Herbal Self Care for Radical Babes (& Being Bizarrely Misquoted by Harper's Bazaar)

2019 UPDATE: The online course is now only available for patrons of the Medicine Stories podcast over on Patreon.

Me teaching occult magic to a bunch of whacked-out hippie freaks at Spirit Weavers 2015. Oh no wait it's just women talking about medicinal plants.

Me teaching occult magic to a bunch of whacked-out hippie freaks at Spirit Weavers 2015. Oh no wait it's just women talking about medicinal plants.

That feeling when you are totally misrepresented and blatantly misquoted in a mainstream magazine by an undercover reporter with a hidden agenda who attended the very same workshop you're just about to launch as an online course and you're bummed that her deceptive article is giving people the wrong impression of what you do so you decide to write a blog post that both addresses her deception AND offers your new course for only $20 so that folks can see for themselves what it's all about...

Ah, life is weird. A few nights ago I finally, after over a year of putting the pieces into place, completed a small & simple online course based around my Herbal Self Care for Radical Babes workshop. 

The day after everything was finally in place, I woke up to a text alerting me to an article on a major magazine's website that distorted and disparaged this very workshop. 

I was already working on this blog post to announce the launch of the course, and figured I'd use this space to also address the article, and to offer my readers a major discount on the course price while I'm at it. 

This post has three purposes:

1. To point out the deceptive approach, just some of the factual errors, and the general air of hypocrisy and anti-feminist rhetoric in "feminist writer" Marisa Meltzer's recent article about the Spirit Weavers Gathering for Harper's Bazaar.

2. To specifically address the way she misquoted me and misrepresented my workshop.

3. To invite you to purchase my new Herbal Self Care for Radical Babes online course for just $20, because it'll probably make your life better and will certainly set the record straight about what this class is actually all about. (AGAIN- 2019 update: The course is now only available for patrons of the Medicine Stories podcast over on Patreon.)

Like so many others, I was skeptical of the Spirit Weavers Gathering when I first heard about it. In fact, I think I was the first person to ever write about my skepticism online back in 2014. 

I totally get it. People's perception of the gathering can bring up some big issues, issues that are commonly (and thankfully) part of the larger national dialogue these days- about race, class, sexuality, and cultural appropriation- and there is real opportunity for important conversations to happen when people take the time to discuss these issues thoroughly and thoughtfully.

And these issues have been and continue to be addressed by the event organizers and attendees (many of who are women of color and/or economically disadvantaged and/or LGTB) on multiple platforms, something the author conveniently leaves out of her piece. It's an evolving conversation- just one facet of a dialogue happening on all levels of American society today- that she does a disservice to by glossing over so dismissively in her piece.

I would point out too the incredible hyprocisy of a magazine that caters to rich white heterosexual women pretending to care about these issues. As a friend's husband said yesterday while perusing their website's headlines, "12 Shoes Every Woman Must Own? More Justin Beiber Merchandise to Sell at Barney's? How to Have Your Man Look Good, Effortlessly? The Best Wedding Dresses for Your Astrological Sign? That's some bourgeois-ass shit."

As a former Spirit Weavers skeptic (allow me to quote myself from that 2014 post here- "Is it just a bunch of internet posturing? Look how pretty I am in my tribal poncho with a rainbow star swirl overhead that I spent an hour perfecting with my image editing app? Is this true spirituality? What the hell is true spirituality? Am I spiritual; am I a spirit weaver?"), I was intrigued when I first received my friend's text alerting me to an article written by someone who was also skeptical, and I looked forward to seeing what insights she would, from her national platform, add to the conversation.

(Especially because she's the author of a book called "How Sassy Changed My Life"! And Sassy magazine totally changed my life when I was a struggling adolescent in the early 90's! We must be on the same wavelength!)

What I didn't yet realize was that Harper's has devolved into a click-baity, snark and celeb obsessed publication (another recent headline reads "13 Things Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton Have Said About Each Other"), and that I wasn't going to read the well-written, thoughtful article based on journalistic integrity that I was expecting.

That became clear as soon as I read the headline, but I was still thinking I'd find something of value and substance in her piece. Come on, she loves Sassy! I quickly realized though that, alongside all the snark and shaming, homegirl was overtly making shit up in order to embellish her story.

As my favorite crotchety old college professor hilariously wrote at the top of a paper I had written the morning it was due, "factual errors abound."

