Hey there followers and subscribers! I know I haven’t written many new posts… (I hope for that to change – but as you’ll see soon, I’ve been quite busy!)… BUT, my first book on herbalism is coming out this NOVEMBER… on the 1ST! That’s only 1 week away!
If you want to preorder it or buy it eventually after the publication date, here are the links you can follow to snatch up a book of your very own!
Herbalism: Plants and Potions That Heal | Available by preorder from:
HOWEVER!!!…you could get one for FREE because I’m also doing a FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY! I have FIVE free beautiful books that would LOVE new homes on the bookshelves of either an experienced herbalist or total newbie— this book is great for both. It’s a GORGEOUS small hardcover book: you can slip it in a large coat pocket or have it live in your purse. It has beautiful golden embossed pages, drawings, and cover print that will really pop out on your bookshelf!
The book is being published by Arcturus Publishing, and I couldn’t be happier with the way the book was designed and its appearance – it’s a beauty! It’s a small guide that gives you a FULL introduction to learning herbalism: harvesting herbs, making preparations, the energetics of herbs (one of my faves!), some history, monographs on specific herbs, contributions from herbalists/experts/chefs, and lots more.
It’s also a great addition to the reading and studying of already well-practiced herbalists! I would also imagine its a perfect book to choose for your herbalist course, if you teach one, to get your new students acquainted with and started on the learning path: it’s compact, rich with information, but light, breezy reading.
To enter the giveaway: please check out my social media pages on the right hand side to learn how to participate! THE DEADLINE to put in entries is MIDNIGHT TONIGHT! (10/26)! Depending on the social media platform, to participate in the giveaway is summarized by these following ways to put in entries:
Like the post (One entry)
Share the post to Feed/Stories (One entry – two if you add/use the hashtag #iowaherbalist, three if you tag me/one of my pages/add more to story/post to boost the giveaway!)
On Christmas eve this year– a holiday I become more and more uncertain about how I wish to celebrate or appreciate– I planted garlic.
It was late in the ground for many reasons. And if you’re a farmer, you’ll see this December post in the Midwest and very much understand how late this is. But, finding soft, plant-able soil on a warm day in the dead of winter felt like a sign that it’s still possible, maybe meant to be, that I could still fulfill my goal of having a whole garlic bed completely dedicated to both food and medicine creation.
So, I lurched forward. I just needed to do it. And I finally had the energy to do so. Even if it happened to fall on a holiday. (Such can be the nature of farming).
It got me thinking about how farmers are so hard on themselves, often for what feels like such unreasonable and, I should add, very outdated reasons to me. This includes yours truly: I’ve been so hard on myself for not working at full physical capacity this year. Even if for completely understandable reasons, such as learning how to manage a new chronic illness, which I am only now just figuring out how to put a dent in what feels like never-ending pain while still managing to grow things for part of my living. And which was why the garlic was planted so late.
It’s been a lesson in surrender. Old me would have been upset, freaking out to be planting on a Holiday. I would be beating myself up that I hadn’t gotten it done earlier so that I could just relax, or maybe just because most farmers would be embarrassed or wince at me for saying it got done this late. All because pain and life circumstances I couldn’t control had stopped me earlier, and I was forced to slow down, pay attention to it, listen to it, actually attend to it. But even then, thinking, “I’m such a bad farmer.” All because I had to put myself first at those times – put me and my body before my ideals.
I’ve farmed and worked at farms for about 12 years now, about 7 years of that having managed fully operational farms or running my own. I took pride in the farmer culture I absorbed in my 20’s, yes. That you simply run yourself into the ground running your business and growing food for your community, and that’s that, that’s how you’re a true farmer. And run myself into the ground I did, proudly. Days off, what? Taking time off in the summer? Are you insane? That person is not a real farmer, if…. fill in the blank. That was during a time when I was younger and my body could afford to pay for that ethos.
