharing my private thoughts in order to normalize, comfort, and connect...

This one was written in the journal I used throughout my year-long herbal apprenticeship program called Cultivating the Medicine Woman Within with Kami McBride. I started when my daughter was 7 months old, and this was written 10 months after that in January of 2008, alongside notes on the digestive system.

Dear Mycelia-

I'm sorry. It's been so hard. It shouldn't have been like this. I won't let it be like this for you when you have your own. Papa went back to work four days after you were born. Grammy was back home by then too. Auntie Lacey loved you so much, but she didn't understand how hard it was for me and how much help I needed. How much help all mothers need. So I ended up frustrated so much of the time, and that frustration was sometimes projected onto you. Especially when I was tired. Especially when I AM tired. I need help. Papa helps. But I don't get as much help as if we were living with extended family, in a community, in a tribe. Not nearly, not even close. 

And that is how humans have evolved. If people had been trying to raise children in isolated nuclear families since the beginning of time, humanity never would have survived. It's not your fault. You are my joy and my pure love. I relish in your presence, your growth. I can't wait to watch you unfold forever.

But I can never again go through what I have these last 17 months. I have literally lost my mind at times.

My hope is that, if we are still living alone when we have another one, you my darling will be my help. Already you are so motherly. You nurse your dolls. You even nurse puzzle pieces. And you say "mama" and/or "baby" as you do it. You hug and kiss and rock and sing to and pat your babies. This makes me so happy, because you are modeling me. I have done a good job nurturing and loving you, even when I was losing my mind :-)

And I was the same way as a child. I loved dolls and real babies, and was very much Auntie Lacey's caretaker. But I want to wait until you are older than I was at Auntie's birth (28 months), so that I can, say, leave the baby with you while I shower. And I think you'll love it too. And you can learn, can know more, can get mothering knowledge in your cells. Not everyone gets that today.

But I'm sorry, I'm sorry I haven't been better for you. I'm working on it.

Yeah, this one is hard to read. That first year or two was really the hardest time in my life. I was so alone. I hadn't started making close women friends in my new town yet (we moved to Grass Valley/Nevada City when Mycelia was 6 months old). In my mind, looking back, it was all struggle. But when I see photos or videos from that time I see that I was happy much of the time, and that I was doing a good job figuring out this new mama thing.

Thanks to that herb teacher, Kami (who is amazing, btw, and if you're in NorCal you should seek her out), I had switched from a vegan diet to traditional nutrition a few months before I wrote this. That shift led me to studying the lifestyles of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and so I was acutely aware that the way I was parenting- alone, not in community- was an aberration for our species, even though it's all we and our own parents and most of their parents have ever known. The book A Natural History of Parenting by Susan Allport especially fascinated and enraged me.

We were hunter-gatherers for 95% of human history, and physiologically we are still those same people. I had made as many parenting choices around that knowledge as I could- natural birth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby carrying and, more recently, herbal medicine and traditional foods. But societal structure was something I couldn't change. One of my best friends has a two year old and is very into studying the primal lifestyle, and I have actually seen her cry angry tears over how our unnatural modern style of living in isolation has made her mothering experience harder than she'd ever imagined. Adorably, she vents her anger through embroidery. I did it through writing. And lots of sobbing too.

It's also hard to remember how badly I wanted another child back then. How I always envisioned having at least two, and never dreamed my child/ren would grow up being shuttled between two homes. I didn't even question it. I would do what my parents had done. But I didn't. We broke up. She kept growing up. She's eight years old now and beautiful and strong and centered in herself and pouring us egg nog while complaining about the fact that I'm on my computer right now.

If I lived in a tribe, even if it hadn't worked out with daddy #1, I could have had more children without worrying if I would be properly supported so that I, in turn, could support my baby. Biologically, I want more babies. But I know that my family, my friends, my community can't support me in a way that I would feel truly empowered and happy as a mother with a young child again. I'm doing all I can to survive with the one I have now, alone in our sweet tiny little home.