I was not surprised that someone with such deep anxiety and insecurities around belonging (things she admits to in the piece which, a friend pointed out, basically reads as an exposé on her inner struggles through the experience of a women's gathering) would have such an experience or write such an article, but I was amazed that a mainstream publication would allow outright (and easily disputed by doing a simple internet search) lies to be published under their purview. But I guess that's how it works nowadays? 

As one example, Marisa claims that tickets cost $700. In actuality, ticket prices are on a sliding scale with $444 being the lowest tier (available to everyone), numerous scholarships are available and more are added every year, and a work trade program allows 75 women to come in exchange for helping out around camp.

The factual errors and twisting of people's words and intentions continued to abound as I read on, but it wasn't until I got to the two paragraphs dedicated to me and my workshop that I realized just how willing Marisa and Harper's Bazaar were to engage in journalistic deception in order to make the piece as sensationalized as possible.

This woman went in to the gathering knowing exactly what kind of piece she was going to write. It didn't matter what actually happened there, the point was to exaggerate reality, shame women for the shape of their bodies, their hair, their clothing, their livelihood (feminism!), and twist any words that floated her way in order to create a piece that would generate more shares and bring more clicks to Harper's Bazaar's website.

It is an incredibly odd feeling to see actual quotation marks around a sentence you have never said and would never say on a website with millions of followers.  Though she didn't pull my quote entirely out of thin air, she put words in my mouth in order to paint me as a total whack job, further normalizing herself and Harper's homogenous readership with the added benefit of further sensationalizing her article.

Marisa was there undercover, so terrified of being discovered for her deception that she hid whenever she saw the one person she knew (which she writes about in the piece) and presented a false front when she contacted the organizers back in February hoping for a free ticket (which I know because I was forwarded the email by one of the event organizers), writing, "I've always wanted to go to Spirit Weavers. It seems really powerful and also really fun. I have an awesome Buddhist feminist hippie editor at Bazaar and she would love to send me to one of the sessions in June to write about my experience." (Spirit Weavers has a strict No Press policy in order to ensure privacy for attendees, and has denied every reporter who has asked to come).

Her fear of being discovered means that she didn't have a recorder and she wasn't taking notes (or if she did, she paid them no mind when it came time to pen the article), which in turn means that none of the quotes that she put between actual quotation marks are accurate.

I've confirmed this with the other women quoted. This approach to reporting allows her to put her own twist on the words she heard, always fitting them into the overall theme of "these women are crazy let's all make fun of them and pat ourselves on the back for being normal".

Here's what she wrote about me and my class:

At an Herbal Self-Care for Radical Babes workshop, we discuss yoni steaming—offered at Korean spas and written about on Goop, in which one sits over a bowl of boiling water mixed with herbs, and is said by adherents to relieve various ailments, from PMS to infertility—and learn how to make body oil. But really it functions more like a consciousness-raising group, with women chatting about their personal relationship with vaginal health as they trim herbs for redwood-mugwort oil. A girl in a yellow caftan, here with her suburban-looking mom from Ohio, says that recycled toilet paper is bad for you, so she uses a bidet at home.

Our discussion turns to our periods. "My whole life changed when I stopped using mass-produced man-pons," one woman with a shaved head says. "The moon time is your time to drop in on yourself," Amber, the workshop leader, tells us. "I literally haven't had a job in 11 years because I can't work on my moon. I had to find an alternative." She now sells herbal oil blends she makes at home. She says her 10-year-old daughter asks to rinse out her pads, which is, I suppose, a show of how normal periods are at her house, and how much her family respects them. The girl with the shaved head says we can feed our blood to plants: "You give life to them, and they give life to you." She says there's a marijuana farm not far that has fertilized cannabis with menstrual blood for two generations.

I wish to clarify what I actually said for three reasons: being misquoted in the national media sucks, I am already being judged and criticized online for things that I didn't say and that also sucks (I'm plenty used to being criticized for things I did say), and I'd like to further illuminate Marisa's deception through the lens of my personal experience. 

My daughter is 9 years old, and the story I shared about her wanting to help rinse out my cloth pads happened when she was 3, as I clearly stated in class. I did not say this to prove how much my family "respects" my period, but as part of a conversation in which many women were sharing their kids' reactions to their periods and our desire as mothers to normalize this very normal human experience.

Yes, I am happy that my daughter is not being raised to be fearful and ashamed of her body and the blood that will someday (not too far into the future) come out of it, as I was. I am glad that she's seen my pads and not thought of them as anything deviant or scary. But she hasn't been interested in washing them out for many years, as you might expect.

Let me break down "I literally haven't had a job in 11 years because I can't work on my moon. I had to find an alternative."