Where did this ethos come from, I wonder? That you are not a “true” farmer if you do not rise at the crack of dawn, daily, with automatic joy and cheer? That having no days off to care for yourself and loved ones is to be worn like a badge of pride? That the less subsidized your farming is by other pursuits or careers (or dare I say, the government or grants) the “purer” it is? That you’re ungrateful and spoiled if you inherit the family farm and land, and will have no true taste of what scraping out the farming living was ever truly like – Or, inversely, if you’re the first generation of farmers in your family ever (or for a long time), you’re still not a “true” farmer somehow?
And lastly, that somehow, unsustainable self-sacrifice is all part of the practice of running a sustainable farm? And if you’re not doing all of this while turning a profit, you’re still nowhere near what a true farmer is, or was?
This does not sound very sustainable to me. Between you and me, I do not think it is an ethos that was dreamed up by farmers themselves. And because I ascribe myself less and less to these things as I get older, the less and less I feel like I am a “true” farmer, or a “real” farmer, and others might agree…but I can’t help but wonder why this is. Do shame and perfectionism have to be the fuel for growing food? What does shame accomplish?
I look at my peers and what they share publicly, however, and how giving one’s growing passions almost entirely to economic or perfectionistic gain seems to be the norm. And, when things inevitably go wrong– which they always do when farming, as we toy with a thin line between life and death that we can never completely control– farmers are crushed by the the loss of a crop, a weather event, or the death of an animal or several animals that are only happenings in nature we could never hope to control. But we still carry all the shame, as if we have not done enough.
I continue to wonder. Where are the farmers of old who held tight to these ethos, and how are they doing? How are their families doing? Do they still have their lands, their jobs, their occupations, their fully intact farming legacy? Who profited off that legacy, the farmers themselves…or someone else? Are these farmers and their progeny mentally healthy chasing these ideals in today’s day and age? Are they happy? Physically well? How did they manage to pursue this perfect ethos when grief, tragedy, loss, and chronic illness outside of the farming passion emerged out of nowhere to flatten them? While they farmed, were they good to their partners, their families, their children? Was putting food on the table enough?
Did the community, the economy, and the government compensate them for this self-sacrifice? Now as I approach my mid-30’s, and take stock of where my body is now after all that, I realize I can’t pay for this ethos anymore. I feel a strong respect and kudos to those who still can, and do. If this causes me to fall into a different category of person for you, so be it.
My very late planting of garlic could have brought me a ton of crushing shame, worry, and anxiety.
Instead, it turned into a delightful, sacred-feeling moment on the ridgetop. I was completely wreathed in fog while pushing cloves into the soft earth that next year will turn into food and medicine for many people.
I found I didn’t care it was Christmas eve at all, I most didn’t notice. Nor that the planting was late, or that I was working on a holiday covered in mud, still :trying” to farm well.
What I did notice is that growing things had been woven into my life in a way that was almost secondhand, natural, and enjoyable under the right circumstances– one of these having a pain-free body in that moment– to the point where it was laborious, sure, but did not feel like “work.” To be more specific, the act of planting garlic late did not fill me with shame. I was just in the present.
And I was just happy. Because the moment and meaning behind it was beautiful, and I felt grateful and humbled that I could even do this with my life, period.
So, here’s to warm feelings on this winter occasion, dear blog readers out there, no matter how and what you celebrate. Whether you consider yourself a farmer, an herbalist, or just a unique person who transcends those labels but happens to like growing healthful food, to make healthful food, to take care of plants, and to make abundantly healthful things out of those plants.
This blog post is also a bit of an update on my transformation as both a farmer and herbalist, in response to chronic illness, with more updates to follow on this soon. Next year, as I grow things forJupiter Ridge Farm alongside my husband, I’m putting a renewed focus on the types of things I grow having a strong overlap with the health and herbalism world – and delving into some flavor artistry as well.
