I love making tea. The ritual of it is grounding, and it can feel almost like a divination--a Oija board type experience. Here’s what I mean: when I open up my cupboard of herbs, I let my hands decide. Which herbs will they choose? I try to keep my mind out of the way as much as possible. My hands do the measuring too: a pinch of this, a handful of that. No two pots of tea are ever the same. I do, however, tend to go through phases where I used the same herbs over and over in various combinations.
Lately, my life has been characterized by transition and change. I’ve found that heart-centered nervine herbs ease tension in my chest and soothe my mind. Here are some of my favorite herbs for tea right now (and maybe always, to be honest):
Rose- the queen of all flowers, the most luxurious and delicate of scents, the very symbol of love and of the heart. Rose is wonderful for the emotional heart as well as the physical. As a cooling, astringent nervine, rose soothes cardiovascular inflammation and calms a racing heart. Rose also eases heartbreak.
Tulsi- another queen, to be sure. Tulsi is one of my favorite herbs. Of all time. I feel noticeably more relaxed and focused when I drink tulsi tea. And if I drink tulsi regularly, I find that my mood is more stable and I am generally more calm and collected.
Melissa- the fruity, lemony flavor of this herb brightens my day, uplifting my spirit. For me, Melissa is like rose-colored glasses in a cup. I feel a little lighter and more cheerful when she is around.
Hawthorn leaf- Like rose herself, hawthorn is another rose family herb. It is no wonder that hawthorn, too, is wonderful for the emotional and physical heart.
Linden- I couldn’t talk about calming nervines for the heart without mentioning linden. In Burlington, Vermont, linden is one of the most cherished scents of the summer months. In mid June, after the apple trees and lilacs have long since lost their fragrant blossoms, a sweet smell wafts all over town on warm sunny days. Behold the sweet, fragrant medicine of the linden flower. Drinking linden blossoms in winter transports me to the Summer and evokes feelings of hope and joy.
My tea blends have evolved over time, and I gain experience with each new pot I brew. I love discovering new combinations of herbs, and learning how each herb influences my mind and body when I drink it regularly. Like everything in herbalism, experience comes with time. The key is not being afraid to play around. I’ve made some pretty disgusting tea blends along the way, but more often I’ve made surprisingly magical blends that I can return to again and again.
Here is a basic recipe for making any herbal infusion. This works bester for leaves and flowers. For woodier parts of a plant, like bark, roots, and seed pods, a decoction will be the best way to make a tea.
2-3 TBS dried or fresh herbs of your choice. This can be a single herb or multiple herbs
1 quart near-boiling water
What are your favorite herbs to drink as tea?
Our bodies have an intelligence largely beyond our conscious awareness. This knowing extends to all levels of our physical form, from our senses and awareness of the world to internal sensations to the unconscious functioning of our organs, tissues, and cells.
Our senses are our connection to the outside world. They are always engaged, and often are far more aware of our surroundings than our conscious minds. When we see the slanting light of an autumn evening as we smell the brown, sun-warmed leaves of an oak underfoot, and hear the distant chant of flying geese overhead, it is not the conscious thought of “all these signs indicate to me that it is autumn and winter is coming,” but rather an embodied feeling, a visceral knowing of time and place, a nostalgia for future pasts. Or in late winter, as it is presently, when you wake to the warmer feeling sun through a window pane and the chirping of robins and cardinals, your chest fills with what could be intellectualized as Hope. It is yet again, as with the signs of fall, a feeling that is evoked by the senses. There may even be the synesthetic experience of smelling the scent of thawing earth, though the ground outside may still be frozen and blanketed in snow. It is such experiences that guide us, that give context, meaning, and rhythm to our days, to our lives. All the while these bodily knowings go largely unnoticed by the conscious mind.