It's true that I haven't had a 9-5 since I last clocked out of my grocery store clerking job in 2005. I remember calling my grandma that night and saying "I hope to never have a job again", her laughing as she asked, "Oh, so you're retiring at age 24?", and me laughing back and saying "Let's hope so." 

Not having a job does not equal not working, there are many ways to make money, and I am now at a point where the business I've built is paying the bills. It's been a struggle and there were times I was less than broke, but being home with my daughter (whom I was pregnant with when I quit) has always been my priority. It was a very conscious choice. One I would make again and again.

I'm making money from something I've built while being present for my child (soon to be children; I'm 8 months pregnant as of this writing) and insisting on taking the time I need for self care. Feminism! 

It's also true that my life works better when I can stay at home, slow down from the usual frenetic pace of life, and take care of myself on the first day of my period. I've tried to schedule my life to allow that for many years now with winning results, and I encourage other women to do the same.

But you know what bothered me most about the misquote? I never use the phrase "on my moon." Ever. I know and love many women who do use it and I do sometimes use "moontime" to speak of the week or so of menstruation, but "on my moon" has always conjured up in my mind an image of a woman sitting and bleeding on a round glowing sphere and, warm and playful as that image is, I just can't bring myself to use the phrase.

I say "on my period" or "when I'm bleeding", but that doesn't fit the author's depiction of my class as a "consciousness raising" (again, not a phrase I resonate with or would ever use) group of naked pagan witches painting our faces with menstrual blood and sacrificing goats to the goddess Artemis. So she put those words in my mouth and put quotation marks around them. Journalism!

The truth is, my Herbal Self Care for Radical Babes workshop is a very practical, grounded introduction to two simple forms of plant-based self care that can be easily done at home- vaginal steaming and herbal body oiling- with instructions for how to prepare the herbal remedies at home and make each practice a part of your life. 

If you purchase the course, you can see what it is for yourself. The video portions were also taught this year at Spirit Weavers (and shot by Serpent Power Productions), but in a different class session than the one the author attended. 

You can click on the image above to read the full class description (and join the 70+ women who have taken the online course since it first launched). If it inspires you to take better care of yourself and stay grounded in who you are no matter what weird text or bizarre situation you wake up to tomorrow, I'll be happy.

Thank you for all the love and goodness you've thrown my way the last few days you guys. We're all just figuring out what works for us, what brings us the most health and happiness and connection, and I appreciate all the respect and support I've seen since in response to the meanness and ugliness of this article. Feminism! 

 

So You Wanna Be a #PlantWitch: Guidelines For Budding Herbalists Using Social Media

Herbalism is trending upward right now.

In the last few years, thanks to social media, interest in the wonderfully democratic world of plant healing seems to have grown exponentially. 

This is a good thing. This is what many of us have been working toward- a world in which herbal healing is not considered scary or fringe or other, but the normal part of human life that it's been for hundreds of thousands of years.

The fact that the practice of herbalism isn't regulated in the U.S. means that it's a field open to everyone, despite location, income, or other available resources. This makes the playing field pretty level, especially now that there are so many great ways to learn online.

But this sudden popularity has a downside, because this lack of regulation, coupled with the prevalence of shady information-sharing on social media, means that someone with minimal to zero training can call themselves an herbalist, gather an audience (sometimes in the opposite order), and start selling questionable products or dispensing dangerous advice to unwitting followers. 

To put it simply: herbalism has become hipster, and when something becomes hipster, posers abound.

From  Hipsters in Headdresses  on Tumblr

(I know that hipster is a nebulous word and that it definitely doesn't apply to you- or me!- but you know what I mean, and we're gonna leave it at that.)

Unlike in other areas of life, where egregiously overconfident and dangerously underskilled people front like they know what they're talking about on social media just to gain some clout or make some money, engaging in this behavior when it relates to herbalism can have serious and perilous consequences. 

Even the gentlest plants contain active chemicals, powerful alkaloids, and overall complex medicinal constituents. The medicinal preparation and ingestion of these substances is something that should be undertaken with thoughtful and careful preparation. And each person's physiology is different; something trained herbalists know and are skilled in detecting and working with.

Before social media and the explosion of information available on the internet, anyone interested in herbalism had to seek out a teacher and spend months or years immersed in the direct study of plant medicine.

There were no shortcuts, and there was no way for a novice to begin widely dispensing advice, products, and teachings even if they wanted to.

Socality Barbie  knows that putting a plant in her Instagram photo gives her instant cred.

Socality Barbie knows that putting a plant in her Instagram photo gives her instant cred.