My goal is to create more health- and herbalist-related products from the many things I grow. I’m also intent on having more and more of what I grow, that cannot be sold or crafted, donated and landing in communities in need. There will not only be an expansion to our online shop, but an Etsy shop as well with wider shipping options, and to be able to share the magic of what I grow on the ground here, in Driftless Iowa soil, with people beyond Iowa as well. A lot of people are completely unaware of Iowa’s overlooked magic and I wish to change that, as I truly feel I’ve chosen to live and grow in an endlessly magical place. Updates on this soon…
A CSA next year is up in the air but still very possible, with much fewer members and a much greater emphasis on Farm Share boxes that will be more customizable and directly delivered to you. Think an online produce store and apothecary – even now I’m feeling how non-traditional this is in the farming world, but realizing how little I care as long as healthy food, nutrition, and herbs can get to people.
I’m trying to remind myself and embody the lesson that if you’re a farmer, it doesn’t help to be too hard on yourself, compare what you do with others, or burn yourself out running everything into the ground pursuing outdated ideals or some notion of the “perfect farm” – ideals that have helped me for years, but now feel obsolete.
What matters more to me is that the food itself comes out of the ground and nourishes others, and that I can learn to do it in a way that nourishes myself in the process.
As I continue to grow, learn, and produce as a farmer and herbalist, I’m excited by the possibilities and what passions I can still create when I take the extra time to take care of my mind and body first, now that I’m just learning.
It is daunting to think of “time lost” in the efficient mind of a farmer that is instead going towards better health and taking care of the self. But then I think of all the time lost to abandoning pain, imbalance, and the shame felt afterwards when burning myself out made me lose time regardless in the first place. We all start to run right up against our limitations as we get older….
….and if farming and growing things for a living isn’t teaching us that, then are we really listening?
This article is an updated/revised version of a guest blog post originally published in now-defunct DIY urban gardening website, City Plantz, in February of 2018. Enjoy!
I didn’t stumble upon the health properties of plants—and growing them yourself— in the most obvious way you would think.
At first, my interest in growing plants was all about food: our crumbling food system, our need for more farmers and food growers, and—ultimately—our need to protect our food, health, nutrition, and autonomy by growing food ourselves to ensure that it’s healthy (yes, even in the city). All of this started in college in rural Minnesota, and led me down the path of organic agriculture that I still tread today: in my daily life, in my career, and everything I do on my farm of three years now, Jupiter Ridge LLC. It’s all culminated into a both rigorous and healing lifestyle.
It definitely isn’t news these days that the healthiest food comes in the form of fresh homegrown fruits and vegetables—and specifically vegetables you can grow yourself.
But as it turns out, there’s a lot more to ensuring your health from the plant world than just growing your own food, especially when growing herbs comes into the picture.
This article is going to be a combination of informative and updating, so let me get the updates out of the way.
For those who have followed my writings and this blog (new and old), you can probably see I haven’t written much over the years about anything, let alone herbalism (To you newcomers: welcome).
This mostly coincides with getting my farm Jupiter Ridge up and running here in Driftless Iowa (Northeast Iowa), an endeavor that has demanded an immense amount of time, money, labor, blood, sweat, tears, sacrifice, pain, healing, beauty, and transformation – so naturally, herbalist projects and everything else have been placed on the back burner.
On that note, too, I felt like I needed a separation period from the world of herbalism: its major figures, celebrities, and influencers; the culture around it and the narrow definitions of what herbalism is in these circles; the increasing patriarchal/cultural appropriation problems in herbalist scenes; and even other herbalists in general.
I won’t get into it too much (and in fact I’ve been mostly silent on the subject), but I stepped into the (for lack of a better word) “cult” following of herbalism and its little extended network in America in 2012, expecting to find “my” people only to find a network that had very little to do with healing and helping others. Instead I found a lot of ego, power, competition, and people claiming they could heal others when they seemed to be in desperate need of healing themselves.
The lesson I learned from this: I think healers in general, not just herbalists, are meant to walk solitary paths to do their work. Identity and purpose get lost in these echo chambers.