We have other ways in which our bodies demonstrate their intelligence. When you wake in the night, parched, and walk to the kitchen to pour yourself a glass of water, it is by your sense of hearing alone that you know your cup is full. The steadily rising pitch of the water entering the glass. Your ear knows exactly which tone means the cup has reached its limit, while at that exact moment your hand holding the cups also perceives its precise weight. Or there is the cook who can “eyeball” all the spices in a recipe with wondrous precision. There is also the mechanic who may look at a single nut or bolt and know the exact size or threading without comparison or measurement. We all know of muscle memory, and the body’s ability to grow more knowledgeable of a task over time. We need not look to the skilled artisan or musician to see this. Anybody who drives, walks, rides a bike, eats with utensils, braids hair, has learned skills of the body beyond our conscious awareness. Like the knowing of the senses, muscle memory is a wit of the body.
So too are our internal sensations. Interoception, our perception of internal sensation, gives us valuable insight into our emotional and physical wellbeing. We may feel our heart racing when we are anxious, and also feel an emotional tightness in our chest. We may say we have a “gut feeling” about something. This is the seat of intuition. Before our minds enter the conversation, we almost always know the right answer based on what our body is telling us to do. This is why we say things like “go with your gut” or “follow your heart.” The body will guide us if we let it.
Our bodies also give us important, vital information about our physical health. We know that we ate something we should not have, because we feel discomfort in our gut. Our bodies tell us when we are thirsty, hungry, tired. They direct our behavior in this way. They almost always know what is best for us, and they will ask for it. All we have to do is listen. If we learn to listen to the subtle cues and guidance our bodies give us, we will be guided towards health. Take a moment to stop and ask, “What does my body need in this moment?” Try to do this without letting the conscious mind interfere. And try to treat your body with tenderness, love, and respect. Your body is an incredible vessel and companion with more wisdom and wit than we might imagine.
Dearest Herbal Community-
It is with a tender heart that I share with you that I am moving on from Railyard Apothecary at the end of February.
For the past five years, I’ve had the privilege of being part of this amazing community-led organization. I’ve learned so much along the way: about business, about myself, and about how to truly be in community. It hasn’t always been easy work, but it has been deeply rewarding and fulfilling.
When I first joined Burlington Herb Clinic as an herbalist/owner at the end of 2015, I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams what would grow and blossom in this industrial space. As a collective, the Railyard team has turned a vision of sustainability, accessibility, and equity into a reality. This is something that I’m very proud of.
During my time at Railyard, I have had the opportunity to work with well over 100 clients and serve countless more while working in the store. I was able to organize dozens of community events and classes. With the support and encouragement of Railyard, I brought Sherri Mitchell, Sandor Katz, and Mariee Soiux to our space. We had parties. We danced and sang and told stories. We learned about Chinese medicine, herbs of every variety, how to garden, how to dance, how to make chocolate. I was able to teach my medicine making series over 15 times. In my time at Railyard I also developed a line of products for the store. From smoking blends to herbal teas to salves to face steams, we now carry products that are most needed by our community. I had the honor to be a part of bringing our Herbal Justice Fund program to fruition, supporting lower income folx and providing reparations for BIPOC. I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with local farms, bringing us one step closer to a sustainable future for herbal medicine and local food systems. There is no better feeling than to accomplish so much all for the love of people, plants, and the planet. I humbly thank you for allowing me this opportunity.
I’m proud of what I’ve contributed to Railyard Apothecary, but it would be nothing without all of you. Above all, Railyard has taught me the importance of community. We are all connected, to each other and to the earth. So while I am moving on from Railyard, I will continue to be a part of our herbal community. The connections I’ve made run deep, and I have built relationships that will last a lifetime.
Love to you all,
In the depths of New England winter, it can seem like the green of the landscape has all been replaced by white and grey. The perennial herbs sleep below blankets of snow, the limbs of oaks, maples, birches, all bare. We’ve spent the past Autumn harvesting and making medicine to store for the winter and carry us through until the new growth of Spring.
Behold, the sleepy winter forest, which holds gifts of strong medicine: cedar, juniper, hemlock, spruce, and pine, to name a few. For me, it is the white pine in particular, bows drooping with the weight of heavy snow, that represent the quintessential image of Vermont winter. White pines have long been a dominant presence of the New England landscape. As a slow growing, long-lived tree, they reach mid-life at 200 years old and can easily reach heights of over 200 feet. These majestic giants, although logged extensively since the beginning of colonial conquest and exploitation, can still be appreciated in many Vermont woodlands.