Today a 19-year-old in a Free People dress with a woven basket and 100k Instagram followers can read a few Facebook memes from David Wolfe or The Medical Medium, repackage the info, and call herself an herbalist.

Anyone who knows more about herbalism than she does may spot misinformation or a lack of true knowledge in her post/s, but the countless people who know less will start looking to her as an authority and lapping up every word she shares because they, too, want to know more about herbalism and natural medicine.

When it comes to herbal healing, we have come to a place where millions of unsuspecting seekers are at risk of confusing impressive follower counts with genuine knowledge and unshakable authority.

It's all understandable human behavior, and I think very few people have bad intentions. They just seem to know not what they do. 

In order to bring some hope of clarity into the game, here are a few simple guidelines for those new to herbalism and active on social media. Whether you tend to be an enthusiastic sharer or a contemplative observer of the #plantwitch trend online (or both), you can use these guidelines to help you both share and consume information & products from a more grounded place.

To be clear, there are many plant-related trendy hashtags that I see used/use myself, #plantwitch being only one of them. Many of the people who use these hashtags are experienced herbalists sharing great information, and others aren't. I ain't hating on #plantwitch, just using it as an example.

 

Guidelines for Budding Herbalists Using Social Media

 

If you have not undertaken any sort of formal training (whether in person or online) from an experienced herbalist, OR spent at least three years deeply immersed in self-study, herbal experimentation in your kitchen, and plenty of book learning, please:

  • Wait a few years to start selling herbal products. Make them for yourself. Give them to friends. Experiment and learn along the way. But don't sell them yet. I can always tell the difference between someone who understands the complexities of plant medicine and someone who was just anxious to be a "maker." Formulation is a science and an art; buying some essential oils and some flower essences and mixing them together in a liquid medium with a tiny crystal dropped into the bottom does not an herbal remedy make.

 

  • Don't dispense advice online. Share your experiences and discoveries, but make it clear that you are on a learning path and are not an expert. At least once a week I reply to a question thrown my way online with the words, "I am not qualified to answer that, but here are some resources that might help." If you are a beginner, please cultivate the humility to do the same.

 

  • Find more creative ways to share than just repackaging someone else's information. There is nothing more boring that a droning list of a certain plant's properties. "X plant helps with this, that, and that." And this kind of surface-level information gives the false impression that herbs works in predictable ways and work the same for everyone. It undercuts the vast possibilities for healing that medicinal plants are capable of, depending on how they were grown and prepared, who consumes them, and so much more. Share your own unique stories and experiences that add something new to the collective wisdom; don't just copy & paste from a list online.

 

  • And please, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY IN THIS WORLD, if you are a distributor for an essential oil network marketing company such as Young Living or doTerra, DO NOT consider yourself an herbalist, a healer, a #plantwitch, a medicine woman, or anything of the sort. These companies and those who represent them are the most egregious sharers of dangerous information on social media. Buying some bottles of distilled plant matter does not make one an expert in the vast, endlessly complex world of herbal medicine. Most of these distributors have no relationship in the real world with the plants whose medicinal wonders they are touting online, and only get their information from resources provided by the company hoping to make money off of their sales numbers. This is not true knowledge and has contributed to much injury and harm on the part of those who unwittingly consume the false information. Be aware of info shared to teach and enlighten versus that shared purely to make money in the hyper-competitive world of network marketing.

1860-5397-10-298-1.png

This is what scientists and hardcore aromatherapists study. It would be wonderful if every person repping an essential oil network marketing company cultivated a basic understanding of the chemical potency of essential oils before making an internet meme telling people to drop chamomile oil into their colicy baby's mouth or put lavender oil onto their eyelashes to make them grow (both things I've seen reps of the above companies do). 

I actually paid for this image on Shutterstock because it was just too perfect.

I actually paid for this image on Shutterstock because it was just too perfect.

Peace out, posers!

JUST KIDDING.

I support everyone who wants to learn more about plant healing. 

Herbalism is truly the people's medicine. Your ancestors knew how to use the plants around them for food and for healing, and this knowledge is your birth right as a human being. It is not hard to learn, but it does take time and practice. By all means, pursue the path of the #plantwitch.

But please, follow the lead of the plants by remaining close to the earth- grounded and humble- when you share your journey with others, and be wary of losing your way in the ethereal realms of internet culture.

(Postscript: There have been some amazingly insightful thoughts shared- many of which I seriously wish I could copy & paste into the body of the blog post and pretend they were my words- here, if you'd like to dive deeper into this topic)

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.