So I closed the door on herbalism and instead got my hands dirty with farming, and growing nutritious, diverse vegetables, mushrooms, and herbs for people for the past few years. A different sort of herbalism and work as an herbalist, all the while badly wishing I could redefine these words (herbalism, herbalist) that I feel sort of stuck with, but love the possibilities of what they could mean nonetheless, so I’ll continue using them.
Now that the farm is up, running, and established (selling healthy, sustainably grown, and nutritious vegetables, mushrooms, and culinary herbs to hundreds of people in the Dubuque area every Saturday – plus delivering diverse CSA shares with these same contents every Tuesday to members in Cedar Rapids and to a dozen eastern and northeastern Iowa restaurants, too!), life has been doing that funny thing of poking and prodding at me to get me back in touch with my roots and the true, foundational reasons I decided to do this whole thing in the first place.
Owing to a combination of both circumstance and some intention, what we are making off of the land and what we grow for eastern and northeastern Iowa is steadily representing a larger and larger (and more reliable) portion of our income, as other sources of income/side hustles loom less large.
Upon reading this article again, too, I’ve taken it upon myself that the best I can do is redefine what it means to be an herbalist with my current work – and this article puts it real nicely.
So as for the updates: I’m still an herbalist. I still write. I still use plants to help people as a farmer. I may come back around to using those wilder and more esoteric plants (like echinacea, goldenrod, or sumac) again as part of my daily work (and it does seem like life is pushing me in that direction again – and this may spring up in the form of truly awesome, effective, and unique herbal products!), but we shall see.
This article marks the beginning of the confluence of farming and herbalism in my life. The future looks interesting.
Don’t Just Grow Your Own Food: Grow Your Own Medicine
Homegrown foods have a higher likelihood of being more nutritious than any other type of food in the long run (I wrote a piece about this for Rodale’s Organic Life, which has since shut down. If you’d like to read the article I’d be happy to send you a copy, which outlines the science of why this is true, too). These vegetables and plants are at the very foundation of our health; when you think about it, they really are our best source of preventive medicine, in a way.
I learned all about this over a decade ago, which spurred me to become a farmer and establish a farm. Then I learned about growing herbs—for both culinary use and for healing—in addition to vegetables, and I felt like I blew a whole new story wide open.
Amid my post-college travels learning how to farm, I made the strange and unlikely jump: from farmer to herbalist. Today, I’ve managed to fashion myself into both.
Even now, I’m experiencing a renaissance of realization and coming back full-circle to my herbalist roots after throwing my all into the farming path head-on for the past three years. The most important realization of all: that by growing healthy vegetables, culinary herbs, and even medicinal mushrooms (like shiitake and lion’s mane), I haven’t strayed all that far from being an herbalist at all. Instead, I’m seeing the multitude of connections that can take place in the world of plant-based health in a whole new light.
The ability to grow your own plants for both healthy food and medicine—or both food and medicine in one, if you really think about it—is empowering.
most importantly: just because you live in a house or small apartment with very
little money doesn’t mean this is something out of reach to you.
The truth is: it is in reach, more than you know.
you can grow food in your domicile, you can certainly grow herbs. Together,
these form the most preventive health medicine cabinet you could possibly have
at your disposal.
Seeing the Connection: Plants as
Healers, Whether Vegetables or Herbs
Why should you grow your own medicinal or culinary—or both medicinal and culinary—herbs in the first place?
Isn’t this something reserved for New Age hippies, lifestyle bloggers, witchy mamas, or your grandma?
answer is best put as a story. I was in Ecuador during my organic agricultural
internship when I was first struck by the world of herbalism.
I had an injured and infected foot. It was hard for me to walk.
I was also in a foreign tropical country where a non-native’s susceptibility to infections was astronomically dangerous. To continue growing the healthy, nutritious food I was so hell-bent on learning about, I was told by locals I must rely on a completely different kind of plant.
They pointed just a few steps away from where I helped cultivate rows of healthy vegetables like kale to a tall, uncultivated plant with broad leaves—a plant called matico.
Vegetables and Medicinal Herbs:
Different Plants, Similar Purposes
Two very different plants, kale and matico.