White Pines, along with many other evergreen trees of northern New England, hold potent remedies in their needles. If you have ever tasted a cedar tip or a hemlock needle, then you know the instant sensation of aroma and flavor that comes from crushing a tiny needle between your teeth: aromatic, warm, piney, and a little sour.
The unique flavor of evergreens tells us much about their medicinal properties. Aromatic: they are rich in essential oils with antimicrobial and immune stimulating properties. Warm: they increase circulation and help break a fever. Sour: they are high in vitamin C and other phytochemicals.
Many of the evergreen trees can be used as warming winter remedies. They can be made into tea, added to a bath, or used as a sinus steam. I’ve even been known to boil fir branches from my Christmas tree to fill my house with their lovely aroma.
Here I will share with you a recipe for White Pine Syrup. You can substitute pine with a variety of evergreens, just make sure you positively identify any tree before using. There are a few evergreens that are poisonous, such as the yew. Also, I prefer to use windfallen branches. If you harvest directly from a living tree, please be respectful and only take what you need. Never overharvest and always ask permission and thank the tree for it’s gifts.
White Pine Needle Syrup
1 cup fresh or dried (but still green) pine needles
2 cups water
1 cup honey or sugar
Rinse pine needles with cold water and coarsely chop
In a pot, combine pine needles and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Let simmer for 1 hour.
If the water level becomes low, add a little more.
After 1 hour, check to see if the water level is approximately half the original volume. Reduce further or add more water accordingly.
Remove from heat and let cool.
Strain while water is still warm.
Combine 1 cup of tea with 1 cup of honey or sugar. Mix thoroughly.
Bottle, label, and store in the refrigerator.
Take 1 tsp of syrup 2-3x/ day at the onset of a cold. You can also make herbal soda with the syrup by adding it to seltzer--about 2 oz per 16 oz of seltzer, or use it in cocktails. Get creative--the sky's the limit.
Evergreens remind us that even in winter, we are supported by the abundance of nature and the healing properties of the plants all around us. So get out those snowshoes or cross country skis and go explore the forests and woodlands in all their winter wonder.
We live in a fractal universe. There is complexity at every level, the small parts are whole in and of themselves, and they mirror the larger parts. You can see this in atoms and galaxies, the pattern of a fern, or the branching pattern of capillaries in the body, mycelium, and trees.
Human bodies and minds are adapted to a fractal world. In fact, I’ve observed time and again that complexity is actually soothing to the body. We are calmed and even healed by that which is multidimensional, multilayered, fractal. You can see this play out through the senses--the body is intelligent.
Dappled sunlight dancing through the trees puts the mind at ease and uplifts the spirit. Compare this to a narrower spectrum of light: when we stare at the blue light from a screen for too long we start to lose our strength of vision.
The beat of a drum, the harmonies of an orchestra, or the babble of a brook, all have the ability to soothe. They are pleasant to our human ears. These are complex, resonant, fractal patterns of sound. Beeps, buzzers, alarms--all singular in their depth and dimension. All grate on the mind and feel physically uncomfortable, put you on edge.
Our minds prefer the uneven terrain of the wilderness to the right angles of the city. People who never walk on uneven ground (out in nature) are far more likely to lose their sense of balance in old age.
Our bodies and spirits were not built for a world of zeros and ones. We were built for complexity. This applies to what we eat and ingest, too. Pharmaceuticals are often one single chemical compound, while herbs contain hundreds of phytochemicals in a highly complex and diverse array. When you drink herbal tea, take an herbal tincture, or cook with spices and fresh herbs and fruits and vegetables, you are soothed. You actually feel better, more vibrant. That’s because the complexity of plant chemistry is life-affirming and supportive of health and wellbeing. In a world that loves to simplify, remember that there is beauty and healing to be found in the organized chaos of fractal complexity.