Since this personal entry was made in a notebook filled mostly with awesome herbal information, I thought I'd add a few more short entries here with some juicy tidbits from Kami's awesome apprenticeship-

Our bodies understand water, when an herb is infused in water the body knows what to do with it & can easily digest and assimilate it

Oiling the body calms the nervous system (babies, children, trauma, exhaustion)

Mugwort- very penetrating, delivers- good in combo with other oils to help move them into the body [ahem], nervine, anti-bacterial/fungal/viral, opens psychic centers of perception, muscle relaxant

Echinacea & elderberry will prevent illness if taken at first sign- create a parameter around the bacteria/virus to prevent it from spreading 

Bone broth- regenerative, immune help, rebuilds immune system. In Traditional Chinese Medicine they say bone broth "raises the dead"

Stay away from oranges/orange juice when sick! Congesting and high sugar content

20% blood volume is in skin, 25% of waste is excreted through skin, millions of nerve receptors on skin, lymph/immune system right beneath skin. If skin is dry and scaly lymph isn't moving and immunity is compromised

The whole journal is like this- priceless info about the body and how it interacts with plants alongside entries about my struggles with motherhood. 7/8 years later, much of that knowledge has become second nature and I have very much settled into my life as a mother. As with probably 95% of the mom guilt we induce in ourselves, the things I worried over turned out to have no ;sating repercussions for my child. She's incredibly healthy, happy, and well adjusted. And you know what? So am I.

The only way out is through.


Lacto-Fermented Berry Ginger Soda Bloodbath

"Human beings have recognized the magic and power of fermentation for as long as we have been human" -Sandor Ellix Katz

A vitamin and mineral rich, highly anti-oxidant seasonal brew made with local berries, madly effervescing with a potent life force that delivers healing and cleansing to the gut and other body systems while also replenishing the body with probiotics and boosting the immune system. Ah, nature's healing deliciousness...

Last month I took a class at Nevada City's fabulous herb shop HAALo that focused on super-hydrating and nourishing herbal drinks, most of them fermented. Since it was late August and we were all dealing with the consequences of this county's less-than-stellar summer air quality (the dirty air from California's central valley pools here in the foothills), plus an unusual heat wave, plus smoke drifting in from nearby wildfires, emphasis was put onto the kinds of plants that help to quench and cool the body during this fiery season.

The lovely & amazing Anna taught the class. She hosted the herbal bone broth making gathering that I posted about a few months ago too.

(Photos from the class are courtesy of Bonny- thank you!)

As with most herbalists, Anna emphasized using wild local herbs that are at their peak potency right now to treat conditions that are also specific to this very place at this very time. Blackberries and manzanita berries are ripe in late August? Use them to cool the heat and ease the inflammation of Northern California's scorching Indian Summer.

Anna often makes jello from her herbal sodas by adding highly nutritious organic gelatin. She then often makes popsicles for her two sons from the jello! Pretty genius, and man she must have the best-nourished kids in town. (Locals- these metal popsicle molds are available at Kitkitdizzi- as are my St. John's Wort oils, I might add).

I must've looked at this picture of these captivated women at least a dozen times before I realized that was me on the left.

Okay, but this is what we're here for- the ginger starter, or ginger "bug". You put a week's worth of effort into getting your culture going using filtered water, fresh ginger root, and sugar (don't worry sugar avoiders- the skin of the ginger digests the sugar, and the byproduct of this process is what creates the fizzing, bubbling nutrients that make lacto-fermented ginger soda what it is).

"Wild fermentation is a way of incorporating the wild into your body, becoming one with the natural world. Wild foods, microbial foods included, possess a great, unmediated life force, which can help us adapt to shifting conditions and lower our susceptibility to disease. These microorganisms are everywhere, and the techniques for fermenting with them are simple and flexible." -Sandor Ellix Katz

I am super grateful to HerbMentor for posting these videos so that I don't have to sit here and type out how to start your ginger bug. This is exactly what I did to make mine...