But they both have a couple things in common: they can strengthen health and, as I would learn soon, matico could save your life (and kale too, though how it might do that for you deserves its very own article in and of itself).
I was instructed to use a medicinal preparation of matico’s leaves by the locals to fight this infection and still be able to walk between planted rows to get work done and continue my education—maybe even to keep my foot altogether..
The nearest hospital wasn’t for miles. There was no local pharmacy, no local clinic, no antibiotics: only plants and the native knowledge of the locals at my disposal.
Years later, I still have my foot—and all because of (well, mostly because of) a plant (a trip to the Ecuadorian beaches swimming and soaking in the salty ocean helped, too). I also found out later, to my shock, that matico isn’t as exotic as I thought. In fact, it’s very closely related to both black pepper (a culinary seasoning I wrote about in depth for Primal Herb here) and kava kava (a widely popular sedative herb from the Pacific), domesticated cultivated relatives that are—you guessed it—grown and produced by farmers.
It was in making these types of connections between nutritious and medicinal plants—and plants of all kinds, for that matter—that I decided to be an herbalist, and not just a farmer. I also realized how deeply interlinked these roles could be.
Growing Medicinal Herbs: Why Do It? Is
it Really Worth it?
why grow medicinal plants, you might again ask?
Of course, my story above is extreme. If you think you might lose a foot, definitely wise up and go to a hospital if you can—take advantage of the fact that you’re not in the middle of a South American rainforest. And yet, living in the city— relying only on your apartment or home— can sure feel like surviving in a jungle these days.
So here’s my short answer: you should grow medicinal plants to be smart, self-sufficient, and frugal. But also because it’s a no-brainer.
I’ll risk sounding blunt here: especially in an urban setting and with little money, you’d be dumb not to. Ultimately, growing plants saves you money and possibly your health in the long run. Sure, you can also purchase medicinal in supplement form. But these extracts and capsules can be costly also—and, in some cases, less reliable.
If you’re not worried about losing a foot perse, there’s a lot more beyond foot-saving that herbs do. Some examples are:
Alleviating stress (or even anxiety and depression)
Protecting infected cuts
A lot of them make your food taste better as a bonus, too (here’s looking at you, culinary herbs, of which the majority of you are also secretly medicinal).
By the way, if you’re already growing vegetables or even fruits in your house or apartment: congratulations!
You’ve already got your own preventive medicine cabinet. Growing herbs will just expand it even more. In the process, you might save yourself money on doctor’s visits and depending on those costly over-the-counter drugs.
You may also pick up an enjoyable hobby in the meantime that beautifies your home or apartment in the process, too. So why wouldn’t it hurt?
Culinary and Medicinal Herbs: What Can
I Grow? What’s Possible?
Of course, the theory of anything becomes a lot more complicated when put into practice. Newcomers to growing herbs (or even growing in general) might ask: is growing medicinal and culinary herbs indoors difficult?
In truth, some herbs with healing potential are not any different—or more difficult— to grow than anything else indoors.
you’re wanting to break new ground and give growing medicinal herbs a try, here
are the best to get your feet wet with (and your hands dirty with) for
Aloe Vera. May need more sun than most others on this list, but otherwise requires very little water or much else. Leaves from aloe plants can be removed and the gel used for cuts, burns, sunburns, rashes, and wounds. The juice can be consumed for digestive issues and even certain disorders (I wrote for Healthline about aloe vera juice for IBS here).
Ginger. Ginger root is incredibly easy to grow indoors from a living rhizome. It also doesn’t need a lot of light as a canopy plant. It’s great for cramps, stomachaches, nausea, and boosting the immune system when dealing with colds. It also tastes great (Oh yeah – I also wrote about ginger for Healthline here and how it’s great for sore throats).
Lemon Balm. Great for culinary and medicinal uses. It also doesn’t need a lot of sunlight or water. Harvest sprigs to flavor meals that call for mint or lemon verbena. Or, make a tea from it for stomachaches or bouts of stress, anxiety, or depression.