Lately I've been fully appreciating the importance of having mentors in my life to continue to inspire, encourage, and help me see the world more broadly, more clearly, and in new ways that are necessary for growth.
The wisdom that comes from experience is like nothing else, especially when that wisdom can be conveyed directly to you in a personalized way that helps you see it as clearly as possible from your own vantage point.
A mentor isn't just an impartial teacher or resource. A mentor sees your gifts and where you need encouragement. They have your back. They're rooting for you. They want you to succeed.
The skilled and wise mentor is able to impart knowledge in a familiar and digestible way. I've often held the attitude that I should be able to do the research, put in the time, and figure out everything myself. But there is something so valuable about getting the information, the method, the theory, the design, from someone who has lived through it. Who really knows it from within. A mentor can answer your questions in real time. They can explain something from different angles until you really get it. They can see the spark of understanding flash across your face and build upon your confidence in that moment, gently guiding you along and closer to your goal.
In a sense, plants are mentors too. They are our elders. They have been around for millions of years. Humans have been evolving alongside plants since before we were human. They impart information to us in a different but equally intimate and personalized way. The phytochemistry of plants is in constant communication with our bodies on a molecular and cellular level.
I remember once hearing herbalist Richard Mandelbaum say, "to ask how humans discovered herbal medicine is like asking how we discovered how to breathe." Think about that for a moment.
Every time you walk into a forest, you breathe in millions of terpene molecules from the trees. These tiny plant chemicals relax the mind, slow the heart rate, and strengthen the immune system. This is no coincidence, we have learned from the plants how to live. Humans developed color vision to better see the pigments of fruits, which often indicates the concentration of nutrients. We require the bitterness from plants for our digestion to work properly--they teach us how to metabolize toxins. Just as we need human mentors to guide us through life and help us grow, we require plants as mentors to stay in balanced health.
And like mentorship, the way that phytochemistry and phytonutrients interact with our bodies and minds is highly individualized. An herb can have some effect on one person and an entirely different effect on another. It is precisely this individualized relationship between our bodies and the bodies of plants that makes herbalism such a simple, elegant way to tap into the abundant gifts and wisdom that the plant world has to offer us. Plants and herbal medicines can be our mentors in health. All we have to do is accept their guidance.
What are the gifts you have to share with the world? This is a question I've been asking myself a lot lately. In part, it is the nature of this time of year: the solstice, the new year. I begin to reflect around December 21st and ask myself, what is my light that shines in the darkness?
I am making an effort to more fully dedicate myself to pursuits that I love, to the things that really serve my life’s purpose. For me, this means sitting down and getting the words out through the pen, the images out through the brush. Creativity had always been high on my list of values, right there alongside intellect, playfulness, and beauty. Lately I've been contemplating how I can bring more of this into my own life, which is how I've come to this place. This is what I'd like to share with you:
Having a daily practice in this time is a radical act of self love, not only for my current self but also for my future self. In the moment, writing and creating is meditative, relaxing, and fulfilling in a deep, soulful way. I am nourished when I create. And by having a daily practice, I give the gift of this habit and all of its benefits to my future Emma. It is also an act of self love and self acceptance for my multitude of past selves. My little Emma who sat outside in the yard for hours by herself in wonder of all the tiny creatures. My teenage Emma who felt the weight of the world and lost herself. My 20s Emma who tried not to feel. My late 20s Emma who emerged again, renewed, and found herself—she awoke, sleepy headed, from a decade long trance and learned to live and feel, cracked open.
My daily practice is for all of us. It is love, grace, tenderness, vulnerability, and courage. It is a prayer for a world that is more connected and in tune with nature, a world that is big enough for all of us to live in, where all creatures may prosper and truly feel the beauty of being alive.
I want to offer a way forward (one of many ways, but that is uniquely mine)—through my actions and the life I lead, through my art, my writing, and my work as an herbalist. I hope you will join me, and let the brightest parts of yourself shine through.
#selfcare #herbalism #creativity #selflove #thankgodthesunisout