I really appreciate the part at about 4 minutes in on this second video where they talk about the fact that the starter can last indefinitely as long as you keep feeding it. Anna has fed, dipped into, re-filled, and re-fed her same jar of ginger starter for years.

Here's a peek at mine.

So what they didn't get to in the videos is what comes next. What comes next is you add 1 part ginger starter (straining out the pieces of ginger) to 4 parts any herbal or fruit juice or syrup you like. I used four kinds of local berries bought at the farmer's market- raspberries, strawberries, boysenberries, and blueberries. I blended them up and strained out the gritty parts, then added my ginger brew. I then bottled it all into used kombucha bottles and allowed them to sit out overnight. Usually you let them sit for one to two days. But the next morning when I checked I could tell mine were ready by the pop and fizz the bottles made upon opening, so I took Anna's suggestion and put them into the fridge to settle a bit. She also suggests "burping" your bottles at least once a day- opening the lid a bit so that some CO2 can escape.

Which brings me to what is perhaps the biggest deterrent for people who want to make their own lacto-fermented drinks- the possibility of a major explosion.

Which, as you can see, sure did happen to me. I had left one bottle out overnight and kept the rest in the fridge, just to test if it would be different (fermentation is an ongoing process- once they're bottled, they're still fermenting and changing). Next day I opened a refrigerated soda and it was PERFECT. So effervescent and bubbly and alive! It was exactly what you're going for with something like this. I felt damn proud. When it was time to test out the bottle that had been left out, I took precaution, knowing it would be further along in the fermentation process. I put a large bowl under it, a large bowl over it, and I put it in the sink. I opened it as carefully as possible and BAM! the next thing I knew I heard a loud pop and felt a strong force throw my hands off the bottle. When I opened my eyes I saw this.

Okay it actually happened twice, which explains the disparities in these photos. Well, lesson learned. It was, after all, an experiment to test this very thing. I wanted to learn as much as I could from this first batch. I get the impression from reading and hearing about other peoples' adventures in culturing that it is a constant learning process. It's always subject to change- depending on ingredients, time of year, length of time, the bottle, etc. No one really knows what they're doing when they start out, and even experts are constantly being surprised by what the microbes reveal to them.

One thing I learned from this is to use bottles with twist off caps from now on instead of the kombucha bottles pictured above so that I can have time to open the bottle more slowly and, even if there is some overspill, prevent any major explosions.

"The science and art of fermentation is, in fact, the basis of human culture: without culturing, there is no culture." -Sally Fallon

Here are some other great resources to get you started:

How To Turn Any Juice Into Lacto-Fermented Soda

Old Fashioned, Healthy, Lacto-Fermented Soft Drinks

Full Moon Feast (my favorite food/cook book, with an awesome section on "alewives" and ale-making)

The Art of Fermentation (Sandor Ellix Katz' new book on the subject- basically the Bible of fermenting)

I should point out here that you will read many different ratios in many different recipes. Fermentation as a process is more of an art than a science (though the health benefits and the knowledge of the organisms are backed up by hard science), and the more experience you build up the better you'll be able to know which exact proportions to use. I am still at the very beginning stages of this, and look forward to becoming a more seasoned fermenter.

Next up for me and my ginger starter is ginger beer, from the recipe on page 139 of Wild Fermentation. And after that is beet kvass fermented with whey from Suuzi's goats in place of the ginger starter. I'll keep you updated on my experiments, and please share any of yours with me!

Salud!

(Speaking of our good friend Suuzi- her underground music hero husband Spencer Seim and local legend Aaron Ross's new band Solos finally released their album Beast of Both Worlds last week! Read a rad review here and listen to a track here).

Solar Blessings: Handcrafted St. John's Wort Oil, Deeply Penetrating Herbal Healing

These 4oz bottles of organic St. John's Wort body oil are now available in the shop!