Mint. Spearmint and peppermint are easy to grow indoors with low light in containers. They’re great for bellyaches and can also calm nerves a bit. Mint’s flavors are a must-have for teas and various dishes. A fresh leaf on a cut reduces risk of infection, and the essential oil is amazing pain relief (I use it for my TMJ). (Article on how to grow this herb specifically is coming up soon).
Parsley. Take a bite or a sprig of this culinary herb to freshen breath or when you have a stomachache. It is also known to help with seasonal allergies. It’s easy to grow in low light and doesn’t ask much of you and is also a delicious seasoning.
Thyme. This squat little mint-like plant doesn’t demand much space, or even too much light or water for that matter. It makes for an adorable ornament on a kitchen window. Thyme is also an excellent herb for immunity and the symptoms of colds and flu.
Keep in mind that the cultivation and use of herbs for health shouldn’t replace common-sense mainstream health care or prescription medications. Talk to your doctor about using herbs, or if using herbs for health would be right for you.
If you’re truly intrigued by growing herbs, don’t feel like you need to stop at this list.
plenty of others you can grow indoors, and which may also be enjoyably tackled
by the more advanced or expert indoor grower.
(Or non-members who happen to be reading, or even potential future members…)
Heading into our first CSA week 2019, we’re so excited to have you on board. Tomorrow brings our first delivery to the Cedar Rapids area. Expect your first share (delivered in personal cooler with ice packs) on your porch or stoop tomorrow evening! During the time of your delivery, we will also be in the neighborhood delivering fresh produce to Cedar Rapids restaurant favorites like Cobble Hill, Rodina, The Map Room, and many others!
*Next Tuesday, make sure to leave the cooler we left you out on your porch/stoop at around or before 4 PM.*
We will swap it out, clean it, and replace it with a fresh new cooler packed and cooled with your new share next week.
The first delivery will include:
Mixed Cherry Tomatoes
Basil (Purple “Opal” variety)
Kale Bunch (Green)
Bunched Sweet Fresh Onions (Red, Semi-Sweet)
What Are Garlic Scapes? | Some Explanation and Tips
To those who are already acquainted with and delighted by garlic scapes: my apologies. For the rest who may be curious reading that they will find garlic scapes in their share and who have never experienced them, you might be thinking: what are they? What will they be?
Or, when you open your share, you’ll wonder: “What are these pigtail-looking things?
Garlic scapes are the flower of the garlic plant. As the garlic plant gets larger during the early summer months, the flowers must be picked off and removed so the plant shifts its focus from flower/foliar production back to bulb production. Scapes must be picked (and we choose to pick them) so we pull up the biggest, most pungent and delicious garlic bulbs come late summer for garlic harvest.
Though we don’t want them on our garlic plants, they’re very, very, VERY welcome in the kitchen.
You can chop off the pale white/yellow flowering head you see pictured and mince the green part of the flower stalk. Think of it as a cross between green garlic or onions and a garlic bulb, except it packs a bit more of that trademark garlic pungency.
Jupiter Ridge’s farmer Will recommends very finely mincing garlic scapes raw into a salad with cucumber, basil, tomatoes, olive oil, and vinegar.
Jupiter Ridge’s farmer Adrian would suggest using it in place of bulb garlic in pesto, it seems to bring out a “punchier” garlic flavor. It’s also great on pizzas (kind of like the wood-fired pizzas you’ll find at Park Farm Winery, which use our own local organic scapes!)
To keep it simple, garlic scapes can be minced and used to replace bulb garlic in just about any recipe.
Let us know if you have any questions about it – email us, Facebook message us, or Instagram message us. We’re happy to talk to you about them.
Wellness Spotlight On: Shiitake Mushrooms
I can’t tell people enough about how great shiitake mushrooms are for health at farmers market.
Talk about the ultimate meat replacement for all you vegans out there (and to you meat eaters, shiitakes make an EXCELLENT pairing with steaks and burgers). Shiitake mushrooms come packed with tons of protein and fiber, the former being incredibly important for vegans/vegetarians skimping on meat, but the latter (fiber) is important to your gut (and you won’t find it in meat).
Also, sun-exposed shiitakes (like ours to some extent, which are grown outdoors) are some of the highest non-meat food sources of vitamin D out there, which is a very important vitamin for non-meat-eaters to stay on top of. The same goes for vitamin B12 (which, yes, shiitakes also contain small traces of).
So there you go – for anyone wanting to cut out or replace meat consumption (but are worried about missing out on the nutrition we crave from it), shiitake mushrooms are a satisfying choice.
Also: we can’t forget that shiitakes are considered a “medicinal” mushroom in some parts of the world. The antioxidants they contain have been shown to support healthy blood pressure levels, boost the immune system, and reduce the risk of major illnesses, even cancer.
Find shiitake mushrooms in your share this week!!!!
We look forward to delivering to you tomorrow, and we hope you enjoy the very best of the summer fare we have going on right now.
I know what most Iowans (and other Midwestern denizens) are probably thinking right now: it seems like spring is never going to come.
I rarely write about how I feel personally in relation to the weather, nature, herbs, and whatever is around me on this website, not to mention even in my writing work. But it’s been strange seeing how my emotional state has been a parallel (or even a microcosm) of the stop-and-start spring we’ve been seeing over the past month: a glimmer of warm days ahead, only to get a dusting of 2-3 inches of snow and deep cold again instead.
It’s as if everything is saying: you’re not ready. Not yet.
I haven’t felt ready for spring for several weeks.
It’s been a perfect echo of the weather here, but it’s not my usual self– and just as unusual as this weather. During the cold months I write more for a living, a perfect indoor activity for such a season. But come spring, I restlessly gear myself towards the outdoor work I do more of during the warmer months and the growing season on our farm.
As it tends to go, physical labor outdoors is something I really look forward to and achingly welcome after months of getting soft and pithy, sitting inside.
Only in this long winter, for some reason, I’m not.
Even as a farmer and herbalist, my work in the winter doesn’t stop since I’m also a writer. It just changes to work and pressure of a different nature.
It’s losing count of the cups of coffee I drink to meet staggered deadlines. Its skipping meals and getting that feeling like I’m getting more done somehow by doing that.
I haven’t been able to get a tropical vacation getaway like some people. Despite winter forcing me indoors, I haven’t quite rested and re-nourished– I haven’t had my break, and I think by not being ready for spring, it’s because I’m still chasing that rest and re-nourishment.
The other reason: I’ve been addicted to hygge lately. Staying inside, peering with a comfy feeling at yet more snow on the ground, sipping hot beverages with a satisfied feeling – I think I’m still addicted to the feeling of winter. I don’t quite want to let it go yet, before the busy farming season hits; there is still more rest and renourishing to do, I sense.
Apparently, this weather and the late spring agrees.
So what does this have to do with herbalism? Don’t worry, I’m getting there.
The excessive coffee and skipped meals, lately, have been coming at a price. I’m getting stuff done– but at the expense of something. My energy, my excitement to go outside, and obviously my overall outlook and, to some extent, my positivity, perhaps.
Though I’m not hauling shiitake logs and working the soil outdoors, my body– and especially my back– have been feeling the pain of too much sitting work, which tires me out even more. Overall, I have felt deficient and even ungrounded.
I’m ready for the growing and harvesting season to begin in my mind. But getting in touch with my body… I’m absolutely not. I’m not taking care of myself.
I’m not…. rooted.
So it was with a strange coincidence that, one evening recently during this bizarre and un-ending winter, instead of skipping dinner to meet a writing deadline, I baked a sweet potato.
Let’s just say that I’ve long loved sweet potatoes, but that it had been a while. But the sensation and flavor when I ate it this time around was eye-opening and amazing.
I’m not going to lie – it was near-orgasmic. Something my body (AND my mind) was deeply craving was suddenly satisfied.