As you can see, I rocked the shit out of my little river photo shoot the other night. Not that I can take credit for this gorgeous image. It's all the oil, the river, and especially the sunshine. I can't help but feel that the red sunlight fairies that showed up in these photos are little blessings on this whole endeavor, some sort of magical infusion gifted from the sun at this final step of the months-long medicine making process.

You can read a full description of this medicine's many beneficial properties within the Etsy listing, but I will include a short list of them here:

❤ carries the properties of the full summer sun with it into the body's tissues

❤ deeply relaxing to sore and stressed muscles

❤ quickly penetrates, strengthens, and nourishes the nerves to alleviate short or long-term nerve damage and pain

❤ warms and calms the entire body

❤ soothes and heals bumps, bruises, sprains, burns, etc.

I've been promising a post on the whole process for a while now, so here it is. To be sure, it's the same process as the homemade lavender oil I posted about a while back, but it bears repeating. Homemade herbal medicine is so simple and beneficial, I'll do whatever I can to teach others how to do it :-)

It all started on the Summer Solstice back in June, when Mycelia and I set out to harvest more St. John's Wort (hypericum perforatum) than we have in years past, while being sure to leave enough for it to re-seed and continue to flourish here. My sister Lacey also helped with the gathering.

You know you've got the right plant when bruising it leaves deep red marks on your fingers. This is from the hypericin, the active medicinal compound that turns the tincture and the oil made from the plant the incredible red color that it's famous for..

 

On a mission.

When we got home I quickly got to work chopping up the herb into as many small pieces as possible; the more surface area of the plant material that comes into contact with the medium extracting its medicinal properties (in this case, the organic olive oil), the stronger the medicine will be.

Next the oil is poured over the top of the herb, which has already been placed into the steeping container. Herbalists differ in the herb-to-oil ratio they use. I tend to be pretty free form with it and just put as much plant material as I've got into the jar, then add the oil. You want to fill the jar to the very, very top, leaving zero room for air once the lid has been put on. So the top of the oil is touching the bottom of the lid. No air = no mold. Slowly stirring a chopstick through before you top it off will bring any air bubbles up to the surface, and you also want to remove the lid every few days to see if more oil needs to be added (it has a sneaky way of lowering once the steeping process begins).

When all was said and done, I had 5 gallons! I like to steep my herbs for one full moon cycle. This year the Solstice coincided with the new moon, so the oil brewed between the June and July new moons.

The infusing process with St. John's Wort is more visually rewarding to behold than with any other herbal medicine, due to the ruby red hue that the hypericin imparts to the liquid medium over time. It is truly satisfying to watch the liquid redden more day by day. (This is true for making it into a tincture for internal use as well, see my Etsy listing for more on what it is about this herb that makes it good for depression when taken internally and warming and relaxing when used externally).

When it was time to strain out the oil, Lacey and my friend Sarah were here to help. I gathered all the kitchen funnels I've got, along with some cheesecloth (though I learned from this experience that I prefer cotton muslin), and we got to work.

After the straining out (putting a large beach towel under the whole scene turned out to be a very good idea), I poured all five gallons into an eight gallon container to ensure that it was all evened out and each bottle would yield the exact same medicine.

The differences in color are due to the thickness of the oil. A gallon is deep red, a half gallon is jewel-hued and less opaque, and the 4oz bottles look more orange than red in some light.

I ordered the labels on Etsy and am very happy with how they turned out. The text reads: Gathered on the Summer Solstice at peak potency, this ruby-hued body oil is pure liquid sunshine. Deeply relaxing and warming to the musculature and nervous system, use it for isolated aches and pains or for total body realignment after a bustling day.

Here's the current scene in my kitchen window. It brings me much joy to look at every day.

Once again, you can read more about the healing properties of this oil and perhaps purchase a bottle (at a very reasonable price) here ❤ 

 

LOCALS: Message me if you'd like to meet up in person to get your bottle. You can either pay me in person then or pay via Etsy by using coupon code SUNSHINE at checkout, which will remove the shipping cost for your order.