And go ahead, think of me as a weird person for finding a vegetable so pleasurable.
The next time I was at the grocery store, needless to say I stocked up on a ridiculous amount of sweet potatoes. Ever since the re-encounter with this root veggie I’ve always had some affection for, the hunger was real. I couldn’t get enough.
Instead of skipping meals, I’ve been baking sweet potatoes instead. It’s almost felt like a medicine, something my body has sorely needed.
And, in a weird way that will never be proven by science– only in my empirical experience– it’s also felt like a medicine for my mind.
Following at the tail end of that, one evening I also ran out of decaf coffee. I’d been drinking it in the evenings for its roasted, toasted hygge feeling of comfort, one of the main reasons I love coffee in the first place (though the caffeine buzz is great, too).
I had a sudden remembering that I had store-bought dandelion root coffee in the cupboard (it may also have chicory root or burdock root in it too, but I’m not sure). Instead of bewailing my lack of comforting evening decaf or going to the store, I made a piping hot cup of that instead.
Again, just like the sweet potato root, it was absolutely amazing. It catapulted me into feelings of comfort, happiness, and feeling…
It’s strange the way nature talks to us. Even stranger are the ways it provides us with exactly what we need.
Maybe winter tells you you’re not ready for spring yet by, well, simply not ending…yet. And maybe, for each of us, it’s got a different message depending on where we’re at.
Though I find it funniest of all that I stumble on the comfort of root vegetables and herbal roots precisely during a time when I need more nourishment and rooting.
It should be noted, too, that late spring is also the best time to harvest a lot of herbal roots– because the energy in these roots is just waking up in preparation for spring and flowering. That’s just when you want to nab them and dig them up: when they’re supercharged.
This might not apply to the delicious sweet potato and some other agricultural root crops we roast during winter, which are more frequently dug up in late fall. But it does apply to herbal roots like dandelion, burdock, and chicory, which I’ve been enjoying so deeply in the form of toasty late spring coffees as of late.
Instead of chugging coffee and nothing else to get through winter work, I’ve instead reconnected with these hearty root vegetables and herbal roots (or, at the very least, made a genuine effort to).
Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins A, C, B vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and even healthful fatty acids, for example. Studies also suggest they could be important natural therapies and future drug sources for fighting cancer and diabetes as an anti-inflammatory food.
Dandelions are known to contain all this nutrition too, as well as tons of vitamin K, plus the benefits of being an herbal digestive bitter. Studies also show they could protect the liver. With chicory as a very very close relative, it’s not so far-fetched to think it could have similar health perks.
And, as a result, am starting to feel more nourished and rooted than before.
I’m hoping and planning to grow sweet potatoes in the upcoming seasons at our farm, and to even roast my very own herbal roots coffee (recipe on harvesting/roasting to come, it’s still too cold to harvest these wonderul herbs yet– though you’ll find a nice baked sweet potato recipe below) from wild chicory roots and dandelions I will weed out and forage while farming.
More projects, more goals, more work to do when it’s warm.
But, still, slowly. Spring is far from being here yet.
So in the meantime, I’m going to keep rooting… for myself. In this winter that seems to have no end in sight, even in April, maybe you should try it, too.
Baked Sweet Potato Recipe
What you need: just one large medium- to large-sized sweet potato (so simple).
Take your sweet potato and jab it all over with a fork, as evenly as possible. This way the heat can travel deep within the tuber to roast its insides as well.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
Once heated, place your sweet potato on a cookie sheet or oven pan. Place in oven (I prefer the bottom rack but I don’t think that matters too much). Let roast for half an hour.
After half an hour, flip it over. Put it back in the oven. Bake an additional half an hour, or until sweet potato caves in when poked with the blunt side of a fork– or when carmelized, sweet inner juices start crackling out of the fork holes.
Remove from oven. Split open. Sprinkle with your additional desired accoutrements. Popular choices are a bit of sugar, butter, sliced nuts, sliced bananas, even almond butter or a drizzle of honey (or even a floral simple syrup).